Review: Lowcountry Bookshop by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Lowcountry Bookshop by Susan M. BoyerLowcountry Bookshop (Liz Talbot Mystery #7) by Susan M. Boyer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Liz Talbot #7
Pages: 270
Published by Henery Press on May 29, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lowcountry PI Liz Talbot returns to the streets of Charleston in the seventh installment of Susan M. Boyer’s USA TODAY bestselling mystery series.

Between an epic downpour and a King Tide, those historic streets are flooded—and dangerous. A late night tragic accident along the Lower Battery leads Liz Talbot straight to her next case.

Who’s the client? Well, now, therein lies the first puzzle. When the police arrive at the scene of the accident, Poppy Oliver claims she’s only trying to help.

But the dent on the front of her Subaru and the victim’s injuries provoke a certain Charleston police detective’s suspicious nature. A wealthy, anonymous benefactor hires Liz and her partner Nate Andrews to prove Poppy Oliver’s innocence.

What exactly was Poppy Oliver up to? Is she a random good Samaritan who happens upon the accident scene? Or perhaps this tragedy wasn’t an accident. She just might be his abused wife’s accomplice.

Why does everyone involved in this case have a sudden burning urge for reading material, leading them to the same charming bookshop along the waterfront?

From a risqué, exclusive club in an old plantation to an upscale resale shop in the historic King Street shopping district to a downtown graveyard crawling with ghosts, Liz tracks a group of women who band together to help victims of domestic violence.

In her most challenging case yet, Liz fears she may find a killer, but justice may prove elusive.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

LOWCOUNTRY BOOKSHOP by Susan M. Boyer | A Henery Press Mystery. If you like one, you’ll probably like them all.

My Review:

This a story about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. A whole bunch of roads and a whole lot of hells. And plenty of good intentions that go into so many wrong directions.

Phillip Drayton is dead, to begin with. Someone ran him over during a pounding rainstorm just around a blind curve near his house.

It looks like a hit and run, at least at first. But a woman was found standing over the body, her car with a dented fender just in the right place to have been the cause of death. Poor Poppy Oliver says she was just being a good Samaritan, but Detective Sonny Ravenal is absolutely certain that she did it and just doesn’t want to admit it.

But there are at least two people on Poppy’s side. A mysterious benefactor who is paying for the best lawyer in town, who has in turn just hired Liz and Nate to investigate, and Liz Talbot’s guardian spirit Colleen. The lawyer is doing his job, as much as he enjoys riling up Liz in the process.

Colleen, on the other hand, can read Poppy’s mind – and Colleen knows she’s innocent. Which doesn’t tell her a damn thing about who might be guilty.

Then the evidence starts piling up, and the case goes from relatively straightforward to absolutely insane, right along with the shenanigans at Liz’ parents’ house – not that anything is all that far out of what passes for normal on that front.

It looks like Drayton’s wife was being abused, and that makes the victim seem a whole lot less sympathetic. On the other hand, not all of his injuries are consistent with a hit and run, or even a hit and not run. Cars don’t generally taser their victims before they run them over.

But the group of women who assist abused women in getting away from their abusers sometimes do. And seem to all be frequenting not just the same local bookstore but browsing the same display and actually buying multiple copies of the same book.

They might not be connected to the case. But they might.

The more Liz investigates, the weirder things get. Which isn’t actually atypical for any of her cases. The evidence is contradictory, and nothing quite seems to add up.

Until it suddenly does, and the real villain tries to subtract Liz, once and for all.

Escape Rating B: I picked this book for this week because I wanted some light, absorbing fiction to read during some recovery time, and I knew this series would take care of that admirably. And it certainly did.

There are lots of red herrings in this case, sending Liz on lots of wild goose chases. One of the terrific things about the way this particular case works is that pretty much everyone, with the exception of the villain and for once Liz’ cop friend Sonny, seem to be bent on doing the right thing. And while they all are to some extent, they also aren’t.

One of the things that was slightly off was Sonny’s attitude to Poppy. He was much too dogged in pursuing the expedient possibility instead of looking for the real one. He’s usually a better detective than that and it didn’t quite ring true.

A significant part of the story, both in the sense of a group obfuscating the issue to further their own agenda and in the sense that they were determinedly doing the right thing even if some of their methods were underhanded, was the group of women rescuing abused women. Not only did they mean well but they generally did well. And their inclusion in this story did a good job of shining a bit more light on a terrible problem that happens everywhere, even in tiny towns like Stella Maris.

The problem they introduce in the story is that their need for secrecy comes into direct conflict with Liz and Nate’s need to investigate the case. They are also part of what makes the resolution so convoluted. No one really wants to expose the details of their operation, but at the same time no one wants an innocent woman to be tried for a crime she did not commit.

As fascinating as the case itself turned out to be, the villain came a bit out of left field. I can’t say that at least some of the clues weren’t there, but either he did a really, really good job of misdirection or he didn’t appear enough until the very end.

And as much as I love this series, a very little of Liz’ family (other than her husband and partner Nate) goes a very, very long way. Your mileage may vary.

Review: The Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner by J.R. Ward + Excerpt

Review: The  Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner by J.R. Ward + ExcerptThe Rehearsal Dinner (The Wedding From Hell #1) by J.R. Ward
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Firefighters #0.5
Pages: 63
Published by Gallery Books on July 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Don’t miss #1 New York Times bestselling author J.R. Ward’s three-part ebook serialization: The Wedding From Hell. This exclusive prequel to her upcoming standalone suspense Consumed (available in October 2018) takes us back to where it all started between arson investigator Anne Ashburn and ‘bad boy’ firefighter Danny Maguire. The Wedding From Hell is a sexy standalone novella that sets up Consumed’s storyline, leaving fans hungry for more and dying to snatch it up.

The Wedding From Hell, Part 1: The Rehearsal Dinner: It’s a classic recipe for disaster: Take one bridesmaid who thinks pink is the root of all evil, mix with a best man who’s hotter than a four-alarm fire, add in their explosive sexual attraction, a nightmare bridezilla, two cat fights, and an emergency call, and you have the wedding from hell.

Experience the sizzling start of Anne and Danny’s intense relationship. Is this the start of something good...or just an erotic one-night stand that rocks their world, but must never be repeated?

My Review:

Because this is a short teaser of a book, it’s going to be a short teaser of a review, too.

I got into this tour, and the prequel novellas, because my curiosity bump itched something fierce. I loved Black Dagger Brotherhood way back when, although I didn’t finish the series because they started to get a repetitive for me. But I enjoyed the hell out of the early books in the series.

Howsomever, I DNF’d The Bourbon Kings at about the halfway point. The only reason I didn’t throw it against the wall was that my iPad is WAY too expensive to throw at walls. But I was still tempted.

When I saw the info for The Wedding from Hell introductory novellas along with the blurb for the full-length Consumed, I decided to give this author another try.

And so far, I’m glad I did.

The Wedding from Hell, at least so far, combines some really terrific tropes. The romance, or at least the steamy and unresolved chemistry so far, is between two members of a small-town New England fire department. She’s the daughter of a local legend and the sister of a current commander. He’s the company man-whore. Or at least he used to be.

They work well together, seemingly able to sense what the other is thinking, and always managing to be in the right place at the right time with the right equipment.

But this assignment isn’t work. Not exactly.

A member of their company is getting married and he wants all of the “guys” from his station house to be his groomsmen. Including Anne Ashburn. That she’s not a guy pisses the bridezilla right off – not that that takes much. But Danny McGuire, the best man and Anne’s work-partner, knows that bridezilla should not be marrying one of his best friends. He won’t let Ann out of the wedding, because he needs the moral support.

And because he hasn’t been able to get Anne out of his head or his heart since the day she walked into the station. He’s got it really, really bad.

But no matter how much Anne is interested in him, she’s not interested in being another notch on his bedpost – especially once she figures out that bridezilla got there first.

Escape Rating B+: As a FREE teaser novella, this certainly does its job. I definitely feel teased, although I admit not nearly as teased as Ann and Danny are by each other.

I enjoy a good firefighter romance, I love to see the rake get reformed, and the wedding so far as produced oodles of cringeworthy scenes of epic bridezilla-dom, injecting just the right touch of sheer insanity into the story.

As short as this story is, we still get a good introduction to Anne and Danny and at least some of their crew. More than enough to want to find out just how long they manage to resist each other – and whether anyone else in the crew is running a betting pool on it.

I can wait to get to the next installment of The Wedding from Hell, The Reception.

Excerpt from The Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner

Thursday, October 29
T minus 48 hours ’til blastoff
College Row, New Brunswick, Massachusetts

Because women are not frickin’ groomsmen! That’s why she can’t be in the goddamn wedding!”
As Anne Ashburn walked in the back door of the shotgun apartment, that happy little explosion was not only what she’d expected all along, it also offered her the out she’d been praying for. And it was probably the one and only time she was ever going to agree with the bride.
Not about the role of females in bridal parties, but that Anne wasn’t going to be in the “goddamn wedding.”
Everyone standing in the kitchen turned and looked at her: Deandra Cox, the impending wearer of the white dress; Robert “Moose” Miller, her exhausted fiancé and Anne’s fellow crew member down at the 499 fi rehouse; and . . . Dannyboy Maguire.
Who was the only one she really noticed and, for that reason, the person she refused to look at.
Too bad Danny always made an impression. Like most firefighters, he was in great physical shape, his big body thickly muscled and ready to snap into motion in an instant. With his heavy arms linked over that chest and his long legs crossed at the boots, he was leaning back against the chipped countertop, his too-blue stare missing nothing. He was fresh from a shower, his glossy black hair wet, and Anne tried not to picture him naked under the spray, his tattooed torso arching as he rinsed the shampoo out of his—
She put her hands up to stop herself as much as the argument. “Look, I don’t want to cause any problems. I’m happy to step aside—”
“And now I have one too many bridesmaids.” The bride-to-be refocused on her intended. “My count is wrong. You wait until two days before the wedding to tell me this when you know I’m not going to like it, and now my count is off!”
As the groom focused on the linoleum floor, it was impossible not to picture a wax version of the couple on a multi-tiered cake: Deandra in skinny jeans and that tight cashmere sweater, her dark hair streaked blond, her body cocked forward like she was going to throat-punch the man she was going to marry; Moose in his New Brunswick Fire Department T-shirt, all broad-shouldered and bearded around the face, easing back like someone with the flu was about to sneeze in his face.
Ah, true love.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Moose muttered. “Anne’s a member of the four-nine-nine crew, and everyone else is with me.”
“She’s a girl.” Deandra pointed at Anne. “It throws off everything.”
“I really don’t want to cause any problems.” Anne put her hands up again. “So I’ll just be in the congregation. It’s perfectly fine—”
Deandra’s glare swung Anne’s way. “The count is still wrong. And my friends have already paid for their dresses. They were a hundred and twenty dollars apiece.”
And that’s my cue to go, Anne thought. Moose may have volunteered for this, but no one else had or needed to—
“I think women can be whatever they want.”
As Danny spoke up, everyone looked at him—including Anne, who suddenly felt shades of what Deandra was throwing out.
Don’t you dare, she mouthed at him behind the bride’s back.
Danny just shrugged like he’d thrown on a pantsuit and was channeling Oprah, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton all at once. “I mean, Deandra, you’re above all that sexism, aren’t you? No one’s going to tell you what’s right and wrong for your own wedding. You’re more secure than that.”
I am going to kill you, Anne vowed. “I think Deandra wants things done properly for her only wedding.”
Danny frowned in pseudo-confusion. “So you’re saying it’s okay to have a double standard for men and women? That’s a shocker given how you are at the station. I thought you believed in equality.”
“I do,” Anne snapped. “But this isn’t about equality.”
“You sure? I don’t know how you can support traditional gender roles when it comes to a wedding ceremony at the same time you defend the right for women to be firefighters, cops, and on the front lines in the military.”
“Spare me someone who’s never been in a dress having an opinion about women’s issues, okay?”
“I’m just pointing out that you don’t want women out of dresses.”
“It’s her wedding.” Anne jabbed a finger at Deandra. “She’s the bride. She gets to say what’s right and wrong for her, and she does not need some man telling her what to do.”
“Even if I’m defending the rights of women?”
“Until you grow a set of ovaries, you can shut the hell up about our rights!”
As Anne’s voice ricocheted around the kitchen, she realized that she’d marched right up to Danny—and that Deandra and Moose were watching the two of them in total stillness.
She cleared her throat and took a step back. “Anyway, Deandra’s made up her mind. And I support her decision.”
Deandra’s eyes narrowed on Danny, and something about the way the woman looked at him didn’t seem right.
“Actually,” the bride said, “maybe she should be in the wedding party.”
Anne prayed her expression stayed neutral. “Don’t compromise your vision on my account.”
“I won’t.” The woman stared at Danny. “Fine. Let’s put her in a tuxedo like the rest of the men. She can walk my sister down the aisle, just like a man should. Her shoulders are too big for a gown, anyway, and that way my count stays the way it should.”
Anne rolled her eyes. Let’s hear it for girl power.
“So it’s settled,” Deandra said with a tight smile. “You need a tux. Unless you already own one.”
For a moment, Anne waited for somebody to argue with the woman. Like Moose. But he was clearly done falling on swords over the wedding details, and Danny had just gotten what he wanted so he wasn’t going to say a damn thing.
And the truth was, after how many years of fighting fires with these men, they were her brothers in all but blood. Even though she thought Moose had lost his ever-loving mind marrying this beautiful but sour woman after knowing her for a matter of months, Anne was still going to stand up for the guy if he wanted her to—and he did. He’d asked her down at the stationhouse specifically.
“Where did you guys rent your suits?” Anne said to him.
“Tuxedoes,” Deandra corrected.
The groom blinked like he’d forgotten how to speak English. Then again, he’d been doing that a lot at the firehouse lately. “You’re actually going to wear one?”
“What the hell do I care?”
“Yes, she is wearing one,” Deandra cut in.
Danny spoke up. “I’ll go with you. I know where the place is.”

Review: Kill the Farm Boy by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S Dawson

Review: Kill the Farm Boy by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S DawsonKill the Farm Boy (The Tales of Pell, #1) by Delilah S. Dawson, Kevin Hearne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fairy tales, fantasy
Series: Tales of Pell #1
Pages: 384
Published by Del Rey Books on July 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In an irreverent new series in the tradition of Terry Pratchett novels and The Princess Bride, the New York Times bestselling authors of the Iron Druid Chronicles and Star Wars: Phasma reinvent fantasy, fairy tales, and floridly written feast scenes.

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, a hero, the Chosen One, was born . . . and so begins every fairy tale ever told.

This is not that fairy tale.

There is a Chosen One, but he is unlike any One who has ever been Chosened.

And there is a faraway kingdom, but you have never been to a magical world quite like the land of Pell.

There, a plucky farm boy will find more than he's bargained for on his quest to awaken the sleeping princess in her cursed tower. First there's the Dark Lord who wishes for the boy's untimely death . . . and also very fine cheese. Then there's a bard without a song in her heart but with a very adorable and fuzzy tail, an assassin who fears not the night but is terrified of chickens, and a mighty fighter more frightened of her sword than of her chain-mail bikini. This journey will lead to sinister umlauts, a trash-talking goat, the Dread Necromancer Steve, and a strange and wondrous journey to the most peculiar "happily ever after" that ever once-upon-a-timed.

My Review:

If Robert Asprin’s Myth-Adventures series had a love child with Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, and then if that love child had a child with Monty Python – or possibly a love child with each individual member of Monty Python, all midwifed by The Princess Bride, you might get something like Kill the Farm Boy.

Or you’d get a cheese sandwich. Or possibly both.

On the one hand, the description of this book can easily be read as a fairly typical epic fantasy. A group of adventurers, including a ”chosen one” set out from obscurity to undertake a quest.

But this particular fantasy is fractured from beginning to end. Like so many fantasies, the adventuring party consists of a wizard or two, a rogue, a warrior, a bard and a trusty steed. The opening salvo in the quest is to rescue a fairy tale princess from a sleeping castle. In a twisted cross between Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast.

That beast is a rabbit. Or at least sort of a rabbit. And sort of a girl. The rogue is a klutz, and a not very bright klutz at that. Of the two wizards, neither is exactly the leader of the Light. One fancies himself a budding Dark Lord, and the other is as grey as grey can get – except for her hair, because the natural color of that has been hiding behind magic for decades at the very least.

The dangers they face are life threatening and never ending. But there’s no farm boy in sight. Oh, there was a farm boy all right, but he gets chosen for death relatively early in the story. The real “Chosen One” is the trusty steed, but he’s neither trusty nor exactly a steed. And he likes to eat boots.

If the tongue was any further in the cheek, it would poke out the other side.

Escape Rating C+:Some of the reviewers make the comparison between Kill the Farm Boy and the Discworld. If that comparison holds at all, it’s only between Kill the Farm Boy and the first two Discworld titles, The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic, where Sir Terry was merely skewering the genre and not exactly plotting a story. And where he clearly had no clue yet that he was at the beginning of something that needed a real plot, sympathetic characters and at least a bit of internal consistency to wrap around that skewer.

While I love the work of both of this book’s authors, Delilah Dawson for the Blud series and Kevin Hearne for the Iron Druid Chronicles, this collaboration does not live up to either of their previous work, nor to any of the many antecedents I mentioned at the beginning of this review.

And that’s a real pity, because Kill the Farm Boy had so much promise. And it does have its funny moments. But in the end it doesn’t deliver – even though it’s obvious that the co-authors had tons of fun in the process of writing this.

The snark is too thick and the plot is too thin. It reminds me of the lesson that Mike the computer learns in Robert A. Heinlein’s marvelous The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Mike is trying to teach himself humor, and his human friend introduces him to the difference between “funny once” and “funny always”. Kill the Farm Boy attempts to be “funny always” by keeping up a nonstop torrent of snark and in-jokes.

And those are almost always “funny once”.

But we’ll be back in Pell for No Country for Old Gnomes. It took Sir Terry until at least Mort (Discworld #4) for that series to really get its legs under it. Maybe The Tales of Pell will manage to get there a little sooner. We’ll see.

A Scoop of Luck Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the A Scoop of Luck Giveaway Hop, hosted by MamatheFox!

First, I’m going to ask that you all wish me a little luck. I’m having some minor surgery today, so all wishes for a speedy recovery are very much appreciated!

The theme for this bloghop is all about luck. It makes me think of the song from My Fair Lady, the one that goes, “With a little bit of luck…) We can always use a little bit of luck. Or a little scoop of ice cream to make us feel lucky! At least lucky that someone invented ice cream to have on a hot summer’s day.

Speaking of ice cream, if there’s a Creamistry near you and you haven’t tried it, pick a hot day and go! They don’t just put in your mix ins before your eyes, they actually freeze your ice cream with liquid nitrogen right there while you wait. It’s awesome stuff, and a neat concept all rolled into one.

But speaking of luck, you might get lucky here in this giveaway. I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 US Amazon Gift Card or a book from the Book Depository up to $10 US in value. This giveaway is open to anyone living anywhere that the Book Depository ships.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-15-18

Sunday Post

When I discovered that the publication of Hope Never Dies had been moved up from mid-August to early July I simply could not resist reading it – pretty much the way I could not resist picking it up in the first place. When I saw the blurb on Edelweiss, it struck me as a case of the bear dancing, where you’re not surprised it’s done well, you’re simply surprised that it’s done AT ALL. It was a boatload of fun. Possibly even a Trans Am trunkload of fun, as long as you fling your willing suspension of disbelief out the window before you start.

Don’t forget, today is your last chance to seize your chance at the prize in the Seas the Day Giveaway Hop. The hop ends tonight at midnight!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Seas the Day Giveaway Hop (ends TONIGHT!)
Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann
Taste of Seattle Gift Bag from Susan Mallery

Blog Recap:

B Review: Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann + Giveaway
B+ Review: Imperator by Anna Hackett
A+ Review: Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs
A- Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + Giveaway
B- Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
Stacking the Shelves (296)

Coming Next Week:

A Scoop of Luck Giveaway Hop
Kill the Farm Boy by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson (review)
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler (review)
Hunting the Truth by Beate and Serge Klarsfeld (review)
Lowcountry Bookshop by Susan M. Boyer (review)

Stacking the Shelves (296)

Stacking the Shelves

There are a couple of really interesting things in this week’s stack. Not that they aren’t all interesting looking books – or I wouldn’t have picked them up. But interesting in different ways from the usual.

First unusual thing, or first and second unusual things depending on how you count, is that Bayside Heat by Melissa Foster and Sweet Heat at Bayside by Addison Cole are essentially the same book. The steamy version is under Foster and the sweet, or at least sweeter version is under Cole. I’ll be comparing to see what difference that makes.

And Under the Table by Stephanie Evanovich currently holds the dubious achievement award for being the farthest out. The book won’t be published until April 2019!

For Review:
All That is Left is All That Matters by Mark Slouka
The Animal Gazer by Edgardo Franzosini
Bayside Heat (Bayside Summers #3) by Melissa Foster
Dagger’s Edge (Brute Force #2) by Lora Leigh
Entropy (Atrophy #4) by Jess Anastasi
Frenchman Street (Sentinels of New Orleans #6) by Suzanne Johnson
A Girl’s Guide to Missiles by Karen Piper
The Hollow of Fear (Lady Sherlock #3) by Sherry Thomas
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
The Poisoned City by Anna Clark
Sweet Heat at Bayside (Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summers #3) by Addison Cole
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam
Under the Table by Stephanie Evanovich
Witness by Ariel Burger

Purchased from Amazon:
Hunted (Iron Druid Chronicles #6) by Kevin Hearne (audiobook)

Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew ShafferHope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 304
Published by Quirk Books on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This mystery thriller reunites Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama for a political mashup full of suspense, intrigue, and laugh out loud bromance.

Vice President Joe Biden is fresh out of the Obama White House and feeling adrift when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues. To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” re-teams with the only man he’s ever fully trusted—the 44th president of the United States. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.

Part noir thriller and part bromance novel, Hope Never Dies is essentially the first published work of Obama/Biden fanfiction—and a cathartic read for anyone distressed by the current state of affairs.

My Review:

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

While I will not judge this book by its cover, I will say that I absolutely did pick this book up for its cover. Which I absolutely could not believe when I saw it, and couldn’t resist once I read the blurb.

Which is completely insane – but all too hilarious – both at the same time.

There is no doubt that this is a terrific piece of what is called “real person fanfic”, which is a thing in fanfiction circles. While fanfiction is usually written about fictional characters, no matter the source, just as there is fanfiction about movie and TV characters there is also fanfiction about the actors who play those characters. When it’s romance fanfic, that can seem a bit creepy and/or stalkerish and is frowned upon in some circles.

One thing that is common in fanfiction in general is the way that the stories often go places that the creator of the original work never intended, and generally the further afield those places are the more it adds to the fun.

This is the kind of story where you don’t so much willingly suspend your disbelief as throw it out the window of a speeding muscle car, like oh, say, the Trans Am that Joe and Barack end up powering through the streets of Wilmington Delaware in the course of this case.

Because this piece of real person fanfiction is a noir-ish murder mystery. And a fairly complicated one – with comic relief provided by this extremely amateur pair of occasionally bumbling wannabe detectives.

Admittedly “Amtrak Joe” Biden does most of the bumbling, while Barack Obama provides even more “cool” than he displays in real life.

The scene of Obama rescuing Biden from a motorcycle gang by casually firing a sawed-off shotgun while lying about Seal Team 6 waiting in the wings was absolutely priceless.

There is a mystery at the heart of this wild and crazy road novel, and it’s all about a good man gone wrong and a bad man hiding in plain sight finally brought low by a couple of past and possibly future politicians who are searching for a third act in their lives.

And who discover that their enduring friendship is the greatest gift of all.

Escape Rating B-: As mysteries go, this is no Murder on the Orient Express or even The Word is Murder. The red herrings are plenty tasty, but our amateur detectives do fumble and bumble a lot, even more than Inspector Clouseau.

And I can’t deny that the whole effort has a very strong whiff of the bear dancing, in that you are not surprised that it is done well, you are surprised that it is done AT ALL.

But it is done considerably better than the outrageous premise might lead one to believe.

What makes the mystery part of this work is that we see this fictional version of Joe Biden as an essentially honest man who wants to see justice done for a good friend – and who admittedly is uncertain where he goes next in his life.

His dilemma about what happens after you’ve been to the top, or at least to your own personal top, is pretty easy to identify with. We all get there sooner or later.

What makes the story work, and makes the reader willing to go along for the ride, is the combination of the sometimes over-the-top but occasionally spot on banter between Obama and Biden, and the first-person perspective of the story through fictional Joe Biden’s eyes.

If you are looking for an antidote to the political insanity in every newspaper and on every newscast, Hope Never Dies is a somewhat rueful, slightly nostalgic, always engaging treat.

Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + GiveawayWhen We Found Home by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by Hqn on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Life is meant to be savored, but that's not easy with no family, limited prospects and a past you'd rather not talk about. Still, Callie Smith doesn't know how to feel when she discovers she has a brother and a sister--Malcolm, who grew up with affection, wealth and privilege, and Keira, a streetwise twelve-year-old.

Callie doesn't love being alone, but at least it's safe. Despite her trepidation, she moves into the grand family home with her siblings and grandfather on the shores of Lake Washington, hoping just maybe this will be the start of a whole new life.

But starting over can be messy. Callie and Keira fit in with each other, but not with their posh new lifestyle, leaving Malcolm feeling like the odd man out in his own home. He was clever enough to turn a sleepy Seattle mail-order food catalog into an online gourmet powerhouse, yet he can't figure out how to help his new sisters feel secure. Becoming a family will take patience, humor, a little bit of wine and a whole lot of love.

But love isn't Malcolm's strong suit... until a beautiful barista teaches him that an open heart, like the family table, can always make room for more.

In this emotional, funny and heartfelt story, Susan Mallery masterfully explores the definition of a modern family--blended by surprise, not by choice--and how those complicated relationships can add unexpected richness to life.

My Review:

When We Found Home is an absolutely lovely story. In the same way that this author’s Daughters of the Bride was also a very lovely story. The two are not connected, but if you liked the one you’ll like the other and vice-versa.

When We Found Home is a story about family. The family in this book is a bit unusual, as they discover that they are family rather late into each of their lives.

To put it bluntly, the late Jerry Carlesso was a man-whore. He clearly could not keep it in his pants under any circumstances whatsoever. The only saving grace to the man was that he never married, so at least he wasn’t cheating on a wife while he traveled the country and left children behind in his wake.

Three of them, to be precise. And Jerry’s father, Alberto is determined to find them all and make them family.

Malcolm’s mother found them Alberto first, back when Malcolm was 12. Now he’s 34 and the heir to Alberto’s successful high-end mail-order Italian food empire, Alberto’s Alfresco. Alberto’s private detective found little Kiera a couple of months before the story opens. She’s 12 and her own mother is dead. Kiera was discovered in foster care.

Kiera’s adjustment from being lost in the foster system to being very nearly a fairy tale princess is not going well. She’s the only child in a houseful of adults, her world has shifted completely off its axis, and her big brother is keeping her at arm’s length because he doesn’t know what to do with this sudden influx of 12-year-old sister. And he doesn’t believe he’s any good at relationships.

The story begins with the introduction of the last sibling, 26-year-old Callie. Callie made a terrible mistake as a teenager, and took the fall for a very skanky boyfriend who committed armed robbery. Callie spent 5 years incarcerated, but in the three years since her release she has done her best to start a new life. A life that is sorta/kinda working when Alberto’s lawyer finally tracks her down in Houston.

It’s a very rough journey for this family-lost-at-birth to become a family-of-choice. While Keira and Callie bond fairly quickly, it takes a bit of work for Malcolm to work out his issues with their shared parent, get the stick out of his ass, and upgrade his original status from “asshole brother” to “jerky brother” to just “big brother”.

And they all need a little help along the way. Help that they manage to get, and eventually accept, from the second best thing that ever happens to any of them.

Becoming a real family is the first best thing.

Escape Rating A-: Just like when I read Daughters of the Bride a couple of years ago, When We Found Home was absolutely the right book at the right time. While yesterday’s book was just about perfect, it did turn out to be a bit angstier (and meatier) than I was expecting. When We Found Home had just the right amount of fun and froth while having a bit of meat on its bonesand plenty of heart.

There are two romances in this story, but the romances are not the point of the story. Rather it’s the other way around. The healing that becoming a family brings to the lives of both Malcolm and Callie allows them to accept and cherish the romantic love that enters both of their lives.

All of the adults in this story have plenty of baggage that they need to work through before any of them are ready to become a family or reach anything close to an HEA.

Callie’s past seems the most difficult. She made a huge mistake – and she paid for it. But even though she has theoretically paid her debt to society, that same society makes her keep paying for that mistake over and over and over. As much as she needs the helping hand of her family and her grandfather, she’s afraid to trust it will last – because she doesn’t feel like she deserves it.

Kiera and Callie bond because they have some of the same fears. Not that 12-year-old Kiera is a convicted felon, but that she’s been abandoned before and is afraid that all this good fortune can’t possibly last.

Malcolm seems like he has it all, but he is still recovering from a heartbreaking betrayal by those he trusted. It’s difficult for him to reach out to anyone, and he nearly loses his sisters because of it.

It’s not so much that they all grow up, as that their hearts all grow three sizes in the course of the story. They do a lot of self-examination, they lift each other up, and they figure out that they are a family after all.

And that’s how they earn their happily ever after.

For a taste of When We Found Home, please check out this excerpt!

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

Susan is still giving away a Taste of Seattle Gift Bag. The bag includes:
An “I [Heart] Happy Books” tote bag, Starbucks Pike’s Place ground coffee, Seattle Chocolates gift set (3 truffle jars), Cucina Fresca marinara sauce, Sahale Snacks (6 packs), Maury Island Farms jam (2 jars)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs

Review: Between You and Me by Susan WiggsBetween You and Me by Susan Wiggs
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on June 26, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Deep within the peaceful heart of Amish country, a life-or-death emergency shatters a quiet world to its core. Number-one New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs delivers a riveting story that challenges our deepest-held beliefs.

Caught between two worlds, Caleb Stoltz is bound by a deathbed promise to raise his orphaned niece and nephew in Middle Grove, where life revolves around family, farm, faith—and long-held suspicions about outsiders. When disaster strikes, Caleb is thrust into an urban environment of high-tech medicine and the relentless rush of modern life.

Dr. Reese Powell is poised to join the medical dynasty of her wealthy, successful parents. Bold, assertive, and quick-thinking, she lives for the addictive rush of saving lives. When a shocking accident brings Caleb Stoltz into her life, Reese is forced to deal with a situation that challenges everything she thinks she knows—and ultimately emboldens her to question her most powerful beliefs.

Then one impulsive act brings about a clash of cultures in a tug-of-war that plays out in a courtroom, challenging the very nature of justice and reverberating through generations, straining the fragile threads of faith and family.

Deeply moving and unforgettable, Between You and Me is an emotionally complex story of love and loss, family and friendship, and the arduous road to discovering the heart’s true path.

My Review:

Between You and Me is not quite what I was expecting. Much in the same way that neither Reese Powell’s nor Caleb Stoltz’ lives turn out quite the way that they – or anyone around them – expected.

The unexpected can turn out to be wonderful.

Reese Powell and Caleb Stoltz don’t seem to have much in common, at least not on the surface, and they certainly live lives that should never have intersected. But life is funny that way, and sometimes we meet the people we really need to when we really need them.

Even if, or especially because, they challenge us and everything we thought we believed. The best laid plans of mice, men and especially parents go oft astray.

Caleb’s nephew is injured in a tragic accident, and his tiny Amish farming community does not have the resources needed to keep the boy from bleeding out. His nearly severed arm is a lost cause, but the boy’s life isn’t – at least not yet. When the life flight helicopter comes to take Jonah Stoltz from Middle Grove to Philadelphia, Caleb rides along.

His first ride in a helicopter, something that he has always longed to do.

While Caleb may be Amish, his heart has always yearned for the wider world. When he went on his rumspringa, his version of going wild was to attend college. He had no plans to return to Middle Grove and his abusive father.

But when his older brother and sister-in-law were murdered, Caleb took up his duty and returned to care for his niece and nephew. Not just because he made a promise to his brother as he lay dying, but to prevent his father from abusing the two children who would otherwise be left in his care.

Jonah’s tragic accident gives Caleb a tiny, tempting chance to break away from his life for a brief moment, and in his care for the boy he lets himself take it.

Reese Powell is a fourth-year resident at the hospital where Jonah is taken. She’s part of the trauma team that preps the boy for surgery. And something in her heart reaches out to the boy whose life has just irrevocably changed, and to the lost, lonely man who is truly a stranger in a strange land in the urban setting.

Just as Caleb takes this brief opportunity to break free of the life he is expected to lead, in her friendship with him Reese discovers an opportunity to examine what she wants for herself, and to break free of the heavy weight of her parents’ expectation.

They expect her to become a pediatric surgeon so that she can become a partner in their high powered and highly successful OB/GYN IVF practice. A practice that produced Reese herself. But what they want for her is not what she wants for herself. Not that Reese does not want to be a doctor, but that she wants to be a different kind of doctor than her parents, or than her parents have planned for her to be.

And even though their attempts at any relationship beyond friendship seem doomed to failure, that they try gives both of them the courage to discover what they are truly searching for in life.

It might even lead them back to each other.

Escape Rating A+: Upon reflection, I don’t think that the blurb matches the book all that much, except for its final paragraph. Between You and Me is deeply moving and unforgettable, and it is an emotionally complex story of love, loss, family, friendship and just how difficult it can be to find your own true path and the people who you need to have walking that path beside you.

But this isn’t a story about faith, except possibly faith in oneself. It also is not a story about beliefs, at least not in the religious sense that feels implied in the blurb. Instead, it feels a story about the intersection of duty and commitment, about the weight of promises made and the guilt of promises broken. And how sometimes it’s necessary to break the literal meaning of a promise in order to keep the spirit of it.

Caleb is Amish, but he has never been baptised in the faith. In other words, he has always had plenty of doubts, and those doubts have kept him from becoming a full member of the community. He promised his brother that he would raise his children in Middle Grove, but he did not promise to make any religious commitments of his own to the community.

Caleb has always had a foot in both camps. He lives in Middle Grove, but he works for the English in nearby Grantham Park, as the lead horse trainer for the Budweiser Clydesdales as well as other big, beautiful horses. And he does accounting on the side.

Much of the clash of cultures in the story is about the clash within Caleb’s heart. He wants to leave. He’s always wanted to leave. A big part of this story comprises the circumstances that finally make him realize that he needs to leave, both for his niece and nephew’s sake and for his own.

It’s often a hard choice, and it’s one that we see Caleb struggle with every step of the way.

Reese’s problem often seem much easier, but that doesn’t mean that her difficulties aren’t real or that we don’t feel for her as well. Because we do.

There is a romance at the heart of Between You and Me, but this is not a romance in the genre sense. The story here revolves around Caleb’s and Reese’s separate journeys to find themselves and the truth of their own hearts – not in the romantic sense but in the finding true purpose sense.

The happy ending is their reward for taking the difficult path. And it’s the reader’s reward for following them on their journey.

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Review: Imperator by Anna Hackett

Review: Imperator by Anna HackettImperator (Galactic Gladiators #11) Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #11
Pages: 206
Published by Anna Hackett on July 10th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Space station security specialist Sam has done one thing since her abduction by alien slavers…fight to survive. But now one strong alien gladiator stands at her side and Sam knows she is no longer alone.

Thrust into a lawless desert arena, Sam Santos has done terrible things in order to stay alive. As the Champion of Zaabha, she’s been fighting to find a way out. Everything changes when the Imperator of the House of Galen sacrifices his freedom to help her. The hard-bodied, fierce man has vowed to help her escape, but getting out of Zaabha is only the first deadly task they face.

Galen was bred to be a royal bodyguard and protect his prince. With his planet now destroyed, he’s grown powerful and forged his wealthy gladiatorial House on the desert planet of Carthago. All Galen knows is honor, service, and sacrifice. Now his life depends on working with one battle-hardened woman of Earth as they fight together to survive. But Sam Santos is not what he expected. Tough, yes. A brilliant fighter, for sure. But there is a softer side to the woman as well. And Galen finds himself irrevocably drawn to all of Sam’s captivating facets.

Then they uncover a devious plot by the Thraxians that could bring down the foundations of the Kor Magna Arena and all they hold dear. Galen and Sam will stop at nothing to defeat the evil alien slavers, even if it means war. In amongst the fighting, Sam may finally show a man who lives for everyone else, that he deserves more than just honor and freedom, but love as well…if they survive the coming battle.

My Review:

Imperator is the culmination of all ten previous books in Anna Hackett’s marvelous, universe-spanning Galactic Gladiators series. It brings this story to a fantastic, heart-stopping doozy of a happily ever after for the humans stolen from Jupiter station and the gladiators (and a few select others) who take these refugees into their hearts.

Even in a couple of cases where those gladiators weren’t actually sure they still (or ever) had hearts.

The series began in Gladiator when the slave-trading Thraxians exploited a temporary wormhole that led from Carthago on the far side of the galaxy to our own solar system. The Thraxians, being the bloodthirsty and evil slave traders that they are, attacked the station and kidnapped as many humans as they could, skedaddling back through the wormhole before it closed.

There may be no place like home, but there’s no way back home for the kidnapped humans.

As the series progressed, one by one, those humans were rescued from the slave traders and their illegal fighting pits by the gladiators of the House of Galen, led by their leader, the Imperator Galen himself.

The House of Galen discovered that the Thraxians and their allies were operating an underground fight ring, using kidnapped, enslaved, tortured and experimented upon fighters. At first the ring was literally underground, but when the gladiators discovered that set of pits, the masters of Zaabha moved to a floating arena, one that flies over the more deserted parts of the planet.

Imperator opens on the heels of the final events of the previous book, Cyborg. Galen and his gladiators have managed to free all the human captives save one, but at tremendous cost. Galen himself is stuck on the floating Zaabha, along with the one human woman that he has not been able to forget.

Galen would say that he stayed on Zaabha because he promised the human mates of his gladiators that he would rescue their friend Samantha Santos from Zaabha. But the truth is that he wants to rescue Sam for himself.

In the end, they’ll have to rescue each other. Not just from Zaabha, but from all of the guilt and demons locked inside their own hearts.

Escape Rating B+: I have loved this entire series. While I’m a bit sorry to see it end, I’m glad that the author left a glimmer of possibility for future stories in this world. There could be other captured humans that they have not found. Yet.

But this part of the story is done. The House of Galen and their allies have all found their happily ever afters with humans from Earth. And it was fitting that Galen’s story was the last – because he couldn’t let his own guard down until every single person under his protection had been taken care of.

And now they have.

Imperator is the final story in this series. Even if more kidnapped humans do turn up, this story ends this section. As such, this is no place to start the series. I’m not totally sure that they have to be read strictly in order, but I would recommend starting with one of the first three books, Gladiator, Warrior or Hero. Once you’re hooked, you’ll want to read them all, but there’s a point in this series where things really build on the previous books – a point we’re well past by Imperator.

This book also includes a bit of, not exactly an epilog, but a few scenes where we see the present from each of the preceding couples’ points of view. And those scenes only have resonance if you know where everyone is coming from.

In all of the stories, and especially in this wrap up, those HEAs are very definitely earned.

And it’s fantastic!