Review; Someone to Remember by Mary Balogh

Review; Someone to Remember by Mary BaloghSomeone to Remember (Westcott, #7) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Westcott #7
Pages: 272
Published by Berkley Books on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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It's never too late to fall in love in this enchanting new story, a novella in the Westcott series from New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh.

Matilda Westcott has spent her life tending to the needs of her mother, the Dowager Countess of Riverdale, never questioning the web of solitude she has spun herself. To Matilda, who considers herself an aging spinster daughter, marriage is laughable--love is a game for the young, after all. But her quiet, ordered life unravels when a dashing gentleman from her past reappears, threatening to charm his way into her heart yet again.

Charles Sawyer, Viscount Dirkson, does not expect to face Matilda Westcott thirty-six years after their failed romance. Moreover, he does not expect decades-old feelings to emerge at the very sight of her. When encountering Matilda at a dinner hosted by the Earl of Riverdale, he finds himself as fascinated by her as he was the first day they met, and wonders whether, after all these years, they have a chance at happiness together. Charles is determined to crack the hard exterior Matilda has built up for more than three decades, or he will risk losing her once again....

*Includes bonus excerpts from the Westcott novels*

My Review:

There’s always something that links all the books in an ongoing series. It’s often family – or at least found family. Sometimes it’s place – even if occasionally that’s work place rather than home place.

At first, in the terrific, long-running Westcott series (start with Someone to Love and settle in for a fantastic binge-read), it seemed like it was family. And it sort of is. The late, unlamented Humphrey Westcott is a presence throughout the series, even in his absence.

Very much in his absence, as the series only kicks off because he’s kicked off.

But now I’m starting to think that the link between all the entries in the series is that all these people, at least one in each story, had lives that were blighted in some way by the late unlamented, and their story is their chance at a Happy Ever After that he denied them, or delayed for them, or did or would have derailed in one way or another.

While it’s fairly obvious exactly how Humphrey blighted the lives of the children who thought they were legitimate – only to discover they were not (Camille in Someone to Hold, Abigail in Someone to Honor), or the wife who discovered that she wasn’t (Viola in Someone to Care) it’s a bit less obvious here.

But still relevant. It’s not that Humphrey had the direct ability to prevent his older sister’s marriage – because he didn’t. But his misbehavior did. His sister Matilda and his parents wanted to believe that Humphrey’s terrible behavior were the result of him being led astray by his scandalous friend Charles Sawyer. Sawyer’s behavior after Matilda rejected his suit certainly lent credence to that belief.

Sawyer became such a figure of scandal, even after his ascension to his father’s title, that it made him a byword as a rake and a rogue. And Matilda comforted herself with that, even as she continued into spinsterhood, at the beck and call of her rather waspish mother.

Or so it all seemed. For years. Decades even. Until Matilda inserted herself back into Charles’ life, however briefly, in order to wrest some happiness for one of those blighted nieces at the end of Someone to Honor.

Only to discover that very few of the things that either Matilda – or her mother – assumed long ago were quite the way they appeared to be. Humphrey’s long-ago scandalous behavior was certainly not due to the malign influence of Charles – more likely the other way around.

And that even 36 long years is not enough to erase a love that was meant to be. After all, it’s never too late to become the person you might have been.

Escape Rating A-:With one half of an exception, I’ve loved every single book in this series, and Someone to Remember is definitely not an exception to that!

But Someone to Remember is different from the other books in this series. First, this is a novella, so it’s rather delightfully short. (It’s even shorter than it appears to be from the description as a fair bit of that page count is devoted to teaser chapters for ALL of the previous books in the series).

Second, while one could start the series in any number of places – Humphrey casts such a long shadow that his disgraceful actions are explained at least a bit in every story – there’s no way to start the series here. Someone to Remember works because we have read what has come before and are already rather deeply involved with the Westcott family. And some of what makes this story so lovely is the way that the assumptions that we – and Matilda – have come to during previous events get so delightfully turned on their heads in this one.

Third, this is a story that has more internal life than external. It’s a story where more – much more – is thought and felt than occurs on the surface. Matilda, and Charles spend a lot of this book thinking about the past and their missed chances – the many roads not taken – and those events in the past are more dramatic than what happens in the present.

It’s not so much that this is a second chance at love story as it is that it exemplifies a quote from John Greenleaf Whittier that goes, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.” Charles and Matilda spend much of this story contemplating those ‘might have beens’, looking back at all that they did, and just how different the present might be if they had done things just a bit differently. And yet, the problem with wanting to change things is that things change. Just because things might have been different, doesn’t mean they would have been better.

They’ll never know what that different past might have looked like, even though neither of them can stop thinking about it. All they can do is move forward into a new and brighter present – and future. And it’s lovely to read a romance between two 50somethings that, while different, is every bit as romantic as any story in this lovely and charming series.

And this series is blissfully not over. After all, Humphrey Westcott blighted a LOT of lives. The next book in the series will be Someone to Romance, this time next year.

Review: The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blalock

Review: The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie BlalockThe Other Windsor Girl: A Novel of Princess Margaret, Royal Rebel by Georgie Blalock
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In a historical debut evoking the style of The Crown, the daughter of an impoverished noble is swept into the fame and notoriety of the royal family and Princess Margaret's fast-living friends when she is appointed as Margaret's second Lady-in-Waiting.

Diana, Catherine, Meghan…glamorous Princess Margaret outdid them all. Springing into post-World War II society, and quite naughty and haughty, she lived in a whirlwind of fame and notoriety. Georgie Blalock captures the fascinating, fast-living princess and her “set” as seen through the eyes of one of her ladies-in-waiting.

In dreary, post-war Britain, Princess Margaret captivates everyone with her cutting edge fashion sense and biting quips. The royal socialite, cigarette holder in one hand, cocktail in the other, sparkles in the company of her glittering entourage of wealthy young aristocrats known as the Margaret Set, but her outrageous lifestyle conflicts with her place as Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister. Can she be a dutiful princess while still dazzling the world on her own terms?

Post-war Britain isn’t glamorous for The Honorable Vera Strathmore. While writing scandalous novels, she dreams of living and working in New York, and regaining the happiness she enjoyed before her fiancé was killed in the war. A chance meeting with the Princess changes her life forever. Vera amuses the princess, and what—or who—Margaret wants, Margaret gets. Soon, Vera gains Margaret’s confidence and the privileged position of second lady-in-waiting to the Princess. Thrust into the center of Margaret’s social and royal life, Vera watches the princess’s love affair with dashing Captain Peter Townsend unfurl.

But while Margaret, as a member of the Royal Family, is not free to act on her desires, Vera soon wants the freedom to pursue her own dreams. As time and Princess Margaret’s scandalous behavior progress, both women will be forced to choose between status, duty, and love…

My Review:

Vera Strathmore may be telling this story, but it’s Princess Margaret who dominates every single page, just as she does Vera for ten of the best/worst/most notorious years of both of their lives.

This isn’t a complete biography of Margaret, nor is it intended as nonfiction. Not that the reader doesn’t wonder, every single step of the way, how much fact underlies the fiction.

After all, this was a storied life, conducted all too frequently in public, and most of the facts are known. Whether the author has captured the feelings behind those facts? Well, that’s something that the reader will have to decide for themselves.

But what we have feels like a peek behind the scenes of Buckingham Palace – or Buck Place as it is referred to in the book – into the life of Princess Margaret, the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, during Margaret’s glory years. The years when Margaret was to the post-war Press what Princess Diana became in the late-20th century – a source for endless photographs and reams of scandalous speculation and gossip, as well as a tear-jerker of a story of tragic romance.

The difference is that Margaret outlived her legend, while Diana never did.

But the times were very different. In 1949, when Vera meets the Princess, Britain is still languishing in the doldrums of post-war austerity. Unlike the US, rationing was still in force – and enforced. The old, privileged aristocratic way of life, so lovingly portrayed in Downton Abbey, was breathing its last – and Vera felt like her life was expiring with it.

Princess Margaret in 1951

Into the gloom of Vera’s life, as well as the gloom of post-war Britain, Princess Margaret, her outrageous bon mots and the larger-than-life antics of her “Set” blew through like a strong wind – a harbinger of change.

In the story, Vera served the Princess from 1949 to 1959. During that decade, Margaret went from the spoiled and self-indulgent but favorite daughter of the King to the disregarded and scandal-prone sister of the Queen. It’s no surprise that the years when Margaret is at her most sparkling are the years before her beloved father’s death.

And that she never manages to recapture that sparkle again.

Instead, we watch through Vera’s eyes as the Princess’ “set” breaks up and Margaret is increasingly alone. While the author never attempts to portray Margaret’s inner life, we see her actions, and their consequences, through Vera as she makes the Princess’ world her own – to her own detriment.

Because the Princess lives in a bubble of her own making. And when Vera, out of love and friendship, pricks that bubble even a little, she finds herself on the outside, alone and adrift, as everyone around her warned she would.

It’s only at that point that Vera finally takes her life in her own hands and forges her own path. A feat that Margaret, for all her privilege, never manages to achieve.

Escape Rating A-: I stayed up half the night reading this. It was like the best kind of gossip – compelling and absolutely fascinating from beginning to end, a peek into a world that I’ll never see in real life. At the same time, it also has the compulsion of driving by a wreck and being unable not to look. Knowing anything of Princess Margaret’s history we already know it’s a train wreck – but we can’t turn our eyes away as the vehicle – in this case Margaret’s life – crashes and burns.

I will also say that it is weird to see events that I remember contemporaneously being treated as historical fiction. Very weird. The whole idea that the 1960s have now become “historical” feels very odd indeed.

What everyone remembers of Margaret’s life is the irony factor in her tragic romance with Peter Townsend. In 1936, her uncle King Edward VIII was forced to abdicate the throne to her father, King George VI, because he wasn’t permitted to marry divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson. The head of the Church of England could not marry a divorced person. By 1953, Margaret had dropped from being heir presumptive to the throne on her sister’s ascension to being fourth in line after Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. But she was still high enough in that line, and divorce was still so deeply frowned upon that her desire to marry the divorced Peter Townsend – was forbidden by both her sister the Queen and the Church of England.

I always found it ironic that Margaret’s eventual marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones ended in divorce. In 1953 it was anathema for her to marry a divorcé, but by 1978 she had become one herself. In all likelihood, Margaret’s marital failure paved the way for the acceptance of the same by several of her royal nephews and nieces, including the Prince of Wales.

Princess Margaret in 1958

But Margaret in the 1950s is a compelling character who stands firmly at the center of this story – to the point where Vera and her own needs, wants and desires fade into the background – even for herself. We also see Margaret change from glittering to brittle as the spotlight moves away from her to her sister, the “perfect” Queen.

While Margaret had always been capricious and frequently cutting, the more she is pushed into the background the more she tried to escape that background by being as outrageous as possible – and the more those around her suffered for her whims and moods. Margaret is never a villain, but she is also never someone that Vera could or should rely on. Her whims could be cruel, and Vera and the other members of Margaret’s household were her closest and most frequent targets.

In the end, this is the portrayal of two women locked together in a crisis of their own making. The one who seemingly holds all the cards having less freedom than the one who initially feels like the dependent partner of a codependent relationship.

Margaret’s life was a train wreck, not all of it of her own making. And we can’t turn our eyes away.

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Review: Tell Me No Lies by Shelley Noble + Giveaway

Review: Tell Me No Lies by Shelley Noble + GiveawayTell Me No Lies (Lady Dunbridge) by Shelley Noble
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Dunbridge #2
Pages: 368
Published by Forge Books on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Miss Fisher meets Downton Abbey in Tell Me No Lies, part of the critically acclaimed Lady Dunbridge Mystery series from New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble.

Rise and shine, Countess, you're about to have a visitor.

Lady Dunbridge was not about to let a little thing like the death of her husband ruin her social life. She's come to New York City, ready to take the dazzling world of Gilded Age Manhattan by storm. The social events of the summer have been amusing but Lady Phil is searching for more excitement---and she finds it, when an early morning visitor arrives, begging for her help. After all, Lady Phil has been known to be useful in a crisis. Especially when the crisis involves the untimely death of a handsome young business tycoon.

His death could send another financial panic through Wall Street and beyond.

With the elegant Plaza Hotel, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the opulent mansions of Long Island's Gold Coast as the backdrop, romance, murder, and scandals abound. Someone simply must do something. And Lady Dunbridge is happy to oblige.

My Review:

I picked up Tell Me No Lies because I really enjoyed the first book of Lady Dunbridge’s adventures, Ask Me No Questions. And yes, I sense a theme in those titles and I’m wondering where it goes from here. The (presumably) original Oliver Goldsmith quote, from his play She Stoops to Conquer, just say “Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no fibs.” Close enough.

So, here we have the delicious fun of Tell Me No Lies. And it is definitely delicious – and that’s no fib at all. And fun. Also deadly. But Lady Philomena Dunbridge, Phil to her friends and readers, is there to save the day.

Where in Ask Me No Questions Phil literally walked into the murder, and is caught in the middle of the investigation because she needs to get her friend Reggie and herself out of the frame that they have definitely been placed in, she has spent the several months since those events researching the proper procedures for conducting investigations, with the able assistance of her supposed servants, Preswick and Lily.

All in order to be of future assistance to the charming, mysterious Mr. X who is paying Phil’s rent in exchange for future investigative services – and possibly more.

Phil’s involvement with this new case is a direct result of the previous. High society in Gilded Age Manhattan is rather a tight circle, and Phil has developed a reputation for saving reputations where such is warranted. The morning after Phil’s attendance at the sparkling debut ball for debutante Agnes Pratt, Mr. Luther Pratt, the debutante’s father, appears at Phil’s door to request her immediate return to the scene of the festivities.

The corpse of one of the other guests has been found in the laundry. It’s up to Phil to figure out just how the man ended up dead, and whether the deed was done by one of the well-heeled guests or one of their respectable servants. But better a servant than a guest – especially since the guests were all important titans of banking and industry, and a scandal amongst them could precipitate a further destabilization of the volatile stock market.

Little do they know that it’s already too late for most of them to save themselves from either the investigation, the fallout, or the impending crash.

All Phil can do is make sure that only the guilty are punished for the crime. As soon as she can figure out the who, the how and most especially the why of it all. No matter how important the man who stands in her way.

Escape Rating A-: I enjoyed Tell Me No Lies every single bit as much as I did Ask Me No Questions. I absolutely adore the character of Phil, her perspective is witty and trenchant and just the right amount of cynical. That she reminds me very much of Phryne Fisher is certainly a plus.

Howsomever, I do have just a couple of quibbles. The blurbs describe this series as Miss Fisher (presumably of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) meets Downton Abbey. Those same blurbs also set the series in Gilded Age New York City. There’s truth in those descriptions, as well as more than a bit of hyperbole.

Also more than a hint of misdirection. This entry in the series in particular is set in late October, 1929. As the story opens, the talk of the town is that J.P. Morgan and his business associates have just attempted to stop the fall of the banks by injecting millions of dollars of their own money into the system. (This really happened.) But their efforts were doomed to fail, a fact that is fairly obvious in the background of the story.

In other words, this story takes place in the days, the very last days, before Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the day the stock markets fell in a crash that had been anticipated for over a month – and was certainly both feared and foreseen by the many financiers in this story.

So not actually the Gilded Age, but the glorious excess of that Gilded Age probably sounds more lively than the Great Depression. Not that this book isn’t plenty lively in spite of the shadows of doom. Phil is guaranteed to put plenty of life into any party.

Also there’s not so much of Downton Abbey here. Not just because the story is set in New York, and service in the U.S. was never nearly as entrenched as it was in Britain, but also because Phil exists between the classes. By birth she is upper class, but she is also living by her wits. She knows how the upper class thinks and functions – at least back home – but she isn’t exactly a part of it the way the Crawleys are. And certainly her two loyal retainers, the butler Preswick and the lady’s maid Lily, are much more partners-in-solving-crime than they are servants in any traditional sense.

But the strong resemblance to Miss Fisher, Miss Phryne Fisher, is definitely present. Phil and Phryne would either get along like the proverbial house on fire, or would fight like two cats over the same territory – and possibly the same men. They are very much alike in perspective and attitude.

And Phil’s handsome cop with somewhat of a stick up his ass, Detective Sergeant John Atkins, is a dead ringer for Detective Inspector John “Jack” Robinson, at least as portrayed by Nathan Page in the TV series. With zero resemblance (by either) to the same character in the book series. The flirtation between Atkins and Phil certainly furthers the likeness.

At the beginning I referred to the Oliver Goldsmith quote as the source – so far – of the titles for this series. But there’s a Lynyrd Skynard song has a few more lines that might be relevant later.

So, don’t ask me no questions
And I won’t tell you no lies
So, don’t ask me about my business
And I won’t tell you goodbye

We’ll see. Hopefully. Soon.

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

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Review: Those who Came Before by J.H. Moncrieff

Review: Those who Came Before by J.H. MoncrieffThose Who Came Before by J.H. Moncrieff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: horror
Pages: 256
Published by Flame Tree Press on October 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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People are dying at Strong Lake, and the worst is yet to come.

An idyllic weekend camping trip is cut short when Reese Wallace’s friends are brutally murdered. As the group’s only survivor, Reese is the prime suspect, and his story doesn’t make much sense. A disembodied voice warning him to leave the campground the night before? A strange, blackened tree that gave him an electric shock when he cut it down for firewood?

Detective Greyeyes isn’t having any of it―until she hears the voice herself and finds an arrowhead at the crime scene―an arrowhead she can’t get rid of. Troubling visions of a doomed Native American tribe who once called the campground home, and rumors of cursed land and a mythical beast plague the strangest murder case she’s ever been a part of.

My Review:

Today is Halloween, which marks my annual foray into horror – or at least horror-adjacency. But this time, it’s horror. Real, honest-to-goodness, not to be read with the lights off or right before bedtime, horror.

And it’s creepy and compelling and compellingly creepy. And I’m still creeped out.

There’s that whole thing about “mystery wrapped in an enigma”. Those Who Came Before, is horror wrapped in a police procedural interwoven with true crime historic horror and coated with blood and gore and stink and plenty more horror. The creepy kind that keeps you – or at least me – up at night. And the historic kind that makes you sick to your stomach as well at humanity’s past and present inhumanity to anyone of its kind that it can pretend isn’t – even though it most definitely is.

There’s horror and then there’s horror. The horror of the series of inexplicable deaths, and the historic horror of the smallpox epidemic among the Native tribes that was deliberately inflicted by the white settlers.

All in a tiny campground that absolutely no one wants. A place that should either be labeled “Here Be Monsters”, “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here” or both. Definitely both.

Reese Wallace begins the story, and the night, as a dorky, jerky kid, a college graduate who hasn’t grown up yet. In the morning he wakes up in that campground, covered in blood, surrounded by the bodies of the three friends he went camping with.

He didn’t hear a thing while they were tormented and dismembered. But he didn’t do it.

The question that Detective Maria Greyeyes has to solve is not so much whodunnit as what dunnit? And does she need to believe in it in order to stop it before it kills again? It certainly believes in her.

Escape Rating A-: Reese is way too much of an entitled jerk in the beginning, and the bullying, abusive cop (who does get what’s coming to him) is a bit too much of a cliche to make this a full A – but it was definitely close. But OMG this thing is compelling, especially the parts where Maria Greyeyes is trying to follow standard police procedure to investigate a crime that is so far from standard that it follows her home at night – literally.

At the same time, the terrible history that is explored, through dreams as well as research, is chilling because that part of the story is real. White settlers really did deliberately infect Native tribes by handing out blankets infected with smallpox. And plenty worse. This part of the story reminded me of the excellent, totally chilling true crime story Killers of the Flower Moon.

What happens in Those Who Came Before is creepier because it veers from that historic horror to contemporary horror, as the bodies pile up. And as the spirit of whatever has gone so very wrong manages to invade both Reese’s and Maria’s daily lives.

As a story, that felt like the most horror invested – or infested – part. In their attempt to find out what went wrong and fix it, they become unable to trust themselves and their own actions and reactions. They are both afraid that they have become the horror they are trying to prevent.

The ending of this one is terrifying in the wide openness of its possibilities – and the horror that might return.

Review: The Painted Castle by Kristy Cambron

Review: The Painted Castle by Kristy CambronThe Painted Castle (Lost Castle #3) by Kristy Cambron
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Series: Lost Castle #3
Pages: 400
Published by Thomas Nelson on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Bestselling author Kristy Cambron concludes the Lost Castle novels with this sweeping tale of art and secrets long buried in England.

It was supposed to be a one-week job: survey an art find, collect a hefty fee, and use that to settle historian Kiera Foley’s life back into balance. But from the moment she sets foot in the East Suffolk countryside, the mysteries surrounding the old English manor and the enigmatic art thief who’s employed her stir more questions than answers. Then, Kiera finds the existence of a portrait captivating enough to upend all of her expectations. This one could be a twin—a painting so close in composition to a known masterpiece, it may be rendered priceless if it truly captured the likeness of a young Queen named Victoria.

Set in three time periods—the rapid change of Victorian England, the tumultuous skies over England’s eastern shores in WWII, and modern day—The Painted Castle unfolds a legacy of faith, family, and stories that are generations in the making.

My Review:

The Painted Castle is a charming and entrancing time slip story – and this reader was so completely entranced that I finished it on one single rainy afternoon.

Like the previous books in this series, The Lost Castle and Castle on the Rise, the story is set in three distinct time periods. In this particular castle, the 1840s, the 1940s and the present. What links the three time periods in this story is a portrait. And a secret. And a secret about the portrait.

In the present day, disgraced art expert Keira Foley is back in Dublin working in the family pub, after her disaster-at-love derailed her career. And it’s there that suspected art thief Emory Scott tracks her down. Scott has a project that he believes is right up her alley – and will provide her with professional vindication as well.

He’s in charge of the restoration of Parham Hill Estate in Suffolk, and he has a portrait that he needs Keira to identify and authenticate. It’s a portrait of Queen Victoria, and it looks like a companion piece to the famous “secret picture” painted by famed portrait artist Franz Xavier Winterhalter in the 1840s. The portrait shows a young, newly married Victoria, with her hair down, looking as if she is thinking rather wicked thoughts about her new husband.

Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Signed and dated 1843

Speculation about the existence of such a picture formed a piece of what crashed Keira’s professional career. The personal crash was something else altogether. But determining whether this portrait is what it appears to be is an inducement guaranteed to bring Keira to Parham Hill – where the long-shuttered estate casts its own spell on both Keira and Emory – whatever their initial thoughts on the matter – or each other.

As they research the history of the estate, the past they discover comes alive through chapters revolving around the actual painting of that portrait – and the circumstances that brought Winterhalter’s surprising apprentice to the notice of the Queen.

Alongside the chapters in the 1840s, the portrait of the artist as a young woman, readers are also treated to a later and much more recent chapter in the estate’s – and the portrait’s – history. In the 1940s, during WWII and the repeated German bombings of London and the English countryside, the young widow of the last owner of the Estate is doing her level best to keep body and soul together, not just for herself and the estate, but for a host of children sent to the country for safety – and two German-Jewish orphans smuggled out of their homeland after Kristallnacht.

When the nearby U.S. Airbase requisitions the use of Parham HIll for quarters for excess officers, Parham HIll and its lady, Amelia Wood, open their doors and their hearts. Particularly to one American officer who captures her heart – in spite of how deeply, painfully inadvisable it is to build even friendships that can be taken away in the blink of an eye – or the drop of a bomb.

It is in the 1840s that the portrait is painted, in the 1940s that it is hidden, and in the here and now that it is brought to light. Churning up secrets and lives every step of the way.

Escape Rating A-: I picked up The Painted Castle because I really enjoyed The Lost Castle – and was surprised by how much I did enjoy it. I was expecting more of the same with The Painted Castle and I was definitely NOT disappointed. At all.

That being said, I don’t think one absolutely HAS to read the first two books in order to get into the third. There are links, but they are all in the present and add depth without having the story dependent on having read the previous. Particularly as the link in the present is between Keira and her two brothers, while the important storyline in each book is the link between the women in the three separate time periods.

What makes the interlinked stories so interesting is that all the stories are impacted, in one way or another, by great change. In the 1840s it was the Industrial Revolution – which does impact that part of the story, although not in the way that the reader, or the heroine of that period, initially believes.

The upheaval of the World War II era is obvious, even on the home front.

And then there’s the now, where both Keira’s and Emory’s lives are more than a bit of a mess – as is the neglected estate they are investigating and renovating. And change always stirs up plenty of the elements that make a great story. In this particular case, not one but three.

I think it’s the World War II story that had the greatest depth – or at least it’s the one that pulled at my heartstrings the strongest. But all three have their tragedies – and their triumphs.

My rainy afternoon in The Painted Castle was VERY well spent. So well spent that the middle book in this series, Castle on the Rise, which I have not read – YET – has moved up a whole bunch of slots in the towering TBR piles. The first book in this trilogy, The Lost Castle, was lovely, and so is this entry in the series. I expect great things from that second book and am looking forward to the reading treat some rainy afternoon – soon.

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Review: The MacInnes Affair by Blair McDowell

Review: The MacInnes Affair by Blair McDowellThe MacInnes Affair by Blair McDowell
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, Romance, timeslip fiction
Pages: 318
Published by The Wild Rose Press on September 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

On holiday in Scotland, Lara MacInnes discovers the journals of a woman who loved Lara's own very-great grandfather, Lachlan MacInnes, in the mid-eighteen hundreds. With the help of Iain Glendenning, a handsome Highlander, Lara traces the path of this long-ago romance. Their research unearths mystery and murder. Uncovering the truth, a hundred and fifty years later, is a torturous and frustrating trail. Along the way, Lara and Iain in fall in love. Can they put an end forever to the feud between the MacInnes and Glendenning Clans that has persisted since the Battle of Culloden?

My Review:

The MacInnes Affair is the finest kind of time-slip romance, one where the dive into the past illuminates but does not overshadow the story in the present – and the other way around. It is a marvelous story every step of the way.

Lara MacInnes arrives at Athdara Castle during her summer break from teaching school in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She’s come to the Scottish Highlands to visit her mother’s best friend, to research her own family history – and to put some time and distance between herself and her breakup with her overbearing ex-fiance.

She is first rescued by, and then falls in love with, Iain Glendenning, the son and heir of the Laird of Athdara – and also the son of her mother’s best friend. And who is also just about to break his engagement with his very own overbearing about-to-be-ex fiance.

That should be enough for the two of them to have in common, but that barely scratches the surface. And it’s what’s under that surface that makes this book so special.

The MacInnes and the Glendennings represent two sides of a bitter mid-18th century feud. At Culloden they fought on opposite sides, with the MacInnes part of the Jacobite cause, and the Glendennings on the side of “German Geordie”, the eventual King George I.

(If the name Culloden sounds familiar, you might be remembering Jamie Fraser from Outlander. The MacInnes Affair is nothing like Outlander, but Culloden and its aftermath cast a long and bloody shadow over the history of Scotland. It’s one of those fixed-points in time that ANY work of historical fiction dealing with 18th and 19th century Scotland has to touch upon.)

But Lara and Iain do not represent the first time that a MacInnes and a Glendenning have fallen in love across that bloody divide. The family history that Lara has come to investigate revolves around that first time, even though they are not aware of it when they begin their research.

Once upon a time, Lachlan MacInnes rescued Elspeth Glendenning, even more spectacularly than the 21st century event. That same Lachlan MacInnes emigrated to Canada to become Lara’s great-great-(and possibly a couple more greats)-grandfather. Very little seems to be known about him.

But Lara and Iain find Elspeth’s diaries. In her private writings she laid her own soul bare. And gives her 21st century descendants – and us – a heartbreaking story of love and duty, loss and redemption.

Escape Rating A-: There’s a lovely sense of history coming full circle in this story. Lara leaves home for Scotland to discover the truth about her ancestor, Lachlan MacInnes. And she returns home to discover that the truth was right there waiting for her all along.

But the journey along the way is what makes this one so good.

It’s interesting, looking back at the story, to think, on the one hand, that Lara and Iain’s story runs fairly smoothly. There are a couple of bumps in their road, but nothing that can’t be, and isn’t, overcome.

But when they get caught up in the search for Lachlan’s, and eventually Elspeth’s story, we do too. We read the diaries with them and feel both the heartbreak of Elspeth’s story as well as Lara and Iain’s compulsion to discover those hidden truths.

And even though Elspeth’s story is a “bigger” story, it’s tragic and heartbreaking at so many points, somehow it doesn’t overshadow Lara and Iain’s. That’s one of the things that this author does so very well, tell a story in two time frames and make them both equally compelling.

There are people who will see the synopsis for The MacInnes Affair with its time-slip storyline and its Scottish Highland setting and make an instant comparison to Outlander. That comparison is a mistake. Please don’t mistake me, I love the Outlander books and have read them all. But it’s a massive series that goes much more deeply into the 18th century and dives much farther into its history than a single-volume work could or should.

The MacInnes Affair is the story of one single pair of star-crossed lovers and their one small corner of history. And it’s lovely exactly as it is.

The way that their history wraps around and both influences the now and is in turn resolved in that now – well, that’s magic.

Review: Kiss of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: Kiss of Eon by Anna HackettKiss of Eon (Eon Warriors #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Eon Warriors #4
Pages: 211
Published by Anna Hackett on September 22, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

When the vital alliance between Earth and the Eon Empire depends on her playing war games with an arrogant, infuriating Eon warrior, what could go wrong?
Terran Captain Allie Borden has her orders. Take her ship, the Divergent, and strengthen the alliance with the Eon by carrying out training exercises with the Eon warship, the Desteron. The only problem…one annoying warrior who gets on her nerves like nobody else. Forced to work with Second Commander Brack Thann-Felis, Allie finds her diplomacy skills stretched to the limit…and her body betraying her with a white-hot desire that’s getting hard to ignore.

Brack Thann-Felis is dedicated to his ship, his warriors, and his job. Watching his parents’ disastrous marriage has ensured that he will never mate or fall in love. Working with feisty, opinionated Allie tests his patience, but the more time he spends with the dedicated captain, the more he finds he can’t stay away from her.

As mysterious, dangerous sabotage events strike their ships, it becomes evident that someone wants their alliance to fail. They might have traitors among their crew and they both know it has to lead back to their enemy—the ravenous insectoid Kantos. Soon, Brack and Allie find themselves in a fight for their lives, with only each other to depend on, and a growing desire that will not be denied.

My Review:

If you blend a bit of fated mates with a touch of “Mars needs women” and stir vigorously with the tentacles of rapacious alien bugs you get something like the Eon Warriors series. And in spite of the tentacle stirrer, the mixture makes for a surprisingly delicious space opera-type science fiction romance.

Back in Edge of Eon, the first book in this series, we saw how it all began. Well, sort of.

Really, it all began several decades ago, when the Eon Empire first made contact with Earth. And the Terrans completely screwed the pooch. The Eons are superior in every way, and the humans acted like they were the totally “the shit” and that the Eons should give them everything they wanted just because they said so.

And the Eons, quite rightfully, told them to go away and grow up – and closed the borders of their empire.

But the alien insectoid Kratos have also discovered Earth, and they think it’s a juicy, ripe plum tailor-made for them to chew up and spit out. It’s what they are, and it’s what they do. Whether the Kratos are actually evil or just obeying a species imperative is up to the reader. But Earth doesn’t have the technology to survive repeated Kratos incursions over the long term. They just haven’t advanced enough yet.

Earth wants the Eons to get involved – on their side, of course. Their methods for involving the Eons, as exhibited in the first three books in the series, do make the reader wonder if the powers-that-be on Earth have learned a damn thing. It feels as if the Terran spaceforce succeeds in bringing the Eons onside in spite of themselves.

But succeed they did. Now that the initial overtures have been made and accepted, it’s up to the actual, serving officers and crew of the Eon Warriors and the Terran spaceforce to find a way to work together – after decades of thinking the worst of each other – to take the fight to the Kratos and kick them out of this sector of the galaxy.

Kiss of Eon is the first story where the action has fully shifted from just getting the Eons on board to truly working together. It’s a bit of a rocky start.

Dedicated Sub-Commander Brack Thann-Felis isn’t sure what the Terrans have to bring to the alliance. Not that they aren’t scrappy and determined, but they just haven’t made the necessary advances to be a real partner. Captain Allie Borden is determined to prove exactly what the Terrans bring to the table – and if she can manage to extract the stick that seems to be firmly wedged up Thann-Felis’ ass along the way, so much the better.

Especially since it’s a very, VERY nice ass. Even when he’s being one.

Allie and Brack strike sparks from each other from the first minute they met. Now they have to work together and overcome decades of prejudice on both sides. While the Kratos are doing their level best – or worst – to drive a wedge into their alliance before it can fully unite against them.

Escape Rating A-: For a relatively short book, there is a lot to love in Kiss of Eon – and not just the shape of Brack’s ass. Not that Allie doesn’t find that quite “admirable” all by itself.

Like many of the author’s previous series (Hell Squad, Phoenix Adventures, Treasure Hunter Security) there is both an individual romance and progress towards an overarching story in each entry in the series.

That overarching story is where my initial comments about fated mates and “Mars needs women” come in. The Eons are only able to naturally reproduce with their “fated” mate. The problem is that the Eon Warriors as a group, particularly the ones who become dedicated to their service to the empire, don’t seem to be finding their mates. Artificial insemination seems to have solved that problem – otherwise their people would be dying out.

However, as discovered in Edge of Eon, the Eon Warriors have discovered that humans are not merely prospective mates, but almost perfectly suited to become so. This seems to have more to do with the scrappy, never-say-die, take-no-prisoners attitude rather than anything physical, but it keeps happening, and the Eon Emperor has noted it explicitly. That an excellent reason for the Eons to help the Terrans is in the hopes that more Eon Warriors will find their mates among the Terrans.

It doesn’t seem to be coercive in any way – which keeps this trope from going haywire. It seems like they have to fall in love first – and THEN the mating drive kicks in, rather than the other way around. But it adds an interesting twist to the stories so far.

The Kratos are the “big bad” in this series. A big part of the overall story is the Kratos many, many attempts to conquer Earth, and the allies constant battles to push them away. This feels like the “long-haul” part of the story, and that conquering or subduing the Kratos will end the series. Eventually. Someday. Hopefully not anytime soon.

If the Kratos and the Gizzida (from the author’s Hell Squad series) don’t turn out to be some kind of intergalactic cousins, I’ll eat someone’s hat. They aren’t exactly the same beyond their function in the story, but there is definitely a “family” resemblance!

And then there’s the individual romance of this particular entry. It’s kind of a frenemies-into-lovers story. Brack and Allie aren’t really enemies per se, they just rub each other the wrong way and begin the story resisting a very strong impulse to rub each other the right way.

Brack isn’t sure what the Terrans bring to the table – but then neither are a lot of the Eon Warriors. Allie is well aware of that attitude, and feels the need to prove herself at every turn. Additionally, Allie is the Captain of her ship, a position that she has earned, and has plenty of ego to bring to the table along with that never surrender, never give up Terran attitude.

In addition to their differences, they also come to their romance from a similar point of view in that neither of them believes in love and that both of them have been dedicated to their careers. They both feel that they have plenty to prove on a personal level and that love only gets in the way of what they need to accomplish.

Watching them learn the lesson that loving someone doesn’t make you weak, but makes you strong, is the heart of their romance and makes their journey lovely to see.

Review: Dead Man Stalking by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Dead Man Stalking by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayDead Man Stalking (Blood and Bone #1) by T.A. Moore
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal, urban fantasy, vampires
Series: Blood and Bone #1
Pages: 266
Published by Dreamspinner Press LLC on September 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


A Blood and Bone Novel
Agent Luke Bennett proved that humans could rise just as high in the ranks as their vampire colleagues—until a kidnapper held him captive for a year and turned him without his consent.

Now he’s Took: a reluctant monster afraid to bite anyone, broke, and about to be discharged from his elite BITERs unit.

When an old colleague suggests he consult on a BITERs case, Took has little to lose. The case is open and shut… but nothing is ever that easy. As he digs deeper, he discovers a lot more than one cold case is at stake, and if he wants to solve this one, he’ll need the help of the BITERs team. Even if that brings his old commander, Madoc, back into his life.

My Review:

Dead Man Stalking was a terrific reminder of what makes urban fantasy one of my go-to genres, especially when I’m in a reading slump and need to be knocked out of it! Because this one really knocked me out of my slump – and knocked one out of the park into the bargain.

As with the best of the genre, this is a story that turns some of the usually accepted paradigms around, as it makes heroes out of groups that are normally villains – and vice versa. It’s also, as so much of urban fantasy is, a detective story, where our “cops” have to investigate a series of crimes and figure out who, or what “dunnit.”

Of course, things are not as they seem, and not just because the cops in this case are vampires – not that they call themselves that.

Instead, we have a case that the investigators are positive is all sewn up, and a profiler who no longer trusts his own judgment poking his nose into that case and discovering that either the investigators missed something or that he’s further off the rails than he thought.

Took, formerly Luke, Bennett used to be the best profiler in the agency, until he was betrayed by someone he trusted, held captive for over a year, and changed from one of the few successful humans in the agency into shaky vampire who believes he’s lost his nerve.

Which doesn’t stop him from investigating that supposedly open-and-shut case, and doesn’t stop his former boss – and would-be lover – from racing across the country to get his ass out of the fire yet again.

And again.

Leading both of them deep into a case that gets darker and nastier the deeper they get into it. And exposes more of the fault lines in the trust between them as they dig under the surface of what they feel for each other.

Escape Rating A-: This was an absolute blast – a terrific way to spend a lazy afternoon, lost in a fascinating world, following a deadly investigation and a romance that shifts from cold to hot in the blink of an eye. And the whole world catches fire.

I didn’t even mind the cat on my chest holding me in place. He was doing me a favor, after all, providing an excuse for my reading binge.

One of the things I loved about this one was the way that history had worked in this alternative to our own. The way that the vampires (and werewolves) had always existed, and how that changed history, felt reminiscent of some of my favorites in the genre, like Sookie, and Pentonville, the Black Dagger Brotherhood and surprisingly, The Others.

Several of those series wrap around the idea that vamps have always not just walked among us, but run things either covertly or overtly. Also that vampire politics and vampire grudges are both epic and eternal.

And from The Others, that concept that “original recipe” humans are really hard-headed about their own superiority, in spite of repeated evidence to the contrary.

There’s a sense in Dead Man Stalking that we’ve been dropped into the middle of a case – only because we have – and into the midst of a fully realized world. I kept wanting a bit more background on who the players in the shadows are, and how things got to be the way they are. Although the introduction of the historical figure Elizabeth Bathory certainly added weight and depth and horror to that shadowy history. It’s something I’d love to see more of in future entries in the series.

I keep referring to Dead Man Stalking as urban fantasy, even though sometimes it gets referred to as paranormal romance. Yes, there is a romance, but it doesn’t feel like the center of the story. The case felt like the backbone of this one, at least to me. Your mileage may vary.

Whatever you think is the heart of this one, whether it’s an actual romantic heart or the kind that gets cut out by one’s enemies, Dead Man Stalking is compelling and absorbing and I can’t wait for the next book in the Blood and Bone series. This is a world I want to explore more deeply, and in the company of these characters.

A Few Words from our author, T.A. Moore!

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new urban fantasy Dead Man Stalking. This is the first book in the Blood and Bone series and I am thrilled to put it out there into the world. I was meant to be writing an entirely different book, but then Took and Madoc took up residence in my head and I had to give in and let them have their say.

I had a blast creating this world and these characters, and I hope you enjoy them too. I’ve included a chapter of a prequel short story that you can follow through the blog tour. 

Chapter Eight

“Henry stayed out of the field,” Kit said harshly to Madoc. “And he, at least, had magic to fall back on.”

The door to Nina’s house opened and the coroner’s assistants carried her out, wrapped in black plastic and padlocked down with silver to the stretcher. Just in case. Silver would kill a vampire, but something would occasionally move into what was left. It might mimic who they’d been before–whatever it could piece together from the brain tissue left–but it was generally agreed the revenants were other.

Luke rinsed his mouth and spat green and pink froth into a bowl. The wintergreen didn’t mask the taste of blood so much as mix with it, sharp and potent like salt on minted lamb. He rubbed his jaw and pressed on the tender points around his jaw. It was jarred, but not dislocated.

“If he had a year to prepare, he could bring a dragon to tinkle on them,” Luke said. “Maybe.”

 It was unfair. Slightly. By repute Henry had been a dangerous man, but sorcery was high investment for small returns. It was why the scholomance existed despite sorcerers being as community minded as a spoiled house cat. Five sorcerers could bundle their spells and flood a city to execute a man they’d arranged to be stranded there with a woman he couldn’t resist. It would still take a year.

“You could have been killed,” Kit said. He grabbed the back of Luke’s head and shoved him around to look at his reflection in the mirror. The shadows of fresh bruises bloomed grey and red over Luke’s jaw and cheek. “Are you really so arrogant you can’t see that.”

Enough,” Madoc said icily. “Go and make sure Nina’s consort doesn’t do anything foolish.”

“I need to speak to him,” Luke said as he scrambled up off the tailgate of the ambulance. “Before he goes to the hospital.”

Madoc put a hand on his shoulder and pinned him in place. “He doesn’t want to see you right now.”

Probably not, Luke supposed, but… “It’s important.”

“Give him time to grieve,” Madoc said. “Kit? Go.”

He waited until Kit grumbled and stalked off. Then he put his thumb under Madoc’s jaw and turned his head around to study the bruise. “You’ll ache tomorrow.”

“I ache now,” Luke said. He swallowed and moved away from the too-careful touch. “I know how the killer is.”

“Dead, surely,” Madoc said as he glanced after Nina. “She choose her own punishment.”

“It wasn’t her,” Luke said. Habit made him check his holster and he hissed in annoyance as his fingers found empty leather and nylon. The local cops had taken his gun when they got there. It wasn’t how they did it, but it generally wasn’t a good idea to argue with anxious, trigger happy police officers alarmed that you’d blown off someone’s entire head. Madoc reached around and pulled a gun out of the back of his jeans. He offered it up on the palm of his hand. “She was just…”

Scared. Angry. Threatened.

Luke took the gun. He checked it over briskly, made sure it was loaded and the safety was on, before it holstered it. 

“I made a mistake,” he said stiffly. The words felt like gravel in his throat. “I pushed when I should have pulled, and she caught me off guard. It shouldn’t have been necessary to kill her.”

“But you did,” Madoc said.

Luke gave him a puzzled look. “At that point it was necessary.”

“Why not here?” Madoc asked. “Jamie got over-possessive, thought a midnight snack meant a commitment and pressured her. She’d lived here for a long time. Anakim that entrenched can react extremely to any threat to their nest.”

“I got that,” Luke said. He rubbed his jaw. “But what about the others?”

“Senescence,” Madoc said. Vampire senility. “Maybe she didn’t have a reason.”

Luke shook his head. “No one kills without a reason,” he said. “We might not think it is a good reason, but it’s still a reason to them.”

Madoc looked exasperated. “So you came out, executed the daughter of the Tsar’s favourite, and it was all for nothing?”

“No,” Luke said. “Nina was involved, she just didn’t know how. When can I talk to Darren?”

“Tomorrow.”

Luke made a sound of protest in his throat.

“Fine, when he’s ready,” Madoc conceded. “Let him grieve first.”

Luke shrugged an apology. “That might be too late,” he said. “I need to talk to him now.”

Not that he’d be able to if Madoc decided to stop him. He waited and, after a second, Madoc shook his head and stepped aside. Luke jogged over to where Darren, coffee all over his trousers, sat under Kit’s awkward sympathy. When Darren saw Luke he snarled and tried to lurch to his feet. Kit pushed him back down and gave Luke an exasperated look.

“Jamie,” Luke said. “Tomas, Bray, Loretta”

“What about them?” Darren asked bitterly. “Are you going to shoot them too?”

Luke bit the ‘someone beat us to it’ off the tip of his tongue. “They were all mules, right?”

Colour pinched Darren’s cheeks. “UnKissable,” he said bitterly. “Resistant. Mules are animals.”

“You all met at a support group right?” Luke said. He barely waited for Darren’s resentful noise before he pressed on. “And someone there introduced you to Nina right,, you and Jamie both?”

It took a moment for Darren to answer. When he did, he sounded wary. “We don’t talk about who we meet there.”

Of course not. Being a mule was somewhere between being a saint and being a leper. The Pentecostals saw them as souls too pure to be condemned in life, the rogues saw them as nothing but cattle, and the Anakim pitied them. Any of the above was an awkward place to live. So first names only, and if you had the means you’d attend a support group away from where you lived.

“So yes.”

Darren glared at him but, after a quick wary glance at Kit, reluctantly nodded.

“Who introduced you?” 

“Why do you care?”

Luke changed direction. “You were her favourite, the consort. She gave you somewhere to live, she let you drink her blood, she let you love her.” 

Most mules found out what they were when they tried to court the Kiss, and it didn’t take. It usually ended badly. The Anakim didn’t care to love anything that would die centuries before they did. Darren took a shaky breath as the grief pinched him again.

“But she liked variety, so then Jamie came along. Nina gave him money to keep himself nice, to come and see her. More money. More visits. Until you and Jamie fought over her. He wanted to take your place?”

“I didn’t kill him,” Darren protested. He stiffened under Kit’s hand as his voice pitched up an octave from nerves. “Jamie was…After he left Nina told me she loved me, that she’d not replace me!”

Except she would have. Eventually. She’d been willing to kill for Darren today, but one day he’d have been too old to be beautiful, then too old to be fun. She might keep him, a fond friend and ex-loved, but someone new would be in her bed. Even if she’d stayed with him when he was old, he’d die and she’d need to find a new mule to love.

“What if she had?” Luke pressed. “What if Nina had gotten tired of you, replaced you with someone younger and prettier. Would you still have loved her?”

“Of course!”

“Would you be willing to do anything to get her back?”

They both knew the answer. Darren stared at Luke for a second as the idea dawned on him. Then he shut down as he clenched his jaw and looked away.

“Fuck you.”

“Who introduced you?” Luke pushed.

“You killed her!” Darren spat furiously. He lurched up out and tried to grab Luke’s shirt, but Kit dragged him back. “I hope you’re next to get strung up.”

“More likely to be you,” Luke said. “The old wether. Like Jamie was the rutting stag and Loretta was the fish.”

Grief crumpled Darren’s face like a tissue. “I don’t care,” he said. “I can’t do this again.”

Shit. Luke grimaced as he tried to think how to drag the truth out of Darren. Before he could change tactics, Madoc put a hand on his shoulder.

“Wait,” he said. He moved Luke out of the way and crouched down in front of Darren. He smiled at him, a disarmingly pleasant expression. “Darren, right. Darren Voight-Kares.”

Darren fired a bleak look of triumph at Luke, as if that changed anything.

“Yes.”

Madoc put a hand on Darren’s voice and dropped his voice slightly, a hint of his old accent furred over the words. 

“You’ll be the executor of her estate, there’ll be a lot of things to sort out. We’ll help you with that, if you want,” Madoc said. He nodded and Darren nodded with him. Then Madoc grimaced. “If we can. Until we find this killer, there’s not a lot of time we can give up.”

Luke shifted his weight uncomfortably. He wasn’t sure he didn’t agree with Madoc’s plan, or was just uncomfortable at seeing that charm turned elsewhere. Kit gestured him to silence.

“I..need help,” Darren admitted. “Her family. The Russians.”

His hands knotted anxiously in his lap, twisted painfully together.

“What was his name?” Madoc asked, his voice suddenly hard and thick with something that caught in the back of Luke’s throat. “The man that introduced you. Tell us.”

“Mark,” Darren said obediently. Then he stalled. “I don’t know anymore than that. Just Mark.”

Luke shifted again and glanced askance at Madoc. After a glance at Darren’s face, Madoc gave Luke a nod of approval to rejoin the conversation.

“He’d been a soldier, right?” Luke said. That fit his profile. Someone who was willing to kill, but who balked at the hot gore of butchery. “That’s where he found out what he was?”

There was a pause and then Darren nodded. “He was wounded, lost half his stomach. One of the medic Anakim tried to turn him, save his life, but it didn’t work. They thought he’d die, but he survived. Discharged. Came home. Nina helped him put his life back together, set him up in a job.”

“What job?”

Darren shrugged. “I don’t know. A security company or something? It doesn’t matter because he messed it up anyhow, lost everything. Nina had to step in again, get him a job as a security guard somewhere.”

The pieces slotted together. “Mark,” Luke said. He remembered the ginger security guard, wiry muscle under a fresh layer of indulgent flab. But still there. “Mark Clade?”

Darren made a helpless gesture. “I don’t know. I guess,” he said. “Nina called him last night about Jamie, told him that she didn’t need the support group anymore. She had me.”

And that meant Mark only had one thing left. So he wasn’t going to give that up.

__________

Last chapter of the story on my blog tomorrow! Www.tamoorewrites.com. All the blog tour posts will also be linked here: http://tamoorewrites.com/deadmanstalking/

Author Bio:TA Moore – 

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sectors before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

 

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Review: The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White

Review: The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen WhiteThe Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, Karen White
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 408
Published by William Morrow on September 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling authors of The Forgotten Room comes a captivating historical mystery, infused with romance, that links the lives of three women across a century—two deep in the past, one in the present—to the doomed passenger liner, RMS Lusitania.

May 2013Her finances are in dire straits and bestselling author Sarah Blake is struggling to find a big idea for her next book. Desperate, she breaks the one promise she made to her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother and opens an old chest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915. What she discovers there could change history. Sarah embarks on an ambitious journey to England to enlist the help of John Langford, a recently disgraced Member of Parliament whose family archives might contain the only key to the long-ago catastrophe. . . .

April 1915Southern belle Caroline Telfair Hochstetter’s marriage is in crisis. Her formerly attentive industrialist husband, Gilbert, has become remote, pre-occupied with business . . . and something else that she can’t quite put a finger on. She’s hoping a trip to London in Lusitania’s lavish first-class accommodations will help them reconnect—but she can’t ignore the spark she feels for her old friend, Robert Langford, who turns out to be on the same voyage. Feeling restless and longing for a different existence, Caroline is determined to stop being a bystander, and take charge of her own life. . . .

Tessa Fairweather is traveling second-class on the Lusitania, returning home to Devon. Or at least, that’s her story. Tessa has never left the United States and her English accent is a hasty fake. She’s really Tennessee Schaff, the daughter of a roving con man, and she can steal and forge just about anything. But she’s had enough. Her partner has promised that if they can pull off this one last heist aboard the Lusitania, they’ll finally leave the game behind. Tess desperately wants to believe that, but Tess has the uneasy feeling there’s something about this job that isn’t as it seems. . . .

As the Lusitania steams toward its fate, three women work against time to unravel a plot that will change the course of their own lives . . . and history itself.

My Review:

The Glass Ocean is the braided story of three women, separated by time, place, class or all of the above, whose lives are roiled by the wake of the RMS Lusitania, struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland on May 7, 1915.

As with the previous book by the Team W, The Forgotten Room, the story of The Glass Ocean slips from character to character – from woman to woman – as the reader experiences each perspective and follows the treasure hunt as all three of the stories finally come together.

And the truth sets them all free. Freedom from obscurity in the past, and freedom from heartbreak and loss in the present.

In exploring the truth about her great-grandfather, a steward on the RMS Lusitania, Sarah thinks that she’s going to be writing a spy thriller – if not the biography of a man who wrote spy thrillers. But as we follow her on her treasure hunt through the life and archives of Robert Langford, a passenger on the Lusitania and the author of spy thrillers that Sarah thinks were even better than Ian Fleming’s, we also see those pivotal events on board the Lusitania through the eyes of two women who both loved him.

The story that Sarah thinks she’s looking for is not the one she finds. But that’s the one that she writes. And in the writing of it, she brings the lives and accomplishments of two fascinating women back into the light of day.

And rescues herself along the way.

Escape Rating A-: Today, as this review is posted, is the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This book is an oddly appropriate read for today, as the sinking of the Lusitania and 9/11 were both human-created disasters that were intended to start a war. And both did, after their different fashions.

If you are interested in reading more about the Lusitania, I highly recommend – as does Team W in the afterword of The Glass Ocean, Dead Wake by Erik Larson. Dead Wake is the best kind of narrative nonfiction, in other words, a true story that reads as compellingly as if it were a novel.

But The Glass Ocean, like Dead Wake, confines itself to events that take place aboard the ocean liner, or that occurred to its survivors in the aftermath. The reader can and does speculate about the surrounding politics, but the story is the story of the doomed ship and what happened after.

While Caroline’s and Tess’ stories are part of that fateful voyage, Sarah’s is the story of the aftermath – nearly 100 years in the aftermath. I found Sarah’s story to be the most compelling – but then she’s the one doing the historical research. I always love the treasure hunt aspect of this kind of story, where the clues are revealed, sometimes slowly and carefully, and sometimes by “Eureka!” – and there are plenty of moments of both kinds in Sarah’s search.

Sarah’s story feels “present”, while Caroline’s and Tess’ stories feel almost as though they are leading the reader to the story behind those clues. And I was guessing right along with Sarah, sometimes, but not always correctly.

Part of what makes this so much fun is the way that in both time periods both end up as just the kind of spy thriller that Robert Langford used to write. Someone betrayed the Lusitania to the Germans. Someone smuggled a critical munitions formula on board the ship. Someone wanted to sell it to the Germans. Someone wanted to secure it for the British.

And over 1,000 people died for it.

But when Sarah unearths those secrets, she finds much more than she ever bargained for. Whether or not she’ll be able to keep what she’s found is a journey that is well-worth taking with her.

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Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona AndrewsSapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy, #4) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #4
Pages: 393
Published by Avon on August 27, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrew comes an enthralling new trilogy set in the Hidden Legacy world, where magic means power, and family bloodlines are the new currency of society…

In a world where magic is the key to power and wealth, Catalina Baylor is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, and the Head of her House. Catalina has always been afraid to use her unique powers, but when her friend’s mother and sister are murdered, Catalina risks her reputation and safety to unravel the mystery.

But behind the scenes powerful forces are at work, and one of them is Alessandro Sagredo, the Italian Prime who was once Catalina’s teenage crush. Dangerous and unpredictable, Alessandro’s true motives are unclear, but he’s drawn to Catalina like a moth to a flame.

To help her friend, Catalina must test the limits of her extraordinary powers, but doing so may cost her both her House–and her heart.

My Review:

Sapphire Flames represents a pivot in direction for this series, after the events in Diamond Fire. The focus has shifted from Nevada Baylor, the heroine of the first three marvelous books (Burn for Me, White Hot and Wildfire) to her sister Catalina Baylor, now the Prime of House Baylor.

The shift was necessary on multiple levels. First, the whole point of Diamond Fire was wrapped around Nevada finally marrying Connor Rogan, Prime of House Rogan. And possibly the only person who could really outstubborn Nevada – and vice versa.

But that means that Nevada has found her happy ever after – for occasionally explosive definitions of all the words in that phrase. She can only be loyal to one House. Not only is it natural for her to switch her primary focus to Rogan, but she and Rogan are still cleaning up the high-stakes political mess that brought them together in the first place.

So sister Catalina is now the Prime for House Baylor, a fledgling House that consists of her youngest sister – the next Prime – and the rest of their family including their mother and grandmother. This is a world where the Head of Household status rests with the person with the most supernatural power – and that’s neither of the women in the previous generations.

That family tug of war between Catalina needing to step up and be Prime and her mother and grandmother still having family power over her as the women who raised her is just one of the many interesting tensions that arises in this story, the first of what looks like a trilogy (at least) of books focusing on Catalina.

Catalina is in a similar position to the one that Nevada occupied in Burn for Me. She’s suddenly in charge of the family, forced to make decisions that affect everyone who depends on her, and isn’t sure that she’s the right person for the job that she doesn’t actually want anyway. And, to cap it off, she’s stuck working with a man who pushes all her buttons – of every possible kind – and who wants to take care of everything for her so that she doesn’t have to worry her pretty little head about it.

Not quite. More in the sense the the very Prime (in multiple senses of THAT work) Alessandro Sagredo, when he can’t manage to warn Catalina away from a case that will involve her House in warfare above their paygrade and way over their capabilities, offers to take care of things for her in order to keep her and hers out of the inevitable crossfire.

But that has never been the way that the Baylors roll. The pay their bills, they honor their contracts and they always get their man. Eventually.

Escape Rating A-: I have loved all of the previous books in this series, so I was thrilled to see that it was being continued with another of the Baylor sisters.

Part of what makes it so much fun is that it sits right on the border between urban fantasy and paranormal romance, but with a science fictional twist. In this near future, there has not always been magic in the world. But there sure has been science. And that’s how magic came into this world, via science.

Somebody invented a superhero/supersoldier/supervillain formula, and just like any other arms race, every country on the planet decided that their needed their own super-army. But, and there’s always a but in cases like this, those super-people had powers that could not be contained by any government – and those powers bred true.

Decades later, the formula is supposed to be under wraps, and those with powers, the Houses, exist not so much above the law as outside it. And that’s where this story comes in.

House Baylor has just begun as a House. The process from forming a House to surviving as a House is long, arduous and deadly. Few survive intact and independent. A narrow path that Catalina is determined to walk.

But when a friend comes to her for help, she can’t refuse. No matter how dangerous or how high the cost. At first it seems, while not cut and dried, fairly standard for House politics. Nasty, dirty, deadly, but for all that business as usual among the Houses.

Until Catalina kicks over the anthills, and discovers not just entire companies filled with assassins for hire, but an actual threat not just to the houses, but to the world itself. Someone has opened the Pandora’s Box of the super-formula, and it’s up to Catalina to stop it. And to stop herself from falling for the one man who seems to be able to resist her quite literal siren’s allure.

As always in this series, political machinations are simply war by other means, and as dirty as they come. Catalina, just like Nevada before her, shines as a character who is willing to play the game, but still manages to compromise herself but so far and no further. She’s a survivor, but there are lines that she just will not cross. Watching her figure out what those lines are adds depth to a character that began the series as a shy, retiring little wallflower, but who now commands the stage, even as she’s not sure she’s ready for the role she’s been thrust into.

At the same time that Catalina stands more clearly in the light, Alessandro steps even deeper into the shadows. Who he really is, what truly motivates him, is obviously just a part of what will be revealed in future entries in the series.

And I can’t wait to read them.