Review: Peach Clobbered by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Including the nuns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin

Review: Never Look Back by Alison GaylinNever Look Back by Alison Gaylin
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on July 2, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Reminiscent of the bestsellers of Laura Lippman and Harlan Coben—with a Serial-esque podcast twist—an absorbing, addictive tale of psychological suspense from the author of the highly acclaimed and Edgar Award-nominated What Remains of Me and the USA Today bestselling and Shamus Award-winning Brenna Spector series.

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TLC
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Review: Someone to Honor by Mary Balogh

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’s free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plenty of happy marriages begin with much shakier foundations.

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

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

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

Guest Review: Phaze by S. C. Mitchell

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

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

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

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

Guest review by Amy:

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

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

8 hours, 36 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m hungry for more. Soon, please!

Guest Post from Rhys (and Recipe from Kuro!)

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

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

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

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

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

And now, onto the food…

Oyakodon

Ingredients

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

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

 Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

Rhys can be found at the following locations:

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow the rest of the blog tour here:

Review: Finder by Suzanne Palmer

Review: Finder by Suzanne PalmerFinder by Suzanne Palmer
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Pages: 391
Published by DAW Books on April 2, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From Hugo Award-winning debut author Suzanne Palmer comes an action-packed sci-fi caper starring Fergus Ferguson, interstellar repo man and professional finder

Fergus Ferguson has been called a lot of names: thief, con artist, repo man. He prefers the term finder.

His latest job should be simple. Find the spacecraft Venetia's Sword and steal it back from Arum Gilger, ex-nobleman turned power-hungry trade boss. He'll slip in, decode the ship's compromised AI security, and get out of town, Sword in hand.

Fergus locates both Gilger and the ship in the farthest corner of human-inhabited space, a gas-giant-harvesting colony called Cernee. But Fergus' arrival at the colony is anything but simple. A cable car explosion launches Cernee into civil war, and Fergus must ally with Gilger's enemies to navigate a field of space mines and a small army of hostile mercenaries. What was supposed to be a routine job evolves into negotiating a power struggle between factions. Even worse, Fergus has become increasingly--and inconveniently--invested in the lives of the locals.

It doesn't help that a dangerous alien species thought mythical prove unsettlingly real, and their ominous triangle ships keep following Fergus around.

Foolhardy. Eccentric. Reckless. Whatever he's called, Fergus will need all the help he can get to take back the Sword and maybe save Cernee from destruction in the process.

My Review:

June is Audiobook Month, and Finder is one of those books that I picked up in audio and couldn’t wait to get into it. It’s one of those wild ride, thrill-a-minute stories that kept me sitting in my car in all sorts of places, just so I could hear just a bit more of whatever it was that Fergus managed to get himself into this time. Every time.

In the end I finished up with the book-book, or rather the ebook, because I just couldn’t start anything else until I discovered if/how Fergus finally managed to get himself out of both frying pan AND fire – and complete his self-imposed mission – without racking up too much more collateral damage along the way.

This is also a fantastic space opera, but not of the conquering star empires variety, which is cool and neat and different.

Fergus is the finder of the title. He’s kind of a repo man, but not exactly. He doesn’t repossess something because someone has missed a payment or ten. He finds things, big expensive things, that have been stolen and returns them to their rightful owners.

He’s at the ass-end of human-inhabited space, a collection of small-to-middling sized habitats strung out on power cables, named Cernee. The big thing he’s come to collect is a ship. Arum Gilger stole it from the shipbuilders, using an equally stolen ID, and the shipbuilders want it back. And it turns out that the locals are generally happy to help Fergus – up to a point – because they don’t like Gilger having that ship.

Fergus thinks the job is going to be easy. Get in, find the ship, steal the ship, fly it home to the Pluto shipyards, collect his pay. Get another job. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Instead, Fergus gets caught in the middle of a civil war. Arum Gilger wants to take over Cernee, and pretty much everyone and everything stands in his way. (Hence the reason that the locals are willing to help Fergus steal back the ship and get it the hell out of their space.) Especially the family Vahn, living on a remote habitat called “The Wheels”. It shouldn’t be Fergus’ business, but Gilger fires the opening salvo in his little war at the cable car that Fergus is sharing with “Mother” Vahn, and Fergus’ job has suddenly become personal.

Being nearly killed just for being in the same cable car as a seemingly inoffensive old lady is plenty of reason to get scared, to get angry, and to get to the bottom of everything that’s wrong in Cernee.

At least until everything that’s wrong in Cernee, including the mysterious alien ships that watch, and wait, and scare everyone three-quarters to death, decide that Fergus is their “true North” and all their ships start pointing towards him – wherever he goes, whatever he does – all the time.

Fergus may be the Finder, but something much bigger and much, much scarier has suddenly found him.

Escape Rating A-: First of all, this is one of those stories that naturally lends itself to audio. The story is told in Fergus’ first-person perspective, so hearing it in his voice from inside his head works well. The narrator does an excellent job of capturing Fergus’ world-weary (maybe that should be universe-weary), slightly deadpan voice. Fergus isn’t someone who gets really excited – because he’s been there and done that and is much too busy running away from the things that reach deeply into his emotions.

This doesn’t mean that the people around Fergus don’t get plenty excited, because the adventures that Fergus drags them into are generally frightening to the point of being downright life-threatening. Following Fergus is like being on one of those amusement park rides that barrels toward the edge of its track, to the point where you think the car is going to stop and you’re going to be thrown out of it, only to sharply turn – extremely sharply and very suddenly – and throw you against the sides as it madly careens towards the next near-disaster. (This ride in my childhood amusement park was the Wild Mouse, but yours undoubtedly had one too. They all did!)

Finder is very much one of those “out of the frying pan into the fire” stories. Fergus seems to be both a trouble and chaos magnet. They say that no plan survives contact with the enemy. It seems like no plan survives contact with Fergus, not even Fergus’ own plans. And yet, they generally manage to work in the end – for select definitons of “generally”, “work” and especially “end”. Either he has the devil’s own luck, as they say, or Cernee is connected to the Discworld, where “million-to-one” shots always come in.

There’s something about the way this story works, or perhaps in Fergus’ universe-weary voice, that reminds me of John Scalzi’s space operas. Especially The Android’s Dream, but generally the Old Man’s War universe. Fergus and John Perry would have plenty to talk about. That there’s a brief part of Finder that echoes Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is totally fitting, considering the number of reviews that label Old Man’s War as Heinleinesque.

I digress just a bit, but not completely, as I think that Scalzi’s readers will also like Finder – very much. This one certainly did!

Review: The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery

Review: The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan MalleryThe Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Hqn on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Baxter sisters come from a long line of women with disastrous luck in love. But this summer, Sunshine and Margot will turn disasters into destiny...As an etiquette coach, Margot teaches her clients to fit in. But she's never faced a client like Bianca, an aging movie star who gained fame--and notoriety--through a campaign of shock and awe. Schooling Bianca on the fine art of behaving like a proper diplomat's wife requires intensive lessons, forcing Margot to move into the monastery turned mansion owned by the actress's intensely private son. Like his incredible home, Alec's stony exterior hides secret depths Margot would love to explore. But will he trust her enough to let her in?Sunshine has always been the good-time sister, abandoning jobs to chase after guys who used her, then threw her away. No more. She refuses to be "that girl" again. This time, she'll finish college, dedicate herself to her job as a nanny, and she 100 percent will not screw up her life again by falling for the wrong guy. Especially not the tempting single dad who also happens to be her boss.Master storyteller Susan Mallery weaves threads of family drama, humor, romance and a wish-you-were-there setting into one of the most satisfying books of the year!

My Review:

As part of the tour for this book, last week I posted an excerpt from The Summer of Sunshine and Margot. Now we’re back for the rest of the story!

Like so many of this author’s standalone titles, The Summer of Sunshine and Margot revolves around two sisters, Sunshine and Margot. While they are fraternal twins, they don’t seem to be much alike. Margot is tall, willowy and just a bit of an ice queen. Sunshine is short, curvy and more than a bit of a good time girl.

This is all about the summer where both of them plan to make changes in their lives. Those changes have a lot to do with their family’s legendary bad luck with men. Sunshine has picked the wrong men, pretty much over and over, instead of making something of her own life. Now she’s 31 and starting over again.

Margot keeps getting back together with the same wrong man over and over, and it’s past time for her to be done. It would help a lot if her friends would support that decision instead of sabotaging her by giving the jackass her address and phone number each time she cuts him off and changes her contact info.

Summer works as a nanny, but she never sticks – because some guy comes along, sweeps her off her feet, and she leaves. This time she’s fallen in love with her charge, little Connor, and wants to be around for him and his ant farm. She’s started college and make something of herself and stay away from men. Except for little Connor of course. And his lonely and extremely yummy dad.

On the surface – actually on several surfaces – Margot’s job is the more interesting of the two. Her job is to help people fit into new and unfamiliar surroundings. Usually those surroundings involve changes in status or business in foreign countries. Her current client is a free-spirited actress who plans to marry the love of her life, a foreign diplomat. In order to tone down some of Bianca’s wilder tendencies, Margot will live with her and her adult son, a man who makes both Margot’s intellectual side as well as her hidden passionate side sit up and take notice.

Nothing about either of their situations runs smoothly. The only thing that does is the rock solid love and support the sisters give to each other. And that’s enough to see them through.

Escape Rating A-: This was just a sweet and delightful read. From a certain perspective, not a lot happens – or at least not in a big way. At the same time, it just reads so well. I started it at dinner and finished later that evening because I couldn’t put it down.

Not so much because I needed to see what happened next as because I just enjoyed spending time with Sunshine and Margot. Their lives were very, very different, but they managed to maintain a close and loving relationship – something that isn’t always easy between sisters.

Often when I read family relationship stories, I find myself grateful to be an only child. But not with this author. Many of her stories wrap around sisterhood, and her portraits of sisters who manage to pull together or stay together and be there for each other makes me a bit envious.

The romantic relationships that Sunshine and Margot find in this story, and unsuccessfully resist, are as different as they are. But are both equally romantic and equally interesting to follow. And they both earn their happily ever afters, but in completely different ways.

The wild card character in this one is the wild child actress Bianca. It’s so obvious from early in the story that Bianca has both a story of her own, and an agenda that she keeps carefully under wraps. The revelation of what made her the person that she is is heartbreaking, and the reason she finally lets the secret go is reaffirming, both of love and of the ability to set yourself free of the past – at any age.

And it ties in to both Sunshine’s and Margot’s journeys, as they all are in the process of becoming their best selves. Journeys that are marvelous to follow every halting step of the way.

For a good reading time, pick up anything by Susan Mallery. You’ll be glad you did!

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

Review: Wrath of the Goddess by Lauren Dane

Review: Wrath of the Goddess by Lauren DaneWrath of the Goddess by Lauren Dane
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Goddess with a Blade #5
Pages: 336
Published by Carina Press on June 10th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Rowan Summerwaite is back—and more than a little pissed off—in
Wrath of the Goddess
, the fifth installment in
New York Times
bestselling author Lauren Dane’s Goddess with a Blade series.

You can’t keep a vengeful woman down for long.

Rowan Summerwaite, elite hunter and human vessel to the goddess Brigid, has returned home to Las Vegas—and she’s mad as hell. It seems someone thought they could eliminate Rowan and everyone she holds dear.

That someone was dead wrong.

With tensions between paranormal factions at an all-time high, Rowan and her crew, along with her sexy Vampire Scion husband, Clive Stewart, have their work cut out for them. The Vampire Nation has at least one traitor in their midst, leaving them extremely vulnerable…but if it’s a war they want, Rowan’s prepared to bring the pain like never before.

Rowan knows her duty is to those she’s sworn to protect, but it seems the harder she fights, the more barriers she hits…and the more friends she loses.

With even her closest alliances in question, Rowan will have to accept that sometimes the path toward the greater good means making heartrending sacrifices along the way…

One-click with confidence. This title is part of the
Carina Press Romance Promise
: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

And see how Rowan’s fight began in Goddess with a Blade, Blade to the Keep, Blade on the Hunt and At Blade’s Edge, available now!

This book is approximately 82,000 words

My Review:

I feel as if I’m in a pre-existing relationship with this book that I need to disclose – even though I only just finished it. I know that sounds a bit (possibly more than a bit) odd.

You see, the first book in this series, Goddess With a Blade, was one of the first books I ever got from NetGalley, eight long years ago. I still remember sitting down at my kitchen table to read it, and finished it in one sitting. (To be fair, it’s only 200 pages, for me that’s not a long book.) Goddess With a Blade was also one of my picks for “Best Ebook Romance” of 2011 in Library Journal.

A couple of years later, after we’d moved to Seattle – and after Blade to the Keep was published – I was riding the bus home from work and saw an ad for Goddess and Keep on the side of a city bus, and as it flashed by I realized that I was being quoted on the side of the bus! It was one of those total “squee” moments.

I mean, I was a fan of the series before – but WOW!

I do love this series. Very Much. And I would even without the side-of-the-bus squeeing.

But it’s been FOUR very long YEARS since the previous book in this series, At Blade’s Edge. A book that left series readers hanging over the edge of a nasty and brutally epic cliffhanger. A cliffy that feels like it has only just begun to be resolved by the end of Wrath of the Goddess.

That Goddess is plenty wrathful – and she has every right to be.

Wrath of the Goddess begins where At Blade’s Edge left us hanging – with Rowan Summerwaite, vessel of the Goddess Brigid, in Europe for her wedding to the Vampire Scion of North America, Clive Stewart. One of her friends back home in Las Vegas is sending her congratulations, live over the Internet, when seriously evil dudes break into her headquarters and kill the man – on camera – then taunt her with the information that they are coming for everyone she loves.

From that gruesome point, the story is off to the races. Rowan, with a little help from her friends and a lot of help from Clive, rushes home to Vegas to investigate the death of one of her family-of-choice – as well as the disappearance of another.

Only to discover that both her own organization, Hunter Corp., and Clive’s, the Vampire Nation, still have traitors at the very top who have betrayed them both to some nefarious someone who is out for his – or her – own evil ends.

It’s up to Rowan – and her Goddess – to stop them. Again. Because the evil that Rowan has battled before is a multi-headed beast and it’s her duty to lop off all the heads. In order to save her friends, her family, and perhaps humanity itself.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this, and found it a great read from beginning to end. But, and at this point it gets to be a bigger “but” all the time, this is no place to start this series. (Also not the end of this series, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

The world created in this series has become intensely convoluted. There’s Rowan, and her Goddess. There’s the Vampire Nation, to which Rowan has multiple ties, and not just her new husband. Rowan’s foster-father Theo is “The First” of the Vampire Nation, the oldest, the most dangerous, and the most ruthless of them all. And he’s the one in charge.

Rowan works for Hunter Corp., an organization that defends humans without magic or paranormal abilities. That defense is wrapped around a Treaty between the Hunters and the Vampires. Preservation of that treaty is a big part of Rowan’s job. In spite of the number of times that Hunter Corp has misused and betrayed her. Repeatedly and often.

There are also witches – one of whom plays a big part in Wrath of the Goddess, and other paranormal beings. It’s a big world, as big as our own non-magical world, and it has layers within layers – layers that a newbie coming into the series at this point will probably drown in.

If this all sounds fascinating, start back at the beginning with Goddess With a Blade, because this is a series that is building on each book – they don’t stand alone.

If this is your jam, and you get to this point, this particular entry in the series adds more of those layers, both in the form of the witch who joins with Rowan and in the sense of Rowan’s character development.

Readers who are also fans of J.D. Robb’s In Death series will find a lot of similarities between Rowan Summerwaite and Eve Dallas. Both are blunt to the point of rudeness, have little patience with fools or bureaucrats, and hide their soft gooey centers under layers and layers (and layers) of epic snarkitude.

Back to Wrath of the Goddess – before she gets more wrathful. In spite of Rowan’s extreme distaste for bureaucracy, there’s a lot of, not exactly bureaucracy, but certainly a lot of “hurry up and wait” in this one. It makes sense for the story, as a huge piece of it necessarily follows the investigation into the murder that Rowan and Clive witnessed online.

That investigation turns out to be much bigger than merely “whodunnit” as Rowan discovers that someone staked out her headquarters for weeks before the hit, and timed it “just so”, to make it perfectly devastating for Rowan.

So there’s lots of magical forensics in this one, and lots of unraveling layers and unspooling of possibilities of suspects and traitors on all three sides – Hunter Corp, the Vampire Nation and the witches’ Senate, because there are traitors in the (high) ranks of all three.

In the end, there’s plenty of kickass action for everyone – along with the heartbreaking realization that the rot that Rowan thought she weeded out in At Blade’s Edge has already spread farther than she wanted to believe.

Her job is not over, and neither is this series. Book 6, Blood and Blade is scheduled for release in December. I have ALL my fingers crossed that we really won’t have to wait longer than that to see what happens next!

Review: The Summer Country by Lauren Willig

Review: The Summer Country by Lauren WilligThe Summer Country by Lauren Willig
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 480
Published by William Morrow on June 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The New York Times bestselling historical novelist delivers her biggest, boldest, and most ambitious novel yet—a sweeping, dramatic Victorian epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.

1854. From Bristol to Barbados. . . .

Emily Dawson has always been the poor cousin in a prosperous merchant clan—merely a vicar’s daughter, and a reform-minded vicar’s daughter, at that. Everyone knows that the family’s lucrative shipping business will go to her cousin, Adam, one day. But when her grandfather dies, Emily receives an unexpected inheiritance: Peverills, a sugar plantation in Barbados—a plantation her grandfather never told anyone he owned.

When Emily accompanies her cousin and his new wife to Barbados, she finds Peverills a burnt-out shell, reduced to ruins in 1816, when a rising of enslaved people sent the island up in flames. Rumors swirl around the derelict plantation; people whisper of ghosts.

Why would her practical-minded grandfather leave her a property in ruins? Why are the neighboring plantation owners, the Davenants, so eager to acquire Peverills—so eager that they invite Emily and her cousins to stay with them indefinitely? Emily finds herself bewitched by the beauty of the island even as she’s drawn into the personalities and politics of forty years before: a tangled history of clandestine love, heartbreaking betrayal, and a bold bid for freedom.

When family secrets begin to unravel and the harsh truth of history becomes more and more plain, Emily must challenge everything she thought she knew about her family, their legacy . . . and herself.

My Review:

The first book by Lauren Willig that I read was The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, probably 15 years ago. It got me hooked on her lush historical books, and I dip into one whenever I have a bit of time.

And so we come to The Summer Country, another lush and sumptuous historical by Lauren Willig. Unlike her well-known Pink Carnation series, this story takes place not in late 18th century France, but in mid-19th century Barbados.

However, they are both time slip stories. But the time that is slipped in The Summer Country encompasses considerably fewer centuries. The Pink Carnation series tells its historical story through a 21st century frame. But The Summer Country interweaves the past of Barbados at two periods only a couple of generations apart. Its “past” is in the early 1810s, and its “present” in the mid 1850s.

In other words, more than close enough together that the events of the past directly shape events in the story’s present – whether the protagonists are aware of that shaping or not. Mostly not. The time periods are also more than close enough together that it is within living memory for many people who still have secrets they desperately feel the need to keep.

At any cost. At all the times.

Escape Rating A-: The Summer Country is an example of the kind of epic family saga that they don’t publish much anymore. Because it’s a marvelous example of that kind of sweeping story, it does make the reader wonder why not. It’s lovely and captivating and pulls the reader into its world, much as its Barbados setting pulls in the characters who find themselves navigating the exotic and unfamiliar colony in the wake of their grandfather’s death.

A death that sets the whole story in motion.

This is a story about secrets, the cost of keeping them, and the fear of letting them go. It’s also a story that unspools as lazily as a day in the colonial heat – complete with an overarching sense of menace that coats the skin like sweat – and bites like the local mosquitoes.

It’s not a book to rush through. It begins with Emily Dawson, doing her level best to make her own way in this new world, trying to unravel the mystery that her grandfather has left her with his bequest of the ruined Peverill plantation. We see Emily buck the tide of ALL the men in her life and her orbit who are just certain that a woman couldn’t possibly know her own mind.

And we see the past, when her grandfather was a young man at Peverills, not as the owner, but as the poor bookkeeper. And we see all the people who stood in both their ways – some of whom still do.

It’s enthralling, it’s delicious, it’s decadent and at times it’s downright chilling. This is a book to wallow in – and you’ll be glad you did.

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