Review: The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick

Review: The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra PatrickThe Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Park Row on April 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

A single father gets an unexpected second chance at love in the heartwarming new novel from the author of
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

It’s summer in the city and passions are soaring along with the temperature—for everyone but Mitchell Fisher, who hates all things romance. He relishes his job cutting off the padlocks that couples fasten to the famous “love story” bridge. Only his young daughter, Poppy, knows that behind his prickly veneer, Mitchell still grieves the loss of her mother.

Then one hot day, everything changes when Mitchell courageously rescues a woman who falls from the bridge into the river. He’s surprised to feel an unexpected connection to her, but she disappears before he can ask her name. Desperate to find out her identity, Mitchell is shocked to learn she’s been missing for almost a year. He teams up with her spirited sister, Liza, on a quest to find her again. However, she’s left only one clue behind—a message on the padlock she hung on the bridge.

Brimming with Phaedra Patrick’s signature charm and a sparkling cast of characters, The Secrets of Love Story Bridge follows one man’s journey to unlock his heart and discover new beginnings in the unlikeliest places.

My Review:

I picked up this book because the premise reminded me of our trip to Dublin last year, particularly the Ha’penny Bridge, officially known as the Liffey Bridge. And it shouldn’t have, because the Ha’penny Bridge is not a love lock bridge, at least not officially. Although I’m sure it happens.

On the other hand, the fanciful, ultra-modern, slightly fantastical bridge that lies at the heart of so much of the heartbreak in Mitchell’s past sounds exactly like the Samuel Beckett Bridge (pictured below), which we walked across every day while we were in Dublin.

Mitchell’s story is a story about bridges. Not so much about designing them, as he did when he was a practicing architect, or about denuding them of illicitly placed locks, as he is doing when the story opens.

(Not that the denuding doesn’t need to be done. As romantic as the love lock concept sounds, it’s actually dangerous to the bridges. Padlocks are heavy. Lots and lots and lots of locks all together are VERY heavy. If the bridge wasn’t designed to bear the extra weight – eventually it won’t – with disastrous results.)

But the bridges in this story are the kind of bridges that span the distance between yesterday and tomorrow. Between the past and the present, Between a father and his daughter, both grieving the loss of their partner/mother in their own – unfortunately completely antithetical – ways.

And most especially, the bridge between clinging to the hurts of the past and searching for a brighter future.

Escape Rating B: This is a story that rewards patience. There’s a point in this story, just about at the halfway point, where a switch flips and it shifts from being a bit of a downer to a story where it’s not just that things are finally happening, and Mitchell is shaken out of his rut, but where things actually look up and get brighter.

Which does happen because Mitchell gets shaken out of his rut when he leaps over that bridge in pursuit of the mysterious woman who fell off – a mystery that seems to deepen as Mitchell learns more about her. In the process he learns more about himself, or finds the road back from the slough of despond he’s been wallowing in for the past three years, or both.

Or one could say that his act of spontaneous heroism breaks him out of the straitjacket of plans, goals and objectives that he has been trapped in since his partner’s death. A straitjacket that he has been using to keep himself from feeling the grief he needs to get through.

Once his daughter’s music teacher, Liza Bradfield, reveals that the woman he rescued is her sister, a sister who has been missing for the past year, his carefully planned and somewhat stale life moves, awkwardly at first, into Liza’s more colorful and much more spontaneous world.

At first the endless circling of his thoughts tries to drag him back into his safe but sterile existence, only for him to be taken by the hand by his daughter Poppy and pulled into the world that she wants to inhabit. A world with friends and fun and definitely with Liza.

But it takes Mitchell about half the book to start climbing out of that rut, and it’s a bit dark and gloomy down there. The story only begins to shine when Mitchell starts letting things happen instead of trying to plan them to death – and he’s all the better for it. So is Poppy. So is the story.

The second half of this book really sings, as Mitchell starts to shake himself loose, finally lets himself grieve and move forward (the catharsis is much needed) and gets himself involved not just with Liza but with her entire slightly crazy family.

His heart opens, his world expands and sunshine comes back into his life. A big part of that expansion consists of the wave of letter writing inspired by his plunge into the icy river. Those letters let him see just how many people he’s touched – and they touch him in return.

I enjoyed Mitchell’s story, but I really wish we could have seen more of those letters, because the ones we got were a delight – even when Mitchell wasn’t ready to see it.

Review: The Ingredients of You and Me by Nina Bocci + Giveaway

Review: The Ingredients of You and Me by Nina Bocci + GiveawayThe Ingredients of You and Me (Hopeless Romantics, #3) by Nina Bocci
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy, women's fiction
Series: Hopeless Romantics #3
Pages: 320
Published by Gallery Books on April 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

From the USA TODAY bestselling author of the “heartwarming and refreshingly sweet” (Lauren Layne, New York Times bestselling author) On the Corner of Love and Hate comes a sizzling and sweet small-town love story that follows a bakery store owner who decides to take her chances on a truly hopeless romantic.

After selling her successful bakery back in New York, Parker Powell decides to visit her best friend Charlotte in Hope Lake, Pennsylvania to figure out her next steps. As she acquaints herself with the people in town, she begins to wonder why she ever loved city life in the first place. Between the Golden Girls (a.k.a. the senior citizen women who hold court), the response from the town to her sweet treats, and Nick Arthur, the ever-charming local owner of a landscaping business she spent time with during her last visit, Parker finds a community of cheerleaders who encourage her to get her baking mojo back.

At first, everything is great—she collaborates with the Golden Girls to put new twists on traditional confections, and thanks to Nick’s advice, she’s quickly learning the stark differences between big city and small-town business practices. Although Nick has quickly become her friend and confidant, Parker’s determined to keep things platonic—especially since his girlfriend isn’t a fan of their friendship. But just when things fall into place so they can finally be together, Parker’s dream bakery is threatened by a major corporation who wants to take her down using the very bit of advice that Nick gave her.

With a recipe for disaster looming, Parker must cook up a new scheme, figuring out how to keep the business—and man—she’s come to love before she loses it all.

Perfect for fans of Amy E. Reichert and Jenny Colgan, The Ingredients of You and Me is a scrumptious romantic comedy that lets you have your cake and eat it too.

My Review:

I picked this up at lunch and got completely sucked into it. I’d say it was like opening a bag of potato chips and not being able to eat just one, but it was much more like opening a box of Girl Scout Cookies, where the serving size is supposed to be 2 cookies, is really more like an entire sleeve, and is, just occasionally and for the right cookie, the entire box. (Samoas for me, but your cookie mileage probably varies)

The story in The Ingredients of You and Me is both a fairly direct followup to the previous book in the series, Meet Me on Love Lane, and a complete standalone at the same time. It’s a followup because the heroine ingredient of this book was the NYC best friend of the heroine in that second story. And Parker met Nick, the hero of this one, while visiting her bestie Charlotte in Hope Lake.

But the sparks that flew between Parker and Nick at that first meeting, and all their subsequent – and clandestine – meetings, were kept very much a secret from everyone who knew either of them. No one was cheating on anyone, this is not that kind of story. They just wanted to see what their relationship might be – if it was even going to be anything beyond a series of hot, long-distance booty-calls – without the pressure of all their mutual friends watching every move they made – or didn’t.

So when Nick ghosted Parker at Thanksgiving – just when she wanted to tell him that she had sold her successful NYC bakery and was hoping they could have more time together, she was left at very loose ends.

Not that she sold Delicious & Vicious for Nick, because she didn’t. She sold it for herself and did very well out of the deal. But she did hope that while she was deciding on the next phase of her life that Nick might be interested in being factored into those decisions.

Now that the bakery has sold, Parker is at loose ends. AND she’s lost her baking mojo. So she sets out for an extended – OMG winter – vacation at chilly but heartwarming Hope Lake PA, to spend time with Charlotte and see what she, meaning Parker, wants to do next in her life.

That’s where the fun begins – along with just a bit of melodrama. While Charlotte reconnected with Gigi, the grandmother that she left behind in Hope Lake, Parker finds herself “adopted” by the entire gaggle of Hope Lake “Golden Girls”. It’s through her relationship with the group that becomes famous – and sometimes infamous – as “The Baked Nanas” that Parker figures out who Parker Phase Two really is. And she gets her baking mojo back by helping the Nanas translate their old family recipes from imprecise old-fashioned measurements – like jelly jars and fists – to modern day equivalents that will allow them to pass those recipes on to their own families.

It’s in the process of Parker’s healing and reinvention that she learns where Nick went and why he ghosted her. Now Nick is torn between his unfinished but still smoldering feelings for Parker – and his new relationship with “Miss Suzy Perfect”. Who is, of course, anything but.

But this is Parker’s show every step of the way. She’s in Hope Lake to figure her life out for herself. Nick can be part of that, or not. But he can’t be half in or half out. It was fun sneaking around when there was no one to be hurt, but she won’t be his dirty little secret while he’s making a relationship with someone else.

Whether Nick will see the light and fix himself is anyone’s guess. But Parker is taking care of Parker, and doing a damn fine job of it with or without him. Thanks in no small part to those “Baked Nanas”.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this one even more than I did Meet Me on Love Lane, and I liked that one quite a lot. But this one had a compulsion to it that the earlier book, sweet as it was, didn’t quite.

And even though this story directly follows from that earlier book, this one still feels like it stands alone. Because the story here is really about Parker losing herself and finding herself, and it all happens in this story. The characters from the previous books (I haven’t read the first one, On the Corner of Love and Hate) are in the background here, but getting involved in Parker’s story doesn’t depend on any in depth knowledge of the first two. This one is all her and it’s all here.

Howsomever, like the previous book in the series, The Ingredients of You and Me mixes the ingredients of contemporary romance with women’s fiction, and it feels like the women’s fiction is the stronger part of the story.

Parker is at a crossroads. She’s sold the bakery that she put her heart and soul into in NYC, and it was the right choice for her. She was overtired, overstressed and burned out. She had no life, only work and sleep. Her fling with Nick did bring that home to her, that she wanted more time for a real life and couldn’t have it if she kept on the bakery treadmill.

She has time and enough money to let herself be, to figure out who she wants to be and where and how to do it. She just doesn’t have a plan – and Parker is usually all about plans. Staying in Hope Lake lets her reconnect with friends, make new ones, take a breath, look around, and let inspiration come to her.

And it does in the larger-than-life-size personages of the Baked Nanas, especially the outrageous Mancini who adopts Parker instantly upon her arrival. It’s through the relationships among all of the women that Parker is able to let herself be herself and muddle through to where she wants to be.

Nick is more than a bit of ass through the whole thing. And Parker doesn’t try to fix him or change him – or herself. She takes care of herself and if that means putting distance between them, so be it. That she cares but never bends over backwards or begs or grovels is one of the things I liked a LOT about this story.

Parker doesn’t always take the high road, but she does take the honest road. That she gets her reward at the end is icing on a very lovely cake.

One final comment. The series title, Hopeless Romantics, has given me a terrible earworm that I have to pass along. It’s part of a line from the Eagles’ song New Kid in Town. And the line from the song certainly fits the series, “Hopeless romantics, here we go again.”

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

I am very happy to be giving away a copy of The Ingredients of You and Me to one lucky US commenter on this tour. It’s a terrific story, but the winner may need to exercise a little more patience than usual while waiting to receive their copy in these uncertain times. But I promise you that the book is worth the wait!

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

Review: The Lost Boys of London by Mary Lawrence

Review: The Lost Boys of London by Mary LawrenceThe Lost Boys of London (Bianca Goddard Mysteries, #5) by Mary Lawrence
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Bianca Goddard #5
Pages: 320
Published by Red Puddle Print on April 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Set in the final years of King Henry VIII's reign, an alchemist's daughter uses her skills to aid the living and helps seek justice for the dead...

While her husband fights the Scots on behalf of King Henry VIII, Bianca Goddard earns her coin by concocting medicines that offer relief to London's sick. Some unfortunates, however, are beyond any remedies she can provide—like the young boy discovered hanging from a church dripstone. Examining the body, Bianca finds a rosary twined around the child's neck. A week later, another boy is found dead at a different church. When Bianca's impish acquaintance, Fisk, goes missing, she fears he may become the third victim...

There are many villains who would prey on wayward, penniless boys. But Bianca suspects the killings are not brutal acts of impulse, but something far more calculated. In her room of Medicinals and Physickes, she examines the sole piece of evidence: a sweet-smelling, stained cloth. If Bianca can unravel its secret, reputations and lives will be saved. The expected hour of the next murder is approaching, and a single misstep may mean another boy is lost forever...

My Review:

From that first scene, where the running boy barely manages to step over a steaming turd, you know that this is one of those marvelous works of historical fiction where you’re going to walk the streets at the side of the characters and feel the cobbles beneath your own shoes.

Not to mention breathe the same air and smell the same smells. Maybe it’s better not to go into too many details about the smells, at least not around mealtime.

This series takes place at one of the crossroads of English history, a time when there was ferment both politically and ideologically, a time when the world was changing but the impact of those changes was still in process. And like all times of great change, there were forces dead set on maintaining their power and the status quo, just as they were those who were agitating for the changes to come. And both sides used violence to make their point, with bloody results no matter who won.

Set at the sunset of the reign of Henry VIII, the focus of this entry in the series is split between Bianca in London and her husband John, who was conscripted into the army at the end of the previous book, The Alchemist of Lost Souls. John is in Scotland, just one of the many footsoldiers participating in King Henry’s “Rough Wooing” of the Scots, and learning the lesson that transcends time and place and applies to all wars, that war is hell, and that entirely too many of the men fighting it release their inner devils for the purpose.

Bianca has no idea where John is or how he is, all she knows is that he is gone and that she has been left to make the best living she can as a “white witch” dispensing medicinal herbs and tinctures, and to occupy herself as best she can by aiding the local constable with his inquiries. Meaning that Constable Patch has the authority, Bianca has the brains, and the Constable gets all the credit for her solutions.

Patch has called Bianca in to solve a terrible crime – one made even more terrible by its repetition. Someone is killing young boys and stringing them up from church gargoyles. It’s ugly and gruesome in every possible way. But it doesn’t make sense.

It’s unclear whether someone is targeting the churches, drawing attention to the inconstancy of their beliefs and practices as they are caught in the King’s religious caprices, or whether someone is trying to discredit the church as a whole in order to bring about more reform. In either these scenarios, the boys are part of the show and not its purpose.

Or is someone poking into the gangs of thieving boys in an attempt to uncover their masters? Or is it another possibility all together?

Caught between feuding constables, infighting clergymen and searching for the lost boys, Bianca is uncertain of which way to turn. She only knows that she has to get to the root of these crimes before more are sacrificed.

Escape Rating A-: This is apparently the final book in this series, and if that’s true I’m very sorry to see it end. Bianca Goddard is a fascinating heroine in so many ways. It’s not just her intelligence and her agency, although it is marvelous to read a historical mystery with a female protagonist who is neither noble nor a member of the upper classes. Bianca’s story portrays life among the groundlings, in its all too frequent nastiness, dirtiness and brevity. Her vocation is to do her best to ease the suffering around her.

At the same time, she is human in a way that is easy for 21st century readers to identify with. She’s smart, both too smart and too observant for her own good. She gets obsessive and absorbed in her work, has little patience for either small talk or fools. Her husband doesn’t try to keep her home or protect her from it. Both because he’s easy-going and because they can’t afford for her not to work every bit as hard as he does.

He does worry about her work investigating crime, and somebody should be worried. She sticks her nose and herself into places that are dangerous, and that danger all too often reaches out to grab her.

The stories in this series do an excellent job of portraying Bianca’s world, not just her personal circumstances, but the way that the doings of the high and mighty reach down and affect the lives of every person in the kingdom. Bianca is intelligent enough that when things happen, she doesn’t just know what, but she understands the why and the how of it, and so do we, even in circumstances that seem far removed from our own.

I like Bianca and I’m going to miss her. If you enjoy gritty historical mystery and want more, in addition to Bianca’s series (start with The Alchemist’s Daughter) there’s also Jeri Westerson’s Crispin Guest series, Candace Robb’s Owen Archer and Kate Clifford serieses and D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker Chronicles in very similar veins.

One final note. Bianca has a cat named Hobs. As is usual for cats, it would be more accurate to say that Hobs has her. Due to a bit of magical realism in the previous books in the series, Bianca believes that Hobs is immortal, and the events of this book prove her correct. I want a cat like Hobs. Actually, I want all my cats to be like Hobs. Desperately. If this particular character in the story includes a bit of wish fulfillment on the part of the author, I understand completely.

Review: Her Seafaring Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: Her Seafaring Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayHer Seafaring Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Crawfords #3
Pages: 300
Published by Sophie Barnes on April 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

The last thing she wants is a husband…

Least of all one determined to win her heart…

Lady Cassandra has no desire to marry. But when Captain Devlin Crawford brings scandal to her doorstep and offers salvation, she cannot say no. Not with her daughter’s future at stake. So she decides to accept Devlin’s offer, provided he agrees to never being intimate with her. For although Cassandra is drawn to Devlin, she refuses to dishonor the memory of her one true love.

Devlin knows he’s made a mess, but now that it’s done, marrying Cassandra doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world. Far from it, though it will take serious effort on his part to convince her of this. Especially since she’s never stopped mourning the man she was meant to marry over a decade ago. So once they set off on a grand ocean voyage, Devlin embarks on his greatest adventure yet – the wooing of his wife.

My Review:

Lady Cassandra Moor and Captain Devlin Crawford have the absolute worst timing in the world. They have managed to be in the wrong place at the exact right time to screw up each other’s lives entirely too often – even before they first met.

A propensity that is almost their undoing, and more than once.

They’ve been friends, or at least friendly acquaintances, for years by the time that this story opens. Dev is the younger brother of the heroes of the previous two books in this series, while Cass is the sister-in-all-but-blood of the women that Dev’s siblings have married. Of course they know each other.

(Although this is the third book in the series you certainly don’t have to have read either of the other two to enjoy this one. I haven’t but I had a lovely time with Dev and Cass – even when they were at odds with each other.)

As the story opens, neither Cass nor Dev have any intention of marrying – not each other, not anyone. Dev is the captain of his own ship and spends 10 months of the year – if not a bit more – sailing between Portsmouth and India. He loves sailing, he loves travel, and the more he travels the more absurd he finds the ton and all of its silly, petty rules.

He neither wants to be tied to England by marrying, nor does he want to leave a wife and most likely children to manage without him for months at a time. He’d be a visitor in his own life and he’s just not interested in doing that to either himself or the hypothetical wife.

Cassandra Moor, on the other hand, had her chance at happily wedded bliss and missed it by a few measly hours. Literally. Her groom was run over by a carriage on his way to the church for their wedding. That tragedy was compounded by their having anticipated their wedding vows, leaving Cassandra bereaved, pregnant and abandoned by her oh-so-proper family.

Her daughter is the light of her life. She has no regrets on that score. And no desire to replace her beloved Timothy in either her heart or her bed.

But the machinations of Dev’s matchmaking mother put Dev and Cass at a society ball that neither of them had any desire to attend. Dev promised his mother he’d dance one – and only one – dance before retreating to the card room. He chooses to dance with Cass, a friend who will not chase after him with a matchmaking mama of her own.

And that’s where it all goes pear-shaped. Only it turns out to be, not a pear, but an absolutely perfect peach of a mistake. That leads to a surprising happy ever after for Devlin, Cass and especially Cass’ 12-year-old daughter Penelope – who has been matchmaking along with the best of them!

Escape Rating B: If you are in the mood for light fluffy romance – with just a touch of angst happily resolved – in the current real life crisis, then Her Seafaring Scoundrel may be just the rogue you’re looking for!

Because this is a delicious little romance with not just a very unconventional heroine – those seem to be in these days – but with an equally unconventional hero. It’s not just that Cass is “ruined” or that she runs an orphanage, but that she’s completely unrepentant about the whole thing. She doesn’t enjoy being the censure of society, and therefore doesn’t expose herself to it often, but she likes her life as it is. And she likes herself as she is, too. The angst of this story doesn’t come from Cass lamenting that she’s not worthy because she has an illegitimate child, but rather that she is still dealing with her very real grief at the loss of the man she loved and expected to marry.

Maybe she clings to that grief a bit too hard, but that’s human.

Dev’s father wasn’t any happier with him than Cass’ parents were with her. Dev went to sea to escape, and to make a life for himself at something he’s good at. In spite of his father’s censure. Like Cass, he clings to that need to escape too tightly, long after it has ceased to serve him.

Or them. Because the story here is of Cass and Dev falling in love with each other after his impulsive and ill-advised announcement of their engagement. An engagement which, at the moment he made his precipitous announcement, did not exist.

But they are friends, and there are worse bases for marriage. A life spent traveling the high seas, seeing places that few English men or women ever get to see, is also one hell of an inducement.

That they fall in love is inevitable. With each other, and with the life they can have together. The reasons that they almost ruin it before it has truly begun lead back to their mutually terrible timing.

But they survive the storm. All the storms. They get past the dark clouds and don’t merely survive, but thrive. Together. With a happy ever after that has all the fluff that a reader could possibly desire.


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The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-26-20

Sunday Post

The quarantine has been going on for 6-ish weeks around here, maybe a little more or a little less where you are. But that’s still a long time. Long enough for habits to develop. And certainly long enough for this to start feeling like normal life. A very different normal life from before, but still, this has been going on long enough that this now feels like real life. I have to wonder what the “new normal” is going to look like, someday, because the old normal feels like it’s been swept away, both for good and for bad. But for real either way.

And in the meantime there’s plenty to read! This past week’s crop of books was particularly excellent. Even in what has felt like two months of Mondays, or something like that, good books are always a win!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Rain Rain Go Away Giveaway Hop (ends TUESDAY!)
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Something to Marble At Giveaway Hop (ends THURSDAY!)

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Sword of Shadows by Jeri Westerson
B+ Review: Mission: Her Shield by Anna Hackett
A+ Review: The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
A- Review: Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai
A+ Review: And They Called It Camelot by Stephanie Marie Thornton
Stacking the Shelves (389)

Coming This Week:

Her Seafaring Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes (blog tour review)
The Lost Boys of London by Mary Lawrence (review)
The Ingredients of You and Me by Nina Bocci (blog tour review)
The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick  (blog tour review)
Mother May I Giveaway Hop

Stacking the Shelves (389)

Stacking the Shelves

Welcome to the 698th day of Marchril. Or something like that. What’s really bizarre is that this has been going on long enough that it’s starting to feel as if it has always been this way.  I know that’s not true, but I don’t know about the rest of you, but this is starting to feel like normal. That I normally work from home so the changes aren’t that drastic may be part of it, but still, it seems like strange is the new normal.

And that’s strange.

But still, there are plenty of books to read, although publication dates are starting to slip all over the place. The late Spring stuff is moving to August. Not because anyone actually knows anything, but just to kick the can down the road a piece. We’ll see.

For Review:
Anthems Outside Time and Other Strange Voices by Kenneth Schneyer
Architects of Memory (Memory War #1) by Karen Osborne
The Art of Deception (Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #4) by Leonard Goldberg
Brides of Rome (Vesta Shadows #1) by Debra May Macleod
Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney
A Chorus of Fire (Sorcerer’s Song #2) by Brian D. Anderson
The Color of Air by Gail Tsukiyama
Dali Summer by T.J. Brown
Eighty Days to Elsewhere (Ex Libris Adventure #1) by kc dyer
Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline
Final Cut by S.J. Watson
The Heirs of Locksley (Robin Hood Stories #2) by Carrie Vaughn
Hidden Bones (Dead Remaining #2) by Vivian Barz
Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
Ink & Sigil (Ink & Sigil #1) by Kevin Hearne
Interlibrary Loan (Borrowed Man #2) by Gene Wolfe
Kiss My Cupcake by Helena Hunting
The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning
Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail Wilson
The Memory of Souls (Chorus of Dragons #3) by Jenn Lyons
Peachy Scream (Georgia B&B #2) by Anna Gerard
Sorcery of a Queen (Dragons of Terra #2) by Brian Naslund
The Summer House by Lauren K. Denton
Ten Arrows of Iron (Grave of Empires #2) by Sam Sykes
A Touch of Stone and Snow (Gatherine of Dragons #2) by Milla Vane
The Unconquered City (Chronicles of Ghadid #3) by K.A. Doore
Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim
The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell
What You Wish For by Katherine Center
Wonderland by Zoje Stage
Would I Lie to the Duke (Union of the Rakes #2) by Eva Leigh

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
The Annotated American Gods by Neil Gaiman (hardcover)
A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe
Ghostrider (Miranda Chase NTSB #4) by M.L. Buchman (preorder)

Borrowed from the Library:
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Review: And They Called It Camelot by Stephanie Marie Thornton

Review: And They Called It Camelot by Stephanie Marie ThorntonAnd They Called It Camelot: A Novel of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis by Stephanie Marie Thornton, Stephanie Thornton
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 480
Published by Berkley on March 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

An intimate portrait of the life of Jackie O…

Few of us can claim to be the authors of our fate. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy knows no other choice. With the eyes of the world watching, Jackie uses her effortless charm and keen intelligence to carve a place for herself among the men of history and weave a fairy tale for the American people, embodying a senator’s wife, a devoted mother, a First Lady—a queen in her own right.

But all reigns must come to an end. Once JFK travels to Dallas and the clock ticks down those thousand days of magic in Camelot, Jackie is forced to pick up the ruined fragments of her life and forge herself into a new identity that is all her own, that of an American legend.

My Review:

I began this week with Camelot, so it seemed fitting to end the week in the same place. A part of me wants to say something about the Camelot of Sword of Shadows being the Camelot of myths and legends – but as we now look back nearly 60 years in the rear-view mirror, the brief, shining moment of the Kennedy Administration seems very nearly as mythic – and just as shrouded.

I still hear the title of this book as the words to the finale theme song from the play and movie, and hear it in the late Richard Harris’ voice with the music in the background. It was one of my favorite albums, both the original cast recording and the soundtrack of the movie. Right along with Vaughn Meader’s spoof, The First Family. There’s a bit of art imitating life imitating art in this circle, as the administration derived its nickname from the play, while the spoof album was inspired by the administration.

The story in this fictionalized biography is the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, of the years when she was the shining star of the public stage – even the Onassis years when that star was more than a bit tarnished. Just like Jackie herself, her life captivates the reader and doesn’t let go until the very end.

Based on this fictionalized account, told in Jackie’s first-person voice as events unfolded, if even half of what happens is true, then, to paraphrase the title of a book about JFK, Jackie, we hardly knew you.

Escape Rating A+: First and most important, Jackie’s story is every bit as spellbinding as she was. I picked this up in the afternoon, and finished at 2 in the morning. Once I started, I couldn’t stop – and didn’t even want to.

Some of that was nostalgia, as the Jackie years of this story are part of the background of my own life. We begin Jackie’s story in 1952, during Jackie’s whirlwind romance with the dashing young Senator, Jack Kennedy. The story ends in 1979, at the dedication of JFK’s Presidential Library, while Jackie was working as an associate editor for Doubleday. With one last tragedy in her life still to come, the death of her son, who was once the little boy in the White House that the press nicknamed “John-John”.

Along the way is a story of triumphs and tragedies. Whether those two are equally balanced is something that only she could have judged. For the reader, this is a life that seems to have filled with both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

Part of the fascination in reading this book is that it is told in the first-person. We feel as if we are inside Jackie’s head during all those times when she projected an image of the perfect First Lady. At first, it felt a bit weird being in her head. And there’s a moment of doubt when the reader has to wonder how close to the truth the author has come.

But the view from behind her eyes is so compelling that the reader is just caught up in it. The story gives weight and color to an image that in retrospect looks perfect and plastic in a way that real people never are. And she was very, very real.

The story is also more than a bit salacious, not just because of Jackie’s perspective – and anger – over JFK’s many, many, MANY (need more many’s) sexual liaisons, but also at hints that Jackie had a long-running affair of her own with Bobby Kennedy after Jack’s death. A possibility that historians can’t seem to make their minds up about either, but something that was certainly never publicly speculated about at the time.

It’s interesting to note that although this is Jackie’s life, the story is dominated, not merely by the Kennedys, but by three Kennedys in particular. The story opens at the beginning of Jackie’s life with Jack, middles with her relationship with Bobby (whatever it might have been) and closes not long after the death of Joseph P. Kennedy, the patriarch of the family. Nearly everything that happens to her is colored or influenced by the effect it will have on the family. It’s as though, until the Presidential Library is complete, she’s just a secondary player in her own life. But ironic that once she is able to live fully for herself, she fades into the shadows.

And They Called It Camelot is an absolutely compelling read. It’s a view behind the looking glass at a life that seemed to have been lived completely in the public eye, telling us things we never knew and providing insights we never expected. It is absolutely one of those stories where, as Neil Gaiman famously put it, “Fiction is the lie that tells the truth”.

Because even if the story isn’t completely true – it sure feels like it is.

Review: Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai

Review: Girl Gone Viral by Alisha RaiGirl Gone Viral (Modern Love #2) by Alisha Rai
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Modern Love #2
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on April 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

In Alisha Rai's second novel in her Modern Love series, a live-tweet event goes viral for a camera-shy ex-model, shoving her into the spotlight—and into the arms of the bodyguard she’d been pining for.

OMG! Wouldn’t it be adorable if he’s her soulmate???

I don’t see any wedding rings [eyes emoji]

Breaking: #CafeBae and #CuteCafeGirl went to the bathroom AT THE SAME TIME!!!

One minute, Katrina King’s enjoying an innocent conversation with a hot guy at a coffee shop; the next, a stranger has live-tweeted the entire episode with a romantic meet-cute spin and #CafeBae is the new hashtag-du-jour. The problem? Katrina craves a low-profile life, and going viral threatens the peaceful world she’s painstakingly built. Besides, #CafeBae isn’t the man she’s hungry for.

He’s got a [peach emoji] to die for. 

With the internet on the hunt for the identity of #CuteCafeGirl, Jas Singh, bodyguard, friend, and possessor of the most beautiful eyebrows Katrina’s ever seen, comes to the rescue and whisks her away to his family’s home. Alone in a remote setting with the object of her affections? It’s a recipe for romance. But after a long dating dry spell, Katrina isn’t sure she can trust her instincts when it comes to love—even if Jas’ every look says he wants to be more than just her bodyguard…

My Review:

I absolutely adored this author’s Forbidden Hearts series (start with Hate to Want You and just BINGE!) but bounced fairly hard off of the first book in the Modern Love series, The Right Swipe. Howsomever, I did love Forbidden Hearts, and I heard good things about Girl Gone Viral, so I decided to see if this one would bring me back

And I was in the mood for another romance after yesterday’s lovely book, so this looked like it would certainly fit that mood. And it did. It so did.

There are two tropes going head to head in this romance, the ever-popular friends-to-lovers, and the hot, awesome but less frequently invoked bodyguard romance. And this was a time when these two tastes definitely tasted GREAT together!

The story doesn’t quite match the blurb – or at least the intensity of the feelings involved aren’t quite conveyed by the spritely tone of the blurb.

Kat doesn’t just crave a low-profile life – she needs one desperately in order to cope with her excruciating panic attacks and something that feels like PTSD after a traumatic kidnapping several years ago. Letting that cute guy sit at her table in the crowded coffee shop was Kat sticking a toe out of her comfort zone – only to discover that there are sharks outside that comfort zone. Seemingly literally, as the live-tweet of the complicated fabricated romance takes on a life of its own – probably with the active connivance of both the tweeter and the cute-but-clearly-an-asshole guy.

Kat is spooked. Completely, totally and utterly spooked. Partly because spooked is her default setting – something she’s changing very slowly – and partly because becoming a viral internet sensation can be a two-edged sword at the best of times. She wants this to fade away, but the Streisand Effect is a real thing. So is doxxing. So are death threats – particularly if you’re living online while female and try to claim your own space in the world.

So there’s a lot going on in this story, and not just on Kat’s side of the equation.

Her bodyguard – and secret crush – Jas has plenty of his own stuff to deal with. Including his own PTSD from his military experience in Iraq. Something that he deals with by, essentially, not dealing with it. By shoving it down into a hole so deep that he doesn’t even let himself see what’s crawling around down there. He deals with it by pushing his loud, loving and very intrusive family away. And he keeps telling himself that he doesn’t feel anything for Kat beyond friendship.

Of course he’s lying to himself about pretty much all of it.

So Kat needs to escape and Jas both wants and doesn’t want to visit his family, so he uses Kat as an excuse to go home – while pretending to most of his family that he’s not really there.

Like that ever works.

But out of the city, alone together in a house where Kat can just be and Jas doesn’t have to be on guard 24/7 because it really is safe, they let themselves get close to each other. And finally tear down the walls that have been keeping them apart.

Escape Rating A-: The bodyguard crush is a trope that isn’t seen all that often in contemporary romance, as, after all, most people don’t need a bodyguard. Add to that, at least on the surface, Kat doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would need a bodyguard. She’s not political, she’s not a superstar, no one seems to be threatening her. And yet, she does need Jas, not just as a bodyguard but because her own traumas make her need the safety of having a bodyguard. And, well, Kat just needs Jas but isn’t ready to admit exactly what she needs him for as the story opens.

They are friends. Even if Jas in particular would have a difficult time labeling their relationship that way. Especially because Jas isn’t used to having friends, period. And his tense interactions with his family make it clear that he’s having difficulty with personal relationships in general – among other things.

Which leads directly to a third element to this story that almost put it over the top for me. So often, reaching their HEA solves all of everybody’s problems. Love conquers all, after all. But in real life it doesn’t. Love makes things better, it makes the world look brighter, it makes the hard stuff easier to get over, past or through. But it doesn’t erase the past, nor does it magically sweep away all the baggage we all carry around.

So the great thing about the way that Kat and Jas find their HEA is that love gives them the courage and the impetus to deal with their own shit. Neither can magically fix the other’s PTSD or panic attacks, each of them HAS to do that work for themselves. Love provides support, as it does, but there is no magical healing for the crap they both have to deal with, and it doesn’t. Instead, a big part of the HEA is that they both do better at taking care of their own messes so that they have more room to love each other. And that’s an ending and a message I definitely believe in.

But there’s this niggle. I still feel like we’ve all been left hanging about the fake viral setup that started the whole thing. It feels like a setup. It reads like a setup. I wish there was some resolution to it. Kat gets past it and turns it back on the original posters, but it still felt a bit unresolved. It’s not so much that I wanted them to be exposed – although that would have been really, really terrific – but I wanted some acknowledgement that the whole thing had been a deliberately put-up job from beginning to end to promote his new business and his flagging career. YMMV.

All in all, I’m really glad I read Girl Gone Viral, and I didn’t feel like I’d missed too much by not having read The Right Swipe. There’s enough backstory here to let new readers pick up the series here. And I really loved the characters, not just Kat and Jas but the entire mad and crazy bunch. I definitely would not mind seeing this crew back for more with a new couple at the heart – finding where their hearts belong.

Review: The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

Review: The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay AdamsThe Bromance Book Club (Bromance Book Club, #1) by Lyssa Kay Adams
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Bromance Book Club #1
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The first rule of book club: You don't talk about book club.

Nashville Legends second baseman Gavin Scott's marriage is in major league trouble. He’s recently discovered a humiliating secret: his wife Thea has always faked the Big O. When he loses his cool at the revelation, it’s the final straw on their already strained relationship. Thea asks for a divorce, and Gavin realizes he’s let his pride and fear get the better of him.

Welcome to the Bromance Book Club.

Distraught and desperate, Gavin finds help from an unlikely source: a secret romance book club made up of Nashville's top alpha men. With the help of their current read, a steamy Regency titled Courting the Countess, the guys coach Gavin on saving his marriage. But it'll take a lot more than flowery words and grand gestures for this hapless Romeo to find his inner hero and win back the trust of his wife.

My Review:

I was looking for something light, fluffy and fun, and remembered this was in the TBR pile. It got a lot of terrific buzz when it came out last year, and it felt like it was high time to see what all the fuss was about. After all, this is a GREAT time for fluffy.

All of that buzz was right. Absolutely right. This was marvelous and lovely and fun. But not as fluffy as I expected, and I mean that in the BEST way possible.

The romance is one that doesn’t get done nearly enough – and it definitely should. Because as the story begins, Gavin and Thea are not only already married, they’ve been married for three years and have twin daughters. This should be well into their HEA. But right at the moment, it definitely isn’t.

Nobody’s happy at the moment. Even the little girls know that something is not right between mommy and daddy.

What makes this story work is that Gavin and Thea are in the mid-20s. They married young. They married because Thea was pregnant with the twins. They married while very much in love, but not really knowing nearly enough about each other. And people change a lot in their 20s, a lot when they become parents, and in Gavin’s case, a lot when they get their big break and move up from Major League Baseball’s minor leagues to the “Bigs”.

Life changed. Life changed a LOT. With Gavin on the road all season, and Thea left to cope with two daughters she adores, a husband who is never home, and a life she had not planned on. A life that suddenly bears entirely too much resemblance to the life her mother got trapped in. A life that Thea wanted to avoid at all costs – but didn’t.

Thea coped by trying to blend into the group of WAGs, that’s Wives and Girlfriends, of the Nashville Legends. Trying to be the best and most organized wife and mom she can be – while putting her own dreams on indefinite hold.

And by faking the fact that she’s miserable and lonely and trying to pretend that everything is all right – until it isn’t. When Gavin finally pays attention enough to figure out that she’s been faking a whole lot of their married life – both in and out of bed – the situation explodes, their marriage implodes, and talk of divorce is in the air.

A divorce that Gavin doesn’t want. He loves Thea, he loves his daughters, he loves the life he thought they had. He wants it all back – and he’ll do anything to get it.

And that’s where the Bromance Book Club comes in.

Because in his hour of pretty much darkest need, Gavin discovers that he’s not alone. That a whole lot of the guys on his team have been in something like the place he is, and that they’ve all found a way out.

By banding together. By supporting each other and giving each other advice about relationships. Advice that they have all garnered by reading, discussing and analyzing romance novels.

The first rule of book club is that they don’t talk about book club. But they do talk IN book club. A lot. And to the point. Not just the point about relationships but also the points about feminism and agency and the toxic patriarchy and all of the things that make living while female so much more difficult than any of them ever imagined.

The best part of the story – this isn’t about Gavin picking up a few moves or learning to manipulate Thea or any of that. It’s about him figuring out his part of what went wrong. It’s about learning what’s holding BOTH of them back.

It’s learning that love both is, and is not, enough.

Escape Rating A+: The Bromance Book lived up to every bit of last year’s buzz. It’s a terrific romance AND a marvelous story about relationships at the same time. So if you’re looking for a book to really pick you up and make you smile, The Bromance Book Club is a winner.

First there’s the romance. We just don’t have nearly enough romance books about existing relationships. Everything is about the rush of falling in love and finding that HEA. But real life is that we find it and we go through dark patches and we lose it and sometimes we recapture it and sometimes we give it up – or just give up. The issues between Gavin and Thea feel real, and so do they.

But there’s also plenty in this one about friendship, sisterhood and brotherhood. Thea’s relationship with her sister Liv is supportive in so many ways. They are so good for each other when the chips are down. At the same time, Liv is conflicted when Thea’s life gets better, both fearing that there’s no place for her in that life, and fearing that Thea is recreating patterns from their family’s less-than-stellar past and that she’s only going to get hurt again.

At the same time, there’s also the story of the brotherhood of the Bromance Book Club. In a sense, their story is also that of an existing relationship, and we also come into it in the middle. All of the guys are Major League Baseball players. They are all alpha males who could have been, and in some cases undoubtedly will be later, the heroes of their own romances. And yet, they all admit to being vulnerable, they all buy into the idea that they don’t know it all and can’t solve it all on their own, and they get together to help each other.

The book club, and the romances they read, are not played for laughs. There are some laughs, but then romance novels can be funny. But there is also fascinating, interesting and serious stuff between those pages, and the guys do some equally serious textual analysis of what is really happening in those stories and why they work. It’s never about manipulation, it’s always about learning and growing.

The Bromance Book Club is a winner from beginning to end. I’m very, very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Undercover Bromance, the next time I need a reading pick-me-up!

Review: Mission: Her Shield by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Shield by Anna HackettMission: Her Shield (Team 52 #7) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance
Series: Team 52 #7
Pages: 202
Published by Anna Hackett on April 19th 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

She’s the one woman he’s always wanted and the one woman he’ll never let himself have, but former Delta Force soldier Axel will risk everything to save his covert team’s beautiful archaeologist.

Axel Diaz knows that fighting the bad guys requires getting down in the muck. He’s done too much and seen too much to ever inflict his nightmares on a woman. Especially a gorgeous, smart archaeologist who ignites his blood like no one else. Axel focuses on his work with the covert, black ops Team 52. He’ll work alongside Dr. Natalie Blackwell as they safeguard pieces of ancient technology, but he’ll never let himself touch her.

Then everything changes when Nat calls for help. Her archaeology conference in Greece has gone horribly wrong…

Dr. Natalie Blackwell loves her work with Team 52. A lonely childhood and an indifferent family have taught her to be independent. She’s been attracted to Axel for a long time, but refuses to be another notch on his very notched bedpost. But when she finds herself in terrible danger, being hunted by something terrifying, all she wants around her are Axel’s muscled arms. She is in the fight for her life, and she’s praying her team—and the man she can’t resist—can find her in time.

My Review:

I keep expecting Team 52 to discover a Stargate, or maybe just a DHD (Dial Home Device), but neither of those are dangerous in and of themselves – although a box of staff weapons or zats certainly would be. Or they could turn up the Tesseract from the MCU – that would certainly make a big mess – as we already know.

In spite of that reference to the MCU, I still say that the Team 52 series has a big Stargate vibe to me. It’s the whole idea that there is just MORE to the world than history teaches us, that civilizations have risen and fallen more time than we were ever aware of, and that those that fell left behind dangers and wonders that we are just not ready for.

And that it’s all science-based rather than magic based, even though Clarke’s Law applies. You know, the one about “any sufficiently advanced technology” being indistinguishable from magic. The humans who lived at the time of some of these great but fallen civilizations saw their advanced tech as magic, and enshrined it in myth and legend. But it was science – perhaps science gone very, very far amuck, but still science.

Take, for example, the virus that disrupts Team 52 archaeologist Nat Blackwell’s scientific conference in Athens. A pot is broken, a fellow archaeologist touches something that he really, really, really shouldn’t, and suddenly there’s a MINOTAUR in the room goring bystanders with his horns and scooping up women to make up his expected tribute.

Seven women, just like the myth says. One of whom is Nat. A Nat who fully expects her Team to come and get her. Whether she can survive long enough for rescue is a much bigger question. The team is in Las Vegas. Athens – or wherever the Minotaur has taken his captives – is very far away.

When rescue arrives, it brings a whole host of other problems with it. The initial Minotaur transformation may have been an accident, but now that the possibility is known, there are plenty of, let’s call them basty-assed-nastards, who want to see it weaponized – and sold to the highest bidder.

Nat and Team 52 find themselves exchanging weapons fire with mercenaries from The Hannibal Syndicate in order to prevent those mercs from capturing the Minotaur for study, experimentation and weaponization by whoever will pay them the most.

Nat wants to save the Minotaur, to see if there’s a chance of turning the monster back into the scientist she used to know.

After all, Nat has a thing for saving monsters. Or at least saving men who see themselves that way. Whether they want to be saved – or not.

Escape Rating B+: I had a lot of fun with this entry in the Team 52 series. The books in this series (start with Mission: Her Protection) have generally been a good reading time, something that we all need these days. They do a great job of providing the same kind of escape as something like Stargate, where the exploration of those “brave new worlds” has been brought home to Earth.

This one in particular lived up to my earlier references to both Stargate and the MCU, as the sideways dive into myth and legend has parallels in both worlds, AND Nat, the heroine of this particular entry in the series, shares a name with Natalya Romanov, the MCU’s Black Widow. While Nat Blackwell isn’t badass in the same way at Nat Romanov, I think they have plenty in common, and would have LOTS to talk about, including the stubbornness of their respective teams.

Like all of the books in this series, the adventure of battling the evil mercs and capturing, stealing or re-stealing the dangerous, mythological macguffin is interwoven with a romance between at least one member of Team 52 and someone who is either part of their world or is introduced to it – usually in either a hail of bullets, or by being taken prisoner or hostage by something slightly supernatural.

The romance between Nat and Axel Diaz manages to combine a whole bunch of those elements, as Axel is also a member of Team 52, and Nat is not only a member but manages to get taken hostage – or at least threatened with it – multiple times by both the Minotaur AND the mercenaries.

Nat and Axel have always had seriously explosive chemistry between them, a chemistry that both have denied – for different reasons. Actually, for a bit of the same reason, too. Admittedly Axel has been a bit of a manwhore, and nobody needs to get involved in that kind of drama where they work. But both of them have a bad case of the “I’m not worthy” syndrome. Axel because his former military service had him doing very bad things to people who may or may not have been bad themselves, and Nat because her parents treated her as an obligation or a showpiece instead of a child.

While this is not my favorite romantic trope, it was certainly done well in this particular instance – especially from Nat’s side. Her parents were definitely “pieces of work”. Most people would end up with the same kind of emotional baggage in that situation. In the end, Nat and Axel do an excellent job of making each other strong in their broken places – and of realizing that they make each other better.

So an exciting adventure, a romance that overcomes the odds, another monster down, another merc band out and a good time had by all. A fun action-adventure romance all the way around.

The series feels like it’s winding down. This author has a tendency to have the head honcho find their HEA as the closing of the series. Based on events at the end of this one, it looks like Team 52’s director, Jonah Grayson, is heading for a fall sometime later this year. I’m sure a good ass-kicking and romantic time will be had by all!