Review: Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

Review: Skinwalker by Faith HunterSkinwalker (Jane Yellowrock, #1) by Faith Hunter
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Jane Yellowrock #1
Pages: 320
Published by Ace Books on July 7, 2009
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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First in a brand new series from the author of the Rogue Mage novels

Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind—a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires and hunts vampires for a living. But now she’s been hired by Katherine Fontaneau, one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans and the madam of Katies’s Ladies, to hunt a powerful rogue vampire who’s killing other vamps.

Amidst a bordello full of real “ladies of the night,” and a hot Cajun biker with a panther tattoo who stirs her carnal desire, Jane must stay focused and complete her mission—or else the next skin she’ll need to save just may be her own...

My Review:

I picked this because, well, I was bouncing off pretty much everything, both to read and to listen to. When you start cheering for one of the characters in the story you’re on to get eaten by an alligator – and quickly – it’s time to pick up something different. I picked up Junkyard Cats by Faith Hunter to listen to, and got sucked in enough that I also picked up Skinwalker to read. I have a friend who adores this series, and I have a thing about books set in New Orleans. So it seemed like kismet – or something like that.

It’s been a long time since I’ve sunk my teeth, pun intended, into a new-to-me urban fantasy series. I’d forgotten just how much they are. As far as the pun goes, well, there are plenty of vampires in this version of post-Katrina New Orleans – and everywhere else. This is one of those worlds where vamps not only exist but have come out of the coffin. And the witches have come out of their gingerbread houses as well.

The weres and all the other supernatural creatures are still on the down low, but that situation can’t continue in the days of the intrusive, invasive, all-encompassing internet.

But Jane Yellowrock is none of those things. She’s something else altogether, something even she isn’t completely sure about. While she isn’t exactly a were, she’s probably closer kin to them than anything else. Because she can transform into an animal, full moon or no. Technically, she can transform into ANY animal, but her most familiar form is that of a female mountain lion, a creature who exists in her head as Beast.

Except when Beast stalks the night, and Jane exists in the back of Beast’s head.

It’s an uneasy alliance, made even more fraught by Jane’s belief that Beast remembers how they merged – as well as a whole lot of other things about Jane’s past – that Jane herself doesn’t remember. And that Beast is still mad about.

As the story begins, Jane has arrived in New Orleans at the surprising behest of the local Vampire Council. It’s surprising to Jane that she’s received this invitation/job offer because the job that Jane usually performs is hunting rogue vamps. And that’s just what the local council wants her to do – hunt a rogue vamp who has managed to elude them all – and make him, her or it true dead as fast as possible.

No matter what it takes. Or what it costs.

Escape Rating B+: First, I want to say that I had a whole lot of urban fantasy fun with Jane Yellowrock. This book had everything that I read urban fantasy for, a kickass protagonist with a mysterious background and otherworldly powers, a version of our world that is close enough to be familiar while different enough to be fascinating and a supernatural puzzle to solve that is not quite what it appears on the surface. Vampire politics add just the right amount of danger, depth and color to the story. The combination is always a win.

Jane Yellowrock strikes me as a combination of Joanne Walker, C.E. Murphy’s Urban Shaman with the post-Katrina New Orleans – along with the supernaturals and their neverending political shenanigans and grudges – of Suzanne Johnson’s Royal Street and her Sentinels of New Orleans series. From my perspective, that’s damn good company to be in.

But as much as I enjoyed the story, there were a couple of things that seriously niggled at me. One is just how different the world of 2020 feels from the world of the mid-2000s. In our current climate I don’t believe that the reveal of the existence of either vampires or witches would have gone nearly as smoothly as it does – and it hasn’t been completely smooth in Jane’s world either. Or perhaps their version of backlash is yet to come. But it feels like a more hopeful version of how things might go, in spite of the rogue vamp running around killing vampires, humans and animals all over New Orleans.

And the other thing that bothered me even more was a question about the Native American protagonist, her visions and memories of her past, and whether the interpretation of the character respected her heritage or constituted cultural appropriation. I know that I don’t know. It felt respectful, but it’s not my heritage so I’m not the best judge. And it made me wonder equally about the protagonist of the Walker Papers whose powers come from her Native American heritage.

And I’m just as bothered by the idea that when both of these books were originally published those questions might not have even been asked. And I’m not sure what to do with all of those thoughts.

But I liked Jane as a character, especially with the addition of Beast. The story is told from their first-person perspective, so we are inside both of their heads. That first person perspective takes on a different flavor when Beast is in the ascendant, and we experience the world through her not-completely animal nature. Beast sees the world differently from Jane – or from the reader – and there are plenty of times when Beast’s more direct approach feels like the right one. The push-pull between the two personalities has oodles of dramatic possibilities for future stories.

As does the intense level of vampire politicking. Their hierarchical structure feels positively Byzantine – and may well date back at least that far. The sheer level of convolution and posturing is reminiscent of Goddess with a Blade by Lauren Dane – also excellent company for an urban fantasy heroine. At the same time, the level of unfinished business that Jane has with Leo Pellisier, the vamp in control of NOLA, has a similar feel to the early Anita Blake books. The VERY early Anita Blake books.

Like much of urban fantasy, there is no romance in Skinwalker. There are possibilities hinted at for future stories, but at this beginning point, the people who have emerged as those possibilities are at the moment either too unstable, too dangerous, or too much asshole to be worth bothering with. The most likely possibilities have the longest journeys in front of them to make them remotely worthwhile so I’m happy she falls for none of them. Lusts after several, yes and rightly so from the sound of things. But none of them are relationship-worthy – at least not yet.

All things considered, I certainly had a good reading time with Jane Yellowrock. A more than good enough time that I’ll probably pick up the next book in the series, Blood Cross, when I want another urban fantasy fix.

Review: The Prince of Broadway by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: The Prince of Broadway by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayThe Prince of Broadway (Uptown Girls, #2) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Series: Uptown Girls #2
Pages: 376
Published by Avon on December 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the second novel in Joanna Shupe's the Uptown Girl series, a ruthless casino owner bent on revenge finds his plans upended by a beautiful woman who proves to be more determined than he is—and too irresistible to deny.

Powerful casino owner.Ruthless mastermind.Destroyer of men.

He lives in the shadows...

As the owner of the city's most exclusive casino, Clayton Madden holds the fortunes of prominent families in the palms of his hands every night. There is one particular family he burns to ruin, however, one that has escaped his grasp... until now.

She is society's darling...

Florence Greene is no one's fool. She knows Clayton Madden is using her to ruin her prestigious family... and she's using him right back. She plans to learn all she can from the mysterious casino owner—then open a casino of her own just for women.

With revenge on his mind, Clay agrees to mentor Florence. However, she soon proves more adept—and more alluring—than Clay bargained for. When his plans are threatened, Clay must decide if he is willing to gamble his empire on love.

My Review:

I picked this up because I loved the author’s Four Hundred series, of which the Uptown Girls are a spinoff. Admittedly I picked this entry in the series up in spite of not being all that fond of the first book, The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. That was a book where I really loved the hero but had serious problems with the heroine. Still, I liked the setting enough to try again.

And I’m glad I did. It helped that this time I liked spending time with both the hero and the heroine – and in spite of this being a sequel that happens mostly in parallel with the first story, I didn’t see much of that heroine – who happens to be this heroine’s sister.

Also, the series title always gives me an earworm for Billy Joel’s song Uptown Girl – and in spite of the near-century separating the song and the series, there is a surprising amount of resonance between the two.

This is a story about two people who have done their best – or worst – to wall themselves off from ever relying on anyone else ever again. It’s both ironic and the heart of the story that they are fighting this same battle from opposite corners because they are reacting to the same man robbing them both of their choices.

Francine’s father, Duncan Greene. Not that Clayton Madden really explains the situation to Francine – at least not until it is nearly too late.

Once upon a time, Duncan Greene bought up all the houses on Delancey Street, giving the families who owned and lived in those houses only a fraction of what they were worth. Clayton and his family ended up in the tenements, his father left, his brother died, and Clayton and his mother did their best to survive.

Now he owns one of the most successful gambling houses in New York City. And he has the money and influence he needs to get his revenge on Greene.

But Francine Greene, Duncan’s middle and seemingly most reckless daughter, has been invading his casino on a regular basis, not knowing Clayton’s past history with or present plans for her father. Francine has come to this high class gambling parlor because she wants to learn how to run one of her very own. And just as Madden’s Bronze House caters only to men, Francine intends that her establishment will cater only to women.

She’s a woman determined to control her own life – and quite possibly more than a bit ahead of her time. She’s definitely gotten under Clayton Madden’s skin.

But she wants a future and Madden is stuck getting recompense for the past. She wants a partner and he’s looking for a distraction. They are not remotely on the same page. Until they figure out that they are.

Not that either of them can admit until it is nearly too late.

Escape Rating B: This is a mixed feelings kind of review. Howsomever, I definitely liked this one way more than The Rogue of Fifth Avenue, because I liked Francine a whole lot more than I did her sister Mamie. I loved Frank, but something about Mamie drove me bananas.

(BTW you definitely do not need to read that first book to get into this second one. The action in the two stories is going on at the same time so one does not really come before the other.)

Francine and Clayton are absolutely combustible together. Their very much resolved sexual tension is off the charts every time they are in the same room. And all of the other kinds of tension between them crackle in every scene.

Part of the fun of this story is the way that Francine sets every single one of Clayton’s assumptions about women of what he believes are “her kind” on their ear and then stomps them down – hard. The whole point of Francine’s desire to open a casino for women is to take control of her own destiny. That includes not marrying, not being dependent on any man including – perhaps especially including – her own father, owning her sexuality and not pretending to be anything like what society expects her to be. At All. Ever.

Clayton is much more of the typical brooding romantic hero who doesn’t believe he’s worthy of the heroine’s love. We’ve met his type before in plenty of romances and not merely historical ones.

But Francine feels like a breath of fresh air in so many ways, because she is so very much herself. Part of what makes her so real is the way that she knows her own mind but always feels like she’s not quite acceptable and has never been enough. People interpret her actions a certain way because she’s a young, beautiful and rich woman. All she wants is to be accepted for herself as she is – without allowing herself to be molded the way that society forces women to be.

At the same time, as her sister Justine reminds her, so much of Francine’s attitude, and particularly her reaction to Clayton’s machinations, are very much “first world” problems.

Clayton’s plan to hurt her father by buying her grandmother’s house – the house that her father grew up in and that both she and her grandmother love – may be emotionally painful but not devastating. Her grandmother owns three other houses! It will hurt to lose the memories that are practically baked into the place but life will very definitely go on at the same level to which they are all accustomed. The family won’t even be damaged financially.

There are too many people in the New York City of the Knickerbocker Era – and today for that matter – who would be thrilled to be in the position her grandmother is in.

Justine’s accurately flung bucket of cold water douses much of the ire that Clayton’s actions arouse and blunts the emotional impact. That he lied to Francine about his plans is definitely a roadblock to their future happiness and he needs to – and does – an appropriate amount of groveling to win her back.

But the tension in the story loses some of its bite with Justine’s sharp reality check. But it IS a reality check that feels like it needs to be delivered.

I’m glad that the next story in the series features Justine. Because I think she’s going to find both love and a way to help a whole lot of people who need it in The Devil of Downtown. Probably with the only semi-willing assistance of that selfsame Devil.

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

To celebrate the release of THE PRINCE OF BROADWAY by Joanna Shupe, we’re giving away a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe to one lucky winner!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  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 1/31/2020 @ 11:59pm EST. 

Review: The Secret She Keeps by HelenKay Dimon + Giveaway

Review: The Secret She Keeps by HelenKay Dimon + GiveawayThe Secret She Keeps (Whitaker Island, #2) by HelenKay Dimon
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Whitaker Island #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on December 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


No matter where you run to…

Connor Rye seeks solace on remote Whitaker Island. When his first quiet evening ends with a blow to the head, it’s clear that nothing—and no one—is as it seems. Still haunted by his sister’s murder, he’s buried himself in work while trying to hold his family together. Now, when he has a minute to breathe, he knows better than to get involved with a stranger, but it might be too late to keep his distance.

Desire will find you...

For years she’s pretended to be someone else, but Maddie Rhine is done living in the shadows. Old habits are hard to kick however, and when her past follows her to Whitaker she’s forced to hide once more. Except with Connor. Effortlessly sexy Connor makes it difficult to ignore him. He sees right through her…and senses her fear.

Someone is watching her. And waiting for the right moment to strike. This time Connor vows to be ready.

My Review:

Whitaker Island is a very strange place. Not creepy, exactly, but definitely strange. And the population seems to self-select for weird. It’s so odd that it makes me wonder if it’s off the coast near Fogg Lake – but Whitaker isn’t quite THAT strange. Still strange, as are the people it attracts.

The Secret She Keeps continues the story of the isolated and very quirky Whitaker Island that began in Her Other Secret, as well as keeping up with the Rye family whose personal tragedy came to such a spectacular finale in the first book. I don’t think you absolutely HAVE to read the first to enjoy the second, but they are both the same kind of fun. If you like the one, you’ll like the other.

This time the action revolves around Connor Rye, now that his brother Hansen has cleared his name and returned to Seattle to pick up the pieces of his life with his fiance, the heroine of the first book.

The Rye family suffered a tragedy when Hansen and Connor’s sister was murdered by her husband – and the douchecanoe nearly got away with it. But that has finally been resolved, so the family is left to pick up the pieces.

While Hansen lost control, Connor got himself into too much control, suppressing his grief and burying himself in the work needed to keep the family business going. But now that the situation has been resolved, his coping methods have become a huge problem. To the point where he is literally working himself into an early grave.

And to the point where his family stages an intervention and sends him to Whitaker Island to relax, get his head on straight and deal with everything he’s suppressed for the past two years. In other words, he’s supposed to go on vacation and heal.

Instead he gets beaned on the head on his first night on the island, while being warned to leave ASAP. A relaxing start to vacation this is not.

But it is fascinating. And it certainly does take him completely out of himself – even once the concussion has healed.

There’s something about elusive, reclusive Maddie Rhine that intrigues Connor from their second meeting. And that fascination isn’t totally wrapped up in their first meeting – the one where she brained him with a chunk of firewood. It’s the “why” of that first meeting that feels like a mystery that Connor HAS to solve.

Maddie is on the island hiding from something, or someone. So, for that matter, is Connor. But Connor is hiding from himself, from dealing with his own emotions and processing his own grief. Maddie is hiding because someone really is after her. And they’re closing in.

Escape Rating B+: I picked this up because I enjoyed the first book in the series, Her Other Secret, quite a bit. It was excellent and absorbing mind candy. A whole lot of fun while reading if not necessarily memorable afterwards. But a good reading time was certainly had be all – or at least by moi.

I decided at the last minute to get on this tour because HelenKay Dimon has been one of the outspoken and appalled romance writers who provided sage counsel and rallied the forces of good during the ongoing Romance Writers of American implosion/explosion/salting-of-the-scorched-earth. She’s been one of the bigger sane but sad voices in this mess. Which made me want to read and review her latest book.

And, as I said, the first book was a whole lot of reading fun. Speaking of which, I’ll get down off my soapbox so I can get back to that.

As a place, Whitaker Island is an absolute hoot. The folks who have ended up living there seem to have self-selected for just slightly weird. No one is creepy or scary but everyone is at least a half-step off from the world outside of the island. The elderly couple who con people into walking their dog so they can get some “alone time” is both sweet and funny, and the way that the rest of the island’s inhabitants go along with the charade is peculiarly heartwarming.

I particularly love the way that the residents both gossip incessantly and stay out of each other’s real business at the same time. It has to be a gift.

But the story of this book really revolves around three characters, Connor, Maddie, and Maddie’s mysterious stalker. And that’s where things didn’t quite gel for me.

I get Connor and his walled off emotions. I’ve dated guys like that – although never ones so hot that I’d think of them of McHottiePants as Maddie does Connor. Still, that kind of emotional “walling off” is a phenomenon that I’ve run into – and generally away from. But it reads as all too real.

Maddie’s initial situation felt more like it veered into sensationalism. It was obvious pretty early on that she was in Witness Protection, so her reclusiveness and paranoia made logical sense. She was paranoid because she’d been trained to be that way by experts – because there really were people out to get her. With guns.

But her stalker, well, I knew who it was the minute he appeared on the page in person. And his motives didn’t quite make sense, or at least they didn’t to me. It felt like an attempt to add the stress and menace of a sexually obsessed stalker without the motive being actual sexual obsession. Admittedly the sexual obsession stalker as a way of putting a heroine in jeopardy is a trope I’m tired of, but this felt like an attempt to both have the cake and eat it. At the same time, his machinations and manipulations did a lot to ramp up the tension of the story as it raced towards its conclusion.

On my third – or is that fourth – hand, I did love the way that Maddie refused to continue a relationship with Connor unless he dealt with his own personal mess. She refused to be all in on a relationship where the other party was holding their real self completely back. She earned that HEA by standing for herself and holding out her hand for him to grab the lifeline, but being willing to step back if he couldn’t reach out. That ending was made of win.

I hope that there are future books in this series. We got a hint of a possible next romance – one that comes with some potential suspense already built in. And I’d love to see more of the quirky residents of this very off the beaten path – in more ways than one – island.

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

To celebrate the release of THE SECRET SHE KEEPS by HelenKay Dimon, we’re giving away a paperback set of the Whitaker Island Series by HelenKay Dimon to one lucky winner!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of Her Other Secret and The Secret She Keeps by HelenKay Dimon. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 1/31/2020 @ 11:59pm EST. 

Review: The Country Guesthouse by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Country Guesthouse by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Country Guesthouse (Sullivan's Crossing #5) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance, women's fiction
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #5
Pages: 336
Published by Mira on January 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A summer rental, a new beginning…

Hannah Russell’s carefully crafted plans for her life have been upended without warning. When her best friend died suddenly, Hannah became guardian to a five-year-old named Noah. With no experience at motherhood, she’s terrified she’s not up to the challenge. She and Noah need time to get to know each other, so she decides to rent a country house with stunning views on a lake in rural Colorado.

When they arrive at the house, they are greeted by the owner, a handsome man who promises to stay out of their way. But his clumsy Great Dane, Romeo, has other ideas and Noah immediately bonds with the lovable dog. As Hannah learns to become a mother, Owen Abrams, who is recovering from his own grief, can’t help but be drawn out of his solitude by his guests.

But life throws more challenges at this unlikely trio and they are tested in ways they never thought possible. All three will discover their strengths and, despite their differences, they will fight to become a family. And the people of Sullivan’s Crossing will rally around them to offer all of the support they need.

My Review:

It has been my experience that bosses who LOVE sending their staff on lots of “team building” retreats have other bad habits. Especially the ones who send the “team” but not themselves. Hannah’s boss seems to be the exception that proves the rule – lucky for her!

In the end, the only important thing about that team-building retreat is its location. Because it’s held in photographer Owen Abrams’ beautiful house across the lake from Sullivan’s Crossing. And as much as Hannah hates the retreat, she adores the house. Her escape by way of Sully’s general store only sweetens the deal and makes her long to return.

So she does, after two crises that would make anyone need to schedule a getaway from at least parts of the real.

Hannah returns home early from that retreat to find her about-to-be-ex fiance banging Hannah’s assistant in not just their house – that Hannah pays for – but their bed. She tosses them both out on their asses, him from her life and her from her job.

But that’s not the real crisis. In the end it’s just a blip on the radar. (He’s a blip, too.) Hannah’s best friend for nearly two decades, through college and beyond, dies suddenly of complications from pneumonia. Leaving Hannah as the grieving and scared but willing instant mother of her BFF’s 5 year old son.

So Hannah and Noah “escape” for two weeks in Sullivan’s Crossing. Hannah has rented Owen’s house while Owen is supposed to be on a photo shoot in Vietnam. But the shoot has been cancelled and Hannah needs the escape too badly to take a raincheck on the Airbnb rental.

She and Owen both expect to not see much of each other while she and Noah are there. Owen expects to live in his studio, as he often does when his plans fall through but the Airbnb doesn’t.

Instead, Owen’s dog Romeo and Noah bond instantaneously – and so do Owen and Hannah.

The surprising friendship blossoms rapidly, not just between the boy and the dog – or even the one between the two love-scarred adults. In two short weeks they are well on their way to being a family – even if none of them had the remotest thought such a thing could happen.

Extending Hannah’s vacation into an entire summer only makes it clearer that this family is meant to be – and meant to be in Sullivan’s Crossing. But every paradise has its own particular snake – and Sullivan’s Crossing is no different.

But Hannah is. She’s determined to make the best life possible for Noah, no matter what ugliness from his birth mother’s past tries to take it away. With the entire town of Sullivan’s Crossing standing squarely behind her.

Escape Rating B+: Sullivan’s Crossing and the nearby town of Timberlake just seem like a great place to live. Also a nice place to visit, as Hannah discovers during her escape from that disastrous team-building retreat.

One of the things I love about this type of small-town women’s fiction/contemporary romance is just how terrific these tiny towns are. Timberlake seems to have just enough of everything to make it a great place to live. And it’s within a half day drive of Denver – at least in good weather.

Hannah brings Noah to Sullivan’s Crossing because they need to get away from the location of their recent grief – even though the grief itself comes along with them. In Owen Abrams’ house they are not confronted with every single memory every single minute. They need this chance to bond as well as this respite to heal.

One of the things that makes this story special is the way that the town rallies around them when trouble comes calling. As it inevitably does. The past may be reaching out to grab them, but everyone in town stands ready, willing and able to help them beat it back.

That the nature of the trouble is not dissimilar to previous events in the series doesn’t mean that this time around isn’t just as heartwarming. The nature of the place just seems to bring it out of everyone who stays. (And this story stands alone, but the series is simply lovely, starting with What We Find. Just saying…)

The romance between Hannah and Owen feels like it happens just a bit too quickly, especially in a situation where Hannah is in the throes of re-figuring out her entire life. Owen’s response makes more sense – he’s been carrying his baggage for over a decade and Hannah and Noah are the catalyst that finally allows him to let some of it go.

But she’s just picked hers up, along with picking up Noah and working out their new life together. She’s grief-stricken at her friend’s death, she’s scared about being an instant mother, and she’s grateful for Noah’s presence in her life. But adding a romance feels like something that she would either shy away from or would be a bit co-dependent. Possibly both.

Which doesn’t mean that the romance between Owen and Hannah isn’t sweet, because it certainly is.

The blast from the past is frightening in a very real way. One thing that was very well done was the way that the reader initially thinks the problems will be coming from Hannah’s ex-fiance. That turns out to be a bit of easily resolved misdirection. The true threat is also carefully hidden. We know that Noah’s bio-family have never been part of his life, we think we know why, then we discover that the situation is both not quite what we thought but even more dangerous than we expected.

And the dog is a delight. Owen’s big, clumsy, adorable Great Dane, Romeo, steals hearts at every turn. Romeo and his person find their Juliet in Hannah – without the messy ending of his namesake.

I always adore visiting Sullivan’s Crossing, and my trip to The Country Guesthouse was no exception. I hope my next visit will be soon!

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Country Guesthouse to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Mark of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: Mark of Eon by Anna HackettMark of Eon (Eon Warriors #5) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Eon Warriors #5
Pages: 215
Published by Anna Hackett on December 29th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Oil and water. Fire and ice. Terran space marine and rugged alien warrior.
Space marine Lieutenant Jamie Park has a reputation as tough as steel…just the way she likes it. A horrible childhood and her marine training have forged her into a strong woman, and she’s never seen a fight she’d back down from. Taking on the voracious insectoid Kantos is her focus, even if that means being assigned to the Eon warship, the Desteron, and working with the one arrogant alien warrior who’s seen her vulnerable and weak.

Medical Commander Aydin Kann-Ath lives to be the perfect warrior and doctor. All his life, he's worked to restore his family's tarnished honor. He has no room in his life for anything but his work, and that includes a headstrong, battle-hardened Terran who -- even when injured -- refuses to follow orders. Yet every minute he spends with Jamie, she ignites both his temper and his desire, and he can't seem to stay away.

With every interaction, Aydin finds himself fascinated by Jamie's courage and spirit, and Jamie finds herself consumed by a fiery attraction that terrifies her. On a dangerous hunt to find symbiont lifeforms that have been stolen by the Kantos, the pair can't ignore their passionate connection. But the evil Kantos threaten not only their lives, but the fate of the galaxy, unless Jamie and Aydin sacrifice it all to stop them.

My Review:

The Eon Warriors series is exactly the kind of space opera type of science fiction romance that got me hooked on SFR in general and Anna Hackett in particular. My first Anna Hackett book was At Star’s End, the first in her Phoenix Adventures series, and I think I’ve read everything since. If I’ve missed one or two, I certainly haven’t missed much.

But they’ve been all over the SFR map. Hell Squad is post-apocalyptic, Galactic Gladiators is wormholes and rescued captives, Team 52 is Earthbound Stargate. They’ve all been fun, but I’d really been jonesing for more space opera when the Eon Warriors burst onto the SFR scene with Edge of Eon. And I was hooked all over again.

The first three books in the series, Edge of Eon, Touch of Eon and Heart of Eon form a strong unit. They’re almost a single story in the way that the action follows the Traynor sisters of Earth who have been coerced/convinced/strong-armed into doing some really stupid things to people and places in the Eon Empire out of a truly desperate need to get the Eons’ attention.

That Earth needs to be that desperate because they really, seriously, totally and completely screwed the pooch in Earth’s first contact with Eons is kind of icing on the cake. Humans and their phobias can turn us into serious assholes – and that’s pretty much what happened.

The Eons and the humans have a mutual enemy – the insectoid Kratos. (Someday I want to find out that the Kratos and the Gizzida – the enemies in Hell Squad – are cousins or something. Let’s just say there’s a serious family resemblance.)

The enemy of my enemy is my friend – or at least my ally. The humans, after all, were merely assholes to the Eons. The Kratos want to conquer and destroy. Assholishness definitely takes a back seat to that.

Notice I’m not saying that the Kratos are evil per se. For that matter neither are the Gizzida as a race. They are both acting out their species imperatives. It’s just that our species imperative – and that of the Eons – is diametrically opposed to theirs.

So, in the name of fighting that common enemy, the Eons and the humans have banded together for mutual aid. The humans needs the Eons a lot more than the Eons need the humans, or so it appears on the surface.

But the humans are used to fighting against enemies who are bigger, stronger, more technologically advanced and better equipped than they are – problems that the Eons haven’t faced in millennia, if at all.

And there’s just something about humans – something that hasn’t been studied yet but hopefully will be. Eons are only fertile with their true – or fated – mates – or in a test tube. They’ve been increasingly going the test tube route because they’ve been decreasingly finding their true mates. Until those pesky Traynor sisters got involved, proving that Eons can EASILY find their mates among the human population.

And that’s where we are in Mark of Eon. The Eons and the Terran Space Marines are conducting joint operations and officer exchanges, figuring out a way to work together to take the fight to their mutual foe.

Along the way, some individual Eon Warriors and some individual Space Marines keep discovering that, while they are all far from perfect, they can be perfect for each other.

“These are their stories…”

Escape Rating B: I couldn’t resist that tagline. It just fit.

But seriously, now that all three Traynor sisters have found their mates among the Eon Warriors, the romantic action of the series has moved to the officers and crew of the Terran space fleet as they cross-train with the Eon Warriors.

A pattern has emerged in this series, as often does in a long-running series. Each story has two elements, one from the overall arc and one the individual romance.

Taking the battle to the Kratos – or at least trying to advance that initiative, is the focus of the overall arc. The Kratos are as determined and seemingly as advanced as the Eons, so that arc moves one step forward and two steps back – or the other way around – in each book. And there’s always a scene where the hero and heroine are directly in danger from the Kratos and isolated from their ship and crew to add to the tension.

The romantic pairings have generally focused on two scarred people who make each other strong in their broken places. In the case of Terran Jamie Park and Eon Warrior and Medical Commander Aydin Kann-Ath, it’s a romance between two people who have never felt like they’ve been enough and have a difficult time believing that each might be enough for the other.

I enjoyed reading Mark of Eon, just as I have pretty much everything Anna Hackett has written. Because it hews so closely to a formula that has become a bit obvious, it qualified as good mind candy for me but didn’t rise to the stellar level as the first books in this series did.

But I can always be in the mood for good mind candy, and the Eon Warriors are definitely that – probably excellent eye candy as well. I’ll certainly be back for the next entry in this series – and anything else this author wants to send my way!

Review: Blood and Blade by Lauren Dane

Review: Blood and Blade by Lauren DaneBlood and Blade: Goddess with a Blade by Lauren Dane
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Goddess with a Blade #6
Pages: 384
Published by Carina Press on December 30th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Rowan Summerwaite is ready to finish what she started in
Blood and Blade
, the next installment in the Goddess with a Blade series by
New York Times
bestselling author Lauren Dane.

It’s been only days since Rowan and her friends eliminated the immediate threat to magic users and Vampires, but they’re already back on the hunt. Rowan’s out for vengeance, and she’s never been more driven—or angry. But she’s up against a being stronger than any she’s ever fought. To bring it down she’ll need more than the powers the goddess Brigid gave her…

This time she’ll need her friends, too.

She knows her husband will always have her back. As an ancient Vampire and Scion of North America, Clive has more clout and dominance than almost anyone. Rowan’s small but trusted inner circle insist they’ll join her in the thick of the battle, even as she argues it’s too dangerous for them. She’s also got a new dog. Familiar. Whatever. Star is a magical being put in Rowan’s path to help and protect her.

The hunt for ancient evil takes Rowan and her team to London and back to Las Vegas, bringing with them an unexpected alliance. Fortified by their rage, grief and determination, Rowan and her friends will stop at nothing when they track their enemy to the high desert in a final, deadly showdown.

This book is approximately 77,000 words

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

My Review:

This is the last day of 2019 and this is my final review of the year. It seemed fitting to close out the year with this book, the sixth book in the Goddess with a Blade series. Why? Because the first book in this series, the book for which the series was named, was the first book I ever reviewed from NetGalley back in 2011 when Reading Reality first started as Escape Reality, Read Fiction.

I still remember not just the book, but the whole scene, sitting at the table in the house we were living in at the time, racing through Goddess with a Blade accompanied by a glass of iced tea and being completely sucked into the world that the author had created.

(As an aside, the cover on the left is the original cover for Goddess with a Blade. I much preferred the original cover aesthetic for the series and wish that they’d continued in that direction. My 2 cents.)

So this is a series that I read and review pretty much as soon as the next one appears on NetGalley. And here we are, six books in and Rowan Summerwaite is very much still going strong. Goddess strong.

But this is the sixth book in an ongoing series, and the events in Blood and Blade are the direct consequences of the shit that went down in the previous book, Wrath of the Goddess. And the story in Wrath of the Goddess is a consequence of what went right and wrong in the previous books.

So this one is the end of the chain. It doesn’t feel like the end of the series, but it is definitely the end of the long arc. As someone who has read the whole thing – although not nearly recently enough, it felt like I could hear the thud of one door closing echoing throughout the entire book – along with the whisper-creak of the next door being wrestled open at the other side.

In other words, this is no place to start the series. It would be like watching Avengers: Endgame without watching any of the movies that led up to it. The endgame has no resonance without knowing where the game began.

But if you’re looking for a fascinating and compelling blend of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, this series has all the mysterious mythology, arrogant but romantic vampires, ugly political infighting and kickass heroines you’ll ever want to meet.

Start with Goddess with a Blade and watch Rowan Summerwaite kick ass, take names and bring down corruption with a load of snark, a lot of deeply hidden heart, and one really big-ass sword.

Escape Rating B+: You can’t start the series here. Period. Exclamation point. It just won’t make any sense whatsoever. That being said, there is so much that still needs cleaning up that has been festering for so damn long that it was a bit difficult to get back into exactly where Rowan was at the end of Wrath of the Goddess and what’s left to clean up.

What I loved about this series from the very beginning is the depth of the worldbuilding. One of the things that I’ve always loved about urban fantasy is the way that it twists on the world we know and adds so much depth, both in its mythology and in its politics. Immortal beings tend to hold immortal grudges and I really dig on watching that play out in the modern world.

Another thing I love about this series in particular is the way that Rowan in particular, as well as her relationship with Clive, reminds me very fondly of Eve Dallas and Roarke in the In Death series. Rowan and Eve have a LOT of traits in common, to the point that if their worlds ever collided they’d either adopt each other as sisters or fight to the death because they are too much alike. But they both have the kind of no-nonsense attitude with full snarkitude, that I adore along with the brains and strength to back it up.

I compare their relationship to Eve and Roarke because Rowan and Clive also start out on what look like the opposite sides of a barbed-wire fence and work out their relationship early in the series. Dane, like Robb, does an excellent job of portraying a romance that is still sweet, hot and occasionally barbed between two strong-willed alpha personalities and that’s always fun to watch.

This series has been a wild and marvelous ride from the very beginning. It is obvious from the way that Blood and Blade ends that there are more stories to be told in Rowan’s world – and I can’t wait to read them.

Review: Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield

Review: Alice Payne Arrives by Kate HeartfieldAlice Payne Arrives (Alice Payne, #1) by Kate Heartfield
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, science fiction, steampunk, time travel
Series: Alice Payne #1
Pages: 171
Published by Tor.com on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A disillusioned major, a highwaywoman, and a war raging across time.

It’s 1788 and Alice Payne is the notorious highway robber, the Holy Ghost. Aided by her trusty automaton, Laverna, the Holy Ghost is feared by all who own a heavy purse.

It’s 1889 and Major Prudence Zuniga is once again attempting to change history―to save history―but seventy attempts later she’s still no closer to her goal.

It’s 2016 and . . . well, the less said about 2016 the better!

But in 2020 the Farmers and the Guides are locked in battle; time is their battleground, and the world is their prize. Only something new can change the course of the war. Or someone new.

Little did they know, but they’ve all been waiting until Alice Payne arrives.

My Review:

The problem with wanting to change things is that things change. The road to Hell is always paved with good intentions. The problem with humanity is, well, humans.

And wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey bits have a way of biting everyone in the ass – every single time.

Time travel has always been an irresistible idea for SF and other genres to play with and things always seem to turn out alright in the end. For values of “alright” that seem to be relatively definable. Or at least reasonably fixable.

The time travel in Alice Payne’s version of history – or rather versions of history – turns out to be not nearly so simple. Or half so easily fixable. And it makes so much sense – in a really, really horrible sort of way.

It all goes back to that road to Hell and those good intentions. Mostly.

Some of the damage is already present. From the perspective of the future, global warming and a whole bunch of other crap that we’re already dealing with has sent the planet into a state of anarchy by the time that time travel is invented.

And then there was bureaucracy – a hell in itself – but a hell created with the noble goal of going back in time to make things better. The problem with that little idea is “who decides”? One person’s meat is another person’s poison. One person’s better is someone else’s worse. Not to mention that there is no universal definition of “better”. We all think we know, but the devil is in those terrible details. Which leads, directly and inexorably, to rival factions of time travelers – or perhaps that should be time meddlers – who are just absolutely certain that their way is the right way.

Also, there’s the issue that every writer of alternate history runs into. Once you flap the butterfly’s wings in a different direction or a different rhythm, the changes ripple out forever and in ways that were never expected. A change that looks good at the outset may lead to terrible consequences later.

“Millions will die who did not die in what would have been our history.” If that line sounds familiar, it’s what Spock tells Kirk in the TOS episode The City on the Edge of Forever when he realizes that the woman Kirk loves, the woman at the foundation of a peace movement, has to die so that her peace movement doesn’t delay the entry of the U.S. into World War II – allowing Hitler to rise to global dominion. The peace movement looked like a wonderful thing – and in another time and another place it might have been. But there and then the immediate good thing led to a terrible consequence. And the needs of the many always outweigh the needs of the few or of the one.

Prudence Zuniga in 2070 believes that it all has to end. That every attempt to change history “for the better” is only making things worse and rippling that worse further back into history. That it’s time to end the tinkering, let the chips fall where they may, and move forward and only forward into a single future – whatever it might be.

Not that she’s not going to make one last play to make sure that her faction of the history changers wins the “History Wars”. She just needs one person in 1788 to fix a few last minute details.

She plans to involve a tinkerer, but ends up with a highwayman – or rather a highwaywoman, Alice Payne. So Prudence changes her plans – just a bit. And finds herself in the midst of that old dilemma, the one about the problem with changing things is that things change.

And change, and change, and change.

Escape Rating B: Alice Payne’s ride has echoes and origins in many time travel stories, from Doctor Who to The Chronicles of St. Mary’s to The Anubis Gates to The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. But Alice Payne isn’t nearly so lighthearted as that dog.

The difference is that most of those stories try their damnedest not to change the history they explore. They kind of operate on a temporal version of the Prime Directive – to add in another Star Trek reference. They are trying NOT to change things and they do worry very much about the ‘grandfather paradox’.

What makes Alice Payne’s, or rather Prudence Zuniga’s, story feel so probable in its improbability is that no one is careful. It feels all too true to human nature that if the capability of time travel existed that it would be abused and only make things worse.

The story feels like it is set up to parallel the situations of Alice Payne and Prudence Zuniga. While the series is named after Alice, it feels like it is as much Prudence’s story – and more about Prudence’s time(s) and the mess that the world has gotten itself into than it is about Alice.

At the same time – so to speak – as a character Alice has more drive and ambition. And we get more inside her head – possibly because it’s a much less convoluted place that Prudence’s. After all, Alice knows who she is and what she’s doing and as far as she knows that doesn’t change. She’s in the late 1800s doing the best she can to hide her love for her friend Jane, dodge the amorous attentions of several disgusting men AND keep her family’s house halfway livable and her father out of debtor’s prison by posing as a highwayman and robbing the coaches of the aforementioned disgusting men.

Prudence is trying to stop time travel. Alice’s story is easy. It takes the reader a while to understand why Prudence feels like she needs to essentially commit treason – and we get enough to grasp what’s wrong by the tip of our reading fingernails without understanding it in quite as much depth as I’d like. The ending felt both a bit rushed and a bit of a tease for the next book in the series.

I’m quite teased. I’ll definitely be back to see where Alice Payne Rides take her – and us – next.

Guest Review: Hard Duty by Mark E. Cooper

Guest Review: Hard Duty by Mark E. CooperHard Duty (Merkiaari Wars #1) by Mark E. Cooper
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Series: Merkiaari Wars #1
Pages: 388
Published by Impulse Books UK on August 20, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Humanity's last encounter with aliens saw sixteen point two billion people killed in a war with the Merkiaari that had spanned decades.

Two hundred years later, the Alliance is cautiously exploring beyond its borders again, but the survey corp. is considered a mere gesture by some. General Burgton of the 501st Infantry Regiment believes a lack of expansion is leading the Alliance into stagnation. So when one small ship discovers a new alien race, it should be an easy decision to make contact, but what if the aliens are like the Merkiaari?

Captain Jeff Colgan of the survey ship ASN Canada is at the tip of the spear. His ship made the discovery, his crew's lives are on the line, and his decisions will decide the outcome. Will the Alliance make new friends or will he be responsible for another sixteen billion deaths? When the aliens discover his ship and begin hunting him through their system, his mission changes from one of study to one of survival.

Guest Review by Amy:

Two hundred years ago, when humankind met the Merkiaari, it resulted in over sixteen billion deaths, and an enduring fear of space exploration. Now, as humankind reaches out into the darkness once more, they’re more careful about it. When Jeff Colgan’s ship, the ASN Canada, hears a radio transmission of unknown origin, they have to investigate – carefully.

If it’s the Merki, that’s really bad, of course. If it’s not their mysterious, hated enemy, then they have to find out if they are as bad or worse. If not that, then they need to convince this other race to not be so noisy, so as not to attract the Merkiaari’s attention!

Escape Rating: B: There’s a lot going on in this book. Besides the viewpoint of the Alliance folks who have discovered the new race (they call themselves the Shan), we spend a fair amount of time exploring their lives. Meanwhile, in another part of the galaxy, seemingly unconnected with this drama out in the hinterlands, we have a Viper at work. Vipers are the souped-up humans who made it possible to defeat the Merkiaari back when, we’re told, and many of them still work for the Alliance now, as our man Eric does. Eric’s on a mission, to infiltrate a guerrilla movement on some planet that is trying to decide if they should join the Alliance – I think?

It’s very confusing, having this one plot line that doesn’t seem connected to the other two. What redeemed this book for me was that all three are colorfully written stories in their own right, any one of which I’d be happy to read. Eric’s Viper story is certainly action-packed and engaging, but I don’t see a lot of connection between it and the first-contact situation with the Shan. The disparate stories at work here distract somewhat from the otherwise high quality of the work, and having both ends of the galaxy end the book on hairy cliffhangers was a little bit off-putting.

One of the most-impressive parts of this book, for me, was the new race, the Shan. They’re technologically advanced, yet still have a jungle-predator culture, in many ways. Cooper’s descriptions of these beings, their relationships and their culture are all richly described, and the first-contact scenario could easily have come out of any of Star Trek‘s incarnations without looking like a misfit. The stress on the scenario of needing to stay hidden from the Merkiaari adds some good tension to this plot line, and kept me reading through to the tantalizing end.

I’m still left wondering what the point of the Viper plot line was, but there are seven books planned in this series, so perhaps Mark Cooper will make things clearer in later books.

Hard sci-fi: check! Adventure: check! Cloak-and-dagger: check! First contact with alien race: check! Satisfaction: …not so much.

Review: The Wicked Redhead by Beatriz Williams

Review: The Wicked Redhead by Beatriz WilliamsThe Wicked Redhead: A Wicked City Novel by Beatriz Williams
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Series: Wicked City #2
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on December 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this follow-up to The Wicked City, New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams combines past and present in this delicious Jazz Age adventure featuring a saucy redheaded flapper, the square-jawed Prohibition agent who loves her, and a beautiful divorcee trying to remake her life in contemporary New York.

New York City, 1998: When Ella Gilbert discovers her banker husband is cheating on her, she loses both her marriage and the life she knew. In her new apartment in an old Greenwich Village building, she’s found unexpected second love with Hector, a musician who lives upstairs. And she’s discovered something else, just as surprising—a connection to the mesmerizing woman scandalously posed in a vintage photograph titled Redhead Beside Herself.

Florida, 1924: Geneva “Gin” Kelly, a smart-mouthed flapper from Appalachia, barely survived a run-in with her notorious bootlegger stepfather. She and Oliver Anson, a Prohibition agent she has inconveniently fallen in love with, take shelter in Cocoa Beach, a rum-running haven. But the turmoil she tried to leave behind won’t be so easily outrun. Anson’s mother, the formidable Mrs. Marshall, descends on Florida with a proposition that propels Gin back to the family’s opulent New York home, and into a reluctant alliance. Then Anson disappears during an investigation, and Gin must use all her guile and courage to find him.

Two very different women, separated by decades. Yet as Ella tries to free herself from her ex, she is also hunting down the truth about the captivating, wicked Redhead in her photograph—a woman who loved and lived fearlessly. And as their link grows, she feels Gin urging her on, daring her to forge her own path, wherever it leads.

My Review:

I picked up The Wicked Redhead because I absolutely loved this author’s A Certain Age, and liked the predecessor to this, The Wicked City well enough. So I signed up to see what happened next.

Unlike most of this author’s books, which are loosely connected with some of the same people slipping in and out of the story, The Wicked Redhead is a direct sequel to The Wicked City. The action in this book picks up immediately where the other left off – broken bones, bruises and all.

Meaning that while most of this author’s books seem to stand well alone – the connections between them are quite loose – it feels really necessary to have read The Wicked City before The Wicked Redhead – and possibly recently at that – otherwise the story feels very much like it starts in the middle. It took me a bit to feel like I had caught up – or back – to where this story begins as I read The Wicked City almost three years ago..

But one of the other differences between the Wicked City series and the author’s other books is that the connection all the others share – along with these two, is a setting among the glitterati of New York City during the Roaring 20s. A period that roared because of all the illegal booze coming into the city and being fought over both in and out of it.

In other words, during Prohibition. (BTW there is an absolutely fantastic Prohibition Museum in Savannah – but I seriously digress.)

What makes this series different is that unlike the author’s other works, this is a time slip story. In both books, the framing story revolves around Ella in the late 1990s, about to divorce her seriously slimy soon-to-be-ex and living in the building next door to the Speakeasy where the 1920s action of that first book takes place.

As Ella can hear the music of the past – literally – her story frames that of Geneva Kelly, the redhead of the title. Also the step-daughter of one of those rumrunner kingpins and the lover of an FBI agent out to fight the trade in illicit booze – albeit mostly because of the even worse crime that surrounds it.

At the end of The Wicked City, Geneva, now former FBI agent Anson Marshall, and Geneva’s little sister Patsy are on the run after the death of her stepfather at their hands. (The two adults’ hands, not little Patsy!)

They run to Cocoa, Florida, straight to Anson’s friends Simon and Virginia, the protagonists of Cocoa Beach.

And that’s where the story really begins, as the FBI reaches out its rather dirty – at least in this instance – hands to grab Anson back again. And then proceeds to lose him.

Gin Kelly isn’t a woman for sitting around and waiting for other people to take care of her business for her. With the help of, of all people, Anson’s mother – a woman who hates Gin’s from the top of her redhead to the bottom of her low-class (at least according to Mrs. Marshall) feet, Gin sets out to find and rescue the man she loves.

While back in the 1990s, Ella works to discover who Gin really was and why the rare, beautiful and quite salacious “art” photos of “The Redhead” have landed in her lap.

Escape Rating B-: The difficulty with time slip fiction usually revolves around how to handle the two separate timelines. When the slip in time revolves around the main character moving back and forth – as in Outlander – focusing on that character takes care of the dilemma. But in most timeslip fiction the story slips between two interconnected time periods – with separate casts in each.

That’s the case here as Ella’s story in 1998 connects to Gin’s story in 1924 through that photograph of “The Redhead” and Ella’s residence in the NYC apartment building that Gin used to own, as well as a connection through a whole lot of people in 1998 whose past back in the 1920s is connected one way or another to Gin Kelly – connections that Ella uncovers – or that they uncover to her – in the course of this story.

And that’s where this one fell down for me. I found Gin’s story absolutely fascinating – as I did in The Wicked City. But Ella’s story was much less interesting – but with all of those discoveries it  was more of it than just a framing story. If we had stayed back in 1924 with Gin and her lovers, friends and enemies – as we did in the marvelous A Certain Age with Anson’s mother! – I’d have been a happy reader.

But Ella’s story – which I found unnecessary in The Wicked City – I just didn’t care for at all this time around. Having her discover that she was pregnant by the ex-husband she left in the first book seemed like just a way of screwing up her life – a life which had plenty of problems already without adding a very untimely pregnancy into the mix. Your reading mileage may vary.

Gin’s story on the other hand was a wild thrill ride complete with epic betrayals, high highs, low lows, boat chases, pirates and a desperate race against the odds. I could have followed her story all day – or at least most of a night of good reading. And I wish this story had stuck with her – because, as one of the characters says – Gin draws all eyes to her the instant she steps into the room and keeps them focused there until after she’s left.

So read this one for Gin and the rumrunners. Her story is worth a book all of its own.

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Review: My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh + Giveaway

Review: My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh + GiveawayMy Fake Rake (Union of the Rakes, #1) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Union of the Rakes #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on November 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the first book in Eva Leigh's new Union of the Rakes series, a bluestocking hires a faux suitor to help her land an ideal husband only to be blindsided by real desire…

Lady Grace Wyatt is content as a wallflower, focusing on scientific pursuits rather than the complications of society matches. But when a handsome, celebrated naturalist returns from abroad, Grace wishes, for once, to be noticed. Her solution: to "build" the perfect man, who will court her publicly and help her catch his eye. Grace's colleague, anthropologist Sebastian Holloway, is just the blank slate she requires.

In exchange for funding his passage on an expedition leaving London in a few months, Sebastian allows Grace to transform him from a bespectacled, bookish academic into a dashing—albeit fake—rake. Between secret lessons on how to be a rogue and exaggerated public flirtations, Grace's feelings for Sebastian grow from friendship into undeniable, inconvenient, real attraction. If only she hadn't hired him to help her marry someone else...

Sebastian is in love with brilliant, beautiful Grace, but their bargain is complete, and she desires another. Yet when he's faced with losing her forever, Sebastian will do whatever it takes to tell her the truth, even if it means risking his own future—and his heart.

My Review:

In nature, it is often the male of the species who displays the bright plumage, while the female sports shades of beige and grey and is capable of hiding in the shadows. Just look at the difference between a peacock and a peahen for an obvious example.

Examples from the natural world feel like “natural” parallels for this story as both the hero and the heroine of this tale are natural scientists, as the term was in their time. Sebastian Holloway studies the behaviors of people – at least when he can get the funds, and Lady Grace Wyatt studies reptiles and amphibians – at least as long as her parents will let her.

The story in My Fake Rake tiptoes through several romantic tropes on its way to reaching its happy ending. But it begins in the past – or at least in Sebastian Holloway’s past. A time when, at Eton, the son of a rich manufacturer and not a son of the aristocracy like his schoolmates, the scientifically bent Sebastian found himself in all day detection for, of all things, defacing library books. Which I admit, should be a crime.

But he served that detention with some of those scions of the aristocracy who usually shunned him – and found himself in a lifelong friendship with his fellow sufferers. The Union of the Rakes that provides the title for this series reads a bit like a Regency version of The Breakfast Club!

Now Sebastian is an adult, as are his friends. And his penchant for arguing with the contents of his library books has turned into a lifelong love of science that his practical father refuses to support. He has to scrape pennies to fund his bookish habits and his anthropological expeditions.

It’s at his favorite scientific subscription library that Sebastian became friends with Lady Grace Wyatt, daughter of the Earl of Pembroke. Lady Grace, like Sebastian, is a scientist, but her specialty is herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles. So far, her family has supported her bluestocking tendencies, but her father’s sudden illness has made her parents rethink – not their support – but the need for someone to secure their daughter’s future.

They want her to marry. She wants to marry Mason Fredericks, a fellow scientist, a member of the aristocracy, and a man who seems to have no end of funds with which to pursue his many expeditions. Marrying Fredericks will allow her to continue her own scientific endeavors as his partner – where most men would tolerate her proclivities at best and forbid them at worst.

All she needs to do is to get Fredericks to notice her as a woman and not just as a fellow scientist. And for that, she needs the help of her good friend Sebastian. If Sebastian can pretend to be both interested in Grace and a man to be envied by other men – in other words – a confident rake – Fredericks will find her more “valuable” because another man values her.

It’s an idea that makes Grace a bit sick, but she knows it will work. If Sebastian is willing. And able to set aside his crippling shyness. And if both of them can manage to ignore anything they might feel for each other beyond friendship.

The shyness should be the most difficult thing for Sebastian to overcome. It isn’t. The heart wants what the heart wants, no matter what the head is telling it – or how loudly.

Escape Rating B: After that “Breakfast Club” opening, the pursuit of My Fake Rake, and the fake rake’s pursuit of his lady, runs through four different romantic tropes on its way to its happy ending – and does so with a certain amount of aplomb.

Some of that aplomb is supplied by Sebastian’s friend the Duke of Rotherby, who provides the money for Sebastian’s rakish wardrobe as well as the lessons needed for Sebastian to acquire a veneer of the confidence that a true rake wields without a moment’s thought.

But at its heart My Fake Rake is a friends into lovers story. Grace and Sebastian have known each other for four years when the story takes place. They share a love of scientific exploration and discovery and a shared bent for intelligent conversation and quiet reading. They like each other, they spend time together, and they enjoy each other’s company.

And they know each other well enough that Sebastian knows that Grace has a tendre for Fredericks and she doesn’t hesitate to ask him for what is really a rather huge favor.

That favor tips the story into the second and third tropes, the fake relationship combined with the extreme makeover/Pygmalion/My Fair Lady trope. One of the refreshing things about this story is that it’s really “My Fair Gentleman” as it’s Sebastian who needs to be made over in this scheme. Grace is just fine as she is. She’s hidden her beauty behind her mind, not a pair of spectacles – although Sebastian certainly hides his handsome face behind his.

When their scheme works, and a bit too well, they also separately discover that the parts they have played have become real – as so often happens in stories based on a fake relationship. The issue for Grace and Sebastian is that they then trip headlong into an epic misunderstandammit that takes him to Northumberland and nearly takes her to Greenland.

While it feels as if it’s more like societal expectations have pushed them into their costly and painful silence, I always find the angst involved in a misunderstandammit a bit hard to take. In this case it takes an epic rescue worthy of any rake reformed to get this romance back on track.

So even though they nearly lost each other when a simple honest conversation would have gotten them past their stumbling block, I did understand why they both felt like they weren’t in a position where they could have that conversation.

It takes the Duke of Rotherby, a romantically inclined yacht and a desperate climb up a wet, swaying rope to get our hero and heroine back where they belong.

A terrific time is finally had by all – except the Duke of Rotherby. Lucky for him, the next book in the series, Would I Lie to the Duke, will give him his own happy ever after. He’s certainly earned it by his efforts in this story!

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

To celebrate the release of My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh, we’re giving away three paperback copies of the book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. Three winners will each receive a paperback copy of My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 12/15/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly.