Review: Hot Response by Shannon Stacey + Giveaway

Review: Hot Response by Shannon Stacey + GiveawayHot Response (Boston Fire, #4) by Shannon Stacey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Boston Fire #4
Pages: 288
Published by Carina Press on April 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The men of Boston Fire are back and hotter than ever! Don’t miss this brand-new novel from New York Times bestselling author Shannon Stacey.

Gavin Boudreau lives for the job, but he also believes in “work hard, play harder.” As the youngest guy in Ladder 37, he figures he’s got plenty of time before settling down becomes a priority. Soft, pretty women who aren’t looking for promises are exactly his type, and he’s comfortable with that. Working with a gorgeous EMT isn’t going to change who he is.

The last thing Cait Tasker needs in her personal life is a firefighter whose challenges on-scene have been a thorn in her side from minute one. Her plate’s too full for a man anyway. Back in her childhood home to help her family cope with an unexpected tragedy, she’s got enough to handle without throwing a hot, testosterone-laden fireman into the mix.

As long days on the job lead to long nights together, Gavin and Cait will discover how far temptation can take them—and what happens when the one you thought was all wrong for you turns out to be the person you can’t live without.

My Review:

Hot Response is the fourth book in the Boston Fire series. I read the first book, Heat Exchange and was not nearly as impressed as I expected to be. But I’m happy to say that Hot Response reminded me of all the reasons that I loved this author’s earlier series. Multiples of them. To the point where I’m thinking about going back and seeing where I left off.

The Boston Fire series, unsurprisingly considering the title, is centered around the men and women who make up one shift at one particular firehouse in Boston, as well as the people who are part of their lives, usually in multiple ways, between the firehouse and their regular bar, Kincaid’s. After all, Kincaid’s is owned by a retired member of their company and the owner’s son is a member of their team. There are a lot of ties, including family ones.

The tension that makes this particular romance so fraught and so realistic at the same time is also about family ties. Particularly about the difference between the ties that bind and the ties that strangle.

Our hero, Gavin Boudreau, is a member of Ladder 37. He grew up in the neighborhood and is regularly on call for his parents and his nearby siblings. But for Gavin, it’s a two-way street. Sometimes they need him, and sometimes he needs them, and what goes around definitely comes around, all of it good.

Cait Tasker, on the other hand, seems to be on a one-way street with her family. She gives, and they take, and take, and take. The reasons for it make complete sense, but the result isn’t actually working for anyone, and particularly not for Cait. Her stepfather died suddenly, her mother couldn’t get herself out of the well of depression after losing a husband to early death for the second time, and Cait’s 16-year-old half brother is rightfully frightened but not able to keep his mother going on his own. And he has his own grief to process along with all the normal teenage angst and hormones and attitudes. Cait came home to help out, and she’s still helping. But she’s also helping to keep her mom and her brother from learning to stand on their own two feet. Or their own four feet together. Meanwhile, Cait’s older sister is far away and wants absolutely nothing to do with this mess until it’s fixed. And I can’t blame her. In this scenario, I’d probably BE her.

The last thing Cait needs in her life is a relationship. But it’s also the thing she needs most. Getting involved with Gavin is the first time since she came home that she’s done anything besides work, mediate between her mom and her brother, and crash. Especially since as an EMT she really can’t afford to crash.

The deeper Cait and Gavin get into their relationship, the happier they both are. At least until Gavin delivers some home truths that Cait just isn’t ready to hear. He may not want to make her choose between her family and their relationship, but he’s right that she needs to make some choices of her own. Is she propping up her family because they need her to keep doing it, or is she propping up her family because she’s afraid of what will happen if she lets go?

And is Gavin willing to wait for her to figure it out?

Escape Rating B+: First of all, I liked Hot Response a whole lot more than I did the first book in the series, Heat Exchange, a few weeks ago. You could say I had a much hotter response to this one, especially considering that my feelings about Heat Exchange were lukewarm at best.

One of the things I always loved about this author’s earlier series, something that was missing in Heat Exchange, was the way that the dramatic tension in her romances felt real and not contrived, and that was also true in Hot Response.

Cait and Gavin have chemistry together from the very beginning, even if Cait is trying to pretend it isn’t there.

But as strong as their pull towards each other are the forces that are keeping them apart – even when they’re together. It’s unfortunately all too realistic that the issue between them isn’t really between them so much as it is between Cait and her family and Gavin’s eventual loss of patience with the way things are. And not because anyone is a terrible person or because of anything evil, but just because Cait as well as her mother and brother, are just plain too scared to let go of each other – even when they should.

Both Gavin and Cait are interesting characters with high-pressure and occasionally dangerous jobs who are fun to watch and certainly deserve their fair share of happiness. I think it’s fair to say that they are likeable people who would be fun to hang out with, and we want to see them get their HEA. The things standing between them and that HEA feel all too real, situations that could happen in anyone’s life no matter how much they might wish differently.

Cait’s fear for her mother is understandable, as is Gavin’s decreasing level of patience in the way that Cait deals with that fear. This is one of those stories where the real-life answer is probably counseling for everyone, but that can’t happen until the “everyone” in question is ready for it. And Gavin is correct that they all seem to be holding each other back from reaching for the future by holding on too tightly.

In short, I really liked the hero and heroine, I “bought into” both their relationship and the reasons they had problems in their relationship, and was happy for their HEA. I’ll be looking forward after all to the next book in this series, Under Control, because I bet the situation will be far from under anyone’s control. That always makes for great reading!

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

LINK:   https://goo.gl/tm4d11

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open internationally. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR.  Giveaway ends 4/30/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per person. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Family Gathering (Sullivan's Crossing, #3) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #3
Pages: 288
Published by Mira Books on April 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An exceptional storyteller, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr beautifully captures the emotionally charged, complex dynamics that come with being part of any family. Readers will laugh and shed a few tears as they discover what it means to be loved, supported and accepted by the people who mean the most.

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads in his life. With his elder brother and youngest sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. But, like every visitor to the Crossing, he’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.

Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention at first, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he also gets to know himself and what he truly wants.

When all the Jones siblings gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together for the first time in a way they never were as children. As they struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. But all of them come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.

My Review:

The title of this book turns out to have multiple meanings. The family gathers together, and the family gathers more people into itself. This happens to multiple families during the course of this entry in the Sullivan’s Crossing series. And it’s lovely all the way around.

The main story of this book focuses on Dakota Jones, just as the previous books in the series have focused first on his older brother Cal (What We Find) and then his younger sister Sierra (Any Day Now). And while you probably don’t have to read the first two books to enjoy this one, Sullivan’s Crossing is a marvelous place, the members of the family have an interesting set of dysfunctions, and the books are relatively quick reads that end with smile-on-your-face happy endings.

These are all nice people, and it’s great to see them get their acts together. Because they all sure need the help.

Dakota comes to Sullivan’s Crossing because he’s unexpectedly out of the military after 17 years, and is at a bit of a loose end. After years of staying as far away from his family as he can get, now that he doesn’t know what to do with himself he realizes that he wants to see how they are. Or at least how his brother and younger sister are. His parents still drive him crazy (with very good reason) and his older sister is a bossy control-freak that he can’t stand to be around.

Sullivan’s Crossing pulls him right in, just as it has Cal and Sierra. Part of that pull turns out to be Sid, the beautiful bartender at the local watering hole, just as Maggie changed Cal’s life and Connie did Sierra’s. Dakota doesn’t have any other place to be, no ties anywhere else that he wants to get closer to, and his brother and sister are both happy. Their newfound friends and family are extremely welcoming, and they have babies he can spoil without having to change their diapers.

Dakota may be drifting into life in Sullivan’s Crossing, but he is actively pursuing the extremely gunshy Sid. It’s only when not one but two of the local single women go out of their way to chase Dakota down with painfully obvious sexual intent that he eventually gets the clue that he’s after much more with Sid than just a quick fling. And that’s a good thing, because it’s going to require not just a lot of patience but also a sincere friendship for Sid to let any man other than her brother close enough to see if she might be willing to let her guard down again. Ever.

Escape Rating B+: The Family Gathering, and the entire Sullivan’s Crossing series, is simply a lovely, good time with a really quirky family. The quote that opens the book sums it all up very nicely – “In our family, we don’t hide crazy…we put it on the porch and give it a cocktail.”

The Jones siblings have all been a fairly nice brand of crazy. It’s in this entry that we see some of the darker sides of what has driven all of them to end up in Sullivan’s Crossing.

Their father is a non-functional schizophrenic who self-medicates with marijuana to keep the voices toned down. He’s not violent, in fact he’s rather sweet, but his inability to function in society made for a chaotic childhood for the four kids. Their mother was too busy enabling her husband to make sure that their children had any responsible parenting, but the kids mostly turned out okay with the help and guidance of their grandparents.

While Cal seems to have ended up the most functional, Sierra’s response was to self-medicate her fears of ending up like their father with alcohol, and Dakota ran away to the military at 17 and took a vat of resentment with him. Dakota’s older sister Sedona, the bossy control freak, has anxiety and OCD issues to the point where her family has to stage an intervention. Dealing with Sedona’s crisis is a big part of the story, and an important factor in the gathering of this family back together.

The other issue holding this book together, is the stalking of Dakota. Not that Dakota is stalking anyone, but that he is being stalked by a woman who entered the series in Any Day Now seeming slightly unhinged, but with Dakota entering the picture has escalated into full-scale criminal behavior – and she’s ramping up the violence along with the crazy.

It was marvelous to see this particular shoe on the other foot. I’ve read the trope where a woman is endangered by a crazed sexual stalker so many times that they all read alike, and usually read as an excuse to put the heroine in jeopardy so the hero can save her, often with some rape-porn on the side. Ugh!

This was different, but it was fresh and it also felt realistic. Dakota wants to dismiss it all. He doesn’t want to make trouble, he doesn’t want to seem like trouble to Sid, and he really doesn’t want to get his stalker in trouble for incidents that seems merely misguided – at least at first. It’s the police chief who convinces Dakota that even though the individual incidents don’t seem like much, that there is something going on that needs to be monitored. And that just because Dakota is a soldier doesn’t mean that he can’t be misled, misguided or be a victim of something awful just because the perpetrator is a woman and not another man.

There is also a romance in The Family Gathering, and even though the developing relationship between Sid and Dakota is the tentpole of the plot, it’s really the way that Dakota falls in love with the town, his life there, and his growing relationship with the rest of his family that carries the story.

And it is a lovely read.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Family Gathering to one lucky US commenter!

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Review: Farewell My Cuckoo by Marty Wingate

Review: Farewell My Cuckoo by Marty WingateFarewell, My Cuckoo (Birds of a Feather Mystery #4) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Birds of a Feather #4
Pages: 268
Published by Random House Publishing Group - Alibi on April 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Julia Lanchester must defend her love nest from an invasive species: her boyfriend’s sister. And then there’s the little matter of murder . . .


“The cuckoo comes in April and sings its song in May. In June it changes tune and July it flies away.”

Wedding bells are ringing in the small British village of Smeaton-under-Lyme. Julia Lanchester’s second-in-command at the local tourist center is finally getting married, and the lovebirds are giving Julia and her live-in boyfriend, Michael Sedgwick, ideas about their own future. But before anyone can say “Will you,” Michael’s flighty older sister, Pammy, crashes the party, fresh off a breakup and lugging all her worldly possessions around with her in a tangle of plastic bags.

Before long, Julia’s cozy cottage starts feeling more like Pammy’s bachelorette pad. To keep herself from going cuckoo, Julia throws herself into her pet projects at work—until death disrupts her plans. First a body is found on the estate. Then the police discover that Pammy was the last one to see the man alive. And soon Julia gets the feeling that if she ever wants her home—or her boyfriend—back, she’ll have to get to the bottom of this mystery, even if it means breaking a few eggs.

My Review:

For every single relationship that has hit the rocks over a cheating spouse, an economic pitfall or irreconcilable differences, there are probably at least two that have come to a sad end because of a relative, on one side or the other, who is incapable of properly parsing the sentence, “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” and just won’t leave – along with the person in the relationship who seems to be incapable of making them leave long after they’ve worn out whatever reluctant welcome they had in the first place.

In the case of Farewell My Cuckoo, it’s Michael’s irresponsible sister Pammy who has become the cuckoo in Julia and Michael’s rather tiny little cottage nest in Smeaton-under-Lyme. To the point where I half-expected Pammy to become the corpse in this entry in the series, with Julia as the prime suspect. (For more background on Julia, Michael and Smeaton-under-Lyme, start with the first book in the series, The Rhyme of the Magpie)

Instead, the mystery takes a different path, as an unidentified man is found dead near a local pond. While no one knows exactly who he is, it turns out that there are plenty of people in the village who had at least a nodding acquaintance with “Bob”, even though no one seems to know any of the truly pertinent facts about the man, like his full name, or even where he was staying. If he was staying.

Julia, along with her friend Willow and more than a bit of help from a tourist visitor as well as the seemingly immovable Pammy, can’t resist looking into Bob’s identity and what brought him to live “rough” somewhere in the neighborhood.

Nor can she resist poking her nose into other local mysteries, especially the fervent pursuit of her friend Nuala by a rude and unwelcome stranger who seems to be able to turn on the charm when he needs to get his way. A stranger who seems perfectly willing to mislead Nuala about his own marital status in order to worm his way into her bakery and teashop business. And who has a surprising connection to the late, lamented Bob.

Possibly even a connection worth killing for.

Escape Rating B: For a series that centers around birds, the mysteries are salted with a surprising number of tasty red herrings. It is all too easy to understand why Julia’s amateur sleuthing so often leads her astray – because the reader is right there with her.

Not that some of those false leads don’t uncover important little mysteries of their own, even if their pursuit takes Julia away from the central problem.

As a cozy mystery, Julia’s amateur investigations often take her deep into the heart of village life, and Farewell My Cuckoo is no exception. Poor dead Bob leads not only to his killer, but also to the breakup of a marriage and a dubious business proposition, as well as to a villager who has gone off the rails and to the final, sad end of a long-lost love.

A lot happens, and it is all, in its way, fascinating. But the central problem remains throughout the story, and it isn’t poor Bob’s corpse and how it got there, although it should be. A lot of time is taken up with Pammy and her interloping. The reader will gnash their teeth at the way that both Julia and Michael switch from enabling Pammy’s behavior to her face while vocally resenting it behind her back. And this reader at least was gnashing right beside them.

Julia’s solutions to the mysteries that she comes across are generally interesting and her investigations are often quite a lot of fun. She does, unfortunately, have a penchant both for finding herself in uncomfortable personal situations and getting herself and her helpers into deadly danger, and Farewell My Cuckoo was no exception on either front.

As much as they sometimes drive me a bit crazy, I really like both of this author’s heroines, and find them easy to identify with and fun to follow. But I’ll confess that Pru Parke of the Potting Shed series is my favorite, so I’m really looking forward to the next book that series, Midsummer Mayhem, coming in November.

Tour Participants

April 9 – Babs Book Bistro – GUEST POST

April 9 – View from the Birdhouse – SPOTLIGHT

April 10 – Blogger Nicole Reviews – SPOTLIGHT

April 11 – Reading Reality – REVIEW

April 12 – Readeropolis – AUTHOR INTERVIEW

April 13 – Teresa Trent Author Blog – SPOTLIGHT

April 14 – Maureen’s Musings – SPOTLIGHT

April 15 – Varietats – REVIEW

April 16 – Back Porchervations – REVIEW

April 17 – Mysteries with Character – AUTHOR INTERVIEW

April 18 – My Reading Journeys – REVIEW

April 19 – Brooke Blogs – SPOTLIGHT

April 20 – Laura’s Interests – REVIEW

April 21- Books a Plenty Book Reviews – REVIEW

April 22 – Cozy Up With Kathy – GUEST POST

Review: Claws for Concern by Miranda James

Review: Claws for Concern by Miranda JamesClaws for Concern (Cat in the Stacks, #9) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #9
Pages: 277
Published by Berkley Books on February 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, are embroiled in a new mystery when a cold case suddenly heats up in the latest installment of the New York Times bestselling series.

Charlie Harris has been enjoying some peace and quiet with his new grandson when a mysterious man with a connection to an unsolved murder starts visiting the library...

My Review:

April 8-14 is National Library Week. In honor of this week, one that celebrations Libraries and Librarians, I searched the virtually towering TBR pile for a book that related to libraries. Instead of choosing something serious, I went for the lighthearted approach, and snagged Claws for Concern, a cozy mystery by a librarian that features a librarian-cum-amateur sleuth.

While the book managed to be mostly light-hearted, in spite of the surprising number of murders that librarian Charlie Harris seems to trip over in his small Mississippi town, there was also a bit of real librarian seriousness in the background, which makes this the perfect book for this week after all.

The Cat in the Stacks series, which began with Murder Past Due, features the extremely large Maine Coon cat Diesel and his human, librarian Charlie Harris. Diesel does not solve crimes, and he never does anything that is not within the bounds of normal feline behavior, but he is probably the reason a lot of people read the series. We all want a cat just like him because he’s not merely large and intelligent (on the scale of cat intelligence – not human) but he is also incredibly well-behaved.

But of course it’s the human’s point of view that we follow. Librarian Charlie Harris, in spite of his penchant for involving himself in murder investigations, is very much “one of us”. The series is written by a librarian, and Charlie, at least at his actual work, is quite true to life. He does the things that many of us do, puts up with many of the things we have to put up with, and has many of the same gripes and complaints that real-life practicing librarians do, as well as many of the joys and intellectual challenges that make up library-life.

The murder in this particular entry is a cold case. It was refreshing not to have Charlie trip over yet another dead body, as the population of tiny Athena Mississippi and its surrounds would be decimated if he kept up at the rate he was going. But this cold case turns out to be tied to his family, albeit tangentially.

Long before the aunt from whom Charlie inherited his lovely house married the man that Charlie knew as his uncle, said uncle was previously married and divorced. And had a child he never knew about. That child is now in his 60s, seems a bit down on his luck, and is haunting Athena looking for information about the father he never knew.

But the poor man was also the suspect in a long-ago multiple murder, and it seems as if there is someone in town who either wants to settle the old score – or who wants to keep old Bill Delaney from revealing what he knows about that bloody, long ago, night.

Charlie isn’t sure whether his recently discovered cousin is a murderer who got off scot-free, or about to be the victim of a murder in the here and now. But he and his new associate are determined to find out – one way or another.

Escape Rating B: This is a cozy series, so it’s always a light read – no matter how many dead bodies Charlie stumbles over. This particular entry feels unique in that there are no new murders. And that’s probably good for the population of Athena.

Instead, Charlie finds himself investigating a cold case with the help of a new friend who has a history of conducting his own amateur investigations in a nearby town. Jack Pemberton writes true-crime books, investigates cold cases, and wants to feature Charlie and other amateur sleuths in his next book. Together they bring new light to a case that everyone believed was cut and dried if not open and shut.

The process for opening the investigation reads very much like an oral history project, something conducted by many librarians and archivists (Charlie is both) over the years. There is no new forensic evidence – only evidence that may have been overlooked or just needs to be looked at in a new light.

But with a 20-year-old case Charlie and Jack have to find people who were around at the time, and interview them. Not that they don’t think everyone was interviewed at the time, but they need to form their own impressions. And it is always possible that someone remembers something they didn’t back then, or that someone was covering for someone who is now beyond earthly justice.

It is always fun to follow Charlie as he works, whether it’s his work at the library or his work as an amateur detective. Especially when he brings Diesel along with him. Athena is a nice place to visit, Charlie is a terrific person to visit it with, and I always enjoy my time with Diesel. This series is a comfort read for me, and I know I’ll be back for more when the mood arises.

One serious library issue gets raised early in the book, and it’s one that I want to talk about before I close. As a volunteer staff member at the Athena Public Library, Charlie has access to the library circulation system. He can look up people’s library cards, see where they live and what they’ve checked out. In libraries, this is a huge privacy issue, and there have been plenty of court cases about what staff can reveal to anyone other than the cardholder, including law enforcement. But when Charlie discovers that the old man who keeps coming into the library is looking up Charlie’s own address in the old City Directories, Charlie can’t resist the temptation to look up the man’s library card and see who he is and where he lives. Charlie knows he’s not supposed to do this, he has resisted the temptation on previous cases, but can’t resist temptation when he knows that this person is looking for him or his family and casing his house. Charlie feels guilty about it immediately afterwards, and so he should. Protecting patron privacy is one of the cornerstones of library service. He does not let himself off easily for his transgression, nor should he.

In celebration of National Library Week, please visit your local library and/or (preferably AND) tell your local powers that be that you value your library and want to see it continue to be funded and to serve your community.

Review: Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh + Giveaway

Review: Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh + GiveawayCounting on a Countess (The London Underground, #2) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: London Underground #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For a shameless libertine and a wily smuggler in the London Underground, marriage is more than convenience—it’s strategy...

Christopher “Kit” Ellingsworth, war veteran and newly minted Earl of Blakemere, buries his demons under every sort of pleasure and vice. His scandalous ways have all but emptied his coffers . . . until a wealthy mentor leaves him a sizeable fortune. The only stipulation? He must marry within one month to inherit the money. Kit needs a bride and the bold, mysterious Miss Tamsyn Pearce seems perfect.

Husband hunting isn’t Tamsyn’s top priority—she’s in London to sell her new shipment of illicit goods—but she’s desperate for funds to keep her smuggling operation afloat. When a handsome earl offers to wed her and send her back to Cornwall with a hefty allowance, Tamsyn agrees. After all, her secrets could land her in prison and an attentive, love-struck spouse could destroy everything.

But when an unexpected proviso in the will grants Tamsyn control of the inheritance, their arrangement becomes anything but convenient. Now, Kit’s counting on his countess to make his wildest dreams a reality and he plans to convince her, one pleasurable seduction at a time.

My Review:

This is a marriage of convenience story that lives up to the old saw that goes “marry in haste, repent at leisure” because that’s definitely what happens to Kit and Tamsyn. Not that the repentance turns out to be leisurely per se, as they are both awfully, awfully busy while they are repenting.

Kit needs a wife, and Tamsyn needs a husband, and not for any of the usual reasons. Kit can claim a fortune if he marries within 30 days. He may be an earl, but the estate is broke. And Kit wants the money for a completely different reason – he plans to open a pleasure garden to rival Vauxhall as a way of laying his own wartime demons to rest.

If Kit’s reasons weren’t unusual enough, there’s Tamsyn. She needs a husband to give her enough money to buy her uncle’s rundown country house in Cornwall, so that she can continue to lead the smuggling operation that is keeping her village almost literally afloat.

The fishing is down, the taxes are up, and without the money from bringing in brandy and lace from France and far away from the Customs and Excise, the folks of tiny Newcombe would be starving. As they were before then 16-year-old Tamsyn became their de facto leader.

Both Kit and Tamsyn go into their marriage of convenience with what they believe are eyes wide open. Kit plans to purchase the land for his pleasure garden as soon as the ink on their marriage lines is dry. He also plans to continue his life as one of London’s most celebrated rakehells – and has no plans to be faithful to his wife, nor cares if she is faithful to him once she has presented him with the requisite heir – a spare is not even required.

Tamsyn plans to beg her husband to buy the neglected pile in Cornwall so she can continue the smuggling operation.

Neither plans to tell each other anything of much significance, or even spend more than the minimum amount of time necessary together.

But the best laid plans often go astray. The will that gives Kit his fortune has an unusual clause in it – in order to inherit the money Kit has to give control of it to Tamsyn. So instead of her begging him for the funds to buy the estate in Cornwall, he has to beg her for the funds to start his pleasure garden.

There’s only enough money for one – or the other.

Kit isn’t honest about his reasons for seducing Tamsyn, but neither is she honest about why she married Kit. They are caught in a web of lies, and bound together not just by the bonds of matrimony, but by a sexual chemistry that gives neither of them any peace.

It might even be love. But not even the strongest love can survive as much dishonesty as exists between Kit and Tamsyn. Or can it?

Escape Rating B: I picked up Counting on a Countess because I really enjoyed the first book in this series, From Duke Till Dawn, and because I love the action/adventure romances that this author writes under her other name, Zoe Archer.

One of the things that this author does well are her unconventional heroines, and Tamsyn is certainly no exception. She’s a smuggler. She’s even good at it. At the same time, the illegal operation is not romanticized, she’s not a pirate heroine – although she could be. Tamsyn turns to smuggling as the best way to play out a truly awful hand. Her parents are dead, her aunt and uncle are despicable, and the village desperately needs a way to keep the roof over its head and food in its bellies. In a choice between smuggling and starving, most people would pick smuggling every time.

But part of that repenting in leisure is that Tamsyn and KIt barely know each other for less than a week when they marry. Kit isn’t aware that Tamsyn’s frugality is ingrained in her by hard choices – she is used to squeezing every shilling until it screams in agony because those shillings are hard to come by, while Kit has been spending the years after he returned from Waterloo spending money he doesn’t have and not worrying about when the bills will come due.

Tamsyn, for her part, while she is aware that Kit is a former soldier, is not aware that his service has made him a principled defender of his country and its laws. To his mind, smuggling French goods into England without paying taxes is flouting the law he fought to uphold and robbing his country at the expense of its enemies.

She doesn’t see the value in a pleasure garden, and she can’t reveal her part in the smuggling. They are at an impasse.

This story had all the earmarks of a potential misunderstandammit, but it doesn’t feel that way. They are keeping secrets from each other, but those secrets feel necessary and not gratuitous or ridiculous.

However, a big chunk of the story revolves around Kit and Tamsyn moving tentatively and hesitantly towards a relationship, in spite of the vast gulf of lies between them. The one-step-forward, two-steps-back nature of their physical relationship takes up a lot of pages, to the point where it slows down the narrative. While I appreciated the celebration of consent, particularly in a marital relationship, I did find myself wishing they’d just get on with it already.

But the way that they finally manage to come together, not just in the sexual sense but as a working partnership, was marvelous. They find a compromise that allows both of them to get what they need from the relationship, and it works beautifully.

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

LINK: https://goo.gl/kSHsTN

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. Three winners will each receive a paperback copy of From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 4/6/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: The Awkward Squad by Sophie Henaff

Review: The Awkward Squad by Sophie HenaffThe Awkward Squad by Sophie Henaff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery
Series: Anne Capestan #1
Pages: 272
Published by Maclehose Press Quercus on April 3rd 2018
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"A new crime series starring Anne Capestan a brilliant but disgraced police officer placed in charge of a team of department misfits to investigate decades old unsolved crimes...Suspended from her job as a promising police officer for firing "one bullet too many," Anne Capestan is expecting the worst when she is summoned to H.Q. to learn her fate. Instead, she is surprised to be told that she is to head up a new police squad, working on solving old cold cases. Though relived to still have a job, Capestan is not overjoyed by the prospect of her new role. Even less so when she meets her new team: a crowd of misfits, troublemakers and problem cases, none of whom are fit for purpose and yet none of whom can be fired. But from this inauspicious start, investigating the cold cases throws up a number a number of strange mysteries for Capestan and her team: was the old lady murdered seven years ago really just the victim of a botched robbery? Who was behind the dead sailor discovered in the Seine with three gunshot wounds? And why does there seem to be a curious link with a ferry that was shipwrecked off the Florida coast many years previously?"--

My Review:

I picked up The Awkward Squad because the description sounded an awful lot like one of my favorite British TV series, New Tricks.

It turns out that it sounds a lot like it because it is a lot like it, and that’s a good thing. There are certainly differences, and the cases they actually end up solving are nothing alike, but the premise is the same, at least in the important bits.

The Awkward Squad is the last hope for a group of police officers in Paris who have screwed up irredeemably in one way or another, but who also can’t be fired for one reason or another. The divisionaire (think Superintendant) has created this squad of misfits, stuck them in a run down apartment far from police headquarters, given them the worst of the cast-off furniture and equipment, taken away their guns, and dumped every box of cold cases that HQ can find on their doorstep.

They are all supposed to take their relegation as a sign that it’s time to quit, or retire, or possibly even die.

Instead, their Commissaire (think commanding officer) takes the relegation as a sign of hope. She believes that if they manage to do good police work and show up whoever originally handled some of those old, cold cases, they’ll all have a chance at returning to HQ where they belong.

Anne Capestan, every bit as disgraced as the unit she finds herself commanding, is both half right and half wrong. She’s right in her idea that if they take their no-hope unit and do some real policing with it, they can all earn back the respect they’ve lost.

But she’s wrong in thinking that they all belong back at HQ, or as part of the regular police force that has marginalized them. As her “awkward squad” of misfit cops bands together, they discover that they do their best work outside of the bounds of the regular force – and with each other.

It’s supposed to have been a dead-end job for dead-end cops. It turns out to be a home, and a family and a damn good unit.

And a setup from the word go.

Escape Rating B+: It’s hard for me to lose the resemblance to New Tricks. In the show, the misfits are all retired cops, admittedly sometimes forcibly retired for the same types of infractions and troubles that plague this squad. The new commander in both cases has been sidelined after a well-publicized action that should have ended their career. And in both cases, they investigate cases that the original officers either half-assed or willfully neglected.

But unlike New Tricks, all of Anne’s squad are still serving officers, albeit barely in some cases. They all still have a chance to resurrect their careers if they can face their demons.

And Anne’s squad was set up for a special purpose, in addition to the stated purpose of driving them all to leave. There’s someone at HQ who hopes that Anne will dive into the two murders that were hidden among all the boxes of old casework, and that she’ll figure out what all the investigators before her have missed.

Not because she’s good, although she is, but because she’s dogged, particularly in the face of officialdom saying “NO”. Which it does. Repeatedly and often. Which only makes Anne more determined to get a “YES” – or make one.

But what makes this book is not just the case, although it is fascinating and convoluted and keeps the reader guessing until the end.

What makes this book are the members of that awkward squad and the way that they coalesce from a bunch of misfits into a family of choice. The way that they work their way around the roadblocks in their path as well as the way that they work their way towards each other, is often lighthearted and frequently hilarious.

In the end, their family is centered around a dog, and the case is solved because of a cat. With a lot of sometimes rueful laughter along the way – and often at their own expense.

I had a great time getting to know Anne and band of misfit cops, and I sincerely hope that further books in this series are translated and make their way to this side of the “pond”.

Review: The Morcai Battalion: The Pursuit by Diana Palmer

Review: The Morcai Battalion: The Pursuit by Diana PalmerThe Pursuit (The Morcai Battalion #5) by Diana Palmer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Morcai Battalion #5
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The first time Mekashe, Captain of the Imperial Guard, meets blue-eyed human beauty Jasmine Donally, the two nearly come to blows. Forever devoted to the Cehn-Tahr, Mekashe is forced to sever ties with the object of his adoration. Years pass before their paths cross again, but Mekashe hasn’t forgotten what transpired—or the way she makes his heart race. But even if he can forgive the past, insurmountable barriers still threaten to keep them worlds apart. With their mutual attraction escalating quickly, they’ll have to find a way to bridge the gap—or be lost to each other forever.

My Review:

At first it seemed like this book had a vampire problem. Not literally, there are no vampires in this science fiction romance. (If you want vampires in space read Break Out by Nina Croft – it’s awesome) But The Pursuit still began with the same problem that most vampire romances have – what in the galaxy does a 250 year old male want with an 18 year old female? Beyond the obvious. But in order for this to result in a believable happy ever after, she has to be something really really special for this relationship to work. After all, what do they have in common? While her fresh perspective on pretty much everything may seem charming for a while, she will grow out of it. Will the person she grows into still fit into his already very much established life?

Just as I got frustrated with the corner that it seemed this book was painting itself into, it took a sharp turn and jumped completely out. And got a whole lot better as a result.

At first, the story in The Pursuit reads an awful lot like a old-fashioned Harlequin category romance moved into space. The hero is rich, powerful and much, much, MUCH older than the naive, innocent, sheltered, beautiful and virginal heroine. It’s only when the story breaks that pattern that things really take off.

So to speak.

Mekashe is the commander of the Imperial Guard on his home planet, a member of the mysterious and secretive race called Cehn-Tahr. He is also a member of the Royal Clan, but fairly far down the line of succession.

He is also 250 years old, but looks like he’s in his mid-30s at most. His race was genetically engineered and enhanced at a point far back in their history. While they appear mostly human in public, their real form is clearly derived from a giant and sentient cat species. By position, Mekashe is a high-ranking military officer. His would-be inamorata has problems with both.

His emperor (and great uncle) has insisted that he take some of the R&R he’s entitled to by traveling on a passenger liner from Terravega, now the human home planet, to Memcache, his home.

On that journey he meets the woman of his dreams. Quite literally. He has been dreaming of tall, slim, blonde Jasmine Dupont for years. She is the daughter of the first human ambassador to Memcache, and honestly, at the beginning of the book she’s the epitome of the TSTL heroine.

Not only is she basically a child at 18, she is self-absorbed and offensive at every turn, to the point where she commits a diplomatic faux pas so bad that it costs her father his job and eventually his life, as well as kills any hope for the budding relationship between herself and Mekashe. Her stupidity could literally have killed her, as the offense she committed usually carries the death penalty.

It’s only when things hit absolute bottom that Jasmine finally becomes the person she was meant to be – a person who might be able to stand beside Mekashe as an equal – if they ever find each other again.

Escape Rating B: The first part of this book is frustrating as hell. Jasmine may be 18, but she acts like a child at every turn. She is derisive of the military and she hates and fears cats. Poor Mekashe sees her as his fated mate, or at any rate his mate for life, but is rightfully worried that she will react badly when she discovers his true identity and form. And he’s right to worry. It’s a disaster.

But a disaster that she is still strangely shielded from. The Cehn-Tahr are so secretive that her father is not allowed to tell her the reason for his dismissal. She doesn’t know what she did and therefore can’t learn from it. Her parents have protected, indulged and cosseted her at every turn, and it has done neither her nor them any favors.

It’s only when she’s at the very real end of her rope that she really takes responsibility for herself and her own life, even if she still doesn’t know what it was she did wrong. She finally grows up. She also tells herself that she hates the Cehn-Tahr in general and their emperor in particular, but her feelings for Mekashe never die – no matter how much she wants to kill them.

Circumstances (with a little help from their friends) finally push Mekashe and Jasmine into each other’s orbit again. And while the HEA resolves awfully quickly and the problems are solved too easily (to the point of deus ex machina  or in this case, perhaps deus ex medica, easy), by the time it happens, Jasmine has grown into a person who is worthy of it.

About that ending and all the people in it, as well as those who help along the way… This book probably makes no sense if you have not read the first and foundational book in the series, The Morcai Battalion. Which was surprisingly awesome military science fiction. While the main characters in that book are mostly secondary or tertiary characters in this one, the worldbuilding is all done in that first book. The romances that follow it, including this one, are the wrapping up of the loose ends created in that original scenario. So while I don’t think you need to read all of the intervening books to get to this one – that first one is essential. And highly recommended.

Review: The River House by Carla Neggers

Review: The River House by Carla NeggersThe River House by Carla Neggers
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Swift River Valley #8
Pages: 352
Published by Mira Books on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this charming novel about the search for love, home and family, New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers takes readers on a journey to an irresistible town they’ll want to return to over and over again

Felicity MacGregor loves organizing social events for others but her own personal life is a different story. After a brief but failed attempt at a career as a financial analyst, she returned to Knights Bridge where she enjoys running a thriving party-planning business.

Then Felicity’s life gets a shake-up when her childhood friend Gabriel Flanagan returns unexpectedly to their tiny hometown. Now a high-flying businessman, Gabe always vowed to get out of Knights Bridge, but he is back for the local entrepreneurial boot camp Felicity’s been hired to organize. Together again, they’ll finally have to face each other—and their complicated past.

Gabe and Felicity soon realize their reunion is stirring up long-buried emotions. While Gabe has big plans for his future, Felicity is discovering that hers doesn’t depend on fate—she must choose what’s right for her. But if they can find a bridge between their diverging paths, they may just discover that their enduring connection is what matters most.

My Review:

Knights Bridge Massachusetts is not just a nice place to visit, it also seems like a really nice place to live – except for those New England winters.

In this story, for both Felicity MacGregor and Gabe Flanagan, it is also home in the Robert Frost sense, the one about “home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Felicity went back about three years before the story begins, opened up her own events planning business, and has been finally getting her life on track after a decade of doing what she was expected to do instead of what she wanted to do. Where she failed, repeatedly and over and over again, as the financial analyst her family expected her to be, she’s independent and successful in the career she found by accident.

Gabe Flanagan, on the other hand, has been a successful entrepreneur from the day he dropped out of college, or so it seems. He’s just sold his latest venture for “gazillions” of dollars, as Felicity put it, and he’s at loose ends.

Just in time to come home to Knights Bridge to speak at his brother’s one-day boot camp for budding entrepreneurs.

And to see if he can finally mend fences with the woman who used to be his best friend, Felicity.

They grew up together. They’ve been friends since nursery school. And once, just before they went their separate ways for college – they were lovers. They remained besties even through their first jobs, his ups and down with various start-ups and all her downs as she struggled through one financial analyst job after another.

Their breakup came when Gabe’s very tough love shoved at Felicity’s need for comfort and a place to land. She was broke again, having been fired from yet another position, and couch-surfing at Gabe’s apartment. He was in the midst of what turned out to be his first big success. And in his very blunt and possibly tactless fashion, he told Felicity the bald truth that she had been avoiding for a decade – that whatever she was meant to be and do, it was clear that being a financial analyst made her utterly miserable to the point of failure, and that she needed to get her act together – at something else.

He was right. His delivery sucked, but he was right. And she was gone.

Now she’s living in Knights Bridge, the proud owner of the house that Gabe and his brother built on the site of their grandfather’s old campgrounds. The site where Felicity and Gabe’s friendship morphed into something more, for that one night. The place where Gabe was Felicity’s first lover.

They say you never forget your first. Felicity certainly can’t forget Gabe – he’s wrapped into all her memories of her childhood and adolescence in Knights Bridge. But when he comes back to town, the question is whether she ever got over him – and whether she ever wants to.

Escape Rating B: It feels like The River House is more of a women’s fiction story than a romance. While the relationship between Felicity and Gabe is front and center throughout the book, most of that story is about them rebuilding their solid and life-sustaining friendship. There is sexual tension under the surface, but for most of the story it feels like the focus is on whether they can be besties again, rather than either of them actively looking for more.

Not that more doesn’t eventually find them.

Because they were besties for over two decades, they have a lot of backstory together. And Gabe’s return to Knights Bridge brings up all the events since he left. That means there’s a lot of the past that gets uncovered and turned over. While longtime readers of the series may find the backstory repetitive, for those of us who have read few (one in my case) or none of the previous entries will probably see the backstory as a way of catching up to the cast of characters – which is fairly large and very interconnected.

I really liked the people of Knights Bridge and felt a great deal of empathy for both Felicity and Gabe. Like Gabe, I have also been accused, and rightly so, of being much too blunt. Like Felicity, my dad didn’t figure out what he wanted to do when he grew up until he was also about 30, and fell into the job that became his career with a similar lack of planning. I understood where they both were coming from.

This was the kind of story I happened to be looking for when I picked it up, and I fell right into it.

As much as I enjoyed the setting and the characters, there was one person in the mix whose involvement pushed the book down to a B, and that’s the intrusion of Nadia. She starts by trying to inveigle her way into the entrepreneur boot camp and never lets up until the very end. She comes off as “crazy stalker ex”, but she is not Gabe’s ex. Instead, she’s a former colleague and the ex of the douchebag who bought Gabe’s company for those gazillions of dollars and then left her without a job as well as a husband – not that he was any great loss.

But Nadia becomes a constant, niggling annoyance throughout the entire story. Her lies, her constant interference and her continued unwanted intrusions and overall shadowy presence cast a pall over a whole lot of the events. It feels as if she is being built up to be a villain – and then her plot line kind of fizzles. I’m not sure what she brought to the table and I wish she weren’t there at all. She’s a Chekhov’s gun that misfires with a whimper.

However, I really enjoyed the rest of the story and will happily look for an excuse to go back to Knights Bridge at some point, especially if I get to jonesing for something in the author’s romantic suspense series, Sharpe & Donovan.

 

THE RIVER HOUSE Review & Excerpt Tour Schedule:

March 19th

Nerdy Dirty and Flirty – Excerpt

Reading Keeps Me Sane – Excerpt

Reads All the Books – Excerpt

March 20th

Always a happy ever after – Excerpt

It’s All About the Romance – Excerpt

Ramblings From This Chick – Excerpt

March 21st

Devilishly Delicious Book Reviews – Excerpt

Nose Stuck in a Book – Excerpt

Novel Addiction – Excerpt

March 22nd

Hearts & Scribbles – Excerpt

LETSHAVEAKYA – Excerpt

Reading Between the Wines Book Club – Excerpt

What Is That Book About – Excerpt

March 23rd

Books n Wine – Excerpt

Cathy Reads Books – Review & Excerpt

Ficwishes – Excerpt

Reading Reality – Review

White Hot Reads – Review & Excerpt

March 24th

Nicole’s Book Musings – Excerpt

Shannon’s Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

Smut Book Junkie Book Reviews – Excerpt

Tfaulcbookreviews – Excerpt

March 25th

Book Magic – Under a spell with every page – Review & Excerpt

Evermore Books – Excerpt

Ripe For Reader – Excerpt

TBR Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

March 26th

A Literary Perusal – Review & Excerpt

Have Words Will Scribble – Review & Excerpt

Nice Ladies, Naughty Books – Excerpt

The Ghost Pepper Babes – Excerpt

March 27th

Book Nook Nuts – Excerpt

Kick Back & Review – Excerpt

Literary Misfit – Excerpt

The Bookish Sisters – Review & Excerpt

March 28th

JordansBookReviews – Excerpt

Read more sleep less – Excerpt

Read-Love-Blog – Review & Excerpt

Two Book Pushers – Excerpt

March 29th

Blushing babes are up all night – Review & Excerpt

Sip Read Love – Review

Thoughts of a Blonde – Excerpt

Words We Love By – Review & Excerpt

March 30th

Bobo’s Book Bank – Excerpt

Jax’s Book Magic – Excerpt

Kindle Friends Forever – Review & Excerpt

Scandalous Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

March 31st

Books are love – Review & Excerpt

G & T’s Indie Café – Excerpt

Inside The Mind of an Avid Reader – Review

The Fairest of All Book Reviews – Excerpt

Review: The Darkest Promise by Gena Showalter

Review: The Darkest Promise by Gena ShowalterThe Darkest Promise by Gena Showalter
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Lords of the Underworld #13
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


New York Times
bestselling author Gena Showalter returns with a sizzling Lords of the Underworld story about an iron-willed sovereign and the somber beauty who melts him with a glance

Possessed by the demon of Misery, Cameo isn't allowed to experience joy. If she dares, her memory is wiped clean. With no other recourse, she sneaks into a land more fantastical than any fairy tale, determined to find the one man with the key to her redemption.

Lazarus the Cruel and Unusual rules his kingdom with a single unwavering focus: to build his army and annihilate his enemies. Nothing distracts him - until Cameo. He is relentless in his quest to make her smile and seduce her into his bed.

As dark forces conspire against them, threatening to destroy the fragile bond they've forged, the once-calm Lazarus grows crazed. Every heart-stopping kiss and wicked touch causes Cameo to teeter on the brink of happiness. But if she falls, she risks forgetting him forever

My Review:

The Darkest Promise is the hopefully lucky 13th book in the Lords of the Underworld series. It is appropriately just a bit different from the previous books, because the demon in this particular entry inhabits Cameo, the lone woman among the men who became Lords of the Underworld by hosting a demon.

As Cameo herself puts it, she’s the lone Smurfette among all the Smurfs, always having to be twice as hard and four times as badass to get the men to take her seriously.

Unless, of course she lets her demon out. Cameo’s demon is Misery, and when she lets him out, everyone takes her very seriously – about as seriously as a heart attack. Or the deepest darkest depression ever known. When Misery talks, everyone around them cries, runs away and tries to slit their own wrists.

Of course, Cameo’s demon Misery does not just inflict himself on those around Cameo, his greatest victim is Cameo herself, who has him stuck inside her head and is therefore always available for him to do his worst to. And he does, every single day of her long and miserable life.

But even though Misery makes her forget the few times that Cameo manages, well, not to be completely miserable, she is aware that there is one male in the cosmos who made her happy, however briefly. All she has to do is find her way back to the Spirit Realms to see if Lazarus the Cruel and Unusual, Lord of the Realm of Grimm and Fantic, is willing to make her happy yet again.

And if he’s willing to tell her everything that Misery made her forget.

Unfortunately for both Lazarus and Cameo, he isn’t merely the one man who is immune to her demon. Because Lazarus is cursed by his own blood to be turned into a crystal chrysalis by constant exposure to the one woman who is his mate – his obsession. For Lazarus, Cameo is that woman, and her initial visit to his realm has already begun the deadly process of crystallization.

Lazarus has vengeance to wreck before he becomes to enfeebled to carry out his plans. Being with Cameo dramatically shortens the time he has available.

But she is his obsession, and he can’t resist. He isn’t even sure that he wants to. While Cameo, knowing that she will be the cause of her love’s death, opens herself even further to the demon within.

Escape Rating B: As long as this series is, I’m not sure that this book will make any sense without reading at least some of the previous entries. Particularly as this is not the first time we’ve met Cameo and Lazarus and watched them interact. And that’s a good thing, because without those previous meetings this book would smack of insta-love.

The premise behind this whole series is still a fascinating one. The Lords of the Underworld are the warriors who made the extremely foolish mistake of opening Pandora’s Box. When the box was opened, all those escaped demons needed a place to live (and work their worst) so they inhabited the bodies of the warriors near them. A fitting punishment.

But as the series has progressed, those warriors have managed to find love and happiness in spite of the demons they harbor. And with the help of their friends and allies, they are closing in on the location of the Box and perhaps a cure for their “condition”.

Of course, as immortal warriors they have also gathered a whole lot of equally immortal enemies, and often find themselves caught in the crossfire between rival factions. In the case of this entry, they are caught up in the ongoing warfare between Hades and Lucifer.

And yes, this is a story where all the pantheons seem to be real. And active.

The romance in this paranormal romance is between two beings who expect to be hated and reviled – Lazarus, son of the monster Typhon and Cameo, Mother of Misery. These are two people who have zero expectations of a happy ever after, or of ever finding happy at all, and yet, they are perfect for each other – if they can leap over the baggage that they carry and get past millennia of negative expectations and destroyed hopes.

In the end, love does conquer all, and in a way that the reader has been expecting pretty much from the beginning of the story. But it’s an interesting read watching her work for it.

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

Review: Good Guys by Steven Brust

Review: Good Guys by Steven BrustGood Guys by Steven Brust
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Pages: 320
Published by Tor Books on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Donovan was shot by a cop. For jaywalking, supposedly. Actually, for arguing with a cop while black. Four of the nine shots were lethal--or would have been, if their target had been anybody else. The Foundation picked him up, brought him back, and trained him further. "Lethal" turns out to be a relative term when magic is involved.

When Marci was fifteen, she levitated a paperweight and threw it at a guy she didn't like. The Foundation scooped her up for training too.

"Hippie chick" Susan got well into her Foundation training before they told her about the magic, but she's as powerful as Donovan and Marci now.

They can teleport themselves thousands of miles, conjure shields that will stop bullets, and read information from the remnants of spells cast by others days before.

They all work for the secretive Foundation...for minimum wage.

Which is okay, because the Foundation are the good guys. Aren't they?

My Review:

If you take Magic Ex Libris by Jim C. Hines SPI Files by Lisa Shearin, Paranormal Scene Investigations by Laura Anne Gilman, and mix them with a bit of cold war spy fiction and a heaping helping of noir, you’ll get something like Good Guys.

Both SPI Files and Paranormal Scene Investigations involve organizations that investigate and clean up after crimes in magical versions of our own world. Libriomancer and its Magic Ex Libris series are part of the mix because in that version of our world, magic is hiding in plain sight, and part of the duty of the magical organization is to protect the world from the knowledge that magic exists. Add in that the libriomancers are fighting a conspiracy both from without and from within, and the magic side of Good Guys is pretty well covered.

Because the story in Good Guys follows one particular operations team for the mysterious and magical Foundation as they chase around the world making sure that a magical serial killer does not expose the existence of real magic in the world, even as they investigate the patterns to see if they can both figure out what his game is – and catch him before he reaches its end.

Or his. Or theirs.

The more they discover about the whys and wherefores of the crime spree, the more they have to ask themselves, are they really the good guys? Or are they just battling their own bureaucracy and running around the world on behalf of an organization that is no better than the one they fight against.

Escape Rating B+: It’s been a long time, possibly too long, since I read anything by Steven Brust. I’ll admit that I was expecting a bit more snark. (If you love snarky fantasy with an epic-ish/urban-ish feel, his Vlad Taltos series (start with Jhereg) is marvelous reading crack as long as you don’t try to swallow too many of them at once.)

The story in Good Guys is a fairly deft mixture of mystery/investigation with magic, and very much a part of the urban fantasy tradition of magical detectives solving mysteries in a contemporary world that is just a bit sideways from reality.

What keeps the reader glued to their chair is the way that the whole thing works. Because we’re both following this one rather eclectic, or possibly eccentric, team of investigators while also watching them plumb the depths of their own organization – and not liking what they find in those depths.

There’s a lot of murk, and the frequent changes in perspective between the team leader, the criminal, the new recruit and the bosses on all sides of this mess occasionally muddies waters that are already pretty clouded. While the reader gets invested with Donovan and his team, the perspective shifts sometimes make it difficult to retain that focus. Especially as the author attempts to keep the reader in the dark while showing the criminal’s own thoughts and feelings. It might have worked a bit better, or it would certainly have worked a bit better for this reader, if we’d stayed with Donovan.

Which does not mean that the story wasn’t absolutely fascinating, and a whole lot of fun – because it certainly was. The investigation was every bit as twisting and convoluted as the best mystery, while the magical additions gave the forensic side of the equation lots of new toys to play with. Of course, that magic also gave the criminals new toys to play with as well.

And Donovan’s constant fight with, and continued attempts to work around, the bureaucracy that is as big a problem as it is a game, will find resonance with anyone who has worked in an organization containing more than three people. Paper-pushing procedures and internal politics are enemies that we all face.

In the end, the question of whether Donovan and his mysterious Foundation are really the good guys remains an open one. But their search for the answer is a whole lot of fun.