Review: Desert Hunter + Pets in Space 3 Spotlight + Giveaway

Review: Desert Hunter + Pets in Space 3 Spotlight + GiveawayEmbrace the Passion (Pets in Space Anthologies, #3) by S.E. Smith, Anna Hackett, Ruby Lionsdrake, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, E.D. Walker, Tiffany Roberts, Carol Van Natta, Alexis Glynn Latner, J.C. Hay, Kyndra Hatch
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Pets in Space #3
Pages: 1305
on October 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Pets in Space is back! Join us as we unveil eleven original, never-before-published action-filled romances that will heat your blood and warm your heart! New York Times, USA Today and Award-winning authors S.E. Smith, Anna Hackett, Ruby Lionsdrake, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Carol Van Natta, Tiffany Roberts, Alexis Glynn Latner, E D Walker, JC Hay, and Kyndra Hatch combine their love for Science Fiction Romance and pets to bring readers sexy, action-packed romances while helping our favorite charity. Proud supporters of HeroDogs.org, Pets in Space authors have donated over 4,400 in the past two years to help place specially trained dogs with veterans. Open your hearts and grab your limited release copy of Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 3 today!

My Review of Desert Hunter by Anna Hackett

Because Desert Hunter is a short story, this is going to be a short review. Especially since I have plenty to share with you about Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 3 – the anthology that this story is included in.

Desert Hunter is also part of Anna Hackett’s absolutely marvelous Galactic Gladiators series. The story of the Galactic Gladiators and the women (and men) who love them begins in Gladiator, but Desert Hunter is a fine story to give you a taste of this fascinating world.

FIEND!

The hero and heroine of Desert Hunter are neither gladiators nor are either of them part of the kidnapped Earth crew – not that they don’t have ties to both. But those ties are tangential to this story. Bren, Mersi and the all important Fiend are all Carthago natives, and the inherent cruelty of the place and its corrupt power structures have scarred them all.

Bren and Mersi’s romance is a combination of the classic tropes of friends-into-lovers and hero-feels-unworthy. Yes, I know that second one isn’t really a named trope, but it ought to be. Bren and the caravan captain Corsair saved Mersi’s life back when she was a runaway slave. While Corsair has found his own happiness with one of the Earth crew, Bren has loved Mersi while keeping himself apart from her – not willing to even see that she loves him as well.

It takes the intervention of a big, hairy, matted dog named Fiend to show Bren that his taint is no bar to being loved and wanted, and that he does have plenty to give, and not just to Mersi. And that even the scarred and broken ones are still worthy of being loved.

The message that it isn’t what you are but what you do that matters is lovely. Of course Fiend steals every scene he’s in – and that’s just how it should be.

Escape Rating B+

Spotlight on Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 3

It’s no secret that I loved the previous Pets in Space collections, Pets in Space and Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 2. And that I also really love Anna Hackett’s work, so when Anna asked if I’d be willing to do a spotlight for the latest collection AND that she would let me host a giveaway for one of the Galactic Gladiators titles, I was all in. I would love to have a review of the entire Pets in Space 3 collection to accompany this spotlight, but the book just came out yesterday and even I don’t read that fast. Besides, I do love these collections and want the chance to savor every story.

You will too.

So, just to whet your appetite a bit, take a look at the descriptions of the rest of the stories in this collection – then get them while they’re hot! Or cool, or lukewarm, or whatever body temperature each member of this intergalactic menagerie prefers. And don’t be put off by the stories that are series entries. Like Desert Hunter, these are meant to serve as introductions to their series – not that you won’t want to add the rest of each series to your TBR pile the minute you’re finished. I know I will!

HEART OF THE CAT
By S.E. Smith
Series: Sarafin Warriors Book 3

Prince Walkyr d’Rojah’s mission is to find an ancient artifact known as the Heart of the Cat, a revered gem that holds the mystical power that connects his people with their cat-form. He isn’t the only one searching for the Heart. A secret sect determined to overthrow the royal families wants the power contained in the gem, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to obtain it.

Trescina Bukov’s affinity and ability to care for large cats has taken her all over the world. A frantic call from a rescue group compels her to fly to Wyoming in the western part of the United States. She is confused and wary when she discovers the injured leopard is more than he seems.

Walkyr is shocked when the human female caring for him connects with his leopard and recognizes who he is. Now, he has to contend with the assassins who followed him, his leopard who wants to claim the woman, and find out why all the clues in his search for the Heart of the Cat are pointing to a planet so far from home.

When Walkyr discovers the secret that Trescina has been hiding, he is forced to make a difficult decision: let her go, or kidnap her and return with her to his world. Can Walkyr convince Trescina that their lives are bound in more ways than one or will she flee, taking her secret and the future of the Sarafin species with her?

QUASHI
By Ruby Lionsdrake
Series: The Mandrake Company

“If she’d had a hand free, she would have scratched her head. Lab rats didn’t trill, did they?”

When Chanda decided to finagle her way into a job she wasn’t qualified for, she didn’t expect to end up on a ship full of hulking mercenaries. They’re rude, crude, and so covered with scars and tattoos that she can’t imagine any woman being interested in them. Except perhaps for the soft-spoken doctor with the haunted eyes.

She would love to know more about him, especially since he stares at the game logo on her T-shirt rather than her breasts, but a little problem comes aboard the ship at the same time she does. Quashi. Furry alien fluff balls with stubby legs and very expressive antennae. Are they harmless – or a danger to the ship? And why were they in a box labeled lab rats?

When some of the creatures go missing and systems start malfunctioning, Chanda is assigned the task of quashi wrangler. Though she’s worried she isn’t qualified, the intriguing doctor is also sent to help, and she’s determined not to fail in front of him. Maybe this is her chance to find out what network games he plays and why his past troubles him. But as the lights flicker and the ship’s life support systems are threatened, Chanda realizes there might not be time for romance. If they can’t round up the missing quashi before it’s too late, she may never see home again.

STAR CRUISE: MYSTERY DANCER
By Veronica Scott
Series: The Sectors SF Romance Series

Tassia Megg is a woman on the run after the death of her elderly guardian. Her search to get off the planet in a hurry comes when chance directs her to an open dance audition for the luxury cruise liner Nebula Zephyr’s resident troupe. If there is one thing Tassia can do, it is dance!

Security Officer Liam Austin is suspicious of the newest performer to join the Comettes. She shows all the signs of being a woman on the run and seems to fit the Sectors-wide broadcast description of a missing thief, accused of stealing priceless artifacts. As he gets to know Tassia during the cruise, he starts to wonder if she’s something more – a long vanished princess in hiding from deadly political enemies of her family perhaps? And what’s the story with the three-eyed feline companion other crew members swear Tassia brought aboard the ship? Does the animal even exist?

As the ship approaches its next port of call, all the issues come to a boil and Liam must decide if he’ll step in to help Tassia or betray her. Life is about to get very interesting aboard the Nebula Zephyr as Liam tries to uncover the truth. Could F’rrh, the peculiar alien cat he has been hearing about, be the key to the mystery and Tassia’s fate?

OPERATION ARK
By Pauline Baird Jones
Series: Project Enterprise

She’s a USMC Sergeant deployed to the Garradian Galaxy.

He was raised by the robots who freed him from slavery.

It’s a match made nowhere anyone can figure out.

They clashed as enemies but joined forces to defeat a common foe. Now they’re tasked with returning some freed prisoners to their home worlds. In the next galaxy. With an alien, a robot, and a caticorn. It was a bar joke without a punch line, though Carolina City has a feeling it is out there—like the truth.

Kraye isn’t eager to return to his galaxy where the dark secret of his past lays in wait, but he’s willing to risk it in hopes that Caro can teach him what the robots couldn’t: how to be human.

Together they must face a dangerous journey, a lethal enemy with a score to settle, their unexpected desire, and an uncertain future if they make it out alive.

Can Caro and Kraye navigate the minefields—both emotional and space based—to land a happy homecoming for the sentient animals in their care? Can the man raised by robots learn how to kiss the girl while the starchy Marine decides if she is willing to bend the rules for a happy ever after? Don’t miss Pauline Baird Jones’ newest Project Enterprise story!

CATS OF WAR
by Carol Van Natta
Series: A Central Galactic Concordance Novella

Military Sub-Captain Kedron Tauceti counts the days until he can leave the rare metals factory and his current duty station as the liaison to the Criminal Restitution and Indenture Obligation system. The post was protection—and punishment—for exposing a theft ring in his previous assignment. He’s more than ready to get his career back on track on a new base halfway across the galaxy, even if it means leaving behind the one person who makes him want to stay. Not that he’s told her, because technically, he’s her warden.

Former financial specialist and current indenturee Ferra Barray, hiding from her past, only has three months to go on her restitution sentence. She’s lucked into a tech repair job, and If she keeps her head down, she’ll be free to figure out her future. Unfortunately, the local boss behind every illegal scheme in the facility wants her to steal for him, and she’s running out of excuses. And now the heroically handsome Tauceti, who she hoped could help, is transferring out.

Everything changes when Ferra discovers two genetically modified cats. Saving them takes incredible risks. She doesn’t know what she’ll do if she can’t convince Tauceti to take them with him and keep them until she’s free to come for them.

When trouble erupts at the factory, it might just be the cats who save them. Find out what happens in this exciting stand-alone novella from Carol Van Natta’s award-winning Central Galactic Concordance space opera series.

HUNTER OF THE TIDE
By Tiffany Roberts
Series: The Kraken #3

HIS SOLACE AND HIS HOPE

Randall Laster crossed Halora to hunt the kraken, sea monsters that weren’t supposed to be real. Betrayed by men he trusted, he was left to die. Instead, he finds himself living with the beings once meant to be his prey. Randall struggles to find his place amongst the kraken and to find a purpose to the new course his life has taken. Hope comes in two unexpected forms: an injured, amphibious sea creature in need of care, and Rhea, a strong-willed kraken who’s made no secret of her interest in him. Can he reconcile the tensions between humans and kraken and look beyond their differences so that he can claim Rhea as his own, or will old prejudices and hostilities tear them apart forever?

STARWAY
By Alexis Glynn Latner

Starway is an interstellar hotel that offers guests something to satisfy almost any wish—even wishes they didn’t know they had.

Nikka Steel is a lonely interstellar pilot. Danyel Parry is a wealthy passenger’s mistreated consort. When they find each other in Starway, they discover how much they have in common, including remorseless enemies and resourceful friends—one of which has four paws—and mutual attraction as perilous as it is powerful.

Danyel and Nikka soon realize that they have a hopeful new destination. The interstellar crossroads at Starway can take travelers to many places, some of which are strange and secret. To get there, though, they will have to find their way through anger, danger and—even more frightening—change.

THE BAJO CATS OF ANTEROS XII
By E D Walker

Zandro alienated the love of his life years ago with one giant mistake. Consumed by his animal rescue work, he didn’t realize what he had given up until she was gone. Now, his work to save two alien kittens with dangerous pheromones will reunite him with his old flame – and hopefully give him a second chance.

Aliette’s work as a space captain keeps her mind off of what she lost – Zandro – or it did until she receives his desperate plea for help. She reluctantly agrees to assist him for old time’s sake. But the simple transport mission quickly escalates into a fight for survival. The local drug cartel has discovered the unusual kittens and will do anything to obtain them.

With dangerous events and concern for the vulnerable kittens drawing them close again, Aliette will have to decide if being with Zandro is worth sacrificing everything for – even her life.

SHADOW OF THE PAST
By JC Hay

Loss casts a shadow you can’t outrun…

Commander Rafe Penzak is tired of jockeying a desk. With only months left before his forced retirement from the rangers, he decides to bend a few rules for one last mission: follow up on intelligence that vicious criminals have found the ranch that supplies the rangers’ umbra wolves. He’s ready to confront the reminder of his wolf’s death, but nothing in the Three Systems could prepare him for the spitfire who runs the farm.

Veterinarian Nafisi Sultana has run her wolf breeding program her way since the death of her husband. The last thing she wants is another ranger taking up space, correcting her methods, or being underfoot. But she can’t miss the pain and sorrow that haunts the greying commander, and her need to heal others pulls her into his orbit despite the agonizing memories he wakes in her.

With storms, raiders, and a renegade wolf pup driving them together, Nafisi and Rafe have to set aside their damaged past, or they’ll never be able to save something they both want more—a future.

AFTER THE FALL
By Kyndra Hatch

A’ryk Chiste of Korth marooned himself on an uninhabited world for a reason. He doesn’t want to be reminded of a galaxy where his people lost the war, taken over by the merciless Invaders who changed his life forever. A galaxy where he failed at the one thing he was born for, to protect worlds. He wants no part of the shaky forced ‘peace.’ So when an Invader crashes onto his planet, the simple solution is to let her die. But his furry companions have other ideas.

Lyra Merrick is a surveyor for the Earth Council of Habitable Worlds. She searches for and reports planets that can be terraformed for human survival, comfort and stability. It is business as usual when she finds another planet in a little-known section of the galaxy. A routine mission turns into a fight for survival when her ship has a malfunction and she crashes to the icy, unrelenting world. When she comes to, she hears a voice in her head. Confused, she wonders if the lonely existence of a surveyor finally made her crazy. Not only is she hearing things, her eyes are deceiving her too, because she’s in the domicile of the sexiest man she’s ever seen.

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

I’m very happy to say that I am giving away a signed paperback copy of one of my personal favorite books in Anna Hackett’s Galactic Gladiators series, Hero to one lucky commenter on this post! Anna lives in Australia – so this giveaway is open to ALL!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Robots vs Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe

Review: Robots vs Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah WolfeRobots vs. Fairies by Dominik Parisien, Navah Wolfe, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ken Liu, Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire, Annalee Newitz, Tim Pratt, John Scalzi, Lavie Tidhar, Catherynne M. Valente, Alyssa Wong, Madeline Ashby, Lila Bowen, Jeffrey Ford, Sarah Gailey, Max Gladstone, Maria Dahvana Headley, Jim C. Hines, Kat Howard
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, science fiction, short stories, urban fantasy
Pages: 373
Published by Saga Press on January 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A unique anthology of all-new stories that challenges authors to throw down the gauntlet in an epic genre battle and demands an answer to the age-old question: Who is more awesome—robots or fairies?

Rampaging robots! Tricksy fairies! Facing off for the first time in an epic genre death match!

People love pitting two awesome things against each other. Robots vs. Fairies is an anthology that pitches genre against genre, science fiction against fantasy, through an epic battle of two icons.

On one side, robots continue to be the classic sci-fi phenomenon in literature and media, from Asimov to WALL-E, from Philip K. Dick to Terminator. On the other, fairies are the beloved icons and unquestionable rulers of fantastic fiction, from Tinkerbell to Tam Lin, from True Blood to Once Upon a Time. Both have proven to be infinitely fun, flexible, and challenging. But when you pit them against each other, which side will triumph as the greatest genre symbol of all time?

There can only be one…or can there?

My Review:

Are you Team Robot or Team Fairy? After reading this collection, I’m definitely Team Fairy, but your mileage will definitely vary. And it may depend a bit on where you start from.

The introduction to the collection sets up the premise. Either robots or fairies are going to end up as our eventual overlords. So half of the stories in this collection are fairy stories, and half are robot stories. All of the introductions and afterwords to all of the stories play on the theme that half the writers will be vindicated and the other half were misguided.

Personally, I think that they are all misguided and cats will be our ultimate overlords – not that they aren’t already. But that’s an entirely different collection that I hope someone writes someday.

About this collection, half the stories, the fairy stories, fall into urban fantasy, more or less, and the other half, the robotic arm, so to speak, are science fiction.

Overall, it was the fairy stories that moved me the most. My taste for fairies in contemporary fiction was set long ago, by the magically wonderful War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, and quite a few of the fairy stories in this collection fit into that vein, with fairies hidden in plain sight of our contemporary world.

The thing about robots is that they are only interesting, at least to this reader, if they reflect us in some way – where fairies already are OTHER. The one robot story in this collection I really enjoyed felt like space opera – which I definitely do love. The robot in this particular story was a prop and not the centerpiece.

That being said, the stories that I really liked in this collection were the fairy stories.

Build Me A Wonderland by Seanan McGuire surprised me in a good way. I’ve bounced off her work, both as McGuire and as Grant, multiple times, but this story was just lovely. It was also one of the few upbeat stories in the collection. The fairies are hiding in plain sight by being the miracle workers in a contemporary magic factory. In other words, they work for an amusement park. And the elves want in!

Murmured Under the Moon by Tim Pratt combined two things I love – fairies and libraries – into something super-awesome. This story is one that I would have loved to see expanded into a novel because this world is so interesting. It’s all about the magic in books, and both the power and the joy of being a “master” librarian.

Bread and Milk and Salt by Sarah Gailey is a great story for Halloween, as is Just Another Love Song by Kat Howard. Both stories deal in the dark side of magic, with a heaping helping of revenge served at the appropriate temperature and evil getting the desserts it has so richly deserved. Read with the lights on.

The one robot story that I really enjoyed was Sound and Fury by Mary Robinette Kowal. I liked this one because it didn’t feel like a robot story at all. There’s a robot in it, and the robot does play a big part in the story, but the robot is not remotely self aware. It’s a tool. It’s technically a tool for one of the characters who is also a tool, but it becomes a tool in the hands of the spaceship crew and it’s really about them. In other words, this story felt like space opera.

And one robot story got me in the feels. That was Ironheart by Jonathan Maberry. But again, this doesn’t feel like a robot story. It feels like a very, very human story. A heartbreaking one.

A Fall Counts Anywhere by Catherynne M. Valente is the perfect ending for this collection. It takes the premise literally, with a robot and a fae commentating on a sports match up between the two sides in an epic free-for-all melee-style brawl. Their commentating is a laugh a minute – until it suddenly isn’t. They say that Mother Nature bats last – but who bats for Mother Nature?

Escape Rating B-: Like all short story collections, this one was a bit uneven. Overall I found the fairy stories more interesting and absorbing than the robot stories, with those two very notable exceptions. I’m sure that those on Team Robot think the exact opposite.

Review: Dead Man Walking by Simon R. Green

Review: Dead Man Walking by Simon R. GreenDead Man Walking (Ishmael Jones, #2) by Simon R. Green
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #2
Pages: 208
Published by Severn House Publishers on September 1, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Call me Ishmael. Ishmael Jones. I am the man in the shadows, that even the shadows are afraid of. The secret agent whose life is the greatest secret of all. And some of the cases I work are trickier than others. " A rogue agent has come in from the cold and wants to spill his secrets. The Organisation wants Ishmael to find out if Frank Parker is who he says he is, what he really knows, and why he has emerged from the shadows after all this time. Ishmael heads to Ringstone Lodge in Yorkshire where Parker is being held to find that an atmosphere of fear and suspicion prevails. As he and his fellow residents are menaced by a series of alarming and inexplicable incidents, Ishmael sets out to prove that it s human trickery rather than any supernatural being behind the seemingly ghostly goings-on. But matters take an unexpected turn when one of their number is brutally murdered, and once again Ishmael must turn detective in order to entrap a twisted killer before they strike again.

My Review:

This was originally going to be my Halloween book for this year, because the Ishmael Jones series, while not horror, is certainly more horror- adjacent than Simon R. Green’s usual books – although the Nightside comes almost as close – with a higher quotient of weird.

Dead Man Walking definitely has elements that would have made it a great Halloween story, because for much of the book it has all the feels of a classic ghost story. An ill-assorted group of people is locked up in an old house where strange things keep happening – including all the hallmarks of a ghostly haunting.

There are plenty of creaking stairs – not to mention hallways. Doors get knocked on and there’s no one there – but footsteps were definitely heard before the knock. People keep ending up dead with no evidence of an attacker – and then their bodies get whisked away when no one is looking – not even the security cameras.

Not that there aren’t PLENTY of those.

Because this particular country house party takes place at one of those secret houses where shady organizations “debrief” people who don’t want to be debriefed and who can’t be admitted to having been there in the first place – but where their enemies probably want to get to them – or at them – no matter what it takes.

One of those legendary shady agents has decided to finally come in from the cold after years of working for the opposition. Not that THAT isn’t a loose term, considering that the Organization that Ishmael Jones works for – and that the shady agent used to work for before he went to the dark side (for very loose definitions of both dark and side).

Frank Parker claims to have all the dirt on traitors within the Organization. But he’s had his face changed so many times that no one can have any possible clue whether he is who he says he is. And while you’d think DNA might be an option – first there has to be a sample to match with. And there isn’t. Not that Ishmael Jones has let the Organization have any bits of him to play with either.

Ishmael Jones has been “invited” by the Organization to come to their little “safe” house in the remote English countryside to assist the official interrogators with determining whether Frank Parker really is who he says he is and whether he really might know something worth protecting him for.

It’s all fun and spy games until Frank’s corpse is discovered inside his locked and secured cell. And those ubiquitous security cameras have no record of the door even being opened – let alone of anyone going inside. Of course they were mysteriously “off” for the duration of whatever happened.

Then Frank’s body is whisked away – and there’s no record of that, either.

And that’s when the fun really begins…

Escape Rating B+: Just as when I read the first book in this series, The Dark Side of the Road, a few months ago, this turned out to be the right book at the right time. I was in the mood for some serious snark – and this author always delivers.

Now that I’ve read the second book in the series (and I’m planning on reading the third, Very Important Corpses, for Halloween) I see them as science fictional urban fantasy. Think of Men in Black. OK, laugh a bit, then think about the premise.

The Men in Black series was about a secret organization that managed the presence of aliens among us. Aliens who usually, but not always, were able to masquerade as human. Ishmael Jones, the protagonist of this series, is both one of those Men in Black and one of the aliens among us.

Sort of on the principle of setting a thief to catch a thief.

He’s good at his job because he knows just how to hide more-or-less in plain sight – and because he needs the Organization to cover for the oddities he can’t hide. After all, he’s looked exactly the same since he crash-landed on Earth in 1963. He also has a few useful and unusual skills, but it’s his unchanging appearance that is the most difficult to completely conceal. In our world of increasing connectivity and documentation, looking 25 forever is hard to hide.

His partner, Penny Belcourt, the last survivor of the mess he encountered in The Dark Side of the Road, is there both to provide him with a link to humanity and to provide us the readers with a point of view character. She asks all the questions that we want to ask.

She’s also plenty badass in her own right.

Like that first book, Dead Man Walking is also a twist-writ-large on the classic country house mystery. Particularly Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None – although Dead Man Walking ends up with a few more survivors. But it is every bit as twisty as possible.

Dead Man Walking is a mystery that turns into a ghost story that turns back into a mystery. And it’s loads of creepy fun every creaking step of the way.

Review: The Silver Shoes by Jill G. Hall

Review: The Silver Shoes by Jill G. HallThe Silver Shoes: A Novel by Jill G. Hall
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 336
Published by She Writes Press on June 19th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In her second novel, Jill G. Hall, author of The Black Velvet Coat, brings readers another dual tale of two dynamic women from two very different eras searching for fulfillment.

San Francisco artist Anne McFarland has been distracted by a cross-country romance with sexy Sergio and has veered from her creative path. While visiting him in New York, she buys a pair of rhinestone shoes in an antique shop that spark her imagination and lead her on a quest to learn more about the shoes’ original owner.

Almost ninety years earlier, Clair Deveraux, a sheltered 1929 New York debutante, tries to reside within the bounds of polite society and please her father. But when she meets Winnie, a carefree Macy’s shop girl, Clair is lured into the steamy side of Manhattan—a place filled with speakeasies, flappers, and the beat of “that devil music”—and her true desires explode wide open. Secrets and lies heap up until her father loses everything in the stock market crash and Clair becomes entangled in the burlesque world in an effort to save her family and herself.

Ultimately, both Anne and Clair—two very different women living in very different eras—attain true fulfillment . . . with some help from their silver shoes.

My Review:

I want to call this one a timeslip book, but it really isn’t. The only thing that exists in both 1929 and today are those titular silver shoes. But the action does alternate between those two eras, with Clair back in the age of Prohibition, flappers, speakeasies and the Great Depression, and Anne today.

Their lives should seem far apart. And they kind of are – but they mostly aren’t.

Besides the shoes, they are linked by two things. They are both constrained by the familial and societal expectations placed on them because they are women. And in the end, they both break free in order to pursue their own needs for self-fulfillment – and live their own dreams.

Neither story ends up being a romance. This is not a book about finding your happy ever after in the traditional romantic sense. As much of both of these women eventually manage to break tradition, it shouldn’t be. In the end, it’s about reaching deep and finding the courage to make your own happiness your own way, whether romantic love comes with it or not.

Escape Rating B-: It is really difficult to talk about this book without giving some of the game away, so the rating comes a bit early in this one.

I loved the way that the theme finally comes out, that both of these women find self-fulfillment through their art rather than love and marriage. Not that I don’t love a good romance, but I also don’t believe that every story with female central characters needs to be a romance. This one is better for not reaching that traditional ending.

On that other hand, a big part of both women’s stories is just how much they knuckle under to the pressures and expectations that constrain women’s lives.

Clair in 1929 is a poor little rich girl. Her businessman father tries to arrange her life so that she will be “taken care of” instead of asking her what she wants. She wants to go to Juilliard to study music, she’s been accepted, but he wants to marry her off. That he chooses badly is icing on a pretty ugly cake in that he never takes her own wants and needs into consideration and doesn’t see why he should until it is almost too late.

Clair takes her freedom at first in teeny, tiny and very secret doses, because she knows he won’t approve and can make her life miserable – as very nearly happens. In the end, it is only when his own pretty awful secrets are exposed AND when the true depth of wrongness of his choices for her is revealed that she is finally able to completely break free.

Reading about how completely circumscribed Clair’s life is may be accurate, but it doesn’t make for easy reading – particularly when it is held up to Anne’s life in comparison. Because Anne’s life doesn’t feel all that much better.

I know that objectively it is, but it didn’t feel that way. I just didn’t buy into her romance with Sergio. That’s possibly because by the time the story begins the romance is in the middle, but they didn’t work for me.

Instead it felt like she was caught up in the romance of a romance with a well-off sexy Italian who lived in New York. They didn’t seem to have enough in common, and she spent way too much time placating him or pretending to be different than she was in order to make things easier for him.

It also felt like she was giving in to pressure much more subtle than the pressure on Clair, but still present, to be involved with a man and get married (and give up her art) because she was 30 and it was time to stop being “foolish” or “childish” or “self-indulgent” or whatever. That she seemed to have no ability to manage her own finances just added to that picture as well as making it seem like she needed Sergio more than she loved him.

Both relationships fall into crises. In Clair’s case part of the crisis was very real and beyond everyone’s control – the Great Depression was called “Great” for a reason. Her father, though misguided, was attempting to do right by her by the lights of their time – admittedly badly.

I liked that she finally rescued herself, even if it took a bit too long and a bit too much melodrama. And Anne, in the end, finally figured out her best course – but in her case only after ignoring a whole bunch of signs that she was heading down the wrong path. And in Anne’s case, the only thing making her ignore that still small voice was herself.

Although I was glad she finally listened to it.

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Review: A Tall Dark Cowboy Christmas by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: A Tall Dark Cowboy Christmas by Maisey Yates + GiveawayA Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas (Gold Valley, #4) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Gold Valley #4
Pages: 496
Published by Hqn on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s Christmas in Gold Valley, and this wounded widower is about to get another shot at love…

Grant Dodge didn’t expect to find a woman sleeping in an abandoned cabin on his family ranch. Or to find her so intriguing. Unlike every other woman in town, McKenna Tate doesn’t know Grant’s a widower. There’s no pity in the looks she gives him. McKenna wants him, and Grant has forgotten what it’s like to feel like a man. A no-strings fling for Christmas might be the kind of holiday cheer Grant needs…

With only a suitcase to her name, McKenna came to Gold Valley to confront her birth father. She didn’t plan to work at the Dodge ranch or fall for the gorgeous cowboy who keeps his heart roped off. But there’s no denying the way their broken pieces fit together. Hope brought her to Gold Valley—but will it be the gift that could finally heal Grant, and McKenna’s own wounded heart?

Also includes a bonus Gold Valley novella, Snowed in with the Cowboy!

My Review:

It’s hard to believe that anyone would actually WANT to win a gold medal in the “Life Sucks” Marathon, but when Grant Dodge and McKenna Tate meet they are both serious contenders for that “grand” prize.

Possibly it’s a grand prize in the joke sense that first prize is one week in Hell and second prize is two weeks – although the way they both have been chasing this particular goal, that might actually be the other way around.

We’ve met Grant Dodge in the previous books in the Gold Valley series as his brothers have discovered their own happy ever afters. But Grant is a special case. He already found his happy, and knew perfectly well at the time that there was no “ever after” attached. Grant is semi-famous for having married his high school sweetheart knowing that she had terminal cancer, and caring for her for the eight years she managed to survive.

But he’s also been a widower for eight years, and is more than tired of all the pitying looks he gets from everyone in town and everyone he meets. His tragedy was so touching that it became fodder for one of the morning quasi-news shows, so no one ever lets him forget.

He’s wrapped his misery around him like a well-worn but scratchy blanket and doesn’t let anyone get close – not even his family – even though they are all working on the ranch together.

While Grant should be the first place finisher in that misery marathon, McKenna Tate is still in the running. He finds McKenna camped out in one of the ranch’s few remaining dilapidated (unheated and uninsulated) remote cabins. In December. In Oregon.

He claims he doesn’t want to be bothered, but he still takes her into the ranch house, where his brother and sister-in-law promptly offer McKenna a job and a cabin. She doesn’t want to take the charity, but she NEEDS it. She’s broke and homeless and out of options.

And she needs to be in Gold Valley. Her mother gave up her parental rights back when McKenna was only two, so she was raised in, or survived, foster care. Now she’s 24 and has come to Gold Valley to discover if the man listed on her birth certificate as her father is willing to give her a hand up.

She’s afraid to acknowledge, even to herself, that what she really wants is to belong. To someone. To be part of something. To finally have a place.

But while she tries to figure out how to approach her possible father, who turns out to be “rodeo royalty”, she becomes part of the mixed family of birth and choice that centers around the Get Out of Dodge Ranch.

And just maybe, she and Grant might manage to stop racing towards that first place in the misery marathon and reach for each other instead.

Escape Rating B+: In my review of Good Time Cowboy I called Maisey Yates the cowgirl queen of angsty western romance. The story in A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas certainly adds more sparkle to that crown.

Both Grant and McKenna begin the story in a serious bad way. But the bad way they’ve found themselves in, and the equally bad ways that they feel about it, feel like exactly the way a person would feel under their individual circumstances. It’s not manufactured angst or self-inflicted angst. They’ve had terrible things happen to them and they feel terrible because of those things.

Grant, in particular, has been living so much on the periphery of life at the ranch that it is more than possibly to read this book without having read the other books in the series first – not that they aren’t terrific reads. But Grant has done his best to not let other people in, to the point where he only plays a very minor role in his brothers’ lives – and is only willing to let them a tiny way into his.

McKenna has certainly had a lifetime of hard knocks that led her to Gold Valley. But she also has one attribute that draws Grant in like a magnet – she doesn’t know anything about his history. She doesn’t pity him or feel sorry for him. And she doesn’t want either of those things from him. She just thinks he’s hot. And she gets him hot and bothered in a way that he’s never allowed himself to feel.

The begin what becomes their relationship by finally giving into their amazing chemistry. They both think that’s all they have. But as much as Grant tries to stick to a rule of “no talking”, they can’t. McKenna can’t stop herself from talking under any circumstances, and Grant has spent so many years locked inside his own head that once he opens up at all he can’t make himself stop.

There is so much heartbreak in this story. Both Grant and McKenna begin the story as very broken people, and it’s tough reading their emotional turmoil. Watching them slowly heal each other is lovely, especially with their acknowledgement that it’s the hurts that they’ve each suffered that has made them the people they need to be for each other.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas to one lucky US/CAN commenter!

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Review: The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

Review: The Hollow of Fear by Sherry ThomasThe Hollow of Fear (Lady Sherlock, #3) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #3
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 2, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, returns in the Victorian-set mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of A Conspiracy in Belgravia and A Study in Scarlet Women, an NPR Best Book of 2016.

Under the cover of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don’t.

Moriarty’s shadow looms large. First, Charlotte’s half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte’s close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram—and a number of malevolent forces…

My Review:

This was the book I wanted to read, so in spite of being a couple of weeks early, I did. And in the end, I’m glad I did. Even if I found this entry in the series every bit as frustrating – as well as every bit as captivating – as the first two books, A Study in Scarlet Women and A Conspiracy in Belgravia.

And yes, that’s a hint. This is a series where you really need to read them in order. Holmes’ situation in this series is so singular that the reader really needs to start from the beginning for it to make the sense that is required. Particularly as the case in The Hollow of Fear is directly related to events that took place in A Conspiracy in Belgravia – even more of those events than at first appears.

By this point in the series, we are well acquainted with Charlotte Holmes and her lucrative masquerade as her invalid “brother” Sherlock. Charlotte has found a rather unique solution to the restrictions placed on genteel Victorian womanhood by arranging to have her virginity rather publicly taken by a married man, making her a scarlet woman and removing herself from her parents’ household and restrictions.

She’d rather be disowned than respected. Which does not mean that she does not still care for her family, or at least for her two sisters, Livia and Bernadine. Bernadine, the oldest sister, has been kept away from society since she was a little girl. Based on the descriptions of her behavior, it seems as if Bernadine has a severe form of autism – but of course that was not recognized at the time.

To their unloving and extremely profligate parents, Bernadine is an embarrassment and an expense they would rather dispose of.

Charlotte, as we have learned to know her better, quite possibly has Asperger’s Syndrome. She certainly has some of the hallmarks of the syndrome, notably the high intelligence, the hyper focus on one particular topic, and a considerable amount of difficulty with social skills.

Livia is the closest to what their society classes as “normal”, but she also has no desire to rescue her parents’ terrible financial situation by marrying someone who will stifle her creativity. It is Livia in this Sherlock Holmes pastiche who is the author of the stories.

The case in The Hollow of Fear is a complex one – and it is a case that both strikes close to home and reaches towards the halls of power. In A Conspiracy in Belgravia, Holmes discovered that her friend Lord Ingram’s estranged wife was not merely a mercenary bitch, which was already well known, but was also an agent of Moriarty (of course there’s a Moriarty) and therefore a traitor to the Crown for which Lord Ingram is an agent.

At the end of that story, Lady Ingram supposedly flees to the Continent, but at the beginning of this story her corpse is found on Lord Ingram’s estate, stuffed rather unceremoniously into the icehouse.

Of course Lord Ingram is the prime suspect in his wife’s murder. Not just because police always look at the spouse first, but because Lord Ingram has so very many motives to want his wife permanently out of the picture.

Including the exceedingly well known fact that Lord Ingram is in love with Charlotte Holmes.

But it will be up to Sherlock Holmes, with the assistance of a host of both real and imaginary relatives, to unravel the trap that Lord Ingram has so obviously been placed in. Without revealing either her own identity or the secret workings that caused this mess in the first place.

Escape Rating B+: I always have mixed feelings about the books in this series. The author has done an excellent job of conveying just how restricted women’s activities were at this particular period, and how much difficulty Charlotte has in working her way around those restrictions.

The advent of “Sherrinford” Holmes in this story was a fascinating way of working around the conundrum this time – as well as the creation of quite the character in his own right.

It takes a bit of time for the “case” to truly begin in this one, and those opening chapters don’t move at nearly a fast enough pace. At the same time, they are absolutely crucial for setting up the scenario and getting all the clues in place for the main event – which is a doozy.

This is a case where, in the end, nothing is quite as it seemed. The switch between the events as they appeared from the outside and the reveal at the end felt a bit abrupt, but once the story switches from what everyone “sees” to what is happening under the surface it all falls into place quite satisfactorily.

But while it is all going on, the author does a good job of ramping up the tension. The situation, particularly for Lord Ingram, seems bleak. We expect that “Sherlock” is going to save the day, but not even Charlotte herself is willing to promise that all will be well. Like the characters in the story, particularly Livia Holmes, we find ourselves hoping without any certainty that all will be well.

That there is so much that cannot be revealed because it will unmask governmental secrets just adds to the tension. We know Ingram is innocent, but we don’t know whether it will be possible to prove his innocence when there is so much that absolutely cannot be told.

The reveal of the villain at the end is a surprise to the reader and many of the characters as well. And it does a beautiful job of setting up the possibilities for the next story in the series. There are at least two more books coming, and as much as the descriptions of just how much Charlotte has to work around and how appalling difficult many women’s situations are, I can’t wait!

Review: Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawaySeason of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Haven Point #9
Pages: 320
Published by Hqn on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He’s giving her children a season of wonder…

Dani Capelli seized a chance to start over in a small town with her daughters. Now, facing her first Christmas in Haven Point, she wonders if leaving New York was a mistake. Dani loves working alongside veterinarian Dr. Morales, but her two children aren’t adjusting to small-town life. And then there’s Dr. Morales’s son, Ruben—Dani’s next-door neighbor. Gorgeous, muscled and dependable, the deputy sheriff is everything she secretly craves and can’t bear to risk loving…and losing.

Ruben never pictured himself falling for a big-city woman like Dani. But beneath her prickly facade, she’s caring and softhearted and she needs all the love and protection he can give. When Dani’s teenage daughter starts acting out, Ruben draws on family traditions to show the girls just how magical a Haven Point Christmas can be. But can he convince Dani that she’s found a home for the holidays—and forever—in his arms?

My Review:

It still feels too early to be reading holiday books, but here we are. And as much as I shivered at the reminders about snow and cold, Season of Wonder is a lovely little story.

It also feels like Haven Point is just down the road from Robyn Carr’s Thunder Point – even though Thunder Point is on the coast of Oregon and Haven Point is in Idaho within a couple of hours of Boise.

Let’s call them sister cities. Or at least sister villages.

Both are small towns where most of the folks are friendly and welcoming of newcomers – and where a family in need of a fresh start has an excellent chance of finding one.

Also, although both series are billed as contemporary romances, and the books in them certainly do include a romance along with its requisite HEA, the real stories often seem to be more in the line of small-town feel good cozy stories. The romance feels like the cherry on the top of the sundae, with that sundae being the newcomers making a place for themselves in a welcoming community in spite of whatever heavy baggage brought them in the first place.

And that’s the story in Season of Wonder, which is a cute holiday story and also feels like a pretty good place to begin your visit to Haven Point if you aren’t already a fan of the series.

Dani Capelli is the new vet in town. She’s got a freshly minted vet degree from Boston, a gigantic pile of student loans and two young daughters. She’s come to Haven Point in the hopes that she can start over, and that her year of interning with retiring vet Frank Morales will enable her to buy his practice when her internship is up.

Both of them want to make this work. Dr. Morales has given her a small house, rent-free, during her internship. He really wants this to work and his wife really wants him to retire. If Dani and her little family like living in Haven Point and the residents of Haven Point end up liking her and thinking she’s a good vet, it could all work for everyone.

But Dani has a past that she wants to bury, along with her late ex-husband. Tommy DeLuca died in a hail of gunfire, robbing a bank and killing two cops, back in Dani’s hometown of Queens. She divorced Tommy years ago, and hadn’t heard from him in all that time.

Which doesn’t mean that when everyone in Haven Point finds out that her ex was a criminal and a cop killer that some people won’t tar her and her daughters with the brush of his crimes. After all, she married him and she had two children with him.

People will speculate that apples don’t fall too far from their parent trees. So when her 13-year-old daughter Silver is caught spray painting her next door neighbor’s boat, she fears that her secret will come out.

After all, her neighbor is a trained investigator – he’s a member of the Haven Point County police. And he’s the son of her boss – who is the one person in town who does know the truth.

When Ruben Morales is more than willing to let Silver clean up all THREE places she tagged in return for not putting her through the system, it gives Dani and Ruben a chance to get to know each other – and to see if the chemistry between them is worth exploring.

Even though Dani is dead certain that a criminal’s ex-wife is no fit partner for a cop. She’s sure he’ll agree, just as soon as he figures out the truth.

Escape Rating B: Season of Wonder is a short and sweet holiday story, just the perfect length to kick off the holiday romance season. (Even if it feels too early to talk about Xmas yet)

But speaking of feels, it feels like the parts of this story that get the most pages are the parts about Dani and her daughters adapting to living in Haven Point – with a bit too big of a heaping helping of Dani’s generally negative self-talk.

The girls, Silver and Mia, are 13 and 6 respectively. They are also day-and-night opposites. Some of that opposition is the age difference. Silver is entering her teenage years, she has all the moody defiance that marks that period of life AND she’s been taken away from her friends and familiar surroundings and stuck in what feels like the middle of nowhere after living in Queens and Boston. That she acts out is not a big surprise – but it is a big disappointment to her stressed-out mother.

Mia is 6 and still believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. She’s sweet, light and funny in equal turns. She still sees the best in everyone, and in spite of her initial shyness, is generally a joyful little girl.

It’s Silver who provides most of the drama in the story, as she’s first caught tagging, and is later accused of theft. And it’s the trail of trouble that follows her, not all of it her fault, that both pushes Dani and Ruben together AND pulls them apart.

I’ll admit that I didn’t completely buy the romance. It may be that the book is too short, and there just wasn’t enough time to really make the reader feel the tension between them. A lot went on in a relatively short number of pages. (The blurbs claim 320 but this was only 2800 kindle locs, which is way less than that.)

Dani’s self-talk is very negative, and that’s what causes much of the dramatic tension between her and Ruben. She’s sure she’s a screw-up and a failure, when she most definitely is not. (And not that we don’t all talk to ourselves like that sometimes.) She’s also dead certain that her ex-husband’s terrible crimes are going to follow her and her daughters for the rest of their lives – and there is at least one douchebag in town who espouses that view. But Ruben is also correct that most people, and anyone she might possibly want to associate with AT ALL, will recognize that anything that the jerk did six years after she left him is in no way her fault.

In conclusion, Haven Point is an absolutely lovely little town, especially during the holiday season, and always willing to take a stranger into their hearts. I enjoyed the story of Dani finding her way and her HEA in her new home, and I look forward to many future visits to Haven Point.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Season of Wonder to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd

Review: A Forgotten Place by Charles ToddA Forgotten Place (Bess Crawford, #10) by Charles Todd
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford #10
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on September 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Though the Great War has ended, Bess Crawford finds herself caught in deadly circumstances on a remote Welsh headland in this tenth entry from the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author.

The fighting has ended, the Armistice signed, but the war has left wounds that are still agonizingly raw. Battlefield Nurse Bess Crawford has been assigned to a clinic for amputees, and the Welsh patients worry her. She does her best to help them, but it’s clear that they have nothing to go home to, in a valley where only the fit can work in the coal pits. When they are released, she fears that peace will do what war couldn’t—take their lives.

Their officer, Captain Williams, writes to describe their despair, and his own at trying to save his men. Bess feels compelled to look into their situation, but the Army and the clinic can do nothing. Requesting leave, she quietly travels to Wales, and that bleak coal mining village, but she is too late.

Captain Williams’ sister tells Bess he has left the valley. Bess is afraid he intends to kill himself. She follows him to an isolated, storm-battered peninsula—a harsh and forgotten place where secrets and death go hand in hand. Deserted by her frightened driver, Bess is stranded among strangers suspicious of outsiders. She quickly discovers these villagers are hiding something, and she’s learned too much to be allowed to leave. What’s more, no one in England knows where she is.

Why is there no Constable out here? And who is the mysterious Ellen? Captain Williams and his brother’s widow are her only allies, and Bess must take care not to put them at risk as she tries to find answers. But there is a murderer here who is driven to kill again and again. And the next person in his sights is Simon Brandon, searching for Bess and unaware of his danger. . . .

My Review:

This tenth story in the Bess Crawford series takes place in December 1918. The war is over, but the peace hasn’t really begun. The fighting officially ended at 11:11 am on November 11, 1918 with the signing of the Armistice. This is the day we now celebrate as Veterans Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in the U.K and the Commonwealth.

Bess Crawford served as a combat nurse during the war. Her service has not yet ended. While a significant part of a generation died on the battlefields, there were also many who came home missing significant pieces of themselves, and not all of those missing pieces were physical.

The war changed all who were a part of it, including Bess herself. Today we might say that she had post-traumatic stress disorder – along with many of the now ex-soldiers.

With the end of the war, the field hospitals are closing down, and the base hospitals are shrinking by the day. All the able-bodied are sent home – to a country that does not have nearly enough jobs for all of them.

Those who are still in hospital are the ones more severely wounded, still recovering as best as the medical science of the time permitted, from the loss of limbs or disfiguring wounds or both.

That’s where Bess comes in, as she becomes involved with a Welsh regiment that was wounded during the last of the fighting. A regiment formed in the coal counties of Wales, where every able-bodied man works in the mines. But the men under her care are no longer able-bodied, missing at least one limb if not more. They are alive, but have no lives to return to.

In the valleys, the only work is in the mines, and it is work they are no longer physically able to perform. They will be burdens to their families – if those families are willing to take them back. Bess does her best to help them prepare both mentally and physically for what is in front of them, but she is worried, and rightfully so, that any preparation is in vain.

So she takes it into her own hands (as she has so often during the course of the series) to follow up with this group of soldiers that has touched her heart and ignited her fears of what will happen to those irrevocably changed by the war after their war is over.

And finds herself stranded, alone and without allies, isolated in a remote Welsh village and caught between a horrifying secret and escalating evil.

All she can do is try to survive, until help comes. If that help can find her in time.

Escape Rating B: The second half of this story is a taut thriller, but the first half moves slowly, as time seems to do out in the remote Welsh villages on the Gower Peninsula.

Once Bess decides to check up on Captain Williams and his regiment, she finds herself traveling laboriously and ponderously from one tiny and remote place to the next. Once she catches up to him, she has discovered that he is the final survivor of his regiment.

That he and his men had sacrificed themselves for their country – but their country had nothing for them now that the war was over, is heartbreaking. But the trouble that finds Bess is not related to any war service – or at least not exactly.

There is a terrible secret hidden in this remote village. A secret that has caused the villagers to close ranks against any outsiders. There is no access to the place except by an uncertain arrangement for hire cars from not-so-nearby Swansea. There is no post office, no telephone exchange, no constable, no doctor. No one from the outside seems to be permitted. Captain Williams, helping his sister-in-law with her farm, is resented and reviled at every turn. Bess faces intense hostility from the second she arrives.

The atmosphere of this particular story will remind series readers of an earlier story, A Pattern of Lies. There is both that same sense of human nature twisted and corrupted, and the same atmosphere of almost Gothic horror.

Bess’ forced sojourn in this tiny place with its close-mouthed and close-minded inhabitants all hunkered around the protection of their dark secret drags on a bit for the reader, possibly in sympathy with Bess and her enforced vacation from her vocation. She does her best to be of use in the household that has been forced to guest her, but it isn’t easy for her and this part of the story isn’t easy for the reader.

Things speed up, as they often do in this series, when Simon Brandon arrives to spring Bess from the trap she has gotten herself stuck in. But also as often happens in the series, Bess refuses to leave until she has solved all of the riddles – even the ones that no one wants solved.

This series has followed the progress of the war, through Bess’ perspective as a combat nurse. Part of what we see in this particular story has a great deal to do with the way that the veterans of the trenches were treated after the war ended – which was mostly abominable. I also find myself wondering whether some of Bess’ concern about the fate of this regiment now that the war was over would have reflected her own unconscious concerns about what happens to her after her war is over – as it nearly is.

As much as I don’t want this series to end, I can’t help but wonder what Bess’ post-war life will be. I hope that we get to find out.

Review: The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang + Giveaway

Review: The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang + GiveawayThe Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Pages: 364
Published by Lake Union Publishing on September 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Two hearts. Twice as vulnerable.

Manhattan, 1850. Born out of wedlock to a wealthy socialite and a nameless immigrant, Cora Lee can mingle with the rich just as easily as she can slip unnoticed into the slums and graveyards of the city. As the only female resurrectionist in New York, she’s carved out a niche procuring bodies afflicted with the strangest of anomalies. Anatomists will pay exorbitant sums for such specimens—dissecting and displaying them for the eager public.

Cora’s specialty is not only profitable, it’s a means to keep a finger on the pulse of those searching for her. She’s the girl born with two hearts—a legend among grave robbers and anatomists—sought after as an endangered prize.

Now, as a series of murders unfolds closer and closer to Cora, she can no longer trust those she holds dear, including the young medical student she’s fallen for. Because someone has no intention of waiting for Cora to die a natural death.

My Review:

In the end, Cora Lee isn’t quite impossible – merely highly improbable. But those improbabilities lead her to a fascinating and dangerous life on the margins of mid-19th century New York City in a way that makes for marvelous fiction – especially because it’s the most improbable aspects of her life that are based in fact.

There really were resurrectionists, not merely in New York City, but certainly in other places where the supply of corpses for anatomical study was insufficient to the needs of doctors, surgeons and their trainees to learn as much as possible about the ins and outs (so to speak) of the human anatomy before going into practice on living bodies.

While the practice of haunting graveyards and digging up recent corpses seems unsavory at best and disgusting at worst, it was necessary – if a bit ghoulish. As distasteful as the concept of digging up bodies for medical study may seem, the idea that all those would-be doctors and surgeons learn anatomy from dead bodies before they start cutting up live ones seems prudent, at least in retrospect.

And for anyone who thinks the practice of opening up the gallery to the general public seems prurient at best and obscene at worst, we still have plenty of examples of more sanitary versions of the same practice, such as the Bodies exhibition currently touring the world. (it’s here in Atlanta at the moment and no, we have not attended and have no interest in doing so.)

Making arrangements for the bodies to become corpses in an untimely fashion, however, is still murder. And that’s where this story gets its mystery from. Resurrectionist Cora Lee just keeps a watch on people who will make interesting (and lucrative) corpses. Someday they will naturally come into her hands, so to speak. Well, at least they’ll die of natural causes. The process by which Cora obtains their fresh corpse is fairly unnatural, not to mention downright criminal.

But someone is anticipating nature and killing the people on Cora’s list. And she fears she’s next.

Cora’s body should prove just as unusual a specimen as any of the recent victims, because Cora has two hearts. Doctors have been interested in “ottomizing” her since the day of her birth. That someone might want to hasten her death in order to open her chest is a fear that she and her family have lived with since the day she was born.

It’s ironic that her business as a resurrectionist gives her a finger on the pulse (so to speak) of any trade in unusual specimens in New York City. It should give her some warning if someone starts looking for her.

But she never expects that her greatest danger lies so close to home – or that her biggest rival may be the instrument of her deliverance.

Escape Rating B+: The story of The Impossible Girl is fascinating and creepy in equal measure. The tone at times feels almost like one of the “penny dreadfuls” so popular at the time, or like that of one of the Gothic mysteries that became so popular.

The character of Cora is one of duality, and not merely as a result of her two hearts. Cora also lives two lives, by day the consummate “lady”, and by night the hard-bitten resurrectionist. In order to maintain that separate between her daily life and her business life she also has two faces. By day she is Cora, and by night she is Cora’s twin brother Jacob. While Cora is a lady, Jacob is no gentleman, being rough, a bit brutish, and ruling their gang with an iron fist while Cora holds the velvet glove.

Jacob is both Cora’s disguise and her protection – as well as her instrument of freedom. As a man, Jacob has the ability to go wherever he wants, do whatever he wants, see whatever he needs to see and punch out whoever needs to be punched.

Even without the need to conceal her anatomical aberrance, Cora, as a female in mid-19th century New York City, is never, ever free. She is constantly hedged around by the restrictions placed on women in her society, restrictions that Jacob allows her to escape whenever she needs to or she must.

While the central mystery of this story is creepy and chilling, it was unfortunately a little too easy for this reader to figure out. I’ll admit that I guessed what was going on, and who was perpetrating it, just a bit too early to give The Impossible Girl an A grade.

But the story is imminently readable. Cora’s character, intelligence and rather unique solution to her own multiple dilemmas is absolutely absorbing. And the portrait of mid-19th century New York City on the margins draws the reader into the center of its mass of contradictions from the very first page.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Impossible Girl to one very lucky US commenter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayA Notorious Vow (The Four Hundred, #3) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Four Hundred #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Joanna Shupe returns to New York City’s Gilded Age, where fortunes and reputations are gained and lost with ease—and love can blossom from the most unlikely charade

With the fate of her disgraced family resting on her shoulders, Lady Christina Barclay has arrived in New York City from London to quickly secure a wealthy husband. But when her parents settle on an intolerable suitor, Christina turns to her reclusive neighbor, a darkly handsome and utterly compelling inventor, for help.

Oliver Hawkes reluctantly agrees to a platonic marriage . . . with his own condition: The marriage must end after one year. Not only does Oliver face challenges that are certain to make life as his wife difficult, but more importantly, he refuses to be distracted from his life’s work—the development of a revolutionary device that could transform thousands of lives, including his own.

Much to his surprise, his bride is more beguiling than he imagined. When temptation burns hot between them, they realize they must overcome their own secrets and doubts, and every effort to undermine their marriage, because one year can never be enough.

My Review:

While A Notorious Vow is the third book in the Four Hundred series, it is absolutely not necessary to have read the first two in order to get into this one – but for an unusual reason.

Although the stories all take place within the same place and time, and even though our protagonists do meet the Hatchers (the h/h of the first book, A Daring Arrangement) the previous couples and previous stories don’t really impinge on this one.

Because for very different reasons, both Oliver and Christina are pretty much recluses. Neither of them moves in society at all, because neither of them wants to. A decision that comes back to bite both of them during the course of this story.

And, in the best romantic tradition, neither of them initially believes it about the other.

Oliver Hawkes, a young, wealthy and brilliant inventor as well as reclusive investor, is deaf, and has been since a bout of scarlet fever in his early teens. He remembers being able to hear, but no longer can. Equally, he can no longer stand the terrible treatment he suffered at the hands of so-called “society” as everyone mocked not just the voice he could no longer hear, but also his ability to “speak” with his hands and his need to write down complex thoughts – and receive their replies, in a small notebook.

He is more than wealthy enough not to need a “day job” and quite capable of living mostly on his own. Within his own house, the staff have all learned enough sign language to communicate, and he lives quite well and is reasonably content. Until Christina quite literally falls into his lap.

Actually she falls in his garden, with the enthusiastic “help” of his dog Apollo, who knocks her down in his enthusiasm to greet a new person.

Christina’s desire to retreat from society is due to an extreme lack of confidence – a lack that has been instilled in her, and is constantly reinforced, by her greedy, grasping mother. Christina is always and forever a disappointment, and her lack of confidence allows the crueler elements of society to make fun of her at every turn.

The truth is that all of them are jealous of her in one way or another, including, most especially, her mother. But Christina has been programmed practically from birth not to be able to see it.

Christina and her parents are in New York out of the necessity of repairing the family fortunes. Christina’s father-the-earl is an inveterate gambler – and not a winner. Both of her parents have always lived well outside their means, even before he gambled away all the means.

They have fled England just barely ahead of their creditors – and those whom they outright swindled – in order to sponge off their New York relations and auction Christina off to the highest bidder.

That said highest bidder is the most disgusting and despicable person imaginable is also a standard of the romantic tradition – although this bastard manages to exceed expectations on all counts – as does the behavior of Christina’s parents. It is up to Oliver, who has no desire to be involved with society at all, to save Christina from not merely her parents but also a fate that is guaranteed to be worse than death – until it turns into actual death.

While at first it seems as if they will have their work cut out for them just trying to make a workable marriage out of what is still a rather nascent friendship, the situation becomes even more dire.

Just how corrupt is Tammany Hall, anyway?

Escape Rating B+: There were several elements that made A Notorious Vow interesting in unusual ways as well as a lot of fun to read. I got sucked right in and didn’t get out until I finished – more or less in one go.

We’ve seen plenty of wallflower heroines in historical romances, but very seldom a “wallflower” hero. Oliver’s exile from society seems mostly self-imposed. He has the money and the social standing to ignore the whispers that he can lip read quite well – but he chooses not to do so. His reasons for withdrawing are certainly valid, and not merely from his own perspective. But he could just as easily have gone the other way, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, and the doubters be damned. And as events later prove, it probably would have resulted in a better outcome after some initial discomfort.

Which is not to say that his discomfort isn’t very real. Like so many other handicaps, deafness was not much written about, talked about, or studied in the late 19th century. Oliver could not hear, but that did not mean that any of his other faculties were affected at all – which did not stop popular imagination from assuming that they had. A problem which is nearly his undoing.

But the crux of the romantic conflict between Oliver and Christina has little to do with his deafness, although that does make it more difficult – but far from impossible – for them to discuss the problem.

Oliver exhibits that unfortunate tendency of very intelligent people to assume that because they are so often the smartest person in any room that they inhabit, they are therefore always the most knowledgeable and always know best for everyone else. And the problem lies in that “always”. Few things are ever “always” true or “always” right. Because it seldom happens to him, Oliver is unable to recognize that it does occasionally happen even to him, and especially when it comes to his dealings with Christina. He doesn’t know what she wants or needs or thinks because he doesn’t ask her – he assumes he already knows. And of course he doesn’t.

This is a problem that would exist whether Oliver could hear a pin drop or can’t hear a thing – because it is an innate part of his personality. (And one that affects plenty of contemporary men as well!)

In addition to having an interesting and unusual hero and heroine, A Notorious Vow also has what can best be described as a surfeit of villains – especially when considering that the three villains are not working together. They are all separately and individually villainous, For the purposes of villainy, I’m counting Christina’s parents as a single villain. For all we see of the earl, they might as well be.

Her parents attempt to sell her to the highest bidder in order to get themselves out from under their debts and swindles. Her mother, in particular, is particularly vile. The highest bidder they attempt to sell her to is a disgusting old man who has probably murdered his three previous wives. When Oliver rescues Christina from their clutches, mommy dearest continues to clutch in the hopes of getting a better deal – even though her continued contact with Christina endangers the deal currently on the table. That there is a deal at all says everything that needs to be said about Christina’s parents.

When Oliver’s equally venal cousin bribes a judge and conspires to get him committed to an insane asylum, the disgusting old man bribes Tammany Hall to KEEP him imprisoned. Yet these individuals do not seem to be working together. I found the continued presence of Christina’s parents at this juncture to be one villain too many.

That does not take anything away from the horrific nature of Oliver’s imprisonment or the appalling stink of corruption that surrounds the entire case – and that unfortunately bears all too close a resemblance to real circumstances at the time.

Taken all together, A Notorious Vow turns out to be an engaging romance of surprised (and surprising) equals who have to overcome more difficulties than expected. And who discover at the end that their hard-won happy ever after is well worth the changes that they both have to make in their lives.

If this is the final book in the Four Hundred series, it is a fitting end. But I’ve enjoyed the whole series very much and would love to see it continue!

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


To celebrate the release of A NOTORIOUS VOW by Joanna Shupe, we’re giving away one paperback set of the entire Four Hundred series!

Link: http://bit.ly/2P4dd94

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 9/25/2018 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.