Spotlight + Excerpt: California Girls by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: California Girls by Susan MalleryCalifornia Girls by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by Mira on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The California sunshine’s not quite so bright for three sisters who get dumped in the same week…

Finola, a popular LA morning show host, is famously upbeat until she’s blindsided on live TV by news that her husband is sleeping with a young pop sensation who has set their affair to music. While avoiding the tabloids and pretending she’s just fine, she’s crumbling inside, desperate for him to come to his senses and for life to go back to normal.

Zennie’s breakup is no big loss. Although the world insists she pair up, she’d rather be surfing. So agreeing to be the surrogate for her best friend is a no-brainer—after all, she has an available womb and no other attachments to worry about. Except…when everyone else, including her big sister, thinks she’s making a huge mistake, being pregnant is a lot lonelier—and more complicated—than she imagined.

Never the tallest, thinnest or prettiest sister, Ali is used to being overlooked, but when her fiancé sends his disapproving brother to call off the wedding, it’s a new low. And yet Daniel continues to turn up “for support,” making Ali wonder if maybe—for once—someone sees her in a way no one ever has.

But side by side by side, these sisters will start over and rebuild their lives with all the affection, charm and laugh-out-loud humor that is classic Susan Mallery.

It was almost a year ago that I was posting an excerpt from Susan Mallery’s previous standalone title, When We Found Home. At the time I said that I don’t normally do posts without reviews, but that I was making an exception for her latest because I knew it would be a winner – and it was – and because I was already scheduled for the review tour – as I am again. And, admittedly because I was in the midst of a trip and it made my life easier! All of those things are true again. I’m sure California Girls will be a terrific read because all of Susan’s other books have been. I’m reviewing California Girls next week as part of the tour. And I’m away on a trip. Sometimes history does repeat!

Excerpt from California Girls by Susan Mallery

“Are you happy with the look?” the saleswoman asked Ali, as if Zennie’s opinion didn’t matter. “Is this what you imagined?”

“Sadly, yes.” Ali laughed. “See, I told you both my sisters were fabulous. No one is even going to notice me.”

“Nonsense. You’ll be the bride.” The woman climbed onto the platform and started pulling pins from the pincushion strapped around her wrist. “I’ll do a little tucking to give you an idea of the look, then we’ll get our seamstress out here to do the final pinning.”

The two women discussed everything from lowering the neckline—Zennie said no to that—to the length of the dress.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wear some kind of heel?” the salesperson asked.

“Very.”

Ali sighed. “Zennie won’t budge on that. Good thing her boyfriend isn’t that much taller than her or they would look weird together.”

Zennie looked at her sister in the mirror. “Boyfriend?”

“Duh. Clark.”

Zennie stared blankly.

“Clark. You’ve been seeing him awhile now. He works with the zoo. He’s a primate specialist or whatever it’s called.”

“Primatologist, and he’s not my boyfriend. We’ve only gone out three times.” She barely knew him and had no idea if she liked him or not. Boyfriend? As if. She hadn’t even told her mother about Clark, which explained the evening text offering to set her up on yet another blind date.

“You said you were bringing him to the wedding.”

“No. I said I might bring him to the wedding.”

“Zennie! I planned on you and a plus-one. You have to bring a date.”

Why? That was the question, Zennie thought as Ali was distracted by whether or not to shorten her sleeves. Why did she have to bring a date? Was she less socially acceptable without a date? Was her conversation less sparkly, her love less welcome? She had no idea why she’d even mentioned Clark, let alone discussed him as her plus-one at the wedding. She wouldn’t want him there, regardless of the state of their nonrelationship. For one thing, people would ask too many questions. For another, her mother would go totally insane at the possibility of Zennie finally settling down with someone and giving her grandbabies. No one could survive that much pressure.

The pinning and tucking finished, Zennie stared at the dress. She would never admit it to her sister, but to her everything looked exactly the same. Of course she had the pins poking her to prove it wasn’t.

“Can you finish up here without me?” Ali asked, glancing at her watch. “I have to stop by the florist before I need to race back to work for a meeting.”

“I’m fine. I will stand here until they release me.” Once again she thought about how Nigel looked at Finola and how Glen didn’t look at Ali. “Shouldn’t your hubby-to-be handle some of this?”

“I would never trust Glen with the flowers. He’s a red roses kind of guy and that would be all wrong.” Ali stepped up on the dais and kissed her cheek. “Thanks for doing this. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Ali raced to the door, then looked back. “Bring a date!”

“Bite me.”

Ali was still laughing when she ducked out of the store.

Zennie looked at her reflection and tried not to think about the wedding. It was four, maybe five hours out of her life. Yes, they would be torturous hours, but they were for a good cause. In the name of sisterhood and all that.

As for a date, well, that might be a problem. Because Clark was a nonstarter for sure.

Finola gripped the steering wheel so hard, her fingers ached, but she didn’t dare relax. Not until she was home. She drove slowly, careful to stay under the speed limit as she turned into her exclusive Encino neighborhood. As she approached the gate in front of their small community, she felt her control beginning to slip.

Almost there, she chanted silently. Almost there, almost there, almost there.

She made two rights, then a left before pulling into the driveway and pushing the button to open the garage door. As she eased forward, her hands slipped and the car veered a little to the right. She jammed on the brakes and started to back up, only to realize that she didn’t have to. Who cared if she wasn’t fully in her own section of the garage? It wasn’t as if Nigel was going to be pulling in next to her anytime soon. Of that she was sure.

She turned off the engine and collected her tote bag and purse. Once she closed the garage door, she walked into the house.

She was greeted by silence. She and Nigel had never wanted a housekeeper. There was a cleaning service that came twice a week and a meal delivery service, but both had been put on hold because of the upcoming Hawaii trip. As of two hours ago, the plan had been for her to meet Nigel at home after the show so she could finish packing. They would leave for the airport first thing in the morning. Only none of that was going to happen now. Not the packing, not the trip, not them being together and making a baby.

She dropped her handbag and tote to the floor, then kicked out of her shoes. She needed a plan, she told herself. She had to figure out what to do first, then second, then third. Only with each step she took, the blessed shock faded, leaving behind pain and disbelief and humiliation. The tears came first, then the sobs. She stumbled before sinking to her knees where she covered her face with her hands as she screamed out the agony.

Author Info:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives-family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages.Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

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Review: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick

Review: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola CornickThe Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Gothic, historical fiction, horror, timeslip fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Graydon House on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of House of Shadows and The Phantom Tree comes a spellbinding tale of jealousy, greed, plotting and revenge—part history, part mystery—for fans of Kate Morton, Susanna Kearsley and Barbara Erskine


London, 1765

Lady Isabella Gerard, a respectable member of Georgian society, orders her maid to take her new golden gown and destroy it, its shimmering beauty tainted by the actions of her brutal husband the night before.

Three months later, Lord Gerard stands at the shoreline of the lake, looking down at a woman wearing the golden gown. As the body slowly rolls over to reveal her face, it’s clear this was not his intended victim…

250 Years Later…

When a gown she stole from a historic home as a child is mysteriously returned to Fenella Brightwell, it begins to possess her in exactly the same way that it did as a girl. Soon the fragile new life Fen has created for herself away from her abusive ex-husband is threatened at its foundations by the gown’s power over her until she can't tell what is real and what is imaginary.

As Fen uncovers more about the gown and Isabella’s story, she begins to see the parallels with her own life. When each piece of history is revealed, the gown—and its past—seems to possess her more and more, culminating in a dramatic revelation set to destroy her sanity.

My Review:

After reading The Phantom Tree last year, I was expecting The Woman in the Lake to be yet another marvelous piece of timeslip fiction by this author. I loved The Phantom Tree and was looking forward to more.

That’s not quite what I got.

The Woman in the Lake is what I call horror-adjacent. It’s really creepy with a constant air of menacing danger. Although it does “slip time” between the 18th century and the 21st, those slips just add to the air of Gothic horror.

You’ve heard about “Say Yes to the Dress”? This is a story where all of the people touched by it should have not merely said “No” to the dress, but really should have screamed “Hell NO” and run far and fast.

The dress is pure evil. Also laced with arsenic. And yes, you really can kill someone that way. The Borgias did, after all.

How the dress came to both embody and emanate so much evil is something that we only find out part of. We do learn how it was made – we just don’t ever find out how it got to be so powerfully malevolent in its own right.

What we see in this story about all the lives that revolve around and are ruined by this one beautiful, deadly, golden dress is that in the way that time slips and history almost repeats – there is a path to freedom.

But the only way to reach it is through fear, and pain. And even more fear.

Escape Rating B: This story was well and truly creepy. A bit creepier than I generally like to go. It did make the cross country plane trip go very fast – but I’m really glad I read it with ALL the lights on – and with plenty of company.

It’s not really about the dress. Well, it is, but it isn’t. The dress can’t make anyone do anything they weren’t already inclined towards, but it does seem to remove the inhibitions of conscience. We all have nasty thoughts from time to time, but conscience, or fear of consequences, prevent most of us from acting on the worst of those thoughts.

The story begins, and circles back around to, a group of men who did not have to let their consciences be their guides. In fact, the opposite. The Moonrakers of Swindon were smugglers. Smuggling wasn’t romantic, it was organized crime. Led by a group of men who would do anything to protect their illicit trade – including murder. In other words, these were men who terrorized an entire region and explicitly told their consciences to STFU.

The plan was for the gang leader to aid and abet a local lord with the murder of his wife, only for the plot to go horribly awry. And for the dress that was intended to do the dead to go skipping through history, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Until it fetches up in the 21st century, in the hands of a woman who has no clue that she’s part of its long lost history, and a man who intends to reenact that long ago attempted murder.

One of the things that I loved about this book was the way that the story and the history came full circle in the end – and in a surprising way. Not just that history almost but not quite repeated, although it nearly does, but that everything that went around really did come around by the end.

One of the things that drove me a bit batty was the air of creeping menace that hangs over the entire story. It sucked me in. I kept looking for an exit, much as the heroine keeps looking for a way to escape her own past. As was certainly true for the heroine, the only way was through.

In the end, I’m left with mixed feelings. This is not the kind of book that I usually enjoy, but I was enthralled and couldn’t put it down until the end. And I’m still creeped out by the whole thing.

One final note, the ending of the blurb feels very wrong. The revelation at the end does not threaten the heroine’s sanity. Quite the opposite. Instead, the revelation at the end proves that she has been sane all along. It may also kill her.

I’ll be over here in the corner. Still shuddering…

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Guest Review: Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey

Guest Review: Dark Currents by Jacqueline CareyDark Currents (Agent of Hel, #1) by Jacqueline Carey
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, suspense, urban fantasy
Series: Agent of Hel #1
Pages: 356
Published by Roc on October 2, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Jacqueline Carey, New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Kushiel’s Legacy novels, presents an all-new world featuring a woman caught between the normal and paranormal worlds, while enforcing order in both. Introducing Daisy Johanssen, reluctant hell-spawn…

The Midwestern resort town of Pemkowet boasts a diverse population: eccentric locals, wealthy summer people, and tourists by the busload; not to mention fairies, sprites, vampires, naiads, ogres and a whole host of eldritch folk, presided over by Hel, a reclusive Norse goddess.

To Daisy Johanssen, fathered by an incubus and raised by a single mother, it’s home. And as Hel’s enforcer and the designated liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, it’s up to her to ensure relations between the mundane and eldritch communities run smoothly.

But when a young man from a nearby college drowns—and signs point to eldritch involvement—the town’s booming paranormal tourism trade is at stake. Teamed up with her childhood crush, Officer Cody Fairfax, a sexy werewolf on the down-low, Daisy must solve the crime—and keep a tight rein on the darker side of her nature. For if she’s ever tempted to invoke her demonic birthright, it could accidentally unleash nothing less than Armageddon.  

Guest review by Amy:

What kind of a mom would name her demon-spawn child “Daisy?”  Really?  But here’s Daisy as a plucky young adult with…erm…anger-management issues. Oh, and a tail. She’s the daughter of a human woman, and…well, a demon. Literally making the case for never, ever getting around a Ouija board ever again. Her dad, if Daisy just calls on him, can, in fact, bring on the Apocalypse. It doesn’t make for a close daddy-daughter relationship.

But she’s got her mom, who’s quirky and adorable, and she’s got a job working for the police department as a part-time file clerk, her friends, even a crush (on a fellow cop, who also happens to be a werewolf).  Oh, and a second job as liaison to the local goddess, Hel, who kind of runs things in the local eldritch community. Certainly grounds for an interesting life, but early in our story, a frat boy from a nearby college dies under suspicious circumstances.

Escape Rating: A+. I’m a huge fan of Carey’s Kushiel universe, which are delicious epic fantasy reads. Jacqueline Carey shows us she’s not a one-trick pony with Dark Currents. This story moves along rather a lot faster than her Kushiel works (aside from Kushiel’s Dart, which was over much too soon for my tastes), and we’re shown a solid cast of characters, all of whom seem to have a pretty good grasp on who they are in the grand scheme of things.

One of the things I like about this book (as with my prior review of MaryJanice Davidson’s Derik’s Bane) was that our supernatural beings aren’t…inhuman. Even the ones most-divergent from humans (faeries, naiads, a mermaid, a frost giant) have concerns and cares and lives that – while necessarily different from ours because of their nature – aren’t so far different from us that we can’t understand their motives. They’re just trying to get along with the overwhelming force of humanity around them, that’s all. Even the ghouls and vampires, as creepy as they are, make sense, and become characters you can understand and even like, in a way.

Daisy is a snark-o-matic, and her nature adds to this, along with her occasional frustration with being who she is. I had lots of giggles reading this tale, thanks to a generous sprinkling of puns and silly one-liners.

I tagged this as a suspense novel, and it is The core story here is a whodunit that crosses between the mortal and immortal realms. Daisy must stand astride that line, and dispense the justice she is empowered to hand out by her boss Hel, while making sure that any involved mortals get the treatment they deserve from her other boss, the police chief. But this book is more than that.

There’s a taste of romance here, too. Daisy tells us right up front about her long-time crush (a werewolf, who ends up partnering with her to solve the case), and we meet two other men who express interest in her, one a very intelligent, very dapper ancient ghoul, and one a mortal, with a fake Jamaican accent. All three are fascinating men, and I spent quite a while wondering which one she’d center on–if any, since there was also that flirtation with the very feminine lamia who used to babysit her, back-when. She says she’s straight, but this one does something for her even with the millenia-sized age gap.

I enjoyed this book immensely, and can’t wait to read (and maybe review for you here – Marlene? Can I?) the other two books in this series. My only downer in the book came right at the end, when Daisy ended up dating a different one of her crushes than I would have, in her shoes. I can’t tell you which, now, that’d ruin the whole thing for you, wouldn’t it? Go read for yourself!

Marlene’s Note: The next book, for those following along at home, is Autumn Bones. And YES, you certainly may review it for me here. In fact, that’s pretty please would you review it for me here. With bells on. I also love the Kushiel series. And I cite her Banewreacker/Godslayer duology fairly often as a classic in the “history is written by the victors/good and evil depend on which side of the fence you’re on” fantasy.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 2-17-19

Sunday Post

This week’s schedule kind of collapsed at the end there. Like last week, I had a few days where I didn’t need a review or was posting a review I’d already written, so I planned on taking the opportunity to read a really long book. Howsomever, once I started those two really long books, I changed my mind. Not that I didn’t like what I was reading, but that both books (The Ruin of Kings and Black Leopard, Red Wolf) are what I call “stories being told” where the book is the written version of someone in the story telling their story to someone else within the story (or in the case of The Ruin of Kings, multiple someones telling their stories). I decided to get them both on audio, so that I could also listen to the story being told. So far in The Ruin of Kings that decision feels correct. It reads well but it listens better.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the February of Books Giveaway Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Romance is in the Air Giveaway Hop
The Victory Garden by Pam Jenoff

Winner Announcements:

The winner of The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff is Laura D.

Blog Recap:

A- Review: The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen + Giveaway
D+ Review: Duchess by Deception by Marie Force
Romance is in the Air Giveaway Hop
A- Review: Mission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett
B Review: Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik
Stacking the Shelves (327)

Coming This Week:

Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey (guest post by Amy)
The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick (blog tour review)
California Girls by Susan Mallery (blog tour excerpt and spotlight)
When Love Leads to Scandal by Sophie Barnes (blog tour reviwe)
Dead Man’s Reach by D.B. Jackson (review)

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

I did a major oops at the beginning of the week and forgot to include the giveaway for The Victory Garden in the review post. That has been corrected, but I wanted to make sure that people saw the rafflecopter, so here it is again!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Stacking the Shelves (327)

Stacking the Shelves

This is still mostly ALA fallout. Or fall in. Or books falling on my virtual shelves. However one wants to frame that. I’ll be dealing with this fallout for at least a couple more weeks. It’s a good thing this stuff is 99% ebooks, or the UPS person would totally hate me!

For Review:
Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward
The Better Sister by Alafair Burke
The Book of Dreams by Nina George
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman
Call Me Evie by JP Pomare
Cemetery Road by Greg Iles
Confessions of an Innocent Man by David R. Dow
The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz
Getting Hot with the Scot (Sometimes in Love #1) by Melonie Johnson
Gimme Some Sugar (Southern Eclectic #3) by Molly Harper
Grace After Henry by Eithne Shortall
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
Jacked Cat Jive (Kai Gracen #3) by Rhys Ford
The Last Act by Brad Parks
The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handler
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl
Old Baggage by Lissa Evans
The Pandora Room (Ben Walker #2) by Christopher Golden
The Perfect Assassin (Chronicles of Ghadid #1) by K.A. Doore
A Prince on Paper (Reluctant Royals #3) by Alyssa Cole
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly
Swimming for Sunlight by Allie Larkin
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Will Haunt You by Brian Kirk
The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Dragon Age: Until We Sleep by David Gaider, Alexander Freed, Chad Hardin (hardcover)

Review: Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik

Review: Polaris Rising by Jessie MihalikPolaris Rising (Consortium Rebellion, #1) by Jessie Mihalik
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Consortium Rebellion #1
Pages: 448
Published by Harper Voyager on February 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy.

In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars.

Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.

When the ship returning them to Earth is attacked by a battle cruiser from rival House Rockhurst, Ada realizes that if her jilted fiancé captures her, she’ll become a political prisoner and a liability to her House. Her only hope is to strike a deal with the dangerous fugitive: a fortune if he helps her escape.

But when you make a deal with an irresistibly attractive Devil, you may lose more than you bargained for . . .

My Review:

If you love science fiction romance, this one is for you. Polaris Rising is one of those “chocolate in my peanut butter vs. peanut butter in my chocolate books. It’s marketed as just science fiction, because that’s where the money is – and the SFnal worldbuilding is definitely part of what makes this story work. But if you like more than a bit of rocket fuel in your romance, you’ll love Polaris Rising.

This is space opera of the merchant empire as opposed to military empire type. The High Houses that control everything in the ‘verse are great mercantile powers. Admittedly they do also have plenty of ships of the line, but the source of their power seems to be economic. In fact, the system they have set up (to benefit themselves of course) is designed to keep them at each other’s throats in the figurative but while fending off the literal sense.

At least usually not the literal sense with knives or guns at each other’s throats. Admittedly the line is occasionally as thin as the blade of a stiletto.

We begin the story with our heroine, Ada von Hasenberg, fifth child of that High House, being shoved into a cell. Ada, like many “princesses” before her, ran away from home to escape a political marriage. Her father finally put the bounty on her living head up high enough that mercenaries made it their business to hunt her down.

They’ve finally caught up with her. But they’ve also caught another high-value prisoner, Marcus Loch, known as the Devil of Fornax Zero. He’s a soldier who killed his entire squadron as well as his commanders and the military wants to put him on trial for his crimes – or at least make sure he pays for them with his own life.

These two shouldn’t have anything to do with each other, but the mercenary ship that holds them both is just a bit short on jail cells. They get thrown in together, and in the finest tradition of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” cook up an escape plan that gets pushed into high gear when her erstwhile fiance arrives to keep her from being returned to her family.

Ada doesn’t think she’s worth nearly this much fuss – but lots of people suddenly seem to. When she finally gets the chance to figure out why, she knows exactly why she’s suddenly in so many crosshairs.

There’s only one person she can trust at her back – if he doesn’t double cross her somewhere along the way.

Escape Rating B: The elements of this story have been used before in both SF and SFR, if not necessarily combined together in quite this way.

There’s something about the tone of the book, and the shifting alliances between the various merchant empires, that reminds me of Vatta’s War series by Elizabeth Moon. (Start with Trading in Danger).

The difference between Polaris Rising and Vatta’s War is that in the Vatta’s War series the romance that eventually occurs is a secondary or even tertiary part of the plot. In Polaris Rising the romance between the “princess” and the “criminal”, is very close to center stage. To the point where a reader who wants nothing to do with “icky mushy stuff” may be turned off by this book – which would be a pity because the SFnal elements are very well done.

On that other hand, anyone who loved Amanda Bouchet’s recent foray into SFR, Nightchaser, is going to lick Polaris Rising up with a spoon. The two books hit many of the same plot beats, and both stories have that “perils of Pauline”, “out of the frying pan into the fire” type of careening adventure plot.

And they both feature family betrayals.

I’ll admit that while I enjoyed Polaris Rising, I didn’t find it quite as compelling as either of the readalikes that I’ve mentioned. Some of that may be a bit of pique. I understand why the decision was made to market this as SF instead of SFR, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still annoy me a bit.

Also, while this story has lots of elements that I’ve loved in other stories, they are also elements that I’ve read in other stories. Neither Ada nor Marcus are what they initially appear to be. The reveal of Marcus’ story felt a bit anticlimactic – I knew what he was long before he told Ada. While the whole is put together in quite the interesting fashion, it just didn’t feel fresh or new to this reader. YMMV.

One thing that I did like was the way that the romance developed. It wasn’t slow, but then the circumstances don’t allow for that. But it also wasn’t insta-love. Insta-lust, yes, but that’s way more believable.

In the end, I found myself wanting to know more about the House system and how it works – and doesn’t. There’s something niggling at me that there are a few too many contradictions involved but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

I’m certainly more than intrigued enough to stick around for book two in the series, Aurora Blazing. Ada (and Marcus) kicked over one hell of an anthill on their way out of the central systems. Ada’s sister Bianca looks like she’ll be in the thick of the mess they left behind in the next story!

Review: Mission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Defense by Anna HackettMission: Her Defense (Team 52 #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, military romance
Series: Team 52 #4
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on February 12th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's Website
Goodreads

One former special forces Marine. One tall, handsome police detective who pushes all her buttons. One dangerous investigation that forces them to work together.

Blair Mason is badass to the bone. She’s no stranger to loss and barely survived the mission that ended her military career. Now, as part of Team 52, she never shies away from a fight to ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, she’s often forced to “liaise” with the team’s contact at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. The tall, hard-bodied detective ignites her temper quicker than any man she’s ever known…and after a terrible massacre, she’s horrified to find that she and MacKade are being ordered to work together.

Detective Luke MacKade was born a protector. He takes care of his family, and as a dedicated homicide detective, he protects his city. He is less thrilled with his job of cleaning up after Team 52 after they tear through Vegas on a mission. Blair is a woman who sets him off just by breathing, but even he can’t deny the powerful attraction he feels to her strength and skill. When several cursed samurai swords are stolen in a bloody attack, it is up to Luke and Blair to get them back…before more blood is shed.

But others are after the swords and their hidden powers. As Luke and Blair’s dangerous investigation intensifies, they face danger at every turn. Luke battles his intense need to protect the woman he’s falling for, a woman who neither wants or needs his protection. But as their desire burns white-hot, Luke will learn that the toughest defenses are the ones around Blair’s heart.

My Review:

It’s Valentine’s Day, which makes it a particularly appropriate day to post this review. Because a) it’s a romance and b) it’s by an author I absolutely love.

It would be perfect if it were my favorite genre by this author, science fiction romance, but c’est la vie. Like the song says, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

The Team 52 series is a cross between action adventure romance and military romance. Because the members of Team 52 are nearly all ex-military, and the ones that aren’t are ex-CIA or something even more secretive. That’s certainly true in the case of our heroine, Blair Mason.

And like all of the other former military members of Team 52, Blair is ex-military not because she wanted to be, but because her last (and very nearly final) mission left her with injuries that made her ineligible to continue to serve.

But the high-tech advances kept under as many wraps as possible at Area 52 (yes, it’s next door to the place you’re thinking of) gave her back her eye, and her sight, even better than before. It’s just that if you learn the details of either her last mission, her current status, or just how it was done, she’d probably have to kill you.

Unless one of her teammates gets there first.

The Team 52 series contains some of the earthbound elements of Stargate SG-1. Occasionally, although it’s starting to feel like not-so-occasionally, someone or something unearths powerful and dangerous technology leftover from surprisingly highly developed pre-Ice Age civilizations.

And that’s where Team 52 comes in. Because when these extremely dangerous devices come to light, there’s usually one or more villainous organizations who want to do very dark deeds with those devices.

So Team 52 swoops in to clean up the resulting mess.

But someone has to clean up their mess in a way that provides plausible explanations for the press and the public. It’s hard to completely cover up an entire ballroom full of dead bodies in the middle of a major city. A city like Las Vegas.

That’s where Detective Luke MacKade of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department comes in. It’s his job to make Team 52’s mess appear less messy to the powers that be and the noses that snoop. It’s not his only job, and it’s certainly not his favorite part of his job. He’s in the LVMPD for the “serve and protect” parts of the job and he’s convinced that all Team 52 does in come in and make his job harder without regard for the civilians who get caught in the crossfire.

His favorite part of the job seems to be riling up Blair Mason – even if he’s not willing to admit it.

But when one of their dangerous artifacts cuts a literal swath through his city, he gets an up close and person look at exactly what Team 52 does and why somebody has to do it.

And he finally manages to get close enough to Blair Mason to get an up close and personal view of the woman hiding under the prickly, badass exterior. And he wants to see a whole lot more.

Escape Rating A-: As far as this reader is concerned, the Team 52 series is back in fine form with this entry – even though I still think the titles are slightly cheesy.

I loved the first book (Mission: Her Protection), liked the second (Mission: Her Rescue) and thought the third (Mission: Her Security) was ok. This one is back to “love” on my list. I think because the focus is on Blair more than it is Luke.

What can I say, I like it when the heroine is every bit as badass, if not a bit more, than the hero. I also felt for her perspective of feeling like she needed to be all badass all the time in order to be respected by her teammates. And that the hero isn’t merely ok with that, but loves her and respects her for the badass she is and doesn’t need or want her to be anything else.

While her teammates respect her as she is, that she was socialized that way because the rest of the world doesn’t makes perfect sense.

One of the things that I love about this author’s work is the way that it so often ties into one or more of my other geekish interests. As I keep saying, this series, and the Treasure Hunter Security series it spun off of, have elements of Stargate.

The macguffin in this particular book are antique Japanese swords crafted by Muramasa, the rival of the legendary swordmaker Gorō Nyūdō Masamune. There are surviving Masamune swords in museums and private collections, but Muramasa appears to be more legendary than historical. I found this element of the story particularly fascinating because it tied in to my longstanding love for all things Final Fantasy X, where there is a sword Masamune named after the legendary but historical swordsmith and carried by the game’s resident badass.

I digress, but that’s what Team 52 does to me. It makes me digress into other geekish loves. Which is part of its charm, at least for me.

It’s awesome action-adventure/military romance, so if either of those are your jam, spread open the pages of this series!

Romance is in the Air Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Romance is in the Air Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bookhounds!

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, so people are thinking romance. Having it, losing it, keeping it and especially reading about it! Or at least especially so for this blog hop, which is all about romance books.

Speaking of reading about romance, I have a few (dozen) on my TBR pile right now. What about you? The two I’m most looking forward to in the coming months are Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev and The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai. But I’m sure there will be plenty more as the year goes by.

But speaking of years going by, if you’re looking for something that’s already out, take a look at the SFR Galaxy Awards, just announced on January 31. The judges (full disclosure, including moi) have selected yet another terrific list of science fiction romance that would make a perfect Valentine’s Day read – or a perfect read any day of the year when you want to put a little rocket fuel in your romance read!

My book for tomorrow is a surefire winner, as has been everything by this particular author that I’ve read. And that’s mostly everything. Who are your “go-to” romance authors? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a book up to $10 in value from the Book Depository.

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

Review: Duchess by Deception by Marie Force

Review: Duchess by Deception by Marie ForceDuchess by Deception (Gilded, #1) by Marie Force
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Gilded #1
Pages: 320
Published by Zebra on January 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In New York Times bestselling author Marie Force's dazzling historical romance debut, the clock is ticking for a wealthy Duke who must marry by his thirtieth birthday—or lose his title...

Derek Egan, the dashing Duke of Westwood, is well aware of his looming deadline. But weary of tiresome debutantes, he seeks a respite at his country home in Essex—and encounters a man digging on his property. Except he's not a man. He's a very lovely woman. Who suddenly faints at his feet.

Catherine McCabe's disdain for the aristocracy has already led her to flee an arranged marriage with a boorish Viscount. The last thing she wants is to be waylaid in a Duke's home. Yet, she is compelled to stay by the handsome, thoughtful man who introduces himself as the Duke's estate manager.

Derek realizes two things immediately: he is captivated by her delicate beauty, and to figure out what she was up to, Catherine must not know he is the Duke. But as they fall passionately in love, Derek's lie spins out of control. Will their bond survive his deception, not to mention the scorned Viscount's pursuit? Most important, can Catherine fall in love all over again—this time with the Duke?

My Review:

I finished Duchess by Deception feeling sadly disappointed. I wondered if it might be me, that this might be a genre that just didn’t work for me anymore. Because I expected a whole lot better from the author of the Fatal romantic suspense series.

Then I looked at some of the other reviews on Goodreads and discovered that I am far from alone in my feelings. Which leaves me feeling better about the other historical romances in my virtually towering TBR pile – but somewhat at a loss for words about this book.

Duchess by Deception is a historical romance that includes an extended ride on the “Troperville Trolley”. There are enough all-too-common tropes and cliches packed into this book for three stories – and it might have been better if it had been three separate stories.

Because there are three stories here. The first is the one about the Duke of Westwood and his nuptial deadline. If he doesn’t marry by the day of his 30th birthday he’ll be forced to relinquish the title in favor of his nasty, greedy, grasping uncle. And his birthday is at the end of the week as the story begins.

So of course he runs off to his country estate instead of staying in London to find a bride. He discovers a young man digging holes at his estate who is immediately revealed to be not merely female but actually a damsel in distress who is on the run from a fate worse than death.

Yes, my eyes are rolling.

That they fall instantly in love is, of course, a given.

Then the misunderstandammits start rolling in. Because he doesn’t tell her he’s a duke since she hates the aristocracy, even though she is part of it. And he doesn’t tell her he has to marry by the end of the week because, well, he’s already lying to her about being the duke’s estate manager instead of the duke himself.

So when the dastardly villain her father has literally sold her to starts investigating the area around the duke’s estate, he whisks her away to Gretna Green for a hasty marriage over the anvil.

Then the same thing nearly happens to her sister. And that’s not the half of it.

Escape Rating D+: I haven’t dragged the D+ out in a while. I didn’t so much finish this book as skim it to see how it ended. Because there is a third plot thread that is even crazier than the first two.

There’s a whole lot of insta-love going on here, well past the point where it’s believable or even plausible. Not only does the duke fall instantly for his future duchess when she faints in his arms, but then his cousin falls equally precipitously for her sister across a crowded ballroom.

Really? The family seems prone to falling sickness, or possibly insanity.

We don’t have a chance to see either relationship actually develop. What we do get is a lot of sex scenes substituting for the development of the romance. I like a good sex scene as much as the next romance reader, but porn-without-plot is not a substitute for an actual plot. YMMV.

The villains of the piece were both caricatures, and yes, there are two. One is a leering pig of a villain, and the other is a greedy, grasping, murderous villain. Who have no relationship to each other. Which stretches the long arm of coincidence a bit too long for a single book.

And both women forgive their father for selling them to the leering pig WAY too easily.

This story had promise. Actually, it had multiple promises. It just didn’t live up to any of them.

Review: The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen + Giveaway

Review: The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen + GiveawayThe Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 305
Published by Lake Union Publishing on February 12, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of The Tuscan Child comes a beautiful and heart-rending novel of a woman’s love and sacrifice during the First World War.

As the Great War continues to take its toll, headstrong twenty-one-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She is convinced by a cheeky and handsome Australian pilot that she can do more, and it is not long before she falls in love with him and accepts his proposal of marriage.

When he is sent back to the front, Emily volunteers as a “land girl,” tending to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It’s here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden. The journals inspire Emily, and in the wake of devastating news, they are her saving grace. Emily’s lover has not only died a hero but has left her terrified—and with child. Since no one knows that Emily was never married, she adopts the charade of a war widow.

As Emily learns more about the volatile power of healing with herbs, the found journals will bring her to the brink of disaster, but may open a path to her destiny.

My Review:

Unlike this author’s previous standalone books, The Victory Garden is set in 1918 as World War I is drawing to its close.

However, just as In Farleigh Field, this is a book about the homefront of the war and not about the ugliness of the war itself. Not that there isn’t plenty of ugly at home.

As the story begins our heroine is immured at home in Devon. Her upper-middle-class parents are determined that the ugliness of the war will completely pass her by – whether that’s what she wants or not. And not that it has not already touched her life. Her brother Freddie was killed in action in the opening battles of the war, and her parents are determined to keep her under their eye and locked away so that nothing can possibly happen to her. Of course life is never like that – even Rapunzel found a way out of her tower, after all.

Emily is the bird in the gilded cage, but with her 21st birthday on the horizon, she will be able to unlock the door of her cage herself – if she is willing to deal with the consequences of her actions.

She falls in love with a young man that her ultra-conservative, ultra-conventional mother considers to be completely unsuitable. Ironically, there’s nothing wrong with Flight Lieutenant Robbie Kerr except for his Australian cheek. His family is probably as well off as hers. The problem with Robbie is that his Aussie upbringing has led him to think that all of the mannered conventions of the English upper crust are patently ridiculous – which of course they are.

Meeting Robbie gives Emily a taste of life on the outside of her mother’s over-protective restrictions, and her 21st birthday gives her the opportunity to fly away. She wants to become a volunteer nurse, but in 1918 the need was for somebody, anybody, to harvest the crops of England with all the men gone.  So Emily joins the Women’s Land Army. She finds herself in the midst of a surprising sisterhood – a sisterhood that becomes her salvation when Robbie is killed in action and she finds herself unwed and pregnant.

The story in The Victory Garden is the story of that sisterhood. Emily can’t go home to her disapproving parents, and many of her fellow “Land Girls” have no homes left to go to. Instead they band together, returning to a small village they worked during their Land Army tenure. A place where the men have all gone to war, and the women are left keeping life together by any means they can.

And together, they find a way to move forward – even as the worst history of the village repeats itself with nearly disastrous consequences for Emily – and for them all.

Escape Rating A-: You may not be able to go home again, but that doesn’t stop you from making a new home someplace else, with people of your own choosing. You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other until you find that place and those people.

In the end (also in the beginning and the middle!) this is a story about sisterhood. In what amounts to a lovely bit of role reversal, the few men in this story exist to push the women’s story forward. It makes for a terrific story – and it also makes sense.

England lost an entire generation of young men in World War I. (It has been posited that this is the reason that so many of the Commonwealth countries did so much of the fighting for Britain in WW2 – either because Britain didn’t have that generation of men to lose, and/or because the powers that be were determined not to sacrifice a second generation so soon after the last one.)

Whatever the truth about WW2,by this point in WW1 there just weren’t any able-bodied young or even young-ish men left on the homefront. And it was clear by 1918 that society was going to have to change after the war was over because there was a resulting generation of young women that had no men to marry. So when some of the characters talk about the world being different after the war, and women filling many of the jobs that men used to do, it feels right.

Things were not going back to the pre-war “normal” because the conditions that allowed that situation to be “normal” no longer existed.

So what we see in this story is a whole generation of women stepping up to take care of each other, because no one is going to do it for them. Even the women whose husbands do come home face a life where they will be the primary breadwinners because their husbands are suffering from permanent, life-altering wounds, PTSD (known as ‘shell shock’) or both.

Emily is the focal point of the story because she is the one who makes the biggest changes. This story is her journey to self-sufficiency – with more than a little help from her friends. We like her because we understand her determination to stand on her own two feet – in spite of everything that life and war has thrown in her way.

And while she begins the story as a pampered little miss, it’s a role that she rejects the moment she is able – while still attempting to not cause her parents more worry than she possibly can. And we feel for that tightrope she is walking. She wants to live her own life. She needs to do her bit. And its the making of her. And the story.

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