Review: Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillan

Review: Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillanMurder in the City of Liberty (A Van Buren and DeLuca Mystery #2) by Rachel McMillan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Van Buren and DeLuca #2
Pages: 336
Published by Thomas Nelson on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Hamish DeLuca and Regina "Reggie" Van Buren have a new case--and this one brings the war in Europe dangerously close to home.

Determined to make a life for herself, Regina "Reggie" Van Buren bid goodbye to fine china and the man her parents expected her to marry and escaped to Boston. What she never expected to discover was that an unknown talent for sleuthing would develop into a business partnership with the handsome, yet shy, Hamish DeLuca.

Their latest case arrives when Errol Parker, the leading base stealer in the Boston farm leagues, hires Hamish and Reggie to investigate what the Boston police shove off as a series of harmless pranks. Errol believes these are hate crimes linked to the outbreak of war in Europe, and he's afraid for his life. Hamish and Reggie quickly find themselves in the midst of an escalating series of crimes that seem to link Boston to Hamish's hometown of Toronto.

When an act of violence hits too close to home, Hamish is driven to a decision that may sever him from Reggie forever . . . even more than her engagement to wealthy architect Vaughan Vanderlaan.

My Review:

Luca Valari is still the man of mystery behind the shady goings on in this second book in the Van Buren and DeLuca series. But Reggie Van Buren and Hamish DeLuca are definitely front and center in this atmospheric story of pre-WW2 Boston.

Although, just as in Murder at the Flamingo, it’s almost halfway through the book before the dead body turns up, there’s already plenty of shady goings on.

Nate Reis, Hamish’ roommate and the unofficial Jewish prince of the city’s immigrant North End, is hiding something – not that the increasing amount of Antisemitism and anti-immigrant fury is hiding anything from him.

Hamish and Reggie find themselves in multiple kinds of trouble when they investigate what looks like a potential housing development that plans to create substandard housing on land that is certain to be not merely unsuitable but actually unstable – and not with the consent of the current owner.

The situation gets even dicier when a figure from their past with Luca Valari and his Flamingo Club appears in the shadows – and someone pushes Reggie into the freezing waters of Boston Harbor.

The client they do manage to retain is the Black minor league baseball player Errol Parker, better known as Robin Hood for his base-stealing prowess. Parker has been the victim of an escalating series of so-called pranks, and he wants Van Buren and DeLuca to get to the bottom of it before someone roughs up his 16-year-old nephew. Again.

When the boy turns up dead in the locker room wearing his uncle’s jersey, they are left to investigate whether his murder was due to the color of their client’s skin, the shady people the boy was doing errands for, the rise of racial tension in general – or something else all together.

Something that might lead back to Luca Valari.

Escape Rating B: There’s something about this entry in the series that feels much darker than the previous book. Not that there isn’t plenty of mystery in both, but it feels like there were more lighthearted moments in Murder at the Flamingo – at least before said murder – than there are in Murder in the City of Liberty. Or it may be that Reggie Van Buren and Hamish DeLuca were just a lot more naive in the first book than they are, three long years later, in the second.

Some of that is the time period. While Flamingo takes place during the Depression, which was no picnic, this book is set in 1940. By this point in history, World War II had already begun in Europe, Hamish’ home country of Canada was already involved, and people in the U.S. were dealing with the sense that they would be caught up in the war, whether they wanted to be or not, sooner or later. Most likely sooner.

Which doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of isolationists doing their level best – or should that be absolute worst – to keep the U.S. out of the war as long as possible. And a lot of their reasoning revolved around their disgusting propaganda campaigns to keep America white and Christian and to denigrate, persecute and even murder anyone who was not. A propaganda campaign – with its associated violence – that has both Hamish and Reggie’s client Errol Parker and their friend Nate Reis squarely in its sights.

The threats hanging over Parker and Nate are part of the darkness that permeates the story, as is shadowy presence of Hamish’ cousin Luca – who is up to his neck in something shady yet again. Someone is following Hamish, but whether it’s Luca’s agents attempting to keep Hamish safe, or Luca’s enemies trying to get at Luca through Hamish is all part of the puzzle. A puzzle that keeps Hamish – and the reader – guessing until the very end.

Speaking of that end, at the end of Murder in the City of Liberty Hamish is brought face to face with his parents’ past – a past that has been hidden from him all of his life. However, that past is not hidden from the reader – or at least not the readers of the author’s Herringford and Watts historical mystery series, which features Hamish’s mother and her bestie – and eventually leads to the events which led to the “falling out” between Hamish’ parents and Luca Valari’s.

It seems like everything in Hamish’ life comes back to Luca, one way or another. But the Herringford and Watts series looks scrumptious! So it looks like the first book, The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder, will be going on my TBR pile as something to tide me over until the next installment in the Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries!

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Review: Summer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross + Giveaway

Review: Summer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross + GiveawaySummer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Honeymoon Harbor #3
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Summertime is the best time to lose yourself in the romance of Honeymoon Harbor…

When he lands in the emergency room after collapsing at the funeral of a colleague and friend, Wall Street hotshot Gabriel Mannion initially rejects the diagnosis of an anxiety attack. But when warned that if he doesn’t change his adrenaline-fueled, workaholic lifestyle he could end up like his friend, Gabe reluctantly returns to his hometown of Honeymoon Harbor to regroup.

As he adjusts to the sight of mountains instead of skyscrapers, Gabe discovers advantages to this small Pacific Northwest town he once couldn’t wait to escape. But it’s irresistible librarian Chelsea Prescott who, along with the two foster children she’s taken under her wing, makes slowing down seem like the best prescription ever.

Over the course of their summer romance, Gabe gets a taste of the life he might have had if he’d taken a different path. But with his return to New York City looming on the horizon, he’ll have to choose between the success he’s worked tirelessly for and a ready-made family who offers a very different, richly rewarding future…if he’ll only take the risk.

My Review:

When is a fling not a fling? Possibly when it comes with two children and a boat. But definitely when it begins with thinking you’re having a heart attack. While serving as a pallbearer at the funeral of someone you looked upon as a mentor.

For Gabe Mannion, wanting to be just like his mentor Carter Kensington has taken on a whole new meaning. The man is dead at 46, his heart a victim of the adrenaline rush that is high-level high-stakes trading on Wall Street.

Gabe’s panic-attack-that-feels-like-a-heart-attack is a giant wake up call. As one of his brothers later informs him, if your job gives you panic attacks, you’re doing it wrong. The problem for Gabe is that he doesn’t know how to stop doing it.

So he goes home. In that sense that home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in. Gabe needs to take the summer off and get away from his high-stakes, high-stress, all work and no life life-style, so he takes himself back home to Honeymoon Harbor, the tiny little beach town in the Pacific Northwest that he left for the fast track more than a decade ago.

He’s achieved the wealth that he dreamed of, not because he was greedy, but because money is a way of keeping score. He’s just never figured out when enough is enough, and adrenaline is just as addictive as any other drug.

He thinks he’ll be home for the summer, find a bit of zen, whatever that might mean, or at least ease off on the stress, and then return to the high-pressure world of dollars and cents – and more and more dollars.

Instead, librarian Chelsea Prescott rows over to the beach log mansion (it really is) he’s staying in for the summer, and invades his life, his house, the boat he’s building, and even, just possibly, his heart.

But their summer fling is supposed to have a limited shelf life. Her life, her home, and her life’s work is in Honeymoon Harbor, and he’s going back to New York after Labor Day. Or is he?

Escape Rating B+: This is a sweet little feel-good story about two people who have seen a few too many of life’s bumps and hard knocks, but have come out all the stronger for it.

I’m not actually talking about Chelsea and Gabe. I’m talking about Chelsea and Hannah, the young girl that Chelsea first takes an interest in when she notices that Hannah and her little sister Hailey are spending every afternoon in Chelsea’s library. Once upon a time, Chelsea spent her after school afternoons in that very same library, when her family and her home life was falling completely apart.

Chelsea sees herself in Hannah, using the library as a refuge and taking the very best care she can of her little sister. In Chelsea’s time, the librarian took her under her wing, giving her a refuge, a mentor, and eventually a career that she loves. Now it’s Chelsea’s turn to pay that gift forward.

But the package gets bigger when Hannah and Hailey’s foster mother goes AWOL and the girls need a place to stay. Chelsea steps up, and Gabe, steps up with her. Their fling has just barely begun, and suddenly they are all in together, making a home for two girls who need more than a temporary safe landing. They need a forever home, and Chelsea plans to give it to them.

With or without Gabe. But better with. If he can get his head out of his ass to figure where his heart is. Because Chelsea has already found hers.

Chelsea and Gabe’s relationship is fun to watch, but it’s Chelsea’s burgeoning relationship with the girls that really drives the book. There’s something very right about the family that they build together, a family that they all want Gabe to be a part of if he is willing to take a good hard look at the life he had in New York, the life he has in Honeymoon Harbor, and who the heck he wants to be when he finally grows up. Because when the story begins, he surely hasn’t.

Chelsea, on the other hand, begins the story grown up but closed off. Her childhood trauma has left her with the same need to guard her heart that she sees in Hannah. The way that the woman and the girl grow towards each other, and open their hearts in the process, is lovely to watch.

They are going to get the family they deserve, together, whether Gabe sticks around or not. That he does finally figure it out makes for delicious icing on a very yummy story.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Summer on Mirror Lake to one lucky US or Canadian commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence + Giveaway

Review: The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence + GiveawayThe Alchemist of Lost Souls (Bianca Goddard Mysteries, #4) by Mary Lawrence
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Bianca Goddard #4
Pages: 320
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A dangerous element discovered by Bianca Goddard's father falls into the wrong hands . . . leading to a chain of murders. Spring 1544 Now that she is with child, Bianca is more determined than ever to distance herself from her unstable father. Desperate to win back the favor of King Henry VIII, disgraced alchemist Albern Goddard plans to reveal a powerful new element he's discovered--one with deadly potential. But when the substance is stolen, he implores his daughter to help.

Soon after, a woman's body is found behind the Dim Dragon Inn, an eerie green vapor rising from her mouth. Bianca has reason to suspect her own mother may be involved in the theft and the murder. When her husband John is conscripted into King Henry's army to subdue Scottish resistance, finding the stone becomes a matter of life and death. Bianca must unravel the interests of alchemists, apothecaries, chandlers, and scoundrels--to find out who among them is willing to kill to possess the element known as lapis mortem, the stone of death . . .

Praise for The Alchemist of Lost Souls "Atmospheric...Fans of Tudor historicals will eagerly await the next installment."--Publishers Weekly

Praise for Death at St. Vedast "Full of period details, Lawrence's latest series outing captures Tudor London in all its colorful splendor. A solid choice for devotees of Elizabethan mysteries."--Library Journal

Praise for Death of an Alchemist "A must read!" --RT Reviews

"Colorful alchemical lore and vividly imagined..." --Publishers Weekly

Praise for The Alchemist's Daughter A Night Owls Reviews Top Pick Suspense Magazine Best Historical Mystery 2015

"A complex plot and likeable cast of characters" --Historical Novel Society

My Review:

This is the fourth book in the Bianca Goddard series, and I picked it up because I read and enjoyed the recreation of Tudor England in the first two books in the series, The Alchemist’s Daughter and Death of an Alchemist. How and why I managed to miss the third book, Death at St. Vedast, I have no idea, but it’s an omission I certainly plan to rectify!

Although this series takes place among people who are living at the bottom of the economic pile, the actions of those at the top still affect the lives of Bianca, her husband John, and her father Albern in ways that never work to their benefit.

Once upon a time Albern Goddard was a respected alchemist in the employ of the king. The respectability of alchemy, while not laughable as it is today, was more than a bit dubious even in the mid 16th century when this story is set.

Albern’s fame and fortunes have considerably dwindled – not that his attitudes towards his wife, his daughter, or the people he lives among have come down even in the slightest. He thinks he’s better and smarter than everyone else looking down his nose at everyone around him, including his family.

And certainly his fellow practitioners of the so-called noble art.

His daughter Bianca, on the other hand, is both a decent brewer of medicinals and a decent judge of human beings. Including her parents. That she lives in an unsavory part of London and practices among those even poorer than herself provides further fuel for her father’s contempt. And that’s in spite of the fact that Bianca has pulled his nuts, literally and figuratively, out of the fire more than once.

Which doesn’t stop either Albern Goddard nor the local sheriff from enlisting her aid. Albern when a precious compound is stolen, and the sheriff when the woman who ended up with it in her possession is murdered.

But the parallel investigations into the theft from her father and the murder that seems to have been its result are not the only problems plaguing Bianca.

Because it is 1544 and Henry VIII plans on one final campaign against England’s perennial enemy, the French. He intends it to be a glorious victory. All that Bianca knows is that her husband has been caught up in the conscription for a war that seems more foolhardy than glorious. Whether he will return in time to see the child she carries – even whether he will return at all – is in the hands, or whims, of a capricious fate.

Escape Rating B+: This is a historical series where the reader kicks the offal, smells the smells, and feels more than a hint of the brutality of life on society’s lowest rungs of the ladder. In that, it resembles the Crispin Guest series by Jeri Westerson, the Thieftaker Chronicles by D.B. Jackson and the Kate Clifford series by Candace Robb.

This is not a pretty view of Tudor England, but one that is biting and raw. Bianca’s circumstances force her to make her living in an area known for its poverty, crime and lawlessness. It’s a world where her father has not only the right but the duty to beat her, in spite of her being an adult living away from his household, and where she is grateful that her husband does not do his duty to beat her as well.

And it is also a period where what we would now label superstition is accepted as fact, and where the worlds of magic and spiritualism lie much closer to everyday life. Which explains the common beliefs in alchemy, as well as nearly everything about the title character of this story, the being known as the Rat Man, who has spent centuries plying the waterways of the Thames and looking for the alchemical element he once created in an attempt to grant eternal life. An element that seems to have only granted him eternal damnation.

He is watching Bianca, in the hopes that she can somehow lead him to the final end that he longs for. And that she will not pay for his death with her own.

But the Rat Man is a shadowy figure, existing mostly on the fringes of this story. It is Bianca that we focus on, and it is her search for the truth, even the truths that she does not want to face, that moves us. While her circumstances may be removed in place and time, the intelligence, deductive reasoning and sheer stubbornness that she uses to achieve her aims are traits that 21st century readers can certainly empathize with – and follow.

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

The author is giving away signed paperback copies of The Alchemist of Lost Souls to two lucky participants in this tour!

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Review: The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayThe Rogue of Fifth Avenue (Uptown Girls, #1) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, eboook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Uptown Girls #1
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on June 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Silver-tongued lawyer.Keeper of secrets.Breaker of hearts.

He can solve any problem…

In serving the wealthy power brokers of New York society, Frank Tripp has finally gained the respectability and security his own upbringing lacked. There’s no issue he cannot fix…except for one: the beautiful and reckless daughter of an important client who doesn’t seem to understand the word danger.

She’s not looking for a hero…

Excitement lay just below Forty-Second Street and Mamie Greene is determined to explore all of it—while playing a modern-day Robin Hood along the way. What she doesn’t need is her father’s lawyer dogging her every step and threatening her efforts to help struggling families in the tenements.

However, she doesn’t count on Frank’s persistence…or the sparks that fly between them. When fate upends all her plans, Mamie must decide if she’s willing to risk it all on a rogue…

My Review:

The Rogue of Fifth Avenue is the first book in the Uptown Girls series, a followup to the author’s Four Hundred series. Both take place among the elite “Knickerbocker” society of New York City in the Gilded Age.

I have to admit, though, that the possibility that this series is named for the Billy Joel song Uptown Girl just makes me smile. It also gives me a rather pleasant earworm. And the lyrics actually work, come to think of it.

The romance in this one is between Mamie Greene, who’s a bit of a “poor little rich girl” and Frank Tripp, who is very definitely a rich little poor boy. Frank is a rich and successful uptown attorney who counts Mamie’s rich and influential father, Duncan Greene as one of his biggest clients.

(There are a LOT of rich people in this story – but in the end the story is surprisingly NOT about their wealth.)

Frank has been following Mamie and her sisters to rather an alarming number of dives and gambling dens. He thinks he’s keeping her out of trouble. Of course, he has no idea what he’s actually gotten himself into.

He thinks he’s saving Mamie. What really happening is that they get along like kerosene and matches – combustible at every encounter. Neither of them can afford to acknowledge the attraction between them. Mamie’s father will never allow her to marry his lawyer, no matter how successful Frank might be. And Mamie is promised to another man.

Frank thinks he’s saving Mamie FROM herself. He’s not willing to acknowledge that he’s really saving her FOR himself. Or that he’s the one who really needs saving.

Escape Rating B-: Although the Uptown Girls series is a spinoff from the Four Hundred series, it is not necessary to read the Four Hundred to get right into the thick of things in The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. There are occasional mentions and appearances by a few of the characters from the previous series, but nothing to interrupt the flow of this story for those who have not read those.

That being said, I really, really liked all three books in the Four Hundred series, and liked them more than I did The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. Or rather, I liked the actual “Rogue”, Frank Tripp, just fine, but I didn’t enjoy Mamie’s character nearly as much as I did the heroines of the previous series.

On my other hand, this one really is the story of Frank’s journey and Frank’s redemption. Mamie feels more like the instrument of said redemption. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Both Frank and Mamie have secrets. Mamie’s secret is that she is literally robbing the rich, picking the pockets of the swells who frequent the elite gambling halls, to provide funds for poor women and their children who quite seriously need the help. And that she is keeping her thievery and her visits to Five Points from her parents.

I found myself applauding her desire to help people while decrying her methods. Not just in the “two wrongs don’t make a right” sense, but in the sense that Mamie has money and could pay out of her pocket as well as fund raise among her rich friends. If her parents had forbidden her activities the secrecy would make more sense, but she hasn’t asked, she’s just assumed. Possibly a correct assumption, but still…considering her parent’s personalities, it would have had a fair chance of working.

Frank, on the other hand, is hiding that he began as a poor boy in Five Points, the child of a drunken wife beater and the poor wife he beat. He got lucky and received a hand up from a local business owner who helped into law school. Everything Frank got from there was on his own merits and hard work, as well as a silver tongue that convinced the upper crust swells that he was one of them.

The story here is that Frank’s old life collides with Mamie’s hidden life, as one of the women she has been helping is arrested for killing her husband. Which she, in fact, did. Not in self-defense, but in defense of their five-year-old daughter. The deck is stacked high against the woman, and Mamie wants Frank to use that silver tongue of his to get the woman off – no matter how much the corrupt police department wants to sweep the case under the rug.

In the process of defending the case, Frank finds himself confronting the family he left behind, and the facade he has created in order to maintain his life cracks under the strain. Whether Mamie is able to forgive him for his necessary deception provides the romantic tension at the end of the story, but this is one of the few times where I really wanted the heroine to forgive the erring hero a lot quicker and more easily than she did.

That being said, the way that this one works out, both in the romantic sense and especially in the courtroom, made for one heck of a slam-bang (also a wham-bam!) ending.

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

To celebrate the release of THE ROGUE OF FIFTH AVENUE by Joanna Shupe, we’re giving away one paperback set of the entire Four Hundred series!

Link: http://bit.ly/2WQzECI

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books. Giveaway ends 6/10/2019 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly.

Review: Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank

Review: Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton FrankQueen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, women's fiction
Series: Lowcountry Tales #12
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times-bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank returns to the American South in this latest novel about friendship and love that is full of heart, humor, and rich description.

A woman wounded by her past comes to Sullivan's Island, South Carolina to find new meaning in life and to find herself. As she takes up a new hobby of beekeeping, she begins to come into her own and rebuild her life. When a new friend comes in and she finally allows for something more than just "friendship", everyone will realize that life could use a little taste of sweetness.

In what is sure to be another classic, Dorothea Benton Frank weaves a fun tale of self-discovery, love, and friendship with her signature charming wit, indelible poignancy, and hallmark themes.

My Review:

This book is a fun read and a hot mess at the same time. I would have thought those two things would be mutually exclusive, but after reading Queen Bee, they definitely are not.

Let me explain…

But first, I’d like to perform a bit of public service. The blurb for this book bears virtually no resemblance to the actual book. The book the blurb represents might be a very good book, but it certainly isn’t this book. At all.

To begin with, Holly Jensen doesn’t come to Sullivan’s Island, she already lives there. In fact, she grew up there and hasn’t left except for college. Nor does just just “take up” beekeeping. She IS a beekeeper and she has been one for several years. In fact, she’s an established beekeeper who has well-maintained hives full of happy bees who give her plenty of honey to sell – as well as giving her a sympathetic ear – or a thousand ears – when life starts closing in..

That new friend isn’t new, either. They went to school together. They just seem to have lost touch with each other over the years. As happens, even in small towns.

It happens especially easily in this case because Holly has found herself shackled to Sullivan’s Island, taking care of her cantankerous mother, the actual Queen Bee of the title. That “friend” of hers is in the nearby town, a member of the local police.

The person who does come back to town, because she’s been wounded by her present, not her past, is Holly’s sister Leslie. Leslie married Charlie, a man Holly refers to as “the wallet”, and blithely moved to Charleston. It seemed like Leslie’s marriage was perfect – at least self-absorbed Leslie made it seem that way.

Then again, everything Leslie does is perfect, at least in the eyes of the Queen Bee. Holly resents her sister’s freedom, resents being stuck on Sullivan’s Island taking care of their mother, and resents her mother’s resentment that Holly isn’t “perfect” Leslie. Because it seems to Holly that Leslie can do no wrong and she, Holly, can do no right.

When Leslie comes home, the three lives of the three women get forcibly kicked out of the ruts they’ve all been stagnating in – in more ways than one.

Leslie’s back because her husband, Charlie the wallet, wants to make a new identity for himself as a female impersonator, and is off to a contest in Atlantic City to see if he has a chance. He expects Leslie to be enthusiastically supportive of his decision, even as Charlie begins changing their entire lives to live as Charlene rather than Charlie.

(And that’s the last time I’ll refer to Charlie as either Charlie or as “him”, because from this point forward a gender-neutral pronoun is required.)

Leslie is more than a bit confused by the changes, and both she and the Queen Bee are at the “not just no but hell no” stage of, let’s call it, non-acceptance.

Then things change. A lot. Charlene wins a prize in the contest, and decides to stretch their wings by moving to Las Vegas to participate in even more contests. Charlene want to make a career out of this, and really, seriously want to become a star.

Leslie, hesitatingly, reluctantly, moves from “hell no” to being more open-minded, and ultimately more supportive. Holly, completely open-minded about Charlene, is just plain grateful that Charlene’s need for a support team and especially a costume designer gets the Queen Bee out of the depressive, self-destructive funk she’s been living in for years and temporarily moves her from Sullivan’s Island to Vegas to help Charlene take the first steps into this new world.

Meanwhile, back home, Holly is on her own and feeling relieved and miserable at the same time. On the one hand, she has the freedom to do what she wants when she wants without her mother’s constant negativity and harping.

On that other hand, what Holly wants is to finally get close to the widower next door. She’s been helping him out with his two young sons ever since his wife died, and she’s hoping there might be something more there. She fancies herself in love with him.

He fancies himself using her as an unpaid babysitting service while he marries a woman who makes the Wicked Witch of the West seem like a saint. That the original Wicked Witch is killed by a house falling on her head makes this resemblance surprisingly more relevant.

The bees fix everything for their queen. It’s up to Holly to take it from there.

Escape Rating B+: I have mixed feelings about this one. Lots of them. All of them.

First things first, this is a terrifically fast and fun read. It goes really quick, at least in part because there’s so much happening – and because so much of it is unexpectedly off the wall. And not in a bad way, either.

I will say that Holly is a doormat for way too long. She doesn’t grow a spine until 2/3rds of the way through the book, and listening to her internal dialog about Arch-next-door gets really old, really fast.

Admittedly, from the way that Holly’s mother treats her at the beginning, Holly’s spine has been pretty much surgically removed every single day of her life. It’s a bit of a miracle that she manages to grow one at all. But doormats do not compelling protagonists make – at least not for moi.

However, this is really a three-pronged story. Holly has a third, Leslie has a third and the Queen Bee has a third. And that’s where things get interesting. And also completely off the script of that blurb.

Leslie’s story moves from negativity to acceptance and resolution. It’s a reasonable progression and also a positive one. In the end, Leslie supports Char and the changes in their life while coming to the conclusion that as much as she loves the person, she is no longer sexually attracted to them as a spouse.

The resolution of Leslie and Char’s story takes as much “book time” as Holly’s, and is more interesting to follow.

Then there’s the Queen Bee’s story. The QB gets a new lease on life by going to Vegas. She also finds love with the genderqueer Suzanne Velour, an older female impersonator who has taken Char under their rather capacious wing.

That romance is sweet and surprising for all concerned, including the QB and Suz themselves. Unfortunately for the story, that romance feels a bit “shot out of a cannon” and proceeds too quickly. What we see of it is terrific, but it just happens too damn fast.

There’s a bit of “woo-woo” type magic between Holly and her bees – not enough to tip this into paranormal, but enough to make it feel like things happen on Sullivan’s Island, and in the Lowcountry, that just don’t happen anywhere else.

In the end, I liked the book, and had a good time reading it. I’ll admit to some serious questions about why two thirds of the story, featuring two genderqueer characters, were completely erased from the blurb. Anyone picking this book up based on the blurb is going to be surprised. Hopefully as pleasantly as I was, but surprised nonetheless.

Holly is the one who sums up this story, and all the relationships, best, when she says that “love comes in every color, shape, and size”, and that every life needs a little bit of sweetness. And she’s right.

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Review: Mission: Her Safety by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Safety by Anna HackettMission: Her Safety (Team 52) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance
Series: Team 52 #5
Pages: 212
Published by Anna Hackett on May 20th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

A sexy, grumpy black ops scientist will do anything to track down the mysterious woman who broke into his lab.

After Dr. Ty Sampson catches a mysterious female intruder in his home and lab, he’s obsessed with finding out who she is and what she wants. He’s a man who trusts very few people and hates anyone in his space. His role as Team 52’s lead scientist brings him into contact with a host of powerful, ancient artifacts, so he knows the woman must be after something dangerous and he refuses to let her succeed.

River Elliott-Hall is good at finding things and prides herself on always getting the job done. When a very valuable painting by a master is stolen from a famous museum, it is her job to get it back. The trail leads her to the bright lights of Las Vegas and she’s heard rumors of the covert, black ops Team 52. But as she investigates if they know anything about the painting, she finds herself drawn into a battle of wits with a big, bad-tempered, and far-too-handsome genius.

Life has taught River and Ty to guard their hearts, so as these two circle each other, they warily agree to work together. Because it soon becomes clear that the painting is more than just a painting, and someone with a dangerous plan is working behind the scenes. Fighting their intense chemistry, Ty and River—along with Team 52—will risk everything to save the day, and both find themselves battling the unfamiliar needs to claim, protect, and keep each other safe.

My Review:

I find the title of this entry in the Team 52 series particularly ironic, as River Elliott-Hall doesn’t really need anyone to make her safety their mission – and she’d be downright insulted at the thought.

Which makes her a perfect heroine for this – or any other – of Anna Hackett’s action adventure romance series, whether they are even slightly science fictional – or not. The Team 52 series is mostly one of the “or nots”, so if you like a romance where there’s plenty of action and adventure both between and outside of the sheets, Team 52 or the Treasure Hunter Security series that it spun off of, might be just the ticket.

Team 52 is based just next door to Area 51. And yes, that slight joke is intentional. Because Team 52 deals with just the sort of artifacts that Area 51 is supposed to be housing. Consider it hiding in plain sight. Or plausible deniability.

Just like some of the more “out of this world” artifacts that used to get found on Earth in the Stargate series, Team 52’s job is to protect most of us from unscrupulous people taking advantage of some really cool, and very powerful gizmos that have been hidden and/or buried on this planet for more millennia than we think this planet has actually had intelligent life.

This particular adventure starts out relatively down to earth – the earth as we know it. Until the mystery gets a whole lot bigger.

River Elliott-Hall is former MI6. She currently freelances as, let’s call it, a retrieval artist. She gets hired when something really big and important gets stolen – and the original owners are willing to pay some serious money to get it back.

She’s after a painting by Leonardo da Vinci titled Salvator Mundi, stolen from the Abu Dhabi Louvre. As an original by the Renaissance genius, it’s worth not a small but actually quite a large fortune.

As a map to the location of the elixir that gave da Vinci his genius, it is beyond price. And also well within the purview of Team 52.

When River rifles her way through the homes of all of the members of Team 52, she puts herself and her job squarely in their sights. The museum can have the picture, as long as Team 52 gets to put the elixir out of the reach of anyone who might want to use and/or abuse it.

Banding together to accomplish both of their aims puts River Elliott-Hall squarely in the arms of Team 52’s resident real genius, Ty Sampson. And in spite of neither of them believing in either love or trust, they can’t manage to stay away from each other.

Not even under orders to “play it safe”.

Escape Rating B: I’m still finding the titles of this series to be more than a bit on the cheesy side for some reason. And I’m also starting to get a bit tired of the headless bod covers. Not that the bods aren’t bodacious and all that, but heads, please – as long as it’s not all the same head because that would be weird.

Irreverence aside, Mission: Her Safety was a fairly typical entry in the Team 52 series. By that I mean that the non-romantic action is non-stop, the romantic action is just a bit quick on the trigger, and that the macguffin they are chasing after is suitably dangerous and dangerously well-protected.

And that both the hero and the heroine have plenty of personal demons to exorcise before they can reach their own personal happy ever after – after the artifact and their enemies are suitably contained – one way or another.

(Pine boxes being a fine method of containment under the correct circumstances – the kind of circumstances that often occur during Team 52’s adventures.)

I liked Ty and River, and thought that in the end they made a great team, both professionally and romantically. It also worked really well that they had, let’s say not dissimilar family baggage to deal with – and that they initially weren’t dealing with it terribly well but in the same way.

One of the things that I liked very much was that the former partner and mentor that River was somewhat avenging was just that, a working partner and mentor without having ever been a romantic interest or a member of her birth family. Love takes many forms, and the need to find justice for a fallen loved one is not confined to those for whom we feel romantic love or to those who are part of our birth families.

In the end, I enjoyed Ty and River’s story, but it wasn’t a special entry in the series for me. My favorites are still Mission: Her Protection (book 1 in the series and highly recommended) and Mission: Her Defense (book 4).

Review: No Saving Throw by Kristin McFarland

Review: No Saving Throw by Kristin McFarlandNo Saving Throw by Kristin McFarland
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Ten Again #1
Pages: 272
Published by Diversion Books on May 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A supremely geeky murder mystery perfect for Whovians, gamers, and Muggles alike.

Autumn has everything she could possibly want: Loving friends, a successful business, and a gaggle of nerds in her store every day.

Welcome to Ten Again, a tabletop gaming store that attracts nerds of every kind and fosters a community Autumn’s pretty proud of—a community that also keeps business afloat. And now that Autumn's in the running for a grant, Ten Again’s future is looking bright.

That is, until one of Autumn’s gamers is mysteriously murdered. With everyone in the mall as a suspect and accusations flying, Autumn is going to have to do some sleuthing of her own to save her shop. And to save her gamers from what seems to be an increasingly more dangerous fate

My Review:

You may be wondering exactly what a “saving throw” is, why Autumn Sinclair doesn’t have one – and why she needs one so very badly.

If you are familiar with role-playing-games like Dungeons and Dragons, you are already familiar with the concept of a saving throw. In those games, characters often stroll, walk, skulk or stride into danger – all of it controlled by rolls of multi-sided dice.

(All dice have multiple sides, the standard die you’re probably thinking of is a d6 – a six sided die.)

But if the person controlling the game so decides, the player may have the opportunity to roll a separate die to see whether or not their game-character, well, dies. That’s a saving throw.

Come to think of it, real life might be a bit easier if we all had a few chances to make a saving throw. Although loving this book is probably a bit easier if you didn’t need the above explanation.

Autumn is a business owner in her small community. The business she owns is Ten Again, an actually fairly successful gaming store. She’s just opened her doors this evening for what is supposed to be a multi-day, popular and profitable tournament for her store

Instead, tragedy strikes. One of her gamers, one of the members of her community, is killed in her building while the gaming event is going on. Pretty quickly, it looks like two of the other gamers are responsible for his death. And that a whole deck of really bad publicity is going to fall on the gaming community in general and Autumn in particular.

She’s completely right about the terrible publicity, the threats to her store, her community and herself. And while a bit far off about who really done it, she’s on the money about who didn’t, even if she has no clue about the whys and wherefores – at least not yet.

It’s up to Autumn and her friends to level-up their skills in detection and investigation before their game is over. Permanently.

Escape Rating B: No Saving Throw, the book, doesn’t need a difficult saving throw of its own. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a very twisty-turny little small town mystery. While it is extra special fun for those of us who have spent a lot of time on the geeky-nerdy side of the force, at its heart it’s basically a cozy mystery where everybody knows everybody else and where the long-standing relationships in the community provide a lot of the heart as well as a lot of misdirection on the path to solving the murder.

More than a bit of that misdirection is provided by the enmity between Autumn and Meghan. Autumn and Meghan are long-standing rivals, and have been since high school. Now in their early 30s, that rivalry has just added more depth as the years have gone by, moving from fighting over a cheating boyfriend to fighting over a potential renovation grant for the struggling mall that both of their retail shops occupy – at opposite ends, of course.

In the end, they’ll have to get over each other, and everything that has happened between them, to figure out who is using their feud to threaten both of them.

Part of the fun of this one was that I thought I knew whodunnit – only to discover that I was completely off base. And that successful misdirection makes the a-bit-too-neat typing up of all the little mysteries definitely worth playing – or reading – toward.

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Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly HarmsThe Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 332
Published by Lake Union Publishing on May 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Overworked and underappreciated, single mom Amy Byler needs a break. So when the guilt-ridden husband who abandoned her shows up and offers to take care of their kids for the summer, she accepts his offer and escapes rural Pennsylvania for New York City.

Usually grounded and mild mannered, Amy finally lets her hair down in the city that never sleeps. She discovers a life filled with culture, sophistication, and—with a little encouragement from her friends—a few blind dates. When one man in particular makes quick work of Amy’s heart, she risks losing herself completely in the unexpected escape, and as the summer comes to an end, Amy realizes too late that she must make an impossible decision: stay in this exciting new chapter of her life, or return to the life she left behind.

But before she can choose, a crisis forces the two worlds together, and Amy must stare down a future where she could lose both sides of herself, and every dream she’s ever nurtured, in the beat of a heart.

My Review:

Even those of us who don’t need an actual #momspringa (because we’re not actual moms) can relate to Amy Byler’s need to take a vacation from her own life to see what’s working, what’s not, what might have been and what might be.

Not that Amy WANTS that vacation from the real, but she certainly does need it. Watching her embrace it makes for a fun and fascinating book, a story about friendship and sisterhood and learning that while having it all may be a myth, having all you really need is definitely possible.

And that “all” is different for each of us – as it is for Amy and her two best friends, Lena and Talia.

Our story begins when Amy spots her “ex” husband at her local small-town pharmacy. John left 3 years ago for a business trip to Hong Kong – and never came back. Leaving her with their two school-age kids, their historic fixer-upper of a house, a library degree that she hadn’t dusted off in ten years and not much else.

She ranted, she raged, she cried but most of all, she coped. Now he’s back and she’s sure that he’s going to disrupt her fragile but workable apple-cart. An apple-cart that has meant that she has turned over her entire life to being the “best” mother possible to make up for the dad who ran away to find himself with a younger woman.

Now he’s back in an attempt to “fix” his relationship with his children. And Amy knows she has to let him try – even though she rightfully doesn’t trust him at all. The kids will be better off with him in their lives – if he sticks this time. He doesn’t need to stick in Bucks County, but he does need to stick to his relationship with them.

He has one chance. She’s letting him have the kids for one week. The kids, who are not fooled by any of this, decide to take him for all he’s worth while he’s around. Not in a bad or entitled way, but making his responsibilities crystal clear – especially since he hasn’t paid a dime in child support while he’s been living it up in Hong Kong.

But that week leaves Amy with a giant-sized hole in her life. For the past three years she hasn’t done anything for herself. She doesn’t know what to do with herself without being constantly needed by her kids, who are now in their teens.

In desperation, she decides to go to New York City, the city she loved when she was single in her 20s, a lifetime ago. She finds a library conference to use as an excuse, and plans to spend a week with a friend she hasn’t seen in years.

When the week turns into an entire summer, and when her friend’s dying magazine uses Amy’s vacation for one last hurrah before they go all digital or fold, a new hashtag is born – #momspringa.

Amy’s #momspringa is both the breaking and the making of her – all at the same time. It makes her question her life and her purpose. Because if she’s not a mother 100% of the time, then who is she? And if she doesn’t take some fulfillment for herself, is she anyone at all?

Escape Rating B+: In the end, I loved this book, but I’ll confess that it had a hard start. And a slightly sticky bit near the end. At the beginning, Amy is extremely invested, understandably so, in being both a mother and more than a bit of a martyr about it.

While the situation makes total sense under the circumstances, I had a difficult time identifying with her until she starts breaking out of the concrete-lined rut she is stuck in – even though that rut is far from being all her own making.

In other words, I had a hard time relating to her intense investment in being a mother and sacrificing herself to that, because it’s not merely not my experience but not an experience I ever wanted.

Her problems with and resentments of the douchebag ex I was completely on board with. Even those of us who have met the “handsome prince” have kissed (and sometimes married) more than a few frogs along the way. And there’s no question this guy was a frog of a husband. Whether he’s also a frog of a father is a big part of the story.

But after the first third of the story, it’s all about Amy’s empowerment, Amy’s steadfast female friendships, and Amy’s journey to find a way to have a fulfilling life that is not 150% wrapped around her kids. Not that those kids aren’t supremely important, but Amy having some life just for Amy is important for them too.

There are also a lot of fun conversations between Amy and her daughter, and between Amy and the colleagues she meets at the conference, about the joys of reading, and about the love of books in general and some books in particular. There’s also some lovely feels about just how marvelous it is to match the right book with the right reader that I really identified with – after all, that is part of the reason that I started this blog and have kept up with it for so many years.

In the end, or rather in the middle, this was a book where I absolutely had to skip to the end to find out whether, after everything, Amy went back to the douchebag ex. Because if she did I was going to die.

I lived. And so does Amy Byler.

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Review: Shadowblade by Anna Kashina

Review: Shadowblade by Anna KashinaShadowblade by Anna Kashina
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 432
Published by Angry Robot on May 21, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A young sword prodigy must impersonate a lost princess and throw her life into a deadly political game, in this kinetic epic fantasy novel by the author of the award-winning Majat Code series

Naia dreams of becoming a Jaihar Blademaster, but after assaulting a teacher, her future seems ruined. The timely intervention of a powerful stranger suddenly elevates her into elite Upper Grounds training. She has no idea that the stranger is Dal Gassan, head of the Daljeer Circle. Seventeen years ago he witnessed the massacre of Challimar's court and rescued its sole survivor, a baby girl. Gassan plans to thrust a blade into the machinations of imperial succession: Naia. Disguised as the legendary Princess Xarimet of Challimar, Naia must challenge the imperial family, and win. Naia is no princess, but with her desert-kissed eyes and sword skills she might be close enough...

My Review:

This was another book that I read at least a couple of weeks before I wrote this review, and for the same reason as the last time – because I was a bit disappointed.

(I’ve discovered that this happens for one of two reasons – either because the book disappointed me and I don’t want to write about it – or that I loved it so much that I need a few days to let the urge to squee tone down a bit. I’ve also discovered that the disappointment generally lingers while the squeeing does not tone down very much at all – but I try.)

The reason that I expected to love Shadowblade was that I absolutely adored the author’s previous series, the Majat Code. The books in that series, Blades of the Old Empire, The Guild of Assassins and Assassin Queen, were among my very favorite books in the years they were published.

But I didn’t love Shadowblade. I did like it, but I just didn’t love it. And the why of that feels like it’s in direct consequence to both that previous epic series and to another book with a somewhat similar storyline, Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep.

And the key difference is that the previous epic series was just that, an epic SERIES. And that Kill the Queen, while it hits many of the same plot beats as Shadowblade (or the other way around) is the first book in a SERIES, emphasis on series if that wasn’t obvious by the ALL CAPS.

Shadowblade has an epic story to tell. It begins with the death of one entire ruling house at the hands of a rival, and one baby brought miraculously out of the slaughter. It picks up years later, with that baby now a young woman, a young trainee swordswoman who is about to be ejected from her training, her guild, and any possibility of a halfway decent life.

That’s the point where the political machinations that maneuvered her escape so long ago come back into her life and begin meddling. Not, of course, for her own good, but for theirs.

And possibly everyone else’s. But there’s a secret puppetmaster hiding in the shadows, determined to wrench the future into a pattern of their choosing – no matter what – or who – it costs.

Escape Rating B-: I’m putting the rating here so I can continue talking about the story and my disappointment with it.

Shadowblade is a standalone epic fantasy, but the story it has to tell is too big and too, well, epic. In order to fit into a single volume it feels like too much worldbuilding and too much story ended up on the virtual cutting room floor.

This should have been at least a duology. It feels like there might have been more than enough story for the author to have even committed trilogy – and I’d have happily signed up for all of it!

Instead, Naia’s training years, which should have had plenty of drama, are reduced to a few brief scenes at long intervals. There was so much to explore even at the point where she is introduced to readers as a near-adult. There seems to have been an awful lot wrong at the Blademaster “Academy”, Naia seems to have been at the heart of it, and yet we don’t know how she got into the fix she’s in. While information supplied later gives us the gist of the immediate issue it feels like Naia’s difficulties with her trainers have much deeper roots that we don’t get to see.

Another place where the story gets very short shrift is the romance. Because there is one. But we’re supposed to accept Naia’s HEA without seeing the relationship building that leads to it. That part of the story felt rushed, but then so did a lot of it.

There was just so much fascinating story lurking in the background that just didn’t seem to make it onto the page. I wish it had. That trilogy would have been epically awesome, while the single-volume we got is just OK.

Shadowblade should have been a truly epic story – but whatever caused it to be a single-volume rather than the longer work it needed to be means that the epicness fell short.

As always, your reading mileage may vary.

Review: Anything but a Duke by Christy Carlyle + Giveaway

Review: Anything but a Duke by Christy Carlyle + GiveawayAnything But a Duke (The Duke's Den, #2) by Christy Carlyle
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Duke's Den #2
Pages: 368
Published by Avon on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Self-made man Aidan Iverson has seen more closed doors in his thirty years than he’s ever cared to count. As a member of the elite Duke’s Den, he has all the money he could possibly need, but the one thing he can’t purchase is true power. If roguish Aidan can’t buy his way into society’s hallowed halls, he’ll resort to a more extreme measure: marriage.

Brought up to be a proper lady, the only thing Diana Ashby desires is to be left alone to the creation of her own devices. But when her dreams are crushed, she must find another way to secure the future of her invention. Knowing his desire to enter her world, Diana strikes a deal to arrange Aidan’s marriage to the perfect lady—as long as that lady isn’t her. She doesn’t need any distractions from her work, particularly of the sinfully handsome variety.

As Diana and Aidan set out to find him an aristocratic match, neither are prepared for the passion that ignites between them or the love they can’t ignore.

In the Duke’s Den, can happiness ever be a winning prospect?

My Review:

I picked up Anything But a Duke because I absolutely adored the first book in the Duke’s Den series, A Duke Changes Everything. So naturally I wanted to see what happened next to the Duke’s Den gambling den and investors’ club.

While the two things that go on in the Duke’s Den may seem like opposites, they also aren’t. Because the three owners of the Duke’s Den, Nicholas Lyon (hero of A Duke Changes Everything), Aiden Iverson (the hero of our current tale) and Rhys Forrester (presumably the hero of the next book) invest in inventions. Often very large inventions on a grand scale, but not always. But whether those inventions will succeed or fail is really just gambling under a different name – and a slightly more respectable one at that.

Think of the Duke’s Den as a historical version of Shark Tank. The rules seem to be very similar – but without the posturing for TV cameras. (And OMG the original international version of Shark Tank is called Dragons’ Den!)

Diana Ashby has come to the Duke’s Den, just as inventors come to Shark Tank, to convince them to invest in her household, housewide, vacuuming system. It’s ingenious in its way, a system that once installed in an establishment, will vacuum every room with merely the priming of a suction pump.

While Diana is unable to immediately convince the members to invest in her device, she IS able to get a stay of execution on their refusal – because Aiden Iverson clumsily broke her model. And because once upon a time, not so very long ago, she saved his life.

There’s a spark that runs hot between them, so in a bit of self-deception they decide to use each other – as an excuse to remain in each other’s company just a bit longer.

Diana needs funding for her inventions. She’s under a deadline from her mother to either get funding within a month or finally throw herself into the “marriage mart”. Fully aware that marriage will probably make her miserable. Not that she might not want to get married and have a household and family of her own, but that under the current laws any husband can and probably will force her to stop inventing – and she needs to invent rather as much as she needs to breathe – possibly more.

Iverson needs to marry into the aristocracy. He has plenty of money, but his origins, both that they are common and that they are secret, keep him from the highest strata of society. And it’s that strata that controls memberships and inclusion into the areas that he needs to be in to bring the inventions he funds to their fullest potential.

They make a bargain. Diana will find Iverson an aristocratic wife, and he will fund her vacuum invention and help her find a buyer.

But no woman can live up to the fire in Diana, and no invention – no matter how successful – can make Diana feel as alive as Iverson does.

The question is whether they can step back from what they both said they wanted to what they truly need – each other.

Escape Rating B+: Anything But a Duke is a whole lot of fun. I’ll confess it’s not quite as much fun as A Duke Changes Everything (which was pretty amazeballs), but it is a terrific historical romance and I enjoyed every minute of it!

One of the things that I really liked about Anything But a Duke is that the characters, while part of the upper classes (that’s a whole ‘nother topic we won’t get into here) were neither of them actually titled members of the aristocracy.

Rather they were both upper-middle class, and both had mixed feelings and reactions about that situation. Diana feels stuck because she really wants to work on her inventions, but is being forced to submit to being “a lady” with all of the restrictions that are involved.

Meanwhile her brother is out drinking and gambling and wasting money that the family cannot publicly admit they don’t have. Diana’s mother needs her to make an “good” marriage to save the family from penury. (I have thoughts about her brother – and they are not complimentary thoughts in the slightest – but this isn’t his story.)

Iverson, on the other hand, is a self-made man. His mother abandoned both him and his sister to the workhouse. He’s not even sure that “Iverson” is his true name and has absolutely no idea who his father was. His lack of pedigree keeps him from getting into places that he needs to get into to further the inventions he invests in. He’s willing to make an arranged marriage, offering his money to save some aristocratic family’s position in order to get the entree into society he requires.

Diana and Iverson really do belong together. It’s obvious to the reader – in a very good way – and seems to be obvious to everyone except the two of them for the longest time. The way that the tension builds between them is delicious – even more so because it isn’t fake in any way but is inherent in the situation in which they have placed themselves.

And Diana is a wonderful character for 21st Century readers to identify with! I’m not sure her position is historically accurate, but it feels plausible enough to work – and work well.

One final note, there have been a rash of historical romances where the hero unexpectedly becomes a duke, with mixed results. Based on the title, I expected that to happen here, and I was so happy when it didn’t. Part of what makes Iverson so interesting is that he isn’t part of the nobility. I really liked seeing a hero and heroine who are not, were not and do not become aristocrats. It’s a refreshing change and I hope to see more of it!

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

To celebrate the release of ANYTHING BUT A DUKE by Christy Carlyle, we’re giving away one paperback set of A Duke Changes Everything and Anything But a Duke!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2WmtcTY

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of A Duke Changes Everything and Anything But a Duke by Christy Carlyle. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 5/16/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly.