Review: The Right Side by Spencer Quinn + Giveaway

Review: The Right Side by Spencer Quinn + GiveawayThe Right Side by Spencer Quinn
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Fiction, suspense
Pages: 336
Published by Atria Books on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

LeAnne Hogan went to Afghanistan as a rising star in the military, and came back a much lesser person, mentally and physically. Now missing an eye and with half her face badly scarred, she can barely remember the disastrous desert operation that almost killed her. She is confused, angry, and suspects the fault is hers, even though nobody will come out and say it.
Shattered by one last blow—the sudden death of her hospital roommate, Marci—LeAnne finds herself on a fateful drive across the country, reflecting on her past and seeing no future. Her native land is now unfamiliar, recast in shadow by her one good eye, her damaged psyche, and her weakened body. Arriving in the rain-soaked small town in Washington state that Marci had called home, she makes a troubling discovery: Marci’s eight-year-old daughter has vanished. When a stray dog—a powerful, dark, unreadable creature, no one’s idea of a pet—seems to adopt LeAnne, a surprising connection is formed and something shifts inside her. As she becomes obsessed with finding Marci’s daughter, LeAnne and her inscrutable canine companion are drawn into danger as dark and menacing as her last Afghan mission. This time she has a strange but loyal fellow traveler protecting her blind side.

My Review:

This wasn’t quite what I expected. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t good, because it was, but it doesn’t quite match the description.

This is way, way more about LeAnne than it is about the dog, or anything related to the dog. Which is kind of a pity, because it’s only when Goody adopts LeAnne that the story really kicks into gear.

But LeAnne’s life before Goody is even more important to the story than her life with dog. And a whole lot sadder.

LeAnne was an elite soldier in Afghanistan, until one catastrophic incident left her a broken shell of herself. She’s lost an eye, and that’s terrible and will change everything she ever thought she was or would be. But more importantly, LeAnne left that battlefield with a piece of shrapnel in her head, and as a consequence LeAnne’s memories, of herself, her past and even very recent events, are more than a bit shaky.

LeAnne is the ultimate unreliable narrator – she’s fooling herself and most of the time she doesn’t know it. Even when she does know it, she doesn’t care.

The story is really LeAnne’s search for herself. Not the self she was, possibly not even the self she will be, but simply a self that she can live with. And as much as she can’t admit it, even to herself, she needs someone to protect her blind side – not just the physical one, but also all the blind sides within herself.

I want to say that this is a road story, but it kind of is and kind of isn’t. When LeAnne’s rehab roommate at Walter Reed Army Hospital dies suddenly and very unexpectedly, LeAnne breaks out of the hospital. Marci’s death is the last straw for LeAnne’s shaky sense of self, and she just lights out of there. And goes cold turkey on ALL her meds.

But the Army isn’t done with her. She has one last service to perform. But first they have to find her and convince her that she needs to open her box of bad memories. And that bit of her past is the one place she doesn’t want to go.

Ever.

Escape Rating B: The story felt like it was divided into two separate and not quite equal parts, before dog and after dog. The parts of LeAnne’s journey before Goody adopts her (and the dog is definitely the prime mover of events) are pretty damn grim. LeAnne is physically and emotionally devastated, to the point where she is not always aware of just how bad things really are.

She loses days at a time. Sometimes in disjointed memory, sometimes in sleep, sometimes just in a fog. She’s lost who she was, and can’t always manage to acknowledge it. She’s also drifting and rudderless. It’s a hard journey, and it makes for hard reading. Considering how much driving she does while not quite all there, it’s amazing that she doesn’t die in a car accident. On that other hand, the very used Honda that she’s driving probably can’t get up enough speed to cause more than a fender-bender.

Just as an aside, LeAnne’s mother is a piece of work.

But it is only when LeAnne drifts into Marci’s old hometown that LeAnne begins to pick up the pieces of what her life can be now. She starts finding her new self. Partly with her self-assigned mission to find Marci’s missing daughter, but mostly because Goody adopts her.

In the best “dog saves human” tradition, Goody worms her way into LeAnne’s life, and eventually her battered heart (and psyche). Goody’s interventions keep her from letting all of her more destructive impulses out (the sheriff deserves the verbal abuse LeAnne doles out, just not quite the broken neck she wants to give him).

And even though she can’t take Goody with her, it does seem like it is Goody who gives her enough strength to deal with the most important unfinished business of her past. And whose assistance allows her to finally let go of some of her demons.

The rest she is willing to take on the road with them.

This is a hard book to love, because LeAnne is a difficult character to like. It’s not that the reader doesn’t feel sorry for her, because one certainly does, but the kind of pity she initially engenders does not necessarily make one want to read about her struggles in detail, especially when there are so few triumphs to balance them out. It reads as real, but also depressing as hell. It’s only when Goody appears on the scene that the story turns outward, from endless anger and angst to coping with her world as it is that the story begins to lift.

The story ends on a high note, but it’s a long, dark journey to reach that brighter place.

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

The author is giving away 3 copies of The Right Side to lucky entrants on this tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Admiral’s Bride by Suzanne Brockmann

Review: The Admiral’s Bride by Suzanne BrockmannThe Admiral's Bride (Tall, Dark & Dangerous, #7) by Suzanne Brockmann
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military romance, romantic suspense
Series: Tall, Dark & Dangerous #7
Pages: 256
Published by Mira Books on April 1st 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

His mission was to pretend that Zoe Lange, beautiful young scientist—nearly half his age!—was his new bride. Former Navy SEAL Jake Robinson was sure that his romantic years were behind him, but for God and for country, he would look into Zoe’s beautiful dark eyes, kiss her senseless, hold her as if he would never let her go... and then, when the job was done, do just that.

The only problem was, with each hour in Zoe’s company, the stakes were becoming higher. The game more real. And the dangers within their "honeymoon" chamber more and more apparent...

My Review:

I borrowed this one from the library because I was jonesing for a good older man/younger woman romance. I read a lot of fanfic, and one of the pairings that I’m following from a video game I’m playing deals with this trope, so I had a taste for it. And I’ll admit that I was looking for one where the story was finished. As much as I love fanfic, one of the problems with reading a lot of it is that even the best stories don’t always get finished, and I’m as guilty of this as anyone.

But it gave me a yen for a story with this trope, and browsing the Goodreads list brought this one to the top. That it also reminds me a another fanfic pairing was an added bonus.

The Admiral’s Bride was originally written in 1999. Technology has changed, and has certainly become more ubiquitous. On that other hand, the terrorist militia group that the Admiral and his Bride have to infiltrate could be ripped from today’s headlines. Technology may change, but human nature doesn’t seem to.

The Admiral in this story is Jake Robinson. And he really is an Admiral, or at least he is now. But he’s a former Navy SEAL, and Admiral is the nickname that his unit gave him back in Vietnam, where he seems to have made it his own personal mission to rescue units that Command said couldn’t be saved from the enemy.

The hospital started keeping track, calling the men he saved “Jake’s Boys”. There were nearly 500 of them by the end, and one of the last ones was intelligence agent Zoe Lange’s father. As Zoe wasn’t conceived until after her dad came home from Vietnam, Zoe quite literally owes Jake Robinson her life.

She’s hero-worshipped him from afar for almost her entire life. Which does add a certain amount of complication when they finally meet face-to-face. Because the man hasn’t lost a scintilla of his looks or his charisma in the 30 years since ‘Nam. He’s already the fuel for entirely too many of Zoe’s fantasies, but meeting him in real life turns out to be much more electrifying than she ever imagined.

And it’s completely mutual, as much as Jake keeps telling himself it shouldn’t be. He’s only been a widower for three years, and he still thinks of himself as married. Zoe is a member of his team, and should be off-limits. And if that wasn’t enough of a reason to back off, she’s 24 years younger than he is, she couldn’t possibly be interested in him.

But of course she is. And in the circumstances in which they find themselves, pretending a relationship is the only way to get the mission done. And when the pretense turns real, it gives them both a reason to survive.

If the entire mission doesn’t go totally FUBAR first.

Escape Rating B+: This was exactly what I was looking for. So I dove right in and came up for air about four hours later, ready to read the book I was supposed to read (actually yesterday’s review of Cover Fire).

In spite of Cover Fire being science fiction romance and The Admiral’s Bride being an almost 20-year-old contemporary, they have a surprising amount in common. In both cases, the black hats are a repressive, conservative cult conducting terrorist attacks. And in both stories, the man is career military while the woman is an intelligence operative. Both romances feature people who believe that the person they have fallen for could not possibly be interested in them, and that they have no possible future together. The reasons may be different, but the emotions they engender are surprisingly similar.

And both cults contain entirely too many people who are absolutely nucking futz. The crazy, hate-fueled BS gets a bit hard to read. In neither case are the heads of these arseholes places we want to stay for any length of time.

But one does get caught up in both the action and the romance of The Admiral’s Bride. Jake and Zoe are in tremendous danger, and they have to work together (and get their heads out of their emotional asses) in order to survive and succeed.

At the same time, one of the things that this book does well is to air the doubts that are all going through Jake’s head. 24 years is a big age gap. He and Zoe are not at the same places in their lives. It is hard to think about forever with someone, when your version of forever is 20 or 30 years shorter than theirs. The other person is potentially signing up for a lot of pain at the end. There are ways to deal with all of those issues, and this story doesn’t gloss them over. That Zoe’s job is so dangerous actually helps the situation. The mess they are in together brings home the possibility that she could be cut down in the line of duty at any moment.

That this story reminded me of a lot of early NCIS fanfic (which I love) was just a bonus. It was all too easy to see Gibbs as Jake Robinson, even though he’s not nearly tall enough. But it still added to my enjoyment of a story that just plain hit the spot.

Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi CharishOwl and the Japanese Circus (The Adventures of Owl, #1) by Kristi Charish
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Adventures of Owl #1
Pages: 432
Published by Pocket Star on January 13th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.
Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.

My Review:

In this story, the Japanese Circus is a glitzy Las Vegas casino – owned by a Japanese Red Dragon. And Owl is almost as good as she thinks she is – and as all the hype said her story is.

This is urban fantasy, so a contemporary 21st century setting in a world not that much different from our own – except that the things that go bump in the night not only exist, but also go bump in the daytime, too.

Owl, a disgraced archaeology student formerly known as Alix, seems to have the worst radar in the world for telling the supes from the mundanes. And that’s what got her in so much trouble. Because in a world where supernatural creatures have been apex predators for centuries, it’s only logical that all too many archaeological digs would find powerful artifacts and dangerous creatures.

Alix’s disgrace was that once she stumbled into it, she wasn’t willing to cover it up.

As Owl, her luck continues to plummet. When we meet her, she and her trusty companion, her Egyptian Mau cat Captain, are on the run from a vampire gang after she accidentally exposed one of their ancient leaders to a fatal dose of sunshine. Owl’s method of running is to stay off the grid in a patched up Winnebago, stopping at out of the way places for supplies, cat treats and internet connections to her favorite MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game) where she plays, of course, a thief. And to check her contacts for more illicit archaeology gigs.

That’s how Owl makes her living now, when she can manage it. She steals treasures from archaeological digs. And she’s good at it. A little too good.

So when Mr. Kurosawa makes Owl and offer she quite literally can’t refuse, she finds herself up to her neck in bloodthirsty supernaturals. Only to discover that she’s been there all along.

Escape Rating B+: If fools rush in where angels fear to tread, then Owl jumps in where even fools would back away slowly. Part of Owl’s appeal, and the engine that drives the story out of the frying pan into the fire (and then straight into oven and on down) is the manic way that Owl barrels into every situation without ever pausing for either breath or thought. No matter how much trouble she is in at the beginning, she seems to have an absolute genius for making it worse.

And while at first the breakneck pace of Owl’s disasterrific nature was a whole lot of fun, by the end it feels like it’s walked its tightrope just a bit too long or a bit too high. She should be dead six times over. But more importantly, she doesn’t seem to learn. A tendency that I hope changes for the better over the next books in the series. She’s going to have to grow to remain interesting – not to mention, to plausibly survive the messes she keeps throwing herself into.

However, the characters that she surrounds herself with have hidden depths that just keep getting deeper and more fascinating as the story progresses. Owl seems to have the worst supe-radar in her universe, because all of her friends, acquaintances and enemies are all supernatural, except for her best friend and business partner Nadya. Even Captain has hidden talents. That cat is much, much too smart to be merely a cat and a vampire detector. That his scratches and bites are also highly poisonous to vamps is a big plus, but still doesn’t explain why his IQ occasionally seems higher than Owl’s. I bet there’s a story there, and I can’t wait to read it.

When Owl and the Japanese Circus came out a couple of years ago, there was an absolute outpouring of great reviews. Urban fantasy is not as popular as it used to be, and it’s not often these days that a new world gets created with the depth of worldbuilding that anchors Owl and her story. There’s a fantastic amount to explore here, and I have high hopes for that exploration.

And now I understand completely why this is the one book in my Netgalley queue that has never expired. The publishers know it’s a gateway drug. And they were right.

Review: Silver Silence by Nalini Singh

Review: Silver Silence by Nalini SinghSilver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity, #1; Psy-Changeling, #16) by Nalini Singh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: , Psy-Changeling #16
Pages: 464
Published by Berkley Books on June 13th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh returns to her extraordinary Psy-Changeling world with a story of wild passion and darkest betrayal...
Control. Precision. Family. These are the principles that drive Silver Mercant. At a time when the fledgling Trinity Accord seeks to unite a divided world, with Silver playing a crucial role as director of a worldwide emergency response network, wildness and chaos are the last things she needs in her life. But that's exactly what Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater bears, brings with him.
Valentin has never met a more fascinating woman. Though Silver is ruled by Silence--her mind clear of all emotion--Valentin senses a whisper of fire around her. That's what keeps him climbing apartment buildings to be near her. But when a shadow assassin almost succeeds in poisoning Silver, the stakes become deadly serious...and Silver finds herself in the heart of a powerful bear clan.
Her would-be assassin has no idea what their poison has unleashed...

My Review:

An answer to entirely too many of the questions, problems and issues in the entire Psy-Changeling series boil down to the truism that “human beings suck”. This isn’t a criticism of the series, merely an observation, because, after, all, human beings do suck. And for all of their differences, all of the races in this series, whether Psy, Changeling or original recipe human, are still all variations of human, and human beings suck.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, there’s a reason for the rant within the story. So much of the non-romantic action in Silver Silence is a response to some particular human beings sucking very, very much.

Silver Silence, as the first book in the Psy-Changeling Trinity sub-series, follows the events in Allegiance of Honor, and everything that led up to this point. What was once a world with three separate and equally distrustful if not equally powerful factions is beginning to coalesce into the alliance brought about by the Trinity Accords.

The Psy, the Changelings and the Humans, at least through the loose coalitions that speak for each group, are determined to work together for the greater good. And for the continued survival of all three.

But there is an awful lot of bloody water under the damn bridge, and there are a lot of very wary members of all three groups. Particularly the humans. The Changelings and the Psy, while always distrustful of each other at best, always did have somewhat equal power. Changeling minds are immune to Psy interference. But humans, less physically threatening than the Changeling and always open to mental interference from the Psy, have a lot to forgive, particularly of the Psy. Changelings mostly left them alone, while the Psy have spent a century plucking advances out of the minds of humans, keeping those advancements for themselves and breaking the human’s minds in the process.

All too many of the Psy were a force that lived up to the old maxim about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. No one could stop them, so they felt empowered to do whatever they damn well pleased to whoever they could.

Those days are over. Not necessarily or always out of altruism, but because the PsyNet that all Psy must connect to in order to remain healthy and function is itself sick. By walling themselves off from human emotions in specific and humans in general, the Psy have closed off a necessary safety valve for the PsyNet’s sentient mind. Psy need humans (and changelings) to willingly form bonds with them, and those bonds can’t be coerced. Without those bonds, without the breaking of the Silence conditioning that keeps them emotionally barren, the Psy will all die, but not before going on a psychopathic rampage of planet-wide proportion.

So the seemingly all-powerful Psy, whether reluctantly or willingly, must cooperate and intermingle with the Changelings and the humans. But it is in all three groups’ best interests to learn to get along. They each have something that the other lacks, strengths that the others need, and weaknesses that the others can shore up. Now that they are not all out to merely exploit each other. Business is still business, and that’s fair. But they’ve all finally acknowledged that they have to work together or things will get very, very ugly, and it won’t necessarily be anyone in particular’s fault. Once you start treating groups as “the Other”, bad things happen to both parties.

And that’s where this story comes into the whole. The Human Alliance, led by Bowen Knight, is willing to work with the Psy and the Changelings on an equal footing. There is still some distrust, but it is reasoned and reasonable distrust. But there are other human agencies working in the shadows who condemn any human who works with the others as either under Psy influence or a traitor to their race. (And haven’t we all heard those words before?)

The shining symbol of interspecies cooperation is Em-Net, a global crisis response team that provides assistance to all whenever and wherever needed. And it is personified by its extremely capable director, the Psy Silver Mercant. So Silver is attacked by stealth, from the shadows, by a patient predator who wants to see Em-Net in disarray and unable to respond, while also crippling the future of the powerful Mercant family.

But Silver is not alone when she ingests the poison that has been lurking unsuspected in her stored nutrition packets. Instead, the Bear Alpha Valentin Nikolaev is in her apartment, attempting to bait her into an un-Silent response to his rather less-than-subtle wooing. Valentin rescues Silver, and sets the events of the rest of the story in motion.

Despite her being Psy, Valentin knows that Silver is his mate. And he will do anything to protect her and keep her safe. And if that anything includes taking her to the Denhome and giving her ample opportunities to fall for both him and his clan, so much the better.

But Silver has a secret weakness, and not just her weakness for slightly clumsy Alpha Bears. Silver’s Silence conditioning is failing, and her growing emotional connection to Valentin is breaking her already vulnerable walls. But that conditioning, the Silence that keeps her ice cold and unemotional, is also the only thing keeping her alive.

Escape Rating B+/A-: This one came out right on the border between B+ and A-. I loved the relationship between Valentin and Silver. We watched it build from very small pieces into something big and wonderful and, at times, tissue-grabbing tragic. There is so much love and fear and hope built into their story, and that was marvelous.

There were also some fascinating reactions/revelations on the parts of Silver’s grandmother Ena and her brother Arwen. The Mercant family, for all of their reputation as ice-cold operators, clearly has never been completely Silent. We’ve seen other Psy families where loyalty comes to serve in place of love, and provides many of the same motivations that love does, but this is the first time we see love expressed within a Psy family, even though the words are never said. Not just that Silver loves her E-designation brother Arwen, for whom emotion is strength, but also the love between Silver and her grandmother Ena.

Valentin’s bear clan, even with the tragedy currently darkening its heart, is always a joy. Bears are real charmers, especially the cubs. And the story needs the lighter moments that they bring.

But the thing that kept this story at the border for me were the two unnamed human evil-doers who operate from the shadows and propel much of the political action of the story. They are both definitely evil. They both hate Psy, and to a lesser extent, Changelings. They both have a “Humans First” agenda that they are willing to press forward with mass murders. And they are both fanatics who are willing to murder massive numbers of humans to prove that Psy can’t be trusted, an irony which is totally lost on both of them.

They are not the same person and many of their goals and methods are not completely aligned. But as the story progresses and we get small glimpses from their own perspectives about their thoughts and motivations, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell them apart. I think one of them is exposed by the end, but because they were so amorphous and so much alike, I’m not sure who, or which, or completely if.

None of which changes the fact that I love this series, and can’t wait for the next installment. Hopefully next summer and not any later.

But I have one final comment. The covers for the US editions of this series are never as good as the UK editions. The US covers are often vaguely “cheesy”, and sometimes not even vaguely. Or, are just blah, as this one is. The UK covers are crisp and evocative portraits of the hero, and they just work. See for yourself.

US Cover
UK cover

Review: Urn Burial by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Urn Burial by Kerry GreenwoodUrn Burial (Phryne Fisher, #8) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #8
Pages: 187
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on April 1st 2007
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The redoubtable Phryne Fisher is holidaying at Cave House, a Gothic mansion in the heart of Australias Victorian mountain country. But the peaceful surroundings mask danger. Her host is receiving death threats, lethal traps are set without explanation, and the parlour maid is found strangled to death. What with the reappearance of mysterious funerary urns, a pair of young lovers, an extremely eccentric swagman, an angry outcast heir, and the luscious Lin Chung, Phrynes attention has definitely been caught. Her search for answers takes her deep into the dungeons of the house and into the limestone Buchan caves. What will she find this time?

My Review:

I bounced hard off the book I intended to read for today. It was so dark and twisted it was literally giving me nightmares. So I switched to a murder mystery, where evil always gets its just desserts – and I don’t have to wade through the disgusting course of its mind in the process.

Urn Burial is the 8th book in the Phryne Fisher historical mystery series by Kerry Greenwood, following immediately after Ruddy Gore. While some events that occurred specifically in both Ruddy Gore and Blood and Circuses do have a slight impact on events, most notably that the nature of the circumstances in both those cases have led Phryne to be willing to attend a country house party far from home, it is not necessary to have read the previous entries in the series to enjoy Urn Burial.

On that other hand, those whose only familiarity with Miss Fisher comes from the TV series may find themselves put off just a bit. Most of the characters in the TV show mirror their counterparts in the books, but there are two notable exceptions. Jack in the books, while a good and intelligent cop, is nothing like Jack in the TV series, being a happily married middle-aged man in the books who likes working with Phryne but has no other relationship with her, nor should he. And Lin Chung, who Phryne meets In Ruddy Gore, is only a one-time dalliance in the TV series, but in the books is her frequent paramour.

Unlike much of the book series, Urn Burial has not been re-released with new covers in the wake of the popularity of the TV series, and those two differences are probably the key.

But I turn to Phryne when I get disgusted with whatever I intended to read. I always enjoy the books, and love the dip back into Phryne’s world alongside her intelligent and intense personality. And Urn Burial was no exception.

This is a country house party mystery. There’s a bit of irony there, as by the time that Urn Burial takes place, the country house party scene has become passe even in its English home, while in Australia there never was such a scene. And there was certainly never such a setting as Cave House. It is described as the kind of amalgamation of weird architectural features that hurts both the eye and the aesthetic sense, with secret passages going in every direction. And it is remote enough that it is regularly cut off from the main road, whenever the river rises too high – or in the case of this story, just high enough.

Like all country house mysteries, this one has attracted more than it’s share of quirky characters, not limited to the host, hostess, Phryne and Lin. And as so often happens in Phryne’s cases, if not in mysteries in general, in spite of the relatively small number of guests and servants, and the isolation, there are not one but three perpetrators operating within the confines of Cave House. It is up to Phryne to sort out exactly who has done what before anyone else winds up dead.

Escape Rating B+: While Phryne is often not very comfortable for those around her, for me she has become a comfort read, and so it proved here. I had a great time with Urn Burial, in spite of the death threats as well as the actual deaths. In the end, Phryne always serves justice. And I needed that rather badly.

The story is both typical for Phryne and atypical for the country house mystery it pokes at. And poke it certainly does. Phryne finds a clue in a copy of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first Hercule Poirot mystery and the exemplar of the country house mystery.

Another, more tongue-in-cheek poke at the mystery forms created by Dame Agatha Christie was embodied in one of the members of the house party. An elderly lady, knitting quietly in a corner, occasionally inserting a cogent comment adroitly and exactly when and where needed, named Miss Mary Mead. St. Mary Mead was the village where Miss Jane Marple resided, when she was not visiting some friend or relation and solving a crime – usually by sitting in the corner, knitting, and listening with both ears wide open. Miss Mary Mead is Jane Marple in every detail, with one exception. At the end, when all the secrets are revealed, Mary Mead has no problem admitting that she really is a private detective, which Marple never does.

The case here is as convoluted as anything Phryne has ever encountered. It seems to be about inheritances, about fathers and sons and providing, or not, for the next generation. And definitely about taking what one feels one is owed. But in the middle of that, there’s a case of bullying and abuse that threatens everyone in its path, and muddies the waters and motives of all the guests.

Watching Phryne tease out who did what to whom, and why, is always a treat.

Review: A Touch of Frost by Jo Goodman

Review: A Touch of Frost by Jo GoodmanA Touch of Frost by Jo Goodman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, western romance
Pages: 416
Published by Berkley Books on June 6th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

USA Today bestselling author Jo Goodman presents a "sprawling, lusty recreation of life, love, and slowly uncovered secrets*" as a rancher rescues a mysterious young woman with trouble of her trail.
RESCUE ME
After his train is robbed at gunpoint, Remington Frost awakens from a blow to find the bandits gone...along with the woman he was shadowing for protection. No stranger to risk, Remington will do what it takes to bring Phoebe Apple to safety and her kidnappers to justice. But ransoming Phoebe is just the start of trouble...
Phoebe is shocked to learn that her mysterious rescuer is none other than Remington Frost, the son of her sister's new husband. Home at Twin Star Ranch, she falls happily into western life--and cautiously in love with Remington. But danger hides close to home, and their romance illuminates a web of secrets and betrayal that may put the rancher and his intended bride past the point of rescue.
*Publisher's Weekly

My Review:

A Touch of Frost turned out to be how I spent one day of my weekend. It was a good day.

I like Jo Goodman’s historical western romances quite a bit. If you haven’t indulged, This Gun for Hire is every bit as good as everyone said it was. Possibly even better.

What makes her romances so special, and so very interesting, are the characters. Both the hero and the heroine are unconventional in one way or another, and the way that they work together carries the story, usually on a wave of intelligent banter. As is true in A Touch of Frost.

The story begins with Phoebe Apple’s kidnapping. Just when she starts to think that all of the dime novel desperadoes that she’s been reading about are purely fictional, her train is stopped by a masked gang who rob the passengers and take her hostage.

At first it seems as if her kidnapping was just bad luck, but the more that the gang talks among themselves, the more it seems as if her kidnapping was the entire purpose of the expedition, and that any petty thievery that took place was mostly window-dressing. But Phoebe doesn’t believe that anyone would bother ransoming her. Her sister may be the new wife of a wealthy landowner, but Fiona Apple has no money of her own, and as far as Phoebe knows there’s no reason why Fiona’s husband would pay good money to ransom his sister-in-law.

It’s pretty clear that Phoebe knows nothing about the way that things really work out west. She has no idea that her new brother-in-law, Thaddeus Frost, set his son Remington on her trail, to guard her until she arrived safely at the Frost ranch. And it’s a good thing that he did.

While Remington is rather ignominiously laid low during the actual robbery, he’s pretty quick to recover after the fact and set out in search of Phoebe and her kidnappers. Phoebe, who may be a bit uninformed but is certainly smart as well as brave, has left a trail of discarded items to serve as breadcrumbs for any potential rescuer.

From their very first meeting, Remington and Phoebe strike sparks off of each other. In spite of the pretty awful circumstances, Remington finds Phoebe game to continue with any plan he hatches, and he gets them out of her current mess and safely home while others pursue the gang. A gang that successfully eludes pursuit and makes off with the $2,000 ransom that Thaddeus willingly paid. Back when $2,000 was very definitely real money.

Money that he doesn’t even want back, now that Phoebe is safe.

And that’s where the story really begins. Because Thaddeus is very much afraid that his new wife arranged the kidnapping – not because she wishes her sister any harm, but because she desperately wants enough money to leave him and go back to the bright lights and big city of New York, where she was a very successful actress.

He just wants to make Fiona want to stay, and has zero idea of how to go about it – which is why he sent for Phoebe. Phoebe, on that other hand, knows all of Fiona’s little tricks, because she’s been the victim of most of them. They may love each other, but Fiona’s many, many, many insecurities mean that she can’t resist scoring off of Phoebe at every single turn.

And Phoebe discovers that, unlike her sister, she loves life in the wilds of Colorado. She finds every single bit of life on the ranch absolutely fascinating. And in spite of every argument that Fiona makes against him, Phoebe discovers that she loves Remington Frost.

But her kidnappers are still out there, and now they’ve upped their game to murder. It becomes a question of whose luck will run out first, Phoebe’s or her kidnappers.

Escape Rating B: I had a lot of fun with this book because every scene between Phoebe and Remington absolutely sparkles with wit and humor. Their romance proceeds at a fast and fun clip from their shaky meeting until they fall into each other’s arms. There isn’t a lot of pretense between them, and that’s wonderful to see in a romance. They are each simply themselves, and their personalities just work together. Also, this is very definitely a romance of equals, something that is difficult to both successfully and reasonably pull off in a historical romance.

It was also great that whatever the conflicts are in the story, and there are plenty of them, not a one of those conflicts requires a misunderstandammit between the hero and heroine. There are a lot of times when Remington wishes that he didn’t have to tell Phoebe the gory details of what’s going on, but he knows that he has to for their relationship to work. So he does it, and with very little prevarication at that.

But there are plenty of secrets in the story just the same. There’s an entire herd of drama llamas camped on the field between Thaddeus and Fiona. They do love each other, but they are not talking to each other, at least not about anything that really matters. There’s a huge subplot between them that can be summed up as “assume makes an ass out of u and me”.

Starting with Fiona assuming that Thaddeus had a long-running affair with his housekeeper after the death of his wife, and that said affair was still going on up until he met Fiona, if not longer. That said housekeeper is in love with Thaddeus makes the whole thing believable, and that Thaddeus has been oblivious to the woman’s feelings for 20-something years just adds to the confusion.

But the big mystery in this story is all about the kidnapping, and the subsequent murders. As much as I enjoyed the interplay between Phoebe and Remington, the case felt like it took a bit too long to finally unravel. Although I knew Fiona wasn’t behind it, finding out who was, why, and how, seemed awfully slow to come together. I reached a point where I just wanted them to wrap it up already.

And as much as I loved Phoebe, Fiona is an extremely unlikable character from beginning to end. It’s a good thing that Phoebe loves her, because I certainly did not. I found her cruel and manipulative, and while I knew she wasn’t the mover and shaker behind events, I wouldn’t have minded a bit if she were.

But I was very glad at the end that I got to see Phoebe and Remington’s happy ending. They earned it!

Review: A Peace Divided by Tanya Huff + Giveaway

Review: A Peace Divided by Tanya Huff + GiveawayA Peace Divided (Peacekeeper, #2) by Tanya Huff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction
Series: Peacekeeper #2, Confederation #7
Pages: 384
Published by DAW Books on June 6th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The second book in the action-packed Peacekeeper series, a continuation of Tanya Huff's military sci-fi Confederation series following Torin Kerr
Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr had been the very model of a Confederation Marine. No one who'd ever served with her could imagine any circumstance that would see her walking away from the Corps.
But that was before Torin learned the truth about the war the Confederation was fighting...before she'd been declared dead and had spent time in a prison that shouldn't exist...before she'd learned about the "plastic" beings who were really behind the war between the Confederation and the Others. That was when Torin left the military for good.
Yet she couldn't walk away from preserving and protecting everything the Confederation represented. Instead, ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr drew together an elite corps of friends and allies--some ex-Marines, some civilians with unique skills--and together they prepared to take on covert missions that the Justice Department and the Corps could not--or would not--officially touch. But after their first major mission, it became obvious that covert operations were not going to be enough.
Although the war is over, the fight goes on and the Justice Department finds its regular Wardens unable to deal with violence and the people trained to use it. Ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr has a solution: Strike Teams made up of ex-military personnel, small enough to maneuver quickly, able to work together if necessary. Justice has no choice but to implement her idea and Torin puts her team of independent contractors back into uniform. It isn't war, it is policing, but it often looks much the same.
When the scientists doing a preliminary archaeological dig on a Class Two planet are taken hostage, Torin's team is sent to free them. The problem of innocents in the line of fire is further complicated by the fact that the mercenaries holding them are a mix of Confederation and Primacy forces, and are looking for a weapon able to destroy the plastic aliens who'd started and maintained the war.
If Torin weren't already torn by wanting that weapon in play, she also has to contend with the politics of peace that have added members of the Primacy--former enemies--to her team. Before they confront the mercenaries, Torin will have to sift through shifting loyalties as she discovers that the line between"us" and "them" is anything but straight.

My Review:

There’s an absolutely kick-ass military SF story in A Peace Divided. And that story is a marvelous continuance of pretty much everything that has happened to Gunnery Sergeant, now Warden, Torin Kerr from her first introduction in Valor’s Choice to her re-emergence after the end of her war in An Ancient Peace.

So if you enjoy military SF featuring smart, kick-ass, hard-fighting female soldiers (in this case Kerr is an NCO in the Marines), start at the very beginning with Valor’s Choice. And take good notes, because it seems as if everyone she has ever crossed paths with, or even just run into, makes an appearance in A Peace Divided.

Along with her permanent enemies, and the original instigators of the Confederation’s war with the Primacy.

The future, as was once opined to a very young Dustin Hoffman as Ben Braddock in The Graduate, is in plastics. And that future is nowhere near as benign or profitable as his would-be mentor believed.

Unless, as it turns out, you’re running guns.

Like all of the books in this series so far, A Peace Divided is a part of the branch of SF that makes some interesting and peculiar uses of the concept that what you think is happening is not what is really happening. While that seems to have played a major part of the war between the Confederation and the Primacy, and everything that resulted from that war (as well as the uneasy peace that Kerr now finds herself in) it also applies to the action in this particular story, not just on the part of the plastic aliens, but here primarily on the part of the humans and other sentients who drive this story.

It seems that sentient behavior has a limited number of patterns to follow, whether the beings that follow those patterns are humans, Krai, or di’Tayken, or even whether those sentients are two-legged or four-legged, skinned or furred or carapaced, and every other variant that the writer managed to think of.

As one of the sub-themes of this story is about human (and admittedly other sentient) bigotry, it is ironic that part of the story rides on the concept that people are people, no matter what species those people are from.

There’s a lot going on in A Peace Divided. The story that we follow is that of a band of basically space pirates who have taken an entire archaeological team hostage in the possibly mistaken but certainly partly insane belief that the archaeologists have discovered a weapon that can kill the plastic aliens.

And the other part of the story we follow is, of course, that of Warden Torin Kerr and her, if not merry then certainly snarky band of mostly ex-military peace-keeping wardens, as they set out to rescue the archaeologists and take down the space pirates, hopefully with a minimum of bloodshed.

One of the ongoing issues of this series is that “minimum of bloodshed” is defined much, much differently in the police-like Wardens than it ever was in the Confederation Marines. Being a Marine was a whole lot easier. There were rules and there were orders, there was a strict hierarchy, and there was a lot of security in that, both for the Marines and for the ones giving the orders.

Kerr is now out on her own, in a hierarchy whose rules are occasionally very arcane, and where security is minimal. It’s all on her, not because she wants it to be, but because she can’t seem to find any other way to be.

But it is really, really hard to keep the peace when the other side is doing its level best, and its absolute worst, to start a war.

Escape Rating B+: I loved traveling with Torin Kerr and Company again, and I liked the story, but it really needs the dramatis personae listing in the front and with a lot more detail. Or a summary of the action up till now. I’ve read the whole series, absolutely loved the whole thing, but occasionally I got lost among all the names, races and faces.

Once things get down to the brass-tacks, it klicks along like a ship in warp drive, but it takes a while to get there. I expect that people who are binge-reading the whole series and have everything fresh in their minds are going to eat this one up with a spoon, because it feels like everybody who has ever touched Torin’s life gets at least a mention.

Underneath the story, there are at least three sub-themes going on, one more overt than the other two. And they all add depth to the action, as well as making the reader think about the book well after the last page.

The first, biggest and most obvious is the issue of the returning veterans. Like our own society, the Confederation has done an all too excellent job of training young people, for any and all definitions of people, to set aside their fears and their instincts and become effective and efficient killing machines. The problem they have, just like the one we have, is what to do with those killing machines after their war is over. And just like our own society, the Confederations equivalent of the VA is overworked and understaffed and some people slip through the cracks. Admittedly some also make a hole and dive out, but there are a lot of folks who need help and don’t get the help they need. And a lot of the people that Kerr finds herself dealing with are her former comrades who fell through those cracks and can’t find a way to adjust to being civilians. Kerr and her troupe have plenty of problems with re-adjustment themselves, and they all have each other.

The Marines have a code that they leave no soldier behind. As an NCO, Kerr carried the remains of too many of her soldiers out on her vest, and she’s still carrying them. That there are soldiers that the entire military seems to have left behind feels like failure. Only because it is.

And of course, those folks who are desperate and haven’t adjusted get used by others for their own nefarious ends.

The other two sub-theme layers are about gun control and bigotry. They are more subtle, and it is easy to let them go in the heat of the story, but they are definitely there. And they add color and texture to a story that could have just been gung-ho military SF, but ends up being so much more.

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

Thanks to DAW Books, I am giving away one copy each of An Ancient Peace and A Peace Divided.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Hell Squad: Hemi by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Hemi by Anna HackettHemi (Hell Squad #13) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #13
Pages: 201
Published by Anna Hackett on May 29th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

In the middle of an alien invasion, a big, tough, tattooed former mercenary is finally going to chase down his woman.

Camryn McNab knows love is a lie. Okay, maybe not for everybody--her fellow soldiers on Squad Nine have managed to fall in love in the middle of a vicious alien attack. But it's not for her. She comes from two people incapable of love. For now, her life is about survival, fighting to protect others, and kicking some alien raptor butt. What she doesn't need is a certain wild, bearded, tattoo-covered soldier always underfoot, messing with her things, and driving her crazy. But no matter how hard she tries to outrun Hemi Rahia, she can't seem to shake him, and a terrified part of doesn't even want to...

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Hemi knows his squad has a reputation for not following the rules and being a little wild. Former bikers, mercenaries, and...other less savory things, they fight hard and party harder. But Hemi has known for a while now that there is only one woman for him. One courageous, sexy, attitude-filled woman he wants to claim as his own. But he has to catch her first.

Tasked with a top-secret mission deep in alien creeper territory, Hemi and Cam will fight side-by-side to achieve their dangerous goal. Their chemistry is off the charts, but persistent Hemi wants more than Cam's body...he wants her heart and soul as well. As their battle with the aliens turns deadly, they will have to fight not only for their love, but for their very survival.

My Review:

Science Fiction Romance (SFR) has to walk a tightrope. It has to have convincing and consistent SF worldbuilding, AND it has to have a romance at its heart. For the most part I absolutely love this author’s SFR and her action/adventure romance, but this particular entry didn’t quite work for me.

While on that one hand Hemi feels like it is intended as the reverse of Theron, the two stories may just have come out too close together for me. Both romances feature members of the Squads that protect the Enclave from the nasty, reptilian, invading Gizzida. So these are both stories where the romance is between two members of the military defense force.

In Theron, it was Sienna who was ready to rock her teammate’s world, and Theron who was the initially reluctant partner. In Hemi, the roles are reversed, with Hemi already all in and Cam putting up walls. The circumstances that this little remnant of the human race is currently stuck in creates all kinds of baggage for absolutely everyone. But in addition to the usual standard heaping helping of survivor’s guilt, Cam’s miserable childhood and toxic parents left her convinced that while love may be possible for other people, she’s not capable of believing in it for herself.

Especially with someone like Hemi, who in spite of being very big and badass, came from a loving home filled with siblings and cousins and parents who loved each other deeply. He believes in forever, and while their current situation keeps forever firmly on hold, she doesn’t think she has it in her to care that deeply for anyone, because she’s seen just how wrong it can go.

It takes nearly losing Hemi twice for Cam to finally see that love is real, and that they need to grab every minute of it they can, because there might not be a tomorrow.

Escape Rating B-: The stories in Hemi and Theron are much too similar, and came much too close together for this reader. While Shaw also explores this same theme, two Squad members who fall for each other, it still stands out, both because it was the first of the theme and because Shaw and Frost are both so completely blindsided by what they feel for each other.

Also, although Hemi may be intended to be the engine driving this book (I can’t resist the pun) something about the way he pursued Cam didn’t quite work for me. It very much had that flavor of “man knows best”, and that particular flavor never tastes good to me.

Even though Hemi turns out to be right, they really do belong together, that particular trope has a nasty aftertaste of the man ignoring the woman’s thoughts, feelings and desires. It so often, as it does in this case, becomes a story of “even though she said no she really means yes” and using seduction to change the woman’s mind. Everyone is wrong sometimes, but not having a woman’s stated wishes respected, even if the other character thinks they are off-base, is not something I enjoy reading.

It also feels as if not enough progress is made towards kicking the Gizzida off Earth. I’m still holding out for an Independence Day ending (the original, not the bleeping sequel) where we all stand up and cheer while the aliens get their asses kicked back into space. While the new alien creepers we see in Hemi are particularly creepy (the scene where Hemi hacks his way out from the inside is gruesome and awesome at the same time), and the swath of destruction that the Squads wreck in their base is spectacularly explosive, it still feels like a guerrilla action and not major movement forward.

For this reader, it is just plain time for the Gizzida to GO!

Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen by Victoria Alexander

Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen by Victoria AlexanderThe Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen (The Lady Travelers Guide, #1) by Victoria Alexander
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Lady Travelers Guide #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on May 23rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Embark on the breathtaking romantic adventures of The Lady Travelers Society in the brand-new series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander
Really, it's too much to expect any normal man to behave like a staid accountant in order to inherit the fortune he deserves to support the lifestyle of an earl. So when Derek Saunders's favorite elderly aunt and her ill-conceived—and possibly fraudulent—Lady Travelers Society loses one of their members, what's a man to do but step up to the challenge? Now he's escorting the world's most maddening woman to the world's most romantic city to find her missing relative.
While India Prendergast only suspects his organization defrauds gullible travelers, she's certain a man with as scandalous a reputation as Derek Saunders cannot be trusted any farther than the distance around his very broad shoulders. As she struggles not to be distracted by his wicked smile and the allure of Paris, instead of finding a lost lady traveler, India just may lose her head, her luggage and her heart.

My Review:

This is my second book in a row where one of the main characters begins the story desperately requiring the surgical removal of a seemingly permanent stick shoved up their fundament. As in today’s story that’s the heroine rather than the hero, I’m being a bit more delicate in my language referring to the deformity.

India Prendergast is more than a bit of a prig. I’d say that she is a “stick in the mud” but as has been previously established, the stick has already been firmly lodged elsewhere. In today’s terms, we’d say that she needs to lighten up more than a bit.

She is also both extremely judgmental and an unbearable know-it-all, and not in the useful way that Hermione Granger was a know-it-all. Miss Prendergast’s version of omniscience is that she has made rather firm decisions on exactly how the world works, according to her designs, and that she is always right in all of her judgements. Which are very exacting.

She’s great at managing things and people, but not very lovable. Or even likeable. And she’s certainly not terribly forgiving. Or much fun.

And she’s not quite 30.

In the case that begins the story, she is both right and wrong, but not, as she discovers at the end, in any of the ways she expects.

Her cousin Heloise, the woman who raised her after her parents death, has gone missing. Or so it seems. Heloise, a middle-aged spinster with a small but secure income, has become a member of The Lady Travelers Society, and after consulting with the Society, has planned a solo (well, solo with her lady’s maid) European tour of indeterminate length and rather sketchy itinerary.

As the story begins, India has not heard from Heloise in over six weeks, and her inquiries to the Lady Travelers Society, increasingly frantic and belligerent, have gone unanswered. As the police have been thoroughly dismissive and unhelpful, India is taking matters into her own hands.

She has investigated the Lady Travelers Society and has discovered that there is a fraud afoot. In her decided opinion, the three elderly ladies who appear to be running the Society, using the term “running” very, very loosely, are covering a scam. They seem much too dithery to be the masterminds of such a pernicious scheme to separate women of limited means from both their pounds sterling and their dreams of travel.

India is certain she has discovered that mastermind in Derek Saunders. Mr. Saunders, on the other hand, has just discovered that his great aunt and her two friends are, in fact, perpetuating a fraud in order to maintain their independence as widows. He’s there to put a stop to what India believes he is the mastermind of.

But they both need to find cousin Heloise, both for India’s peace of mind and for Derek to keep his great aunt and her cronies out of jail, or at least free from scandal.

India’s distrustful nature won’t allow her to let Derek search for her wayward cousin, as she believes Heloise’s waywardness is ultimately his fault. And he can’t let India go off investigating on her own in Paris, because if anything happens to her, society will certainly hold him responsible, even if he was not responsible for the original scheme that got them all into this mess.

And his great aunt and her cronies are very definitely matchmaking. Not that India and Derek don’t need their guiding, if slightly guilty, hands.

It’s up to them to not screw up their best chance at happiness. Their escapades prove that they both need all the help that they can get.

Escape Rating B: This story is solidly good fun, but the portrayal of the heroine in the first half of the story does make the reader want to shake her. India at the outset, while extremely effective, is also intensely annoying. Her self-righteousness sets the reader’s teeth on edge, as it does that of nearly every character she meets in the story.

On that other hand, one of the terrific things about this story is the heroine’s journey. The hero has already gotten most of the way to where he needs to be, courtesy of a swift kick to the posterior delivered by his uncle several months before the story begins. Derek, while he has not lost his sense of fun and adventure, has grown up after being threatened with being cut off from his inheritance. And it’s been the making of him.

Meanwhile, none of India’s acquaintances nor her (very) few friends have been willing to risk her judgemental nature long enough to tell her that she generally goes well beyond holding up standards into outright rudeness. She never gives anyone the benefit of the doubt, and makes no allowances for any human frailty on anyone’s part, including her own. Because of course she believes she has none.

And that’s where the story really lies. India doesn’t so much need to grow up as to just grow. Or the wooden puppet needs to become a real girl. Not necessarily in the sense of enjoying fashion or shopping or any of the things that women were supposed to enjoy in the late Victorian era, although she does come to that, but grow in the sense of accepting others. She can be kind without being judge-y, if she can finally admit that no one, including herself, is right all the damn time.

The setting of this story is marvelous. It is Paris in 1889, at the beginning of the 1889 World’s Fair. Some of the best and most evocative scenes in the story take place at the top of the newly opened and still quite controversial Eiffel Tower.

All in all, this is a lovely story of wheels within wheels, featuring an intelligent (if bull-headed) heroine and set in a marvelous place and time. And there will be more! The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger is coming in November.

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Review: From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh + Giveaway

Review: From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh + GiveawayFrom Duke Till Dawn (The London Underground, #1) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: London Underground #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on May 30th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Eva Leigh launches a seductive new series that sizzles with the dark secrets of London’s underworld...
Years ago, the Duke of Greyland gave his heart—and a princely sum of money—to a charming, destitute widow with unparalleled beauty. After one passionate night, she slipped from his bed and vanished without a trace. And just when he’s given up hope of ever seeing her again, Greyland finds her managing a gaming hell. He’s desperate to have her… until he discovers everything about his long-lost lover was a lie.
In truth, Cassandra Blake grew up on the streets, picking pockets to survive. Greyland was a mark—to be fleeced and forgotten—but her feelings for the duke became all too real. Once he learns of her deception, however, the heat in his eyes turns to ice. When her business partner absconds with the gaming hell proceeds—leaving unsavory investors out for blood—Cassandra must beg the man she betrayed for help.
Greyland wants compensation, too, and he’ll assist her under one condition: she doesn’t leave his sight until her debts are paid. But it’s not long before the real Cassandra—the smart, streetwise criminal—is stealing his heart all over again.

My Review:

Eva Leigh is also Zoe Archer, and I absolutely love Zoe Archer’s action/adventure/historical and occasionally paranormal and/or sci-fi romances, so I’m all in for her historicals. One of the things she does best is write unconventional and truly kick-ass (sometimes literally) heroines and fit them into the setting she has created.

And that is absolutely true in From Duke Till Dawn. While the Duke in the title, Alex Greyland, really, really truly needs to have the stick up his ass surgically removed, swindler Cassandra Blake is just the woman to do it. After all, she’s done it before. It’s just that the operation didn’t “stick”, because she couldn’t either.

The story here is a combination of opposites attract with a heaping helping of personal discovery. And once it gets out of the gate, it’s marvelous.

These are two people who never should have met. Or at least not met with any honesty at all between them. Cassandra is a high-class swindler. Or rather, she is now. She started out as a child in debtor’s prison, because that’s where her dad ended his days. Once he died, she lost even that dubious roof over her head, and has been making her way, mostly alone, ever since.

That’s how she met Alex Greyland. She conned him out of 500 pounds, rather a princely sum during the Regency. She pretended to be a proud but impoverished gentleman’s widow, cheated out of her portion by unscrupulous relatives. Alex fell for the story hook, line and sinker, while also falling for the proud and beautiful young widow.

From Cassandra’s perspective, Alex should have been just a mark, to fleece and forget the minute she scarpered away. Instead, she fell into his bed, and made the mistake of letting him into her heart. By the time she ran, it was too late for both of them.

When they meet again, Cassie is still playing the proud but impoverished widow, this time as the hostess of an exclusive gaming hell. But just as Alex discovers her secret, her whole world crashes around her. Her partner has left her high and dry, stealing all the money the hell has collection and leaving her to face all the employees and, even more dangerously, all of their underworld backers.

The only way for Cassie to escape with her life is to turn to Alex, the one man who knows who and what she really is, even if he hates her for it. He can protect her long enough for her to find her missing partner and get out from under the life-threatening situation he has left her in.

But Alex finds it impossible to hate the one woman who has ever made him feel, and Cassie can’t keep herself away from the only man who has ever known her as she truly is. It’s a dangerous game they are playing – with the underworld, and with each other.

And it can only end in heartbreak. After all, not even a duke can defy society and marry a criminal.

Escape Rating B+: It takes a while for this one to get going. When they meet again, Alex is still playing the lovelorn duke, and Cassie pretending to be the poor but proud widow. Alex, of course, truly is lovelorn, even if he can’t admit it, but Cassie is anything but who she is pretending to be.

What I wasn’t expecting, but should have, is just how much the book changes, and for the better, when Alex discovers Cassie’s secret. At that instant, he naturally feels betrayed, as well as incredibly angry, but for the first time in the story he stops listening to the voice of his father in his head telling him how a duke is supposed to behave and just lets himself feel what he actually feels, and not what he thinks he should.

And that’s what makes the book. Cassie is who she has always been, the difference is that she can finally let someone else see that person. But for Alex, the revelation is that he finally gets a handle on who he is and what he wants, rather than what he should do or what he should want. The longer he is with Cassie, the more out-of-his-element situations she throws him into, the more of himself he discovers.

The other thing that Cassie does for Alex is pull the blinders from his eyes. He’s never stepped outside his own extremely privileged world. He honestly does want to help people and make the world a better place than he found it, but he has no idea what will really help or how difficult the situation really is for those less privileged than himself.

As she always does, this author has created a very unconventional heroine who still manages to feel a part of her time and place, along with a hero who needs her to be exactly who she is. I can’t wait for the rest of this series.

While I wait, I’m going back to finish the author’s Wicked Quills of London series. I loved Forever Your Earl, but the rest got sucked into the “so many books, so little time” vortex. As much as I enjoyed From Duke Till Dawn, I’m happy to check out Scandal Takes the Stage while I wait for my next trip to the London Underground.

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

Eva is giving away 5 paperback copies of From Duke Till Dawn to lucky entrants on this tour
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