Review: The Temple by Jean Johnson

Review: The Temple by Jean JohnsonThe Temple (Guardians of Destiny #4) by Jean Johnson
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Guardians of Destiny #4
Pages: 333
Published by Penguin on February 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Synod gathers, tell them lies:

Efforts garnered in your pride
Lost beneath the granite face.
Painted Lord, stand by her side;
Repentance is the Temple's grace.

The Guardian of the Fountain of Mendhi is dying, and her successor must step up to the task. Disciplinarian Pelai is ready to accept the burden of managing the powerful magics, but the timing is inconvenient. She has one last Disciplining to perform: assigning the punishment of the three Puhon brothers--men whose lives are entwined with a prophecy of a cataclysmic demonic invasion.

Six months of travel have given Puhon Krais time to reflect on, regret, and repent his many mistakes. But the worst lies just ahead: defying the leadership of Mendhi means suffering harsh punishments at the hands of the Disciplinarians once he comes home. Commanded by his Goddess, the proud Painted Warrior must find the strength to submit to his destiny...or find himself, and his whole world, on the wrong side of history.

For in the end, one brother is destined to save humanity, one will betray humanity, and one will walk away from his humanity.

My Review:

I’ve frequently said that the wait between Jean Johnson’s books is a torment. That’s both especially true in the case of The Temple (it’s been four YEARS!) and especially appropriate in light of the story itself.

Waiting for fulfillment is just one of the sweet torments practiced by the Disciplinarians of the Temple of Menda in this fourth book in the Guardians of Destiny series. Although in the story it’s usually a different kind of delayed gratification used in that torment.

This story takes place in the aftermath of the events of the previous books in the series, The Tower, The Grove, and especially The Guild. At the same time, it also follows the pattern set by those stories, and the prophetic verses that begin each book in the series.

Two of those events have particular bearing on this story. In this world, nations exist to worship a particular deity, or perhaps two. Those deities are not myths, they are real and can manifest in the world. And occasionally do.

The societies reflect their god, and the gods reflect their society. One of the recent events that is still reverberating is the just finished Convocation of Gods and Man, where new nations and new gods are ratified, and gods that have really, really misbehaved get dissolved by their peers.

At the Convocation, the god Mekha was dissolved. His former country is picking up the pieces under the guidance of the Guardians Alonnen and Rexei. Their story is told in The Guild.

But the priests who served Mekha and were powerful because of that service are not willing to go gentle into that good night. Instead, they are desperately searching for any means, no matter how underhanded or terrible, to become powerful again. And they’re not in the least picky about what they’ll have to do, manifest, or summon in order to retake their lost power. Up to and including raising demons from the Netherhells.

The Guardians in all of the lands of this world are studying the prophecies in order to thwart them, and it is far from an easy job. Changing circumstances in one area can make things better in another – or it can actually make things worse later on.

It’s a big butterfly, and the wing flaps can have some seriously nasty consequences if everyone on the side of the light isn’t very, very careful.

The priests power-search has led them to the Great Library of Mendhi, and that’s where that part of the overarching story intersects with both the romance at the heart of this book in the series and the careful balancing of prophecies to make sure that what must happen does happen.

The country that hosts the Convocation gathers a lot of political power, and that ties into the rest of the events. The Elder Disciplinarian of Mendhi sent his three sons on to the Convocation in an attempt to disrupt it and move the location to Mendhi. All the gods were against this attempt, and all the prophecies were clear that this attempt would fail, but the Elder Disciplinarian and his political party refused to be swayed.

The Puhon Brothers have returned home, having failed as expected. Equally, their father expects them to be officially punished for their failure. Which kicks off another round of prophecy, as well as a surprising romance between two people who used to think of each other as enemies, only to discover that they are perfect for each other, after all.

Or after all the prophecies have had their way.

The Grove by Jean JohnsonEscape Rating B+: In spite of the high grade, this is still a mixed feelings kind of review.

First, I have to admit that I loved this story, and found myself sinking right back into this world, even after the unfortunate long absence. It took awhile for all of the threads from the previous books to gather back into my conscious, but the process was helped by a fair amount of backstory that was worked reasonably well into the story at hand.

This entry in the series is a particularly interesting mixture of sex and politics. There are aspects of the Disciplinarian Order and its administration that will remind readers a bit of Kushiel’s Dart. And like that series, it is made very clear in The Temple that discipline is not all about pain, and that people exist at every point on the pleasure/pain/dominance/submission grid. While there is more “academic” discussion of sex and desire than is usual in most romances, and it goes into quite a bit of interesting territory, there is more discussion than there is actual sex. Or even sexual play and exploration.

I found the discussions to be fascinating and very tastefully done, but there are some readers who may be made uncomfortable. As the discussion within the story is about each person finding what works for them, it seems appropriate to say that it won’t work for some people but it will work for others and that reading it with an open mind may be enlightening.

Your mileage may vary.

The politics of this particular country are very interesting. The Goddess Menda is the goddess of writing, so books and libraries are under her purview. (So is bureaucracy!) That one of the members of the ruling body is the Elder Librarian certainly warmed this librarian’s heart – especially when she invoked powerful spells to protect the secrets of the Great Library.

As much as I enjoyed the story, and as absorbing as I found it, this missed being an A grade because the editing was so terrible that it often threw me out of the story. I read a lot of ARCs, and in an ARC I expect editing errors – that’s part of what the ARC process is for. But this was a finished book, and it contained so many typos and word errors that occasionally even the meaning was obscure and I had to reread in order to put the pieces together.

But once I did piece it together, it was a lot of fun. I just wish that it hadn’t been quite so long since the previous book in the series, and I sincerely hope that it won’t be nearly this long until the next one.

Review: For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

Review: For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. KlingerFor the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon by Laurie R. King, Leslie S. Klinger
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: anthologies, historical mystery, mystery, short stories
Pages: 272
Published by Pegasus Books on December 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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For the Sake of the Game is the latest volume in the award-winning series from New York Times bestselling editors Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, with stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and friends in a variety of eras and forms. King and Klinger have a simple formula: ask some of the world’s greatest writers—regardless of genre—to be inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.

The results are surprising and joyous. Some tales are pastiches, featuring the recognizable figures of Holmes and Watson; others step away in time or place to describe characters and stories influenced by the Holmes world. Some of the authors spin whimsical tales of fancy; others tell hard-core thrillers or puzzling mysteries. One beloved author writes a song; two others craft a melancholy graphic tale of insectoid analysis.

This is not a volume for readers who crave a steady diet of stories about Holmes and Watson on Baker Street. Rather, it is for the generations of readers who were themselves inspired by the classic tales, and who are prepared to let their imaginations roam freely.

Featuring Stories by: Peter S. Beagle, Rhys Bowen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Jamie Freveletti, Alan Gordon, Gregg Hurwitz, Toni L. P. Kelner, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello, Harley Jane Kozak, D. P. Lyle, Weston Ochse, Zoe Sharp, Duane Swierczynski, and F. Paul Wilson.

My Review:

Welcome to my review of the biennual collection of Sherlock Holmes-inspired stories edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. This is an every two years treat, as evidenced by my reviews of the previous collections in this quasi-series, A Study In Sherlock, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes and Echoes of Sherlock Holmes.

The stories in all of these collections were inspired by Holmes, one way or another, and are commissioned for the collections. And like all collections, they are a bit of a mixed bag. The game, however, is definitely afoot, both in stories that feel like they could be part of the original canon, and in stories that take their inspiration from the Great Detective without necessarily featuring him in either his Victorian guise or a more contemporary one.

I have several favorites in this year’s collection, one each to reflect the different aspects of Holmesiana that are represented here.

My favorite story in the manner of the master himself The Case of the Missing Case by Alan Gordon. It takes place before the canon begins, when Mycroft is still working his way up the government ladder, and Sherlock, in his very early 20s, has not yet taken up rooms with Watson. And is not yet quite as sure of himself and his methods as he will later become. It actually fits quite nicely into the period between the excellent Mycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Whitehouse, and the beginning of the official canon.in A Study in Scarlet.

In this story we see a very young Sherlock justifying his continuing presence in London to the consternation of his parents and the absolute chagrin of brother Mycroft by solving the case of a missing violinist and saving his brother’s life. This story also provides a rather lovely explanation for Sherlock’s acquisition of his famous Stradivarius.

This collection has relatively few Holmesian stories set in the Victorian era. Most are either modern variations of Holmes – or modern detectives, whether amateur or professional, who use Holmes’ methods.

Of the contemporary Holmes stories, I can’t decide between Hounded by Zoe Sharp and The Ghost of the Lake by Jamie Freveletti. They are such completely different versions of the 21st century Holmes that choosing between them is impossible.

Hounded by Zoe Sharp is so much fun because it is a contemporary reworking of The Hound of the Baskervilles. It shows just how timeless the canon can be, by transplanting from the 19th century to the 21st and still making it all, including the ghostly hound, work.

The Ghost of the Lake, on the other hand, is a 21st century version of Holmes that owes a lot to both Elementary and Sherlock without feeling like an imitation of either. In this story, Sherlock Holmes is a 21st century operative for a secret British government department who has come to Chicago to prevent the kidnapping of an American national security specialist who has plenty of tricks up her own sleeve – and who is every bit Holmes’ equal in every way.

I liked, not only the portrayal of Holmes in this story, but also the character of Dr. Hester Regine. And I loved the trip down memory lane to Chicago, my favorite of all of the places that we have lived.

Last but not least, the story that took the phrase “inspired by Sherlock Holmes” to new heights. And depths. And several places in between. That would be The Adventure of the Six Sherlocks by Toni L.P. Kelner. This story both spoofs the love of Holmes and celebrates it at the same time, as its amateur detectives find themselves using Sherlock Holmes’ own methods to investigate a murder at a convention of Sherlock Holmes fans.

The story reminds me a bit of Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb, where an author is murdered at a science fiction convention – but if “Six Sherlocks” uses that book as a springboard, it’s a very light spring.

Even the idea of a cooking show featuring actors portraying Holmes and Watson is hilarious. But when someone murders “Holmes” at the Sherlock Holmes convention, there are too many pretend Sherlocks and nearly not enough real ones to crack the case. This one is a light and fun send up of fan conventions in general and Sherlock Holmes mania in particular as well as being a cute mystery.

Escape Rating B+: Overall I enjoyed this collection. There were a couple of stories that just weren’t quite my cuppa, and one or two where it felt like they were a bit too far off the Holmesian tangent to be in this collection.

I read it in a day, finding myself getting so caught up in each story that I almost finished before I knew it. If you like Holmes or Holmes-like or Holmes-lite stories, this collection is every bit as much of a treat as its predecessors.

Of all the stories in all these collections, the one that still haunts me is from the first one, A Study in Sherlock. It’s The Case of Death and Honey by Neil Gaiman, and it’s the one that I still most want to be true.

Review: The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin + Giveaway

Review: The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin + GiveawayThe Frame-Up (The Golden Arrow #1) by Meghan Scott Molin
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Golden Arrow #1
Pages: 287
Published by 47North on December 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

By day she writes comic books. By night, she lives them.

MG Martin lives and breathes geek culture. She even works as a writer for the comic book company she idolized as a kid. But despite her love of hooded vigilantes, MG prefers her comics stay on the page.

But when someone in LA starts recreating crime scenes from her favorite comic book, MG is the LAPD’s best—and only—lead. She recognizes the golden arrow left at the scene as the calling card of her favorite comic book hero. The thing is…superheroes aren’t real. Are they?

When the too-handsome-for-his-own-good Detective Kildaire asks for her comic book expertise, MG is more than up for the adventure. Unfortunately, MG has a teeny little tendency to not follow rules. And her off-the-books sleuthing may land her in a world of trouble.

Because for every superhero, there is a supervillain. And the villain of her story may be closer than she thinks…

My Review:

First of all, think of Batman. Not because he appears in this story, except by mention. As does every geeky/nerdy movie, TV show, book, comic and game that you can think of. And a few you probably can’t. (Not just because a few of the geek references are made up for the purposes of this story, but because no geek, no matter how dedicated, is into absolutely every geekish everything on every geekish axis. I say this as someone who is fairly geeky, and recognized most but not quite all of the references and in-jokes.)

And I’m not sure if someone without at least a passing knowledge of geekdom will enjoy this story, because there are a LOT of in-jokes. And while the point of the romance part of the plot is that MG finally realizes that she doesn’t need to find someone who knows the ins and outs of geek culture in order to find her happily ever after, it does help the reader to know what at least some of what the flying references refer to.

Back to Batman. Among all of the famous superheroes, Batman is the one who is just “original recipe” human. He may be incredibly rich, and probably has a heaping helping of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but underneath the batsuit is just a (usually really, really buff) man. No extra-terrestrial origin, no mythic ancestors, no science experiment gone wrong. Just as Batman responds in Justice League to the question, “What are your superpowers again?”. His answer, “I’m rich.”. And that’s all.

The “caped crusader” who turns out to be at the heart of the mystery in The Frame-Up, the Hooded Falcon, is just like Batman. Not nearly as rich, but just as human. And only human. Excessively trained, and with a desire to see justice done, but merely human.

As a comic book, the original Hooded Falcon died decades before the opening of the events in this story, but MG Martin is a writer for Genius Comics, the company founded on the popularity of the Hooded Falcon. And even though the Falcon’s original creator is long since dead, his son still publishes a comic under the Hooded Falcon name – admittedly without any of his father’s, or his father’s creation’s spirit.

But someone in LA is committing crimes that recreate panels from the classic Hooded Falcon adventures. This person seems to have taken up either the banner of the Falcon himself, or perhaps that of the Falcon’s creator. Either way, there’s a vigilante on the streets of LA who has put himself (or possibly herself) in the sights of LA’s current generation of drug kingpins.

The police want to stop the crime spree before it’s too late. After a chance encounter, Detective Matteo Kildaire recruits MG as a police consultant expert on all things geek in general, and on her hero the Hooded Falcon in particular.

But all the clues point much, much too close to home, both for MG and Matteo. When his creator died, the Hooded Falcon was on the trail of both the drug kingpins AND the dirty cop who was covering for them.

History seems to be repeating, with both MG and Matteo caught in the crossfire. This time it’s not a crossfire of BAM and KAPOW, but real guns firing real bullets and dealing real death. They have to find the faces behind the masks, before it’s too late for our heroes.

After all, in real life there’s no possibility of a failure saving reboot if they get it wrong.

Escape Rating B-: The Frame-Up felt a bit like two books in one. One book that I really liked, and one that I really didn’t.

The first third or so of the story is the setup. We get introduced to MG, her coworkers at Genius Comics, and the opening frames of her relationship with Matteo. That relationship begins by being intimately tied to the case – not that it doesn’t take on a life of its own.

But the introduction to MG’s world is hard to take. MG is the lone female at Genius Comics. We see things entirely from her perspective, and that’s a realistically scary place to be. Geekdom in general, and geekdom-creation spaces in particular, are rightfully notorious for their misogynistic dudebro culture. Women are made to feel unwelcome, and it’s deliberate. MG is correct in her belief that she has to be “more badass” than any of the guys just to be taken half as seriously  – no matter how unfair it is or how much it hurts to be that defensive all the time.

Matteo, with his need to find an “in” so that he can surreptitiously scope out the company, absolutely DOES undermine MG’s position. That she falls for him rather than boot him to the curb at the first opportunity rankles quite a lot.

And the whole setup makes for very hard reading.

Once things are significantly setup, the story kicks into a higher gear and becomes a lot of fun.

The mystery is definitely a wild and crazy ride, only missing a few scattered BAMs and KAPOWs to make it completely part of the comic hero genre. I really liked MG’s nerdiness and felt for her desire to be her authentic best self. I particularly liked the way that Matteo, while he is a “virgin” when it comes to geek culture, is open minded about everything he experiences. It’s easy to see that he accepts MG for who she is, loves her as she is, and doesn’t feel any need to cram her into a box that won’t fit – as her parents and so many people in her life have previously tried to do.

The case has a lot of heart to it. It’s about children taking care of, writing wrongs for, or attempting to get past the legacies of their parents. It’s about superheroes and supervillains, and how real people come to fit into those places – whether they intend to or not.

And in the best superhero tradition, good triumphs, evil gets its just deserts, and the hero and heroine live happily ever after. At least until the next supervillain comes along…

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Frame-Up to one lucky US commenter!

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Review: Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra

Review: Markswoman by Rati MehrotraMarkswoman (Asiana, #1) by Rati Mehrotra
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Asiana #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Voyager on January 23, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, one of a handful of sisterhoods of highly trained elite warriors. Armed with blades whose metal is imbued with magic and guided by a strict code of conduct, the Orders are sworn to keep the peace and protect the people of Asiana. Kyra has pledged to do so—yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her murdered family.

When Tamsyn, the powerful and dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. She is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof.

Kyra escapes through one of the strange Transport Hubs that are the remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past and finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of a desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a disillusioned Marksman whose skill with a blade is unmatched. He understands the desperation of Kyra’s quest to prove Tamsyn’s guilt, and as the two grow closer, training daily on the windswept dunes of Khur, both begin to question their commitment to their Orders. But what they don’t yet realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is thin . . . as thin as the blade of a knife.

My Review:

This one sits right on the border between YA fantasy and Adult epic fantasy. I say this as more of a warning, in that the “official” genre designations on both Goodreads and Amazon emphasize the epic fantasy aspects and gloss over the young adult heroine. I enjoyed the book a lot, and am hoping to get an eARC for the second book in the series, Mahimata, but I’m not sure I would have picked it up if I’d known it was YA. So I’m not sorry in the least that I did, but your mileage may vary.

The Asiana series is also part of the “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck but isn’t actually a duck” school of fantasy-flavored science fiction. Or, if you prefer, science fiction that feels like fantasy. Like Pern or Celta, worlds that were created or found by science but have either regressed or chosen to live in a way that feels fantasy-like. I suspect that the SFnal origin will come into play later in this series, just as it does in both Pern and Celta.

In the case of Asiana, this world is a far-future, extremely post-Apocalyptic version of quite possibly our own Earth. The Apocalypse in question is so far back in the distant past that it is by this point a matter of myth and legend rather than history, but it is definitely there. The Orders of Peace of which the Order of Kali that Kyra belongs to is one, are known to be descendants of that long ago catastrophe.

More than long enough ago that the rules, regulations, strictures and beliefs have morphed considerably over the centuries. But at their heart lies that long ago, planetary-wide devastation.

But this story takes place in that far-future “present” and focuses on the struggles of the young Markswoman, Kyra.

Markswomen are bonded to their specially forged blades, and serve as peacekeepers, guards, judges and sometimes assassins throughout the world of Asiana. We meet Kyra as she undertakes her first Mark, the death that signifies a change in her status from apprentice to full-fledged Markswoman.

For Kyra it is also a personal quest, as her mark is the son of the man who wiped out her entire clan. It is justice, as his father murdered her clan’s future, she in turn kills his.

But it also marks the beginning of a long journey. One in which Kyra discovers that what she has been taught is not all that it seems – and that betrayal comes most easily from those that are closest to us.

It is a lesson that sends Kyra on a journey across the continent and back, because the person who has been betrayed is Kyra’s teacher and not herself. And Kyra is the only person capable of resetting the balance.

Escape Rating B+: Markswoman is the opening of a terrific epic fantasy – one that is all the better for having its roots somewhere other than the Western traditions that so often flavor epic fantasy.

The story also sits on that dividing line between coming-of-age and coming-into-power. Kyra is on the cusp of becoming a full Markswoman as the story begins. She is uncertain about her place in the Order of Kali and in her world in general. And she has to leave home in order to figure out what her destiny is and where she truly belongs. For most of the story, she is constantly learning lessons – not the formal lessons that comprised her novitiate and apprenticeship in the order, but the life lessons that will allow her to move forward.

One of the hardest, as it so often is, is the lesson about letting go. Not giving up, but of learning which are the battles to be fought and which are the injustices to be forgiven. We feel her indecision, her desperation, her frustration and her impatience. We also feel her need to make things right, and the conflict that brings to her heart.

But, as I said at the beginning, this story lies on the knife edge between YA and epic fantasy. The one place where it slips into YA territory is in its treatment of potential romantic relationships, as it very nearly falls into the dreaded love triangle trap. It doesn’t quite fall, but it gets a bit too close for comfort.

This also leads to wondering about the complete gender segregation of all of the Orders of Peace and how on Earth – or Asiana – that possibly works. Admittedly, we do get hints that it doesn’t. But it does make one wonder how Kyra’s nascent relationship with a Marksman from another order is going to work – if at all – or how much trouble it’s going to get them both into if they survive.

Which leads to my fair warning about the end of the book. Because Markswoman ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. While I wonder what took me so long to read it, I’m also glad that the eARC for the second book is already available. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Review: Mission: Her Security by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Security by Anna HackettMission: Her Security (Team 52 #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Team 52 #3
Pages: 212
Published by Anna Hackett on November 11th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

When sweet, smiling Kinsey is kidnapped by unknown forces, former SEAL and Team 52 operator Smith Creed will risk anything to get her back.

Kinsey Beck is used to life knocking her down. She escaped her past and came to Las Vegas for a new start. So what if she didn’t achieve her dream of being a showgirl, instead, she now has an awesome job as logistics manager for the covert, black ops Team 52. She loves all the team…especially big, gruff mountain man Smith, even if he isn’t interested in her the way she’d like. But when Kinsey is kidnapped, she finds alone and herself trapped in a deadly fight for survival…

Smith Creed is a loner who prefers his own company, his dog, and his mountain cabin. Working for Team 52 lets him use his unique skills to help ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. It also brings him in close contact with a woman he knows isn’t for him—sweet, beautiful Kinsey. But when he learns she’s been snatched, her life hanging in the balance, he’ll tear the world apart to bring her home safely.

But rescuing Kinsey uncovers a deeper plot and a shadowy group out to destroy the world. Smith and Team 52 will be forced to make tough decisions—revolving around a dangerous, ancient artifact—and even when Kinsey is back in Smith’s arms, she still isn’t safe. With danger at every turn, Smith with sacrifice everything to ensure Kinsey’s security, but the greatest danger of all might be to Smith’s closed-off heart.

My Review:

I’ve always said that this series reminded me of Stargate. I had to laugh out loud when they headed to Denver, the home of the Cheyenne Mountain Base. There may not be a Stargate in the mountain, but as many artifacts as Team 52 has turned up so far, you never know!

This story begins when Team 52’s logistics expert, Kinsey Beck, is kidnapped from their in-town “Bunker” in Las Vegas. Her kidnapping sets off several chain reactions, reactions of all different kinds.

One is the chain reaction her kidnapping sets off in Smith Creed, one of the loners in Team 52. He’s interested in Kinsey, but as has been the case with the other heroes in this series, Smith believes that he’s too damaged to be good for Kinsey. Kinsey has more than few emotional scars of her own, and has assumed that her own interest in Smith is one-sided. Wondering whether or not you’re going to live another day has a way of focusing one’s priorities.

Although Smith tries to keep Kinsey at more than arm’s length, when the first snatch and grab turns into the second and eventually the third, he gives in to the inevitable – and Kinsey is more than willing to give in to him. She just doesn’t think it will last.

There are also some subterranean chain reactions, set off by the ancient artifact that Team 52 is forced to trade for Kinsey’s life. Someone seems to think that setting off earthquakes is the perfect way to get attention – and remake the world.

Of course Team 52, with more than a little help from Treasure Hunter Security, is going to stop the villains from carrying out their nefarious plans – once they manage to stop everyone from kidnapping Kinsey!

Escape Rating B-: My favorite scene was when Team 52 meets up with Treasure Hunter Security in the THS offices, and Darcy Ward (co-owner of THS and heroine of Undetected) tell them, “THS badasses meet the Team 52 badasses.” What a hoot!

However, I also found myself thinking that for all the prep that the badasses of Team 52 do for their missions, they did a really lousy job of taking care of the security for their logistics manager. So much of what happens to Kinsey in this story happens because she wasn’t prepared. Not that she didn’t do fairly well with the hand that she was dealt, but she gets kidnapped so damn often because she wasn’t nearly well trained enough for a situation that seemed inevitable.

Some evildoer was bound to figure out that Kinsey was the weak link in Team 52’s security sooner or later – and they really should have bet on sooner. After all, it’s what they do.

As with all of this author’s work, I found the story to be a lot of fun, but it also felt like the cheesy factor lived up to the title. I’ve always found the titles of this series to be particularly cheesy, and this entry lives up to the cheese.

First, Kinsey gets kidnapped way too often. One of the things I like about this author is that she usually doesn’t resort to the stereotypical “heroine in jeopardy” plot devices. This outing got way too close to falling into that trope trap.

That being said, I still had a good time with Mission: Her Security – even if poor Kinsey wasn’t very secure for a good chunk of the book. But then, that’s why it needed to be a mission!

I’m looking forward to Anna Hackett’s return to science fiction romance in Edge of Eon, coming in December. OMG that’s next month! YAY!

Review: The Lady Traveler’s Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl by Victoria Alexander

Review: The Lady Traveler’s Guide to  Deception with an Unlikely Earl by Victoria AlexanderThe Lady Travelers Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl (The Lady Travelers Society, #3) by Victoria Alexander
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Lady Travelers Society #3
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on November 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set sail for love in this sparkling new adventure in #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander’s Lady Travelers Society series.

Harry Armstrong has spent years in Egypt, recovering relics and disregarding rules. Now he’s back in England with a new title and a new purpose: penning his exploits. But his efforts are overshadowed by London’s favorite writer about Egypt—a woman they call The Queen of the Desert, of all things. Worse, her stories—serialized in newspapers and reprinted in books—are complete rubbish.

Miss Sidney Honeywell didn’t set out to deceive anyone. It’s not her fault readers assumed her Tales of a Lady Adventurer in Egypt were real! Admitting her inadvertent deception now would destroy her reputation and her livelihood. But when the Earl of Brenton challenges her to travel to Egypt to prove her expertise, accompanied by his dashing, arrogant nephew, what choice does she have but to pack her bags?

With the matchmaking founders of the Lady Travelers Society in tow, Harry is determined to expose Sidney’s secret. But the truth might not be as great a revelation as discovering that love can strike even the most stubborn of hearts.

My Review:

I kept expecting Amelia Peabody Emerson to walk through the lobby of Shepheard’s Hotel at any moment. Not that this is her story, but she and her entourage would have fit right into the adventures of Harry Armstrong, Sidney Honeywell and the gaggle of elderly ladies who are alternately chaperoning and matchmaking the couple – when they’re not aiding and abetting a criminal enterprise or two.

And there’s no dead body – not quite. Not even the one that Sidney and Harry expect to find.

But this is definitely a romp from beginning to end. It’s lighthearted, occasionally light-fingered, and frothy fun.

Sidney has been supplementing her meager income by writing. She has fictionalized the Egyptian adventures of her late grandmother in Cadwallender’s magazine, and the series has been a huge success.

But Sidney knew she was writing fiction, admittedly fiction with an underpinning of fact as well as a scholar’s knowledge of Egypt and her antiquities. However, her readers seem to believe that her stories are absolutely factual from beginning to end.

And the meddling founders of the Lady Travelers Society, not having gotten their members in enough trouble in the previous outings of the series (The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen and The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger) can’t seem to resist getting themselves a bit too involved when the Earl of Brenton takes offense at Sidney’s stories.

He claims they are complete bunk, and that Sidney, who writes as Mrs. Gordon, is deceiving her audience unconscionably. What he’s not admitting is that he is incensed that Sidney’s fluff pieces are celebrated while he can’t seem to find a publisher for his earnestly written, utterly factual – and deadly dull – accounts of his own travels in Egypt.

So they’re off on a jaunt to Egypt, paid for by the magazine, so that Sidney can prove her expertise, or Harry can prove she’s a fraud and get a guaranteed publishing contract. With the founding “Lady Travelers” along as chaperones and comic relief, managing to finally take the trip that they’ve always dreamed of.

Sidney claims to be Mrs. Gordon, Harry claims to be his own nephew, and the reporter sent by the magazine hovers over everything, hoping to get a story that will make his career, one way or another.

Then Harry’s somewhat disreputable past catches up with Sidney’s new-found spirit of adventure, and they find themselves in the midst of a classic farce of a treasure hunt.

With so much fun to be had, sun, sand, adventure and the trip of a lifetime, how could they not fall in love? With Egypt, and especially with each other?

Escape Rating B+: This is absolutely wonderful, marvelously tasty, complete and utter fluff. It’s delicious.

It would also make a great Shakespearean comedy. Sidney is deceiving Harry. Harry is deceiving Sidney. The reporter is deceiving everyone. Except that everyone seems to know that everyone is deceiving everyone else and no one is willing to admit it.

And that just adds to the sense of fun and adventure.

It’s also a lot of fun the way that Sidney’s real-life adventures in Egypt seem so much like her fictional adventures. Her friends think she’s been kidnapped by white slavers, when the truth is that an Egyptian princess is a fan of her work, so she gets to spend a night in the harem with the princess and her family.

She steals a priceless Egyptian antiquity from a nefarious smuggler, only to discover that it’s the key to a much greater treasure and a much bigger adventure.

She begins by revisiting the scenes of her grandmother’s greatest adventures – only to have a great adventure of her own. And to clear up her grandmother’s unfinished business.

Her contest with Harry brings out Sidney’s inner adventurer at every turn, and allows her to become the woman she was meant to be. Not because he sweeps her off her feet – although he eventually does – but because he treats her as an equal combatant in their rivalry.

That she also helps him solve the mystery that has been dogging him for two long and lonely years makes them earn their happy ever after – while providing just desserts for the true villain of the piece.

This series is simply loads of fun, and every trip with the Lady Travelers Society is always a lovely adventure. I’m looking forward to their next adventure in The Lady Travelers Guide to Happily Ever After when it comes out in June. It’s sure to be another marvelous lark!

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Review: Pirate’s Passion by Lisa Kessler + Giveaway

Review: Pirate’s Passion by Lisa Kessler + GiveawayPirate's Passion by Lisa Kessler
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #2
Pages: 311
Published by Entangled: Amara on November 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Samuel Keegan used to man the wheel of the Sea Dog over 200 years ago, but these days he’s the front man of a southern rock band. Rum and women are plentiful, but his world is changing rapidly now that his crew is back together searching for the Holy Grail to break their curse. But the quest leads him to a historian with raven hair and a wicked smile. She holds all the answers, but she could also spell death for them all.

Dr. Charlotte Sinclair works for the Maritime Museum in Savannah, an expert on ancient pirate wrecks. When a government agent requests her help in a top-secret investigation, she discovers not only is the Holy Grail real, but the lead singer of her favorite band is actually the immortal pilot of the Sea Dog crew.

The search for the Grail opens some dark secrets better left hidden, and Charlotte's life might depend on one Pirate's Passion...

Each book in the Sentinels of Savannah series is STANDALONE:* Magnolia Mystic* Pirate's Passion

My Review:

While the title of this series is reminiscent of the Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans, the story keeps giving me vibes that it’s related to Alyssa Day’s Warriors of Poseidon – along with a touch of a vampire romance series that I read a long time ago and now can’t recall the title of. And that’s going to drive me bananas until I figure out what it was.

Along with just a hint of the X-Files.

Only the beginnings of this mix were hinted at in the first book in this series, Magnolia Mystic. In that first story, readers were introduced to the immortal crew of the privateer Sea Dog, alive and mostly well over two centuries after their ship sank in the waters near Savannah.

Nearly, well, because their immortality seems to be wearing off.

The last treasure they took was the Holy Grail – and they all took a drink from the cup of immortality. But suddenly they aren’t healing as fast or as well as they used to. They decide to retrieve it from its hiding place and take another sip, only to discover that the cup is missing.

And that they aren’t the only ones after it. That’s where the X-Files come in, or at least Department 13, in the person of Agent David Bale.

That’s where we pick up the story in Pirate’s Passion. While Bale has already enlisted the help of the Sea Dog crew to retrieve the cup, they all need help figuring out who might have stolen it and why.

That’s where Dr. Charlotte Sinclair and the Savannah Maritime Museum come it. Charlotte is an expert on 19th century privateering in the Savannah area in general, and on the Sea Dog and its crew in particular.

She’s even written a book on the subject.

So it’s not much of a stretch to think that she might be able to help – once Bale reveals at least some of the truths to Dr. Sinclair. The big truth that “the truth really is out there” and that there are all sorts of legendary creatures that are not quite as legendary as she might have thought.

And that the crew of the Sea Dog, including the local rock singer she nearly went to bed with the night before, is alive and well and has been spending their eternity in Savannah. She’s not certain whether to be embarrassed about her previous encounter with Samuel Keegan, or to just go with the chemistry between them.

Her friends have all been telling her that she seriously needs to get a life – even if getting an immortal one isn’t quite what they had in mind.

Escape Rating B+: There is a LOT going on in this story. While Magnolia Mystic introduces the series, that was a novella. And now it kind of feels like a teaser. We met the crew and discovered their situation, but the wider (and sometimes wilder) world is mostly in the background. Which makes it a very nice introduction to the series but not critical to getting into this story.

Pirate’s Passion is where all the big guns and full-size cutlasses come out of their holsters and sheaths, and we learn just how different the world really is. While there is a romance in this story, and it looks like there will be in the rest of the series, the overarching story is urban fantasy.

This is our world, it just has a whole lot more…dimensions… than we are aware of. Many of those extra added attractions are interesting, some are very cool, and more than a few are quite deadly. As our heroine discovers, even if our hero isn’t certain whether that deadliness is something that he has to worry about – or not – or not yet.

The romance between Keegan and Char burns hot and heavy, but is often laced with tears. One of the dilemmas that ALWAYS has to be solved, resolved, or at least glossed over is what happens when one of the lovers is immortal. As far as they know, Keegan could live for centuries yet, where Char is mortal. If things go the way they have gone, his choices are to leave before his heart is too deeply engaged or watch her eventually grow old and die – if the dangers of their world don’t kill her first.

That this conundrum is resolved differently from the choices made in Magnolia Mystic gives the story some heft. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. (Also, one-size-fits-all is one of the ten biggest lies, right up there with “the check’s in the mail”, and “this will only hurt for a little while”)

This is also a series where, like Stargate and Anna Hackett’s Team 52 series, there is a government department tasked with dealing with the weird, that has a storage facility of dangerous artifacts. A department that employs agents who not only believe in the supernatural, but may also be a part of it.

Including Agent Bale, who has been fighting the bad guys longer than anyone expects. And where Char’s supposedly dead father has been hiding out from everyone who seems to be out to get him – on both sides.

So this is the book in the series where we learn just how big and bad the big bad is going to be. After all, if there are good guys on the side of the light, there must also be bad guys hiding in the dark. That there are multiple organizations out there who want to steal whatever artifacts Department 13 turns up for more-or-less nefarious reasons of their own makes sense in this context.

The world that the crew of the Sea Dog is a part of gets much bigger and much deadlier in this entry in the series. While I love the complexity of the world building, this is one of those times where it might have been better if it didn’t whack into the reader all at once – especially with Char’s own personal connections to the weird along with the crew of the Sea Dog finding out just how much is out there besides themselves.

Your mileage may vary.

That being said, I certainly enjoyed my second outing with the crew of the Sea Dog, if not quite as much as my first trip in Magnolia Mystic. I’m definitely looking forward to another voyage with this crew of pirates in Pirate’s Pleasure, sometime next year. Hopefully early next year!

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

To celebrate the release of PIRATE’S PASSION by Lisa Kessler, we’re giving away for a $25 Amazon gift card!

LINK: http://bit.ly/2y1fdsw

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open internationally. One winner will be chosen to receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing.  Giveaway ends 11/16/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Entangled Publishing will send one winning prize, Pure Textuality PR will deliver the other. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: Seasons of Sorcery by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jennifer Estep and Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Seasons of Sorcery by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jennifer Estep and Jeffe KennedySeasons of Sorcery : A Fantasy Anthology by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jeffe Kennedy, Jennifer Estep
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy romance
Pages: 410
Published by Brightlynx on November 13, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

WINTER'S WEB BY JENNIFER ESTEP

An assassin at a renaissance faire. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, if you’re Gin Blanco. This Spider is trapped in someone else’s icy web—and it seems like they don’t want her to leave the faire alive . . .

 A WILDERNESS OF GLASS BY GRACE DRAVEN

 The stretch of sea known as the Gray rules the lives of those in the village of Ancilar, including widow Brida Gazi. In the aftermath of an autumn storm, Brida discovers one of the sea's secrets cast onto the shore—a discovery that will change her world, mend her soul, and put her in the greatest danger she's ever faced.

 A CURSE FOR SPRING BY AMANDA BOUCHET

 A malevolent spell strangles the kingdom of Leathen in catastrophic drought. Prince Daric must break the curse before his people starve. A once-mighty goddess trapped in a human body might be the key—but saving his kingdom could mean losing all that he loves.

 THE DRAGONS OF SUMMER BY JEFFE KENNEDY

 As unofficial consort to the High Queen, former mercenary Harlan Konyngrr faces a challenge worse than looming war and fearsome dragons. His long-held secrets threaten what he loves most—and he must make a choice between vows to two women.

My Review:

Jeffe Kennedy seems to be participating in one of these fantasy romance anthologies every year, because that’s where I get them from. There’s always a story from her awesome Twelve Kingdoms series, and I’d get the whole thing for that alone. But the other stories are frequently awesome, occasionally even awesomer, so I’m glad to collect the set!

Seasons of Sorcery contains four fantasy romance novellas, all but one set in its author’s ongoing series.

Winter’s Web by Jennifer Estep is set in her Elemental Assassin series, which I haven’t read – or at least not yet. The story takes place at a Renaissance Faire in an urban fantasy-type world where magic exists but seems to be mostly, but not totally, hidden in plain sight. As I said, I haven’t read this series, but I still enjoyed the story. The Ren Faire setting always provides an interesting backdrop for urban fantasy, and this story is no exception. I suspect that the story didn’t have quite the resonance for me as it would for readers who are familiar with the series, but it still worked well and I didn’t feel lost at all. I liked it more than enough to put this series on the towering TBR pile!

Escape Rating for Winter’s Web: B+

Although A Wilderness of Glass by Grace Draven is set in her Wraith Kings world, which I have not read, the setting felt awfully familiar. Only because it was. This story is set in the same town and among the same people as Night Tide, her fantastic story in Teeth Long and Sharp. A story that I loved.

I didn’t find this story to be quite as good as Night Tide, possibly because it was a bit too reminiscent of The Shape of Water. Albeit with a slightly different version of the happy ending. At least as far as we know.

Escape Rating for A Wilderness of Glass: B

There’s nearly always one story in a collection that doesn’t work for me. It’s the nature of collections that you get to sample authors you may not be familiar with, but might like because they are like someone you already do.

Not that any fantasy romance reader is not familiar with Amanda Bouchet and her terrific Kingmaker Chronicles!

But A Curse for Spring by Amanda Bouchet is the story in this collection that just didn’t work for me. Which is ironic because it is the one story that is not in a previously created world of any kind. For this reader, the problem with this story was that it felt too obvious. It seemed clear from the very beginning what was going on, who was responsible, and how the problem was going to get solved. I kept wanting the story to either just get on with it or go someplace interesting – but it did neither.

Escape Rating for A Curse for Spring: C

Last but definitely not least, The Dragons of Summer by Jeffe Kennedy. This is the story that I got this collection for, and it did not disappoint – although it did occasionally infuriate – but in a good way.

This story is set in Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series. While it seems to take place directly after The Arrows of the Heart, much of the emotional heft of the story comes from its relationship to the heroine of her Chronicles of Dasnaria series. The long shadow cast by the lost Dasnarian princess Jenna still looms over her brothers Harlan and Kral. Neither of them know their sister’s fate, but both had a hand in setting her on her path.

It’s not just her brothers that are ignorant of whether Jenna is alive or dead. The final book in that series, Warrior of the World, is due out on January 8. I’ve never been so glad to have an ARC! It’s not so much that either the previous story, Exile of the Seas, or this short story end in a cliffhanger as that it is now obvious that Jenna’s fate is going to be the key that resolves EVERYTHING in both series.

It’s just the kind of ginormous wrap-up that makes readers salivate waiting for the next book in the series. But it also means that this story, of all the stories in the collection, is the one that really only makes sense if you’ve followed the series. And if you love fantasy romance and you haven’t read the series, what on earth are you waiting for? Begin your journey with The Mark of the Tala, and settle in for a marvelous read.

Escape Rating for The Dragons of Summer: A

Review: Why Not Tonight by Susan Mallery

Review: Why Not Tonight by Susan MalleryWhy Not Tonight (Happily Inc., #3) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Happily Inc #3
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on September 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Susan Mallery welcomes you to Happily Inc, where true love isn’t just for fairy tales…

Natalie Kaleta will do anything for the artists at her gallery, including risk life, limb and the effect of humidity on her naturally curly hair. Braving a downpour to check on reclusive Ronan Mitchell, Natalie gets stranded by a mudslide at his mountain home, where the brooding glass artist reveals his playful side, sending her inconvenient crush from under-the-radar to over-the-top.

After a secret tore apart his family and made him question his sense of self, Ronan fled his hometown for Happily Inc, but the sunny small town can’t fix his damaged heart. He won’t give in to his attraction for beautiful, perpetually cheerful Natalie. She’s untouched by darkness—or so he thinks.

Natalie knows that when a heart goes through the flame, it comes out stronger. Life may not be a fairy tale, but sometimes dreams do come true. Why not this one? Why not tonight?

My Review:

Although this story, and the entire Happily Inc. series so far, are definitely contemporary romances, this entry in particular has every bit as much to do with family as it does with romance.

Not that hero Ronan Mitchell doesn’t need his family to find his HEA. Because he’s cut himself off from his brothers and his parents, and without them he can’t seem to find the inspiration he needs – and he does need it. Ronan, just like his brothers Nick and Mathias (and their piece of work father) is an internationally acclaimed artist.

Cutting himself off from the people who care about him – and who he’s currently unwilling to admit that he cares about as well, is also cutting him off from the wellspring that lets him create.

Natalie Kaleta crashes into his solitude and changes, well, everything. For the better. Not that it doesn’t take Ronan a while, a long while, to admit it.

Natalie, the office manager of the gallery where Ronan and his two artistic brothers all display their work, is also an artist herself. And she’s one of those people who cares deeply about the people in her life.

Unlike Ronan, Natalie has no surviving family-of-birth. Her father died before she was born and her mother raised her alone. They were two against the world until her mother died of cancer. But Natalie is not alone, finding herself stranded in Happily Inc. she found herself a job that gives her time to create and created a family-of-choice that sustains her.

She envies Ronan for his close-knit family, and thinks he’s a fool and an idiot for turning his back on them. And she tells him so when she gets stuck in his mountain house during a storm.

He still has a chance to mend fences with his family, fences that he tore down. His struggle is not unreasonable, but his continuing to be a butt-head about it certainly is.

Their forced proximity during the storm gives the sparks between them a chance to rise to the surface, so even though Ronan claims not to want a relationship with anyone, and Natalie is interested in finding commitment, they make a mutual decision to have fun while whatever they have lasts.

When Natalie figures out that she wants more – Ronan does what he does best these days and retreats to his castle, pulling up the figurative drawbridge behind him.

It takes some brotherly intervention to crowbar Ronan’s head out of his ass. But when he finally does, his new perspective lets him figure out what’s been right in front of him all along.

Escape Rating B: I returned to Happily Inc, in order to be taken away to a special little town populated with quirky people, based on an equally quirky PR stunt. There was no wagon train, there were no stranded brides – at least not in the 19th century.

Natalie, however, was a stranded bride in the 21st century – one who decided to make a life for herself in this little wedding destination town. She’s found a family-of-choice and a job that lets her focus on her art.

Ronan, on the other hand, came to Happily Inc. to hide away from his family in Fools’ Gold after a family mess came to light. Ronan’s father, the famous glass artist Ceallach Mitchell, revealed that Ronan was his biological son by someone other than his wife. That means that the four brothers that Ronan believed were his full brothers are only half brothers. That the brother he thought was his fraternal twin isn’t. And that the woman he believed was his mother has been lying to him all these years.

Ronan’s response is to run, hide and brood in Happily Inc. Two of his brothers, Nick and Mathias, follow him there. Their stories are marvelously told in You Say It First (Nick) and Second Chance Girl (Mathias). (As an aside, both of those titles make complete sense in the context of their stories. this one doesn’t and it’s driving me crazy.)

When Natalie gate crashes his solitude, he finally starts to realize that he needs people. She is well aware of it, but his head is too far up his fundament to see the light – figuratively and literally.

For this reader it felt like the romance took a back seat to the family drama – and that felt right. Ronan has to figure out his place in the world again, mend his fences with his family, and most importantly learn to trust himself and others again before he can even like himself enough to love someone else. Even someone has completely awesome and totally right for him as Natalie.

It’s an important part of the story that Natalie doesn’t try to “fix” Ronan, because you can’t really fix someone else’s problems. She does provide him opportunities to fix things for himself, and she does create situations where he can work on fixing things if he wants to try, but she doesn’t mend his fences for him – and she isn’t willing to settle for someone who always has one foot out the door.

And she repeatedly calls him on his bullshit – because it needs to be called.

In the end, Why Not Tonight was a heartwarming story about family, where the romantic happily ever after was the reward for the journey and not the central point of the book. I really like these people and especially this place and can’t wait to go back with Not Quite Over You.

Review: Midsummer Mayhem by Marty Wingate

Review: Midsummer Mayhem by Marty WingateMidsummer Mayhem by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Potting Shed #7
Pages: 278
Published by Random House Publishing Group on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Shakespeare comes to Hampshire—and Pru Parke is cast into the role of cunning detective gardener once again.

Pru’s friends and neighbors are abuzz with the news of an acting troupe putting on an outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And while many are eager to catch a glimpse of famed actor Ambrose Grant, Pru can’t wait to finally see the spectacular gardens of the private estate where the play will be performed. When the estate’s gardener abruptly quits—frustrated with actors trampling his beloved plants—Pru is called upon for her gardening expertise. She throws herself into creating magical woodland forest scenes, and is quickly drawn into the excitement of putting on a play, as she watches the drama on and off the stage. But the play’s suddenly no longer the thing, when one of the actors turns up murdered. 

Pru’s husband, Detective Inspector Christopher Pearse, relies on Pru’s knowledge of all the players in this particular intrigue, and Pru finds herself using rehearsals to investigate. But playing the role of private eye could prove perilous for Pru, as she closes in on a murderer who won’t let anyone—least of all the gardener—keep him from stopping the show . . . dead.

My Review:

The title of this one seems like kind of a double-pun to me. First, the mystery takes place during the rehearsals for a production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. But I also have the feeling that Greenoak, where amateur sleuth Pru Parke and her husband, D.I. Christopher Pearse, live, runs just second to the more famous Midsomer County in the number of murders per capita.

The Midsomer connection feels particularly apropos for this entry as one of the more famous members of the Shakespeare troupe has appeared on Midsomer Murders multiple times. (Truthfully, I suspect that every working actor in Britain has appeared on Midsomer Murders multiple times, whether on the way up, or on the way down. Just as every working New York actor has had multiple appearances in the Law & Order franchise!)

Pru Parke may have been bitten, just a bit, by the acting bug back when she was in school, but she makes her living as one of the estate gardeners at Greenoak, along with her older brother Simon.

Still, that long-ago bit of wishful thinking makes Pru an excellent candidate for set decorator/gardener/general dogsbody for the outdoor Shakespeare production that has taken over the extensive gardens of the closed-up estate next door.

That estate’s regular gardener is a bit of a recluse, and not all that fond of people in general – or actors in particular – and has taken himself off in a huff, leaving the Shakespeare company in the lurch and the estate’s owners in a bit of a pickle.

Pru steps in to fill the breach, with no idea what she’s letting herself in for. Only that one of the stars of the production is an actor that not only her late mother, but every woman of a certain age in town, had a crush on back in the day. (And if Ambrose Grant isn’t intended as an homage to Hugh Grant, I’ll eat a bouquet.)

While Pru is an expert gardener, she is in a bit over her head with the set design, at least until murder enters the scene. When it comes to figuring out whodunit, Pru has become rather expert – a fact that her police detective husband both adores and regrets.

He’s happy that they met in the middle of Pru’s first murder investigation, but always worried when she finds herself in the middle of yet another case.

Because her investigations, as helpful as they usually are, also usually put her right in the middle of the murderer’s path. A path that the murderer is usually determined to clear of all impediments – especially Pru.

Escape Rating B: The Potting Shed mystery series has been fun from Pru’s first outing in The Garden Plot. One of the things that makes this cozy mystery series so enjoyable, at least for this reader, is the character of Pru herself.

The series is Pru’s journey, and it’s been a fascinating one so far. It’s all the more lovely for it being a journey of a woman of a certain age starting her life over at midlife. Pru left behind a successful career in Texas to follow her heart, and to follow her mother’s footsteps back to England.

Along the way, Pru found a new life, fell in love and married, and discovered her long-lost brother. For those of us who are also of a certain age, it is fantastic to have a heroine who represents us, and who exemplifies all of those old cliches about being as young as you feel and that life begins at any age.

The background of this particular case was interesting. Putting on a play, or filming a movie, always makes for a scene rife with over-the-top personalities under high pressure, and provides a backdrop where a disparate group of people congregate to accomplish a goal without necessarily knowing each other.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream itself is a play within a play, and Midsummer Mayhem comes very close to being a play within a play within a play. There are certainly lots of players who know of each other if not actually know each other, lots of pressure, plenty of secrets, several illicit affairs and even long-lost lovers – and that’s just among the cast.

In that hothouse environment, it’s not really a surprise that someone ends up dead. Especially someone who seems to have been an complete ass – and not the kind portrayed by Bottom in the play.

It’s not a question of why the man is dead – it’s more a question of winnowing down the rather long list of suspects. I’ll admit that I guessed whodunit fairly early on. The fun in this particular case was in figuring out whether those two long-lost lovers would manage to figure out that they belonged together after all.

Just as in the play, a good time was had by all – except the murderer and his victim – and in the end, a lovely story is told, both to the audience watching the production and to the readers of Pru’s latest adventure.