Review: Prisoner of the Crown by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Prisoner of the Crown by Jeffe KennedyPrisoner of the Crown by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, Dark Fantasy
Series: Chronicles of Dasnaria #1
Pages: 160
Published by Rebel Base Books on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

She was raised to be beautiful, nothing more. And then the rules changed . . .   In icy Dasnaria, rival realm to the Twelve Kingdoms, a woman’s role is to give pleasure, produce heirs, and question nothing. But a plot to overthrow the emperor depends on the fate of his eldest daughter. And the treachery at its heart will change more than one carefully limited life . . .   THE GILDED CAGE Princess Jenna has been raised in supreme luxury—and ignorance. Within the sweet-scented, golden confines of the palace seraglio, she’s never seen the sun, or a man, or even learned her numbers. But she’s been schooled enough in the paths to a woman’s power. When her betrothal is announced, she’s ready to begin the machinations that her mother promises will take Jenna from ornament to queen.   But the man named as Jenna’s husband is no innocent to be cozened or prince to charm. He’s a monster in human form, and the horrors of life under his thumb are clear within moments of her wedding vows. If Jenna is to live, she must somehow break free—and for one born to a soft prison, the way to cold, hard freedom will be a dangerous path indeed…   Praise for The Mark of the Tala   “Magnificent…a richly detailed fantasy world.” RT Book Reviews, 4½ stars, Top Pick   “Well written and swooningly romantic.” Library Journal, starred review

My Review:

This book comes with ALL the trigger warnings. Jenna’s story is not for the faint of heart, should not be read with the lights off, and probably should not be read just before bedtime. She has to survive a nightmare before she begins to step into the light, and reading her travails just before one’s own bedtime is likely to result in some epic nightmares.

I didn’t even risk it.

What keeps the first two thirds of this story from merely being page after page of increasing, unrelieved terror is that the story is narrated in the first-person, from the perspective of an older, wiser and cannier Jenna. A Jenna who clearly survived all of the terrible abuse she suffered in the first two thirds of the book.

It’s not just that the women of the imperial seraglio in Dasnaria are kept in a prison. Albeit a gilded, perfumed prison with regular, excellent meals as well plenty of companionship and entertainment. They are pampered pets who are raised not to even be aware that they are pets and playthings and not even considered exactly people.

It’s that Jenna is first abused by her own mother, who whips her, poisons her and punishes her to train her to survive what the outside world will do to her. And who is using Jenna to further her own ends and extend her own power.

Then Jenna is married off in a strategic alliance to a man who has murdered his four previous wives – because they couldn’t survive his constant abuse. Jenna’s parents, her father the emperor and her mother the empress, know that King Rodolf is a man who is only sexually aroused by beating women into terrified submission. All the emperor asks is that Jenna’s new husband refrain from damaging her face when he can see it.

The only “help” she gets from her mother is a servant who will provide her with enough drugs to keep the pain and terror at bay.

Jenna’s life is hard to bear, and difficult to read about. Just as she has reached the point where a quick death seems like her best option, her brother opens the bars of her cage, and sets her on the journey to freedom.

We’ve met her brother Harlan before in the Twelve Kingdoms series, of which The Chronicles of Dasnaria is an offshoot. A grown-up Harlan, exiled from his father’s kingdom of Dasnaria, becomes the consort of Princess Ursula in the absolutely marvelous The Talon of the Hawk.

Jenna’s rescue is clearly the first step in Harlan’s journey to become the man worthy of the Crown Princess of the Twelve Kingdoms. But the hero of Prisoner of the Crown is clearly the young, deluded, beaten, abused but ultimately unbroken Jenna.

Escape Rating B+: This is a hard book to rate, because Jenna’s journey from pampered child to determined woman take her through one dark place after another. We feel for her, we want better for her, but we spend most of the book terrified that she isn’t going to get anything approaching that better.

Although Harlan certainly provides a big assist, in the end, Jenna rescues herself, and that’s important for her story and her journey. She begins the book as a child who does not look beyond her cage, and ends by taking her life into her own hands and breaking free.

What makes the story so difficult to bear is that we see the cage tighten around her for so much of the book. Her hard-won freedom barely has time to register before the book ends – while clearly the story does not. She has taken just the first few steps on a journey that is far from over, but readers will have to wait until September to see how Jenna handles and protects her dearly-bought freedom. It’s going to be an exasperating wait.

But for those who have not read the previous series, The Twelve Kingdoms and its followup The Uncharted Realms, this is not a bad place to start as all of the action in this story takes place before The Mark of the Tala, the first book in the Twelve Kingdoms opens. We do meet both Harlan, the hero of The Talon of the Hawk, and Kral, the hero of The Edge of the Blade, as young men. In Harlan’s case, very, very young as he’s only 14 in Prisoner of the Crown. Prisoner, at least, presupposes little previous knowledge of this world. However, I suspect that the future books in the Dasnaria series are going to edge closer to the time period of The Twelve Kingdoms. If you get caught up in Jenna’s journey, there’s plenty of time to catch up with the rest of this world before the next book.

Jenna’s journey continues in Exile of the Seas. And I can’t wait to continue it with her.

Review: Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean + Giveaway

Review: Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean + GiveawayWicked and the Wallflower (The Bareknuckle Bastards, #1) by Sarah MacLean
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Bareknuckle Bastards #1
Pages: 396
Published by Avon on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When Wicked Comes Calling...

When a mysterious stranger finds his way into her bedchamber and offers his help in landing a duke, Lady Felicity Faircloth agrees—on one condition. She's seen enough of the world to believe in passion, and won't accept a marriage without it.

The Wallflower Makes a Dangerous Bargain...

Bastard son of a duke and king of London's dark streets, Devil has spent a lifetime wielding power and seizing opportunity, and the spinster wallflower is everything he needs to exact a revenge years in the making. All he must do is turn the plain little mouse into an irresistible temptress, set his trap, and destroy his enemy.

For the Promise of Passion...

But there's nothing plain about Felicity Faircloth, who quickly decides she'd rather have Devil than another. Soon, Devil's carefully laid plans are in chaos, and he must choose between everything he's ever wanted...and the only thing he's ever desired.

My Review:

Anyone who likes the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt or the Diamonds in the Rough series by Sophie Barnes is going to love the Bareknuckle Bastards and Wicked and the Wallflower.

I could stop there, but of course I won’t.

I could, however, also throw in the Cynster series by Stephanie Laurens, and not just because the hero of the first book in that series was also named Devil.

All of those series in some way involve scandalous deeds hidden under a veneer of society polish. Sometimes that veneer is very, very thin indeed.

That’s the case in Wicked and the Wallflower. Once upon a time there was a dastardly duke, who is now a very, very dead duke. His wife and his mistresses all provided him with children, and all on the same day. All those children were boys – except the legitimate one. After the birth of her daughter, the duchess ensured that the duke would not be siring any more bastards – or any more legitimate children either. Not that he seems to have been the actual father of hers.

This book is the first in a series revolving around those four children – who are now all adults. One son won, or stole, the dukedom from the others. His two brothers and his sister plan to make sure that he never enjoys the title he has so ill-gotten.

And thereby hangs a tale. The fraudulent duke has come to town to find a wife. His brothers and his sister plan to prevent him from carrying out his plans at all costs.

Poor forgotten Felicity Faircloth finds herself caught in the middle, between four men who want to use her for their own ends.

Her father and her brother want her to marry the duke in order to restore the fortunes that they lost. The duke wants to use her to bring his brothers and his sister, especially his sister, out into the open where he can trap them. And his brother Devil plans to use her to set the duke up for the ruination of all his plans. Or at least, the ruination of all of somebody’s plans.

But no matter how strong the cage they all try to place her in, every cage has a door, and every door has a lock. And Felicity Faircloth will not be used. She will, however, make expert use of a set of lockpicks.

Escape Rating B+: Wicked and the Wallflower become partners in a very entertaining dance of opposites and equals, and it’s all because of the character of Felicity Faircloth, the wallflower of the title.

While the story is not in the first person, we do see this world mostly from Felicity’s perspective. And in spite of the differences of time and place and station, hers is a point-of-view that it is easy to empathize with.

She wants more than she is supposed to have. She wants more than the world expects her to settle for. She wants to be somebody. She wants to be loved and accepted for who she really is, and not for the mask she wears or how adept she is at squashing herself into the small places that women are permitted to occupy.

When we, and Devil, first meet Felicity, she is on the outside of the ton looking in. She’s 27 and relatively plain and seems to have been put permanently on the shelf. Once upon a time, she was at the center of it all, and she misses being included. She hates being on the outside, and wants back in.

Devil offers her a way to get what she believes she wants – and we understand why she accepts the deal – even though we know that he’s not going to honor it. And it’s clear that in her own heart of hearts, Felicity has some doubts as well. But she’s sure things can’t get any worse than the mess she’s already made. Thoughts like that are always wrong.

That she falls for Devil seems inevitable. Not because of the deal, and not because he intends to seduce her, although he certainly does. But because he sees her as she really is. And not merely accepts her, but actually celebrates the person she is. He doesn’t expect her to conform to a role, and he doesn’t need her to save his fortune – even though he does need her to save his soul.

But Devil is used to seeing women as capable if not exactly equal, and she is match for any woman he knows – even if he is incapable of acknowledging that fact. They make each other better, and that’s what makes the story works.

Even if Devil does do the idiot thing and attempt to give her up because he believes that she’s too good for him. He does, however, grovel quite nicely.

In the beginning, I compared Wicked and the Wallflower to both Maiden Lane and Diamonds in the Rough. I used those two examples because they both contain elements of the Bareknuckle Bastards. Maiden Lane because that series, like this one, explores life in 19th century London outside of the glittering facade of the ton – and finds love and purpose in the lives lived there. Diamonds in the Rough features a family that found itself in similar circumstances to Devil, his brother Whit and their sister Grace. Children who should have been raised in the lap of luxury but were forced into life on the streets – and who made those streets their own. Their ability to look at the ton and see the ridiculousness and hypocrisy that underlie the glitter are part of the charm of both series.

I can’t wait to read Whit’s story in Brazen and the Beast later this year.

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

LINK: https://www.subscribepage.com/WickedAndTheWallflower

PRIZE:  To celebrate the release of WICKED AND THE WALLFLOWER by Sarah MacLean, we’re giving away two $10 Amazon gift cards!

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open internationally. Two winners will each receive a $10 Amazon gift card.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 6/29/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Pure Textuality PR is responsible for the prize and will send the prizes out to the winners directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger

Review: Boardwalk Summer by Meredith JaegerBoardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this new novel from the author of The Dressmaker’s Dowry, two young women two generations apart discover the joy and heartbreak of following their dreams. Aspiring Hollywood actress Violet makes a shocking choice in 1940, and seventy years later, Mari sets out to discover what happened on that long ago summer.

Santa Cruz, Summer 1940: When auburn-haired Violet Harcourt is crowned Miss California on the boardwalk of her hometown, she knows she is one step closer to her cherished dream: a Hollywood screen test. But Violet’s victory comes with a price—discord in her seemingly perfect marriage—and she grapples with how much more she is willing to pay.

Summer 2007: Single mother Marisol Cruz lives with her parents in the charming beach cottage that belonged to her grandfather, Ricardo, once a famed performer on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Drawn to the town’s local history and the quaint gazebo where her grandparents danced beneath the stars, Mari sells raffle tickets at the Beach Boardwalk Centennial Celebration, and meets Jason, a California transplant from Chicago.

When Mari discovers the obituary of Violet Harcourt, a beauty queen who died too young, she and Jason are sent on a journey together that will uncover her grandfather’s lifelong secret—his connection to Violet—a story of tragedy and courage that will forever transform them.

My Review:

At times, Boardwalk Summer is as wild and rollicking a ride as the old wooden roller coaster that stands proudly on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

And at other times, it is the quietly beautiful story of two women who are connected across the years by their relationships with two extremely different men – but not in the way that the reader at first thinks.

And it’s about apples that both do and don’t fall far from one very twisted tree.

In 1940 Violet Harcourt is a 20-year-old woman married to an abusive husband. Her dreams may be dying but are not quite dead. In 2007, Marisol Cruz is a 25-year-old single mother who had to put her own dreams to sleep when she discovered she was pregnant after a drunken one-night stand.

Violet’s story seems like a tragedy. It is impossible not to feel for her plight, while at the same time her situation makes for hard reading. Her husband is an abuser, and she’s finally figured out that he’s only going to get worse. So she escapes, only to discover that her dreams of Hollywood glory are even more out of reach than her dreams of a happy marriage.

When her husband finds her and takes her back to Santa Cruz, we know that she’s done for – and so does she.

Marisol, on the other hand, is doing the best she can in a situation that she fully recognizes is of her own making. She had dreams of graduate school, only to bury those dreams completely when her celebratory one-night stand after her college graduation resulted in pregnancy. Little Lily is the light of Mari’s life. With the help of her parents, they are getting by. But as much as she loves her daughter, she misses the life of the mind she’d planned on having.

A new guy in town helps her see that her dreams don’t have to wait forever. While they tentatively explore a relationship, Mari jumps with both feet into the process to secure a small local history grant and hopefully save a local landmark from the wrecking ball.

Her quest to thwart the developers and uncover the mystery behind Violet Harcourt’s death uncovers a whole host of family secrets – and puts Mari squarely in opposition to the father of her little girl.

But the more she digs, the less she discovers that she truly knows. And that what everybody believes ain’t necessarily so.

Escape Rating A-: At first, I had a difficult time with this story. Violet’s marriage is so obviously a tragedy, and one that we’ve seen all too often in both fiction and real life. Her husband is an abuser who has systematically stripped her of her dreams and her friends. He wants her dependent and broken, and she’s on the way there – until she breaks out. It’s hard to read her story as her situation goes from bad to worse to desperately worse. The twist at the end is a surprise, a redemption and a delight.

Mari’s story is a lot more straightforward, and it’s fortunate that we follow Mari’s story more than Violet. The sperm donor of Mari’s baby is a douchecanoe, but he’s not, thank dog, actually her douchecanoe. They never had a relationship and Mari doesn’t want one. Her only real regret at the whole mess is that he refused to have any relationship with Lily.

Mari and Lily, with the help of her parents, are doing just fine. But Mari is ready to do more than just get by when Jacob comes to Santa Cruz and enters her life.

The heart of the story turns out to be Mari’s quest to save the historic but neglected gazebo at the end of the Boardward from the developer’s wrecking ball. That gazebo has history, and it’s Mari’s history. Not just that her beloved grandfather and grandmother were married under the gazebo, but that it was a center of cultural life and entertainment for the Latinx citizens of Santa Cruz back in the day when Mari’s people were not welcome at many venues in the community controlled by the wealthy white families.

Families like that of Violet Harcourt’s violent husband. And Mari’s little girl’s sperm donor. That Trevor Harcourt is behind the developers planning to tear down the gazebo and build expensive condos to block the waterfront is no surprise. That apple did not fall far from his grandfather’s twisted tree.

But it’s Mari’s research into the history of the gazebo and the way that her family’s own history is intertwined with it that brings the story full circle, solves the old mystery and gives the story its heart and soul.

And finally earns her that happy ending – and not just her own.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King

Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. KingIsland of the Mad by Laurie R. King
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #15
Pages: 306
Published by Bantam on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are back in the New York Times bestselling series that Lee Child called "the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today."

A June summer's evening, on the Sussex Downs, in 1925. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are strolling across their orchard when the telephone rings: an old friend's beloved aunt has failed to return following a supervised outing from Bedlam. After the previous few weeks--with a bloody murder, a terrible loss, and startling revelations about Holmes--Russell is feeling a bit unbalanced herself. The last thing she wants is to deal with the mad, and yet, she can't say no.

The Lady Vivian Beaconsfield has spent most of her adult life in one asylum after another, yet he seemed to be improving--or at least, finding a point of balance in her madness. So why did she disappear? Did she take the family's jewels with her, or did someone else? The Bedlam nurse, perhaps?

The trail leads Russell and Holmes through Bedlam's stony halls to the warm Venice lagoon, where ethereal beauty is jarred by Mussolini's Blackshirts, where the gilded Lido set may be tempting a madwoman, and where Cole Porter sits at a piano, playing with ideas...

My Review:

I have followed Mary Russell’s adventures from her very first outing in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, almost 25 years ago. And how that time has flown!

The story we have in Island of the Mad reminds me of the best of the Russell/Holmes kanon (yes, that spelling is deliberate) combining the farcical aspects of the case in Pirate King with the more serious undertones, as well as a few of the characters, from the second book in the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women. And the result is glorious – as well as a bit star-studded.

And if you’ve ever wondered about the origin of the name “Lido”, which seems to be a deck on every cruise ship as well as appearing in multiple songs and all sorts of other places, our journey also takes us to what feels like the original of the name, the Lido di Venezia in the beautiful La Serenissima – Venice.

The case before our intrepid heroine is to determine whether her best friend’s aunt disappeared of her own free will, was the victim of some foul deeds, or succumbed to the madness that has plagued her for the past dozen years or so.

Or perhaps all of the above.

When Mary’s search for Vivian Beaconsfield leads her from Bedlam to Venice, a separate case miraculously (or perhaps nefariously) appears before her husband Sherlock Holmes. Mycroft desperately wants his brother to poke his inquisitive nose into the rise of the Fascisti in Italy. While too many people in England think that a strong man like Il Duce Mussolini is just what Italy needs, Mycroft is certain that there is something sinister about the rise of the fascists in Italy, Germany and possibly even Britain.

History proved he was right, but in 1925 all that Mycroft had was his finely honed intuition. He can’t send an agent because even he can’t describe what an agent should be looking for. But if there is something to find, Mycroft is certain that Sherlock will find it. Or that it will find him, whether he wants it to or not.

While their separate missions lead them to the same city, the things that need investigation pull them in entirely different directions. While Mary hunts for evidence of Vivian’s presence among the more outre denizens of Venice’s celebrating ex-pat nightlife, Sherlock inveigles himself into the household of American composer Cole Porter, where anyone who is anyone in the city is entertained in lavish style while the rich Americans drop millions of lira into the local economy.

When their respective cases dovetail into one another, the conclusion of both trails ends in a bang, a whimper, and an explosion of sound and light. Lots and lots of bright, white, revealing light. Flashbulbs!

Escape Rating A: As much as I love this entire series, naturally some of the stories work better than others. Island of the Mad worked really, really well, because it went back to the elements that make this series so special.

The premise of this series, established all the way back in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, was that after Sherlock Holmes retired to the Sussex Downs at the end of his adventures, he literally stumbled over a 15-year-old girl – or rather she stumbled over him while her nose was buried in a book. After that fortuitous meeting, he took her on as an apprentice, and in the course of her apprenticeship, they eventually, after the events in A Monstrous Regiment of Women, married.

If you can swallow that premise, and admittedly some people can’t, the entire series is marvelous from beginning to the present. I don’t say beginning to end, because I sincerely hope the end never comes. If you can swallow the premise and have not read the rest of the series, well, you could start with this one. It does stand a fair bit on its own. But it would lose some of its resonance. If you are interested, but just not up to plowing through all 14 previous books in one go, read at least the first two so that you know how these two fit together into their singular relationship.

The series began in 1915, and this story takes place in 1925. Holmes and Russell have been married for several years, and are quite happily married. Also, it is a real marriage and not in any way a marriage of convenience – as many of their acquaintances occasionally assume. Their marriage is a true partnership, and much of the fun of the series is watching them work together, even if, as happens here, they are sometimes apart in their togetherness.

The stories are always told from Russell’s perspective, with her parts being in the first person, and Holmes’ separate investigations in the third person. We operate from inside her head, but with extremely rare exceptions, never inside his. Holmes is as inscrutable as ever, including at times to his wife.

There’s a difficult balance to strike between having Russell operate on her own and making sure that Holmes participates enough to keep things interesting for both them and the reader. The books do not always strike that balance well, but this particular outing does. They have separate tasks to perform and separate ways to go about them, but they check in with each other on enough of a regular basis for the reader to feel invested in both cases, and for the dovetailing at the end to work well.

One of the things that makes this series different from other Holmes pastiches and continuations is not just Russell’s voice but the way that she takes Holmes’ training and moves it into a new century with the different sensibilities of both her generation and her gender.

There are two dark themes underlying the froth in this particular outing. One is, of course, the rise of fascism in between-the-wars Europe and just how quickly and easily the fascists have taken over Italy. That is a darkness and a threat that Holmes would both recognize and fight against whether Russell was present or not. And any resonance between the situation they investigate and current xenophobic and tyrannical regimes rising today is probably intentional.

But just as the way that the fascists has come to power leads the reader to compare that situation to the present, so does the initial case that takes Russell to Venice in the first place. Her best friend’s aunt has been committed to Bedlam, the psychiatric asylum in London, for years. She has escaped. As Russell investigates, it turns out that the question isn’t why she escaped, but why she was committed in the first place. And if you don’t see the #MeToo movement peeking out from behind the historical curtain, you’re not looking.

There’s a lot of substance under the froth of the “Young Things” partying between the wars and the glitter of the ex-pat night life – if you want to look for it. But even if you don’t, it’s a fascinating story from the very first page.

I look forward, as always, to Mary Russell’s next investigation.

Review: The Privilege of Peace by Tanya Huff

Review: The Privilege of Peace by Tanya HuffThe Privilege of Peace (Peacekeepers, #3) by Tanya Huff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction, space opera
Series: Peacekeeper #3, Confederation #8
Pages: 336
Published by DAW Books on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Former space marine Torin Kerr returns for one final adventure to save the Confederation in the last book in the military science fiction Peacekeeper trilogy.

Warden Torin Kerr has put her past behind her and built a life away from the war and everything that meant. From the good, from the bad. From the heroics, from the betrayal. She's created a place and purpose for others like her, a way to use their training for the good of the Confederation. She has friends, family, purpose.

Unfortunately, her past refuses to grant her the same absolution. Big Yellow, the ship form of the plastic aliens responsible for the war, returns. The Silsviss test the strength of the Confederation. Torin has to be Gunnery Sergeant Kerr once again and find a way to keep the peace.

My Review:

If this is truly the end of ex-Gunnery Sergeant now Warden Torin Kerr’s story, I’m going to be very, very sad to see it end. Torin’s story, from its beginning all the way back in Valor’s Choice (nearly 20 years ago, OMG) has been absolutely marvelous.

I began the Valor/Confederation series and the Vatta’s War series at about the same time, so they are both inextricably linked in my memory. They also both finished at the same time, and then revived at about the same time. Wonderful synchronicity.

And they both feature kick-ass, strong, idiosyncratic heroines in vast interstellar space operas. The biggest difference is that Vatta’s War and its sequel series Vatta’s Peace are mercantile space opera, while Confederation/Peacekeeper is strictly military SF.

Torin Kerr begins the series as a Sergeant in the Confederation Marines, and even though at the end of the Confederation series she does manage to retire the sergeant from the Marine Corps, as we, she and her crew discover in An Ancient Peace, the first book in the Peacekeeper sequel series, it is impossible to take the Marine out of the sergeant.

Even in what passes for peacetime, she’s still the Gunny. Mostly. When it counts.

The Privilege of Peace picks up almost immediately after A Peace Divided leaves off. Which means that this is not the place to start. And as much as I loved An Ancient Peace, the first book in the Peacekeeper series, I don’t think that’s the place to start, either. Because this peace, and the characters’ reactions to it, all depend on who and what they were during the late war, and what their relationships to Torin Kerr were during that war. If you enjoy military SF with great characters, terrific world-building and absolutely fantastic heroines, start at the beginning with Valor’s Choice.

And I envy anyone who does a binge-read to “earn” The Privilege of Peace. I’ve read the entire series, but as it was published. Which means that the details of Torin’s history happened even longer ago for me than they do for her. It took awhile for me to get back up to speed on all the names, faces, races, and reasons behind each character’s inclusion in this conclusion.

Because of that “ramp-up” time, the story seemed a bit choppy at points. Lots of characters have similar names, the reader is expected to remember all of their backstory, and the action jumps around a bit. It takes a while to set up the big showdown with “Big Yellow” and the Humans First pukes.

And that’s a hint that there are effectively two different enemies in this book, at least for certain definitions of enemy. Possibly also for certain definitions of factions.

“Big Yellow” turned out to be the enemy of the entire Confederation series. And while the threat of them returning has hung over all of the Peacekeeper series, in Privilege they really are back, and no one is happy about it. But at least now everyone knows that Big Yellow is the big enemy, even if they can’t always recognize its “minions” when they appear. Or disappear. Or hide in plain sight.

That second enemy is the home-grown variety. Humans First will sound familiar in entirely too many contemporary 21st Century ways. They believe that Humans are better than every other race in the galaxy and that the Confederation is holding them back from their greatness. They also believe that violence – along with infiltration and blackmail and other nastinesses – are the way to take their rightful place in the galaxy.

The idea that humans will carry their xenophobia into the stars is more than a bit depressing, but feels all too possible.

Torin and her friends are, as usual, stuck in the middle, caught between the manipulations of Big Yellow, the violence of Humans First, the mind-numbing insanity of Confederation bureaucracy and the secret dreams of the Confederation military.

Peace is a privilege that has to be earned. And as usual, Torin Kerr and her companions are paying for that privilege with their own blood, sweat and hopefully not too many tears.

Escape Rating B: I loved traveling with Torin and Company one more time. Not having just finished a binge of the entire series, it did take a while for me to catch back up, and the longer it has been since the beginning and the more that has happened since that beginning, the longer it seems to take with each book.

The multiple perspectives in The Privilege of Peace made the story seem a bit disjointed at times, but I still liked the journey and felt that the ending was earned. Which means I can only recommend this book to fans of the series. And I still think it is well worth reading the entire series.

The blurbs claim that this is the conclusion of Torin’s journey. If so, I’m sorry to see her go and I’ll miss traveling with her, but she has certainly earned her happy ending. And it is a happy ending – or at least as happy as Torin can manage.

At the same time, there are enough loose, or at least loose-ish, ends that it would be possible for the adventures to continue. And if that occurs, I’ll be glad to watch the Gunny kick more ass and take more names. Anytime. Anyplace. Any galaxy.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 6-17-18

Sunday Post

Looking for a house is hard work. Also hot and hungry work. I don’t know how real estate agents do it, especially in the summer in the South. Or, come to think of it, the winter in the north. We think we found a place. We’ll see.

Of course, then the real work begins!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Splash into Summer Giveaway Hop
Echo Moon by Laura Spinella
The Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Amazon Gift Card in the Beach Reads Giveaway Hop is Patricia

Blog Recap:

B+ Review: Echo Moon by Laura Spinella + Giveaway
C+ Review: A Study in Treason by Leonard Goldberg
B+ Review: The Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway
A-/B Review: Unidentified by Anna Hackett
Splash into Summer Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (292)

Coming Next Week:

The Privilege of Peace by Tanya Huff (review)
Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King (review)
Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger (blog tour review)
A Long Way from Home by Peter Carey (review)
Prisoner of the Crown by Jeffe Kennedy (review)

Stacking the Shelves (292)

Stacking the Shelves

There are three books on this week’s list that have been on my “anticipated” list for quite a while. In the case of one of the books, quite a long while. And the others, of course, also look very, very interesting, or I wouldn’t have picked them up in the first place!

For Review:
All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy
The Black Khan (Khorasan Archives #2) by Ausma Zehanat Khan
Boom Town by Sam Anderson
Good Time Cowboy (Gold Valley #3) by Maisey Yates
Hunting the Truth by Beate and Serge Klarsfeld
The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang
An Informal History of the Hugos by Jo Walton
In the Garden of Fugitives by Ceridwen Dovey
The Iron Codex (Dark Arts #2) by David Mack
Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Gamache #14) by Louise Penny
Making Chase (Chase Brothers #4) by Lauren Dane
The Parking Log Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat
The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife
Six Cats a Slayin’ (Cat in the Stacks #10) by Miranda James
The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton
Under Control (Boston Fire #5) by Shannon Stacey
When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrise Khan Cullors and asha bandele



Splash into Summer Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Splash into Summer Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bookhounds!

We’re between the unofficial start of Summer (Memorial Day) and the official meteorological start of Summer, the Summer solstice on June 21. To be really, really technical about it, 6:07 AM on 6/21/18. Not that I’ll be awake to see it.

And it doesn’t matter, because the Summer solstice will be the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Well, not really. All days are 24 hours, after all. But the day with the longest amount of daylight. Here in Atlanta, the sun will rise at 6:26 AM and not set until 8:49 PM. This is the time of year when I miss living in Anchorage, where the sun doesn’t really set on the solstice – it just sort of dips below the horizon for a couple of hours. Or at least that’s the way it seemed.

It will also be warm on the solstice. That’s one way of putting it. In Atlanta it will be probably be hotter than Hades, and muggy to boot. A good day to stay where its air conditioned and curl up with a good book and a sleepy kitty.

To help you curl up with a good book, or sunbathe with a good book, I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository. This giveaway is open to anyone within reach of the wonderful world-spanning folks at the Book Depository.

Have a fantastic summer!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And for more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

Review: Unidentified by Anna Hackett

Review: Unidentified by Anna HackettUnidentified (Treasure Hunter Security, #7) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #7
Pages: 172
Published by Anna Hackett on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Finding undiscovered treasures is always daring, dangerous, and deadly. Unidentified contains two action-packed novellas starring sexy archeologists, feisty treasure hunters, and tough former Navy SEALs on the hunt for two priceless Incan emeralds.

The Emerald Tear: ambitious archeologist Oliver Ward leads a dig in the wild jungles of Ecuador and collides with feisty, independent treasure hunter Persephone.

Oliver Ward loves getting his boots dirty on fascinating digs, and investigating strange ruins in Ecuador is no exception. When bandits threaten his team, a small, tough treasure hunter bursts into his world to save the day. He finds himself captivated by the bright, vibrant woman and sucked into a wild and dangerous treasure hunt for a lost Incan emerald.

Daughter of a con artist, Persephone Blake trusts no one and has a plan—find and sell artifacts until she can retire on a white-sand beach. But her plans are derailed when a handsome, smart, and stubborn archeologist pushes his way onto her hunt. She finds herself irresistibly tempted by Oliver, and as they trek deeper into the jungle, danger follows. And Persephone isn’t sure what is in more danger—her body or her heart.

The Emerald Butterfly: former Navy SEAL Diego Torres finds himself helping the one woman who drives him crazy—the DEA agent who boarded his ship and handcuffed him.

Injured and tortured on a mission, Diego Torres was ready to leave the SEALs and loves being captain of his salvage ship, the Storm Nymph. As he begins his vacation, he planned for solitude, late mornings, and drinking beers while watching the Florida sunsets, what he didn’t plan for was the gorgeous DEA agent who boarded his ship several months before. And he really didn’t plan for an underwater expedition in search of a shipwreck and a priceless Incan emerald.

Sloan McBride’s grandfather dreamed of finding the Emerald Butterfly his entire life. Now he’s dying and she vows to find it for him…even if she has to work with the hard-bodied ex-SEAL she got off to a very wrong start with. But as Sloan and Diego work side by side, dogged by dangerous black-market thieves Silk Road, they uncover a scorching hot passion. They will do anything to protect each other, including calling in their friends from Treasure Hunter Security, and they’ll risk everything to beat Silk Road to the emerald.

My Review:

The stories in the Unidentified duology are wrapped around a pair of matched emeralds that were discovered or rumored to be discovered in the jungles of Ecuador. These two beautiful stones sat on matched statues at the entrance to a lost Inca Temple.

Naturally, such priceless treasures draw the eyes of the infamous Silk Road gang. But, as always, the men and women of Treasure Hunter Security are there to stop them – even before there actually is a Treasure Hunter Security.

The first story takes place in the 1970s, and it’s all about the 20th century discovery of the temple and the Emerald Tear. It is also the story of how archeologist Oliver Ward and treasure hunter Persephone Blake, the parents of the THS team, found each other.

The Emerald Tear is a story where Indiana Jones is both Romancing the Stone and discovering The Lost City of the Monkey God. What’s even more fun is that the Lost City book is actually non-fiction, but the description still fits.

(For casting purposes, think of Oliver Ward as Indy, and Percy as a female version of the mercenary Jack Colton in Stone – not that Oliver is in the least bit as mousy as Joan Wilder – far from it!)

It feels like The Emerald Tear is the meatier of the two stories. We get Oliver and Percy meeting and falling in insta-lust if not insta-love. But they are just made for each other. Percy is scouting Oliver’s village dig and Silk Road – or its predecessor – is following her. She has clues to the location of the temple, and her clue (and Silk Road’s) is smack in the middle of Oliver’s dig.

Once they get together, the story, and their romance, are off to the races. Or at least off to the middle of the jungle on a dangerous and deadly quest to find the temple, the emerald, and the key to each other’s hearts.

Oliver and Percy’s story is a fast-paced adventure in a steamy jungle with just the right amount of equally steamy sex.

Escape Rating for The Emerald Tear: A-

On my other hand, the story when it picks up in The Emerald Butterfly isn’t nearly as compelling. In comparison to The Emerald Tear, The Emerald Butterfly is pretty but not nearly as riveting.

It’s not that the romance between THS operative Diego Torres and DEA agent Sloan McBride isn’t steamy and sexy, it’s the action that isn’t between the sheets feels a bit formulaic. Or at least obvious and predictable.

We know Silk Road are following, we know they’re going to do their level worst to take the Emerald Butterfly from our heroes, and we know that THS is going to swoop in and save the day, the stone and our heroes.

So this was fun but nearly as interesting or exciting as the first story. I wanted a bit more of The Emerald Tear but was more than content to finish The Emerald Butterfly.

Escape Rating for The Emerald Butterfly: B

Review: The Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: The Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawayThe Cottages on Silver Beach by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Haven Point #8
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Years after betraying her, he’s back in Haven Point…and ready to learn the truth.

Megan Hamilton never really liked Elliot Bailey. He turned his back on her family when they needed him the most and it almost tore them all apart. So she’s shocked when Elliot arrives at her family’s inn, needing a place to stay and asking questions that dredge up the past. Megan will rent him a cottage, but that’s where it ends—no matter how gorgeous Elliot has become.

Coming back home to Haven Point was the last thing bestselling writer Elliot Bailey thought he’d ever do. But the book he’s writing now is his most personal one yet and it’s drawn him back to the woman he can’t get out of his mind. Seeing Megan again is harder than he expected and it brings up feelings he’d thought were long buried. Could this be his chance to win over his first love?

My Review:

First of all, the story bears almost no resemblance to the blurb. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good story or a lovely romance, because it’s both. But the story as written is only tangentially similar to the blurb.

The romance is between Megan Hamilton and Elliot Bailey. And he does come to stay at her family’s inn. But does the story ever diverge from those points!

Once upon a time, Megan Hamilton was dating Elliot’s younger brother Wayne. We’ve met the rest of the Bailey family in the course of the Haven Point series. But Megan and Wayne’s romance never went anywhere because Wayne was killed while helping a stranded motorist during a blizzard.

So she never officially became part of the Bailey family, but in tiny Haven Point, where everyone’s lives are intertwined, the Hamiltons and the Baileys have remained close. Then again, pretty much everyone in Haven Point is close.

Megan and Elliot also remember each other from growing up in Haven Point. Megan and her friends called Elliot, Mr. Roboto. The name was not intended to flatter. Elliot was a bit older, very, very serious, and did everything by the book.

Those tendencies have made him an absolutely stellar FBI agent. But are a bit ironic for the other side of Elliot’s life, because he is also a best-selling true-crime author. And he seems to invest all of his caring and understanding into his books.

Megan is even a fan of his writing – in spite of the fact that she never believed that Elliot thought she was good enough for his brother. And particularly in spite of the fact that when her brother’s wife disappeared 7 years ago, leaving him to raise their two children, Elliot was one of many people in Haven Point who believed that Luke Hamilton had murdered his wife and hidden her body.

When Elliot returns to Haven Point, he’s on leave from the FBI. He disobeyed orders, got himself shot, killed an informant, messed up a DEA case and is now on suspension while he heals from the bullet wound.

He’s also working on his next book. And he’s booked himself into Megan’s inn to work on it. He’s not quite willing to admit to himself that he’s staying at the inn in the hopes of running into Megan – and he’s surprised to discover that she’s living in the cabin next to his.

And that the undercurrents between them are as strong as ever – in spite of all the skeletons in their respective closets.. The question is whether they can lay those bones to rest, or whether the past will continue to stand between them and the future they might have – together.

Escape Rating B+: The Cottages on Silver Beach feels like its about two things. One is trust, and the other is about just how much the baggage of the past holds you back from your brightest future.

The baggage that both Megan and Elliot carry from their birth families is pretty heavy. Megan’s father was both physically and emotionally abusive. While he reserved his physical abuse for his wife, he doled out the emotional abuse to everyone in the house. All Megan ever heard from her dad was that she was plain, dumb and useless. The bastard is long dead, and good riddance to bad rubbish, but she still hears his voice in her head whenever she steps outside her comfort zone.

And it’s that disparaging voice that has kept her from realizing her dream of being an art photographer. She has the skill, but lacks the confidence to put her work out there.

Elliot, on the other hand, is hyper-responsible. In a big family of drama kings and queens, Elliot was expected to take care of everyone and everything – and he’s internalized that message to the point where he suppresses his own emotions and personality.

They can help each other get past their fears, but only if they can get rid of the elephant-sized baggage that’s always in the room with them. Seven years ago Megan’s sister-in-law disappeared after a fight with her husband, Megan’s brother Luke. Neither she nor her body were ever found, and there are many in town who believe that Luke got away with murder.

As a law enforcement officer, Elliot feels duty-bound to admit that it is entirely possible that Luke killed his wife. He may not want to believe it, but it is possible as far as the evidence shows. Megan believes in her brother unconditionally, and as long as they are on opposite sides of this fence, they have no future. Even though they can’t seem to trust themselves when they’re together, as long as Elliot has even a glimmer of an idea that Luke might be guilty, Megan can’t trust him with her heart.

But resolving the issue may reveal Luke’s guilt. Or it may reveal that the previous police chief, Elliot’s late father, mishandled his last big case. That’s a lot of real, painful stuff to get in the way of a romance.

It’s up to Elliot to find a way for all of them to move forward, not just his romance with Megan, but his former friendship with Luke, closure for Luke’s kids, and finally removing the dark cloud over the town. If he can. If he should.

In the end, it’s that dilemma that drives the story much more than the romance. And it felt right.

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

I am giving away a copy of The Cottages on Silver Beach to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway