Review: A Beach Wish by Shelly Noble

Review: A Beach Wish by Shelly NobleA Beach Wish by Shelley Noble
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, women's fiction
Pages: 371
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble returns to the beach in her latest summer read about the family we create and the wishes we make that can shape us.

Zoe Bascombe has never said no to her family. When she blew her Juilliard audition, she caved to their wishes and went to business school. But when her mother dies and leaves instructions for Zoe to spread her ashes at a place called Wind Chime Beach, she defies her brothers and starts out for a New England town none of them has ever heard of and discovers a side of her garden club mother that her wildest dreams hadn’t imagined.

Zoe has another family.

Her first instinct is to run home. Instead she is caught in the middle of her feuding new relatives. With one family fighting among themselves and the other not speaking to her, Zoe must somehow find a way to bridge her new life with her old.

For the first time in her life, Zoe must make a stand for her family—both of them. If only she can only figure out how.

Her answer lies at Wind Chime Beach where for generations people have come to add their chimes to the ones already left among the trees. And when the wind blows and the air fills with music, their secrets, dreams, and hopes are sent into the world. There’s a message for Zoe here—if she has the courage to open her heart.

My Review:

A Beach Wish is purely delightful women’s fiction. Or chick lit. Some of the women who move forward with their lives in the course of this story are young enough to be figuring their lives out for the first time. And some are on their way to second, third or even fourth inventions of self. And one who might be on fifth or sixth – except that she fails, again.

That’s only part of the story.

As so many stories begin, to paraphrase Charles Dickens in his immortal Christmas Carol, Jenny Bascombe was dead, to begin with. But the mess she left behind is very much alive, and plenty of people are getting kicked in the process of resolving that mess.

Jenny left instructions upon her death. Detailed instructions. She was just that kind of organized. Buttoned-up. Controlled. Definitely controlled – at least for all of the life that her three sons and one daughter ever saw.

So her last request makes no sense whatsoever. For her daughter Zoe, and just her daughter Zoe, to take her ashes to a place called Wind Chime Beach and scatter them there.

Her two older brothers are up in arms. Her closest brother, Chris, wants to help her however he can.

But Zoe does what she has always done – she listens to her mother, one last time, and drives north from New Jersey to that beach.

Where she discovers that she never really knew her mother after all – but that there are a whole lot of people who did. And that they have all been waiting for Jenny to finally come home. One last time.

Escape Rating A-: I expected to like this, but I really, really liked this. Finishing at 2 am in the morning liked.

This is one of those stories where the family is hella complicated, and only gets crazier as it goes. Zoe’s two oldest brothers seem to be chips off the old block, meaning dear old (left mom for his secretary) dad. Not that they seem likely to bail on their wives, just that they’ve bought into the whole corporate, suit and tie, climbing the ladder of success, living their lives based on other people’s judgments, kind of thing.

Zoe and Chris are the rebels. Chris is an actor who is out of work as often as he’s in. He’s also gay, but that seems not to be much of an issue for the family (times definitely have changed, at least in fiction). But he’s not ever planning on doing the 9-to-5 routine that his brothers do, and it drives said brothers a bit crazy.

Zoe tried the 9-to-5 – more like the 7-to-whenever, but her job as an events manager to the stars has just dried up. She got into events managing the music business because she wanted to BE in the music business, but now she’s neither. And at more than enough loose ends to be willing to carry out her mother’s last request – no matter how little sense it makes.

Until it does. What makes this story so interesting and so much fun is what Zoe discovers at Wind Chime Beach. Once upon a time, her mother was someone entirely different from the uber-organized uber-planner who raised Zoe and her brothers.

And there are a whole lot of people who remember that Jenny. The Jenny who might have been her best self. Those people are ready and willing to welcome Zoe into their midst. Some with open arms, some with a clenched fist.

Figuring out the who and why of that past, and why Zoe’s strong resemblance to her mother evokes such strong reactions, is the heart and soul of this book. It’s Zoe’s journey of discovery, but that’s not all it is. It’s also a story of grief and reconciliation.

In the end, Zoe and the people Jenny left behind at Wind Chime Beach have a chance to finally say their goodbyes and move on with their lives. It makes for a fascinating contrast that one of them doesn’t. Some people don’t want closure, they want to clutch their hurts like pearls – and isn’t that all too human.

I enjoyed Zoe’s journey of discovery. I also found it refreshing that while Zoe opens her heart and lets plenty of new people into her life, there is no romance here – nor should there be. This is not intended to be a story about finding an HEA. It is appropriately, and wonderfully, a story about finding oneself. A Beach Wish is a terrific beach read – or a lovely read for any time at all.

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

Review: Peach Clobbered by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

Review: Peach Clobbered by Anna Gerard + GiveawayPeach Clobbered: A Georgia B&B Mystery by Anna Gerard
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Georgia B&B Mystery #1
Pages: 320
Published by Crooked Lane Books on July 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

What’s black and white and dead all over? Georgia bed and breakfast proprietor Nina Fleet finds out when she comes across a corpse in a penguin costume.

Nina Fleet’s life ought to be as sweet as a Georgia peach. Awarded a tidy sum in her divorce, Nina retired at 41 to a historic Queen Anne house in quaint Cymbeline, GA. But Nina’s barely settled into her new B&B-to-be when a penguin shows up on her porch. Or, at least, a man wearing a penguin suit.

Harry Westcott is making ends meet as an ice cream shop’s mascot and has a letter from his great-aunt, pledging to leave him the house. Too bad that’s not what her will says. Meanwhile, the Sisters of Perpetual Poverty have lost their lease. Real estate developer Gregory Bainbridge intends to turn the convent into a golfing community, so Cymbeline’s mayor persuades Nina to take in the elderly nuns. And then Nina finds the “penguin” again, this time lying in an alley with a kitchen knife in his chest.

A peek under the beak tells Nina it’s not Harry inside the costume, but Bainbridge. What was he doing in Harry’s penguin suit? Was the developer really the intended victim, or did the culprit mean to kill Harry? Whoever is out to stop Harry from contesting the sale of his great-aunt’s house may also be after Nina, so she teams up with him to cage the killer before someone clips her wings in Peach Clobbered, Anna Gerard’s charming first Georgia B&B mystery.

My Review:

I want to know where Cymbeline is – because it sounds like a great place to visit that would only be a hop, skip and a jump from my home in the Atlanta exurbs. And we all need a quiet place to escape to every once in a while.

Not that things are really quiet in tiny Cymbeline – especially not for Nina Fleet.

Nina would love to open a B&B in her newly acquired Victorian house, but there are roadblocks a-plenty in her way, including plenty of B&Bs that beat her to the punch. As much of a tourist mecca as Cymbeline has become, no place needs an infinite number of inns – until a sudden influx of displaced nuns gives the mayor a reason to fast-track Nina’s application.

Opening an instant B&B isn’t the only problem that Nina has to contend with. She bought her house legally, fair-and-square, cash on the barrel-head, etc., etc., etc. And she absolutely loves it. But Harry Westcott, the nephew of the late owner of Nina’s house, believes that he is the rightful owner of the property – and he’ll see her in court.

The worst part for Nina is that he might be. He probably isn’t, but there’s an off chance. Not that Nina did anything wrong in her purchase, but that the seller might not have had the right to sell in the first place. She’d get all her money back, but she really, really, really just wants the house. In a few short months, it’s become home.

Between Harry and the nuns, Nina seems to have her hands full. They only get fuller when a local property developer is killed while wearing Harry’s penguin suit. How that translates to Harry becoming a suspect in his murder is anybody’s guess, considering that Harry may be one of the few people in town who didn’t have a motive.

Including the nuns.

Nina can’t resist poking her curious nose into the affairs of her neighbors, and the murder of the least liked among them. And she can’t help but band together with Harry and the nuns when they are all under threat.

When they set a trap to catch the killer, the tables get turned. It’s up to the nuns to save the day!

Escape Rating A-: This was just a load of fun from beginning to end, from Harry’s first appearance in the penguin suit right up to his driving off into the sunset at the end, with the murder resolved but the ownership of the B&B still very much up in the air – along with Nina and Harry’s completely unresolved potentially romantic and currently contentious relationship.

Their “relationship” begins with a fairly twisted meet cute. Harry arrives on Nina’s doorstep, suffering from heat stroke (all too plausible with our hot, muggy Georgia summers) while wearing a penguin costume. Which isn’t helping with the heat stroke. Clutching an envelope in his hand that he believes proves his rights to own Nina’s house.

Watching the ebbs and flows of their always just-one-tick-away-from-mutually-assured-destruction relationship is always fun. They want to like each other. They want to trust each other. It’s entirely possible that they have the hots for each other. And they want to destroy each other’s claim to the house they both love.

And they need each other to solve the murder, just adding to the fraught possibilities.

The nuns, on the other hand, are surprisingly delightful from beginning to end. They are the perfect opening guests for Nina’s B&B, even if their reason for landing in her lap (so to speak) is pretty awful. And directly relates to their possible motive for killing that hateful real estate developer.

He’s the one who evicted them from their home and business. Most of the nuns have been together, making excellent cheese and saying their prayers, for 50 years together. With the loss of their convent and fromagerie, the archdiocese plans to retire them to separate communities. They are broken-hearted at the thought of losing their family-of-choice.

And absolutely perfect guests. Also surprisingly with the 21st century for a group of elderly semi-cloistered nuns. Their customers have kept them firmly rooted in the now – to Nina’s surprise, and to the detriment of the killer stalking Cymbeline.

This is definitely a cozy mystery, as it’s wonderfully light-hearted – even if it does feature a dead body – albeit a dead body in a borrowed penguin suit.

Nina’s exploration of the town in her process of eliminating would-be suspects introduces readers to all of the residents of this quirky little place. Even if she does go off the track of whodunnit on more than one occasion. Or perhaps especially because. And I went right there with her. I didn’t guess this one at all.

As Peach Clobbered reads like the first book in a series, I’m looking forward to reading Nina’s (and hopefully Harry’s) future adventures. And definitely getting to know the denizens of Cymbeline a whole lot better.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin

Review: Never Look Back by Alison GaylinNever Look Back by Alison Gaylin
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on July 2, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Reminiscent of the bestsellers of Laura Lippman and Harlan Coben—with a Serial-esque podcast twist—an absorbing, addictive tale of psychological suspense from the author of the highly acclaimed and Edgar Award-nominated What Remains of Me and the USA Today bestselling and Shamus Award-winning Brenna Spector series.

When website columnist Robin Diamond is contacted by true crime podcast producer Quentin Garrison, she assumes it's a business matter. It's not. Quentin's podcast, Closure, focuses on a series of murders in the 1970s, committed by teen couple April Cooper and Gabriel LeRoy. It seems that Quentin has reason to believe Robin's own mother may be intimately connected with the killings.

Robin thinks Quentin’s claim is absolutely absurd. But is it? The more she researches the Cooper/LeRoy murders herself, the more disturbed she becomes by what she finds. Living just a few blocks from her, Robin’s beloved parents are the one absolute she’s always been able to rely upon, especially now amid rising doubts about her husband and frequent threats from internet trolls. She knows her mother better than anyone—or so she believes. But all that changes when, in an apparent home invasion, Robin's father is killed and her mother's life hangs in the balance.

Told through the eyes of Robin, podcaster Quentin, and a series of letters written by fifteen-year-old April Cooper at the time of the killings, Never Look Back asks the question:

How well do we really know our parents, our partners—and ourselves?

My Review:

There are all sorts of sayings about not being able to know where you’re going until you know where you’re coming from. At the same time, there are plenty of sayings about looking forward and not looking back.

This is a book about when happens when you look back a little too hard and a little too deeply. Because when you undermine the foundations of your life, pretty much everything gets washed away in the resulting flood.

It’s also a story about just how small the world, especially the world of a small town, can be. No matter how long its been since you lived there or how far away you managed to escape.

Or how many bodies you buried along the way. Particularly when there are actual corpses involved.

Once upon a time in the 1970s, a couple of teenagers went on a killing spree, until they were themselves killed in a fire that wiped out an entire cult/hippie compound.

But it’s over 40 years later, and one of the many, many people whose lives were impacted by that crime spree is looking for closure. He thinks the case about the killers is open and shut, and that it’s only the mess it made of his own life – even though he hadn’t been born yet – that needs to be resolved.

It’s not that simple. Closure is hard to come by, especially in a case that might still be open after all.

Escape Rating A-: I can’t really talk about this book without giving much too much away. So I’ll get into what I thought and especially what I felt.

This was a book that I really didn’t expect to get into nearly as much as I did. While I like the occasional thriller, that isn’t usually my jam. Too many heroines in jeopardy for my taste. But this isn’t one of those, not at all.

It’s actually kind of debatable whether there’s either a hero (or heroine) of any kind in this one. This is a story about a lot of confused people who are tied to each other in ways that no one expects or even knows at the beginning.

And no one is a reliable narrator of their own life. Not even while its happening. Perhaps especially while it’s happening.

What wrapped me up into this story were the questions that it asked about all the characters, and about how the past is viewed and how much interpretation, both at the time and later, influences what we think.

It seems indubitable that April Cooper and Gabriel LeRoy killed the people they killed back in the 1970s. Certainly those people are all dead, and equally certainly some of the witnesses are still alive. But, and it turns out to be a very big but, we see from the very beginning that even the witnesses interpreted events and motivations in ways that smack of hindsight and putting the pieces together more than they do what was actually seen – and done.

Eyewitnesses are infamously not reliable, after all. And humans want to ascribe causation to events in ways that can’t be verified, because we want things to make sense, even when they don’t. Perhaps especially when they don’t.

The story is about lives unravelling, April and Gabriel’s in the past, and Robin’s and Quentin’s in the present. Not that Quentin’s life seems to have ever been all that ravelled in the first place.

The person I felt for most was Robin. She begins the story believing that her life is a certain way, and that the foundation of it is strong. When it all falls apart, she almost drowns in it, but the truth does set her free.

And I had no idea what that truth would be until it arrived. Which was marvelous!

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

Review: Protect the Prince by Jennifer Estep

Review: Protect the Prince by Jennifer EstepProtect the Prince (Crown of Shards, #2) by Jennifer Estep
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy
Series: Crown of Shards #2
Pages: 448
Published by Harper Voyager on July 2, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

First, Evie has to deal with a court full of arrogant, demanding nobles, all of whom want to get their greedy hands on her crown. As if that wasn’t bad enough, an assassin tries to kill Evie in her own throne room.

Despite the dangers, Evie goes ahead with a scheduled trip to the neighboring kingdom of Andvari in order to secure a desperately needed alliance. But complicating matters is the stubborn Andvarian king, who wants to punish Evie for the deaths of his countrymen during the Seven Spire massacre.

But dark forces are at work inside the Andvarian palace, and Evie soon realizes that no one is safe. Worse, Evie’s immunity to magic starts acting in strange, unexpected ways, which makes her wonder whether she is truly strong enough to be a Winter Queen.

But Evie’s magic, life, and crown aren’t the only things in danger—so is her heart, thanks to Lucas Sullivan, the Andvarian king’s bastard son and Evie’s . . . well, Evie isn’t quite sure what Sullivan is to her.

Only one thing is certain—protecting a prince might be even harder than killing a queen…

My Review:

Payback is a bitch.

That truism works in multiple ways in Protect the Prince. After all, this is the second book in the Crown of Shards series, after last year’s absolutely marvelous Kill the Queen. After the events in the series opener, there is PLENTY of payback to go around.

Queen Everleigh Saffira Winter Blair is on both ends of that aphorism in this book. On her one hand, she has the desire, the opportunity, and in many cases the absolute necessity of being the bitch delivering payback to all of the people who cut her down and stepped on her when she was the lowest of the royals in the late Queen Cordelia’s court.

But Queen Everleigh remembers full well every single one of those cuts and slights and insults. The court expects her to conveniently forget, believing that Queen Everleigh is still the doormat that poor Evie pretended to be. But the gloves are off. Queen Everleigh won her throne by right of conquest, and she intends to hold it – and hold everyone’s feet to the fire to keep it.

They may all expect her to be assassinated in less than a year, but she plans to go down swinging. If she has to swing at them first, so be it.

Howsomever, her ascension to her throne didn’t just kill her predecessor, it also upset the plans of the Morta, the “evil empire” next door that planned to conquer the continent using their late puppet queen of Bellona as their stalking horse and the armies of Bellona as cannon fodder – while keeping their own hands clean.

The Mortan assassin who thought she had Bellona under control wants payback after Evie upset all her plans. And she doesn’t care who gets in the way. Or goes down in the way.

Kill the Queen got off to its running start with a red banquet of assassination. Protect the Prince opens with the first of several attempts to assassinate Evie.

But, as much as the Mortans, in the person of the assassin Maevan and her “Bastard Brigade” of illegitimate Mortan royals want to eliminate Evie from the board, she is not their primary target this time around. Not that taking her out wouldn’t be icing on their very bloody cake.

As the title implies, in this second entry in the series it is up to Evie, her friends and whatever help she can enlist, to protect the prince of the neighboring – and formerly allied – kingdom of Andvari. Because the Mortans are playing a very long game, and Andvari is also in their crosshairs.

The only question for Evie is which Andvari prince should she protect? The one she should marry – or the one she wants to.

Escape Rating A+: I finished this in one evening. Well, if 2:30 in the morning still counts as evening. Protect the Prince is utterly awesome and I absolutely loved it.

However, it very much starts in medias res, so for readers who attempt to start the series here it will feel like they’ve started in the middle. Which they have. The actions – and reactions, definitely the reactions – in Protect the Prince all hinge on the events of Kill the Queen. Meaning this is not the right place to start.

For those of us who have devoured Kill the Queen, there is more than enough backstory and reminiscences to bring us right back up to speed. Just not quite enough to start here.

Just as Kill the Queen took off the moment that the first queen in the story was killed, now that Evie is queen the story continues at the breakneck pace set by the last 2/3rds of that first book. Which explains what kept me up until 2:30 am. Protect the Prince starts fast, with a court to lesson and an assassin to eliminate in short order. From that point, the political skullduggery never lets up – and neither does the story.

Kill the Queen was billed as “Gladiator meets Game of Thrones”. I wasn’t sure about that description then, and I’m even less so now. For this reader, the Crown of Shards series feels like a mashup between Queen of the Tearling, The Twelve Kingdoms, and The Goblin Emperor.

Of course, those are awesome antecedents, so being reminiscent of those books is pretty excellent company to be in. The Crown of Shards combines the disregarded royal princess turned queen of Tearling with the ascension by killing mad predecessor of The Twelve Kingdoms (and both have evil magical empires to contend with) while The Goblin Emperor brings in that bit about the disregarded new ruler who isn’t expected to live long and has to garner some respect really, really fast.

At the top, I said that payback is a bitch. In the case of Evie being the bitch delivering the payback, it’s righteous and it feels right. It’s not egregious. She’s not out to kill her own court – no matter how tempting the prospect. But she has to take control and the scene where she does so sets the tone for her reign – and her story. It’s necessary, and I loved the way she fought back with her words and her voice and her appearance, even as under the surface she is dealing with a whole lot of completely understandable impostor syndrome.

A good chunk of Evie’s internal struggle revolves around her both acknowledging that she was not meant to be queen, and is only on the throne by happenstance, but that she is there and has to do the best she can for her people. No matter the cost to herself.

Kill the Queen was all about getting Evie to the throne. Protect the Prince is about her taking control of her place and her power. And it makes for a terrific story.

I can’t wait for the third book in the Crown of Shards, Crush the King, coming next March. I think I know who the king of the title is, I just want to see him get righteously crushed!

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

Review: Someone to Honor by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Honor by Mary BaloghSomeone to Honor (Westcott, #6) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Westcott #6
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley on July 2, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

First appearances deceive in the newest charming and heartwarming Regency romance in the Westcott series from beloved New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh.

Abigail Westcott's dreams for her future were lost when her father died, and she discovered her parents were not legally married. But now, six years later, she enjoys the independence a life without expectation provides a wealthy single woman. Indeed, she's grown confident enough to scold the careless servant chopping wood outside without his shirt on in the proximity of ladies.

But the man is not a servant. He is Gilbert Bennington, the lieutenant colonel and superior officer who has escorted her wounded brother, Harry, home from the wars with Napoleon. Gil has come to help his friend and junior officer recover, and he doesn't take lightly to being condescended to—secretly because of his own humble beginnings.

If at first Gil and Abigail seem to embody what the other most despises, each will soon discover how wrong first impressions can be. For behind the appearances of the once-grand lady and the once-humble man are two people who share an understanding of what true honor means, and how only with it can one find love.

My Review:

The entire Westcott series is the story of one family making lemonade out of what initially were some rather bitter lemons – with no sugar at all.

Humphrey Westcott is dead, to begin with. And that’s a good thing for him, because if he hadn’t died before the series opened, the line to kill him would stretch for miles. The late and totally unlamented Humphrey was a bigamist, a fact that was only discovered after his unexpected death.

The series is the story of all of the applecarts that were upset by that discovery learning, one way or another, and sometimes quite painfully, that the overturning of the lives they thought they had was actually the best thing that ever happened to them.

Someone to Honor is Abigail Westcott’s turn. Abigail was the youngest child and second daughter of Humphrey-the-arsehole and the woman everyone believed was his wife, Viola Kingsley. Abigail, as the daughter of the Earl of Riverdale, as Humphrey the figurative bastard was, expected to have her Season on the Marriage Mart, find a wealthy and titled husband, and be married. It was not necessarily what she wanted, but it was her duty and she seems to have had no objections to fulfilling it.

(I never have anything nice to say about the late, unlamented Humphrey. NO ONE in any of the stories has anything nice to say. If divorce had been possible, his family would have kept Viola and abandoned Humphrey – and he deserves every bit of opprobrium heaped on his coffin. But it is amazing just how present he still is, in spite of his death.)

Abby has spent the last six years trying to figure out who she is and who she wants to be. After all that time, the one thing that she is certain of is that the upending of the life she expected was a gift. She still has her family – all of it including her late father’s family – she still has all the friends who matter – and she knows who her true friends are. She has enough money that she doesn’t have to marry in order to put a roof over her head.

And she has the opportunity to be who she wants to be without having to deal with the expectations of the ton and its perpetual search for any character flaw that allows it to tear down her life, her character, her standing and her prospects.

She’s free.

But she’s not free of her well-meaning family’s desire to make a place for her on the fringes of the society that has rejected her for the so-called stain of her illegitimate birth. She loves them, they love her, she doesn’t want to anger or disappoint them – but she doesn’t want to be begrudged a place in the shadows. That life is over for her – and she knows she’s the better for it.

So when the opportunity arises to stay in her childhood home with her brother Harry, a wounded veteran of Waterloo, she jumps at it. Harry needs someone around who won’t coddle him, and Abby needs the quiet to figure out her next steps in life.

What she does not count on is Harry’s friend Gil, the fellow officer who rescued Harry from a convalescent hospital in Paris and brought him home.

In some ways, Gil and Abby are opposites. Where Abby was raised as a lady only to discover she is a bastard, Gil was raised as a bastard only to rise to the officer ranks, and therefore become a gentleman-by-courtesy, in the Army. The illegitimate son of a washerwoman and a nobleman, Gil raised himself up mostly by his own efforts, while Abby fell through no fault of her own.

In their little household of three, Harry, Abby and Gil, Abby and Gil draw closer to each other in fits and starts. Both over their shared concern about Harry, and in their surprising commonalities with each other.

When Gil’s secrets are finally laid bare, Abby is ready to stand up – and stand beside him – come what may. That the entire Westcott family stands with them guarantees that love will triumph, no matter who stands in the way.

Escape Rating A-: I have loved this series from beginning to end. (There was one half-exception, but even that was good – just not great). A big part of what I love about this series is that they are romances but are not frivolous. Or perhaps I should say that the heroines are not frivolous. The heroines of this series, to a woman, both have agency and remain a part of their times. Their situations are not pulled out of whack in anachronistic ways in order to give them the kind of choices that make them relatable for 21st century readers.

It helps that, with the exception of Anna Snow in Someone to Love, the women are no longer members of the aristocracy. Humphrey’s asshattery pulls them down into the upper middle class, removing them from the absurd expectations of the ton while giving them obstacles to overcome and lives to make of their own choosing.

Abigail can be who and what she wants to be and her family will still love her and support her in the emotional sense. Her finances give her freedom to be anything a woman of her times could be – including a spinster if that’s what she decides.

Her decision to marry Gil is not initially a love match – nor is it an arranged one. They have become friends, more or less. They like and respect each other – and they desire each other. She would like to marry, and Gil needs to marry. They enter their marriage with eyes wide open to everything except their true feelings towards each other. Because the seeds of love are certainly there, even if neither of them has the experience to see them.

Plenty of happy marriages begin with much shakier foundations.

In the end, this is a series about a fascinating group of people dealing with unexpected adversity. Life has thrown a monkey wrench into their expectations, and with each book we see the Westcott’s make lemonade out of that crop of lemons. And we see them rise together and support each other, which is certainly a treat.

The Westcotts seem to be the exception that proves the rule about all happy families being alike – they have become a happy family, and a stronger one, by moving forward from something that should have divided them by behaving in a manner that no one expected. It’s what makes them so much fun to read.

So I’m very happy to say that they’ll be back in Someone to Remember, late in the fall. I can’t wait!

Guest Review: Phaze by S. C. Mitchell

Guest Review: Phaze by S. C. MitchellPhaze by S.C. Mitchell
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal romance, science fiction romance, superhero romance
Series: Xi Force #2
Pages: 215
Published by Soul Mate Publishing on April 4th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

When Kayla Armstrong is attacked in her lab, she falls into a chemical stew. Now she’s walking through walls and falling through floors.

As the leader of Xi Force, Joel Weisberg is always looking for new superheroes for his team. What he wasn’t looking for was sexy Kayla Armstrong falling through the ceiling of his apartment right into his bed. Still he isn’t complaining when the event finds him a new Xi Force member and a new love. Now she just needs some training and some time.

But when an old enemy comes back with new powers and captures Joel, it’s up to Kayla to lead the Xi Force against her. But can they rescue Joel before he’s murdered . . . again?

Guest review by Amy:

Kayla Armstrong is a scientist for a hush-hush operation for the government, dubbed “Xi Force.” From the very first words of the book, she’s doing fancy science for her team, when she’s waylaid by someone who – honest to gosh – teleports into the room, knocks her about, steals her laptop, and vanishes. In the midst of the roughing-up she knocks over a cart with chemicals, and the soup of it she falls into changes her. She’s got superpowers! She’s going to be a field member of Xi Force! Just call her…Phaze.

Escape Rating: A-: I’m not quite sure whether this is a sci-fi romance, or a paranormal. There’s an awful lot of science going on for a paranormal, and an awful lot of mystical woo-woo goings-on happening for a sci-fi. Off the pen of S. C. Mitchell, though, it works, somehow. Kayla falls through the floor of her lab after getting soaked in chemicals, leaving her clothes behind, and landing in the bedroom of the on-site apartment occupied by her boss. Who’s just gorgeous, and she’s had the hots for him for a while. Oh, and he sleeps naked, too. Isn’t that convenient? She rapidly finds out she has the ability to walk through walls, fall through floors, all that. Pass through solid matter. That’d be a handy skill; it’d make it hard for me to lock my keys in the car again.

Joel Weisberg is, of course, a member of Xi Force. Some time in the past, Xi Force got attacked; it was an inside job, near as I can figure, and someone Joel loved. But she turned on him, and did a lot of damage in the process. She’s in prison now…well, until she’s not. And she’s got blood in her eye for Joel. What follows is a mystical, superhero-ey story where the good guys get some help from a dead girl, her mage brother, and a man who had his DNA blended with a wolf. Things move fast, so hang onto your seat. Xi Force originally thinks that all the shenanigans, including the attack on Kayla’s lab, are done by their arch-rivals, the multinational criminal entity Ghaim, but when the leaders of Ghaim start turning up dead, the plot gets thicker than Southern gravy, until finally Amber makes her move. She kidnaps Joel, while he’s on his first date with Kayla, now also known as the superhero Phaze. How rude!

Amber has loosed a demon. She thinks she can control it, but (of course) she’s dead wrong about that. So Xi Force has not only Amber’s powers, augmented by a mystical Japanese sword, but the demon that she’s turned loose in the process. Our hero team takes some lumps, of course, but this wouldn’t be a romance without a happy-ish ending, which, after a bit, they do get.

Phaze is a fun, fast-moving, romp of a read. Nothing too challenging, if you can suspend some disbelief, but all of the science and mystical elements fit just fine in the story, without a lot of exposition, so you can fall right into the tale. Enjoy!

Review: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

Review: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora GossEuropean Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, historical mystery
Series: Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #2
Pages: 720
Published by Gallery / Saga Press on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the sequel to the critically acclaimed The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Mary Jekyll and the rest of the daughters of literature’s mad scientists embark on a madcap adventure across Europe to rescue another monstrous girl and stop the Alchemical Society’s nefarious plans once and for all.

Mary Jekyll’s life has been peaceful since she helped Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve the Whitechapel Murders. Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Mary’s sister Diana Hyde have settled into the Jekyll household in London, and although they sometimes quarrel, the members of the Athena Club get along as well as any five young women with very different personalities. At least they can always rely on Mrs. Poole.

But when Mary receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped, the Athena Club must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue yet another young woman who has been subjected to horrific experimentation. Where is Lucinda, and what has Professor Van Helsing been doing to his daughter? Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, and Justine reach her in time?

Racing against the clock to save Lucinda from certain doom, the Athena Club embarks on a madcap journey across Europe. From Paris to Vienna to Budapest, Mary and her friends must make new allies, face old enemies, and finally confront the fearsome, secretive Alchemical Society. It’s time for these monstrous gentlewomen to overcome the past and create their own destinies.

My Review:

After absolutely raving about The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, I couldn’t resist picking up European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. I had so much fun with the first book that I couldn’t resist the second – and now I’m eagerly awaiting the third.

This story, and this series so far, is the story of all of the erased women in all of the classic monster and horror stories of the 19th century. It’s their voices that give this rollicking tale both its derring-do and its monstrous heart, and it’s marvelous from beginning to end.

As this story opens, Mary Jekyll (Dr. Jekyll’s daughter), Diana Hyde (Edward Hyde’s daughter), Catherine Moreau (Dr. Moreau’s daughter), Justine Frankenstein (Dr. Frankenstein’s daughter) and Beatrice Rappaccini (the Poisonous Girl) have banded together to form the Athena Club, which is both their home and their place of business.

And the heart of their quest to investigate the completely amoral Société des Alchemists, of which all of their fathers were members – if not necessarily in good standing. Under the auspices of the Société, their fathers experimented on all of them in one monstrous way or another. And they want the Société stopped.

So when Mary receives a letter from her former teacher and governess, Mina Harker (nee) Murray, the women of the Athena Club drop all their plans and race to Vienna. Why? Because Mina’s friend Lucinda van Helsing has gone missing, and Mina rightfully fears that Lucinda is being experimented upon by her father, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, and that Lucinda needs to be rescued. And Dr. Van Helsing needs to be stopped.

Of course they are right on all counts. And, come to think of it, Counts. With the help of Irene Norton (nee) Adler in Vienna, the Athena Club races to save the day – and rescue their newfound sister.

No matter what it takes.

Escape Rating A+: This is another book where I started with the audio, and had an absolute blast. Part of what makes the audios for this series so much fun is the way that the story is told. Catherine Moreau is writing the story, but she is writing it in the presence of all of the other women, who cannot resist adding their bits to just about every line.

All of the women have very distinct personalities, and those personalities come through both in their words and in the voicing of the excellent narrator, Kate Reading. If you have the time to take this series in via audio, it is well worth the time.

But I don’t have that much patience. I reached a point, about halfway, where I just couldn’t stand it anymore and had to finish in the ebook. I needed to know what happened next (and next and next) so badly that I just couldn’t wait.

The story hook for this series is just awesome. All I have to do is say “Jekyll’s daughter and Hyde’s daughter and Moreau’s daughter and Frankenstein’s daughter” and whoever I’m talking to (read as squeeing about this series to) is instantly intrigued and wants to know more. It’s terribly monstrous and terribly wonderful and absolutely fantastic.

Part of what makes this series so much fun is the “who’s who” of 19th century horror. All of the men of the Société des Alchemists were the heroes of their respective novels, but to the Athena Club they are all the villains. And their fathers. And doesn’t that make for a fascinating brew of love and guilt and horror and ultimately, adventure?

Every woman in this story – except Irene Norton – has daddy issues. And so they all should, because their daddies literally turned them into monsters. It’s the way that they cope with their monstrousness and rise above the restrictions placed on females that makes this series so very delicious.

About Irene, she’s the perfect “mentor” figure for this series. If her name sounded familiar, it should. Irene Norton, nee Irene Adler, was THE woman in the Sherlock Holmes stories, the only woman ever to get the better of him. Holmes is out of the action in this one – appropriately so – and it is time for a woman to take up the reins. Irene is perfect for this role because unlike Holmes, Irene is used to working from the shadows. The members of the Athena Club do not need someone to protect them, a role that Holmes and Watson constantly try to assume. Irene enables them and lets them do their work.

And she’s a marvelous character in her own right, in multiple senses of that phrase.

By the end of European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, the Athena Club has acquired more members – and more allies. Just in time to rescue Sherlock Holmes from Moriarty in their next adventure, The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl. I can’t wait.

Review: The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

Review: The Sentence is Death by Anthony HorowitzThe Sentence is Death (Hawthorne, #2) by Anthony Horowitz, Rory Kinnear
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Hawthorne #2
Pages: 384
Published by HarperAudio on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

8 hours, 36 minutes

Death, deception, and a detective with quite a lot to hide stalk the pages of Anthony Horowitz’s brilliant murder mystery, the second in the bestselling series starring Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne.

“You shouldn’t be here. It’s too late . . . “

These, heard over the phone, were the last recorded words of successful celebrity-divorce lawyer Richard Pryce, found bludgeoned to death in his bachelor pad with a bottle of wine—a 1982 Chateau Lafite worth £3,000, to be precise.

Odd, considering he didn’t drink. Why this bottle? And why those words? And why was a three-digit number painted on the wall by the killer? And, most importantly, which of the man’s many, many enemies did the deed?

Baffled, the police are forced to bring in Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, the author Anthony, who’s really getting rather good at this murder investigation business.

But as Hawthorne takes on the case with characteristic relish, it becomes clear that he, too, has secrets to hide. As our reluctant narrator becomes ever more embroiled in the case, he realizes that these secrets must be exposed—even at the risk of death . . .

My Review:

This series doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as hammer it down to the ground with a police truncheon – and extreme prejudice.

The Sentence is Death begins much the same way that The Word is Murder kicked off the series – with an unexplained death and ex-cop turned police consultant Daniel Hawthorne interrupting our author/his Watson in the midst of an important real-life event.

Anthony Horowitz was late to the set on the first day of shooting season 7 of Foyle’s War. Whether the day went exactly as outlined in The Sentence is Death, both the series and the episode are as portrayed in this book. You can still hear the echoes of the fourth wall shattering from here.

Horowitz, more explicitly Watson to Hawthorne’s not just misanthropic but often downright sociopathic Holmes, finds himself dragged into yet another one of Hawthorne’s strangely compelling cases. A case that has already cost at least one man his life, and might very well cost the author his career – if he’s not careful.

The problem for the author is that while he’s never sure that he actually likes Hawthorne – and it’s impossible to blame him for that judgment – the man only comes to “Tony” when he has a truly puzzling case to solve – over and above the fascinating case of Hawthorne himself.

“Tony” can’t resist getting dragged along in Hawthorne’s wake yet again. No matter how much he knows that he should.

Escape Rating A-: This was a rare case where I stayed with the audiobook all the way through. Not that I wasn’t impatient to see how it ended, but the audiobook was just SO GOOD. The narrator, Rory Kinnear, does an excellent job of voicing all the characters and differentiating them all. Each character in the story was very distinct in accent, in tone and in their manner of speaking.

And it’s also short enough of an audiobook that I didn’t have to play too much Solitaire to finish it in less than a week. (Which reminds me, the book is 384 pages, but there is a lot of white space and relatively big printing on those pages. It’s a breeze to read or listen to.)

The series in general, and this entry in particular, feels like a combination of whodunnit, whydunnit and Sherlock Holmes homage. The references to this being a Holmes homage, with Hawthorne as Holmes and Horowitz as Watson, are particularly explicit in this story, to the point where “Tony” (he hates it when Hawthorne calls him that and it differentiates the character IN the book from the writer OF the book – at least a little) tells Hawthorne just how much he dislikes being his Watson. Particularly since, just like the popular image of Watson, he never seems to figure out whodunnit ahead of his Sherlock.

Hawthorne is an extremely annoying character, and “Tony” is generally pretty annoyed at him. Hawthorne is always a disruption to his life – and it seems like working with Hawthorne puts “Tony” in danger of losing either his career or his life at every turn.

One of the mind-twisty parts of this story, in addition to the murder itself, is just how much of a nebbish the character of “Tony” turns out to be. There’s always a bit of a disjunct in my mind, as my mental image of the author bears a sharp resemblance to Michael Kitchen’s portrayal of Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War. Not that I have any personal knowledge, but Foyle’s War was my first serious exposure to the author and I recognize I’ve conflated him with the character he created. It’s not about how either of them looks, it’s that Foyle is both thoughtful and decisive, and it’s jarring to see “Tony” as a bit of a milquetoast. Hawthorne pushes him around – a LOT – and so do the police detectives assigned to the case.

But that case is intricate and absorbing and convoluted. The resolution is completely unexpected, not just by “Tony” but by the reader as well. At the same time, it thoroughly follows the conventions of the mystery genre, so that once you do know whodunnit, you can see that all the clues have been there all along – just like they are supposed to be – and that the solution was obvious IF you made the correct connections. As Hawthorne certainly did.

In the end, all is made tragically clear. But “Tony” is tired of playing Hawthorne’s bumbling Watson. He wants out. He wants to go back to Foyle’s War and his next “real” Sherlock Holmes book, Moriarty.

But we just know that he’ll be swept into Hawthorne’s orbit yet again, as soon as there’s another case worth writing about. And we’ll be sucked back in right along with him!

Review: Ramen Assassin by Rhys Ford + Guest Recipe! + Giveaway

Review: Ramen Assassin by Rhys Ford + Guest Recipe! + GiveawayRamen Assassin (Ramen Assassin #1) by Rhys Ford
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Ramen Assassin #1
Pages: 216
Published by Dreamspinner Press on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When life gives Kuro Jenkins lemons, he wants to make ponzu to serve at his Los Angeles ramen shop.

Instead he’s dodging bullets and wondering how the hell he ended up back in the black ops lifestyle he left behind. After rescuing former child star Trey Bishop from a pair of murderous thugs, he reluctantly picks his guns up again. It seems trouble isn’t done with Trey, and Kuro can’t quite let go… of either danger or Trey.

Trey never denied his life’s downward spiral was his own fault. After stints in rehab, he’s finally shaken off his Hollywood bad-boy lifestyle, but not his reputation. The destruction of his career and relationships was epic, and no one trusts anything he says, including the LAPD. When two men dragging a dead body spot him on a late-night run, then try to murder him, Trey is thankful for the tall, dark, and deadly ramen shop owner not just for rescuing him, but also for believing him.

Now caught in a web of murders and lies, Trey knows someone wants him dead, and the only one on his side is a man with dark secrets. Trey hopes Kuro will stick around to see what the future holds for them once the dust settles, but from the looks of things, neither of them may survive to find out.

My Review:

This book will make you hungry. For some good ramen. (The author has even sent a recipe to get you started!) And for more of this series and these characters. Consider yourself warned!

I want to say that the opening of Ramen Assassin reminds me more than a bit of Sinner’s Gin. But that’s not strictly true. What the initial scenes really remind me of is the opening of a James Bond movie, the part before the opening credits where Bond finds himself unexpectedly in the middle of a firefight and has to kill someone whose death seems coincidental but turns out to be critical to the main story.

And that is the way that Ramen Assassin opens. Kuro Jenkins is a covert (US) government agent, and he enters the story rescuing a bunch of kidnapped children, tearing up the streets in a bullet-riddled van only to crash through the gates of the American Embassy and smack dab into a crowd of international reporters covering a garden party.

With his cover completely, totally and utterly blown, and his body nearly as full of bullets as that van, Kuro hangs up his secret identity and opens a tiny noodle shop in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles.

Just because he’s hung up his secret identity doesn’t mean that he’s put away all the tools of his former trade. That turns out to be a good thing for washed-up former child star Trey Bishop, when Trey races past his closed shop in the middle of the night, chased by armed goons for no reason that Trey knows.

Except that he witnessed those goons transporting a very dead body – an act they clearly don’t want any witnesses for – whether those witnesses will be believed or not.

And this is the point where the opening starts reminding me of Sinner’s Gin. Because Trey needs protection – not just from the goons, but from his sister-the-cop, the dysfunctional rich family that he has disappointed at every turn, and his own demons.

In protecting Trey, Kuro discovers that he’s never lost the taste for the adrenaline rush of his old job – and hasn’t lost many of his skills either. He’ll need to be back on his A game to protect Trey from whoever is out to get him – because that dead guy was not the figment of Trey’s formerly drug-addled mind as the police in general and his sister in particular want to believe it was.

Someone is out to get Trey, and Kuro is the only thing standing in their way. If he’ll stick. Something that neither Trey nor Kuro have much practice in. But the goon squad is playing for keeps – and it turns out, so is Kuro. And surprising everyone who knows him, so is Trey.

If Kuro can keep both of them alive long enough to figure it all out.

Escape Rating A-: It’s not just that the relationship between Kuro and Trey reminds me more than a bit of the relationship between Miki St. John and Kane Morgan in Sinner’s Gin – although it does. It’s also that we discover very early on that Trey is a fan of Miki’s – so this is the same world and it’s possible they might overlap at some point.

I hope so, it’s always good to see how old friends are doing – and for many, many readers, the cast of the Sinner’s series have become very good friends indeed. However, the connection is extremely loose and there’s no NEED to read the Sinner’s series before Ramen Assassin, but if you like this you’ll like that and vice versa.

But back to Ramen Assassin, which has to be one of the great titles. It’s completely apt, brings a smile to the reader’s face, intrigues one to read more to figure it out – and it’s absolutely apropos. Kuro may not have exactly been an assassin, but he was a government agent with the proverbial license to kill, and he is currently a ramen shop owner and chef.

Ramen Assassin is romantic suspense, at least it’s that more than it’s any other genre. As romantic suspense, that means there are two primary plot threads, one is the budding romantic relationship between Kuro and Trey, and the second is figuring out who is after Trey and why so that our heroes can figure out whether they have a future together – after they deal with whoever is trying to prevent them from having a future at all.

Watching Kuro and Trey hesitantly work towards a relationship is beautifully torturous. They sorta/kinda knew each other before the alley shootout. They live in the same neighborhood, Kuro lives above his shop, and Trey is a semi-regular customer. They’ve been eyeing each other for a while, but they both have cases of the “I’m not worthys”, albeit coming from entirely different perspectives.

Kuro’s former occupation did not exactly lend itself to long-term relationships, as evidenced by any spy thriller or cop series where the operative has to remain unknown and undercover. Having to lie about who you are, what you do and where you go is not exactly conducive to any relationship longer than a brief fling.

Kuro’s just inexperienced and out of practice – not that he ever had much – at relationships. Trey, however, has a metric buttload of baggage dragging behind him. He doesn’t think he’s worthy of a relationship or capable of being part of one because he hasn’t been. He was a spoiled, indulged child star who descended into booze, drugs and entirely too many self-induced near-death experiences. He’s lied, cheated and stolen to get his next fix, and his family are the people he’s lied to the most. Hence his sister-the-cop’s complete distrust of anything he says or does.

But Trey’s been clean and sober for two years now – and beginning to be fed up with continuing to pay for his mistakes. Not that there weren’t plenty of them and not that he didn’t deserve to pay and pay plenty. But there has to be a point where the hard work that he’s done in the past two years earns him at least a tiny bit of “trust but verify” instead of suspicion and derision and only suspicion and derision.

With Kuro, Trey has a clean slate. Building a relationship is hard – it’s hard for both of them. But watching them work towards it is terrific. They earn their chance at happy.

The suspense plot starts with a bang. Honestly, lots of bangs. Initially, it seems very simple – two goons are transporting a dead body and try to clean up the only witness – Trey. But that simple beginning spirals out of control in every possible direction. The goons go after Kuro directly – big mistake. More goons come after Trey. That initial dead body is somehow tied to Trey’s uber-rich daddy and his very successful business. The cops are fixed in their belief that everything must be Trey’s fault. And it kind of is, but not anything like the way they think it is.

In the end, the mess goes into (I really want to say “goos” into, because it’s a big sploogy mess), some of the shadier parts of Kuro’s past and some of the murkier places of not Trey’s past but his dad’s. And finally explodes in a direction that felt like it came a bit out of left field – at least for this reader.

I loved Ramen Assassin. I enjoyed the developing relationship between Kuro and Trey, the beginnings of Trey’s redemption with his highly dysfunctional family, and peeks into Kuro’s secret history.

I’m hungry for more. Soon, please!

Guest Post from Rhys (and Recipe from Kuro!)

Hi! I am Rhys Ford and I would like to welcome you to this stop on the Ramen Assassin Blog Tour!

I am looking forward to introducing you a new series as well as two very fun characters I enjoyed writing, Kuro Jenkins and Trey Bishop. The first book, Ramen Assassin, came to me as a nebulous idea but then really pushed into the forefront of my brain while I was beginning to write Hellion, the third book in the 415 Ink series. Unfortunately, I scared TA Moore with a very bad habit of mine called staring into space while thinking. I was contemplating the ins and outs of a series called Ramen Assassin and she took my crazed, unfocused look as the possibility of a spider of the wall behind her.

There was no spider. But what did come out of it was a murder mystery about a former government operative turned ramen chef and the recovering drug addict, former child star he saves from certain death and eventually falls in love with.

This book allowed me to combine two things I love — killing people and cooking. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. On this blog tour, I’m going to be sharing a few of my favorite dishes as well as a how to throw together ramen with what you have in your pantry and refrigerator. Please be sure to hit up every single stop on the blog tour for a different recipe at each stop as well as that blog’s giveaway!

Be sure to enter to win a twenty dollar gift certificate from Dreamspinnerpress.com! One for every stop!

And now, onto the food…

Oyakodon

Ingredients

1⁄4 cup onions, peeled and sliced julienne
1  boneless chicken thigh cut into bite-size strips
1⁄8 cup kamaboko (fish cake) cut into strips (optional)
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons dashi, you can use scratch or instant. In a bind, chicken stock will work.
2 Eggs

Garnish
1 pinch sliced green onions
1 dash furikake optional / nori flakes will do

 Instructions

Break 2 eggs into a bowl, and lightly beat the eggs, make sure that the whites and the yolk are not completely incorporated. It should look partially separated.

Combine the onions, chicken, kamaboko, mirin, soy sauce, sake, and dashi in a 6 inch non stick pan and place over high heat. When the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 3 minutes, until the chicken cooks through. Move the pan around as it cooks.

While the broth is still lightly simmering, pour three-fourths of the egg mixture over the chicken, onions, and broth.

Leave the pan still and do not mix for about 1 minute.

Add the remaining one-fourth egg over the ingredients in the pan. Cover the skillet and cook for 30 seconds more.

Turn off the heat, and let the oyakodon rest, covered, for 1 minute.

While the oyakodon is resting, portion the rice into a bowl. Gently slide the Oyako into the bowl and garnish. Serve immediately.

About the Author

Rhys Ford is an award-winning author with several long-running LGBT+ mystery, thriller, paranormal, and urban fantasy series and is a two-time LAMBDA finalist with her Murder and Mayhem novels. She is also a 2017 Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Florida Authors and Publishers President’s Book Awards for her novels Ink and Shadows and Hanging the Stars. She is published by Dreamspinner Press and DSP Publications.

She’s also quite skeptical about bios without a dash of something personal and really, who doesn’t mention their cats, dog and cars in a bio? She shares the house with Harley, a grey tuxedo with a flower on her face, Badger, a disgruntled alley cat who isn’t sure living inside is a step up the social ladder as well as a ginger cairn terrorist named Gus. Rhys is also enslaved to the upkeep a 1979 Pontiac Firebird and enjoys murdering make-believe people.

Rhys can be found at the following locations:

Blog: www.rhysford.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/rhys.ford.author
Twitter: @Rhys_Ford
On Your Alexa device on the Alexa Skills at: https://www.amazon.com/Witlingo-Rhys-Ford-Casting/dp/B07N7MJ7C8/

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

Rhys is giving away a $20 Dreamspinner Press Gift Certificate at every stop on this tour. Fill out the Rafflecopter to enter here!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow the rest of the blog tour here:

Review: The Women’s War by Jenna Glass

Review: The Women’s War by Jenna GlassThe Women's War (Women's War, #1) by Jenna Glass
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Women's War #1
Pages: 560
Published by Del Rey Books on March 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In a high fantasy feminist epic, a revolutionary spell gives women the ability to control their own fertility—with consequences that rock their patriarchal society to its core.

When a nobleman’s first duty is to produce a male heir, women are treated like possessions and bargaining chips. But as the aftereffects of a world-altering spell ripple out physically and culturally, women at last have a bargaining chip of their own. And two women in particular find themselves at the crossroads of change.

Alys is the widowed mother of two teenage children, and the disinherited daughter of a king. Her existence has been carefully proscribed, but now she discovers a fierce talent not only for politics but also for magic—once deemed solely the domain of men. Meanwhile, in a neighboring kingdom, young Ellin finds herself unexpectedly on the throne after the sudden death of her grandfather the king and everyone else who stood ahead of her in the line of succession. Conventional wisdom holds that she will marry quickly, then quietly surrender the throne to her new husband…. Only, Ellin has other ideas.

The tensions building in the two kingdoms grow abruptly worse when a caravan of exiled women and their escort of disgraced soldiers stumbles upon a new source of magic in what was once uninhabitable desert. This new and revolutionary magic—which only women can wield—threatens to tear down what is left of the patriarchy. And the men who currently hold power will do anything to fight back.

My Review:

There are books that become touchstones, not just in our reading lives, but in our real ones as well. The first explicitly feminist fantasy/science fiction book that I read was The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper, over 30 years ago. And I still remember just how shook I was by the ending.

But because that book is such a touchstone for me, my first impression of The Women’s War was just how much it reminded me of The Gate to Women’s Country. (Whether the older book wears well I have no idea – and no desire to find out. It meant what it meant to me at the time, and what I think now is about how it made me feel and what it made me think back then. I’m aware that time has (hopefully) moved on but that books are static, and I’ll leave it at that.)

At the same time, it also reminds me of the much more recent The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons, in that very little of what appears on the surface has more than a passing resemblance to what is going on underneath and behind the scenes. And that the best laid plans of mice, men and women go all too oft astray.

The Women’s War, both the book and the war that eventually engenders within the book, begin with hope – and death. Three women band together to create a spell that they hope in its aftermath will give the women of their world more agency than they currently have – which is none.

They are all willing to pay the ultimate price – they will all die in the hope that they give their sisters – in one case her actual, literal sister – a chance at a better life. Eventually. They know the price between now and then will be bloody – beginning with their own.

In a world where women have no voice, no agency, and no purposes except to either breed heirs or be sex slaves, the far reaching spell cast by three disgraced priestesses gives ALL the women in the world two powers. The first causes the most immediate damage. From that moment forward, a woman can only become pregnant if SHE truly wants the child.

A lot of women have miscarriages that night, as their children were conceived in either duty or rape. A lot of men are beyond furious at having lost “their” rightful heirs. A lot of women are also heartbroken – but their feelings have never counted in this world. Which is the point of the whole story, after all.

And those men all know who to blame. But the women they want to punish are dead and out of their reach. But every other woman can be punished in their place. Which gives rise to the second power. Women who are raped or otherwise abused acquire the ability to cast death spells, spells that used to be the province of men and only men.

The world is going to change, whether the men who make up the patriarchy like it or not.

One woman is the focus of that change, the adult daughter of one of those disgraced priestesses. Alys may have had nothing to do with her mother’s spell, but her vile and jealous half-brother does not care. Indeed, has never cared about anyone or anything besides himself.

As the newly crowned king, he can punish anyone he wants, in any way he wants. He’s just certain that if he beats enough women badly enough, and tortures and kills enough women to make him feel like he is in control of the situation – someone will fix it.

Unless someone fixes him.

Escape Rating A: Unlike most epic fantasy, this first book in the Women’s War series does not end in a happy or triumphant place. It’s more of a “things are always darkest just before they turn completely black” kind of a place. But it seems fitting for what feels like just the opening salvo in a very long and extremely dirty war.

The situation at the beginning of this one is dire, not just for our protagonists, but for every woman in every country in this world. The situation is so bleak that the reader completely understands why those women would give their lives in the hope that someday the situation might be better – even though they will not live to see it.

Which does not mean that one of them at least cannot envision the death and destruction that will inevitably occur in their wake.

This is still June, which means this is still Audiobook Month. The Women’s War is another book where I started in audio but finished in ebook. (Let’s just say that I did not hang around in the line when they were passing out patience.) But as much as I couldn’t wait to discover how this story ended, listening to the two female protagonists as they cope with – and sometimes don’t – all of the forces that are arrayed against them, gave their situations a sense of immediacy, and gave me as the reader a strong feeling of empathy.

Both their situations are dreadful, the plight of women in their world is dire, and it makes for a rough read. As readers we feel for them, want things to get better for them, but know all too well that whatever better world may be coming, it’s not there yet, it may never be there for either of them, and that their journeys through their own personal Mordors is going to be damn awful.

Speaking of damn awful, the villain of this piece goes well beyond embodying that term. He comes extremely close to being too far over the top. If he falls over that top without a bit more depth of explanation or personality, the series may reach villain-fail, but it hasn’t yet.

The Women’s War is intended as an explicitly feminist read, an eventual overthrow of the patriarchies that so often dominate epic fantasy. Some readers will question, and rightfully so, why in this story where women’s voices are predominate and particularly in some of the circumstances into which women have been forced, there are no queer women anywhere in the narrative. Just because men saw women’s only purposes as either sex slaves or brood mares does not mean that there wouldn’t be some women who turned to other women for comfort or who desired women exclusively whether any men knew or saw or cared – or most likely did not. In fact, in many of the scenarios described, I would expect to see such women, and there are none. Hopefully this will be addressed, because it’s just not logical at present.

In the end, I have to say that I loved this book. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two protagonists, the young Ellin who is expected to be Queen Figurehead of her country but who plans to be Queen Regnant, and middle-aged Alys, old enough to see just how wrong things are and just how hard it will be to change them – but tries anyway.

I can’t wait to read about the next battles in the Women’s War. I hope to see them both emerge triumphant!