Review: Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery

Review: Sisters by Choice by Susan MallerySisters by Choice (Blackberry Island, #4) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Blackberry Island #4
Pages: 400
Published by Mira on February 11, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the
New York Times
bestselling author of
California Girls
comes an all new original Blackberry Island novel told with Susan Mallery's trademark humor and charm.
Sisters by Choice
is a heartfelt tale of love, family and the friendships that see us through.


Cousins by chance, sisters by choice...

After her cat toy empire goes up in flames, Sophie Lane returns to Blackberry Island, determined to rebuild. Until small-town life reveals a big problem: she can't grow unless she learns to let go. If Sophie relaxes her grip even a little, she might lose everything. Or she might finally be free to reach for the happiness and love that have eluded her for so long.

Kristine has become defined by her relationship to others. She's a wife, a mom. As much as she adores her husband and sons, she wants something for herself--a sweet little bakery just off the waterfront. She knew changing the rules wouldn't be easy, but she never imagined she might have to choose between her marriage and her dreams.

Like the mainland on the horizon, Heather's goals seem beyond her grasp. Every time she manages to save for college, her mother has another crisis. Can she break free, or will she be trapped in this tiny life forever?

My Review:

I picked this book because I generally enjoy Susan Mallery’s explorations of small-town sisterhood, whether those sisters are by blood or by choice. In this particular story it’s a little bit of both. And I also chose it because I was part of an Excerpt Tour for the book a couple of weeks ago, and the teaser was more than enough to make me want to read the story!

I’d say this was a story about three women whose lives have gone off the rails, but that’s not quite right. As the story opens Sophie’s life has just gone spectacularly off the rails – and up in flames. Kristine’s life is about to go off the rails, and she just doesn’t know it yet. Heather’s life, however, has never been ON the rails, so it can’t actually go off those rails. The issue in Heather’s life is that she has been letting someone else drive her train and it’s not working for her. It’s doubtful if it’s even working for them.

Sophie, Kristine and Heather are cousins who all grew up in the little town of Blackberry Island. Sophie and Kristine grew up together, but Heather is kind of a half-generation behind them. Her mother was closer to Sophie and Kristine in age, but much further from them in spirit.

The three are also at different points in their lives when everything goes completely pear-shaped. Sophie’s business empire has just gone up in flames, Kristine’s marriage runs into tsunami-sized waves and Heather is just plain drowning.

In a strange way, all of their troubles end up wrapped around the issue of control. Sophie, restarting from scratch, doesn’t want to acknowledge that she cannot do every single job in her business and still lead and grow the business. She has to learn to let go enough to trust people to do their jobs, and to trust that people who promise to be there for her will be.

Kristine, on the other hand, in the course of her 16-year marriage has ceded all control to her husband. He gets everything he wants, and she gives in whenever there is any conflict between them. But now that their three sons are growing up, she knows it’s time for her to finally reach for some dreams of her own, a bakery business that she has planned for years but the time has never been right to execute – until now. Only to have the entire thing explode in her face when her husband turns Neanderthal and leaves rather than let her have anything of her own.

Meanwhile, Heather feels trapped. She’s 20 years old and working 4 jobs to support herself and her mother. Her mother isn’t even 40 year, perfectly healthy and refuses to either hold down a job or even begin to see that mooching off her daughter and being completely unwilling to lift a finger to do anything except spend more money is only working for her. But then, Amber twists every situation to make herself the victim. In order to save herself, Heather needs to bring her courage to the sticking point and just leave – before she ends up just like her mother.

The fire at Sophie’s business brings Sophie back home to start again. Her return to Blackberry Island sets events in motion. Where all three women will be in terms of their lives, their personal relationships and their relationship with each other by the time that Sophie is back on her feet provides the tension through the entire book.

It is terrific watching them all find their way – especially because the ways that they are all different pull them together.

Escape Rating B: Reading Sisters by Choice felt a bit like watching three snowballs roll down the hill, picking up speed, along with plenty of grass and twigs, as they go. And then, at the halfway point, one by one those snowballs start to brake. Until they each suddenly get a grip on their trajectory, and somehow learn to ski like an Olympic gold medal contender.

The first half of this book was a hard read. I felt for all of the characters and all of their lives are going to hell in a handcart in ways that felt very familiar. I wanted them all to get better, but I didn’t enjoy suffering through their pain. And it was extremely painful.

Heather’s situation was the hardest. She’s in so deep, and there’s just no hope. Her mother is not going to change and the situation is not going to get better. Heather’s only choices are leaving and drowning, and we’re not sure until near the end which she is going to choose. (Someone I know had a mother just like hers, and there are just no other options. You can only save yourself because the other person does not want to be saved and doesn’t even see the need to be saved. They’re doing just fine because you’re doing all the work and they’re perfectly happy with that arrangement no matter how much they complain.)

Kristine’s situation felt equally awful. She wants to open a bakery. She’s been selling baked goods for years, every weekend, to the tourist venues around town, and she has all the business she can handle without professional sized ovens and equipment. Her sons are all between 10 and 14, so while they still need her, they don’t NEED her the way they did when they were all under 5. But when her husband refuses to even listen to her, let alone support her dreams the way she’s always supported his, she is forced to acknowledge that she’s always been the one to give in and she just can’t anymore. Marriage is supposed to be 50/50, but she’s been giving both 50s for way too long. But standing up for herself is hard. Necessary, but damn difficult every step of the way.

Sophie has the easiest time, and it’s still difficult. But most of her wounds feel self-inflicted. She’s a control freak who can’t let go – and she needs to. But it’s a hard lesson. In the end, it feels like she learns more from the two pregnant cats – and their kittens – that she fosters than she does from any of the humans who keep trying to tell her that she can’t and shouldn’t do it all. And that’s OK. Part of Sophie’s frenetic pace is to keep her from grieving for the cat who saw her through college and was the foundation of her business. It takes Lily and Mrs. Bennett to clue her in that life goes on, even after a loss, or two, or all ten of their kittens off to furever homes.

In the end, these three women build a stronger relationship with each other and find their completely different versions of happy. Heather spreads her wings towards college and freedom. Kristine and her husband repair their marriage on a more equal footing. And Sophie, along with Lily and Mrs. Bennett, make their home with a man who loves them as they are and has no intention of changing them.

And that’s just the way it should be.

The beginning of this one was rough, but the way it turned around at the halfway makes me want to go back and read the previous books in the series, starting with Barefoot Season. The next time I want to spend some quality time in a lovely place with interesting people and just the right amount of drama and romance!

Review: Wild Wild Rake by Janna MacGregor + Giveaway

Review: Wild Wild Rake by Janna MacGregor + GiveawayWild, Wild Rake (The Cavensham Heiresses #6) by Janna MacGregor
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Cavensham Heiresses #6
Pages: 368
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on February 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Her first marriage was an epic failure.

Lady Avalon Warwyck never did love her husband. Arrogant, selfish, and cruel, it’s a blessing when she’s widowed and left to raise her son all by herself. Finally, Avalon can live freely and do the work she loves: helping fallen women become businesswomen. She’s lived these past ten years with no desire to remarry―that is, until Mr. Devan Farris comes to town.


Can he convince her to take another chance at happily ever after?

Devan Farris―charming vicar, reputed rake, and the brother of Avalon’s son’s guardian―is reluctantly sent to town to keep tabs on Avalon and her son. Devan wishes he didn’t have to meddle in her affairs; he’s not one to trod on a woman’s independent nature and keen sense of convictions. But she’ll have nothing to do with vicar with a wild reputation―even though he’s never given his heart and body to another. If only he could find a way to show Avalon who he really is on the inside―a good, true soul looking for its other half. But how can prove that he wants to love and care for her. . .until death do they part?

My Review:

Avalon Warwick’s marriage showed just how much grit was hidden under the glitter of the Regency. Her parents sold her in marriage to a man who absolutely despised her, to the point where he put his mistress in her place and exiled her to his country estate with as little money as he could indecently get away with.

All the while spreading stories around town that painted her as a cold, waspish spendthrift who left him. He ruined her reputation among the ton in every possible way except sexual, as he claimed she was much too cold to want any man in her bed.

But the only time their marriage was consummated left her with his son and heir, so when he died she received enough to maintain them, raise her son, and start an extremely charitable foundation in the village he exiled her to.

So things stand until the story opens, when the young Marquis is rising 10 and his male guardian, her late, unlamented husband’s friend, decrees that the boy should go to Eton as soon as he’s ready. Which in Avalon’s mind will be never.

The man he sends to tutor Thane is his brother Devan, a vicar known for his libertine ways. Devan’s job is to become the parish priest, tutor the boy in anything he might be lacking, and discover just exactly where Avalon is getting the money to set up and maintain that charitable foundation.

He’s happy to do the tutoring, but refuses the spying. Not that Avalon isn’t perfectly aware of why he’s been sent. She just thinks she can make him a better offer financially, to either turn him to her side or drive him away.

But her son wants to go to Eton. And he wants a father. He’s willing to manipulate events to keep Devan around as both tutor and father so he can go to Eton and not leave his mother lonely.

Devan discovers that he is surprisingly onboard with that plan. At least until fate steps in and makes a hash of everything, including the tenuous but surprising romance between Devan and Avalon.

Escape Rating B: This was definitely a mixed-feelings read for me, and it’s going to be a mixed feelings review.

This was a very hard book to read after the two previous books this week. Why? Because both of those featured heroines with a LOT of agency in situations where they could, or were forced to, exercise that agency at every turn.

Avalon, on the other hand, is in a situation where she needs agency and wants it badly but is forced at pretty much every turn to confront how little she has truly managed to claw out of the hands of the men who are legally able to control her life.

Not that she hasn’t done a damn good job carving out a fiefdom as best as she can, and not that she is not administering said fiefdom extremely well when the story begins, but the tension that underpins the eventual romance is the fact that Devan’s brother can take Avalon’s son away from her whenever he wants, and that Devan was sent by his brother to provide a pretext for that taking.

He doesn’t actually need such a pretext, but he’s trying to be a “gentleman” about it. GRRRR.

So the situation in this story gave me a screaming fit. At the same time, I finished the book at 2 in the morning because I wanted to see how the author resolved the romantic dilemma. Which means that the book is plenty well written, just that I’m not the audience for it.

But for readers who can get past or ignore the harsh realities that underlie Avalon’s situation, there’s a lovely romance between a woman who has done her very best to stand firmly on her own two feet and help as many other women as possible to rise with her and a man who appears to be one thing and is actually something entirely different.

Both Avalon and Devan do a very successful job of putting up a strong front – one that hides their equally soft and gooey centers. They are, after all, made for each other. Watching them figure that out was definitely the fun part of the story.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Wild, Wild Rake to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Last Day by Luanne Rice + Giveaway

Review: Last Day by Luanne Rice + GiveawayLast Day by Luanne Rice
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense
Pages: 412
Published by Thomas & Mercer on February 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From celebrated New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice comes a riveting story of a seaside community shaken by a violent crime and a tragic loss.

Years ago, Beth Lathrop and her sister Kate suffered what they thought would be the worst tragedy of their lives the night both the famous painting Moonlight and their mother were taken. The detective assigned to the case, Conor Reid, swore to protect the sisters from then on.

Beth moved on, throwing herself fully into the art world, running the family gallery, and raising a beautiful daughter with her husband Pete. Kate, instead, retreated into herself and took to the skies as a pilot, always on the run. When Beth is found strangled in her home, and Moonlight goes missing again, Detective Reid can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu.

Reid immediately suspects Beth’s husband, whose affair is a poorly kept secret. He has an airtight alibi—but he also has a motive, and the evidence seems to point to him. Kate and Reid, along with the sisters’ closest childhood friends, struggle to make sense of Beth’s death, but they only find more questions: Who else would have wanted Beth dead? What’s the significance of Moonlight?

Twenty years ago, Reid vowed to protect Beth and Kate—and he’s failed. Now solving the case is turning into an obsession . . .

My Review:

This is a story about lightning striking twice – and for the same reasons. It’s also a page-turner of a mystery combined with a story of friendship and sisterhood.

The story opens on Beth Lathrop’s last day. Or at least the last day when anyone who loved her woke up and believed that she was alive. But she isn’t.

Instead, Beth’s corpse is found in her bedroom, several days dead, by her sister and the local police. Those events would normally be the place where everyone’s nightmare begins, but it isn’t.

The nightmare began years ago, when thieves broke into their family’s art gallery and left Beth, her sister Kate, and their mother bound and gagged in the basement while they robbed the place. The girls spent 22 hours in that basement, tied to the body of their mother who choked to death on her gag.

Beth turned outward, her sister Kate turned inward, and the cop who rescued them still keeps tabs on them in the hopes of protecting them again.

But their first ordeal happened because their father betrayed them. It was his plan and his idea, and he’ll be paying the price for it for the rest of his life in prison.

Now tragedy has struck again. Beth is dead, Kate and the rest of her family and friends are lost in grief. But just as before, their peace has been shattered because someone in their inner circle betrayed Beth and betrayed them all.

The question is whether that same cop can figure out just who hides the evil behind a mask of grief.

Escape Rating B: Last Day was a compelling read. I think my feelings can be summed up by saying that it was good, and it was just on the edge of great – but didn’t quite get there, at least not for me. A couple of things made it fall just short of the mark.

The biggest thing that threw me off was that there are a few very brief chapters from Beth’s point of view, including the opening and closing chapters. She’s dead. Those chapters are weird, and they took me out of the story every time.

Beth’s contributions aside, the story itself is a page-turner. We see most of the action by following Kate, Beth’s older sister, and Conor Reid, the cop who found them all those years ago. Conor is now on the Major Case Team of the Connecticut Bureau of Investigation, and as soon as he learns of Beth’s death, he assigns himself to the case even though he knows he shouldn’t.

He also shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but he knows all of the principals of this case much better than any investigator should. And he wants the husband to be guilty of Beth’s murder.

Not that Pete Lathrop isn’t guilty of plenty of things, but murder may not be one of them. And Conor’s desire to punish Pete for all of the crap he put Beth through in life blinds him to the man’s lack of means, motives and opportunity to cause her death.

At the same time, Kate is left trying to make sense of it all, not just her sister’s death, but all of the secrets that made up her life that Kate knew nothing about. Somewhere among all the things that Beth hid from her sister but revealed to their best friends may lie the reason for her death. Or may just provide Kate with more reasons to grieve.

In the end, the truth is revealed not by dogged investigation, but by a little girl who is unable to let a lie stand, no matter who tries to gaslight her into believing the lie instead of the truth. The case is finally solved, and the perpetrator is revealed. And it is a betrayal, just as the truth of Beth’s and Kate’s mother was long ago.

But this time only Kate is left to pick up the pieces.

This was one where I didn’t figure out whodunnit at all. I wanted it to be the husband, but it felt too obvious so eventually I read the last chapter just to figure it out – and I was still plenty surprised. I think that, as much as I was riveted by the investigation and the unraveling of Beth’s life as well as the truth of her death, I found the ending a bit unsatisfactory. I’m glad that the murderer was uncovered, but I’m not sure I felt the catharsis I expected. The motives didn’t make complete sense.

Like the detective, I really wanted the husband to be guilty after all.

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Careless Whiskers by Miranda James

Review: Careless Whiskers by Miranda JamesCareless Whiskers (Cat in the Stacks #12) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #12
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on January 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When librarian Charlie Harris' daughter is falsely accused of murder, he and his faithful feline Diesel must leap forward to crack the case in this all-new installment in the New York Times bestselling series.

Charlie Harris has sworn off investigating murder and mayhem after a recent close call. Instead, he's delighted to cheer on his daughter, Laura, who's starring in a production of Careless Whispers. The theater department at Athena College is debuting the play written by a fledgling playwright with local connections and Charlie's son-in-law, Frank Salisbury, will be calling the directorial shots.

Laura is upset to learn that Luke Lombardi, an overbearing actor she knew from her time in Hollywood will also be taking part in the production as a guest artist. Lombardi arrives with an entourage in tow and promptly proceeds to annoy everyone involved with the production. When he collapses and dies on stage, after drinking from a glass Laura handed him, she becomes the chief suspect in his murder.

Charlie knows his daughter is innocent, and he's not going to let anyone railroad his little girl. So, despite his intentions to put his amateur sleuthing days behind him, Charlie has to take center stage, and with Diesel's help, shine a spotlight on the real killer.

My Review:

I’ve generally enjoyed the whole Cat in the Stacks series, starting with Murder Past Due. And I’ve always felt that the amateur detective around whom this series is based, Charlie Harris, is very much, “one of us” librarians. Which seems totally right, because his creator is also a real-life librarian.

So it seemed particularly appropriate to pick up Careless Whiskers while I was attending the recent American Library Association Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia, as I’ve also always said that Charlie is someone I’d love to catch a drink or a cup of coffee with at a conference.

I also picked this book because of Charlie’s “large and in charge” sidekick, his 35-pound Maine Coon cat named Diesel. I always miss our kitties when we are away, so I felt the urge to settle in with a feline book baby as my own were too far away too snuggle.

There are plenty of hints dropped at the end of the previous book in this series, The Pawful Truth, to let the reader know that this story would be focused on Charlie’s daughter Laura and son-in-law Frank and the next production of the college’s theater department.

And so it proves, with Frank directing and Laura co-starring in Careless Whispers by Finnegan Zwake. This particular production is a big part of the department’s annual fundraiser, an event where they get a relatively big name star to come to tiny Athena Mississippi for a couple of weeks to star in a play in the usually correct assumption that the big name star will draw big donor fans.

This year is not going to be their best year. Possibly their most dramatic, but even though some of that drama does occur onstage it is not of the type that contributes to a long run of any play.

Not that either Frank or Laura is all that eager to see once-upon-a-time Tony nominee Luke Lombardi “grace” their stage or their town. Laura has worked with the overacting thespian before and has no real desire to deal with him again – ever.

But as much as she can’t wait to see the back of him – she doesn’t want to see him dead. For real. On stage. On opening night.

Especially not when it looks like she’s either the prime suspect – or the next victim.

Escape Rating B-: I really, really, really wanted to get into this and love it because this series is such a comfort read for me. I adore Diesel, especially because he’s so himself and so cat at the same time – and he’s just a sweet boy and a smart cat at the cat level of smart. Not that I don’t love Joe Grey in his series, but Joe is human-smart and sometimes human-confused and human-conflicted and it’s a different experience.

Diesel is just big and perfectly cat. He’s not ordinary, but he’s not extraordinary in any way that is outside his species norms. And he’s adorable with it.

And, as I said at the top, Charlie just seems like “one of us” librarians in ways that writers don’t always get right. So when I settled in to read I thought I’d be all in – and I just wasn’t.

This entry in the series fell a bit flat for me. As I look back I’m not quite sure why, either, but it just didn’t zing or gel or any of the things that usually happen when I visit Athena.

I think that a lot of that was the theater setting. If I wanted a murder mystery crossed with Noises Off, I’d have found one. I wanted Athena and got locked in a playhouse instead. Another way I keep looking at it is that there was too much show business and not enough murder business. Or it went too far over the top in more than one direction.

First there was the business with Lombardi’s dresser and his mistress, who happened to be married to each other. And were both French and seemed more like characters from one of Moliere’s farces than even half-real people.

Especially when combined with the two men pretending to be the playwright Finnegan Zwake – accompanied by the equally farcical goings-on surrounding that red herring. Their rivalry, at least, made more sense than the French farce, but it added more comic relief than this particular story needed.

Although, now that I think about it, the real reason this didn’t work for me was its lack of dramatic tension. The blurb lures you in, as I did above, with the idea that Charlie’s daughter Laura is going to be the prime suspect in the murder. But she never really is. Even the police detective admits that she doesn’t actually suspect Laura – just that she has to investigate her enough to cross her off her list. And, while Charlie torments himself with the possibility that Laura could have been the next victim, by the time his brain starts going down that path the possibility is already over.

So color me disappointed with this entry in the series. But I’ll still be back for Diesel’s next adventure, Cat Me if You Can. I just hope that 13 turns out to be a luckier number for the series!

Review: Malfunction by Nina Croft

Review: Malfunction by Nina CroftMalfunction by Nina Croft
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, paranormal, science fiction romance
Series: Dark Desires Origins #1
Pages: 320
Published by Entangled: Amara on January 20, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Investigator, Sergeant Logan Farrell, has never been convinced the human race deserves saving. But it looks like he’s got the job anyway.

It’s been five hundred years since we fled the remnants of a dying Earth in search of a new home. Twenty-four ships, each carrying ten thousand Chosen Ones. All sleeping peacefully...until people start dying in cryo.

Malfunction or murder? Hopefully, the former—a serial killer in the fleet would be drastic for morale. But Logan is determined to find the truth. Unfortunately, he’s got a new partner—and he works best alone.

Katia Mendoza, hot-shot homicide detective, has been woken from cryo to assist with the investigation. But is she really interested in solving the case, or does she have her own agenda?

Before he can answer that question, though, they become targets themselves.

Nothing like a few near misses with death to bring a couple together, and Logan finds himself falling for the alluring detective. But he doesn’t know that Katia is hiding a secret.

It’s not only humans who fled the dying Earth.

My Review:

Once upon a time there was a book called Break Out. It takes place in a far distant future – 3050 – in a galaxy far, far away. It’s kind of a heist story, and the first paranormal SFR I ever read. It’s SFR because, well, obviously, 3050 and humanity has managed to get itself off this rock. It’s paranormal because one of the lead characters, the captain of the spacefaring band of mercenaries that the series follows, is Ricardo Sanchez.

Rico was born on Earth in 1452. He became a vampire – yes, you read that right, vampire – during the Spanish Inquisition. A vampire, whether from the Spanish Inquisition or otherwise, is not what you expect to discover on a spaceship.

And yet, when humanity fled Earth, Rico managed to beg, borrow, bribe or steal – mostly bribing and stealing – his way onto one of the sleeper ships heading away from the disaster. And he brought 5,000 or so of his fellow paranormals along with him. Vampires, werewolves, werecats, demons, etc.

Through a bit of timey-wimey time travel bits, we got a few glimpses of Rico’s life before he went space traveling in Break Out and the books that followed. However, while he and his friends talked about their journey to get to the far-flung future, we didn’t get to actually see it.

Now we do. Malfunction is the first projected book in a prequel series to Break Out and its series, which is either titled Blood Hunter or Dark Desires. And if you’re wondering why I’m going through all this background information for a prequel, it’s because my love of Break Out (I gave it an SFR Galaxy Award in 2013.

I was interested in this book because I loved that one. Whether a reader new to the series will have that same reaction is anyone’s guess. I’m not sure.

Because this is not actually Rico’s story – not that I didn’t love seeing him again. Instead, this prequel is an SFR murder mystery – not that there aren’t plenty of paranormal elements in the mix.

This story takes place aboard the good ships of the Trakis expedition – and they are all falling apart. But those malfunctions are mostly what you’d expect after 500 years of continuous operation with no resupply and no hope or home in sight.

The Captain of the Trakis One and Rico on the Trakis Two have each woken an investigator from cryosleep because a recent audit of ships’ systems has turned up a malfunction that is not merely not random. It’s not even likely.

Someone has been running from ship to ship sabotaging cryosleep chambers – including each and every failsafe built in to those chambers to prevent the dozens of deaths by asphyxiation that have occurred.

Trakis One wants their investigator, Sergeant Logan Farrell, to declare the whole thing an unfortunate series of accidental but coincidental malfunctions. He’s not buying what they’re selling, but he’s a good enough soldier to pretend he does.

Rico Sanchez, on Trakis Two, wants his own investigator, Detective Katia Mendoza, to make sure the investigation stays away from the Trakis Two and doesn’t poke its nose into the many, many illegal things that Rico did to get his people onto the ship instead of the people who were supposed to be there.

As Katia is also one of Rico’s illicit people – and a werecat – she’s more than willing to keep the fleet out of their business. But her detective instincts are aroused by the crimes, which are definitely real and definitely crimes and not accidents or malfunctions at all.

That her baser instincts, as well as her emotions, are equally aroused by Sergeant Logan is something that she’ll have to either ignore or let Rico deal with – permanently. One way – or another.

Escape Rating B: I loved the early books in the original series, so I was all in for Malfunction. That being said, Malfunction didn’t feel like it hung together nearly as well as the early books in that series. I enjoyed Malfunction for its look back at the origins of a story I really liked, but I’m not sure that I’d have liked it nearly as much without having already seen the future of this universe and at least one of its characters.

Although the reviews seem to be saying that I’m a bit off-base, and readers new to this world are still loving this book. Your warp speed may vary, of course.

For this reader, it felt like the story existed on three levels. One is the “nostalgia” factor, that I already knew where this universe ended up, so it was fun to see where it began.

The second, and the primary plot of this particular story, is the spacefaring murder mystery. In a strange way, it reminded me of Medusa Uploaded, probably the bit about the mysterious deaths being investigated as well as the class system that has been not just preserved but enshrined in the way that people where chosen for this journey. It also has a bit of Veronica Scott’s Star Cruise/Sectors SF series to it, as that spacefaring SFR series often deals with crime aboard a spaceship. But the tone in Malfunction is dark in the way that Medusa Uploaded is dark.

Third, of course, is the romance between Logan and Katia. They have instant chemistry together, and they both resist it for equally good reasons. Sometimes for the same reason – neither of them has ever fit in and they are afraid to trust themselves emotionally. Of course Katia has another reason for resisting the attraction. She’s not sure how Logan will react once he knows her secret and she’s not sure about becoming emotionally involved with someone that she will probably outlive by centuries.

Unless, of course, the course of this investigation sends them both to “kingdom come” in a ball of fire. After all, someone is committing the crimes that they are investigating, and it becomes almost instantly clear that whoever that someone is they are willing to murder not just dozens but literally thousands of people to cover their crimes.

Or to fuel their need for vengeance. After facing near-death at every turn and always – so far at least – managing to survive together, it’s not any wonder that Katia and Logan decide to grab whatever joy they can in the now – because tomorrow really might never come for either of them.

I, however, certainly hope that there will be more books in the Dark Desires Origins series. It was fun to see Rico and company at an earlier stage of their journey – and the trials and tribulations of watching a new human colony being created while hiding in more-or-less plain sight should be fascinating.

Review: Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

Review: Skinwalker by Faith HunterSkinwalker (Jane Yellowrock, #1) by Faith Hunter
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Jane Yellowrock #1
Pages: 320
Published by Ace Books on July 7, 2009
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

First in a brand new series from the author of the Rogue Mage novels

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No matter what it takes. Or what it costs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Prince of Broadway by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

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

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

Powerful casino owner.Ruthless mastermind.Destroyer of men.

He lives in the shadows...

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

She is society's darling...

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 1/31/2020 @ 11:59pm EST. 

Review: The Secret She Keeps by HelenKay Dimon + Giveaway

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


No matter where you run to…

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

Desire will find you...

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Review: The Country Guesthouse by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

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

A summer rental, a new beginning…

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Mark of Eon by Anna Hackett

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“These are their stories…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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