Review: The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

Review: The House at Baker Street by Michelle BirkbyThe House at Baker Street (A Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson Investigation #1) by Michelle Birkby
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson #1
Pages: 368
Published by Harper Perennial on October 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBook Depository
Goodreads

When Sherlock Holmes turns away the case of persecuted Laura Shirley, Mrs Hudson, the landlady of Baker Street, and Mary Watson resolve to take on the investigation themselves. From the kitchen of Baker Street, the two women begin their enquiries and enlist the assistance of the Baker Street Irregulars and the infamous Irene Adler.A trail of clues leads them to the darkest corners of Whitechapel, where the feared Ripper supposedly still stalks. They discover Laura Shirley is not the only woman at risk and it rapidly becomes apparent that the lives of many other women are in danger too.As they put together the pieces of an increasingly complicated puzzle, the investigation becomes bigger than either of them could ever have imagined. Can Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson solve the case or are they just pawns in a much larger game?It is time for Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson to emerge from the shadows and stand in the spotlight. Readers will discover they are resourceful, intelligent and fearless women, with a determination to help those in need . . .

My Review:

This is not the first re-imagining of the life of Sherlock Holmes’ imperturbable housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, to emerge in recent years, but it is the one that tears the fabric of its canon the least. (The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King posits a much, much different life for the Great Detective’s landlady!)

Instead, like Carole Nelson Douglas’ series featuring Irene Adler as the protagonist, The House at Baker Street show the world of 221b through the eyes of its female inhabitants and habitués as they take up a case that Holmes rejects. And they carry it off with aplomb, if not without more than their fair share of danger and intrigue.

Just like Holmes himself, Martha Hudson also has the assistance of her very own Watson. Mrs. Hudson is aided and abetted by Mrs. Watson – the former Mary Morstan that was. In addition to calling on the aid of many of Holmes’ own allies, including the ever-present and ever-helpful Irregulars.

And when Hudson and Watson find themselves in need of an expert housebreaker, they turn to Holmes’ very own nemesis, Irene Adler herself.

The case in The House at Baker Street feels very much like something that Holmes would reject out of hand – and one where the female Hudson and Watson would understand the circumstances so much more intimately than the male detectives.

At a time when an unsullied reputation was a woman’s most precious possession, a whisper campaign of tireless malignity filled with descriptions of unspeakable acts could bring down the highest of the elite – and could wreck a formerly happy marriage. It could even end a life.

Or two. Or ten. Or possibly a hundred.

But whisper campaigns are insidious, and women, even more so then than now, we’re not supposed to even think of the things that were being hinted at. Never accused, because an accusation requires proof. But whispered about in an undertone in a crowded ballroom, or a smoky club room. And, as always, it is impossible to prove a negative. How does one prove that one hasn’t ever done something, especially when no one will directly speak of it?

Laura Shirley is a victim of just such a campaign. Holmes rejects her incoherent plea for help, both impatient with her frightened mannerisms and certain that she must be lying about something relevant. He’s certain that there’s no smoke without at least a little fire.

Martha Hudson and Mary Watson know better. Laura Shirley’s fear is real. Whether Hudson and Watson have learned enough of the detective business to solve her case is anyone’s guess – including their own.

But in a fit of daring – or perhaps insanity – they decide to try. And discover that they have inserted themselves into a web much darker than they, or even Sherlock Holmes himself, ever imagined.

Escape Rating A-: This story feels like it fits almost seamlessly into the Holmes canon. It’s not just that the reader can feel the pea-souper fog and almost smell the smells – especially the unsavory ones. It’s that this story feels like something that could have happened under Holmes’ very nose – not because he didn’t notice but because he often does not seem to care what happens to other people. In the stories, and especially in some of the portrayals of Holmes on TV and in the movies, he frequently seems like a fairly selfish bastard.

And a genius, of course. But still, quite often, a bastard who cannot admit that he does, in fact, care about at least some of the people around him. Like Watson. And Mrs. Hudson, and the Irregulars. And even, in an unspecified and undefined way, Irene Adler.

But it is all too easy to seem him dismissing Laura Shirley in irascible impatience. And even today, we are all much too aware that a woman’s testimony about her abuse, because that is what was happening to Laura Shirley, is always discounted, often down to nothing. That men in general and Holmes (and her husband) in particular would write her story off to either hysterical imaginings or a guilty conscience feels like the way of the world. Not just hers, but ours.

That Martha Hudson and Mary Watson take her seriously because they both know better also feels entirely too plausible. But what makes this book is that they choose to do something about it – and in the doing uncover great danger – but also discover that they, every bit as much as Holmes and Watson, rise to the thrill of the chase and the danger of the hunt for evil.

Hudson and Watson, but particularly Mrs. Hudson, jump off the page. The story is told from Martha Hudson’s perspective, and we are with her as she reaches outside of herself and pushes out of her “comfort zone” to face this challenge. We are with her as she stumbles and fumbles and most importantly, learns how to expand herself into this new role that she has taken on. And it is the making of her.

That Hudson and Watson discover in the end that evil, is in fact hunting them makes for the perfect ending – and effectively slots the first case of Hudson and Watson into the greater arc of Holmes and Watson’s long-running battle with the greatest criminal mastermind of their generation.

If you love Sherlock Holmes’ stories, The House at Baker Street is a marvelous addition to your addiction. It certainly was to mine. There is a second book in this series, titled The Women of Baker Street, which I can’t wait to immerse myself in.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-22-17

Sunday Post

As tempted as I am, I’m not going to repeat the Kermit flail gif from yesterday’s Stacking the Shelves. We’re moving this week. The packers are coming on Friday, and the movers on Saturday. I’m trapped between YAY! and OMG! and YAY! and OMG! on endless repeat.

Mellie the cat already knows that something is up, and she’s even grumpier than usual. Freddie is going to love the new place – he’ll have more room to zoom around, and even stairs to careen up and down. But Mellie is a little old lady cat and we’re worried the stairs might be a bit much for her at her advanced age – she’s 17 1/2 and well into senior cathood.

And I have plenty of reviews coming up this week. As usual. I have to admit that I’ll kind of be seeing what happens with Wednesday’s and Friday’s reviews. Both books look really good, but possibly a bit more serious than I’ll be able to cope with in the chaos. We’ll see.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Howl-O-Ween Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop
10 Paperback copies of Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card in the Stuck in a Good Book Giveaway Hop is Isa

Blog Recap:

A Review: Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh
B+ Review: Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt + Giveaway
B+ Review: Wild Justice by M.L. Buchman
B Review: Best Laid Plants by Marty Wingate
B+ Review: Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
Stacking the Shelves (258)

Coming Next Week:

Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper (blog tour review)
The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby
Woolly by Ben Mezrich (review)
Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods (blog tour review)
A History of the United States in Five Crashes by Scott Nations (review)

Stacking the Shelves (258)

Stacking the Shelves

We’re moving next weekend. I’m not totally sure about the YAY usually implied by this gif, but the freak out – definitely!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Stacking the Shelves…

For Review:
Cherish Hard (Hard Play #1) by Nalini Singh
My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Neogenesis (Liaden Universe #21) by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Points of Impact (Frontlines #6) by Marko Kloos
The Soldier’s Curse (Monsarrat #1) by Thomas Keneally and Meg Keneally

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Acting on Impulse (Love on Cue #1) by Mia Sosa
The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard (edited) by David A. Goodman
La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman (audiobook)

Borrowed from the Library:
Grant by Ron Chernow
The Lawrence Browne Affair (Turner #2) by Cat Sebastian
The Soldier’s Scoundrel (Turner #1) by Cat Sebastian
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Review: Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Review: Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny ColganChristmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: holiday fiction, women's fiction
Series: Little Beach Street Bakery #3
Pages: 320
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 10th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times-bestselling author Jenny Colgan dishes up another delightful holiday story about the residents in an idyllic Cornish village who must join forces to save Christmas.

In the Cornish coastal village of Mount Polbearne, the Christmas season has arrived. It’s a joyous time for family, friends, and feasting as decorations sparkle along the town’s winding streets and shop windows feature buoyant, festive displays. And in Polly’s Little Beach Street bakery, the aromas of gingerbread cookies and other treats tempt people in from the cold.

Though Polly is busy keeping up with the demands of the season, she still makes time for her beekeeper boyfriend, Huckle. She’s especially happy to be celebrating the holiday this year with him, and can’t wait to cuddle up in front of the fireplace with a cup of eggnog on Christmas Eve.

But holiday bliss soon gives way to panic when a storm cuts the village off from the mainland. Now it will take all of the villagers to work together in order to ensure everyone has a Merry Christmas.

My Review:

I got so wrapped up in this one that I shivered right along with the heroine. It’s COLD on the coast of Cornwall at Christmas!

This is a story about friendship and families and relationships and finding your bliss and not letting the baggage of the past drag you down.

It’s also about a miracle at Christmas. Not that one. But the tiny little miracle that saves both a family and a friendship, even if it’s not exactly deserved. But miracles so seldom are.

Polly and Kerenza are best friends, and have been since they bonded like glue as scholarship students at a posh private school. But their friendship is severely tested when Kerenza confesses to Polly that the baby in her eight months’ pregnant belly might not be her husband’s.

Polly is caught on the horns of multiple dilemmas, So she does what she usually does – she buries herself in her work as the owner of the Little Beach Street Bakery, and tries to push it all away.

She’s pushing a lot.

Part of the problem is that Kerenza’s husband Reuben and Polly’s fiance Huckle are also best friends. Kerenza fears that if Polly tells Huckle her big secret, then Huckle will feel duty-bound to reveal all to Reuben, ending their marriage in a gigantic mess.

Polly and Kerenza were scholarship students way back when because they were both raised by single mothers who did not do well financially – or in Polly’s case, emotionally. Kerenza’s dad is dead, but Polly’s sperm donor is just a missing piece in her life. A missing piece she can’t fill in, because he’s a subject her mother refuses to talk about. And neither Kerenza nor Polly is willing to risk putting Kerenza’s baby into the same life that they both only managed to get through because they had each other. Not if there’s any way on Earth to avoid it – at any cost.

But Polly fears, and rightly so, that keeping a huge secret from Huckle will damage their seemingly perfect relationship. A relationship that is only perfect because they both avoid the subjects that neither of them wants to deal with. Most particularly Polly’s complete unwillingness to talk about their future. They love each other, they believe they are each other’s soul mates – but whenever Huck raises the subject of taking their engagement to its next logical step, Polly freezes, and freezes him out.

It’s more than cold enough in Mount Polbearne without that.

As guilty as Kerenza feels, this is one of those times when confession is not the answer. There’s a very strong possibility that the baby is her husband’s. There’s also a strong possibility that she was so drunk that when she thinks she fell on some random guy’s dick that nothing actually happened. She was too drunk to remember. All Kerenza can do it wait and see.

But Polly is the one who is really stuck. When her sperm donor’s wife contacts her to tell her that her biological father is dying and wants to see her, it’s up to Polly to decide what she needs to do. Not just whether to see him or not, but whether to finally pry open her mother’s memory box of “things we do not discuss”. And then to decide how the revelations of the secrets of her own life will affect her and her future.

So it’s Kerenza’s crisis, but it’s Polly’s journey. With her pet puffin Neil riding along with her, every step of the way. And it’s lovely. (Especially Neil!)

Escape Rating B+: The first quarter of the book I remember thinking that it was interesting and cute but not all that compelling. The mess of Kerenza’s life, and the complete narcissistic selfishness of her husband Reuben did not thrill me as a reader. It did rather seem as if her mess was very much self-inflicted.

But I settled in to read after dinner, and just got hooked. I came up for air after an hour and realized not just how much time had passed, but also just how much story I had absorbed. Once the focus shifted fully into Polly essentially in not-dealing-with-multiple-crises mode, I got sucked in and couldn’t tear myself away until the last page.

One of the interesting themes that plays out over the course of the story is about the damage that secrets can do to a relationship. Kerenza spends much of the story punishing herself for her unremembered indiscretion, holding the secret so tightly (and so necessarily) that she becomes a shadow of herself. And yet, she knows that it is vital for her baby’s future that she keep the secret no matter what.

But requiring Polly to also keep the secret damages her relationship with Huckle, almost irrevocably, even though it is not her secret and, as she tries to convince Huckle, not her secret to tell, either. And that it’s really none of their business. Or at least not enough of their business to risk the consequences to Kerenza and to the baby.

The more damaging secrets are the secrets that Polly’s mother Doreen has kept from her about her biological father and their relationship. Because it seems obvious that whatever happened back then, it has kept Doreen from living her own life and helping Polly to both grow her own wings and fly free. That Polly managed anyway, at least to some extent, is a testament to her own strength. But those buried secrets still hold her back and weigh her down, and she needs to know the truth in order to live her dreams. She can’t let her life be ruled by her fears – especially by proxy. Watching her set herself free is one of the highlights of the story.

That Polly has been adopted by a puffin, or more specifically that Neil has Polly wrapped around his bright little beak, is utterly adorable. And adds a marvelous touch of whimsy at just the right moments. I haven’t read the rest of the Little Beach Street Bakery series, and now I want to, if only to find out how Neil and Polly adopted each other. It must be adorable.

TLC
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Review: Best Laid Plants by Marty Wingate

Review: Best Laid Plants by Marty WingateBest-Laid Plants (Potting Shed Mystery #6) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Potting Shed #6
Pages: 281
Published by Random House Publishing Group - Alibi on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A trip to the English countryside turns into a brush with death for Pru Parke, the only gardener whose holiday wouldn’t be complete without a murder to solve.

Pru and her husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, are long overdue for a getaway. So when Pru is invited to redesign an Arts and Crafts garden in the picturesque Cotswolds, she and Christopher jump at the chance. Unfortunately, their B&B is more ramshackle than charming, and the once thriving garden, with its lovely Thyme Walk, has fallen into heartbreaking neglect. With the garden’s owner and designer, Batsford Bede, under the weather, Pru tackles the renovation alone. But just as she’s starting to make headway, she stumbles upon Batsford’s body in the garden—dead and pinned beneath one of his limestone statues.

With such a small police force in the area, Christopher is called upon to lead the investigation. Pru can’t imagine anyone murdering Batsford Bede, a gentle man who preferred to spend his time in quiet contemplation, surrounded by nature. But as her work on the garden turns up one ominous clue after another, Pru discovers that the scenery is more dangerous than she or Christopher could have anticipated

Pru Parke digs up buried secrets in this charming series from an author who “plants clever clues with a dash of romantic spice to satisfy any hungry mystery reader” (Mary Daheim).

My Review:

Another garden, another dead body. If one didn’t know better one could easily wonder if master gardener Pru Parke was somehow planting “corpse seeds” wherever she went. Because no matter where Pru travels to consult on gardens, whether in her beloved England or her native Texas, she seems to have a knack for finding a body, and getting herself involved in a murder investigation.

This particular case is return trip to the Cotswolds for Pru, with the intent of helping to bring back a famous Arts and Crafts style garden, visit friends and reminisce about her first trip (The Garden Plot) where she spent much of her time interfering in DCI Christopher Pearse’s murder investigation. Now Christopher is her husband, and this is supposed to be a bit of a vacation.

Until she trips over a body. As Pru so often does.

As Pru’s cases go (and they are all Pru’s cases, in spite of Christopher being a police detective) this one is a bit of a hodge-podge. A fact which is fitting for the garden she has come to restore, which began as rather a beautiful hodge-podge of the early 20th century Arts and Crafts Movement, but has descended into a neglected mess, albeit one with “good bones”.

And, as Pru inevitably discovers, real bones. Pru finds her erstwhile employer dead in the garden, under a fallen statue. But what should have looked like a clear case of accidental death is, of course, anything but.

The statue is all too obviously not the cause of death. It may be trapping the old man’s body, but it isn’t actually touching it. And Pru heard the sound of hammering, which is what drew her to the scene in the first place. The poor statue was quite securely on its plinth until someone viciously attacked it with a sledgehammer – someone who Pru obviously interrupted.

And there’s no blood at the scene. Anyone who has ever watched murder mysteries on TV knows that there’s blood at the actual murder site – especially if falling statuary is involved!

Poor old Batsford Bede was definitely murdered. And while he may have been in a physical decline, and he’s definitely very dead – he was far, far from poor. And wherever there’s a will, there’s a list of people who may have wanted to collect on their inheritance sooner rather than later, and another list of people who are at the very least unhappy that they are not one of the favored few.

This case positively sprouts with potential murderers with heaps of motive, and red herring clues that are so obviously planted that they stink like three day old fish.

It’s up to Pru and Christopher to figure out whodunnit and whydunnit before the wrong person gets convicted of a murder they certainly did not commit.

And, as usual for Pru, she figures it all out, but almost too late to save herself.

Escape Rating B: I love this series, and will cheerfully scoop up any mystery that Marty Wingate writes. (She also writes actual gardening books, and that’s just not my jam)

As much as I also enjoy her other series, Birds of a Feather, the Potting Shed mysteries have a special place in my heart because of, well, Pru’s heart. And Pru herself. It is not often, and not nearly often enough, that our heroine is a woman of a certain age who has found realistically portrayed romance, a new career in a new place, and becomes an amateur detective. Miss Marple falling in love with one of her oh-so-helpful detectives and continuing to solve mysteries – just with more respect.

But I said that this case was a bit of a hodge-podge. Part of that hodge-podge is the way that the story opens. Pru arrives in the Cotswolds with Christopher, and nothing is as it was purported to be – except the state of the garden. It’s not just that their B&B is a throwback to the 1970s disaster. That part of the story eventually becomes surprisingly heartwarming.

The crazy-making bit is the person who hired Pru, and her extremely evasive answers about the nature of the job and the state of the person who owns the estate. Coral Summersun is both there and not-there in a way that drove this reader a bit batty.

And one of Christopher’s exes lives in town. At the beginning of the story, there’s a bit too much melodrama. Once the body falls down, the story heats up. From that point onwards, everything runs at a very fast clip as Christopher finds himself back in harness and, for once, officially enlists Pru’s help with the investigation.

The killer hides in plain sight and keeps the police and Pru distracted, both by arranging for a series of minor disturbances to happen elsewhere, and by throwing false clues everywhere, all pointing to very plausible suspects.

There’s also more than a bit of heartbreak attached to this case. As Pru dives into the weeds of the garden, she learns the story of just how it came to be, and the ultimately tragic romance between Batsford Bede and Coral’s mother. It’s a shared loss that at first united the unlikely pair, and then suddenly divided them. It’s only as her “Uncle Batty” needed her again that he and Coral finally had a chance to regain their lovely father-daughter relationship. That their reconciliation was cut short by such a venal murder is an even bigger tragedy than the death itself.

I left the book satisfied that, if good had not exactly triumphed because a good man was dead before his time, that evil certainly got its just desserts. I look forward, as always, to Pru’s next adventure. In the meantime I have Farewell, My Cuckoo, the next book in her Birds of a Feather series, to look forward to in the spring, appropriately right along with the return of the migrating birds.

 

Review: Wild Justice by M.L. Buchman

Review: Wild Justice by M.L. BuchmanWild Justice (Delta Force #3) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military romance
Series: Delta Force #3
Pages: 313
Published by Buchman Bookworks, Inc. on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

DELTA FORCE
The best counter-terrorism force on the planet.

SERGEANT DUANE JENKINS
• Elite Delta operator—explosives just make him grin •

AGENT SOFIA FORTEZA
• Top Intel Analyst for The Activity—thinks data is sexy•

The team must face their toughest mission yet: take down a massive human-trafficking ring and a corrupt Venezuelan spy agency—without leaving a trace.

Sofia and Duane.
In common: black sheep of extremely wealthy families, renegades against the status quo.
Differences: tactician vs. explosives expert, thinker vs. pure warrior.

Together: fight to keep their team alive, and their love.

My Review:

Wild Justice is a story with layers, like an onion. And also like an onion, some of those layers will make the reader at least sniffle a bit.

Like all of the Delta Force series, this is a story of a crack military team ghosting into someplace where angels fear to tread and governments fear to leave official footprints. Members of “the Unit” go in, they get the job done, and they were never there.

The series, which began with Target Engaged, is about one particular team of Delta operators. Not that they call themselves that. To its members, Delta is just “the Unit”, and they are the best of the best.

As this case begins, they are joined by an intelligence analyst from an equally elite but completely different U.S. Black Ops agency, one known only as “the Activity”.

Sofia Forteza has called in an operational unit to help her take down a Venezuelan military officer who is a local kingpin in the human trafficking cesspool. She’s found her dirtbag, she just needs help with the extraction as well as the rescue of the women and children he is currently holding.

What she gets is Duane Jenkins, nicknamed, of course, The Rock. He may not quite match up to the actor, but he gets damn close. Even more important, when he brings in the rest of his team, he trusts Sofia to have his back, and gives her just enough pointers to help her help him without ever insulting her capabilities or her intelligence.

And he helps her come down from her first field kill without thinking or acting as if she’s weak for any reason whatsoever.

Duane gives her respect, and Sofia is forced to admit that he’s the first man she hasn’t had to prove herself to, over and over and over, even within the top ranks of the elite units – or within her own family.

There’s something between them from the moment they meet, and it’s something that neither of them has ever experienced before. They are fortunate that their coinciding missions give them the chance to explore what it might be.

Even if neither of them believes that love is remotely possible. Not for who they are now, and not for what they came from. But just because neither Sofia nor Duane believes in love, that does not mean that it does not believe in them.

Escape Rating B+: Any reader who loves military romance should pick up the first book in M.L. Buchman’s series of interconnected books, The Night is Mine, and just binge. He starts with an elite SOAR unit, branches some of them off into an elite civilian wildfire fighting operation, and then links others to Delta Force. You don’t have to read all of them to get the sense of any individual book in the series, including this one, but they are all tremendously fun.

And Buchman has a gift for making sure that his female protagonists are every single bit the kick-ass warriors that his male protagonists are. And as they should be under the circumstances. But it’s not something that we see nearly enough.

Wild Justice operates on multiple layers. A big part of the story is the operations that the team takes on to help dent the human trafficking trade in South America. This part of the story is based on very real and very harrowing events. The civilian team they partner with is based on a real organization that works similarly to the way their fictional counterparts are portrayed.

In the middle of the operation, there’s also a romance. Of course there is. Unusual for this series, though, Sofia and Duane are both from similar backgrounds, both, in their own ways “poor little rich kids” who grew up with all the monetary advantages in the world but not much in the way of nurturing or moral support. Sofia had one person who had her back, her grandmother, the powerful owner of a premier wine-making company. However, she also had not merely a narcissistic and nasty mother, but also an abusive older brother.

Duane’s dad is a Coca-Cola executive, his mother is a high-powered attorney, and Duane is a disappointment to both of them. He chose to join the military to try to fix at least a few of the things that can’t be fixed with “a Coke and a smile.” They’ve never forgiven him, not that they ever gave much of a damn about him in the first place.

That both of them grew up as part of the 1% and chose a career in service to make a difference gives them something in common. It also means that Duane is not over-awed by the wealth of Sofia’s family’s winemaking empire – an empire that Sofia will someday inherit.

Although the course of true love never does run smooth, these are two people who plausibly have a chance, and also plausibly have a rocky road ahead of them. It works.

One final note. In the midst of the current #MeToo campaign, one scene early in the book had a tremendous amount of resonance. As part of a training mission, Duane and his Delta team, along with Sofia, take down a cruise ship being “held” by a Black Ops team from another agency. After the operation is over, Duane and Sofia overhear the “losing” team indulging in what is often dismissed as “locker room talk”. They are evaluating the women on the Delta team, including Sofia, by their physical attributes and discussing just how much they want to “punish” the women for beating them. It’s not just disgusting, it’s actual rape talk. Sofia wants to dismiss it. She’s fought this battle all of her life, and it never ends well for her. Her response is one that so many of us often make, that it’s only talk. That it doesn’t really matter. Or most tellingly, that it can’t be fixed.

What makes the scene stand out is the way that the Delta team does indeed “fix” it. As a unit. This is not something they will tolerate, not the men in the unit, and not the women. It’s a joint effort to make these assholes pay.

The physical payback meted out is relatively minor, but the response from the higher ups is stellar. Instead of dismissing the complaint, as we so often fear will happen, because it so often does happen, the perpetrators are punished severely with loss of jobs, loss of promotions, loss of assignments, retraining, black marks in their files. The authorities do what they are supposed to do, and what we always hope they do but frequently don’t. At the same time, there’s the very real world acknowledgement that the worst offenders will go out and offend somewhere else. The powers that be in both agencies can drum these bastards out, and get the word out to all their reputable contacts not to hire them. Which means that, unfortunately but all too likely, the less reputable outfits will hire them. But they have done everything they can reasonably do to pull the rotten apples out of their own barrel.

And that’s still a big win.

Review: Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt + Giveaway

Review: Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt + GiveawayDuke of Desire (Maiden Lane, #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Maiden Lane #12
Pages: 364
Published by Grand Central Publishing on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A LADY OF LIGHT

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping. Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos. When one of the masked-and nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him . . . only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A DUKE IN DEEPEST DARKNESS

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them. Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans. But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

CAUGHT IN A WEB OF DANGER . . . AND DESIRE

Much to Raphael's irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life-and bed. Soon he's drawn both to her quick wit and her fiery passion. But when Iris discovers that Raphael's past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters. Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael's own demons?

My Review:

On the surface, Duke of Desire seems like a much more traditional historical romance than yesterday’s Someone to Wed. In this latest entry in Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series the hero and heroine fall into the standard pattern. He rescues her from grave physical danger. And she, in turn, saves him from the Stygian darkness he believes is inside his own soul.

But the terror that hides in the shadows of those Stygian depths is one that was not spoken of in traditional historical romances. The scarred Duke of Dyemore was the victim of child sexual abuse, at the hands, and other body parts, of his own father. It’s the kind of horror that never truly goes away, even after the death of its perpetrator.

Raphael’s father was the leader of one of the Hellfire Clubs that sometimes appear in historical romance and historical fiction. The Lords of Chaos are demons in human form, and Raphael is determined to bring them down.

But when the Lords kidnap Lady Iris Jordan in the mistaken belief that she is the new wife of their enemy the Duke of Kyle. (His story is told in last year’s Duke of Pleasure), Raphael risks his mission to save her. Iris is not the new Duchess, however she is a friend of Kyle’s. But she’s not the Lords intended victim, and Raphael makes use of the confusion to claim her for himself, right out from the Lords’ disgusting clutches.

Then Raphael’s spur-of-the-moment rescue goes completely awry when Iris shoots him, believing, and understandably so under the circumstances, that he is whisking her away to rape her in private before murdering her.

It is not an auspicious beginning for any relationship. They manage to straight out the mess before he succumbs to his wound. He recovers just enough to bully the local priest into marrying them. She will need the protection of his name to survive the storm that is coming, even if he doesn’t manage to live through her amateur attempt at surgery and the infection that follows.

What he’s not admitting is that he has been thinking of Iris for months, after they danced together once at a ball, and that as much as he believes that she is not for him, he can’t resist the opportunity to keep her for himself now that it has been tossed into his lap.

Iris, the widow of a cold man many years her senior, was hoping for a real marriage on her second time around, one with the possibility of children and even, at least, respect between herself and her husband.

What she has is Raphael, a devastating sexy man, in spite of the horrific scar that mars his face, who is determined to get himself killed in his vendetta against the Lords of Chaos. And who is equally determined not to sire any children before he meets the end he feels he deserves.

It’s up to Iris to probe the darkness that surrounds him, and give him a reason to survive his very necessary fight. Her battle often seems much more difficult than his.

But the rewards should be worth the pain. As long as they both survive.

Escape Rating B+: This was another book that I simply swallowed whole and very quickly. I really enjoyed its riff on the “Beauty and the Beast” tale, including the lovely alternate version of the fairy tale that is included in the chapter headers.

One of the themes underlying the story is about making one’s own choices about the course of one’s life, even if the beginning is in hell. Both the hero and the villain are sons of the previous generation of the Lords of Chaos. As a boy, Raphael chose escape by any means necessary, no matter how terrible. As an adult, he’s chosen to fight back. Instead, his enemy broke, and ended up wallowing in the evil that had broken him. Raphael certainly feels a bit of “there but for the (very questionable in this case), grace of G-d go I.”

It may be a bit of Stockholm Syndrome, but Iris does fall in love with Raphael a tad conveniently. They are effectively trapped together by the Lords’ enmity, and their marriage does make a certain amount of sense, but Iris is all in from very early on – more than just making the best of the situation. And she puts up with some unconscionable behavior on Raphael’s part.

Because he believes he isn’t worthy of love, and that he should never have children for fear that he might become like his father, the early parts of their relationship often feature Raphael at war with himself. He plays a vast game of “come here go away” because he needs Iris and wants her and doesn’t believe he should let himself care for her. So he regularly exhibits the care he believes he shouldn’t feel, and then pushes her away.

She fights back at every turn, as she needs to. But it would be exhausting in real life.

The danger to Iris is very real. The Lords of Chaos are all around them, planning to kill both Iris and Raphael (after raping Iris first, of course) so that they can maintain their secret den of vice, debauchery and murder with no one the wiser of their real identities. Raphael is a threat to their existence, and he must be stamped out.

As the jackals circle closer, Raphael must finally put some of his trust in someone else, and must admit that whether he is worthy of love or not, it has found him anyway, and it is worth preserving at all costs.

It is a difficult but ultimately satisfying lesson, for Raphael, for Iris, and for the reader.

Reviewer’s note: While we all enjoy seeing handsome heroes on the covers of romance novels, the inaccuracy of this particular cover is a bit jarring. Raphael has a terrible scar from above his eyebrow to the side of his mouth. That scar and the reasons for it are part of his story, his pain, his courage, and his redemption. A judicious use of Photoshop would have gone a long way on this cover.

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

Review: Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Wed by Mary BaloghSomeone to Wed (Westcott #3) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Westcott #3
Pages: 384
Published by Berkley on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A very practical marriage makes Alexander Westcott question his heart in the latest Regency romance from the New York Times bestselling author of Someone to Hold.

When Alexander Westcott becomes the new Earl of Riverdale, he inherits a title he never wanted and a failing country estate he can’t afford. But he fully intends to do everything in his power to undo years of neglect and give the people who depend on him a better life. . . .

A recluse for more than twenty years, Wren Heyden wants one thing out of life: marriage. With her vast fortune, she sets her sights on buying a husband. But when she makes the desperate—and oh-so-dashing—earl a startlingly unexpected proposal, Alex will only agree to a proper courtship, hoping for at least friendship and respect to develop between them. He is totally unprepared for the desire that overwhelms him when Wren finally lifts the veils that hide the secrets of her past. . . .

My Review:

I’m a little early with this review, but this was the book that was calling my name. So I decided to listen to that little voice and just read it now anyway. And I’m so very glad I did.

Someone to Wed is the third book in Balogh’s historical romance Westcott series, and just like the first two books, Someone to Love and Someone to Hold, it is an absolute treat from beginning to end.

The stories are all tied together, loosely enough that you don’t HAVE to read them in order, but I think it adds a bit more depth if you do. In the beginning, Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, was an ass. Just how big an ass was only revealed after his death, when it was discovered that his countess wasn’t really his countess, his heir wasn’t really his heir, and that his only legitimate child had been raised in an orphanage with no knowledge of her heritage whatsoever.

He left a big, huge, stinking mess. But he didn’t have to deal with any of it, because he was dead. This is probably a good thing, as most of the participants in the drama he left behind, and many readers, would cheerfully wring his neck if it wasn’t already six feet under.

Each story in this series deals with the human fallout from the late Humphrey’s assholishness. This time around it’s his cousin Alexander Westcott turn. Alex, as now the next legitimate male heir, has become the very unwilling Earl of Riverdale.

While one might think that anyone would love to inherit a title, this is definitely not true in Alex’s case. Because Alex has inherited the title and the quite frankly failing entailed estates, but none of the money that should go with them. Alex has inherited a title and a money pit. Money that he does not have.

Just plain Alexander Westcott had just managed to restore his own inherited patrimony to profitability after decades of neglect on his late father’s part and years of hard work on his own. Becoming the Earl of Riverdale means that he has the same work to do all over again, with the same resources he had before spread over much, much larger (and more seriously neglected) lands.

Plain Alexander Westcott could have afforded to marry for love. The new Earl of Riverdale must marry money. And that’s where Wren Heyden comes in. Wren has inherited a fortune and a very successful glassworks from her late and much beloved uncle. Nearing 30, her year of mourning for her uncle’s (and aunt’s) deaths over with, she wants to marry.

But Wren believes that her fortune is all she has to recommend her. Why? Because Wren has a large port-wine stain, in other words a big purple birthmark, covering much of the left side of her face. Long ago, someone convinced her that she was so ugly that no one could ever possibly love her – or even manage to look at her without running screaming from the room. Years of her aunt and uncle’s unstinting love and unwavering support never managed to convince her otherwise.

Wren attempts to buy Alex’s hand in marriage. He needs a rich wife, and she needs a man who will give her children. She begins by believing that she can maintain her life as a hermit, while giving Alex the money he needs to restore Riverdale.

While Alex feels that marrying for love is a now a dream out of his reach, he is still offended by the crassness at the base of Wren’s proposal. He does not want to be bought. But he recognizes the injustices of his feelings – after all, he was planning to present himself in the marriage mart with the hope of contracting just such an alliance.

Even more, Alex wonders if they will suit. He may not be able to marry for love, but mutual respect and eventual affection are surely not out of reach.

But can there be anything else between two people after such an inauspicious beginning? Can there be anything at all?

Escape Rating A: I swallowed this book in a day. Someone to Wed is marvelous because it throws so many of the standard historical romance tropes over within its first pages.

Of course, the thing that makes Someone to Wed so different is that Wren is the mover and shaker of the story. In the beginning, she acts, and Alex is the one who reacts – not always terribly well. What makes it work is the way that he thinks about his reactions, and reminds himself just how unfair so many of them are.

What makes the romance work is the way that both Wren and Alex bend over the course of the story. As unexpected as her proposal is, and as much as all of Alex’s instincts urge him to reject it and her, he does his best to be fair. She is both right and reasonable in her actions – he’s just not used to seeing a woman exhibit that much cold-blooded logic.

That Alex discovers that he actually enjoys talking with a woman who is his intellectual equal and is not afraid to show it – or who is completely incapable of hiding it – comes as a revelation.

Another thing that made this story work for this reader is the way that Wren’s birthmark was handled. It, and her mother’s reaction to it, scarred her, seemingly for life, much more than the birthmark itself does. She feels ugly and unlovable because that’s how she was made to feel as a child – not because either of those things are true. Her journey towards acceptance of herself is marvelously hard won.

Alex’ reaction to her birthmark reminds me of a quote from science fiction writer Robert Heinlein’s Notebooks of Lazarus Long, “A man does not insist on physical beauty in a woman who builds up his morale. After a while he realizes that she is beautiful–he just hadn’t noticed it at first.” While there is definitely some sexism in there, the point is still valid. Think of it as a more pleasant version of the old saw about beauty being skin deep, but ugly going clean through to the bone. Beauty is as beauty does. And beauty shines from within.

Wren is beautiful. And it takes Alex much less time to realize that fact than it does Wren herself. But when she finally does, it’s even more beautiful than their romance.

Reviewer’s Note: I don’t always envision the hero or heroine as any person in particular, but Alex is described as incredibly, perfectly handsome so many times that I kept seeing him as Yannick Bisson from the Murdoch Mysteries TV series. Particularly in the early years of the series, Bisson seemed too beautiful to be real. Your imaginary mileage may vary.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-15-17

Sunday Post

 

This week may be a first. All the books I reviewed were A’s, with one an A+. I’m not sure that’s ever happened. It was a GREAT reading week!

The Stuck in a Good Book Giveaway Hop ends tonight at midnight. Today is your last chance to enter the Rafflecopter for your choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or Book. But there are two other, completely different chances now available. The Howl-O-Ween Giveaway Hop will be hopping until, naturally, Halloween, and the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop started this morning.

Speaking of hops, the 7th Annual Black Friday Book Bonznza Giveaway Hop is now open for sign-ups. This year the hop is co-hosted by the Caffeinated Reviewer and yours truly. Black Friday is a great day for a hop for anyone who plans to do their shopping far from the madding crowds.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Stuck in a Good Book Giveaway Hop (ENDS TONIGHT!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Howl-O-Ween Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

A Review: Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
A Review: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
Black Friday Book Bonanza Giveaway Hop Sign Up
Howl-O-Ween Giveaway Hop
A Review: Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger
A+ Review: The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone
Stacking the Shelves (257)
Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

Coming Next Week:

Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh (review)
Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt (blog tour review)
Wild Justice by M.L. Buchman (review)
Best Laid Plants by Marty Wingate (blog tour review)
Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan (blog tour review)

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

Halloween is creeping closer and closer. That means it’s time for the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bookhounds!

It also means that pumpkin spice is taking over the world. hopefully only on a temporary basis.

Is it my imagination, or did the pumpkin spice parade start rolling out even earlier this year than it did last year?

But seriously, or at least semi-seriously, it’s that time again when the air starts to get just a bit crisp, for relative definitions of crisp depending on where you live, the leaves start to fall, if they haven’t already, and everyone buys large packages of small bars of candy and pretends that all the candy is for the veritable hordes of trick-or-treaters expected to bombard your doorstep on Halloween.

I try to only buy candy I can’t eat – it saves loads of regret the next day (week, month, year). On that other hand, my husband really likes Snickers. To each their own.

As usual, I tried to pick a book with some vague relationship to scary stuff to review for Halloween. I don’t read much horror, so this is always a stretch. The planned book is Black Box Inc by Jake Bible. It’s urban fantasy, which is usually as close to horror as I get, in a post-extradimensional happening world. It looks like it has definite possibilities on the slightly creepy scale, just perfect for Halloween.

I don’t read horror (or watch it) because it scares me. If I want to be scared, all I have to do is watch the news. But what really creeps you out?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more fabulous (and not frightening) giveaways, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop!