Review: A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James + GiveawayA Gentleman Never Tells (Essex Sisters, #4.5) by Eloisa James
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Essex Sisters #4.5
Pages: 112
Published by Avon Impulse on June 28th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

Eighteen months ago, Lizzie Troutt’s husband died in his mistress’s bed, leaving her determined to never marry again….and unfortunately virginal.
Eighteen years ago (give or take a few) the Honorable Oliver Berwick blackened his own soul, leaving him hardened and resolutely single.
When the chance for redemption in the form of a country house party invitation comes his way, Oliver is determined to prove himself a gentleman.
Until he breaks all the codes of gentlemanly behavior…once again.

My Review:

This one was just good fun. And sometimes that’s exactly what a reader, or at any rate this reader, is looking for.

Oliver is just so earnest. He really needs the element of whimsy (and occasional hair-pulling insanity) that his niece Hattie brings into his life. She lightens him up, and he needs that lightness, even as both he and the reader want to shake his sister. Oliver has become Hattie’s guardian not through the usual tragedy, but because his sister and brother-in-law have run off to Africa to convert the locals to their version of Christianity.

Hattie is much, much better off with Oliver. And is old enough to understand that she is. She also seems to be permanently plotting to bring him out of himself, and to get her own way. She and her best friend connive to do both, dragging Oliver to a house party at Lady Windingham’s two days early, so that she has more time with her best friend.

Fifteen-year-old Hattie has yet another ulterior motive. Back when Oliver and his friends were young and insufferable, they put about a whole series of cruel witticisms about various young ladies in the ton. Those witticisms set back the victims marriage prospects considerably at the time, even though all was well that ended well.

Lady Windingham was one of those young ladies, and Oliver needs to apologize for helping to attach “The Woolly Breeder” to her name.

But when Oliver discovers Cat Windingham’s beautiful but withdrawn sister Lizzie Troutt, he develops more than a few ulterior motives of his own.

As part of his apology to Cat, he makes a deal with her. He will make Lizzie laugh before the rest of the guests arrive. Including a man that Cat hopes will convince her sister to marry again.

Oliver plans to get there first.

Escape Rating B+: A Gentleman Never Tells is light, frothy and just plain fun, even though I haven’t read the rest of the series. (But now I plan to!)

Both Lizzie and Oliver very seriously need to lighten up, and the best way they can do that is with each other. While Oliver’s tenacious courtship and the sparkle of their banter carries the story, one of the underlying points is the often exasperated but always loving relationship between the sisters Cat and Lizzie. Even though they are currently driving each other crazy, they clearly want the best for each other. And Cat will stop at nothing to make sure that her sister gets a chance at happiness.

pleasure for pleasure by eloisa jamesThere is also a deeper layer underneath the froth about the way that guilt eats away at a person. Oliver feels guilty about the young ladies whose lives he and his friends attempted to ruin through their cruelty. And he has become an old sobersides to punish himself for his youthful peccadilloes. Those ladies deserve an apology, but he needn’t wallow in guilt for the rest of his life. If Cat and her best friend Josie (see Pleasure for Pleasure for details) are any indication, he seems to have accidentally done them each a very big favor.

Lizzie is also wallowing in guilt, along with a much healthier dose of anger. But being angry at dead people never gets a person anywhere at all. Her husband was an ass, and dying in his mistress’ bed was his last act of asshattery. But not before he blamed poor, inexperienced Lizzie for his inability to consummate their marriage. As I keep saying, and as Oliver says, her dead husband was an ass.

That Lizzie is both a widow and a virgin is its own delicious and shameful secret. It also fires Oliver’s desire to make Lizzie his and only his. Before his would-be rival appears on the scene.

But his real opponent is Lizzie. After her experience, she has absolutely zero willingness to trust another man with her fate or her future. Her father knowingly bartered her into the arms of her late asshat husband, a man who openly intended to spend her dowry and his nights with his mistress, while leaving her to care for his dying mother in a run-down house with few servants and even fewer comforts. When her father wouldn’t take her back, she swore off the entire male gender and was prepared to make it stick.

It takes more than a bit of persuading for Lizzie to see that either Oliver is an exception, just like her sister’s loving husband, or that her late, unlamented husband was just a singular ass and not a representative of his whole species.

Watching Lizzie and Oliver come out of their respective shells and find each other is just oodles of fun.

Reviewer’s Note: I will admit that the virgin widow trope is a personal pet peeve. It always seems like a contrivance to arrange for the ritual romantic deflowering by the hero, even when the heroine is no longer a dewy debutante. My two pence.


Eloisa and Avon Impulse are giving away an Essex Sisters Boxed Set to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: Hell Squad: Niko by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Niko by Anna HackettHell Squad: Niko by Anna Hackett
Formats available: ebook
Series: Hell Squad #9
Pages: 132
on June 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

In the aftermath of a deadly alien invasion, a band of survivors fights on…

Mackenna Carides is tough, strong, and excellent at her job as second-in-command of Squad Nine. She often works side by side with Hell Squad on some of the toughest missions to fight back against the alien raptors. Now she’s helping the survivors of Blue Mountain Base settle into their new home at the Enclave. And that means working with the Enclave’s sexy civilian leader, Nikolai Ivanov, an artist who watches her with an intensity that is hard to ignore. A man she’s seen in the field and who she knows is hiding a mysterious past.

Niko is dedicated to the people of the Enclave and to his art. Once, his life was all about death and destruction, now it’s about life and creation—even in the middle of an alien apocalypse. As he welcomes the Enclave’s new members, there is one newcomer he wants to get closer to…but Mackenna is fighting their attraction. As something starts attacking their drones—vital technology for keeping them all safe—Niko realizes that in order to battle this new danger, he’ll have to return to the darkness of his past…and risk Mackenna never looking at him the same way again.

On a dangerous mission to save their drones from the aliens, Niko will need all of his lethal skills and will wade into the fight with Mac by his side. They will be tested to the brink, where nothing is black or white, and they will have to expose themselves and trust each other to fight, live, and love.

My Review:

I love this series. But as much as I love it, I think it may be time for it to wind to a close. I’m saying that partly because I want these plucky survivors to finally kick the Gizzida off our planet, and partly because it feels like the two romantic patterns used in the series have played out their variations.

Of course, if the author manages to surprise me with something new and different in the next book in the series, I will be pleasantly and joyously surprised.

noah by anna hackettNiko’s romance first appears to be following the pattern set by Noah, where the guy is some type of civilian and the woman is a soldier. (Marcus started this pattern in general, where one party is a soldier and the other is a civilian, but in the case of Marcus, Gabe and others, the guy is the soldier and the female is the civilian).

However, it turns out that Niko, the leader of the Enclave group of survivors, is actually a former Russian assassin, so the story turns out to be one of the ones where both parties, as in Cruz and Shaw, are soldiers of one stripe or another.

Because the heroine of Niko, Mackenna Carides, is definitely a soldier. She’s the second in command of Roth’s Squad Nine. She’s also a woman who was taught by her strict soldier-father that emotions made a soldier weak. To Mackenna, love is the ultimate distraction, and she refuses to even acknowledge the heat between Niko and her unwilling self.

But Niko isn’t willing to let Mackenna go. She’s the first woman who has made him feel much of anything at all in the months since the Gizzida landed, and he’s not willing to turn aside from something that makes life worth living and worth fighting for.

So when the Gizzida start knocking out the survivors’ crucial drone force, Niko attaches himself to the strike teams. It’s the only way he can keep Mackenna safe without questioning her abilities.

He’s already made that mistake once, and it cost him dearly. He’s afraid that letting the deadly assassin that he used to be out of its cage will make Mackenna retreat from him yet again. But those skills that he once put to use targeting his country’s enemies may be the only things that can save his friends now.

Escape Rating B: It’s time to kick Gizzida ass off our Earth. After 9 books that show just how dystopian things have gotten after the alien apocalypse landed, it just plain feels like time for the overall plot to get resolved.

Things can’t keep going the way they are. The Gizzida are much more powerful than the remaining Earth forces, they have all the tech and intel that they could possibly need, and every human that they capture is another potential Borg. Whoops, I meant Gizzida.

They also have no interest in peace or compromise. They are basically intelligent (very intelligent) Borg locusts. If this war of attrition continues, they will “attrit” the human race out of existence.

So since I just can’t bear the thought of a book where the last two humans die in each other’s arms, somehow the human resistance has to kick the Gizzida out. And because the two romance patterns in the series feel like they’ve explored all their possible options, my personal opinion is that this needs to head towards a wrap up.

Your warp speed, of course, may vary.

As much as I enjoy this series, part of my sense that it is time to wrap it up may come from my reactions to Niko and Mackenna themselves. Niko’s baggage dealt with his time as a Russian assassin, but did not get nearly as much into how he felt about discovering that he was fooled by their late and unlamented leader (see Roth for details on those events) Mackenna’s baggage was dropped on her shoulders by her cold and strict father. We only get hints about what makes Mackenna tick, and it didn’t feel like enough. Also, it is hard to have the baggage go back to pre-Gizzida Earth, when there is more than enough post-Gizzida trauma to give anyone nightmares.

For this reader, it just feels like it’s time to kick Gizzida butt.

Review: A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

Review: A Certain Age by Beatriz WilliamsA Certain Age by Beatriz Williams
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 336
Published by William Morrow on June 28th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The bestselling author of A Hundred Summers, brings the Roaring Twenties brilliantly to life in this enchanting and compulsively readable tale of intrigue, romance, and scandal in New York Society, brimming with lush atmosphere, striking characters, and irresistible charm.
As the freedom of the Jazz Age transforms New York City, the iridescent Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue and Southampton, Long Island, has done the unthinkable: she’s fallen in love with her young paramour, Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome aviator and hero of the Great War. An intense and deeply honorable man, Octavian is devoted to the beautiful socialite of a certain age and wants to marry her. While times are changing and she does adore the Boy, divorce for a woman of Theresa’s wealth and social standing is out of the question, and there is no need; she has an understanding with Sylvo, her generous and well-respected philanderer husband.
But their relationship subtly shifts when her bachelor brother, Ox, decides to tie the knot with the sweet younger daughter of a newly wealthy inventor. Engaging a longstanding family tradition, Theresa enlists the Boy to act as her brother’s cavalier, presenting the family’s diamond rose ring to Ox’s intended, Miss Sophie Fortescue—and to check into the background of the little-known Fortescue family. When Octavian meets Sophie, he falls under the spell of the pretty ingénue, even as he uncovers a shocking family secret. As the love triangle of Theresa, Octavian, and Sophie progresses, it transforms into a saga of divided loyalties, dangerous revelations, and surprising twists that will lead to a shocking transgression . . . and eventually force Theresa to make a bittersweet choice.
Full of the glamour, wit and delicious twists that are the hallmarks of Beatriz Williams’ fiction and alternating between Sophie’s spirited voice and Theresa’s vibrant timbre, A Certain Age is a beguiling reinterpretation of Richard Strauss’s comic opera Der Rosenkavalier, set against the sweeping decadence of Gatsby’s New York.

My Review:

There’s a pun in the title of this fascinating story. The protagonist, Mrs. Theresa Sylvester Marshall, often refers to her 40-something self by the coy term, “a woman of a certain age”. But in addition to Theresa’s “certain age”, the time period in which this story takes place is also “a certain age”. It’s the Jazz Age of the 1920’s. Prohibition, speakeasies, bootleg gin, the lost generation of young men and women who survived the war, the hedonistic freedom of an era of excess without restraint.

Until it all crashes at the end of the decade, but no one sees that coming in the early 1920s. From here, it seems as if the good times will roll on forever.

Among the New York City upper-crust, Theresa is one of the shining stars. Her family is old New York blueblood, and her husband is new New York money. But she is also a woman slipping from youth to middle-age, and she is in the throes of a crazy and slightly desperate fling.

She’s in love with her young lover, and that turns out to be a recipe for disaster.

Not that it’s a problem for her husband – they have an understanding and he has a young mistress of his own. But Captain Octavian Rofrano is an honorable man who wants to marry his lover, and Sylvo Marshall is a middle-aged man who wants to grab at happiness one last time before it is too late.

And in helping her brother enact an old family tradition, Theresa makes the mistake of introducing her lover to the woman he has been searching for all his life.

When the dust finally settles, everyone’s world is a much different place from where they began. Except for Theresa and Sylvo. They find themselves right back where they started.

Escape Rating A-: For the first third of the book, the story seems a bit slow. Or perhaps I should say quiet. The action is set up in a way that tries to pull the reader into the middle of the story, but doesn’t quite gel at first.

Once it gels, it takes off like the gallop of Man o’ War, the famous horse that brings Theresa and Octavian together. Once the story gets its legs under it, so to speak, I couldn’t put it down, not even when I needed to be someplace urgently. Once the story grabbed me, I could not let it go until the end.

About that beginning – we find ourselves reading a gossip columnist covering the latest “trial of the century”. Theresa is one of the witnesses, as is nearly everyone else in this drama. And her scandalous relationship with her young Captain really gives the gossip mongers something delicious to chew over.

Some of what they are chewing over showcases the shallowness and self-absorption of that upper-crust. It’s only as the layers are stripped away that the people develop depth and become interesting (very interesting) enough to care about.

But as we see the events that led up to the trial, we get involved in the lives of all the players. Because the young lady that Theresa’s brother wants to marry is the daughter of the accused murderer. And she’s the woman that Theresa’s young lover should have been with all along.

But he’s the person who exposed her father’s crime – if her father committed a crime at all. Something that the jury will have to decide.

In the events leading up to the trial, we discover just how entangled all of these relationships are.

The central relationship in this story is the one between Theresa and Octavian, who she always calls “Boy” or “Boyo”. And that’s the way she refers to him in her own head, whenever she thinks about him. As much as she claims to love him, it’s clear that what she really loves is the idea of him and the way that he makes her feel. And she certainly doesn’t see him as anything approaching an equal. He’s a toy that she indulges, and that she indulges herself with. He’s not a separate entity in his own right, until he begins to pull away.

It is ironic for Theresa that all of the events that turn her life upside down are at her own instigation. She’s the person who insists that Octavian present her brother’s ring to Sophie as part of an old family tradition. She’s the one who asks Octavian to look into the Fortescue family to find out if there are any major skeletons in the family closet. And in the end, she’s the one who finally does the right thing.

Which redeems her character, and takes the whole story from interesting to awesome.

I tried to describe A Certain Age at dinner, and fell into hyperbole. It’s a Jazz Age story. And a coming of age story. And a story of the “lost generation”. It’s a woman finally finding herself. And another woman losing her identity. And a story about the dawn of aviation. And a bit of murder mystery. It’s just a great read. Enjoy!

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

Review: The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens + Giveaway

Review: The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens + GiveawayThe Daredevil Snared (The Adventurers Quartet, #3) by Stephanie Laurens
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Adventurers Quartet #3
Pages: 464
Published by Mira on June 28th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

He has something to prove 
Captain Caleb Frobisher, hedonistic youngest son of a seafaring dynasty, wants to be taken seriously. Seizing the next leg of the covert mission his brothers are pursuing, he acts decisively and effectively in securing the mission's objectives. But responsibility has taken root, and he remains in the jungle to ensure the mission's ultimate goal. 
She will risk everything 
Katherine Fortescue fled a life of poverty and came to Freetown as a governess, only to be kidnapped and forced to oversee the child workforce at a mine. Guarded by well-armed, well-trained mercenaries, the captives have lost all hope of escape. Then Katherine meets a handsome man—a captain—and he brings the sweet promise of rescue. 
Together they will face the future 
The sadistic mercenary who runs the mine has other plans, but Caleb's true strength lies in extracting advantage from adversity, and through the clashes that follow, he becomes the leader he was always destined to be. The sort of man Katherine can trust—with her body, with her life. With her love. 
Race with THE ADVENTURERS as these passionate daredevils lead the way to the stunning and dramatic conclusion.
#1 New York Times bestselling author of the beloved Cynster novels, Stephanie Laurens takes you on a fresh journey with THE ADVENTURERS QUARTET, a daring Regency-era adventure laced with mystery, tropical heat and passionate romance 

My Review:

The daredevil gets truly, and quite willingly, snared in this third entry in Laurens’ Adventurers’ Quartet.

ladys command by stephanie laurensAnd while I read the first book in this series, The Lady’s Command, and really enjoyed it, I have not read the second book, A Buccaneer at Heart. But I got more than enough clues about what happened that as I read The Daredevil Snared, I really thought I had read Buccaneer. The story does an excellent job of catching readers up with previous events!

The suspense part of this quartet deals with a clandestine diamond mine in West Africa, being operated by nasty mercenaries on behalf of mysterious “backers” located in the halls of power back home in England. But other, and more honorable servants of the crown are moving forces to get the English men, women and children being used as slaves to work the mine out of harm’s way before the mine plays out and their lives are forfeit as “loose ends”.

Katherine Fortescue was kidnapped from Freetown because she was a governess would could manage the children being used as nimble runners and sweepers. She’s also the figurative lieutenant keeping the other women and the children in order as part of the English community at the mine. A community dedicated wholeheartedly to finding a way to escape before it is too late.

Caleb Frobisher is the latest of the Frobisher captains sent to gather intelligence on the operation, with an eye to shutting it down without getting the slaves (read hostages) killed. Caleb, being the most reckless of his brothers, sends the intelligence he gathers back with his ship and a skeleton crew. He then gets himself and the rest of his men kidnapped into the mine. Not necessarily intentionally, but certainly serendipitously. And not without causing almost, but not quite, as many problems as it solves.

Where he falls in love and organizes a quiet rebellion, not necessarily in that order. And nearly gets himself killed.

Escape Rating B: The Daredevil Snared is a solid, and just occasionally stolid, entry in The Adventurers’ Quartet.

The action in this story is constrained by necessity, and it makes things drag a bit in the middle. Their situation, as slave diamond miners trying to hang on until they can be rescued, does not lead to lots of big, dramatic events. Most of the story involves a lot of small plots to do incremental damage, with the threat of death always on the horizon. So lots of angst, but only intermittent action.

It’s necessary for the story, but it does give the reader the urge to say “on with it!” already.

However, one of the things that does work very well is the way that the situation acts upon the romance. While the characters both firmly believe that they would have found each other sooner or later, and would still have fallen in love, the prisoner scenario does strip away all of the posturing that normally went into a Regency era courtship. They are in a situation where life may literally be too short for that crap. And it’s lovely in all sorts of ways, as they get to know who each other really is. There are no pretenses here.

Because of the way that the “adventure” underlying this series only unfolds a little bit in each book, this one doesn’t have a satisfactory ending. While the hero and heroine not only confess but act on their romance, the options for a happy ever after are severely limited. Both because “happy” is somewhat strained under the circumstances, and because “ever after” is a wish, a hope, a belief, but far, far from certain.

lord of the privateers by stephanie laurensBoth Caleb and Katherine are still prisoners of the evil slaver gang that has kidnapped so many English people from Freetown. As the story ends, we have a reprieve, and the end seems to be in sight, but it is not here yet.

Which makes the anticipation for the final book in the series, Lord of the Privateers, all that much sharper.


Harlequin Books is giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky commenter on this tour:

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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 6-26-16

Sunday Post

I’m on the road. We are attending the American Library Association Annual Conference in Orlando. And I can’t wait to go home. I miss my own bed. I really miss the cats. And I miss my desktop computer.

Yes, I know that laptops are marvelous inventions. I love the ability to bring my work with me wherever I go, without having to duck into a library or an internet cafe to check email or whatever. But I hate touch pads. They don’t like me. If I so much as breath on the touch pad, the cursor takes off to parts of my screen unknown. Then I have to hunt for it and correct whatever errant keystrokes it recorded wherever it took itself off to.

Did I mention that I can’t wait to go home?

midsummer eve hopCurrent Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Hop
The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan
Riverbend Road by RaeAnne Thayne

Winner Announcements:

The winner of June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore is Tracee

autumn princess dragon child by lian hearnBlog Recap:

B- Review: The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan + Giveaway
Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Hop
A- Review: Riverbend Road by RaeAnne Thayne
B+ Review: Absinthe of Malice by Rhys Ford
A- Review: Autumn Princess, Dragon Child by Lian Hearn
Stacking the Shelves (190)

freedom-to-read-giveaway-hop 2016Coming Next Week:

The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens (blog tour review)
A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams (blog tour review)
Hell Squad: Niko by Anna Hackett (review)
A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James (blog tour review)
The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson (review)
Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop

Stacking the Shelves (190)

Stacking the Shelves

I got nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, but almost nothing. I’m pretty sure this is the tiniest shelf-stack ever. After a couple of weeks of fairly tall stacks, it’s good in a way to see one that’s not so much.

But I’m at the ALA Annual Conference right now, so next week’s stack could rival the Empire State Building. But I hope not.


For Review:
Lonen’s War (Sorcerous Moons #1) by Jeffe Kennedy
Niko (Hell Squad #9) by Anna Hackett


Review: Autumn Princess Dragon Child by Lian Hearn

Review: Autumn Princess Dragon Child by Lian HearnAutumn Princess, Dragon Child (Tale of the Shikanoko, #2) by Lian Hearn
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Tale of Shikanoko #2
Pages: 288
Published by FSG Originals on June 7th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Shikanoko has been humbled by failure, and his once clear destiny has become clouded . . .

The Autumn Princess and the boy who is the true emperor are fugitives in the forest, alone and unprotected . . .

In the mountain sorcerer’s hut a new generation of the Old People is born―the Spider Tribe, not quite human, not quite demons, and quickly coming of age . . .

One clan is in retreat, the other holds the capital, and natural disasters follow one upon another. Will Heaven ever be placated?

In Autumn Princess, Dragon Child, the old order has come unsettled and the weave of destiny has become unpredictable as it is pulled tighter, sharper, faster, by the instincts for vengeance and redemption, loyalty and survival. The battle for the Lotus Throne has begun in earnest.
In this medieval Japan of Lian Hearn’s peerless imagination―so full of magic, beauty, violence, love, and sorrow―the only thing truly inevitable is that these forces are building to a brutal climax, though who the players will be and what the stakes will be cannot yet be told.

My Review:

The Tale of Shikanoko is a myth that was never written, from a past and a country that never quite was.

And it is an epic tale, but one that is perhaps better read in one long delicious gasp, rather than being forced to wait as each part of the tale is released. Or perhaps that should be “revealed”.

She said, wishing that she could find the time to read it all right now, instead of being forced to ration her reading time, knowing that the temptation to reach the end of this glorious tale will become much too strong to resist.

I’m waxing a bit lyrical because this series just breathes that sort of atmosphere. It’s not so much a story that one reads as a world that one falls into, and doesn’t want to leave.

Autumn Princess, Dragon Child is the second part of the Tale of Shikanoko. And it feels like one single tale, broken up into smaller chunks for the sake of publication expediency rather than because the story really breaks into four parts.

Or I could be saying that because I want the excuses to read it all now.

emperor of the eight islands by lian hearnThe first part of the tale, Emperor of the Eight Islands, set the stage. We meet not only Shikanoko, the story’s prime mover and shaker (more often the prime person being moved and shook), but also all of the other characters on the stage. And the civil war between rival factions, the Miboshi and the Kuromori, and their fight to hold the throne.

There is magic here, both the active kind practiced by the mostly evil Prince Abbot and the mostly good Sesshin, and the kind of ambient magic that underpins the world, where the spirits are protesting that the rightful Emperor has been thrown into exile and has lost his throne.

That the rightful emperor is also a child hiding as a monkey boy just adds to the magic and the misdirection. Even more so that the only person who knows where he is will not survive to see him reach his rightful place.

If he ever does.

lord of the darkwood by lian hearnEscape Rating A-: Autumn Princess, Dragon Child does not stand alone. It is not just necessary, but absolutely crucial to read Emperor of the Eight Islands first, as Autumn Princess definitely starts in the middle of things. And those are things which are certainly not finished by its end. For that, we need to wait for Lord of the Darkwood and The Tengu’s Game of Go later this year.

In Emperor of the Eight Islands, Shikanoko was a reactive figure. Things happened to him (lots of things happened TO him) and he reacts and then deals with the aftermath. He does not control events, instead they control him.

In Autumn Princess, Shikanoko begins, just very barely, to master the power swirling around inside him. He is able to act, at least some of the time, and not merely react. But much is still outside of his control.

The fate of the Autumn Princess herself is one of those things that is very much outside of his control. Her fate seems both pre-ordained, and something that could have gone much, much better if Shikanoko had had more control of himself from the very beginning. But if he had, there wouldn’t be much of a story.

A lot of the action in Autumn Princess revolves around betrayals. One of the threads of story from the very beginning involved a betrayal of a son by his father, and a wife by her husband. Their actions have continued to add one falsity upon another, as each of them has turned against every other person who has entered their lives, in their fruitless quest to set aside that first betrayal.

Shikanoko’s uncle betrayed both Shikanoko and his father. The Prince Abbot and his cousin betrayed the rightful emperor. The false emperor, in his turn, was betrayed by a trusted friend. The circle of wrongness continues to ripple outward.

Ultimately, Autumn Princess, Dragon Child has the feel of a middle book, which it is. There is no upward trajectory. Instead, the situation gets worse and worse as the story continues. The only character who may possibly be happy with their current situation is the hidden child emperor, who is having more fun, and a much more fulfilling life, as a performing monkey boy than he ever had as the cossetted and smothered imperial heir.

How his tale will turn back towards Shikanoko’s ongoing tragedy remains to be seen. But based on the first half, it’s going to be awesome.

Review: Absinthe of Malice by Rhys Ford

Review: Absinthe of Malice by Rhys FordAbsinthe of Malice (Sinners, #5) by Rhys Ford
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Sinners #5
Pages: 200
Published by Dreamspinner Press on June 22nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

We’re getting the band back together.
Those five words send a chill down Miki St. John’s spine, especially when they’re spoken with a nearly religious fervor by his brother-in-all-but-blood, Damien Mitchell. However, those words were nothing compared to what Damien says next.
And we’re going on tour.
When Crossroads Gin hits the road, Damien hopes it will draw them closer together. There’s something magical about being on tour, especially when traveling in a van with no roadies, managers, or lovers to act as a buffer. The band is already close, but Damien knows they can be more—brothers of sorts, bound not only by familial ties but by their intense love for music.
As they travel from gig to gig, the band is haunted by past mistakes and personal demons, but they forge on. For Miki, Damie, Forest, and Rafe, the stage is where they all truly come alive, and the music they play is as important to them as the air they breathe.
But those demons and troubles won’t leave them alone, and with every mile under their belts, the band faces its greatest challenge—overcoming their deepest flaws and not killing one another along the way.

My Review:

I want to strangle the author. Except I really don’t. I loved this book. But…while the story is pretty much wrapped up at the end, a bombshell gets dropped on the last page that makes a terrible wait for the next book. Which means I can’t strangle the author, because then I’ll never find out what happened. Damn, a good plot ruined.

And there bloody well better be a next book. After THAT. Which I’m going to leave for readers to discover for themselves. Then we can share the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

sinners gin by rhys fordThe Sinners series so far has been leading up to this. In the beginning, back in Sinner’s Gin, Miki St. John was all alone and drowning in his pain, both physical and emotional. As the story has progressed, Miki has been putting his life back together, along with putting a band back together.

That band, Crossroads Gin, is a mix of the old and the new. Damien, back from the dead and the wreck that killed Sinner’s Gin. Rafe and Forest are new, but have so many demons of their own that they fit right in.

In each book in the series so far, Sinner’s Gin, Whiskey and Wry, Tequila Mockingbird and Sloe Ride, the band has added a new player, the Murphy family has lost one wild child to the lure of loving a broken rock star, and the old Sinner’s Gin has become the new Crossroads Gin.

But in each book in the series, each man has battled his own internal demons, and at least one external demon has arrived on the scene in an attempt to snatch at their newfound happiness.

Now that there is a band, Absinthe of Malice moves the story into a new chapter. To see if they’ve really got what it takes to make great music, and to see if they can bond into something truly special in spite of the heavy baggage they all carry, they decide to carry some real baggage.

Crossroads Gin takes the band on the road, in a rented bus and with no roadies. They play dives and broken down clubs all across the U.S., with no one to rely on except each other, and their men back in San Francisco who drop everything at a moment’s notice whenever help, support or love is required. Or carpentry and electrical work.

And just as in every Sinners book, the band is dogged by a string of near tragedies. Fate does seem to be out to get them, but there is also someone or something who is trailing their every step, willing to stick in both a figurative and literal shiv whenever they think they might be getting it all together.

They start out wondering if they can survive each other on tour. They end up questioning whether they can survive at all.

Escape Rating B+: Compared to some of the other stories in the series, Absinthe of Malice has a few more slow spots. Also, there is no budding romance here to drive up the emotional tension. All the guys have found their true loves in the earlier books. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of lovely romantic moments, but there’s no chase. Everyone has already been caught.

This is a book where everyone who has been involved so far gets at least one terrific scene and a real chance to shine. And that includes the Murphy parents, Donal and Bridget, who each get their turn to finally make Miki see that he is every bit as much their son as the ones they gave birth to.

There’s also a fair bit of minutiae of a band traveling together and gelling into a unit,, along with a lot of rubbing each other very much the wrong way. Being cooped up in a single vehicle on boring roads for long stretches of time will do that to anyone.

But danger always dogs this bunch. If it wasn’t for all of them finding the loves of their lives, I would say that if it wasn’t for bad luck, they don’t have any at all.

The beginning of the tour closes with a knife attack. The perpetrator is never caught, but fear of that unknown follows along every mile of the tour. Either it’s Chekhov’s gun, which I doubt, or there is more nastiness to come in future books in the series.

Along with the aftershocks from that exploding bomb at the end.

Review: Riverbend Road by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Riverbend Road by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawayRiverbend Road (Haven Point, #4) by RaeAnne Thayne
Formats available: paperback, ebook, library binding, audiobook
Series: Haven Point #4
Pages: 368
Published by HQN Books on June 21st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Return to Haven Point, where New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne proves there's no sweeter place to fall in love
Protecting the streets of Haven Point isn't just a job for police officer Wyn Bailey, it's a family tradition. But lately she's found herself wanting more, especially from her boss—and overprotective brother's best friend—sexy chief of police, Cade Emmett. The only problem is getting Cade to view her as more than just a little sister.
Cade's hands-off approach with Wyn isn't from lack of attraction. But his complicated past has forced him to conceal his desire. When Wyn is harmed in the line of duty, Cade realizes the depth of his feelings, but can he let his guard down long enough to embrace the love he secretly craves?

My Review:

This may have been my first visit to Haven Point, but it certainly won’t be my last. It seems to be a terrific little town, and I had a lovely time there.

So even though this is book 4 in the series, I really enjoyed the book, and didn’t feel like I’d missed a whole lot by not being in on the series from the very beginning. But I definitely plan to go back and catch myself up.

Riverbend Road is a little cul-de-sac in Haven Point, and three of the residents on this one street are out main characters in the story.

Wyn Bailey is the daughter of the former police chief. She’s followed the family footsteps and entered the police herself, even though it wasn’t necessarily what she thought she’d be doing. After the deaths of both her twin brother Wyatt and her dad, living out Wyatt’s dream to protect and serve seemed like the right thing to do.

She enjoys the serving part quite a lot, but the protecting isn’t quite the way she intended to spend her life. And now that she’s nearing 30, she’s starting to want a life of her own. Preferably with the current police chief, Cade Emmett. And that’s where the problem lies.

Although her parents took Cade and his brothers into their house as often as he’d let them, Wyn ccertainly doesn’t see Cade as another brother. He’s her older brother’s best friend, and she had a crush on him in high school. Not that either of them is exactly in high school any more.

And now he’s her boss. Which makes things even more difficult. Cade wants to keep their relationship above board – she’s the only female on the tiny Haven Point P.D., and she’s the best officer he has. He needs her on the force.

The problem is that he just plain needs her, and those two things can’t mix. But when Wyn nearly gets herself killed while rescuing a couple of boys from a barn fire, Cade can’t manage to put his feelings for Wyn back in the box where he’s been hiding them.

Especially since Wyn can’t stop herself from encouraging him to let those feelings out at every possible opportunity.

But it’s the newest resident to their little corner of Haven Point that brings everything to a crisis. And she does so in a way that lets both Wyn and Cade be heroes, and makes them figure out what is really important in their lives. At last.

Escape Rating A-: There’s a lot to love about this story. The romance falls into two tropes, both of which I always enjoy. First there’s the big brother’s best friend angle, and then there’s the falling for the boss/at work angle.

Growing up, Wyn and Cade each thought of each other as the proverbial forbidden fruit. He’s just enough older than Wyn that he was out of reach when she was a teen, and of course he would never chase after his best friend’s little sister. There’s always a sweetness to the forbidden nature of this particular trope that I enjoy, because the romance is a fulfillment of a fantasy that neither ever thought could come true, if they thought of it at all.

I also like the falling for the boss trope when it’s done well, and it is here. These two shouldn’t have a relationship because it will seriously mess things up at work, if it doesn’t get them both fired. But there isn’t the kind of power imbalance that can occur with this trope. Not just because Wyn has other options, but because this isn’t a case where they are both so devoted to their careers in this field that compromise means someone, and it’s usually the woman, has to give up something too dear. They are both strong protectors, but Wyn is ready for another professional chapter of her life as well as a personal one. At the same time, they both respect each other’s strengths. They’ve grown towards each other in life and in the job.

The romantic suspense subplot of this story was also nicely done. I’ll admit that I really dislike the tendency of many romantic suspense books to put the heroine in jeopardy of a psychopathic stalker or rapist. In the case of a heroine who is also a cop, it’s particularly distasteful. Instead, here it’s the neighbor Andrea Montgomery who is on the run from a rapist, and Wyn who helps her take back her life, and who rides to the rescue when things go to hell.

Not that Wyn isn’t also in enough danger to make Cade finally get his head out of his ass, but it’s the kind of danger that makes sense for her and her job.

All in all, a lovely story and a great town. I can’t wait to go back.

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

I am giving away a copy of Riverbend Road to one very lucky US commenter:

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Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Hop


midsummer eve hop

Welcome to the 2016 edition of the Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Hop, hosted by BookHounds.

I checked out the Google Doodles for today. While it is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the Winter Solstice south of the equator. Looking at the two doodles, those poor rocks are obviously way happier being up north today. On December 20, I’m sure it will be the other way around.

Rocky summer from Google Doodles

The winter version shows those poor rocks blinking and shivering under a blanket of snow!

But whether you are basking in the sun or shivering in the winter chill, a good book or two always helps to wile away the hours.

For my part in this Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Hop, I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon or B&N Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository. This giveaway is open to all!

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