Review: The Darkest Torment by Gena Showalter + Giveaway

Review: The Darkest Torment by Gena Showalter + GiveawayThe Darkest Torment by Gena Showalter
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Lords of the Underworld #12
Pages: 576
Published by Harlequin Books on November 22nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Can Beauty tame her Beast?

Driven to his death by the demon of Distrust, Baden spent centuries in purgatory. Now he's back, but at what cost? Bound to the king of the underworld, an even darker force, he's unable to withstand the touch of another and he's quickly devolving into a heartless assassin with an uncontrollable temper. Things only get worse when a mission goes awry and he finds himself saddled with a bride just not his own.
Famed dog trainer Katarina Joelle is forced to marry a monster to protect her loved ones. When she's taken hostage by the ruthless, beautiful Baden immediately after the ceremony, she's plunged into a war between two evils with a protector more dangerous than the monsters he hunts. They are meant to be enemies, but neither can resist the passion burning between them and all too soon the biggest threat is to her heart.
But as Baden slips deeper into the abyss, she'll have to teach him to love or lose him forever.

My Review:

The concept that training a demon, or training a man, is just like training a dog, is too funny not to share. This may be the first time I’ve read about a heroine who directly compares her hero to a canine – and a not very well behaved one at that.

Baden and Katarina don’t exactly seem made for each other when they meet, and it is far, far from a meet-cute.

Katarina is in the midst of her forced wedding to a man who has threatened to kill her dogs if she doesn’t obey. Katarina may hate him (she does) and he’s thoroughly evil (which he is) but she loves the dogs she’s trained. She also loves her brother, who is currently a minion of said evil bastard – because said evil bastard is supplying him with heroin.

Katarina’s life would seem to have reached the depths of extreme suckitude, until her wedding is invaded by Baden and the Lords of the Underworld. Baden is running errands for Hades, fighting on the front lines of a war in the underworld. Said evil bastard, named Alek, has something that Hades wants. When he refuses to give it up – I said he was evil, right? – Baden takes Katarina, still in her hated wedding gown, instead.

Too bad this happens after the “I do’s”.

Katarina finds herself in the middle of that underworld war. Hades may be bad (he is!) but his enemy Lucifer is much, much worse. And Baden is caught in the thick of the action. Since Baden can’t let go of Katarina until he gets back whatever Alek has, Katarina is in the thick of it right along with him.

Her beloved dogs have been killed. Alek murdered them to get vicarious revenge on Katarina. When she emerges from her grief, she is presented with two gamboling puppies who need her protection. But Gravy and Pudding don’t need Katarina nearly as much as Baden does. The more Hades tries to turn Baden to the dark side, the more light that Katarina shines into his life.

But human and weak Katarina can’t survive among the immortal badasses in the middle of this battle. At least not until she develops some badass powers of her own. Human Katarina could never be the mate the Baden needed, but badass Katarina gives even Hades a run for his money.

And who knew that it would be so much fun to give a hellhound a bath?

Escape Rating B: This entry in the Lords of the Underworld series definitely has a “Beauty and the Beast” vibe. Katarina has to tame both Baden and the beast of Destruction who shares his soul. That she manages to do it is a testament to her skill as a dog trainer, because at the beginning, both Baden and Destruction are dogs with plenty of bark and a potentially deadly bite.

darkest touch by gena showalterThe Lords of the Underworld series is now 12 books in, and that’s a lot of backstory. I read a few of the early books, way back when, and picked up the next-most-recent, The Darkest Touch, earlier this year. It refreshed my memory on the general arc of the series, but my memory of all the individuals who have marauded through the pages is just a bit hazy. I still had fun.

The premise of the series is that the warriors who opened Pandora’s Box, millennia ago, were each infested with a demon bearing one of the plagues that was let out of the box. Now they are desperately trying to find a way to end their curse, as each of the warriors finds true love and some redemption. While it isn’t necessary to read the entire series to get in on the current action, the author’s guide to the current members of the troupe that features at the end of The Darkest Torment is a big help. This game has oodles of players, and it’s very nice to have a scorecard.

There is a bit of Stockholm Syndrome in the romance between Katarina and Baden, although there are points where the reader isn’t sure who captured whom. She does get dragged off at the beginning, but Baden is a way better bet than Alek, even with the demon of Destruction inside him. Alek is just that bad.

Katarina shows a lot of spine in dealing with Baden’s high-handedness, but it’s difficult to lose consciousness of the fact that he can overwhelm her at any time. It’s his desire for her willing cooperation that keeps him in check, and sometimes not much else. I’m glad that the initial extreme power imbalance is addressed before the HFN ending.

I’m only saying this is Happy For Now rather than Happy Ever After because the war in the underworld is still looming over everything. If our heroes don’t win the day, no one is getting much of an ever after at all.


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

Review: Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt

Review: Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth HoytDuke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane, #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Maiden Lane #11
Pages: 364
Published by Grand Central Publishing on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king's secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley—and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.
Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she's the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation.
When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be—before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?

My Review:

The fairy tale romance of the tale of The Black Prince and the Golden Falcon that heads each chapter of Duke of Pleasure makes for a perfect framing story – because Duke of Pleasure is also, in its own way, a fairy tale romance.

I’ve read some of the early entries in the Maiden Lane series, but somewhere along the way it fell victim to the “so many books, so little time” problem, and I stopped. But if you have never read the series, or dipped into it once or twice and lost track, don’t let Duke of Pleasure being book 11 in the series stop you from starting, or picking up, here. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of carry-over from one book to the next.

“Ghost of St. Giles” is a title, and not an individual. Think of it as the “Dread Pirate Roberts”. Alf may be the “Ghost’ at the moment, but others have held the title and worn the motley before her, and others will after she retires. It is necessary to keep the stews and rookeries of St. Giles just a bit safer for the poverty-stricken residents that there BE a Ghost, but the actual identity of the current Ghost is always closely held secret.

So when the notorious Ghost of St. Giles rescues the infamous Duke of Kyle from what seems to be the entire Scarlet Throat gang, he has no idea that the Ghost is a woman, or even that they have met before. Once upon a time, Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, tried to hire Alf, the well-known information peddler in St. Giles, to investigate one of his enemies. Alf didn’t take the job because he was currently working for said enemy. But mostly, Alf works for himself.

Actually herself. Life in St. Giles as a boy is difficult and dangerous enough. Attempting to live as a woman would just make her a target. And skirts are extremely difficult to fight in. So Alf hides herself behind her persona as a very young man. Until the Duke first discovers that the Ghost is a woman, and subsequently that Alf is the Ghost. And therefore, a woman.

And he needs Alf to be a woman, to help him infiltrate and investigate the nefarious Lords of Chaos. He has the devil’s own time admitting to himself that he just needs, and wants, Alf. Exactly as she is. Swords, knives, and all. And to hell with what society wants, or thinks, about it.

He just has to convince Alf that risking her heart with him won’t mean losing everything she is.

Escape Rating B+: I actually looked for the fairy tale of The Black Prince and the Golden Falcon. Told in the chapter headers, it’s an absolutely lovely (if slightly trope-y) fairy tale romance. And it’s the perfect parallel to Hugh and Alf’s own story.

Not that there is any sorcerous magic in Hugh and Alf’s story, just that it feels equally unlikely. It’s still absolutely lovely, but there’s just a touch of fairy tale magic in the romance of the bastard duke and the surprisingly innocent yet still extremely cynical girl from the very mean streets.

Alf and Hugh are fascinating characters, and make an interesting, if very unconventional for their times, couple. Hugh is a secret agent for the crown, a crown that happens to be worn by his father. Hugh is an acknowledged bastard of King George II of England. But that little accident of birth isn’t half as interesting as the way that Hugh acts. Not the secret agent bit, fascinating as that is, but the way he lives. His men are all his former soldiers, and he treats them not merely well, but as close to equal as their relative positions let them manage. And Hugh is a single father to two young sons, one of whom is not his by blood. And he doesn’t care. He is desperate to re-forge a relationship with them and take care of them personally, not merely packing them off to the nursery wing.

Alf is equally surprising, and slightly more anachronistic. But her independence makes sense within the world as portrayed. Disguising herself as a boy would have been much safer under the circumstances. And while it is a disguise that she is cognizant of, and not a gender identity, it is a disguise that she has been wearing since she was 5 years old. When she has to play at being a lady, that is the act for Alf. The problem for her is that after allowing herself to be a woman, she is caught between worlds. She doesn’t want to go back to being just Alf, but she also doesn’t have the skills or even the desire to be a typical woman of that time. She wants to be “Alf who is a woman” and doesn’t know how to find a place where she fits.

One of the marvelous things about the story is that Hugh doesn’t want Alf to be anyone other than Alf. Yes, he wants her to be a female Alf, because this romance, but he doesn’t want her to pretend to be a lady, or to take on typical ladylike behaviors. A big part of what he loves about her is that she is as addicted to danger and adrenaline as he is. They are a match, once he gets his head out of his gorgeous ass to admit it.

Reviewer’s note: In the book blurb, Hugh is referred to as “brutally handsome”. If the phrase is familiar, that’s because it is a line from The Eagles’ song Life in the Fast Lane. The complete line is “He was a hard-headed man, he was brutally handsome, and she was terminally pretty.” which is also a surprisingly accurate portrait of Hugh’s first marriage.


Review: The Blockade by Jean Johnson + Giveaway

Review: The Blockade by Jean Johnson + GiveawayThe Blockade (First Salik War, #3) by Jean Johnson
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: First Salik War #3
Pages: 416
Published by Ace on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The national bestselling author of The V’Dan returns to her gripping military sci-fi series set in the same world as Theirs Not to Reason Why. The First Salik War is underway, and the Alliance is losing—their newest allies must find a way to win, or everyone will be slaughtered.  Though committed to helping their V’Dan cousins, the Terrans resent how their allies treat them. The V’Dan in turn feel the Terrans are too unseasoned to act independently. And the other nations fear that ending the Salik War means starting a Human Civil War.   Even as Imperial Prince Li’eth and Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie struggle to get their peoples to cooperate, they still face an ethical dilemma: How do you stop a ruthless, advanced nation from attacking again and again without slaughtering them in turn?

My Review:

terrans by jean johnsonI started reading The Blockade almost as soon as I received the eARC. I absolutely adored the first book in the series, The Terrans, and mostly liked the second book, The V’Dan. The V’Dan ended on a terrible cliffhanger, and I just couldn’t wait to find out how the story ended. Especially as this entire series is a prequel to one of my all -time favorite series, Theirs Not to Reason Why.

So I had a lot invested coming into this book. And I inhaled it in about a day. Weekends are wonderful for spending LOTS of time curled up with a good book.

However, while I got very, very caught up in my visit to the First Salik War, I found the book just a bit anti-climactic. And I’m feeling a bit sad about that.

The story begins with that horrid cliffie from the end of The V’Dan. Li’eth and Jackie have been separated through an act of supreme skullduggery (not to mention overwhelming idiocy) on the part of his sister, the Crown Princess Vi’alla. This separation isn’t just a romantic problem, it’s a separation that is going to kill them both if it goes on too long. The elasticity of that “too long” hasn’t been researched much, because the problems are just too great.

If any of the above makes you think that you should read this series in order, you are correct. This universe is a marvelous creation, but there are only two starting points. Either start with The Terrans, or start with A Soldier’s Duty, the first book in Theirs Not to Reason Why. There are valid arguments for starting in either place. The First Salik War takes place a century or so before the events in A Soldier’s Duty, but Duty was written first.

vdan by jean johnsonAs established in The Terrans and The V’Dan, our heroes are a gestalt pair – they are bonded at the psychic level. While this was not intentional, more like an act of whatever gods one cares to blame, it is a fact in this universe. Gestalt pairs who are separated die.

So Li’eth’s sister has sentenced both her brother and the Terran ambassador to death at the end of The V’Dan. Fortunately for all concerned, her mother the Empress turns out to be not as wounded as Vi’alla wanted to believe at the end of that book, and takes control back over in relatively short order at the beginning of this story, which does not begin to undo the damage that Vi’alla has done to Terran-V’Dan relations or to her own family.

The resolution of that particular thread of the story is explosive – but it felt like it occurred much too early in the book to maintain needed dramatic tension. To this reader, it felt like everything after that point was mop-up. Very important mop-up, but mop-up nevertheless.

Escape Rating B+: I did swallow The Blockade pretty much whole, which is what gets me to that B+ rating. I like these people, especially Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie, and was rooting for them every step of the way.

In my review of The V’Dan over at The Book Pushers, I said that I would finish this series just to read more of Jackie’s adventures, and that is pretty much what happened. I had to see how things turned out for her, and I definitely wanted her to find a way to her own happy ever after. She earned it.

This story has a moral dilemma at its center. The Salik have to be stopped. They don’t just want to conquer the V’Dan and the Terrans, they want to eat them. For dinner. Or any other meal. The truly nasty thing about the Salik is that they prefer intelligent prey, and want that prey to be alive, kicking and watching as long as possible as their parts are eaten. There’s no way not to reflexively shiver at the very thought.

But there has to be an answer. They can’t be left to roam the galaxy searching for lunch – because their lunch has the same right to exist as they do. At the same time, the Salik are an intelligent race themselves. They might evolve past their current predatory pattern if they have enough time to learn the error of their ways. Genocide is not the right answer, although it often feels like it might be the expedient answer. The core dilemma that drives the end of the book is how to contain the Salik without destroying them.

soldiers duty mediumNot just because genocide is wrong, but because we have already seen the future, and the damned frogtopi are going to be needed. And if that statement intrigues you, and you haven’t yet read A Soldier’s Duty, start now!

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

The publisher is letting me give away a copy of The Blockade to one lucky US/CAN commenter.

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The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 11-27-16

Sunday Post

Because we’ll be traveling on the Thanksgiving holiday, I’m writing this WAY far ahead. We’ll probably be home by this point, but not by much. And I’ll probably be toast. And also wishing that I didn’t have to go to the office tomorrow. It’s nice having a regular job, but I miss not having to deal with alarm clocks and time clocks and having to be awake and aware first thing in the morning.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend! It’s only 4 weeks until Chrismukkah!

BFBB2016Button300x400OptimizedCurrent Giveaways:

$10 Book or $10 Gift Card in the Black Friday Book Bonanza Giveaway Hop (ENDS TOMORROW!)
$10 Book or $10 Gift Card in the Gratitude Giveaway Hop (ends Wednesday)

when all the girls have gone by jayne ann krentzBlog Recap:

B Review: Her Nightly Embrace by Adi Tantimedh
B+ Review: Demons of the Flame Sea by Jean Johnson
A- Review: When All the Girls Have Gone by Jayne Ann Krentz
Thanksgiving Day 2016
Black Friday Book Bonanza Giveaway Hop
Guest Post: Readings for the Pipeline Protest, Thanksgiving Weekend 2016

secrets of worry dolls by amy impellizzeriComing Next Week:

The Blockade by Jean Johnson (blog tour review)
Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt (blog tour review)
The Darkest Torment by Gena Showalter (blog tour review)
Secrets of Worry Dolls by Amy Impellizzeri (blog tour review)
Size Matters by Alison Bliss (blog tour review)

Readings for the Pipeline Protest

DAPL route map by Carl Sack, CC-BY
DAPL route map by Carl Sack, CC-BY

Guest post by Galen Charlton

This week of all weeks, we must acknowledge who was here first. Here are some thoughts from those opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

How to Talk About #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective by Kelley Hayes:

In discussing #NoDAPL, too few people have started from a place of naming that we, as Indigenous people, have a right to defend our water and our lives, simply because we have a natural right to defend ourselves and our communities. When “climate justice,” in a very broad sense, becomes the center of conversation, our fronts of struggle are often reduced to a staging ground for the messaging of NGOs.

Yes, everyone should be talking about climate change, but you should also be talking about the fact that Native communities deserve to survive, because our lives are worth defending in their own right — not simply because “this affects us all.”

We’ve always “Occupied the Prarie” and We’re Not Going Anywhere by the Elders and Leaders of the Sacred Stones Camp, Canonball River.

Sacred Stones Camp was begun by women, as a prayer. It is our prayer that the waters of the homelands of the Standing Rock Tribe and all the peoples of the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires, or “Greater Sioux Nation,” remain pure. That includes the Missouri River and it’s tributaries, flowing into the Mississippi in the greatest river system within the continental boundaries of the United States.

Why the Founder of Standing Rock Sioux Camp Can’t Forget the Whitestone Massacre by LaDonna Brave Bull Allard:

We must remember we are part of a larger story. We are still here. We are still fighting for our lives, 153 years after my great-great-grandmother Mary watched as our people were senselessly murdered. We should not have to fight so hard to survive on our own lands.

My father is buried at the top of the hill, overlooking our camp on the riverbank below. My son is buried there, too. Two years ago, when Dakota Access first came, I looked at the pipeline map and knew that my entire world was in danger. If we allow this pipeline, we will lose everything.

We are the river, and the river is us. We have no choice but to stand up.

Today, we honor all those who died or lost loved ones in the massacre on Whitestone Hill. Today, we honor all those who have survived centuries of struggle. Today, we stand together in prayer to demand a future for our people.

And for more:

Resources for #NoDAPL in American Indians in Children’s Literature by Debbie Reese.

Standing Rock Syllabus by NYC Stands with Standing Rock

This syllabus can be a tool to access research usually kept behind paywalls, or a resource package for those unfamiliar with Indigenous histories and politics.

Black Friday Book Bonanza Giveaway Hop


Welcome to the Black Friday Book Bonanza Giveaway Hop, hosted by yours truly, Reading Reality, and the Caffeinated Book Reviewer!

This is my very first time hosting a Giveaway Hop, and I can’t thank Kimba at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer nearly enough for all of her help and guidance. Without her, this hop wouldn’t have managed to get off the ground. Thank you so much, Kimba!

But about Black Friday. This may be one of the perfect days to participate in a giveaway hop. While there are some poor unfortunate souls who have to work today, for the rest of us, it’s a day for friends and family and recovering from yesterday’s turkey coma.

The holiday season may be a wonderful time of the year, as so many of the songs say, but it is a lousy time to go shopping, or be anywhere near a mall. Parking is horrendous. It is much more fun to shop online – there’s no waiting and no crowds. Personally, I don’t think it’s just Cyber Monday any more, I think it’s Cyber Weekend, and I’m just fine with that.

Freddie-cat likes it better too. He’s still a growing boy, and needs his humans around to provide both first and second breakfast, along with lunch and dinner. And occasionally second dinner if he makes enough of a nuisance of himself.

So, if you are planning to stay home and shop in your jammies with a cat holding down your lap, here’s your chance to win a $10 Gift Card or $10 Book.

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

Thanksgiving Day 2016


Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the U.S.

Thanksgiving may be a bit more strained around some family dinner tables than others this year. We’re planning to be with like-minded friends, so while there may be some sadness amidst the joy, we’ve always been on the same side and this holiday will be a chance to welcome new friends among us and be grateful that we have each other to lean on.

Before I sign off to go see if I can help with the turkey, I have one final thought to leave you with today:


Review: When All the Girls Have Gone by Jayne Ann Krentz

Review: When All the Girls Have Gone by Jayne Ann KrentzWhen All The Girls Have Gone by Jayne Ann Krentz
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Series: Cutler Sutter & Salinas #1
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Jayne Ann Krentz, the New York Times bestselling author of Secret Sisters, delivers a thrilling novel of the deceptions we hide behind, the passions we surrender to, and the lengths we’ll go to for the truth...
When Charlotte Sawyer is unable to contact her step-sister, Jocelyn, to tell her that one her closest friends was found dead, she discovers that Jocelyn has vanished.
Beautiful, brilliant—and reckless—Jocelyn has gone off the grid before, but never like this. In a desperate effort to find her, Charlotte joins forces with Max Cutler, a struggling PI who recently moved to Seattle after his previous career as a criminal profiler went down in flames—literally. Burned out, divorced and almost broke, Max needs the job.
After surviving a near-fatal attack, Charlotte and Max turn to Jocelyn’s closest friends, women in a Seattle-based online investment club, for answers. But what they find is chilling…
When her uneasy alliance with Max turns into a full-blown affair, Charlotte has no choice but to trust him with her life. For the shadows of Jocelyn’s past are threatening to consume her—and anyone else who gets in their way...

My Review:

Like last year’s Secret Sisters, When All the Girls Have Gone is one of Jayne Ann Krentz’s rare (and awesome) stand alone contemporary romantic suspense titles. As much as I adore her Arcane Society/Harmony series, it’s always a treat to read a stand-alone title with that same ability to enthrall me from the first page to the last. And I’m not left mourning the wait for the next title in the series. When all of those girls are finally found, we get to watch our heroine and hero virtually ride off into the sunset. Job well done.

And also like Secret Sisters, Girls is also a story about sisterhood. Both the kind that you make, and the kind that gets made for you.

Charlotte Sawyer gets dragged into this mystery because her step-sister Jocelyn has gone missing. Charlotte discovers this after she learns that one of the women who seem to be Jocelyn’s sisters-of-the-heart turns up dead – and Jocelyn can’t be found.

There are secrets within secrets in this story. One reason why so much of the action happens is the way that the police handle a series of rape cases, then rape and murder cases, and then just plain murder cases. All the victims are women. And all of the various police departments where the crimes take place choose to take the easy way out in solving, or rather not solving, each crime.

When Jocelyn was a college student, she was raped. The police first dismissed her story, did the unfortunate but all-too-usual victim blaming, and then managed to lose the box of evidence that Jocelyn so carefully arranged to have taken at the local hospital.

Now her best friend is dead, and Jocelyn is off the grid. When private investigator Max Cutler picks up the case, he starts looking into the last days of the dead woman. The police think she died of a drug overdose. Because that’s the way the scene has been framed, and that’s the easy way out. Max is certain her death was murder. Especially since someone took all her electronics.

As Max investigates the death of Louise Finch, Charlotte comes looking for Louise, her step-sister’s best friend. Because Louise sent Jocelyn a very mysterious package, and now that Jocelyn is off the grid Charlotte can’t deliver it.

Max ties Louise’ death to Jocelyn’s disappearance, and Charlotte inserts herself into his case – and into his life. Louise’ cousin wants to find out what happened. Charlotte wants to locate Jocelyn. And from there the search expands outward, as Charlotte and Max begin to look into the women in Jocelyn’s circle, and the ultra secret “Investment Club” that Jocelyn refused to let Charlotte enter.

The search balloons outward, from Louise to Jocelyn to the other women and the cause that brought them together. And it contracts inwards, all the way back to Jocelyn’s long ago rape, and the man that thought he got away with it.

But he didn’t.

Escape Rating A-: This is a page turner. Ironically, both the hero and heroine think of themselves as plodders, the kind of people who just put one foot in front of the other and don’t lead very exciting lives. To the point where Charlotte’s ex-fiance broke their engagement five days before the wedding because he said she was boring. In reality, he’s a commitment-phobic douche, but we’ll get back to him.

Both Charlotte and Max are emotionally scarred. Charlotte by the douchey-ex. Also in a small way, her step-sister Jocelyn who keeps trying to protect Charlotte even though they are both adults. Jocelyn interprets Charlotte’s optimism and faith in others as naive stupidity. And they are both wrong.

Max’s history is tragic, and he’s still hunting for the man who nearly killed him and his brothers when they were children. He’s managed to make a life for himself, but things are pretty rough around the edges. But whatever Max and Charlotte are, they are anything but boring. Especially to each other.

Charlotte and Max ground each other. And they are both eminently sensible people in so many ways. Neither of them panics, not even when the situation is extremely dire. But the story isn’t all practicality. The more time they spend together, the more they see that they have the basis for a relationship, if they can manage to reach for it. Which they eventually do, in their own practical, and extremely satisfying, way.

The investigation is one that starts with nearly all unknowns. But Max’s specialty is plodding with incredible sparks of insight. He keeps going, doing the work, until he gets a sudden breakthrough and the pattern emerges. The pattern here takes a while to emerge, but the search keeps the reader frantically flipping pages the whole way. One of the neat things about the way this story was written is that we don’t see into the murk surrounding this case until Max and Charlotte do.

This is romantic suspense, so there is finally a happy ending. But before we get there, we have the inevitable point where the heroine is in extreme danger. One of the things that made the development of the relationship between Max and Charlotte so much fun to read was that Charlotte’s practicality means that she very much participates in her own rescue. The damsel may be in distress, but she is far, far from helpless.

I have one tiny quibble with this story. I said that Charlotte’s ex was a douche, which he was. He comes back during this story. His rebound went back to her ex, and he’s just sure that Charlotte will be grateful to take him back. Charlotte is rightfully pissed, and shows it. Good on her. But his behavior felt just enough over the top that I kept expecting him to reappear and be tied into the skullduggery. He felt unresolved. For me, it felt like an unfulfilled variation on Chekhov’s Gun. Instead we had Chekhov’s Ex standing in the corner, possibly waiting to be slapped – as he so richly deserved.

But I had a ball with this book, and found myself picking it up at odd (sometimes very odd) moments, just so I could read a couple more pages. Isn’t that what bathrooms are for?

Review: Demons of the Flame Sea by Jean Johnson

Review: Demons of the Flame Sea by Jean JohnsonDemons of the Flame Sea by Jean Johnson
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Flame Seas #2
Pages: 112
Published by Penguin on November 15th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

The second thrilling Flame Sea novel from the national bestselling author known as “a must-read for those who enjoy fantasy and romance” (The Best Reviews).  Raised to understand and control advanced magics, the Fae Rii know they must be careful with the wild, abundant energies of their new desert homeland. They must also downplay the awe they inspire in the Bronze Age humans around them. Still, they have managed to create some equilibrium between the two factions, primitive versus advanced—at least, until new outworlders arrive, tipping the scales out of balance.   Strict and power-hungry, the ruthless Efrijt take the phrase “deal with the devil” to a new level. A treaty may be possible; however, the solution proposed will in turn give birth to a new problem: A chaos that will dance its way through all three races trying to survive in the burning heat of the Flame Sea…
  Includes an exclusive preview of the next Flame Sea novel, Gods of the Flame Sea
Praise for Jean Johnson   “Johnson’s writing is fabulously fresh, thoroughly romantic, and wildly entertaining.”—Jayne Ann Krentz, New York Times bestselling author   “A fresh new voice in fantasy romance, Jean Johnson spins an intriguing tale of destiny and magic.”—Robin D. Owens, RITA Award–winning author

My Review:

dawn of the flame sea by jean johnsonThis is the book that Dawn of the Flame Sea should have been. When my friend Lou and I reviewed Dawn of the Flame Sea over at The Book Pushers, we complained that the book was all set up and no delivery – meaning that although there was lots, plenty, positively oodles of worldbuilding – not a damn thing happened. We both like solid worldbuilding in our fantasy and SF romance, but there also needs to be some there, well, there. All that worldbuilding needs to lead to some world unbuilding, in one way or another.

In Demons of the Flame Sea, we finally get to experience what happens on that world that was so solidly (and occasionally stolidly) built. And now it all begins to make sense. And feel worthwhile.

The set up in Dawn of the Flame Sea showed us an advanced civilization from somewhere “out there”, the Fae Rii, literally Fair Traders, who come through an interplanetary gateway to start a settlement on the planet of the Flame Sea. Instead of having the chance to sit back and observe the local Bronze Age natives, they are witnessed the minute they come through the gate, and the cat is out of the bag.

The Fae Rii, led by the Healer Jintaya, settle in the Flame Sea. They bring peace and prosperity, as well as a certain amount of enhanced technology, to the local tribes and clans. They also interbreed with the locals – the Fae Rii find the local humans quite attractive, and very much vice versa. There are lots of children, all raised cooperatively. It seems like a little bit of paradise.

Demons of the Flame Sea takes place 40 years after the end of Dawn. The Fae Rii are very long-lived, so they have not changed much physically. Nor has the one outworlder they brought with them, the man called Ban, a word that means Death in the local languages. Ban’s name is both fitting and ironic. He is a warrior without peer, and very efficiently brings death to any enemies of the Fae Rii, especially anyone who thinks of attacking Jintaya. But Ban is also immortal, so while he deals death to others, he comes back from it himself, over and over and over.

At the beginning of Demons, Ban has been on walkabout for many years, surveying the lands around the Flame Sea. On his way back, he discovers that another group of outworlders has opened a gateway onto this planet. The Efrijit are the opposite of the Fae Rii. Where the Fae Rii trade fairly with their friends and neighbors, the Efrijit always observe the letter of any contracts strictly, and make sure those contracts are written in their favor. Where the Fae Rii are benevolent, the Efrijit are self-serving. They are not particularly warlike, but they are very exploitative. The difference in philosophy between the two cultures is extreme.

The conflict in Demons of the Flame Sea is about both the conflict between these opposing forces and the negotiating of contracts and the jockeying for position between them, with all of the local humans in both spheres of influence caught very much in the middle. Those negotiations are protracted, legalistic, and still fascinating, as the two philosophies battle not with force of arms, but with force of words. It will make readers remember the famous Shakespeare quote, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Escape Rating B+: I liked this one SO MUCH better than Dawn, it’s almost impossible to believe it’s the same series from the same author. Demons reads like the Jean Johnson I know and love, where Dawn was completely and atypically meh.

So, while the worldbuilding is important in Dawn, there’s a rather large glossary at the beginning of Demons. Read the glossary and skip Dawn, unless you are a compulsive completist or a glutton for punishment. There was so little significant action in Dawn that what there is is easily recapped within the pages of Demons.

While there isn’t a whole lot of action in the action/adventure sense in Demons, there is plenty of conflict. The tension between the Fae Rii and the Efrijit is integral to the plot. Their philosophies are so opposed, it is kind of amazing that both sides try very hard not to come to actual blows.

The ways that the Fae Rii explain to their own adherents just how damaging the nature of the Efrijit can be make for a fascinating and still very readable philosophical discussion, and there aren’t many of those in SF and fantasy.

gods of the flame sea by jean johnsonWe also see the slow warming of what will eventually become a romance between Ban and Jintaya. Ban is immortal and Jintaya is extremely long-lived. They have all the time in the universe to work their way towards an emotional and physical partnership, and it looks like they plan to take it. It’s a very different way of writing a romance, but it works well in this instance.

The story ends on multiple cliffhangers. The Fae Rii and the Efrijit have worked out a means of coexisting, and are essentially kicking the can of who will control the planet down the road. I expect the continuation of that story and their conflict to be resolved in book 3 in this series, Gods of the Flame Sea.

Review: Her Nightly Embrace by Adi Tantimedh

Review: Her Nightly Embrace by Adi TantimedhHer Nightly Embrace (Ravi PI #1) by Adi Tantimedh
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Ravi PI #1
Pages: 320
Published by Atria/Leopoldo & Co. on November 1st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The first in a trilogy of whip-smart novels—currently in development as a TV series set to star Sendhil Ramamurthy (NBC’s Heroes and Heroes Reborn)—about a destructive private investigator and his eccentric coworkers, who handle cases so high-profile that they never make the headlines.
Ravi Chandra Singh is the last guy you’d expect to become a private detective. A failed religious scholar, he now works for Golden Sentinels, an upmarket London private investigations agency. His colleagues are a band of gleefully amoral and brilliant screw-ups: Ken and Clive, a pair of brutal ex-cops who are also a gay couple; Mark Chapman, a burned-out stoner hiding a great mind; Marcie Holder, a cheerful former publicist; Benjamin Lee, a techie prankster from South London; David Okri, an ambitious lawyer from a well-connected Nigerian immigrant family; and Olivia Wong, an upper-class Hong Kong financial analyst hiding her true skills as one of the most dangerous hackers in the world—all under the watchful eye of Roger Golden, wheeler-dealer extraordinaire, and his mysterious office manager, Cheryl Hughes.
Thrust into a world where the rich, famous, and powerful hire him to solve their problems and wash their dirty laundry, Ravi finds himself in over his head with increasingly gonzo and complex cases – and the recent visions that he’s been having of Hindu gods aren’t helping. As Ravi struggles to stay ahead of danger, he wonders if the things he’s seeing are a delusion – or if he might, in fact, be an unrecognized shaman of the modern world...

My Review:

As I read Her Nightly Embrace, it felt a lot like I was reading a media tie-in book for a TV series. While there is somewhat of an overarching story, the book is divided into sections that read an awful lot like separate episodes.

Which is completely fitting, as the series is in the process of being adapted for TV, and seems to have been written with that adaptation in mind. Which does not keep the book from being a fun and interesting read.

The cast of characters inhabiting the Golden Sentinels Private Investigations Agency is one of the quirkiest bunch of misfits ever to become private investigators. And Ravi Chandra Singh fits right in – even if he doesn’t believe that he does.

Everyone at the agency, from the owner on down, is on the run from something or other. Not literally on the run, but metaphorically. Ravi is as down on his luck, at least for certain definitions of luck, as the rest of them.

He’s a failed religious scholar, and a recently fired schoolteacher. Neither of which makes him terribly employable in most circles. But he is in debt up to his eyeballs to pay for his sister’s fancy wedding and his mother’s gambling debts, so he tells himself he’s just working at the extremely well-paying and equally morally questionable Golden Sentinels to pay off his overdraft.

It takes a long time, and more than a few cases that head towards Crazytown, before he’s able to admit to himself that he’s as addicted to the chaos as the rest of the shop of misfit toys.

But he is in over his head. Golden Sentinels is the agency that very, very rich people, and occasionally governments, hire when they want to make sure that their problems go so far away that no one ever knows they existed in the first place.

Ravi finds himself learning how the world really works, and it is not a comfortable lesson. He is a moral man who finds himself in the midst of work where the ends always justify the means. He finds himself in the awkward position of keeping the people around him from letting those means get too dirty, and not always succeeding. And never feeling completely comfortable with either the means or sometimes even the ends.

They say that God laughs at our plans. For Ravi, that is literally true. He sees the Hindu gods in the midst of his chaotic life, and they are all laughing at him. And seemingly texting each other about him and what they perceive as his foolishness.

Is Ravi crazy, or are the gods really watching him? He doesn’t know, and neither do we. But if they are, he is giving them a very entertaining show.

Escape Rating B: This is a fun book. There’s not a lot of there, there, but it makes for a very entertaining read.

Her Nightly Embrace reads like a caper story, or actually a collection of them. It reminds me a bit of the TV show Leverage, in that you are never quite sure whether the Golden Sentinels are black hats or white hats, and often neither are they. But they solve their cases with a lot of expensive toys, a bit of sleight of hand, and a willingness to do just about anything to take care of their well-paying clients.

Including the CIA. When Ravi finds out exactly who the Golden Sentinels are in bed with, it sends him on a long, dark night of the soul. He’s still a bit out there through the rest of the book.

Her Nightly Embrace is a story of the loss of innocence. It’s one of those stories about someone not wanting to see how the sausage is made, only to find out in the end that he is the sausage – and so is everyone else.

Ravi’s work is so crazy that he needs his family to ground him. Which they do, and at the same time his parents and his sister are also part of the crazy that drives him. When the agency recruits his on-again/off-again girlfriend, the reader isn’t sure whether it’s because her talents are useful or because it gives them another way of tying Ravi to the agency. And after meeting all the characters, it’s probably a bit of both.

Although their methods can be fairly dark, like Leverage the book does come off as entertaining fluff. Maybe dark velvet fluff, but fluff nevertheless. I am curious to see where the series, both the books and the TV series, take Ravi and the Golden Sentinels next.