Stacking the Shelves (182)

Stacking the Shelves

Seven is the sweet spot for the graph, or at least one of them. So when Rhys Ford contacted me this morning with the eARC of the next Sinners book, I knew my Saturday post was set. Also that my weekend was booked. Because I can never resist dropping everything to read one of her books, even if I can’t post the review for a month, or in this case, TWO months. There are some authors that I just drop everything for. Rhys is one. Robin D. Owens is another, Anna Hackett is a third. I loved Lost in Barbarian Space and I was so glad that I could post the review reasonably close to right away. And I have a Robin Owens book this week too. It’s a GREAT week.

I was also very happy to hear from both Rhys and Anna that their series aren’t quite done yet. Anna tweeted that there are probably three more books in the Phoenix Adventures before she wraps it up. There are still a few members of the family who need to get their HEAs. And Rhys let me know that there will be one more Sinners book after Absinthe of Malice. That story isn’t quite done yet, and I can’t wait to find out in exactly what way.

For Review:
Absinthe of Malice (Sinners #5) by Rhys Ford
The Fifty-Year Mission : The Next 25 Years by Edward Gross & Mark A. Altman
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

Purchased from Amazon:
A Different Kind of Forever by Dee Ernst
The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years by Edward Gross & Mark A. Altman
Lost Heart (Celta’s Heartmates) by Robin D. Owens
Star Trek: The Lost Photographs by CBS Watch


Review: Flash of Fire by M.L. Buchman + Giveaway

Flash of Fire Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Firehawks #7
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 3rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The elite firefighters of Mount Hood Aviation fly into places even the CIA can't penetrate.
FROM WILDFIRE TO GUNFIRE When former Army National Guard helicopter pilot Robin Harrow joins Mount Hood Aviation, she expect to fight fires for only one season. Instead, she finds herself getting deeply entrenched with one of the most elite firefighting teams in the world. And that's before they send her on a mission that's seriously top secret, with a flight partner who's seriously hot.
Mickey Hamilton loves flying, firefighting, and women, in that order. But when Robin Harrow roars across his radar, his priorities go out the window. On a critical mission deep in enemy territory, their past burns away and they must face each other. Their one shot at a future demands that they first survive the present-together.
"A richly detailed and pulse-pounding read...tender romance flawlessly blended with heart-stopping life-or-death scenes." -RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 stars for Full Blaze

My Review:

Whatever was in the water at SOAR seems to also be in the water at Mount Hood Aviation. Everyone who shows up to fly to fire ends up very happily married. And it’s wonderful fun!

Like so many of the books in Buchman’s Firehawks series, the story follows a particular pattern. What makes things interesting is always the characters, both the ones that series readers are familiar with, and the new ones who are introduced or at least focused on in the current entry.

In the case of Flash of Fire, our hero Mickey Hamilton is one of the pilots who has been with MHA for a while, but hasn’t had his own story because he’s been waiting for the right heroine to arrive.

The heroine for Mickey is Robin Harrow. She’s former Army National Guard, and currently serving as a reluctant waitress in the biggest independent truck stop in Arizona. But working at Phoebe’s Truck Stop is a family tradition – her mother did it, and now runs the place. Her grandmother is Phoebe herself. As far as fathers and grandfathers go, they aren’t in the picture. Harrow women don’t have husbands, they have sperm donors.

Someday, Phoebe figures that she will follow the family tradition. But right now, she’s flying lead for Mount Hood Aviation for one glorious season, because Emily Beale is much, much too pregnant to fit in even a helicopter’s cockpit. And Emily sees something in Robin that makes her believe Robin is the right pilot to take her place.

Robin initially sees Mickey as her extra-curricular fun for the summer, for what little downtime MHA seems to get. Mickey discovers that Robin is the only woman he will ever want, and is thunderstruck when she rejects his love, but is still more than willing to share his bedroll, tent, or bunk, as long as there are no strings attached.

Everyone who sees them knows that whatever they have is for the long haul – if Mickey can just muster the patience to let the reluctant Robin figure it out for herself.

And if they can survive not just the dangerous fire season, but also one of MHA’s mysterious Black Ops missions in one of the most dangerous places on Earth.

Escape Rating B+: While the regular firefighting is always interesting, it’s the crazy Black Ops missions that send these books into the stratosphere of nail-biting tension. As much as I enjoyed this story, it took a little longer than usual for the insane part of the fun to really begin.

Once they take off for parts nearly unknown, across the DMZ in North Korea, the action in this book ramps up to a thrill a minute.

pure heat by ml buchmanFor those new to the series who don’t want to start with either Pure Heat, the first Firehawks book, or The Night is Mine, where Emily Beale and Mark Henderson’s story really begins in the Night Stalkers, Flash of Fire is a great place to pick up the series.

Because Robin is a complete outsider to both MHA and the folks who came over or drop in from SOAR, everyone has to get introduced to her, and she has to learn everyone’s place in this high-adrenaline “family of choice”. For new readers, her introduction is their introduction. For those who have followed the series, it’s a nice refresher. At something like 20 books in for the combined series, the cast is getting pretty large. It’s always nice to see how everyone is doing.

In general, Robin makes a very interesting heroine to follow. She’s the best of the best, but she always thinks she still has so much to learn. While everyone around her at MHA is better at one thing or another than she is, Robin is excellent at pulling all those things together and creating coherence. She makes good decisions fast, which is a talent desperately needed when flying to fire, because the fire moves and changes quicker than an eye blink.

At the same time, she’s always living in the moment. She signs on to MHA for a one season contract, not because she doesn’t want more, but because that’s all they need. Emily Beale won’t be pregnant forever, however much it may seem like it by the start of her third trimester. So Robin believes that she and Mickey can only have one season, and that it is stupid to get involved when she knows she has to leave, while MHA is his home.

Not that Robin doesn’t think emotional involvement isn’t inherently just a bit stupid, and not that her family history doesn’t make her believe that it won’t work for her. Her personal history also contributes. Men want to challenge the strong soldier woman, or they want to break her. They don’t fall in love with her, and often don’t even like her very much.

Mickey is something Robin hasn’t encountered before. A man who likes her and is interested in her just the way she is. It’s the one thing she can’t resist, even if it takes her an entire exhausting fire season to finally see the light. That Robin finds not just a man who loves her, but also women who accept her as one of their own, is a marvelous touch. Flash of Fire easily passes the Bechdel Test, as Robin and the women of MHA bond not just over the men in their lives, but the risks they shared as fellow soldiers, and the dangers and rewards of flying to fire.

Like all of the books in both the Night Stalkers and Firehawks series, what makes the story work is that Robin and Mickey are equals in every possible way. Equally strong, equally intelligent, equally excellent at what they do and sometimes equally stubborn. I always love romances where the hero and the heroine are perfectly capable of rescuing each other – and where they both acknowledge it.


M.L. Buchman and Sourcebooks are giving away 5 copies of the first book in the Firehawks series, Pure Heat, to lucky entrants on this tour.

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Review: Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

Review: Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick'Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley on April 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The author of the New York Times bestseller Garden of Lies returns to Victorian London in an all-new novel of deadly obsession.   Calista Langley operates an exclusive “introduction” agency in Victorian London, catering to respectable ladies and gentlemen who find themselves alone in the world. But now, a dangerously obsessed individual has begun sending her trinkets and gifts suitable only for those in deepest mourning—a black mirror, a funeral wreath, a ring set with black jet stone. Each is engraved with her initials.   Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels. Believing that Calista may be taking advantage of his lonely sister, who has become one of her clients, Trent doesn’t trust her. Scarred by his past, he’s learned to keep his emotions at bay, even as an instant attraction threatens his resolve.   But as Trent and Calista comb through files of rejected clients in hopes of identifying her tormentor, it becomes clear that the danger may be coming from Calista’s own secret past—and that only her death will satisfy the stalker...

My Review:

This is a stand alone Amanda Quick title, and I don’t think there’s been one of those in forever. So if you are looking for a way to get into her work, or if you’ve read her as either Jayne Ann Krentz or Jayne Castle and want to find out if she’s just as good doing historical (she is!) this is a great place to start.

‘Til Death Do Us Part starts out with a very creepy Gothic feel to it, and the suspense continues to build, even though it doesn’t follow all the traditional Gothic patterns. The hero is just as brooding and scarred as in any Gothic, but the heroine, righteously frightened as she is, still participates fully and effectively in her own rescue.

The story both exploits the Gothic tropes and turns them on their pointy little heads. And the story incorporates all the chills and spookiness of her Arcane Society series, without tripping over into the paranormal, just in case that’s not your cuppa.

While mediums and seances were a big fad during the Victorian era, and they are exploited in this story, everyone involved at least tacitly acknowledges that all of the so-called mediums are charlatans. Often very good charlatans, but fakes and frauds nonetheless.

Both our hero and heroine in this book are outside the norms for their society, but are emblematic of the types of characters that Quick employs to such terrific effect in her work.

Calista Langley operates what she calls an “introductions” agency. While many scurrilous rumors label it as a high-class brothel and her as the madam, that is far from the case. What she provides is a respectable location and atmosphere where properly vetted single women and single gentlemen can meet for an evening of intellectual stimulation and intelligent conversation. She, in the person of her brother, investigates every prospective “member” in advance, to make sure that they are exactly what they say they are – single, respectable and reasonable. Absolutely no fortune hunters get through her doors.

One left her nearly at the altar, and Calista is doing her best to provide other young women with options that she didn’t have.

Trent Hastings is a successful author of detective serials. (Think of him as a young and better looking Arthur Conan Doyle, without the “trip” to the fairies) But there is certainly a place inside Trent where he and his detective hero meet. Trent has also been truly heroic – he saved his sister from a dire fate by taking the acid meant for her on his face and body. The scars have made him a recluse, or so his family believes.

But Trent has done well for himself and his family, and the sister that he saved is now a “member” of Calista’s exclusive salons. In visiting Calista to ascertain whether or not she is taking advantage of his now well-to-do younger sibling, he finds himself attracted to the fiery Calista. And when he discovers that she needs help solving a mystery that is affecting her own life, he insists on offering his services as an investigator.

Calista needs the help, and desperately. Someone is sending her death tokens with her initials carved on them. The perpetrator has even managed to leave one in her bedroom, but no one is certain how he got there. Calista knows that she is being not merely followed, but stalked.

While someone is creeping around Calista behind the scenes, her former almost-fiance has let himself back in the front door, pursuing Calista and insisting that she feels something for him other than contempt. That he is married now, to the fortune he was hunting a year ago, does not seem to deter him from his pursuit of Calista. But the presence of Trent Hastings in her life certainly does.

Calista and Trent find themselves as unlikely partners in the chase for a cold, calculating killer who has been preying on young, lonely women for at least year. But when the hunter becomes the hunted, the chase leaves a wide trail of murder and destruction that leads straight to Calista’s door.

Escape Rating A: As is fairly obvious from the opening of the review, I loved this book. I kept picking it up at odd moments throughout the day, just to find out a little bit more about how they were doing, and what progress they were making in the hunt for the killer.

As far as the suspense angle in this case, there were plenty of very tasty red herrings, and I probably took a nibble at all of them. There were so many possible suspects, and all of them seemed more than plausible in one way or another. It was logical to look at Calista’s rejected club members, and it was equally logical to look at where all of the “memento mori” (death trinkets) were coming from. Trent and Calista brought different things to their partnership, and they worked together well.

I also enjoyed Trent and Calista as characters. They were both a bit anachronistic, but not so much as to trip the willing suspension of disbelief. After all, we know of someone who had a public career very like Trent’s in Arthur Conan Doyle. It was possible to create a best-selling private detective series and serialize in the papers. That everyone knows who Trent is and has an opinion on his story and characters feels quite plausible. After all, Conan Doyle got so sick of the attention to Holmes that he killed him off just to get the man out of his life.

Calista’s situation feels a bit more on the edge of just barely plausible. On that other hand, a woman on her own, raising her young brother, would have had to have found a unique way to make a respectable living – careers for women were non-existent in the 19th century. And Calista’s life history gives her insight into the pattern of the serial killer by providing her with empathy about the victims. She knows what it is like to be alone and vulnerable, with no family and friends to protect her and support her even in the emotional sense. The lonely and forgotten can be easy prey for someone who shows them a scrap of affection and regard.

The thing that fascinated me about the suspense angle was the serial killer. Jack the Ripper can’t possibly have been the first serial killer. He was just “lucky” enough to begin his career at the dawn of mass media and instant communication. But before there was any real psychological study of human beings, how would one go about determining that the murderer being chased had done it before and would do it over and over again because that was their modus operandi? Putting together the bizarre pieces of this case is good scary fun for the reader.

And there’s a romance. Trent and Calista stumble into each other’s lives. Neither of them believes that love and marriage is for them. Trent simply fears that no woman will be able to look past his scars. Calista has been forced to become an economically independent woman, and has discovered that she likes it. Marriage for her means giving up her freedom, and having little to no recourse if she chooses badly, as she very nearly did. Trent needs to make her believe that he not only loves her, but that he loves and respects her for who she truly it, and not for the role she might fill in his life.

Watching them overcome their skepticism leads to a lovely happy ending for all.

Review: Lost in Barbarian Space by Anna Hackett

Review: Lost in Barbarian Space by Anna HackettLost in Barbarian Space by Anna Hackett
Formats available: ebook
Series: Phoenix Adventures #9
Pages: 165
on April 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

A clash of cultures. Security agent versus barbarian warrior. On an expedition to a newly discovered barbarian world, an experienced security agent doesn't expect to be working with a big, bossy barbarian warrior.

Agent Honor Brandall enjoys her job as security agent for the Institute of Historical Preservation's expedition ships. Adventures to distant planets - awesome. Archeological digs for ancient old Earth artifacts - interesting. Keeping the archeologists safe - no problem. The fact she's tall, strong and good in a fight means most of the men she works with are intimidated by her, but she refuses to apologize for being good at her job. But on a mission to the barbarian world of Markaria, she finds herself paired with a brawny warrior who challenges her in every way.

Markarian warrior Colm Mal Kor is second-in-command to his warlord and spends his days training to hone his skills and control. He's dedicated to defending his clan...and to hiding the deadly secret he can never share with anyone. But when he's thrust into working with a beautiful, challenging skyflyer, Colm finds a wild attraction he never expected and the biggest risk to his hard-earned control that he's ever encountered.

On an expedition to Markaria's icy moons, Honor and Colm work side by side, but the ice and snow aren't enough to stop them from wanting each other. As their mission takes a deadly turn, they must trust each other to survive, but it isn't just wild beasts and ferocious enemies that are a danger... Colm is harboring something inside him that is far more lethal...something that might destroy them all.

My Review:

on a barbarian world by anna hackettWhen I reviewed On a Barbarian World last year, I sadly thought that it might be the last of the Phoenix Adventures. I’m so happy I was WRONG!

Lost in Barbarian Space has its roots in two of the earlier Phoenix Adventures. Niklas Phoenix and Nera Darc are now leading the Galactic Historical Institute. How they reached that position, and how they finally fell for each other, is told in the absolutely awesome Return to Dark Earth.

The “barbarian space” that this new book is lost in, is the space discovered by Niklas cousin Aurina in On a Barbarian World. We get to explore that world a lot more in this book. There are more ships available than Aurina had, and only one of them manages to make a crash landing this time.

But Niklas, Nera and Aurina are only side characters this time around. Instead, our protagonists are the security officers for the two sides of this equation. Honor Brandell is Nera Darc’s second-in-command for the Institute’s security. And Colm Mal Kor is Kavon’s right-hand-man. (Kavon was the hero in On a Barbarian World).

There is a pattern to the entries in this series. The hero and heroine always start out in a position where they can’t possibly have a future together. Niklas and Nera were always competing for the same artifacts. Aurina was an interstellar scout, and Kavon was a barbarian war leader tied to his people and his planet. Justyn and Nissa (Beyond Galaxy’s Edge) start out on opposite sides of the law.

In the case of Lost in Barbarian Space, there are a whole shipload of reasons why Honor and Colm don’t believe they could have a future together.

Honor is a warrior. She prefers to protect rather than to kill, which is why she isn’t in the Galactic Security Service, but she is still a warrior and a damn good one. Colm’s people don’t believe that women are physically suited to be warriors. They can and often are anything and everything else, it’s not that the society is that backwards. But their men are generally many times stronger than their women, and it makes them more effective warriors.

Honor is from what sounds like a heavy-world, which makes her name even more appropriate. She may not be as strong as one of the nanami-enhanced warriors of Markaria, but she is much closer than anyone believes.

However, that strength has meant that there have been too many men in her past who want a one-night stand with someone who is a bit different, but can’t accept her differences for the long haul. As much as she is attracted to Colm, he all too frequently sounds like just another guy who wants a bit, but not too much, strange for a night.

Colm has a different problem with having more with Honor than a one-night stand than anyone is aware of. His nanami, the enhanced nanites that give his people their strength, their enhanced senses, and their remarkable healing ability, are going out of control, just like his father’s did. In other words, Colm is going incurably and violently nuts. This is a relatively rare but well-documented condition among the Markarians, and there is no cure.

So Colm doesn’t want to get emotionally involved because he’s afraid that he will either abuse her, as his father did both him and his mother or that he will have to leave to go die alone in the wilderness. Or both.

But the heart wants what the heart wants, even if, or perhaps especially when, the mind is going batshit crazy.

Escape Rating A-: Like all of the books in the Phoenix Adventures series, Lost in a Barbarian World had a satisfying ending and still left me wanting more. I love the novellas in this series, but I always finish them thinking that I just didn’t get to spend enough time in this marvelous world.

At least this time, when I finished the book I saw that there is at least one more book in the series, tentatively titled Through Uncharted Space. This is a journey that I will be sad to see end, so I hope it doesn’t for a good while yet.

About this story — one of the things I liked best about it was the character of Honor. She’s a strong woman without being a stereotypical “strong female character”. While she knows that she is who she is meant to be, she’s also taken some hard emotional knocks for the things that make her different. And while those knocks don’t make her change who she is, they do hurt and she gets emotionally scarred by some of that hurt.

I also love that she rescues herself. There is a scene fairly early on when the bad guys (space pirates!) attempt to kidnap her. Colm rides to the rescue. Just as I was moaning about looking like the author fell into the stereotype of putting the woman in jeopardy, Colm catches up to the bad guy only to discover that Honor has already dispatched the bastard. Talk about turning the trope on its head! (Then pulling the head off and spitting in the bloody stump – not literally but certainly figuratively)

One of the things I did not love about On a Barbarian World is the way that Aurina completely gives up her life as a scout to stay on Markaria with Kavon. It was the only way a happy ending could work in that story, but I didn’t like the fall into the expected, where the woman gives up her life and becomes even semi-domesticated.

That doesn’t happen in Lost in Barbarian Space, and it makes the ending that much sweeter.

Review: Mug Shot by Caroline Fardig

Review: Mug Shot by Caroline FardigMug Shot by Caroline Fardig
Formats available: ebook
Series: Java Jive #2
Pages: 292
Published by Alibi on April 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

Former musician Juliet Langley has barely had a day off since taking over management of the coffeehouse owned by her best friend, Pete Bennett. But there's always more to be done—such as prepping for the annual Holiday 5K Race organized by Pete's snobby socialite girlfriend, Cecilia Hollingsworth. This year, Java Jive has a booth right at the finish line, and since Juliet and Cecilia don't always see eye to eye, everything has to be perfect. Nothing can go wrong. Nothing . . . like Juliet stumbling over Cecilia's dead body on the morning of the race.
When Pete is arrested for Cecilia's murder, Juliet sets out to clear his name. She'll do whatever it takes—even if it means standing up to the police, her ex-boyfriend, and the grande dames of Nashville. But there isn't enough espresso in the world for the greatest challenge in her path: infiltrating Nashville's high society to uncover the hidden hotbed of scandal without running afoul of the law herself. With her last dime staked on Pete's bail bond and her staff growing jittery, the last thing Juliet needs is for her trademark temper to land her behind bars. As time drips away, Juliet needs to crack this case before the killer comes back for another shot.

My Review:

If you crossed Goldy Schulz from Diana Mott Davidson’s Goldy Bear Culinary Mysteries with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, you’d get someone like Juliet Langley from Mug Shot. And that’s definitely a mixed blessing.

Like Goldy, Juliet seems to get involved in solving mysteries because someone near and dear to her (or her own self) gets accused of murder. And of course the police focus on someone that Juliet is just sure can’t be guilty. Also like Goldy, Juliet’s life and her mysteries revolve around a food establishment. In Juliet’s case, that establishment is the Java Jive, the cafe she manages for her best friend Pete Bennett.

Like Stephanie Plum, Juliet is more than a bit hapless as well as rather klutzy. However, unlike Stephanie, Juliet has no pretensions to being a profession crime solver, crime stopper, or investigator of any kind. Juliet gets caught in the middle trying to save a friend. Her involvement always begins as an accident. She’s not supposed to be any good at it, where Stephanie Plum, if she were as inept a bail bonds investigator as she appears, would be dead several times over by now.

Not that Juliet doesn’t put herself in more than enough danger to get herself killed, but it’s not her job. If she’s bad at it, it is less of a suspension of disbelief.

death before decaf by caroline fardigAlso, unfortunately like Stephanie, it looks like Juliet is caught in the midst of a romantic triangle. She’s falling for the cop who frequently rescues her, Ryder Hamilton, in spite of his having lied to her in the first book (Death Before Decaf) when he was undercover. It is a somewhat fraught relationship.

On that other hand, Jessica has always been more than a little in love with her best friend Pete, and definitely vice versa. But they have been friends so long, and their friendship is so much a part of their lives, that they are both afraid that if they try for more, they’ll end up ruining the most important relationship they have.

But their closeness doesn’t leave a lot of room for either of them to become seriously involved with a significant other.

So when Pete’s current attempt at a significant other ends up murdered, Pete is the prime suspect. His socialite fiance, Cecilia Hollingsworth, is, quite frankly, a bitch. But she is also pregnant with someone else’s child, and too many people heard Pete and Cecilia arguing just before she was killed and left in a crime scene that naturally has Pete’s fingerprints all over it, as well as his DNA in the victim.

The cops are almost sure it must be Pete. But Juliet is equally sure that Pete is incapable of murder. And there are an awful lot of awful people who benefit an awful lot from Cecilia’s oh-so-convenient death.

It’s up to Juliet to keep Pete out of jail and suss out the real killer before she becomes the next victim.

Escape Rating B: I have mixed feelings about this book. It was fun and fast, but at the same time, it felt too much like too many other books I’ve read. If you haven’t read one of the food-related mystery series like Goldy Bear, and haven’t read Stephanie Plum, or really, really enjoyed Stephanie Plum, you’ll probably find this book to be a treat.

For this reader, it was an okay read but didn’t shine in comparison to some of its antecedents. And I’ll confess, Juliet’s “torn between two lovers” thing reminded me way too much of Stephanie Plum’s indecision between Morelli and Ranger.

However, on the plus side, the author does a very good job of catching readers new to the series up to current events. I didn’t even realize that there was a previous book in the series, and didn’t feel the lack of context that one so often does in this situation. So if this is your cup of coffee, it will taste good even if you haven’t tasted the previous book.

As mysteries go, I didn’t figure out whodunnit until Juliet did. There were oodles of red herrings in this story, and they all dangled very enticingly. While the usual rule applies, “Who Benefits?” there were so many people that benefited from Cecilia’s death that it was amazing that she lived as long as she did. She was worth more dead than alive to a whole lot of people, and she was a nasty bitch into the bargain. She won’t be missed.

If you like your coffee, and your mysteries, with a lot of froth on top, Mug Shot might just tickle your taste buds.

Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally ChristieThe Rivals of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy, #2) by Sally Christie
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Mistresses of Versailles #2
Pages: 448
Published by Atria Books on April 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

And you thought sisters were a thing to fear. In this compelling follow-up to Sally Christie's clever and absorbing debut, we meet none other than the Marquise de Pompadour, one of the greatest beauties of her generation and the first bourgeois mistress ever to grace the hallowed halls of Versailles.
I write this before her blood is even cold. She is dead, suddenly, from a high fever. The King is inconsolable, but the way is now clear.
The way is now clear.
The year is 1745. Marie-Anne, the youngest of the infamous Nesle sisters and King Louis XV's most beloved mistress, is gone, making room for the next Royal Favorite.
Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a stunningly beautiful girl from the middle classes. Fifteen years prior, a fortune teller had mapped out young Jeanne's destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King's arms.
All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeois interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals - including a lustful lady-in-waiting; a precocious fourteen-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters - she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.
Enigmatic beauty, social climber, actress, trendsetter, patron of the arts, spendthrift, whoremonger, friend, lover, foe. History books may say many things about the famous Marquise de Pompadour, but one thing is clear: for almost twenty years, she ruled France and the King's heart.
Told in Christie's witty and modern style, this second book in the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the world of eighteenth century Versailles in all its pride, pestilence and glory.

My Review:

Age and treachery beat youth and skill, set amid the long, twilight fall of France into the abyss of the Revolution.

Alternate possibility, there’s nothing new under the sun. Especially not Desperate Wives of Wherever and the Kardashians. And isn’t that a frightening thought?

Louis XV by Rigaud (1730)
Louis XV by Rigaud (1730)

The Rivals of Versailles is the second book in Sally Christie’s Mistresses of Versailles series. All of those titular mistresses were the mistresses, official or otherwise, of Louis XV of France. His predecessor Louis XIV was called “The Sun King” because the power of France was at its height during his rule. His great-grandson, Louis XV squandered all of the goodwill generated by his illustrious fore-bearer, and bequeathed a broke and humbled France to his grandson, Louis XVI. Who in his turn lost his throne and then his head in the Revolution.

But the story in The Rivals of Versailles follows not Louis, but the career of his most famous mistress, Madame de Pompadour. And what a career it was!

During her nearly 20 year reign as Louis’ official mistress, Jeanne Antoinette Poisson served as both Louis’ chief comforter and more importantly, seemingly his chief minister, even after she no longer filled what would otherwise seem to be the most important function of a mistress – she stopped sharing his bed. Instead, she shared his mind, or possibly served as the best part of it, and shared what heart he had left.

This is not a pretty story. Jeanne starts out as a young girl who is told she is destined to catch the eye of the king. Her family grooms her assiduously for the position, and when his favorite mistress, Marie-Anne de Mailly dies, Jeanne’s backers put her in the way of the grieving king.

(The story of Louis’ affairs with Marie-Anne de Mailly and nearly all of her five sisters is told in The Sisters of Versailles, but it is not necessary to read that book to get into this one, the stories are very different)

sisters of versailles by sally christieUnlike The Sisters of Versailles, where the five de Mailly sisters squabble over the king and share his bed in turns, The Rivals of Versailles follows de Pompadour and her rivals through the course of her life at court. Even when some younger woman thinks she has a chance to oust de Pompadour, all of their efforts, and the efforts of the various parties who back them, come to naught.

Even as the king sinks further into depravity in his over-indulged middle-age, it is always Madame de Pompadour that he turns to for comfort and counsel. She is the person that he rails to about the demands of Parlement and she is the one he consults on all decisions. It is Madame de Pompadour who fosters the French rapprochement with their old enemies, the Austrians, and it is de Pompadour who helps to determine the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which led to France’s involvement in what is known to American history as the French and Indian War, and the loss of all of France’s North American colonies.

Her reach was long, her influence was wide. She was one of the most powerful women of Europe in the 18th century. The Rivals of Versailles is her story.

Escape Rating B: Although the period and setting are just as over-indulgent as The Sisters of Versailles, I found The Rivals of Versailles to be a more accessible book. In Sisters, while survivor Hortense begins and ends the story, the narration moves around among all the de Mailly sisters, and none of them make likeable protagonists.

Madame de Pompadour, portrait by François Boucher
Madame de Pompadour, portrait by François Boucher

In The Rivals of Versailles, Madame de Pompadour is the point of view character for most of the story. And even when she is not directly relating the action, she is still a very strong presence. Even the women who are trying to supplant her are forced to reckon with her power over the king.

One thing drove this reader just a bit nuts. The story begins with Jeanne as a young girl, and is from her childish and naive perspective. When she comes to court, we see her mature and harden into the woman who becomes Madame de Pompadour, and it’s a hard and frequently painful journey.

As political factions find young women to supplant her, we see their stories from their perspectives, and they are, to a person, very young, very naive and very selfish. Also in at least one case, uneducated and unintelligent into the bargain. Sometimes it is difficult to read from inside their heads, because there’s just no there, there.

However, one aspect of this progression is sad but also telling. As the king gets older, the women who are procured for him get younger and younger, also stupider and stupider. And the king is constantly indulged while the Revolution seems to literally brew around him. As the story continues, the storm to come feels more and more inevitable.

But what makes this book work better than Sisters is the voice of de Pompadour. She does her best to keep her king happy. And his happiness means that she takes as much of the burden of ruling as she can from behind the throne. She seems to truly love him, and to be truly doing her best to keep him happy, even as the deeds she must commit or at least condone get darker and darker.

This is the sad story of a woman who only wanted to be loved, but discovered that the accumulation power was addicting, and was the only way that she could survive.

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

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-24-16

Sunday Post

The Rain, Rain Go Away Giveaway Hop only has about a day left to run, so if you want to get in on a chance at a $10 Gift Card or Book, be sure to enter today. And while you’re hanging around, enter the Showers of Books Giveaway Hop for an additional chance at the same prize. What can I say? That’s what I always give away.

Anna Hackett’s Lost in Barbarian Space took a giant space ax to my schedule. Whenever one of her books arrives, I pretty much drop everything to read it and get it into the schedule pronto. On that other hand, it put my lovely joint review of The Obsession with Amy into the queue a few days sooner. Doing the joint review is what was lovely. We had vastly different opinions on the book, as you’ll see when you read the review. But how many times do Anton Chekhov, Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Spock get brought up in the same review? We had fun!

Current Giveaways:

Kindle Paperwhite and 2 $50 Gift Cards from Catherine Bybee

doing it over by catherine bybeeBlog Recap:

B- Review: Trouble in Mind by Donna S. Frelick
A- Review: Doing it Over by Catherine Bybee
Guest Post by Catherine Bybee on “The Hardest Part” + Giveaway
A- Review: Aunty lee’s Chilled Revenge by Ovidia Yu
A- Review: Caught Up in Raine by L.G. O’Connor
B-/A- Joint Review: The Obsession by Nora Roberts
Stacking the Shelves (181)




til death do us part by amanda quickComing Next Week:

The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie (blog tour review)
Mug Shot by Caroline Fardig (review)
Lost in Barbarian Space by Anna Hackett (review)
‘Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick (review)
Flash of Fire by M.L. Buchman (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (181)

Stacking the Shelves

As you read this, we’re on our way back from a conference. i just went along as Galen’s “plus one”, not to attend the conference but to socialize after. With both of us in the library business, we know the same people, even when the event is only for one of us or the other of us.

I threw this past week’s schedule (and next week’s) into a blender. All because Anna Hackett sent the next book in her Phoenix Adventures series my way. I’ve already finished it (it was, as usual utterly marvelous) and I can’t wait to post the review on Wednesday when it releases to the universe. If you like science fiction with more than a touch of romance, Hackett is always a winner.

For Review:
Graveyard of the Hesperides (Flavia Albia Mystery #4) by Lindsay Davis
Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
How Secrets Die (House of Secrets #3) by Marta Perry
Indiana Belle (American Journey #3) by John A. Heldt
The Invisible Library (Invisible Library #1) by Genevieve Cogman
Lost in Barbarian Space (Phoenix Adventures #9) by Anna Hackett
Louisa by Louisa Thomas
The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier
One Minute to Midnight (Black Ops: Automatik #2) by Nico Rosso
Seducing the Bachelor (Bachelor Auction Returns #3) by Sinclair Jayne

Borrowed from the Library:
Snow Angel Cove (Haven Point #1) by RaeAnne Thayne

Joint Review: The Obsession by Nora Roberts

Joint Review: The Obsession by Nora RobertsThe Obsession by Nora Roberts
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, large print, audiobook
Pages: 464
Published by Berkley on April 12th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The riveting new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Liar.
Naomi Bowes lost her innocence the night she followed her father into the woods. In freeing the girl trapped in the root cellar, Naomi revealed the horrible extent of her father’s crimes and made him infamous.
Now a successful photographer living under the name Naomi Carson, she has found a place that calls to her, thousands of miles away from everything she’s ever known. Naomi wants to embrace the solitude, but the residents of Sunrise Cove keep forcing her to open up—especially the determined Xander Keaton.
Naomi can feel her defenses failing, and knows that the connection her new life offers is something she’s always secretly craved. But as she’s learned time and again, her past is never more than a nightmare away.

Our Review:

Marlene: While I absolutely adore the In Death series that Roberts writes as J.D. Robb (even when the current entry is not so great) her Roberts books are a bit hit or miss for me. Sometimes they absolutely draw me in, and sometimes they are just okay. Without the continuing “family” of In Death, they don’t always work, or at least not for me. While you can probably guess where I’m leading, it’s time to let my co-reviewer get a few words in.

Amy: I take a slightly different view of Roberts’ work from Marlene’s; for me, she’s a go-to girl, with utterly reliable reads (well, almost all the time.) Most any of her books will at least get a good look, if not a full read. I tend to find myself falling into her trilogies (as my recent review of Blue Dahlia, and my forthcoming review of Black Rose point out), but this standalone piece gave Roberts plenty of time to tell us a thoroughly involved story. I have a sneaking suspicion that Marlene and I may run in completely different directions on this review!

Marlene: I found the opening sections of this story completely absorbing. The tale of what Naomi did when she was a girl, grabbed me and shook me, hard. The background of Naomi’s fear of her emotionally abusive father, her restlessness, her shattering loss of innocence, was very atmospheric and completely riveting. We’re with her on that dark journey, and we shake, cower and soldier on when she does. As the story in the past continues, we feel for her as she and her family try to find a way to get past the evil that flourished in their midst. While I wouldn’t have wanted to have read through all the intervening years, when the story shifted from the past to Naomi’s present, it lost its urgency for me.

Amy: I concur; the backstory at the beginning was incredibly rich, and attention-getting. Roberts had a *lot* of pages to tell us that story, so we had a better sense of the personae than usual. Like you, the “jump-take” to the present time struck me as a little bit jarring. There were loose ends that hadn’t been tied up for me, like what happened in the years after her mother’s passing, and how she came to be the wanderer we meet in the present day.

Suddenly involving Naomi in that huge house, and the precise spot where we joined the present day, just struck me as a little out-of-character, like there were useful bits of the story that got skipped. Roberts quickly recovers from that stumble, in my mind, though, and starts getting us involved with the locals.

Marlene: I liked the locals and the whole atmosphere of the town that Naomi finds herself settling in. The way that she was introduced to them gradually also worked very well for introducing them to us. I will confess that the dog she finally named Tag drove me crazy. Not because I didn’t love him, but because he reminded me so very much of a situation in another book. (After much searching, I finally figured out that it was in Jaci Burton’s Make Me Stay, where the hero gets adopted by a dog who is eventually named “Not My Dog” because the human always responds to any comments or questions about “his dog” by asserting that “he’s not my dog.”)

But the situation with the dog was somewhat symbolic of the story for me. While I liked the locals, and obviously loved the dog, so much of this part of the story felt a bit too familiar. They were all nice people but it didn’t feel like there was much different going on from too many small-town romances and romantic suspense titles that I’ve read before. So while I enjoyed watching Naomi put together her dream house, for this reader it went on a bit too long.

Amy: Anyone who expects a formulaic romance author as prolific as Nora Roberts to *not* have a formulaic section–well. This was, to me, kind of expected, and I’d spend the first big section of the book wondering when the extras would start showing up. When we got here, I kind of knew, and it was a comfortable spot…okay, here’s where we meet The Man, and The Helpful Other Man, and The Man’s Best Pal, and so on. Roberts did a good job of making what could be a whole stage full of cardboard cutout people at least *somewhat* interesting; our hero Xander–what a name!–jumps off the page fairly quickly. But once we got those folks identified, I started to wonder what on earth she was gonna do with all those pages–where’s the conflict gonna come from? Turned out, when it came time for that, she threw me a curve that totally blew me away.

Marlene: Yes, there is always a formula, and I expected one here. I think what threw me with this particular formula was that I believe that if I looked hard enough, I’d find a very close approximation to this exact story in one of the In Death books. (I looked, I think it’s New York to Dallas) It felt like I’d read a bit too much of this too close together before.

I did like Xander a lot. I wish we saw a bit more of what makes him tick, because he’s really interesting. He owns/is the local car mechanic, is in a very good cover band, half-owns the local bar and owns a couple of buildings. His journey must be pretty interesting all by itself. I also liked Kevin and Janey. Both that she found an adopted brother and best friend, but that the romantic tension in the story was about Naomi and someone other than the guy fixing her house.

However when the suspense element seriously kicks in, at 55% of the book on my kindle, the suspense factor went out the window for me. I knew instantly exactly who the villain was. To me, it was a grand case of “Chekhov’s gun” and there was simply no second choice. It had to be who it was, and it was. My only questions from that point were how was he going to get caught and how much damage would he do along the way.

Amy: I agree with you about Xander–he seemed like a really neat guy, and not–like some bodice-rippers–too good to be true, but a guy who’d worked hard and had some talent and lucky breaks. I’d have loved to hear more about that. But when it comes to the suspense, that’s where we start to differ. Now, to be fair, I’ve not read but one of the J. D. Robb books, and that was long, long ago. I totally did not have any sense of our villain, and kept wondering if anyone had thought to call up the prison in New York to see if that monster of a father of hers had escaped! Finally, someone said, “he’s in prison, and will be forever,” or something similar, and that’s when I started to get an inkling. It took me quite a while to sort out the villain.

Marlene: I’ll admit that I don’t know quite how I was so certain it wasn’t daddy. If it had been, I believe that someone would have called Naomi the minute the scum got out of prison, if it hadn’t been all over the news. This is someone who is, after all, never getting parole in this or his next several lifetimes. No prison break equaled “not daddy dearest”. I did have a momentary flitting thought that Naomi’s brother might have gone “dark side” but that didn’t feel right either. Not to mention that little brother became an FBI profiler. That left Mr. Chekhov’s Gun sitting on the mantelpiece of the past, just waiting to be taken down and set off.

Amy: “Every memorable element must be necessary and irreplaceable,” sure. Chekhov’s Gun. True enough, but for me, the first meeting with our villain just *wasn’t* that memorable, other than the odd circumstance they found themselves in just then. I was rather tied up in what was going on there, and he was–in my mind–a schoolmate, nothing more. I started to “get it” when Naomi’s brother and the local cops started to connect the dots, showing what a prolific monster our villain really was–as bad, perhaps, as daddy dearest.

…and that’s when, like you, I started to wonder how they’d catch him, what sort of trap they’d have to set, or if he’d catch Naomi and force Xander and a Cast Of Friends to do something Amazingly Heroic.

Marlene: You’re absolutely right. When originally introduced, our villain was not terribly memorable. However he did set off Naomi’s creep-o-meter just enough to get her to write her own version of her story for the New York Times. But to quote both Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Spock, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

It couldn’t be daddy dearest, it couldn’t be little brother, which left Mr. Chekhov’s Gun as the last man standing. And once I was sure it was him, at, as I said, 55% of the book, it was a long wait and a few too many dips into his very nasty mind before he was finally given his just desserts. While I know that logically it would take the FBI and local law enforcement a bit more effort to gather evidence than my semi-logical leap, that process wasn’t entertaining enough for me.

Amy: I enjoy police procedurals on television, even when I *know* that our heroes will all go home at the end of the forty-five minutes with the bad guy behind bars. So for me, watching the dots get connected was kind of entertaining; it did fill in the holes for me about why it *wasn’t* her father or some other previously-unmet person. One thing I’ll agree with you fully on here–that dude was *creepy*. His headspace was a truly messy place, and I always felt a little…dirty, I guess…after peeking into his thoughts. Not someone I’d want to be around, at all.

But for me, maybe I’m a little one-dimensional, but the only way I’d have picked up on our villain as quickly as you did would have been if we’d seen something like him leaving her a nastygram that says, “You’ve not heard the last of me, Naomi!” or something similar. I’m *good* at suspending disbelief like that.

Marlene: Clearly, one result of this review for me is that I probably will stay away from Roberts’ non-In Death books for a while. I love the police procedural aspects of that series, because I’m invested in all of the characters that make up the “family of choice” that readers follow in the series. In this particular book, the dot connecting, while very necessary for the resolution of the story, went on just a bit too long for me. Your mileage, as they say, may vary, and in this case obviously does. That’s what makes joint reviewing a book so much fun.

In summary, there were parts of The Obsession that I liked, particularly the stage-setting in Naomi’s past. But once the story moved to the present day, it felt a bit dragged out to me. I liked the characters, especially the “not my dog” named Tag, but the suspense plot lacked suspense. I figured out “whodunnit” much, much too early.

Marlene’s Escape Rating for The Obsession: B-

Amy: There were a lot of likable bits in The Obsession for me. As someone who *doesn’t* read a lot of suspense stories, there was more of it than I’m used to, so I was able to let go and enjoy that part of the process. Our characters were interesting and engaging, and I would have loved to learn more about them. The backstory was one of the strongest parts of this story for me as well. I was a little jarred by the switch to present-day, and the following few chapters hit me as just a little bit *too* formulaic–I expected it, but it just seemed a little out of place for an otherwise-engaging story.

Amy’s Escape Rating for The Obsession: A-

Review: Caught Up in Raine by L.G. O’Connor

Review: Caught Up in Raine by L.G. O’ConnorCaught Up In RAINE by L.G. O'Connor
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Caught Up in Love #1
Pages: 308
Published by Collins-Young Publishing LLC on April 18th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

“Don’t judge a book by its cover model”
Forty-two and widowed, romance writer Jillian Grant believes hospitals equal death. Plagued by loss and convinced more is imminent when her aunt ends up in critical condition after heart surgery; she has come to equate the absence of pain with happiness. When she spots a hot, young landscaper working on the hospital grounds with an eerie resemblance to the male lead in her next novel, she convinces him to pose as her cover model.
Working multiple jobs to put himself through college, twenty-four-year-old Raine MacDonald is no stranger to loss. Behind his handsome face and rockin’ body lies family tragedy and agonizing secrets. When circumstances put him back in the path of his abusive father, fate delivers Jillian as his unwitting savior. Thing is, when he thinks of her, his thoughts are far from platonic.
Despite their age difference, Jillian and Raine discover they’re more alike than they could ever imagine. But torn between facing her own fears and grasping a chance at happiness, Jillian makes a soul-shattering decision that threatens to blow their world apart.

My Review:

I picked up Caught Up in Raine because I’m an absolute sucker for a well-done older woman/younger man romance, for reasons that I’ll get into later. But that isn’t all there is to this story. There’s a bit of an unusual second chance at romance thrown in, as well as a heaping helping of Romancing the Stone. Not in the sense of near-death adventures in the jungle, but the part of that story where a romance writer meets the real-life version of her hero, and finds herself living one of her own stories.

Jillian Grant is a romance writer in her early 40s. She’s also a widow. And the love of her life died in an automobile accident when they were both 18 and just ready to embark on their happy ever after. In spite of the contentment she found in her marriage, her late husband just wasn’t the person she felt she had been meant to be with. She settled. Or perhaps she punished herself for having been the driver in that long ago accident when her car was t-boned by a woman in the middle of having a stroke while behind the wheel.

Jillian’s current life takes a sharp left turn into the unknown when she meets Raine. He is the spitting image of her long-dead love, Drew. Which also makes him the perfect model for the cover of her next book – because Jillian is trying to expiate her ghosts by writing them into her fiction, and a slightly altered Drew is the hero of the romantic suspense novel she is in the middle of writing.

When she asks Raine to model for her, she is studiously ignoring her attraction to him, especially since there is an element of uncertainty. Is it Raine she’s attracted to, or just his uncanny resemblance to Drew? And their 18 year age gap keeps her from noticing that Raine is just as attracted to her as she is to him.

Raine and Jillian need each other. Jillian is just the woman that Raine has been searching for. The amount of trauma that Raine has survived, and in some ways is still living through, have made him grow up harder and faster than his years would normally allow. And Jillian needs someone to pull her out of her own head, help her stop clinging to the past, and get her to look towards her own future and her own happiness.

Even though they shouldn’t be, they are a perfect match. And in spite of some disapproval and concern from Jillian’s family, as well as a vicious attack by Raine’s crazy dad, they put together a life that is filled with love and joy.

Until a seeming miracle occurs, and the realities of their situation, that Jillian is hitting mid-life while Raine is still chronologically relatively young, hit them sideways. Jillian decides that it is better for her to cut Raine loose now, before he tears her heart out later. When she tears his out instead, it looks like a happy ever after for these lovers is not meant to be.

But it is.

Escape Rating A-: I said that I have a soft spot for a well-done older woman/younger man romance. I’m also in a position to judge just how well it’s done, because I’ve been living one myself for the last 15 years. Been there, still doing that, got a whole closet full of the t-shirts.

on the island by tracy garvis gravesLike some of my favorites in the genre, Dating a Cougar by Donna McDonald,  Fallen from Grace by Laura Leone, Knight in Black Leather by Gail Dayton, and On the Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves, Caught Up In Raine is one where the relationship is done right. All of the doubts about even the possibility of this relationship that go through Jillian’s head are so very real. And while Raine is a bit too good to be true in some respects – not only is he gorgeous but he’s also a gourmet chef and a personal trainer! – the experiences that he has lived through make it feel right that he is looking for someone with more maturity instead of what one might usually expect, a pretty girl a couple/few years younger than he is. He’s experienced too many of life’s hard knocks much too young for what society sees as standard to work for him. He needs someone who has also been through enough to understand where he is coming from.

At the same time, they aren’t going to be going through the same things at the same time. Jillian’s expectations of the rest of her life are different because she’s at a different place in her life than Raine is in his. They can get past that, but it is a very real issue that has to be dealt with for the relationship to work. (That’s also true with an older man/younger woman relationship, but the situation is generally glossed over because that pattern is more expected.)

The tragedies that they have each separately experienced bind them together – the joys that they face together almost drive them apart. But this isn’t a misunderstandammit, the situation feels very real.

And the storybook ending is sweet, intense and totally earned.