Review: The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare + Giveaway

Review: The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare + GiveawayThe Wallflower Wager (Girl Meets Duke, #3) by Tessa Dare
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Girl Meets Duke #3
Pages: 368
Published by Avon on August 13, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


To an undaunted wallflower, he's just the beast next door.

Wealthy and ruthless, Gabriel Duke clawed his way from the lowliest slums to the pinnacle of high society—and now he wants to get even.

Loyal and passionate, Lady Penelope Campion never met a lost or wounded creature she wouldn’t take into her home and her heart.

When her imposing—and attractive—new neighbor demands she clear out the rescued animals, Penny sets him a challenge. She will part with her precious charges, if he can find them loving homes.

Done, Gabriel says. How hard can it be to find homes for a few kittens?

And a two-legged dog.

And a foul-mouthed parrot.

And a goat, an otter, a hedgehog . . .

Easier said than done, for a cold-blooded bastard who wouldn’t know a loving home from a workhouse. Soon he’s covered in cat hair, knee-deep in adorable, and bewitched by a shyly pretty spinster who defies his every attempt to resist. Now she’s set her mind and heart on saving him.

Not if he ruins her first.

My Review:

In the spirit of, “If you give a mouse a cookie…” If you smuggle a hedgehog into a ballroom, you end up with a parrot as the Greek chorus for your romance.

To be fair to the mouse – not to mention the hedgehog and the parrot – in the case of The Wallflower Wager it’s a very good cookie!

The Wallflower Wager is the third book in the Girl Meets Duke series as well as a slightly different twist on the assumptions that the reader is led into by the series title.

While I haven’t read the first two books, The Duchess Deal and The Governess Game (which didn’t affect my enjoyment of The Wallflower Wager in the slightest), they are what the series title leads the reader to believe, that a girl meets an actual Duke, they fall in love in spite of society and whatever else stands in their way, and reach a blissful HEA.

Lady Penelope Campion does meet a Duke, but he’s not a Duke. Mr. Gabriel Duke may be both rich and infamous, but while he holds the sobriquet of the Duke of Ruin, at least according to the scandal sheets, he isn’t part of the aristocracy at all.

Even though he holds entirely too many of their “vowels” – those vowels being I, O and U.

His most recent acquisition through ruination is the house next door to Penny’s. And she’s part of his financial equation. Which gives her more cards in the game than she currently feels that she possesses.

The house he has acquired, while not a wreck, needs a heck of a lot of work, as its previous owners descended well into genteel poverty before he bought up all their outstanding debts – and called them in.

His plan is to renovate the house and sell it at a considerable profit. The presence of an actual Lady, an Earl’s spinster daughter, next door is sure to increase the value of the address.

Until he sees Penny walking her goat in the square. A goat, along with the rest of her considerable menagerie, will downgrade the value of the property, and the Duke of Ruin isn’t having that.

What he wants to have is Penny. As close as possible. Perhaps with a fewer animal companions – at least in bed. Or in labor. Or sneezing bovine sneezes at him.

Will Penny give in to his charms – or will he give in to hers? Or will they both admit that what they really want is exactly what that parrot has been asking all along?

Escape Rating B+: The Wallflower Wager is a delightfully frothy romp from beginning to end, with just enough bitter mixed into the confection to make the treat really, really sweet.

Lady Penelope Campion is the wallflower of the title, and in spite of all of Gabriel’s plans, this is her story. She begins as more than a bit of a misfit, keeping a menagerie of hard-luck animals in her London house.

But it isn’t really her house. Even at 26, she isn’t in control of her own life or her own fortune. Her brother can, and does, order her around. His current order is that she give up all her animals and move back to their country house. A prospect that she absolutely dreads, and with good reason.

Her only chance is to prove to the satisfaction of both her brother and her aunt that she is benefiting from being in town. By their definition of benefit – meaning that she is part of society as she is (literally) entitled to be and has prospects for marriage.

That’s where Gabriel comes in. He needs her to stay in the city, so he can use her presence as a selling point for the house. She needs his help in reducing her animal population by finding them good homes – and getting her into the society columns enough to keep her relatives at bay.

It’s a bargain. A bargain that will provide her with no small amount of embarrassment, but will protect her from the worst of her fears. A bargain that will put them into each other’s company entirely too much. A bargain which frightens her friends (along with Gabriel’s well-deserved reputation) but delights Penny.

What adds just enough of that bitter to the sweet of this story is the way that they work to overcome their own self-doubts and let go of the fears that hold them back – not just from each other – but from experiencing life to its fullest.

Gabriel can’t manage to silence the voice of the guttersnipe that he used to be. He knows that society doesn’t believe that he’s worthy of Penny, or honestly of the slightest consideration that his money can’t buy. And he believes that voice.

Penny’s trust was stolen – make that groomed away – when she was a child. She doesn’t believe that she’s lovable or salvageable because society has taught her that her innocence is all that she is valued for. An innocence she no longer has.

Discovering that they deserve each other, and the happiness that they can have together, makes this book special – and fun. That certain bastards get everything that’s coming to them is icing on this very sweet and tasty cake of a story.

This is one of those romances where nobody’s perfect, but they discover that they are just perfect for each other. And this book is just perfect for those days when the darkness of real life gets too deep and you really, really need to mix in a bit of bubbly froth to help you see the bright side of everything.

Or just listen to that parrot.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Wallflower Wager to one very lucky US/CAN winner. You’ll get to find out what the parrot says!

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Review: Forgotten Bones by Vivian Barz + Giveaway

Review: Forgotten Bones by Vivian Barz + GiveawayForgotten Bones by Vivian Barz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Dead Remaining #1
Pages: 302
Published by Thomas & Mercer on August 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

An unlikely pair teams up to investigate a brutal murder in a haunting thriller that walks the line between reality and impossibility.

When small-town police officers discover the grave of a young boy, they’re quick to pin the crime on a convicted felon who lives nearby. But when it comes to murder, Officer Susan Marlan never trusts a simple explanation, so she’s just getting started.

Meanwhile, college professor Eric Evans hallucinates a young boy in overalls: a symptom of his schizophrenia—or so he thinks. But when more bodies turn up, Eric has more visions, and they mirror details of the murder case. As the investigation continues, the police stick with their original conclusion, but Susan’s instincts tell her something is off. The higher-ups keep stonewalling her, and the FBI’s closing in.

Desperate for answers, Susan goes rogue and turns to Eric for help. Together they take an unorthodox approach to the case as the evidence keeps getting stranger. With Eric’s hallucinations intensifying and the body count rising, can the pair separate truth from illusion long enough to catch a monster?

My Review:

Forgotten Bones is definitely not a book to be read with the lights off. Or alone in the middle of the night. Or anyplace where it can feel like the creepy-crawlies might be closing in.

This one sits at the intersection between mystery/thriller, horror and paranormal – and that’s not a comfortable place to be in the dark. It’s a fascinating place, in the thrills and chills kind of way, but not exactly comfy or cozy.

A place to get really, really to get sucked into – but absolutely not cozy. Unless you like to cozy up to claustrophobia.

There are two protagonists in this story. One seems fairly typical for the genre, but the other is definitely not. And that’s part of what makes the story so fascinating.

Perrick, California is a small town, and Susan Marlan is a member of its equally small police force. She’s relatively young, still pretty gung-ho about policing and crime solving, and kind of stuck.

Not that she can’t leave, but that the police chief is also her mentor – and he’s just weeks shy of retirement. There might be promotions in the inevitable shuffling in the wake of his departure. And Perrick is her home.

We’ve seen Susan’s type before in plenty of mysteries. She’s the young investigator who just can’t let go when a big crime – with its attendant opportunities for recognition and promotion – drops into her lap. So of course she goes out on her own, against orders and definitely off the books, to try to solve the case before the FBI. Or perhaps in spite of the FBI, as she’s sure the neat and tidy solution they finally come up with isn’t all there is.

And there needs to be plenty. Because the crime that has been uncovered under the soil of tiny Perrick becomes known as the “Death Farm”. Twenty-plus bodies have been hiding under a local farm, bodies going back decades. All – but one – children. Young children. Decades of dead little boys and girls.

Susan feels compelled to find the killers – because the FBI find one but not his partner.

Eric Evans is compelled too, but he’s compelled by the dead. He’s just arrived in Perrick to teach at the local community college after his life derails in Philly.

Eric is extremely lucky that he couldn’t possibly have been the perpetrator or any of the murders, because if he were he would have been the FBI’s best suspect. Eric was diagnosed with schizophrenia years ago. He manages his condition with medication, and he’s mostly successful. He’s high functioning, to the point of being a good teacher, a decent drummer and completely capable of forming friendships and relationships and making a good life for himself.

But something about Perrick is sending him off the rails, or so it seems at first. The dead invade his dreams – and his waking life. The dead children from that farm. When he can’t pretend that the visions are just dreams, he tries to believe that they are just a symptom of his illness.

In the end, he teams up with Susan. She’s compelled to find the truth. He’s compelled to bring that truth to light to get those children out of his head, his house and even his classroom before someone decides that he’s even crazier than he actually is.

Or someone decides that Susan and Eric need to be the final victims.

Escape Rating B+: The crime in this story, the multi-year, multi-victim murder spree, is not unprecedented. There have been real-life cases where “death farms” have been discovered, to the nightmares of investigators and local residents alike, after an event uncovers one or a few of the bodies.

(I’m particularly thinking of the case of Belle Gunness in LaPorte County Indiana, which is indelibly imprinted on my brain. I was attending a dinner meeting and the post-dinner speaker gave the assembled – and rather startled – diners a fascinating but stomach-churning talk about her murder spree and discovery – complete with pictures. And I’m finding myself wondering what the post-lecture bar tab turned out to be…)

Susan Marlan is not an atypical investigator in a case – or story – like this one. The young cop going a bit rogue because she (or he) knows that the powers-that-be – the FBI in this case – are willingly overlooking something because it interferes with their neat theory. And because they want to go back to their big city home office and get out of tiny wherever.

And because someone local misdirects the out-of-towners for usually underhanded reasons of their own – as happens in this case. That the reader has a handle on who the perpetrators are long before the FBI – and even somewhat before Susan – does not detract from the compelling readability of the story.

Because this is a case where Susan’s actions and reactions in the face of that discovery are more important than the discovery itself.

What makes this tale rise above its stock characters is Eric Evans. The story does not fall into the trap of making Eric an obvious suspect so that he has to find the killer to get himself out of the frame. That would have been an easy way to go, and the story is much better for not going there.

It also feels like it treats his mental illness sympathetically and realistically – as well as his reactions to it and people’s reactions to him. That Susan is able to accept both his help and him is what powers this book into the opener of what could be a fascinating series. Hidden Bones will come to light this time next year. I’ll be looking for it when I want some creepy chills to go along with my mystery thrills.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Forgotten Bones to one lucky US/CAN commenter on this tour!

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Review: Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn + Giveaway

Review: Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn + GiveawayRelative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Julia Kydd #1
Pages: 320
Published by Lake Union Publishing on August 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

In 1920s New York, the price of a woman’s independence can be exorbitant—even fatal.

In 1924 Manhattan, women’s suffrage is old news. For sophisticated booklover Julia Kydd, life’s too short for politics. With her cropped hair and penchant for independent living, Julia wants only to launch her own new private press. But as a woman, Julia must fight for what’s hers—including the inheritance her estranged half brother, Philip, has challenged, putting her aspirations in jeopardy.

When her friend’s sister, Naomi Rankin, dies suddenly of an apparent suicide, Julia is shocked at the wealthy family’s indifference toward the ardent suffragist’s death. Naomi chose poverty and hardship over a submissive marriage and a husband’s control of her money. Now, her death suggests the struggle was more than she could bear.

Julia, however, is skeptical. Doubtful of her suspicions, Philip proposes a glib wager: if Julia can prove Naomi was in fact murdered, he’ll drop his claims to her wealth. Julia soon discovers Naomi’s life was as turbulent and enigmatic as her death. And as she gets closer to the truth, Julia sees there’s much more at stake than her inheritance…

My Review:

The title of this one is certainly a play on the words “relative” and “fortunes” and just how they relate to each other – with a heaping helping of the corruption of the old saying about where there’s a will, there’s a way – not that that doesn’t also apply.

But in the case of this story, the version of that cliche that I’m thinking of is the one that goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a relative” or even a bunch of relatives, all with their hands out for a piece of the estate – no matter how small.

The beginning of this story involves two different wills in two different families involving two very much alive female legatees. At least until things go completely pear-shaped.

And if you are reading this while female, the number of times that the males in this story control their female siblings’ money and their very lives, supposedly for their own good, will make you grit your teeth and want to scream.

Which doesn’t change the fact that there’s a dead body, an absolutely disgusting coverup, and a desperate need for Julia Kydd to solve the mystery – so she can protect her friend, so that she can wrest some of her own money from her half-brother’s oh-so-protective hands, and so that she can stake out her own claim on independence.

If she can just get past all the men trying to pat her on the head, tell her not to worry her pretty little self and just marry someone already so that she can become some other man’s burden. When all she really wants to do is determine her own life for her own self.

And who can blame her?

Escape Rating B-: This is a story with a lot to unpack in it. Some of which drove me absolutely bonkers.

I was expecting a historical mystery, with the emphasis on the mystery part of that equation. What I got instead was historical fiction, with the emphasis on the history, during which a murder happens to occur and get solved by the heroine.

This is also the first book in a series, and has to carry the weight of the set up of the series, the characters, and all of the worldbuilding to put it properly within its frame – the Roaring 20s in New York City – and mostly among the glitterati.

In the end, although the murder actually takes place before the story opens, the race to solve it doesn’t really kick into gear until ¾ of the way through the book. Discovering that solution is a race to the finish, but the setup is a very slow burn – and I certainly burned right along with Julia.

Julia’s reasons for being in New York, as well as the reason for Naomi Rankin’s death, are very much wrapped up in all of the ways that men can and often do subjugate women, and all the ways that the system of the patriarchy is set up to not merely allow them to do it, but actively encourages them to do so. For the women’s own good, of course.

And that particular theme is a drumbeat over that first ¾ of the book. That things really were that way isn’t up for debate. They were, it was awful, and things aren’t as much better now as we like to think they are. But I got tired of being beaten about the head with those facts over and over and over. As, no doubt, the women subject to them did.

There would have been plenty of other ways to make those same points while still getting on with the mystery, which was itself completely wrapped up in women’s rights and women’s issues. The situation was bad, and the death of Naomi Rankin and the reasons for it offered plenty of opportunities for highlighting just how bad it was without hitting the reader over the head with it at every turn in that long setup.

Particularly as there was so much setup and exposition that the identity of the murderer and at least some of their motives (although not all) became obviously fairly early on.

Your mileage may vary, particularly as the historical detail is excellent. As a reader, I would have been happier with a bit less setup and a bit more mystery. But what I did get was interesting enough that I’ll be back for the next book in the series, Passing Fancies.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Relative Fortunes to one US/CAN commenter on this tour. And I’ll be extremely interested to discover what that reader thinks of the story!

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Review: Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Review: Lady in the Lake by Laura LippmanLady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, mystery, thriller
Pages: 340
Published by William Morrow on July 23, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The revered New York Times bestselling author returns with a novel set in 1960s Baltimore that combines modern psychological insights with elements of classic noir, about a middle-aged housewife turned aspiring reporter who pursues the murder of a forgotten young woman.

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know--everyone, that is, except Madeline "Maddie" Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she's bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl--assistance that leads to a job at the city's afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie--and the dead woman herself. Maddie's going to find the truth about Cleo's life and death. Cleo's ghost, privy to Maddie's poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie's investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life--a jewelery store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people--including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.

My Review:

The lady in that lake in Baltimore isn’t actually the lady that everybody thinks is under the lake. She also isn’t the central character of this story about the discovery of said lady, or about all the ripples that discovery causes through the lives of all the people involved.

In spite of the title, and in spite of her ghost commenting on events, this story is not about the lady IN the lake, Cleo Sherwood. Rather, the story focuses on the woman who found that lady in the lake, Maddie Schwartz. And that’s exactly the way that Maddie would want it. Because it’s really all about her. It’s always all about her.

It’s so much all about her that she never seems to have a thought for all the people she leaves damaged in her wake. Not even the lady in the lake who catapults her to fame.

Escape Rating B: The pipes for that fountain in that lake must have one heck of a lot of suction going on somewhere. Because I got sucked into this book almost in spite of myself. I kept thinking I’d put it away for the night, but then just one more chapter, just one more person, and then I was done.

I also got just a bit weirded out at one point. Maddie and my mother were born the same year. Wondering if my mom ever had any of the internal thoughts and feelings that Maddie did kind of gave me the heebie-jeebies. Ironically, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if my mom had some of the same career thoughts and aspirations – although hopefully not the rest.

(Two things no one likes to think about – their parents having sex and their children having sex. We all know it happens, but that doesn’t mean we want to dwell on it even for a nanosecond.)

The structure of this story is interesting – and more than a bit distancing. Although Maddie is the main point of view character, she’s not the only one. The first time she interacts with someone, the reader is then given that person’s perspective on the encounter in general and Maddie in particular.

Those perspectives are not kind. Usually pretty spot on, but not kind. Maddie is not a likable protagonist. She’s more like the eye of a hurricane. Everyone focuses on her, and that’s what she wants, while she ignores all the trouble that her storm creates. Like that hurricane, Maddie’s story sucks you in and spits you out – but it isn’t a comfortable journey. Interesting, but not comfortable.

At the same time, the story manages to say quite a bit about a lot of things through those various perspectives. Seeing life in the mid-1960s through that variety of perspectives, we hear about still-rampant Antisemitism, the universality of structural racism, the intractable misogyny of work life in general and newspaper journalism in particular. Through all those thoughts and feelings we get a slice of life in the 1960s, and it rings true.

The story kind of sits at the boundary between mystery and thriller. Except for one brief but telling escapade, Maddie herself is never in true danger. No one is stalking her – this isn’t that kind of story. She puts plenty of other people in danger or at least distress – usually inadvertently. She doesn’t believe she’s really doing anything wrong – even when she is. That her single-minded self-centered laser focus puts other people at risk is never her fault.

But the slow unraveling of the two intertwined mysteries that make Maddie’s career are thrilling. Maddie literally does not know what she is doing most of the time – just that she has a driving need to be the center of it all, again and again and again. And she has an instinct about what parts of a story – or which people – are hiding something that she desperately wants to uncover – and just how to uncover it, no matter what it takes. Or who.

So that’s what she does. But the greatest secret of all, the one that really makes her career, turns out to be not what she expected. And it contains a truth that she can never reveal. After everything we’ve learned about Maddie, it feels like it serves her right.

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Review: A Conspiracy of Wolves by Candace Robb

Review: A Conspiracy of Wolves by Candace RobbA Conspiracy of Wolves (Owen Archer #11) by Candace Robb
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Owen Archer #11
Pages: 256
Published by Severn House Publishers on August 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

1374. When a member of one of York’s most prominent families is found dead in the woods, his throat torn out, rumours spread like wildfire that wolves are running loose throughout the city. Persuaded to investigate by the victim’s father, Owen Archer is convinced that a human killer is responsible. But before he can gather sufficient evidence to prove his case, a second body is discovered, stabbed to death. Is there a connection? What secrets are contained within the victim’s household? And what does apprentice healer Alisoun know that she’s not telling? Teaming up with Geoffrey Chaucer, who is in York on a secret mission on behalf of Prince Edward, Owen’s enquiries will draw him headlong into a deadly conspiracy.

My Review:

When I reviewed the previous book in the Owen Archer series, A Vigil of Spies, nearly four years ago, it read as an ending to the series. I wasn’t certain that it was the ending, but it felt very much like it was. Owen’s patron, mentor and employer, John Thoresby, the Archbishop of York, lies dying throughout the story, only to pass, as he did in history, late in the year 1373.

The story felt like it was closing down. Owen Archer seemed to have finished his metamorphosis from the slightly lost and somewhat resentful ex-soldier that he was at the very beginning of the series in The Apothecary Rose, becoming a trusted agent for Thoresby and protector of the city of York, as well as an experienced investigator and a loving and fulfilled family man.

But Owen is just into middle age, made comfortably well-off by Thoresby’s final bequests and actions, but not nearly ready to settle into a life of leisure – or even a life of merely managing his estates.

As A Conspiracy of Wolves opens, Owen in on his way back to York after a visit to those estates, and pondering his options. Options that seem to be in conflict, a conflict that is pointed out rather insistently when Owen is asked to investigate a murder that seems to have been caused by rampaging wolves.

It’s up to Owen to determine whether those wolves have four legs or two, before hysteria grips the entire city.

The case is murky, and so is Owen’s future. He has to figure out the motive for what becomes a series of murders and attempts at it before he can determine who is behind it all. While at every turn he feels caught between his duty to the city and the request, to be read as an order, that he has received from Court.

He wants to stay in York, but he also wants the access to information and authority that comes with serving the crown. But if he doesn’t solve these grisly murders, neither will want his service – nor could he live with himself.

Escape Rating B: The Owen Archer series is an absolutely terrific historical mystery series. Owen, and his wife Lucie the apothecary, change and grow over the course of their adventures, and the author does an excellent job of exploring the world of 14th century York and the swirl of politics that surrounds the capital of the North. This is certainly a series that deepens as it goes, and will reward readers who start at the beginning. After all, Owen comes to York in The Apothecary Rose  to investigate Lucie as a possible murderer. It’s fun to see how they go from mutual suspicion to domestic partnership!

But, as much as I loved this series, I had a difficult time getting into this particular entry. I was very happy to be back in York with these characters, but the beginning of the story felt as murky as Owen’s personal decision making-process.

At the beginning, Owen doesn’t know where he’s going, he doubts what he is doing, and so do we. That the case he’s working on is a confused mess doesn’t help either him or us.

In the 14th century that Owen operates in, forensic science is pretty much non-existent as we know it. He’s forced to rely on observations, his own and other people’s. And while Owen may see clearer than most in spite of the loss of one of his eyes before the series opened, he still only knows what is seen and heard. The body he investigates was meant to appear as though the victim had died from being mauled by a wolf, but he is willing to look deeper – and it doesn’t take much observation – as long as it is detached – to see that under the horrific teeth and claw marks there’s a long, clean gash – the kind made by a sharp knife. Wolves don’t carry knives.

So someone wants it to look like a wolf attacked and wants to get everyone stirred up and suspicious. But of whom – and for what? Owen begins the case with no clue of what and why, only a body.

It takes him a long time – relatively – to learn what this is really all about. Plenty of time and effort for him to doubt himself – even if others do not. And equally plenty of time for pressure to be applied from all sides – to solve the case, and to decide his own fate.

I think that part of my struggle with the story was that I missed the political angles – as does Owen. He misses the authority he used to have, not because he wants power over people, but because it cut through a whole lot of corners. He often feels stymied in his investigation by needing to find allies or seek permission – something he has long lost his taste for.

Once the pieces of the case come together – basically once enough people have died or been attacked that they all stop lying and prevaricating, the conclusion arrives in a flurry of action – and pages.

At the end, Owen does find a way to convince both of his potential masters that they are better off working together through him rather than fighting over his possible service. And his service to the Crown will put him into the thick of the machinations that surrounded the deaths of the Black Prince and Edward III, deaths that set up the decades-long succession fight yet to come. A fight that history has come to call the Wars of the Roses.

This will be grand. Also bloody and messy. But definitely grand.

Review: Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean + Giveaway

Review: Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean + GiveawayBrazen and the Beast (The Bareknuckle Bastards, #2) by Sarah MacLean
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Bareknuckle Bastards #2)
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on July 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Lady’s Plan

When Lady Henrietta Sedley declares her twenty-ninth year her own, she has plans to inherit her father’s business, to make her own fortune, and to live her own life. But first, she intends to experience a taste of the pleasure she’ll forgo as a confirmed spinster. Everything is going perfectly…until she discovers the most beautiful man she’s ever seen tied up in her carriage and threatening to ruin the Year of Hattie before it’s even begun.

The Bastard’s Proposal

When he wakes in a carriage at Hattie’s feet, Whit, a king of Covent Garden known to all the world as Beast, can’t help but wonder about the strange woman who frees him—especially when he discovers she’s headed for a night of pleasure . . . on his turf. He is more than happy to offer Hattie all she desires…for a price.

An Unexpected Passion

Soon, Hattie and Whit find themselves rivals in business and pleasure. She won’t give up her plans; he won’t give up his power . . . and neither of them sees that if they’re not careful, they’ll have no choice but to give up everything . . . including their hearts.

My Review:

I picked up Brazen and the Beast because I enjoyed the first book in the series, Wicked and the Wallflower, and wanted to see where the story went from there.

There is plenty to love in this series – and this story in that series. Particularly for readers of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series and/or Sophie Barnes’ Diamonds in the Rough series.

Because the story of the Bareknuckle Bastards is a story about the underbelly of the Regency and post-Regency periods, as are both of those series. The actual Bareknuckle Bastards themselves, Devil (hero of Wicked and the Wallflower) and his brother Beast here in Brazen and the Beast are the uncrowned kings of Covent Garden and the working-class districts that surround it.

The bastards control the area, and all the legal – and definitely all the illegal – trade that takes place therein. And their people love them for it, because the bastards provide good well-paying jobs, protection and economic security for their fiefdom.

A fiefdom that they have, and will, defend to the death.

And that’s where Hattie Sedley careens into the picture. She’s a “lady” but not a “Lady” – and she’d rather not be either. Her father is an Earl, but it’s a life peerage, so he can’t pass it on to her brother. And that’s a good thing, because Augie Sedley is a waste of space.

It’s Hattie who is her father’s true heir in every way that matters, but the man can’t see past the fact that she’s a woman.

She’s also 29, big and loud and brash and brazen, so society has put her very firmly on the shelf. A shelf that she is happy to occupy, as long as she gets to take care of her father’s shipping business. And that’s a possibility that she is determined to seize with both hands – and that her brother seems determined to ruin. Stealing from the Bareknuckle Bastards isn’t just stupid – it’s downright suicidal. But Augie doesn’t care that he’ll take the family with him.

It’s up to Hattie to “negotiate” with Beast to find her family a way out of Augie’s mess – and to figure out how she can win the business into the bargain.

But there are more wheels turning than even Hattie can see, and more consequences than she knows. She’s met her match in Beast. But he’s met his match in her just as much. Figuring out that he can love her, or he can protect her, but that he can’t manage both makes for a hot, sparky (sometimes literally) romance!

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot to love in Brazen and the Beast – in multiple ways. First, there’s just a lot of Hattie Sedley to love – and Beast loves her just the way she is – as do the readers.

Hattie manages to absolutely ooze body positivity while at the same showing just how vulnerable her differences have made her – and that those differences haven’t kept her from reaching for what she wants.

Hattie is big and tall and bold in a society that expects women to be tiny and demure, to be seen as little as possible and not heard at all. And she can’t be any of those things, so she does her best to be who and what she is. At the same time, she’s still very aware of how she’s seen – and it hurts her.

Society seeks a freak, but Beast sees a queen – and he makes Hattie not just see herself that way, but embrace that identity. All the parts of her that high society wants to quash are just the parts that the more realistic world around Covent Garden values.

What makes the romance between Hattie and Beast (his actual name is Whit), so fascinating is its central conflict. Not that there aren’t plenty of secondary and ancillary conflicts. The tension between Hattie and Whit over who will get the better of whom and Whit’s need to protect his people vs. Hattie’s need to protect hers sparks and sizzles on every page.

The romantic conflict is all about how they will define their relationship to each other, and how that ties into their essential selves. Whit is a protector. It’s who he is, it’s what he does, and he can’t seem to turn off that side of his nature. That his society in general believes that women should be protected at every turn just adds to his deep-rooted need to protect everyone he cares for.

But that is not what Hattie is built for. For her, protection is a cage. She has to be his partner – or she’ll be nothing to him at all. It’s a hard lesson for him to learn – and he only figures it out when he has no choice. But he does get it by the end – and that’s what gives this story its heart.

There are two very hard parts to this book. One is the opening. Until Hattie and Beast have their first real meeting in the high class female-serving (and not female-using) brothel, a lot of her self-talk revolves around just how hard it is to get her father to see that she’s the better fit to run the shipping business. Because she so obviously is, her brother is so obviously an idiot, and her father is just being ridiculously obtuse. It’s everything that women hate about the patriarchy, and is compounded because her father was awarded that life peerage for being an excellent businessman. His estate will not be entailed and he can bequeath whatever to whoever. The same man who built the business couldn’t be that big an idiot.

And then there’s the overarching story of this series. Devil, Beast, their half-brother Ewan and their adopted sister Grace all suffered – extremely – under the machinations of their father the Duke. Ewan “won” the competition to become the Duke’s heir, and in the process betrayed the rest of them. He’s been pursuing them ever since because he wants Grace. Ewan’s stalkerish pursuit/revenge has been dastardly from the very beginning, and his obsession with Grace is frankly a bit creepy. It’s clear from the teaser at the end of Brazen and the Beast that the next story, Daring and The Duke, will finally resolve that long-standing issue.

And do I ever wonder how that’s going to work out!

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

I’m giving away a copy of Brazen and the Beast to one very lucky US/Can commenter on this tour!

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Review: Sentinel by Anna Hackett

Review: Sentinel by Anna HackettSentinel (Galactic Gladiators: House Of Rone #1) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators: House Of Rone #1
Pages: 209
Published by Anna Hackett on July 21st 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Fighting for love, loyalty, and freedom on the galaxy’s lawless outer rim…

When Quinn Bennett’s exploration ship is attacked, the security chief finds herself abducted by alien slavers. Unable to save her crew, she is taken across the galaxy and sold to a desert scavenger on the lawless planet of Carthago. Driven by her guilt and failure, she’ll do anything to escape and save the other abductees from her ship. Chained and forced into servitude, she’s waiting for her chance to strike, when across a dusty trading post, she comes face to face with a big, cyborg gladiator.

Jaxer Rone’s loyalty is to his imperator—the man who saved him from a lethal cyborg military program. Jax works tirelessly for his gladiatorial house and would die for his fellow cyborgs. His emotional dampeners have never functioned well, but while he feels some emotion, he never lets it get in the way of his duty. Right now, his mission is to find the stolen humans from Earth. But when he rescues the fierce, relentless Quinn, he starts feeling a rush of emotion he’s never experienced before.

Quinn and Jax join forces to track down the aliens holding the other Earth women captive. Side by side, they venture into the desert and uncover a desire hotter than the desert suns. But the aliens who captured Quinn want her back. In order to protect Quinn, will Jax embrace his newfound feelings or shut them off to keep her safe?

My Review:

In my review of Cyborg, one of the last books in the Galactic Gladiators series – and the direct precursor to Sentinel – I opined that the series could continue indefinitely without feeling thing and stretched the way that the author’s Hell Squad series has begun to feel, at least for this reader.

And here we have that continuation, and it’s every bit as much fun as the series from which it sprang.

The premise of the Galactic Gladiators series was that a temporary wormhole opened up between far, far distant Carthago and Jupiter Station in our own solar system. The wormhole was exploited by the slave-trading Thraxians, who kidnapped a bunch of humans from Jupiter Station and dragged them back to Carthago before the wormhole closed.

By the end of the final book in the series, Imperator, all of the humans who had been rescued from the Station had found their HEA with the gladiators of the House of Galen and their allies. One of said allies is Magnus Rone, cyborg and Imperator of his own gladiatorial house.

In Alien Hunter, part of the novella duo Hunter that bridges between the Galactic Gladiators series and the new House of Rone series, our friends discover that Jupiter Station was not the only place in our solar system that the Thraxians raided. At least one ship on it way to Jupiter from Earth was also picked up on that raid – so there’s a whole new batch of Earth humans to find and rescue.

A journey that begins in Sentinel, the first book of the House of Rone.

The House of Rone, in general, offers a deeper dive into the science fictional world that the author has created. Galen’s house is primarily a gladiatorial house. That’s how they make their money, and that’s how they support all of the members of the house and its operations, including the underground mission of not just rescuing Earthan refugees, but of buying and freeing as many people as possible who have been enslaved in the less-savory gladiatorial houses.

All of the gladiators in Galen’s house are free. They fight willingly – and very successfully – in the Kor Magna Arena.

The House of Rone has a more multifaceted operation. Magnus Rone and his fellow cyborgs are not allowed to fight in the arena. They have an extremely unfair advantage because of their cybernetic enhancements. Which does not mean that the House of Rone doesn’t compete in the arena. Magnus has plenty of unenhanced but skillful and effective fighters who compete under his House’s banner.

He has also funded a highly sought after medical service that sells cybernetic limbs to the wealthy and provides replacement limbs free of charge to those who need them but can’t afford them. While the research into cybernetics is self-serving in that he and his inner circle all require those services themselves, using that same research to help others is very much not.

Magnus began his house by rescuing his fellow cyborgs, starting with Jaxer, the hero of Sentinel. Most of the cyborgs in the House of Rone have faulty programming – much like Magnus himself. They were supposed to be programmed not to feel, but underneath – or in one case outside of – the enhancements they are men and not machines.

When the faults in Jaxer’s programming became so obvious that he was about to be terminated, Magnus rescued them both and brought them to Kor Magna. All of the stories in the House of Rone series look like they will be about the cyborgs of Magnus’ inner circle discovering just how many messy emotions are hiding under their usually impassive exteriors.

Jax is the first. His programming has always been the flakiest, so he has both hero-worshipped his rescuer Magnus and feels duty-bound to help shoulder some of his rescuer’s burdens now that Magnus has found his own surprising HEA. Magnus promised Galen that he would continue the search and rescue of the Earthan refugees and Jax intends to take over as much of that effort as he possibly can.

And that’s what sends him into the path of Quinn Bennett, the former ship’s security chief and now slave on Carthago. In spite of her terrible circumstances, Quinn is beaten but not bowed. Her spirit is still alive and fighting, and when she sees the cyborgs, she does her best to help them, in spite of the beating that follows.

Jax sees her – and now he has a specific woman to rescue – not just the duty of rescuing faceless people he’s never met. Not that he won’t, and not that they don’t deserve rescue. But in spite of everything he tells himself, over and over, Jax wants to rescue Quinn for himself.

Even if he doesn’t think he deserves her. Especially because he doesn’t think he deserves her. But who is he to tell Quinn what she needs, wants or deserves?

Escape Rating B+: I realize that I’ve written a lot about the setup of this story. Consider that a sign that in spite of Sentinel being the first book of a new series, the majority of the worldbuilding for this series is in the previous series. In other words, Sentinel is probably not the best place to start. I’m not sure you’d have to read the entire Galactic Gladiators series to get into Sentinel, but at least the first one or two plus Cyborg and the novella Alien Hunter in Hunter.

Why not just begin at the beginning at binge? This series is a whole lot of fun from beginning to current end – and I expect the fun to continue in future entries.

One of the things that I continue to love about this series is that in spite of so many strikes against them, the refugees from Earth are not damsels in distress. They don’t need “rescue” in the traditional sense, they just need a little help rescuing themselves. And they are active participants in everything that happens from that initial intervention to adapting to their new world to finding their HEA and claiming it.

They are all kickass, but they are not all kickass in the same way. Some have been warriors, but they’ve also been engineers and computer geeks and doctors and pretty much everything else. There’s no one way to be a heroine in this series (or in any of this author’s work)

However, one thing about the Galactic Gladiators series as a whole, including the House of Rone spinoff, that’s starting to stretch my willing suspension of disbelief just a tiny bit – although certainly not enough to keep me from continuing to enjoy the series.

Jupiter Station, and any ships en route to or from it, would presumably have had crews consisting of all genders. But all of the books in the series, with the notable exception of Champion, have featured an Earthan female and a male from somewhere in the wider universe. Only in Champion is that reversed.

If there were extremely few men on Jupiter Station and the ships servicing it – why? If the Thraxians chose to only capture females – why? I find the second possibility more likely than the first, but there must be a reason. Especially since I’d love to see one of the books in this series feature a female warrior and a male who is not. There are certainly plenty of female gladiators to make this a possible scenario.

Consider the above comment my the first item on my “wish list” for this series. Because I do love it and want to see it go more places and do more things. It’s a big galaxy!

The House of Rone continues in Defender, coming in August. Oooh!, something for me to look forward to, to bring me out of my post-WorldCon blahs!

Review: The Eagle Has Landed edited by Neil Clarke

Review: The Eagle Has Landed edited by Neil ClarkeThe Eagle Has Landed: 50 Years of Lunar Science Fiction by Neil Clarke
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, science fiction, short stories, space opera
Pages: 600
Published by Night Shade on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


The lone survivor of a lunar crash, waiting for rescue in a solar powered suit, must keep walking for thirty days to remain in the sunlight keeping her alive . . . life as an ice miner turns ugly as the workers’ resentment turns from sabotage to murder . . . an astronaut investigating a strange crash landing encounters an increasing number of doppelgangers of herself . . . a nuclear bomb with a human personality announces to a moon colony that it will soon explode . . . hundreds of years in the future, art forgers working on the lunar surface travel back in time to swap out priceless art, rescuing it from what will become a destroyed Earth . . .  

On July 20, 1969, mankind made what had only years earlier seemed like an impossible leap forward: Apollo 11 became the first manned mission to land on the moon, and Neil Armstrong the first person to step foot on the lunar surface. While there have only been a handful of new missions since, the fascination with our planet’s satellite continues, and generations of writers and artists have imagined the endless possibilities of lunar life.

The Eagle Has Landed collects the best stories written in the fifty years since mankind first stepped foot on the lunar surface, serving as a shining reminder that the moon is a visible and constant example of all the infinite possibility of the wider universe.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Bagatelle by John Varley The Eve of the Last Apollo by Carter Scholz The Lunatics by Kim Stanley Robinson Griffin’s Egg by Michael Swanwick A Walk in the Sun by Geoffrey A. Landis Waging Good by Robert Reed How We Lost the Moon by Paul McAuley People Came From Earth by Stephen Baxter Ashes and Tombstones by Brian Stableford Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s by Adam Troy Castro Stories for Men by John Kessel The Clear Blue Seas of Luna by Gregory Benford You Will Go to the Moon by William Preston SeniorSource by Kristine Kathryn Rusch The Economy of Vacuum by Sarah Thomas The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt Fly Me to the Moon by Marianne J. Dyson Tyche and the Ants by Hannu Rajaniemi The Moon Belongs to Everyone by Michael Alexander and K.C. Ball The Fifth Dragon by Ian McDonald Let Baser Things Devise by Berrien C. Henderson The Moon is Not a Battlefield by Indrapramit Das Every Hour of Light and Dark by Nancy Kress In Event of Moon Disaster by Rich Larson

My Review:

Just in time for the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 comes The Eagle Has Landed, a collection of stories, set on the Moon, that were written sometime AFTER that historic voyage.

One of the interesting things, at least from the editor’s perspective, is how relatively few lunar-set stories there actually were, particularly in the immediate post-Apollo years. His speculation is that changing the first lunar landing from fiction to history moved lunar-set stories too close to a potential and seemingly reachable very-near-future pushed the concept out of science fiction.

And while we know from the perspective of hindsight that Apollo 11’s achievement marked the beginning of the end rather than the end of the beginning that we hoped for, no one knew it at the time. Possibly were afraid of that possibility, but didn’t know for certain. And hoped their fears were wrong.

Another possibility thrown out was that Heinlein’s classic, and at the time relatively recent The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966), had, at least temporarily, taken all the air out of the fictional lunar room and no one wanted to jump in after the master. Even though Heinlein’s attitudes about women seem antediluvian 50 years later, I reread the thing not long ago and a surprising amount of it still holds up. And the ending still makes me tear up.

But the thing that struck me about this collection, particularly in contrast with some of Heinlein’s pre-Apollo lunar stories, not just Moon but also Gentlemen, Be Seated and even in a peculiar way The Man Who Sold the Moon, is just how dark the post-Apollo stories are in comparison to the pre-Apollo stories.

There was a lot of hope in those earlier stories. Not remotely scientifically based as we know now, but a buoyancy of spirit. We were going to get “out there” and it was going to be at least as good, if not better, than the present. Even if it took a revolution to get there.

Escape Rating B: The first several stories in this collection are seriously bleak. Either the moon is a wasteland, the Earth is, or both. Those dark futures probably mirror the state of the world at the time. Having lived through the 1970s, they seemed more hopeful in a lot of ways, but there were plenty of clouds were looming on the horizon – and some of those clouds were filled with acid rain.

And as far as the space program was concerned, all the air had been let out of its tires after the lunar landing. The uphill drive to reach the moon had been exhilarating, but the downhill slide was pretty grim.

A couple of the stories really got to me in their bleakness, A Walk in the Sun by Geoffrey A. Landis and Waging Good by Robert Reed.

One of the other notable things about this collection is that, until Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s fascinating story, SeniorSource (2008), all of the stories were written by men. And that reflects the genre at the time. Female science fiction writers were thin on the ground until this century, as were writers of color – who are also singularly absent in the collection until that point.

I loved SeniorSource because it reminded me so much of the author’s Retrieval Artist series, which is also set on the moon (and which I now have a yen to reread). SeniorSource is a combination of SF with mystery, as is the Retrieval Artist series as a whole. But what I enjoyed about it in comparison with the earlier stories is that it’s a life goes on story. It’s set in a future that seems both plausible but not catastrophic. Life goes on, humans do human, and there is a future that is not bleak, but different.

From there the collection does look up. It’s an excellent sampling of post-Apollo lunar fiction, and a view of just how much the genre has changed over time. That being said, if you’re already blue, there’s a bit too much to depress you further in this book. But definitely an interesting read, and well worth savoring – possibly in bits to lighten the darkness a bit.

Review: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal + Giveaway

Review: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal + GiveawayWhen We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Lake Union Publishing on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From the author of The Art of Inheriting Secrets comes an emotional new tale of two sisters, an ocean of lies, and a search for the truth.

Her sister has been dead for fifteen years when she sees her on the TV news…

Josie Bianci was killed years ago on a train during a terrorist attack. Gone forever. It’s what her sister, Kit, an ER doctor in Santa Cruz, has always believed. Yet all it takes is a few heart-wrenching seconds to upend Kit’s world. Live coverage of a club fire in Auckland has captured the image of a woman stumbling through the smoke and debris. Her resemblance to Josie is unbelievable. And unmistakable. With it comes a flood of emotions—grief, loss, and anger—that Kit finally has a chance to put to rest: by finding the sister who’s been living a lie.

After arriving in New Zealand, Kit begins her journey with the memories of the past: of days spent on the beach with Josie. Of a lost teenage boy who’d become part of their family. And of a trauma that has haunted Kit and Josie their entire lives.

Now, if two sisters are to reunite, it can only be by unearthing long-buried secrets and facing a devastating truth that has kept them apart far too long. To regain their relationship, they may have to lose everything.

My Review:

This is the story about the deconstruction of a life. Not in the sense that things fall apart, because the lives of both Kit and Josie Bianchi fell apart a long, long time ago. The echoes of what happened in their childhood have rippled like aftershocks through everything that has happened since.

Including, but definitely not limited to, Josie’s death – and the faking thereof.

When We Believed in Mermaids is rather about the examination, in memory, of those long ago events. What begins as a look back at a seemingly perfect childhood that was ripped apart by the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 reveals cracks in that perfection – just as the girls’ examination of their cliffside house revealed cracks that made the house’s fall inevitable.

There were plenty of warning signs that a disaster was coming – but the adults were too wrapped up in themselves, and much too damaged themselves, to see it. And the girls were children. It’s only as adults that they are able to look back and see that what went wrong was hardly their fault.

But now they are both adults. And both still scarred. Both, in their own ways, isolated because of it. Kit, whose life has come to be confined to her ER practice, her surfing, and her cat. While Josie, who seemingly has it all, is isolated by her secrets. No one knows her true self. Her past is another country, on another continent, and it happened to someone else.

One brief moment in the background in someone else’s camera frame brings Josie’s worlds into collision. And Kit’s walls come tumbling down.

Escape Rating B+: This is a story that can best be described as quietly charming. It feels like one of those stories where not a lot happens on the surface, but that surface is only 10% of what’s happening. Underneath, Kit and Josie are paddling like crazy.

While the comparison is to an iceberg, there’s nothing cold about the story – including its two settings, the California coast and Auckland, New Zealand. Where it’s a hot and steamy late summer when Kit arrives to investigate that three-second sighting of the sister who has been presumed dead for 15 years.

We begin the story from Kit’s point of view as she believes, disbelieves, questions and investigates a possibility that has haunted her for all of her adult life. What if Josie is still alive?

In alternating chapters we find ourselves looking through the eyes of a woman named Mari. Who seemingly has it all, a rich and handsome husband, two terrific kids, a storied house to investigate – and a gigantic secret.

As both Kit and Mari remember their childhoods, with each dive into the past revealing more cracks in that originally perfect surface, their memories converge. It’s obvious fairly quickly that Mari is Josie, and that she’s rightfully worried that her few seconds in that background shot are going to bring her world crashing down – and she’s right.

But until the crash, it’s Kit’s view that holds the attention. While Mari has found the life she dreamed of, and is afraid of losing it – Kit is very much still seeking, not just Josie, but a life that will not merely sustain her but support her and enrich her spirit. Her search, including her hesitant relationship with the handsome Spanish guitarist Jose Velez, opens her heart and shakes her certainties – even as she hunts down the sister she never expected to find.

Kit’s on a quest, and somewhat ironically, Josie is the macguffin she’s looking for. But all the while, both of them are internally exploring their memories of the life they once shared together. As those memories reach toward the present, Josie and Kit reach towards each other.

And the possibility of a shared – and much brighter – future.

I picked up When We Believed in Mermaids because I enjoyed The Art of Inheriting Secrets by this same author very much, with just a few quibbles. The same is true about When We Believed in Mermaids, including the quibbles. Both are stories where events in the present cause the narrator(s) to search through their own pasts as well as the past of a place that they become involved with in the course of the story, so if you like one you’ll definitely like the other.

In The Art of Inheriting Secrets, I had a couple of issues with the way that the hesitant romance in that book proceeded, but loved the look back into the past of the house she inherits and the mother she discovers that she never really knew. There’s also an old house in Mermaids, and I was hoping for as interesting a reveal of its history as there was in Secrets, but alas, it was not to be. The secrets about Sapphire House, when finally revealed, felt anticlimactic. That was the one part of the story where I really expected more.

Then again, I love stories about research done well and filled with fascinating reveals. And there were plenty of those fascinating reveals in Kit and Josie’s hesitant journeys down memory lane. As I said, this story is quietly charming, and I was certainly charmed. If you’re looking for a beach read this summer all you have to do is believe in these mermaids!

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

I’m giving away a copy of When We Believed in Mermaids to one lucky (US/CAN) commenter on this tour!

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

Review: Her Other Secret by HelenKay Dimon + Giveaway

Review: Her Other Secret by HelenKay Dimon + GiveawayHer Other Secret: A Novel by HelenKay Dimon
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Whitaker Island #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Is it the perfect escape?

 Whitaker Island is more than a getaway. For Tessa Jenkins, the remote strip of land in Washington state is a sanctuary. Fleeing from a shattering scandal, she has a new name, a chance at a new beginning, and a breathtaking new view: Hansen Rye. It’s hard not to crush on Whitaker’s hottest handyman. At six-foot-three and all kinds of fine, he’s also intensely private—and the attraction between them soon simmers dangerously out of control.


…or a private trap for two lovers?

After a devastating family tragedy, Hansen finds the pebbled shores of the faraway island to be an ideal refuge. Letting down his guard for the sexy, impulsive Tessa is an unexpected pleasure. But there’s another newcomer to Whitaker. He’s no stranger to Hansen. And when he’s murdered, the crime casts a threatening shadow. As suspicion falls on Hansen, all his secrets are about to collide with Tessa’s. Now the pasts they were determined to outrun are catching up to them. So is a killer who’s putting their love—and their lives—on the line.

My Review:

Don’t let the hottie on the cover fool you – as he tries to do to every single person on Whitaker Island. Her Other Secret is definitely romantic suspense, and that hottie has plenty to hide.

As does our heroine – as well as every single other resident of this tiny island off the coast of Washington State. But only some of those secrets are deadly.

While everyone on Whitaker is running away from something, it’s hottie Hansen Rye’s secrets that have come to get him – not that he knows that – at least at first.

Tessa Jenkins has been watching a yacht parked in the water opposite her tiny cottage for more than 24 hours, and she’s had enough. Something has to be wrong. The marina has plenty of space – and its on the other side of the island.

There are no lights on the boat – and no movement. It’s interesting that Tessa doesn’t think it’s her own secrets that have come to get her, but then, the person looking for her is generally a whole lot splashier than anything happening on that boat – which seems to be nothing at all.

Tessa is currently on the outs with the island’s only cop, so when she can’t stand the suspense any longer, she calls the person that everyone on Whitaker calls when they need something done. She calls Hansen, the resident handyman – and Tessa’s secret crush.

Not that Hansen isn’t the secret crush of every woman on the island – single or not – and probably some of the men as well. He’s gorgeous. A complete grump to the point of being an antisocial asshole, but gorgeous.

And generally useful. He fixes everything that’s broken, so Tessa is sure that he can fix whatever must be wrong with that silent, parked boat. That it’s a good excuse to call him is just icing on the cake.

That’s when things go pear-shaped. As Hansen and Tessa argue about going out to the boat, a man walks out of the water, fully dressed in a business suit, and heads inland – right past them. It’s weird. Really, really weird – especially when the man disappears.

It gets weirder still when the man turns up dead on Tessa’s front yard the next day. And all of Hansen’s secrets come out. And Tessa’s comes to the island to get her.

Escape Rating B: This is one of those stories that can best be described as “oddly charming”. I liked it, I enjoyed reading it, but it doesn’t hold up to a whole lot of scrutiny. It’s what I call “mind candy”. A good reading time that does not require deep thought that I probably won’t remember this time next year. But fun while I on Whitaker Island with Hansen and Tessa. It’s a beach read, ironically (or not) set mostly on a beach!

The setup of Whitaker Island, both the way it works and the people who inhabit it, was interesting. All 200 or so residents merely rent their cottages – there’s a mysterious owner behind the scenes who actually owns everything. There’s no government – just a governing board. One firefighter and one cop – both employees of that mysterious owner. Who remains mysterious throughout the book. I kept expecting him, her or it to be revealed, but they were not. (There’s a second book in this series, The Secret She Keeps, coming out in December. Maybe all will be revealed then.)

Whitaker seems to be a place where people escape from the rat race but bring all the rats with them – including their own ratty selves. Everyone has something to hide, and everyone gossips like it’s going out of season – which of course it never does.

I liked both Hansen and Tessa, as well as the way they got together, but I think that their respective secrets were both a bit over-the-top, contributing to the whole “fun while it lasted” vibe of the story.

While not giving those secrets away, it felt like Tessa’s secret just wasn’t nearly as big or as bad as she made it out to be. And the “ripped from the headlines” reasons for that secret didn’t quite gel.

Hansen’s secrets, on the other hand, were so big and so bad and ended up being so convoluted that they ended up in “bwahaha” villain territory. And I did figure out whodunnit way before our protagonists and wondered why they didn’t feel the clue-by-four whizzing over their heads.

But then, the epic storms cutting off the island and isolating the villagers may have had something to do with their distraction – not to mention their on-its-way-to-resolution sexual and emotional tension.

They were busy!

In the end, a good reading time was had by all. Her Other Secret feels like it would be a great beach read – at least as long as a corpse doesn’t turn up on your stretch of beach!

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

To celebrate the release of HER OTHER SECRET by HelenKay Dimon, we’re giving away a paperback set of Her Other Secret and The Protector by HelenKay Dimon to one lucky winner!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2EQgLJt 

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of Her Other Secret and The Protector by HelenKay Dimon. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 7/15/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.