Review: Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry GreenwoodMurder in Montparnasse (Phryne Fisher Mystery #12) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #12
Pages: 253
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on September 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Always enticing in divine twenties fashion, Phryne, one of the most exciting and likeable heroines in crime writing today, leads us through a tightly plotted maze of thrilling adventure set in 1920s Australia. The divine Phryne Fisher returns to lead another dance of intrigue. Seven Australian soldiers, carousing in Paris in 1918, unknowingly witness a murder and their presence has devastating consequences. Ten years later, two are dead under very suspicious circumstances. Phryne s wharfie mates, Bert and Cec, appeal to her for help. They were part of this group of soldiers in 1918 and they fear for their lives and for those of the other three men. It s only as Phryne delves into the investigation that she, too, remembers being in Montparnasse on that very same day. While Phryne is occupied with memories of Montparnasse past and the race to outpace the murderer, she finds troubles of a different kind at home. Her lover, Lin Chung, is about to be married. And the effect this is having on her own usually peaceful household is disastrous."

My Review:

For various reasons, some of which are detailed in this Facebook post, this week went to hell in a handcart. And a crappy handcart at that.

As usual, when I can’t concentrate on much of anything else, I turn to my current comfort read, Phryne Fisher. Murder in Montparnasse swept me back in Phryne’s world for a few hours, where there is plenty of danger, but also lots of derring-do, where justice triumphs and evil gets righteously crushed.

And where the ghosts of memory are laid to their proper rest.

For those who have watched the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series, Murder in Montparnasse was filmed, and broadcast in the middle of the first season. I recently re-watched it, so the story in the TV version is still pretty clear in my memory.

It feels like the base story is the same in both versions. There are alterations in the details, as there usually are. The TV version includes Jack and Phryne’s first kiss, when Jack needs to distract Phryne and keep her from giving the game away to the villain.

Jack in the books is absolutely nothing like Jack in the TV series, so many of the changes between versions involve Phryne’s long-term lover, Lin Chung, and the rather interesting arrangements for his upcoming marriage.

But the two versions are the same at their heart. Bert and Cec, who served together in WW1 at Gallipoli and many other terrible places, come to Phryne with a problem. Two of their mates have been murdered in such a way that both deaths appeared to be accidents, at least on the surface. The circumstances in both cases were very definitely fishy, and should have been investigated properly, but weren’t due to police incompetence. Something that Jack in the book definitely has something to say about. Whatever he is or isn’t, he is always a good cop.

Bert and Cec’s problem connects to a piece of Phryne’s past that she has tried to bury, mostly from herself. On leave at the end of the war, Bert and Cec and their mates were in Paris, and they witnessed the murder of the painter Sarcelle. Phryne modelled for Sarcelle (among others), and also knew that his death had been ruled an accident.

Their description of the incident takes Phryne back to her own Parisian experience. She remembers everything all too well, especially the cold-hearted beast who seduced her, beat her, and expected her to keep on taking it until he was done. She ran before she could be broken. But she’s never forgotten the man who broke her heart even as he tried to break her body and spirit.

The beast has come to Australia. At first, Phryne doesn’t know why. But she does know that whatever Rene Dubois is involved in this time, it must be far from the side of the angels.

All Phryne has to do is figure out what, and if and why he has to do with the deaths of Bert and Cec’s friends, before he escapes justice yet again.

This time Phryne, with the help of Bert and Cec and their mates, are going to see that the man who haunted her nightmares finally gets exactly what’s coming to him. No matter what it costs.

Escape Rating A-: As a story, this one hangs together a bit better in the book than it did on TV. Even though there are multiple plot threads here, not just Phryne’s past and the deaths of Bert and Cec’s friends but also a kidnapped young woman, a different young woman who wants to get out of the marriage her parents have arranged for her, Lin Chung’s bride’s secrets and Mr. Butler’s resignation, the threads do connect and Phryne’s ghosts get expiated.

The ending is very satisfying.

We also see more of Phryne’s past and in more detail than TV could portray. The glimpses, through Phryne’s eyes, of the post-WW1 Paris that Hemingway called “a moveable feast” are evocative and poignant. And we get a much clearer picture of what Phryne thought and felt during that transitional, ephemeral time and place. It all goes a long towards explaining how Phryne got to be who she is at the point where the books begin. For this reader, at least, it feels like Phryne preserved more of her agency in the book version that her memories indicated in the TV version. And I always prefer that my heroines have all the agency they can grab.

The ending of Murder in Montparnasse is far from tidy, but it feels incredibly right. Dubois gets exactly what he deserves. It is not a neat, clean or even legal result. But it is definitely justice. And it feels intensely satisfying to see it delivered.

A little Murder in Montparnasse was just what I needed. I think I’m going to go and watch it again.

Review: The Women of Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

Review: The Women of Baker Street by Michelle BirkbyThe Women of Baker Street (A Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson Investigation, #2) by Michelle Birkby
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson #2
Pages: 368
Published by Pan Macmillan on February 9th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

As Sherlock and Watson return from the famous Hound of the Baskervilles case, Mrs Hudson and Mary must face their own Hound, in the swirling fog of Victorian London . . .

When Mrs Hudson falls ill, she is taken into a private ward at St Barts hospital. Perhaps it is her over-active imagination, or her penchant for sniffing out secrets, but as she lies in her bed, slowly recovering, she finds herself surrounded by patients who all have some skeletons in their closets. A higher number of deaths than usual seem to occur on this ward. On her very first night, Mrs Hudson believes she witnesses a murder. But was it real, or just smoke and mirrors?

Mary Watson meanwhile has heard about young boys disappearing across London, and is determined to find them and reunite them with their families. As the women's investigations collide in unexpected ways, a gruesome discovery in Regent's Park leads them on to a new, terrifying case.

My Review:

I read The House at Baker Street last weekend, and I loved it so much that when I discovered that the second book in the series was already available in ebook, I immediately grabbed it. Then I discovered that I simply couldn’t wait to read it, so here we are again, returning to Victorian London and 221b Baker Street.

The Women of Baker Street is a direct follow up to The House at Baker Street. Events that occurred in that first book are definitely still resonating by the time this second book opens a few months later. And dogged Inspector Lestrade is still investigating the rather incendiary ending of that first story.

Much to the dismay of both Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock Holmes.

But the story in The Women of Baker Street opens in a decidedly different place, as Martha Hudson is whisked off to St. Bart’s Hospital after collapsing at home. She’s been ill for weeks, and also been successfully concealing her illness from Holmes after his return from Dartmoor, where he was off investigating the legendary Hound of the Baskervilles.

Mrs. Hudson was afraid she had cancer, and just didn’t want to know. In the 19th century, there was no hope of a cure, just suffering and death. But her problems, while serious, were much less desire. An intestinal blockage, fixed with quite survivable surgery followed by bedrest.

That’s not all there is to the case. Dr. Watson takes advantage of both his position at the hospital and Mrs. Hudson’s bent for investigation and installs her in a semi-private women’s ward where odd things have been happening. He’s not convinced that there is really anything going on, but one of the nurses whom he respects is convinced. Of course, he doesn’t believe he’s putting Mrs. Hudson at risk – his concern is to set the nurse’s mind at ease.

However, the pattern in this series is that the women’s instincts are much more accurate than the men’s logic. There IS something strange going on in that particular ward. On her very first night, Mrs. Hudson thinks she witnesses a murder. Then she chalks off her experience to pain and medication.

Until it happens again.

The first part of this case is rather quiet. Mrs. Hudson doing what she does best, sitting (or in this case mostly lying) and listening while other people expose their foibles and their secrets. The small ward is a hotbed of gossip, pain and seething resentment, all exposed to her expert’s eye over the long days that the women are all cooped up together in this single room.

When the tide of strange deaths nearly overtakes Mrs. Hudson herself, Watson and Mary whisk her back home, to continue the case, and her recovery, in a less dangerous location. At least it seems less dangerous, until Martha’s case, and the even more tragic situation that Mary has been investigating on her own, collide within the precincts of 221b. With nearly disastrous results.

The game is afoot. Until it very nearly isn’t.

Escape Rating A-: The story in The Women of Baker Street gets off to a much slower start than the previous entry in the series. Mrs. Hudson has turned out to be the prime mover and shaker in these stories, and as this entry begins, she is temporarily down for the count.

And also quite shaken. She is used to being the mistress of herself and her own domain, but as the story begins she is an invalid, stuck in a place not of her choosing and unable to take care of herself. And, of course, she hates it.

Until Dr. Watson presents her with his little bit of investigation. While she’s still not happy with her surroundings, now she has purpose – even if a part of her believes that this case has been invented to keep her at least mentally occupied.

Not that the various denizens of the ward aren’t fascinating. Especially Emma Fordyce, who was once one of the grandes horizontales of her day. She was a celebrated courtesan, lover of the rich, famous and influential, and she has never told any of the secrets that were whispered in her ears. Rumor has it she’s planning to talk.

When she dies unexpectedly, even for someone staying the hospital, it throws suspicion on anyone whose secrets she might have exposed – and on the woman who seems to have been installed in the ward solely to watch her – or to watch over her.

There were plenty of reasons still around who might want Emma Fordyce dead. But once Mrs. Hudson is home and able to take a slightly more dispassionate view of the case – all she runs into are dead ends. Including the buried bodies of a group of young boys who seem to be tied into, not the case of Emma Fordyce, but to a ghost story.

As Holmes discovered on Grimpen Mire – at the heart of all too many ghost stories lies a kernel of very nasty truth. And it is Mrs. Hudson’s dangerous investigation into the nasty truth of the so-called “Pale Boys” that brings them face-to-face with death.

Again.

The two intertwining cases turn out to be intensely chilling – to the point where The Women of Baker Street would make a good Halloween story. The creepy factor is very high, especially when added with the layers of misdirection and manipulation. And the crimes that Martha and Mary find themselves investigating just add to the chills, as does Lestrade’s continued investigation into the remnants of the case from the previous book.

No ice cube got left undribbled down my back by the end.

This is a series where I seriously want more stories, but don’t see any listed on the horizon. Which does not keep me from hoping that the author will return to Mrs. Hudson and Mrs. Watson. Soon, I hope.

Review: Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

Review: Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper + GiveawayHighland Dragon Rebel (Dawn of the Highland Dragon, #2) by Isabel Cooper
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, paranormal romance
Series: Dawn of the Highland Dragon #2
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Madoc of Avandos is on a journey to cement alliances. Targeted by an assassin, he needs a companion who can fight. When dragon shifter Moiread MacAlasdair returns from war, he knows she's the best woman for the job. Duty and political strength compel Moiread to agree, but when they cross into the otherworld and Madoc's life is threatened, Moiread jumps into protection mode-and will do whatever it takes to keep the man of her dreams alive.

Dawn of the Highland Dragon Series: Highland Dragon Warrior (Book 1)Highland Dragon Rebel (Book 2)Highland Dragon Unleashed (Book3)

My Review:

I have a t-shirt that says, “I’m done adulting, let’s be Dragons!”

Moiread MacAlasdair has been an adult for three centuries, but she still gets to be a dragon. Putting it another way, Moiread has lived three centuries because she’s a dragon. A dragon shifter, at least. And that’s a pretty awesome thing to be.

But being a dragon, and a member of the MacAlasdair clan of dragon-shifters, means that Moiread, along with the rest of her family, spends a lot of time away from home, fighting to keep her home, her clan, and her country safe from predators, both human and not-so-human.

In the early 14th century, when the Dawn of the Highland Dragon series takes place, those enemies, as was true so often in Scottish history, were the English. As this story opens, peace has just broken out between Scotland and England with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton at the close of the First War of Scottish Independence.

It’s a peace that no one expects to last. And it doesn’t. But the resumption of hostilities just a few short years after this story ends is not part of the action in this book – not that I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in a later entry in this series.

At the moment, Moiread is not technically a rebel. However, the man she is set to guard certainly is.

Diplomacy has been labeled as “war conducted by other means”. But Madoc of Avandos hasn’t traveled from his native Wales all the way to the remote MacAlasdair stronghold just to conduct a bit of peacetime diplomacy.

Instead, Madoc plans to conduct his bit of war through much more arcane means. Madoc is a sorcerer, and he has come to the MacAlasdairs to invoke the ancient alliance between their families. He has devised a rite that he needs to conduct in places of power, including one such place on the MacAlasdair lands. And he requires a bodyguard to protect him on his quest to raise the ancient powers of the lands, and equally ancient alliances with other magical families, in order to safeguard dangerous treasures of the Welsh people that he dares not let fall into English hands.

The Welsh subjugation by the conquering English is already inevitable. Wales as a separate kingdom ceased to exist two generations ago, and Madoc knows that his homeland may never be independent again – and that it will certain not happen within his lifetime. But, as a powerful sorcerer, there are things he can do and rites he can perform that will make the hand of the conquerors fall less heavily on his people.

His quest is to do what he can. Moiread’s charge is to keep him alive while he does so. While they are increasingly aware that they have a sorcerous enemy dogging their every step, the greatest threat to their mission turns out to be the secrets of their own hearts.

Escape Rating A-: Highland Dragon Rebel reminded me of just how much I loved the author’s first Highland Dragons series. Highland Dragon Rebel really re-captured the magic.

I also have to say that Highland Dragon Rebel, in spite of being the second book in this series, has a completely different pace and feel from the first book, Highland Dragon Warrior. Because the members of the MacAlasdair clan seldom spend a great deal of time together, there is very little crossover between Warrior and Rebel, to the point where it doesn’t feel as if it matters if you’ve read one before reading the other.

They are also very different kinds of books. Warrior is paced rather slowly, and that pace matches the way that the heroine’s alchemical experiments come together. Everything takes time.

Rebel, on the other hand, is a road story. Moread and Madoc’s relationship occurs completely within the context of his quest to visit all the sites of power across Scotland, England and Wales, perform the necessary rituals, dodge the persistent assassins, and then move on down the road.

Lots of stuff happens, it happens relatively quickly, and then they move on. While Madoc’s quest doesn’t have a time limit per se, he does need to move at a quick pace. Even being guarded by a very capable dragon shifter, he can’t dodge endless waves of assassins indefinitely. He has to succeed before they eventually do.

One of the things that I loved about Highland Dragon Rebel was the character of Moiread. She is just so imminently practical. She’s lived three centuries, she’s seen a lot of change, and she knows that she’s going to live long enough to see a lot more. She’s also very grounded in who she is and what she believes, and there’s a certain amount of emotional drama that she is just impervious to.

She’s also very, very aware that Madoc’s quest comes first and always, and whatever she feels for him, and whatever he feels for her, she firmly believes that duty comes before personal happiness. And she is also very cognizant of the fact that whatever they might have together, happily ever after is not an option. Not that they might not want it, and not that his magic does not give him a much longer lifespan than average, but, barring a epically catastrophic mishap, she will outlive him by centuries.

But even within those constraints, it is still clear that they love each other and want to try for whatever future they can manage, assuming they survive the present danger.

There are older and more fell things in Moiread and Madoc’s world than dragons, and there are dragons older and more powerful than the MacAlasdairs. It would not be a true quest, after all, if there wasn’t a real possibility that our hero and heroine had bitten off just a bit more than they can chew – even with dragon-sized jaws.

The third book in this series, Highland Dragon Master, is coming out next spring. I can’t wait to see where the Highland Dragons fly next.

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Review: The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

Review: The House at Baker Street by Michelle BirkbyThe House at Baker Street (A Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson Investigation #1) by Michelle Birkby
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson #1
Pages: 368
Published by Harper Perennial on October 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBook Depository
Goodreads

When Sherlock Holmes turns away the case of persecuted Laura Shirley, Mrs Hudson, the landlady of Baker Street, and Mary Watson resolve to take on the investigation themselves. From the kitchen of Baker Street, the two women begin their enquiries and enlist the assistance of the Baker Street Irregulars and the infamous Irene Adler.A trail of clues leads them to the darkest corners of Whitechapel, where the feared Ripper supposedly still stalks. They discover Laura Shirley is not the only woman at risk and it rapidly becomes apparent that the lives of many other women are in danger too.As they put together the pieces of an increasingly complicated puzzle, the investigation becomes bigger than either of them could ever have imagined. Can Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson solve the case or are they just pawns in a much larger game?It is time for Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson to emerge from the shadows and stand in the spotlight. Readers will discover they are resourceful, intelligent and fearless women, with a determination to help those in need . . .

My Review:

This is not the first re-imagining of the life of Sherlock Holmes’ imperturbable housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, to emerge in recent years, but it is the one that tears the fabric of its canon the least. (The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King posits a much, much different life for the Great Detective’s landlady!)

Instead, like Carole Nelson Douglas’ series featuring Irene Adler as the protagonist, The House at Baker Street show the world of 221b through the eyes of its female inhabitants and habitués as they take up a case that Holmes rejects. And they carry it off with aplomb, if not without more than their fair share of danger and intrigue.

Just like Holmes himself, Martha Hudson also has the assistance of her very own Watson. Mrs. Hudson is aided and abetted by Mrs. Watson – the former Mary Morstan that was. In addition to calling on the aid of many of Holmes’ own allies, including the ever-present and ever-helpful Irregulars.

And when Hudson and Watson find themselves in need of an expert housebreaker, they turn to Holmes’ very own nemesis, Irene Adler herself.

The case in The House at Baker Street feels very much like something that Holmes would reject out of hand – and one where the female Hudson and Watson would understand the circumstances so much more intimately than the male detectives.

At a time when an unsullied reputation was a woman’s most precious possession, a whisper campaign of tireless malignity filled with descriptions of unspeakable acts could bring down the highest of the elite – and could wreck a formerly happy marriage. It could even end a life.

Or two. Or ten. Or possibly a hundred.

But whisper campaigns are insidious, and women, even more so then than now, we’re not supposed to even think of the things that were being hinted at. Never accused, because an accusation requires proof. But whispered about in an undertone in a crowded ballroom, or a smoky club room. And, as always, it is impossible to prove a negative. How does one prove that one hasn’t ever done something, especially when no one will directly speak of it?

Laura Shirley is a victim of just such a campaign. Holmes rejects her incoherent plea for help, both impatient with her frightened mannerisms and certain that she must be lying about something relevant. He’s certain that there’s no smoke without at least a little fire.

Martha Hudson and Mary Watson know better. Laura Shirley’s fear is real. Whether Hudson and Watson have learned enough of the detective business to solve her case is anyone’s guess – including their own.

But in a fit of daring – or perhaps insanity – they decide to try. And discover that they have inserted themselves into a web much darker than they, or even Sherlock Holmes himself, ever imagined.

Escape Rating A-: This story feels like it fits almost seamlessly into the Holmes canon. It’s not just that the reader can feel the pea-souper fog and almost smell the smells – especially the unsavory ones. It’s that this story feels like something that could have happened under Holmes’ very nose – not because he didn’t notice but because he often does not seem to care what happens to other people. In the stories, and especially in some of the portrayals of Holmes on TV and in the movies, he frequently seems like a fairly selfish bastard.

And a genius, of course. But still, quite often, a bastard who cannot admit that he does, in fact, care about at least some of the people around him. Like Watson. And Mrs. Hudson, and the Irregulars. And even, in an unspecified and undefined way, Irene Adler.

But it is all too easy to seem him dismissing Laura Shirley in irascible impatience. And even today, we are all much too aware that a woman’s testimony about her abuse, because that is what was happening to Laura Shirley, is always discounted, often down to nothing. That men in general and Holmes (and her husband) in particular would write her story off to either hysterical imaginings or a guilty conscience feels like the way of the world. Not just hers, but ours.

That Martha Hudson and Mary Watson take her seriously because they both know better also feels entirely too plausible. But what makes this book is that they choose to do something about it – and in the doing uncover great danger – but also discover that they, every bit as much as Holmes and Watson, rise to the thrill of the chase and the danger of the hunt for evil.

Hudson and Watson, but particularly Mrs. Hudson, jump off the page. The story is told from Martha Hudson’s perspective, and we are with her as she reaches outside of herself and pushes out of her “comfort zone” to face this challenge. We are with her as she stumbles and fumbles and most importantly, learns how to expand herself into this new role that she has taken on. And it is the making of her.

That Hudson and Watson discover in the end that evil, is in fact hunting them makes for the perfect ending – and effectively slots the first case of Hudson and Watson into the greater arc of Holmes and Watson’s long-running battle with the greatest criminal mastermind of their generation.

If you love Sherlock Holmes’ stories, The House at Baker Street is a marvelous addition to your addiction. It certainly was to mine. There is a second book in this series, titled The Women of Baker Street, which I can’t wait to immerse myself in.

Review: Hell Squad: Ash by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Ash by Anna HackettAsh (Hell Squad #14) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: post apocalyptic, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #14
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on October 1st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

In the middle of an alien invasion, will the bad boy berserker catch the geeky tech genius?

Computer genius Marin Mitchell is doing her part to help humanity survive the raptor invasion, working tirelessly to decrypt alien data. She spends her days working and drooling over a certain tattooed, biker berserker from Squad Three. But Marin knows the rules: geeks do not snag sexy bad boys. She spends her nights playing her favorite computer game where she is a kick-butt badass, and a match for her mysterious online fight partner, SuperSoldier3.

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Ash Connors knows that whenever he reaches for something good, life slaps him back down. He gave up on his dreams a long time ago, and instead, focused on running his motorcycle club with his best friend. But after the alien invasion, he does what he does best, fight and take down the aliens. When cute, smart, and sweet Marin catches his eye, he tries to steer clear, but can't seem to stay away...online or in real life.

When Marin discovers information about a central alien data hub, her skills are needed to hack into the system. That means a deadly mission deep underground, right into the heart of alien territory. That throws her right into Ash's tattooed arms. As the sexy berserker fights to keep her safe, he also vows to show Marin that while she might follow the rules, he likes to break them.

My (Admittedly Squee-Filled) Review:

I’ve read the entire Hell Squad series so far, and pretty much loved every minute of it. But there’s something about this particular book that really, really worked for me. It took me a while to figure out exactly what made this one special.

It’s Marin, the heroine of the story. She’s a geek girl, and proud of it. She’s a valued member of Noah’s geek squad with a specialty in breaking Gizzida firewalls and hacking their tech. She’s also a girl gamer and one of the champions at the battle game that everyone in the Enclave is playing.

She knows who and what she is, and doesn’t apologize for any it, including the way she completely loses herself in a work the minute she has a new puzzle to solve, and doesn’t come up for air until the problem has been conquered.

She’s also a woman who knows how her world works, and one of the ways that the world works is that geek girls do not end up with hot bad boys. For any of us that grew up listening to Janis Ian’s incredible “At Seventeen”, Marin is a sister. She’s learned the truth that the rest of us have, that “love was meant for beauty queens” and that we aren’t among them.

Some of the heroines of some of the earlier Hell Squad books have been soldiers. While it’s fun to imagine being Claudia or Camryn, and it is fantastic to see them kick Gizzida ass, they are a couple of steps further into the fantasy of it all.

Geek girl Marin is a woman close to my heart. Claudia and Camryn read almost like Wonder Woman, where Marin is someone I could actually imagine wanting to be. It made her incredibly easy to identify with. I really wanted her to get her Happy For Now, but even more than that, I could see myself making some of her choices and also feeling many of her insecurities.

I hadn’t realized quite how much that would mean to my enjoyment of a story until I was in the thick of this one and just felt every step of her journey and loved it.

Escape Rating A-: I’m not going to do a traditional review for this one. If you even think that post-apocalyptic science fiction romance might be your jam, pick up the first book in this series, Marcus, and just dive in. Each individual story is a hot and sexy romance. And, there’s the overall arc of the series, all about the fight against the alien invaders and the need to kick them off Earth – with extreme prejudice to pay for all the death and destruction they’ve caused.

It’s a wild ride from the beginning to where we are now. And where we are now is that I think we’re seeing the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel, and I’m really hoping that it isn’t an oncoming train. It’s time for the Gizzida to go, hopefully with a stand up and cheer, kick their alien asses off our planet big scene just like the first Independence Day movie. Which the Hell Squad series will probably remind you of more than a bit.

I’ll stop squeeing now. Go forth and get ready to go to hell with the Hell Squad. Because the Gizzida devils really, really need an ass-kicking. And it’s all kinds of adventurous, sexy fun to watch the Hell Squad deliver it!

Review: Completely by Ruthie Knox

Review: Completely by Ruthie KnoxCompletely (New York #3) by Ruthie Knox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: New York #3
Pages: 262
Published by Loveswept on September 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Everest. If they can make it there, they can make it anywhere. Maybe even New York, where Ruthie Knox takes her charming rom-com style to new heights.   Beneath her whole “classic English beauty” appearance is an indomitable spirit that has turned Rosemary Chamberlain into something of a celebrity mountain climber. But after an Everest excursion takes a deadly turn, Rosemary is rescued by her quick-thinking guide, New York native Kal Beckett. Rosemary’s brush with death brings out a primal need to celebrate life—and inspires a night of steamy sex with the rather gorgeous man who saved her.   The son of a famous female climber with a scandalous past, Kal Beckett is still trying to find himself. In the Zen state of mind where Kal spends most of his time, anything can happen—like making love to a fascinating stranger and setting off across the world with her the next morning. But as their lives collide in the whirlwind of passion that is New York City, the real adventure is clearly just beginning. . . .   Ruthie Knox’s irresistible New York novels can be read together or separately: TRULY | MADLY | COMPLETELY   “Knox writes such sultry, detailed romance. The sexual tension and the sex itself are very hot. . . . Highly recommend this story.”Smexy Books, on Truly   “An amazing journey of self-discovery with a sexy love story thrown in for good measure!”Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews, on Truly   “What Knox does so well is create these wonderful, emotionally wounded, real characters for us to relate to and root for and love.”RT Book Reviews, on Madly   “A highly entertaining, compelling, and sexy story that I really didn’t want to put down.”Harlequin Junkie, on Madly

My Review:

One of the things about series romances is that there’s a tendency, or more likely a downright desire, to make sure that everyone within the series’ orbit has found their own HEA by the end of the series. Even if it’s not with the person they began with. After all, just because a story features a second chance at love doesn’t mean that second chance has to occur with the same person the first one did.

Especially when that option has been rendered moot by an earlier book in the series, where one half of the former couple finds their HEA with somebody else.

In the case of both Friday’s book, A Snow Country Christmas, and today’s book, Completely, the last unmatched person standing is the ex of the hero of one of the earlier stories. In both cases, of course, not an evilex (™) but just the other half of a relationship that wasn’t meant to be.

About Last Night by Ruthie KnoxWe originally met Rosemary Chamberlain all the way back in About Last Night, which is one of my favorite contemporary romances of all time, and if you haven’t read it you really should. Not because you need to have read it for the New York Trilogy in general or Madly and Completely in specific to make sense, but because About Last Night is just plain awesomesauce and wonderful and every time I have to refer to it for something I get sucked right back into it again and again and again.

But way back then, Rosemary was still married to Winston (the hero of Madly) and still living in England, being, as she puts it, “wallpaper”. Rosemary felt like she sacrificed all her own dreams to become the perfect wife and perfect mother. The new post-divorce Rosemary is obviously no longer the perfect wife, which is a good thing, but her daughter Beatrice is very unhappy and overdramatic and just a general pain about Rosemary no longer being the perfect mum.

Instead, Rosemary is climbing mountains. We meet her again as she’s ascending Everest. Not figuratively, but literally. She’s part of an all-woman team that is planning to ascend the tallest mountain on each continent, starting with Everest. And then she’s going to write a book about the experience.

That’s the plan until it all, equally literally, goes smash. A deadly avalanche ends the ascent to the summit, as the Base Camps below Rosemary’s party are all in various stages of wiped out. The mountain is closed. And Rosemary finds herself alone, evacuated by helicopter to the tiny town of Lukla, home of the most dangerous airport in the world and the nearest airport to Everest.

She’s numb. She’s spent. Her adrenaline has crashed to sea level and she’s not processing the sudden end to her plans or her overwhelming grief at all the lives lost. And into the middle of her complete mental shutdown steps Kal Beckett. Kal is the son of two famous climbers, half-Sherpa, and one of the “ice doctors” on her run up the mountain. He’s also the only person who sees that Rosemary’s British stiff upper lip has finally failed her, and that she needs food and rest and human companionship to help her through the darkness that surrounds her.

What he’s not admitting to himself is that he is just as lost in the dark as she is, and that he needs those things equally badly. He brings her food, and companionship, and a desperate need to remind himself that he’s alive – a need which Rosemary turns out to be intensely enthusiastic to meet.

Their lovemaking should have been a one-night stand. Or one day and one night, considering how sleep deprived they both were. But it isn’t. Rosemary isn’t ready to pick up all of the obligations that await her. She wants to go to New York and see her daughter. Kal needs to go home to New York, but all his money and equipment have been stolen while he and Rosemary slept the sleep of the “grateful not to be dead”.

They team up. Rosemary spots Kal the plane fare home. They help each other stay grounded, and make it through the rough spots left by experiencing something terrible and profound that no one else could possibly understand.

And along the way they figure out that no matter how temporary their relationship should have been – it’s anything but. Even though it makes no sense at all. Love and sense obviously have nothing to do with each other. At least not for them.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve loved everything that Ruthie Knox has written, and Completely is no exception.

The story in Completely, while it focuses on Rosemary and Kal, is also a very nice wrap up for the entire New York Trilogy. And it adds a nice little fillip to About Last Night as well, as Completely ends with the wedding of the couple from About Last Night. It was great to see Cath and Nev again, and to know that they’ve firmly cemented their HEA.

And even though this is Rosemary’s story, it also ties in nicely with Madly. Not just because Rosemary is Winston’s ex, either.

Rosemary can’t face going back to the climbing group. Not out of fear, or any of the other reasons that might stop someone from returning to something so incredibly dangerous. Instead, it’s because she’s finally letting herself acknowledge that while climbing mountains may have been a dream of her younger self that she gave up to become that perfect wife and mum, she has changed and the dreams she dreamed at 20 are not the same dreams that move her now.

She still wants to write, but the stories that she wants to write are women’s stories. Not women’s fiction, or fiction of any kind. What moves her now are women’s voices, and the true stories that have been left untold because they happened to women. All the ways that the world is different from the perspective of a female body and all the stories that have been suppressed because the teller is a woman and not a man.

And she wants to start with Kal’s mother Yangchen Beckett, the only woman to summit Mount Everest seven times. A woman who was only able to summit Mount Everest at all after she divorced and possibly murdered her violent, abusive ex-husband.

It’s a story that even Kal doesn’t know – and isn’t quite he’s ready to find out. But Yangchen is ready to tell it, and ready to manipulate her son and this surprising woman that he has come to love in order to both get her story out into the world and to finally help her son find the elusive happiness that he deserves – but can’t make himself reach for.

Most of Ruthie Knox’s stories feel very real, featuring people who seem like they could live next door or across the street. And the tensions that keep her romantic couples apart before they figure out how to be together also feels real. Life happens. Stuff happens. People don’t always deal well with the stuff that happens to them. And they screw up the best things in their lives trying not to deal with their own shit.

So even though Rosemary and Kal meet in a situation that is far from ordinary, the issues and problems between them still feel real, as does the love they have unexpectedly found with each other. And it’s marvelous.

I don’t know where Ruthie Knox is going next, or what terrific new stories she’s planning to tell. But I know that I plan to be there whenever she tells them.

Review: Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2

Review: Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 by S.E. Smith, Carol Van Natta, Jessica E. Subject, Alexis Glynn Latner, M.K. Eidem, Susan Grant, Michelle Howard, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Sabine Priestley
Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Pages: 826
on October 10th 2017
Publisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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The pets are back! Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2, featuring twelve of today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors brings you a dozen original stories written just for you! Join in the fun, from the Dragon Lords of Valdier to a trip aboard award-winning author, Veronica Scott’s Nebula Zephyr to journeying back to Luda where Grim is King, for stories that will take you out of this world! Join New York Times, USA TODAY, and Award-winning authors S.E. Smith, M.K. Eidem, Susan Grant, Michelle Howard, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Sabine Priestley, Jessica E. Subject, Carol Van Natta, and Alexis Glynn Latner as they share stories and help out Hero-Dogs.org, a charity that supports our veterans!

10% of the first month’s profits go to Hero-Dogs.org. Hero Dogs raises and trains service dogs and places them free of charge with US Veterans to improve quality of life and restore independence.

My Review:

I loved the first Pets in Space collection, as well as all the pets collected therein, so I was happy to sign up for Pets in Space 2. And I’m glad I did.

This is a collection to savor, and possibly also one to plan on reading over a long trip. This book is huge. Why? Because this is not a collection of short stories, it’s a collection of novellas. Novellas are longer, meatier and just have room for more story all the way around. So if you like SFR in general or stories where animals help the humans get their romantic act together, this one is a winner from beginning to end.

I have to confess that I haven’t read them all, yet. I want to have time to get into each story, and possibly see how many books in each author’s series I need to add to my towering TBR pile.

That being said, I really enjoyed the stories I did read. But because this is my “best beloved” genre, SFR, I have a few quibbles.

I read the first two stories, Pearl’s Dragon by SE Smith and A Grim Pet by MK Eidem straight out of the gate, before I realized I had to pace myself a bit. I liked both of them, but Pearl’s Dragon spoke to me a bit more. It was fantastic to see a “woman of a certain age” as the romantic lead. That doesn’t happen nearly often enough, even though in science fiction it is easy to posit more than enough medical advances to make it not merely plausible, but very, very possible. And it’s fun to see someone I can really identify with as the heroine!

But both of these stories are in worlds that I am not familiar with, and that are several stories into their worldbuilding. As much as I enjoyed them, I always had the feeling that there was a whole bunch that I was missing because I hadn’t read the previous stories. Which look like a treat. As soon as I get a round tuit, I’ll be back to visit these worlds again.

I went hunting for a cat story, because, cats. I love cat stories, and cat’s stories, and that’s why I have two of my own. And I loved Rescued by the Cyborg by Cara Bristol, even though I have not read the series that it comes from, either. Little Mittzi added just the right touch of comfort and whimsy to a story that definitely had its dark and gritty moments. And Mittzi even saved the day!

Then I went looking for the stories in universes that was already familiar with, and explored two of those, Veronica Scott’s Star Cruise: Songbird and Pauline Baird Jones’ Time Trap.

Time Trap was a bit shorter than the rest, and just didn’t have quite enough time to deal with what feels like some very complex worldbuilding under the surface. And that’s ironic considering that this is a time travel story. I liked Briggs and Madison, but because I didn’t have a lot of background for them I found myself short-cutting what I did have and grafting it into universes I’m more familiar with. Something kept saying Stargate to me, but I’m not sure if that mental leap was remotely correct. Still, great characters, but the worldbuilding had clearly happened elsewhere. Sir Rupert, on my third hand, was an absolute hoot. Pun completely intended.

Of the stories that I read, I think that Star Cruise: Songbird was the best of the marvelous bunch. It probably helped that I have read several books in the Star Cruise series, and was relatively familiar with the worldbuilding. This story felt the most complete, in the sense that we had a chance to really see the relationship develop from its shaky start to its life-altering conclusion. The bond between Grant and his raptor was nicely done, and Karissa’s problems, while they were difficult, showed that she was dealing with her life and just needed a bit of help – not that Grant needed to rescue her at every turn. I also loved that they found a way to be together that melded both their worlds. A great story with a well deserved and interesting HEA.

Escape Rating A-: There are mostly hits in this collection, and plenty of temptation not just to immerse yourself in this book, but to go back and do a deep dive into every one of these authors’ worlds. I loved the first book, and this is a fitting continuation. I hope that there will be a Pets in Space 3 to look forward to next year, because this collection has become an annual treat.

Review: Fool Me Once by Catherine Bybee

Review: Fool Me Once by Catherine BybeeFool Me Once by Catherine Bybee
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense, women's fiction
Series: First Wives #1
Pages: 348
Published by Montlake Romance on September 19th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
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From Weekday Brides to First Wives, a dazzling series about four women and their alliance of newfound friendship, unexpected love, and second chances.

Cynical divorce attorney Lori Cumberland lives by one motto: Love is grand, but divorce is a hundred grand. With one failed marriage under her own personal belt, Lori had fallen hard and early—and it isn’t something she plans on repeating. She’s content focusing on the temporary marriages of her rich and famous clients. When she joins some of her recent divorcées on a celebratory cruise, her only vow is fun, sun, and new friends. But Lori finds herself tempted by a jury of one.

For Reed Barlow, falling into the world of private investigation was easy. He knows the law and knows how to avoid breaking it—all while doing his job. His rule to live by? No emotion, no involvement…until Lori. His charming smile and cocky attitude distracts Lori and lowers her guard, which is exactly what Reed desires.

But what appears as a one-time-only flirtation may be a plot orchestrated by Reed. As he’s taking his investigation to a dangerous level, it’s Lori who could end up in jeopardy. Reed has only one shot for Lori to grant him a second chance. But if he comes clean with her, he blows his cover. And that just might cost him the opportunity for an alliance of family…and of love.

My Review:

As the old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on ME.” I still hear those words in Jimmy Doohan’s inimitable Scottish brogue, as the first time I ever heard this adage was in Star Trek: The Original Series in the episode “Friday’s Child”.

Although Fool Me Once is the first book in a spinoff series from Weekday Brides, you don’t have to read any of the first series to jump into the second. There are enough explanations about Alliance to get new readers right into the thick of things. But the Weekday Brides are awesome, so if you like Fool Me Once, you’ll love them, too.

The women featured in Fool Me Once and the First Wives Club are all Alliance veterans. Shannon, Avery and Trina were all contract brides, married to rich and/or powerful men in name only, for a year or so, in return for huge payouts at the end, when the inevitable divorce occurred. As intended. As contracted for by both parties.

Except it only works some of the time. Lori, the heroine of this story, is the legal brains behind Alliance. She writes those iron-clad pre-nups and sees all her clients from initial interviews to after-care when the divorce is final and the gossip inevitably hits the fan.

It doesn’t always work. About a quarter of the Alliance-arranged contracts have turned into real marriages. Considering that the divorce rate for non-arranged marriages is 50%, these are not bad odds. But Shannon, Avery and Trina are special cases.

Shannon made the mistake of falling in love with her ex. Two years later she still hasn’t gotten over it. Avery just got her divorce, and is ready to party. Trina’s situation is the one that ends in tragedy, and that sets this story in motion. Trina’s husband-in-name-only committed suicide while they were still married. As if that wasn’t enough, his mother died a few days later, leaving her entire fortune, not to her family, but to Trina. Who is overwhelmed with guilt and constantly in the cross-hairs of the paparazzi – and her father-in-law.

Lori may not believe in love and marriage after years as a divorce lawyer, but she does believe in taking care of her friends. And all of these women are her friends as well as her clients. Trina needs a getaway. And she needs company to help her get out of her funk, as well as to shield her from the press. It seems like a brilliant idea to get away for a week on a high-class cruise in the Mediterranean – but that just puts them in the midst of a whole new set of problems.

And that’s where Reed Barlow comes in. He seems like one of the solutions – not for any of the former Alliance brides, but for Lori herself. He looks like the perfect end to her very long dry spell, and the chemistry they ignite feels more than just physical. That he lives close enough to Lori’s home base in LA to make a continuation of their shipboard romance possible seems perfect. And so does Reed. Maybe just a little too perfect.

Because Reed isn’t part of the solution, he’s part of the problem. At least until he re-discovers his inner hero and changes sides. Too late to save their relationship, and possibly even too late to save Alliance and its secrets.

Or is it?

Escape Rating A-: Fool Me Once is a marvelous cross between romantic suspense and women’s fiction, and I loved every minute of it. As I have all of Catherine Bybee’s books that I have read so far. The number of kindle locations in Fool Me Once made me think that the book was a bit longer than the 350 pages it claims to be, and I didn’t care.

The women’s fiction angle comes in because so much of the backbone of the story is the relationship between the four women. They call themselves the First Wives Club because they’ve all been divorced, including Lori. But instead of the usual version, where the first wives got thrown over for the newer, younger model, these women ended up mostly where they thought they would, with a few kinks in the road. Instead, went into the arrangement intending to trade their contracted sugar-daddy husbands for newer, probably younger models who are their own choices.

Of course, the best laid plans of mice, men, and women often go astray. But the relationship that forms between these sisters-of-choice is forever. Readers who like Shannon, Avery, Trina and Lori will fall right in with them. They are all strong women with their own distinct personalities, but they are all different. It’s easy to identify with one or all of them, and that’s what makes the book.

The romantic suspense angle has its moments of extreme danger, but also plenty of intrigue and mystery. It’s clear at the beginning that Reed enters into the story with an agenda that is funded by someone else, someone who does not have the best interests of any of the women in mind. Although Reed changes sides (he has to or this wouldn’t be a romance) the person who set him in motion is not happy or satisfied, and will probably come back to haunt Shannon in particular and Alliance in general.

But the real mystery and danger in this story comes not from Lori and Reed, but from Trina’s case. Trina’s entanglement with her late husband’s family has caused a lot of resentment, and someone is willing to go through Lori to get to Trina, putting both of them in danger. The threat is very real and nearly catastrophic. At the same time, Trina’s unexpected inheritance provides her with a way forward that no one expected at the beginning. The ongoing story of her new adventures looks like a lot of fun.

When a hero screws up as much as Reed does (and sister does he ever) I usually need for the hero to do a really, really good grovel for the heroine to justify taking him back. While I’m not sure Reed groveled quite enough, he did save her brother’s life. That makes up for a lot of grovel. This HEA is earned!

At some point in this series, there might be a real “fool me twice” possibility. Shannon is, after all, in love with her ex. I can’t help but wonder whether her eventual HEA will be with him, or whether she’ll manage to finally wash that man right out of her hair. And I can’t wait to find out.

Review: Tramps and Thieves by Rhys Ford

Review: Tramps and Thieves by Rhys FordTramps and Thieves by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, mystery, romantic suspense
Series: Murder and Mayhem #2
Pages: 210
Published by Dreamspinner Press on September 18th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Whoever said blood was thicker than water never stood in a pool of it.

Retiring from stealing priceless treasures seemed like a surefire way for Rook Stevens to stay on the right side of the law. The only cop in his life should have been his probably-boyfriend, Los Angeles Detective Dante Montoya, but that’s not how life—his life—is turning out. Instead, Rook ends up not only standing in a puddle of his cousin Harold’s blood but also being accused of Harold’s murder…and sleeping with Harold’s wife.

For Dante, loving the former thief means his once-normal life is now a sea of chaos, especially since Rook seems incapable of staying out of trouble—or keeping trouble from following him home. When Rook is tagged as a murder suspect by a narrow-focused West L.A. detective, Dante steps in to pull his lover out of the quagmire Rook’s landed in.

When the complicated investigation twists around on them, the dead begin to stack up, forcing the lovers to work together. Time isn’t on their side, and if they don’t find the killer before another murder, Dante will be visiting Rook in his prison cell—or at his grave.

My Review:

Tramps and Thieves is a terrific follow up to its series opener, Murder and Mayhem. And it gets off to an equally explosive start. Last time it was a shoot out over a misidentified Wookie, this time it’s a prank heist that turns up a real murder, and nearly turns into one as well.

Rook Stevens has been fighting with most of his newly re-discovered family ever since his rich and eccentric grandfather discovered his existence back in the first book. His grandfather’s insistence on Sunday family dinners at his over decorated mansion have kept all the relationships on the boil – and none of them are brewing anything tasty.

So when his slimy cousin Harold winkles a collectible Maltese Falcon out from under Rook’s nose, Rook has to get it back. Being able to exercise his disused skills as a thief is just a bonus. Until Rook finds Harold in a pool of his own blood, with the contested Falcon resting on his corpse.

His killer tries to take Rook out on his way out, but when Rook calls the cops, he gets yet another variation of asshole who is just sure he must have committed the crime, and seems willing to bend the rules to make it stick.

LAPD Detective Dante Montoya rides to his lover’s rescue, and they find themselves in the midst of yet another pissing contest with a bad cop, and another trail of dead bodies that leads right to Rook’s door.

This time the question is whether it’s his own past that has caught up to him, again, or if it’s someone else’s. As Rook gets caught by one close call after another, he retreats to lick his wounds while Dante chases down the villains. Only to discover that it was Rook they were after all along.

And that he might be too late.

Escape Rating A-: If you like your romantic suspense with a heaping helping of chaos and destruction, this series is a winner from that first downed Wookie. In Tramps and Thieves, Rook and Dante are driven from crisis to crisis from the very first page, and the action doesn’t let up until the story winds to its breathtaking conclusion.

Where the first book, Murder and Mayhem, was all about Rook’s past reaching out to grab him, and his final decision to let it go, this second book is all about family. And both birth family and family-of-choice.

We see the influence of family-of-choice in Dante’s police partner’s reactions when Dante decides to investigate Rook’s sudden rash of problems on his own. They are partners, and the man rightfully will not let Dante go it alone, even if it is safer for his career.

Speaking of Dante’s partner, he is the link between this series and the fantastic Cole McGinnis series. And in a roundabout way, Cole almost gets dragged into this case. It’s always nice to hear that old friends are doing well.

But the heart of this case turns out to revolve around the birth family that Rook never knew he had until he stepped out of the shadows of his old life.

There are all sorts of variations on this saying, but the one that applies here is “You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your relatives.” Rook may be the spitting image of his grandfather as a young man, but the family that has gathered around Archie Stevens hoping for a piece of his massive estate hates Rook with nearly every fiber of their collective being – some of them with more reasons than others.

He has stepped into a stew of boiling resentment, one that splatters onto him because no one wants to challenge the old man. And it’s in that stew that the bodies are bubbling. It’s messy from beginning to end, and an absolute page-turner.

I can’t wait to see what kind of chaos finds Rook and Dante next. If you want to get in on their action, there’s a blog tour for Tramps and Thieves going on now, giving away $20 gift certificates at every stop. There’s also a bit of a prequel story being spun out over the course of the tour. Check it out!

Finally, I gift you with an earworm. I have had this damn song running in my head ever since Rhys sent me the eARC for this book. As the song very much fits Rook’s shady background, I had to share, even though I know that no one will thank me later.

Review: Fatal Charm by Blair McDowell

Review: Fatal Charm by Blair McDowellFatal Charm by Blair McDowell
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: romantic suspense
Pages: 252
Published by The Wild Rose Press on September 8th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
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A perilous scheme to thwart ruthless adversaries hurtles successful young jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy from her comfortable California studio to the streets of Paris and the beaches of Brittany as she attempts to return a priceless stolen heirloom to the Louvre.

Colin Stryker, the devastatingly handsome history professor from Ireland who has appointed himself her protector, fights to rescue her before her captors add murder to their crimes, while at the same time unraveling the torturous train of events that led to the original theft.

With every moment fraught with danger, can the chemistry already sizzling between the two ignite into passion?

My Review:

Like all of Blair McDowell’s marvelous books, Fatal Charm is a non-stop romantic suspense thrill ride from beginning to end. And in addition to the edge-of-your-seat danger that the heroine is dropped into, we have an enchanting love story as well as a great story about the depths of friendship and just how terrific the love of a family-of-choice can be.

Jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy is thrown into a boiling hot mess at the beginning of this story, and doesn’t manage to climb out until the very, very end. And the reader is right in the pot with her the whole time.

Her ex turns up dead. Except he’s not really her ex – not because they never broke it off, as seems usual in this kind of story, but because they never seem to have gotten it on in the first place. Allen Thompson was a friend who seemed to want to be more than that, but Caitlyn just never felt any spark.

Not getting any more deeply involved with Allen was possibly the wisest thing she’s ever done. Which doesn’t stop the man from landing her in the soup as he dies. At which point, Caitlin discovers not just that he’s left her with an epic mess, but also that nothing the man ever told her seems to have had much bearing on the truth.

Caitlin thought Allen was an accountant. From Canada. When in fact, he was a high-end thief, a very wanted man on the run, and from France. And those lies are only the beginning.

Allen left Cait with a very hot piece of jewelry, hidden among her samples and uncut stone. It’s a dragon. And everyone who has ever possessed the thing seems to have found themselves in a whole mess of fiery trouble – ending with Allen and Caitlin and beginning with Marie Antoinette. Allen, really Alain, stole the pretty little firebreather from the Louvre, and it’s been nothing but trouble before and since.

When two mysterious and nasty men steal first Caitlin’s sample case, then break into both her shop and her house, her defenders rally round and the mystery begins to unravel. It’s certainly unraveling Cait, while ravelling both her assistant Aristotle Jones and his professor Colin Stryker into the web.

Aristotle and Cait have been friends for five years. In spite of completely different origins, coming from entirely different places, Aristotle and Cait have become a family of choice. There is never any hint of romance, and there never was and never will be. They are brother-and-sister. But Aristotle is currently a doctoral candidate at Berkeley, and when he brings his mentor Colin Stryker to Cait to see if they can figure out what is going on with the little dragon, well, Colin’s feelings for Cait are anything but brotherly.

Still, both Aristotle and Colin close ranks firmly around Cait as they figure out where the dragon came from, what it is, how it ended up being Cait’s problem, and what they should collectively do about the deadly and disastrous little creature.

All the while dodging two increasingly desperate villains who are determined to get the dragon back and get revenge on anyone who keeps it from them, at any cost.

Escape Rating A-: Just as with all of this author’s work, Fatal Charm kept me going back to its mystery and adventure all day long, until I finally gave in and just finished it. I started at lunch and in spite of work and other annoying interventions, couldn’t stop myself from turning the last page after midnight. I just had to see how it all turned out.

The romantic part of this romantic suspense is both simple and complicated. On the simple side, it’s pretty clear that Colin and Cait fall for each other the minute they meet. On the complicated side, they both resist the pull, and for good and sensible reasons. Colin’s last attempt at real romance went down in flames. Cait, while she managed not to “settle” for Allen, is still left not trusting her own instincts. She never even suspected that he lied about EVERYTHING.

And there are plenty of more mundane factors keeping them apart as well. Colin is nearly 40, and worried that he’s a bit too old for the 20something Cait. But more than that, there’s a geography problem. Colin is only a visiting professor at Berkeley – his home is in Ireland. Cait’s life, reputation and means of making a living, work that she loves, are all in California. Neither of them really believes a long-distance relationship can work, even if they survive the current mess they’ve landed in.

That mess provides the suspense angle for this story, and it’s a pot that keeps boiling from the very beginning until the almost bitter end. The brooch unravels secrets on multiple continents, revealing truths and lies about people that Colin has loved and trusted for decades. In order to solve the mystery, he’ll have to believe that some of his dearest friends have been lying to him, just as Cait discovered that Allen was lying to her.

The danger never lets up, and overtakes them all more than once. But in the end, those tasty just desserts are passed around to those who deserve them, and our heroes finally figure out what might be their best chance at a happy ending. If only they can manage to grab it.

If you love well-crafted romantic suspense where the mystery is every bit as mysterious as the romance is romantic, check out Blair McDowell’s work. I found her through a book tour five years ago, and she is one of my happiest discoveries. From the very first book, Delighting in Your Company, she’s kept me enthralled every single time. My only disappointment is that she takes time writing and researching her books (which is a good thing!) so that I only get one of her gems per year. A treat every single time.