Review: Untouchable by Jayne Ann Krentz

Review: Untouchable by Jayne Ann KrentzUntouchable (Cutler, Sutter & Salinas, #3) by Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Cutler Sutter & Salinas #3
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on January 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A man's quest to find answers for those who are haunted by the past leads him deeper into the shadows in this electrifying novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Promise Not to Tell.

Quinton Zane is back.

Jack Lancaster, consultant to the FBI, has always been drawn to the coldest of cold cases, the kind that law enforcement either considers unsolvable or else has chalked up to accidents or suicides. As a survivor of a fire, he finds himself uniquely compelled by arson cases. His almost preternatural ability to get inside the killer's head has garnered him a reputation in some circles--and complicated his personal life. The more cases Jack solves, the closer he slips into the darkness. His only solace is Winter Meadows, a meditation therapist. After particularly grisly cases, Winter can lead Jack back to peace.

But as long as Quinton Zane is alive, Jack will not be at peace for long. Having solidified his position as the power behind the throne of his biological family's hedge fund, Zane sets out to get rid of Anson Salinas's foster sons, starting with Jack.

My Review:

“They say you can buy anything online these days.” In this case, the “they” in question are the two protagonists in Untouchable. Certainly one of the “anything” you can buy is a good book.

Unfortunately, while Untouchable isn’t a bad read at all, it just doesn’t quite live up to the thrill-a-minute pace of its predecessors, When All the Girls Have Gone and Promise Not to Tell. But anyone who has read the first two really needs to read this one as well. Because Untouchable is where we finally get the closure that we’ve (along with Max Cutler, Caleb Sutter and Anson Salinas) have been waiting for.

Jack Lancaster is the “fourth Musketeer” of the private investigations firm of Cutler, Sutter and Salinas. He’s one of the children that retired police officer Anson Salinas rescued from the fire that was intended to tie up all of the loose ends at Quinton Zane’s cult headquarters. It almost worked. The fire covered Zane’s tracks and killed all the adults in the compound, including the mothers of all three boys.

And it left those boys, along with their foster father, with a burning desire to bring Quinton Zane to justice – no matter how many times Zane managed to fake his own death, or how long it might take.

The cases that Max Cutler (When All the Girls Have Gone) and Caleb Sutter (Promise Not to Tell) have solved have led the team to the conclusion that Quinton Zane isn’t just alive, but that he’s back in the U.S. after years abroad.

Now it’s Jack’s turn to do what he does best – put all the nebulous pieces together and solve the ice cold case that began in so much fire.

Escape Rating B-: I’m putting the rating in early in the review so that I can talk about the story in a bit more detail.

I’m in a bit of a quandary, because the closure provided by this story is really necessary after the first two books in the series. But in the end, it just doesn’t live up to them. I’m not sure that’s a big problem, because it also can’t be read as a standalone. So much of the tension in this story revolves around Jack’s (and his foster father and brothers’) lifelong obsession with Quinton Zane. If you weren’t there for the first books you’re not going be interested in this one.

This book also has a feel that reminds me a lot more of the author’s Arcane Society books. Jack’s talent for lucid dreaming, and the way that it is expressed, reads a lot like the way that Arcane talents manifest in the Dreamlight trilogy, and Jack himself reads a lot like one of the hunters from Harmony.

Winter Meadows’ master of hypnotism also fits right into the Arcane Society. As does the conspiracy theorist Arizona Snow. Both Snow and the little town of Eclipse Bay feature in Running Hot, a story in the Arcane Society series. There’s also a nod to Burning Cove – the location of her currently in-progress historical romantic suspense series under her Amanda Quick pen name.

So this story contains a lot of nods to other places and scenarios that this author has created. Not enough to pull readers unfamiliar out of this story, but certainly enough to put a smile of recognition on the face of those who ARE familiar.

As romantic suspense, Untouchable needs both a mystery/thriller plot and a romantic element. The mystery is provided by the cat and mouse game between Jack and Quinton Zane. The romance is provided by the relationship that springs up between Jack and Winter Meadows.

And while their love scenes are plenty hot, there’s not enough emotional build-up to “sell” the romance. Not that we don’t want them to find their HEA, but we don’t feel with them enough. Or at least I didn’t. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

In the end the wrap up of the series was satisfactory, but the individual entry in it was not. I usually love this author and wish that I’d liked this book better. I’m now very curious to see how her next book, Tightrope, third in the Burning Cove series written as Amanda Quick, works for me – and everyone else.

Review: Not Quite Over You by Susan Mallery

Review: Not Quite Over You by Susan MalleryNot Quite Over You (Happily Inc., #4) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Happily Inc #4
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on October 23, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Susan Mallery, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fool’s Gold romances, proves there’s nowhere better than Happily Inc to rekindle first love.

Silver Tesdal has a head for business and a mouth made for kissing, and banker Drew Lovato has his eye on both. But ever since he was dumb enough to let her go, she’s kept him at a distance. When the bank turns her down for a loan, Drew sees a double opportunity—he can finance her brilliant, unique idea to rock Happily Inc’s wedding industry and win back her trust.

Despite her reputation, Silver’s not as tough as she seems. Losing Drew nearly destroyed her. Still, his kisses are as tempting as his offer to invest in her business. If she can’t quite get over him, maybe she should get under him and knock him out of her system once and for all.

But her best laid plans begin to unravel as Silver finds herself falling even harder than when they were high school sweethearts. Which means that she’ll have to come clean about the secret she’s been hiding from him for years—and risk losing him forever.

My Review:

This isn’t exactly a second chance at love romance. It’s more like an “unfinished business” romance. Well, it’s also a second chance at love romance, it’s just that it feels more like they picked up where they left off because they just never got it out of their systems the first time. As the title implies, Silver and Drew never got over each other.

All the way back in high school, Silver and Drew were head over heels for each other. For three whole months. One glorious summer. The summer before Drew left for college. And when he left town, Silver let him go.

I don’t mean let him go to college, her permission was not required. I mean let him go as in broke up with him. She knew that time and distance was going to do that anyway, and that it was better to make a clean break.

When she discovered she was pregnant, that option almost went off the table. But again, Silver made the mature decision. She did go to tell him about the baby, and when his reaction was to offer to marry her, but seemingly not out of love, she handed him the paperwork for her to give the baby up for adoption. And he signed.

Twelve years later Silver is still in Happily and Drew has been back for almost a decade, an officer in his family’s bank. A bank that has just turned Silver down for a business loan to expand her AlcoHaul business.

The town of Happily is a destination wedding town, and Silver’s burgeoning business creates signature drinks for the many (many, many) themed weddings and brings her customized trailer filled with drinks and a full bar to venues all over town. Hence the catch name, AlcoHaul. Because that’s what she does, haul alcohol all over Happily.

Silver is also part of the “brain trust” that helps Pallas design and put together her “Weddings Out of the Box”. The details of how that came about are in the first book in this series, You Say It First.

Drew has seen Silver’s business plan, and he wants to help. Yes, he does have hopes of getting back together, but he’s also a savvy businessman with a heart. First, her plan is solid, and so is her business. She’s a good investment. Second, he believes the bank should be using its resources to help the town, and one way to do that is to help local businesses. He’s not a bleeding heart, he just wants the local bank to invest in the town that supports it for the betterment of both.

His family, or at least his aunt Libby, currently has a hate-on for Silver, for no reason that is ever made clear, and makes sure Silver’s loan application is turned down. It’s fairly obvious that Libby just wanted to watch Silver jump through the hoops so she could shoot her down at the end.

So Drew offers to buy a minority share of Silver’s business so that she can expand. But their unfinished business with each other makes her wary of accepting his help. It takes a few days for her to come to the conclusion that it is good business for both of them, whatever else happens.

What happens, of course, is that working together leads them right back to where they were all those years ago – but with a bit more maturity and a lot more baggage. The spark is certainly still there, and blazes back into life all too easily.

But all the factors that pushed them apart in the past are still unresolved in the present. They may be older and a bit wiser, but Silver is still from the wrong side of the tracks and Drew is the scion of one of Happily’s most prominent families. A family that has plans for him that definitely don’t include a woman who owns a bar. Or even three bars.

The first time around, Silver and Drew were too young to fight for each other. It would be easy to give up again. Neither of them has any experience fighting for what they want when it comes to matters of the heart.

They’ll have to learn this time – and fast.

Escape Rating B-: On the one hand, I liked the relationship between Silver and Drew, because they were both really neat people. Silver was right back in high school. They did need to break up – not because they didn’t love each other, but because they weren’t mature enough to deal with a long-distance relationship. Silver knew that she wanted to stay in Happily, and Drew needed to leave – at least long enough to appreciate what he’d left behind.

It was also great that they weren’t angsty about both living in town. They didn’t interact, but they didn’t seem to go out of their way to avoid each other. They’d had what they’d had, and it was over. At least it was mostly over.

Drew wants to try again – even if he isn’t quite ready to admit that to himself at the beginning – but Silver is afraid to trust him. She’s also afraid to trust herself, which is much more the crux of her journey in this story. She’s so afraid of being like her mother that she almost succeeds in turning herself off completely – and gets a bit too over the top angst when she finally realizes that Drew is already back inside her defenses. She’s afraid to fall in love again, only to eventually figure out that she never fell out of love with Drew in the first place – and to have several panic attacks about it.

The difficult part of this story for me, and the reason why it’s only a B- story, is the involvement of Drew’s family – or at least the involvement of two particular members of it. The two villains of this piece, and they definitely are villains, are Drew’s Aunt Libby and his mother Irene. The rest of his family is pretty terrific, especially his Grandpa Frank, but his mother and her sister are a pair of Cruella de Villes.

And we’re never sure why.

Libby was also the villain in the first book, You Say It First. She’s Pallas’ mother, and the woman never, ever, ever has a decent thing to say about her daughter. She spends that entire book cutting Pallas down at every single turn, and Pallas just takes it for entirely too much of the story.

Libby continues her evil ways in Not Quite Over You, blocking Silver’s loan application, undermining Drew at the bank, and generally attempting to score off against her sister Irene at every turn using Drew as a proxy.

Drew’s mother Irene is just as bad, in her own way. Irene, along with Drew’s father, left Happily to open a high-powered lobbying firm in Washington DC. She has determined what Drew’s life course will be and simply doesn’t listen to anything he says about what he wants. He wants to stay in Happily and eventually run the bank. He does not want to come to DC and join the family firm. Her inability to accept that Drew has plans of his own for his life – after all, he’s pushing 30 and his plans are quite good plans – gets to the point where she is not merely manipulative to the max, but also lying to Drew’s father and everyone else as well as using Drew’s phone to get Silver into places where she can lie to her and cut her down as well.

It’s not well-meaning parenting gone astray, it’s vicious and cruel and needs to be both explained and then resolved. She’s so evil that she, along with her sister Libby, need to get some just desserts delivered and it doesn’t happen, which left me feeling like the story isn’t done. Call it a bit of unfinished business. Hopefully both Libby and Irene get what’s coming to them in a future book in the series.

Review: Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt

Review: Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth HoytNot the Duke’s Darling (Greycourt, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Greycourt #1
Pages: 496
Published by Forever on December 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt brings us the first book in her sexy and sensual Greycourt Series!

Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe, the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family, appears at the country house party she's attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: she starts planning her revenge.

Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognizes Freya, masquerading amongst the party revelers, and realizes his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins—sins he'd much rather forget. But she's also fiery, bold, and sensuous—a temptation he can't resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he'll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, Harlowe will have to earn Freya's trust-by whatever means necessary.

Features a bonus novella from New York Times bestselling author Grace Burrowes!

My Review:

This is going to be a mixed feelings review. I’m all over the map about this one – and I didn’t expect to be. While I haven’t read ALL of the author’s Maiden Lane series, I’ve generally liked the ones I have read quite a bit.

But this one, well, yes and no.

On the one hand, it starts out with a bang, with Freya helping a desperate woman and her child escape from the man who wants to abuse them both. This particular escape isn’t about sex, it’s about money. The child is the rightful earl, her husband is dead, and his cousin plans to basically imprison the little boy and ransack the estate during his minority while keeping the boy’s mother away from him so she can’t support or protect him.

Women and young children were chattel, this chilling scenario was entirely possible – and legal. Freya has rescued both the mother and child, and is spiriting them away to a ship bound for America. But her pursuers are relentless, so she jumps into a nobleman’s carriage – only to discover that the nobleman in question is someone she knows – and loathes.

It should have been the start of a wild adventure, but the tension kind of fizzles out. Or at least it did for me.

While we do eventually find out why Freya hates the Duke of Harlowe so much (and those issues do reach resolution) what we really don’t get nearly enough information about is why Freya is participating in the rescue in the first place.

Not that the woman and her baby don’t need rescue, and not that someone shouldn’t do it. But how Freya got involved in the situation is murky. She’s a “Wise Woman”, a member of an order of independent women that has existed since the Roman occupation, if not before. She’s the “Macha” of the Wise Women, a title that seems to mean covert agent and spy as the situation requires.

But the Wise Women, while potentially interesting, never seem to get enough explanatory background, or at least not for this reader. What it felt like was simply a quick and dirty way of providing the 19th century heroine with the education, attitudes and perspectives that would appeal to 21st century readers. She’s so close to us that she feels anachronistic for her time.

That also seems to make her perfect for Christopher Renshaw, the aforementioned Duke of Harlowe, if they can get past the gigantic amount of baggage that stands between them.

Because the real backstory of this series seems to be the long-ago Greycourt scandal. Fifteen years ago, Harlowe, Freya’s brother Ranulf, and Julian Greycourt were the best of friends. Until one night when Julian’s sister tried to run off with Ranulf de Moray, and somehow she got herself killed and Ran got the blame. As well as a beating that cost him his dominant hand and his family’s place in society.

Freya has blamed Harlowe all these years, but as he eventually explains to her, he never believed that her brother was guilty of murder. And all three of the young men were, in fact, very, very young, only 18, and none of them had the position or the maturity to prevent the ensuing mess. Now he does, but the damage has already been done.

Personally, I believe that the overarching story in this series will be the eventual discovery of what happened that night, and that the individual books in the series are going to focus on all of the people who were affected by the scandal. Not just Harlowe and Freya, but eventually Julian Greycourt, the Greycourt sisters who were Freya’s friends once upon a time, Freya’s brother Ranulf, and whoever the hell the guilty party or parties turn out to be.

But we are not there yet. Much of this particular entry instead focuses on Freya’s activities with the Wise Women and their foes the Dunkelders, who believe that the Wise Women are witches who should be burned at the stake. They aren’t witches, but then, the great majority of those who were the victims of the witch hunts weren’t either.

Along with yet another rescue of another woman who desperately needs it.

The problems I have with the story all come back to the Wise Women. We don’t know enough for that piece of the story to really work. The Greycourt scandal grabbed my interest, as did the eventual romance between Harlowe and Freya, but it always felt like there was a hole in the back of the story – like a tooth cavity that you can’t stop sticking your tongue into – even though it hurts every time.

Escape Rating B-: I keep harping on the problem with the Wise Women, or rather the lack of enough information about the Wise Women. That’s because Freya’s participation in the group provides her with too many 21st century attitudes for too little data. One of the issues with historical romance is the difficulty of giving readers a heroine who has enough agency that we can identify with her while still having her fit into her time and place. And Freya doesn’t manage to walk that tightrope, at least not for this reader.

Your mileage may vary, or your version of the tightrope may be a bit wider than mine.

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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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: Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Murder in the Dark by Kerry GreenwoodMurder in the Dark (Phryne Fisher Mystery #16) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #16
Pages: 274
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on May 2, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It s Christmas, and Phryne has an invitation to the Last Best party of 1928, a four-day extravaganza being held at Werribee Manor house and grounds by the Golden Twins, Isabella and Gerald Templar. She knew them in Paris, where they caused a sensation. Phryne is in two minds about going. But when threats begin arriving in the mail, she promptly decides to accept the invitation. No one tells Phryne Fisher what to do. At the Manor House, she is accommodated in the Iris room, and at the party dallies with two polo-playing women, a Goat lady (and goat), a large number of glamorous young men, and a very rude child called Tarquin. The acolytes of the golden twins are smoking hashish and dreaming. The jazz is as hot as the drinks are cold. Heaven. It all seems like good clean fun until three people are kidnapped, one of them the abominable child, and Phryne must puzzle her way through the cryptic clues of the scavenger hunt to retrieve the hostages and save the party from further disaster."

My Review:

I have been having a hankering to visit with Phryne Fisher again, and this seemed like the time to do it. This is even a Christmas story – well technically a post-Xmas story, so it even seemed to fit with some of my other recent books. Even if late October does seems too early to talk about – or read about, the Christmas holidays.

When I finished this one, I tried to describe the story to someone, and got absolutely lost for words. I’ll have to do better here. One thing I will say for sure, when I finished I couldn’t imagine that this one had ever been filmed for the series. Wikipedia says that it WAS filmed, but the only thing that the filmed version and the book version have in common in the title.

This is not the same story – not at all.

Which doesn’t mean the book version isn’t interesting, and doesn’t make for a hell of a read. Bits of it occasionally read like an opium dream of Coleridge’s, but that does make sense. There are a LOT of drugs of all types in this story – and ALL of them were perfectly legal at the time.

Not that the police don’t involved in the end, and certainly not that Phryne doesn’t have sometimes to investigate from the very beginning, because both are certainly true. Drugs may not have been illegal in 1928 in Australia – but blackmail and murder certainly were.

The plot, and the subplots, and the counterplots, all take place at the “Last Best Party of 1928” – at least all the parts that take place after Ember the cat kills the poisonous coral snake who was all wrapped up as a Christmas present for Phryne.

Telling Phryne to stay away from something is probably the best way to get her to do the exact opposite – and so she does. That “Last Best” party is a country house party being thrown by the Templars, a famous, and infamous brother and sister who have an amazing amount of charisma, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of money, and a desire to surround themselves with beautiful people and over-the-top experiences.

Someone wants to kill Gerald, the brother of the pair. Gerald wants Phryne to figure out who is threatening him. It all sounds like rather a lark at first – spending a long weekend with the over indulged rich and the famous for being famous.

The Templars seem to be a lot like the Kardashians – but with more class – and much more style.

And it is a lark, until not one but two children go missing under very mysterious circumstances. And before Phryne learns that the person who plans to kill Gerald is a well-known, well-paid, and extremely well-trained assassin. One who seems to believe that toying with Phryne is all fun and games until she starts to win the game. And then she’s just one more bit of prey on his list.

But he’s also on hers – just as soon as she figures out who he is.

Escape Rating B-: I admit that I was hoping for something a bit lighter and brighter than this from Phryne. I should have taken the title as a clue that this wasn’t going to be as much of a romp as this series usually is.

There was something ineffably sad about this story. Not just because we’re watching a crazed serial killer plot in the background, although that’s part of it. A lot of songs and epigrams are used to introduce the chapters, and many of them invoked death, grief or both. This story is also set at the dying of not just a year, but of an era, even though the participants don’t know it.

And not just, as seems inevitable at the end of the story, the last of the Templars’ largesse, but also that this is set at the end of 1928. This really is, not just the “Last Best Party of 1928” but also the last, best holiday party of the “Roaring 20s”. The crash is coming, and it’s going to be a big one.

Part of why I think this story would be impossible to film is the sheer number of subplots. It makes me think of what a real country house party might have been like. There are so many events going on all the time, and so very many people who have small parts to play in some but not all of them.

Of course there are the acolytes surrounding the Templars, and all of the petty jealousies that crop up with large groups of people are vying for the attention of just two – while they are competing mostly with each other.

But there’s so much else going on. The themed party nights, the jazz players, the polo players, and the games. Oh the games. There are more parlor games being played at any point in this story than there are parlors in the biggest country house imagined.

It’s a portrait of a world that is gone. But the overabundance of activities means that the story doesn’t pay equal attention to every single one, and doesn’t wrap up all of its many loose ends.

And yet, when the story is over and Phryne returns to town in her beautiful Hispano-Suiza, it still feels like the whole farrago has come to a proper ending, complete for the overall picture if not the tiny details.

I still want to visit Phryne again, the next time I’m in the mood to hear Phryne’s very singular voice. A voice that is every bit as heady as the drinks she so lovingly describes – and imbibes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There can only be one…or can there?

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Silver Shoes by Jill G. Hall

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although I was glad she finally listened to it.

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Review: Bayside Heat by Melissa Foster / Sweet Heat at Bayside by Addison Cole

Bayside Heat (Bayside Summers #3) by Melissa Foster
Format read: eARC
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Bayside Summers #3
Length: 342
Publisher: World Literary Press
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Sweet Heat at Bayside (Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summers #3) by Addison Cole
Format read: eARC
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summer #3)
Length: 324
Publisher: World Literary Press
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Fall in love at Bayside, where sandy beaches, good friends, and true love come together in the sweet small towns of Cape Cod. Bayside Summers is a series of standalone steamy romance novels featuring alpha male heroes and sexy, empowered women. They’re fun, flirty, flawed, deeply emotional, always passionate, and easy to relate to.

Drake Savage has always done the right thing, especially where beautiful and fiercely determined Serena Mallery is concerned-even when it means keeping his feelings for her to himself. Serena has always wanted more than what their small town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts has to offer, and Drake’s roots are so deeply entrenched in the Cape, it’s all he can do to watch her pack up her life and move away.

Serena has always had big dreams. As a teenager she dreamed of becoming an interior designer and marrying smart, musically inclined, sexy-as-sin Drake Savage. Now she’s finally landed a killer job with a top interior design firm, but though she has spent the last four years working side by side with Drake, he’s never made a move. Four years is long enough for her to accept reality, and her new job in Boston is the perfect way to move on.

A weak moment leads to sizzling, sensual kisses, opening a door through which they’ve both been aching to walk. But Serena’s determined not to give up her shot at the career she’s always dreamed of, and Drake has loved her for too many years to stand in her way. With true love at their fingertips and a world of unstoppable passion igniting between them, can the two star-crossed lovers find their way to their happily ever after?

My Review:

This is going to be a bit different – which is kind of ironic because I’m going to be talking about two books that are pretty much the same – but are different in some crucial ways.

Sweet Heat at Bayside by Addison Cole and Bayside Heat by Melissa Foster are the same book. Except when they’re not.

Let me explain…

Sweet Heat at Bayside, and the entire Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summers series, is the “sweet and clean” version of the story. Bayside Heat, and the entire Bayside Summers series, are the steamier and naughtier versions of the very same stories.

So first the story…

This is a really good take on the classic “friends to lovers” trope. Drake and Serena grew up together (along with all of their friends and siblings!) in the tiny town of Bayside on Cape Cod.

But not only was Drake Serena’s first crush, it seems like she never really got over it. Drake is about three years older than Serena, a gap that looms large in grade school and even high school, but now that they are in their late 20s/early 30s it no longer matters.

What does matter is that Serena has always dreamed of taking her interior design talents from tiny Bayside to the big city, meaning Boston. But when Drake started opening his chain of music shops four years ago, Serena came to help out. She’s not only designed the look and feel of all the stories, but helped Drake run both his whole operation as well as the inn that his family owns in Bayside.

She was clear from the very beginning that her work in Bayside was only temporary. And now its time for her to move on. Partly because the stores, the inn and even the local design firm that she’s been working at have all reached a point where the trail has been blazed and now it’s all just keeping on keeping on. But it’s also because as much as she wishes it were otherwise, her relationship with Drake has never moved out of the dreaded “friend zone”.

But Drake is so protective of her that even when she does date in order to try to get over her crush he doesn’t really let any other man get close. It’s obvious to Serena that in order to move on with her life on every front, she really needs to move away.

No matter how much she’s going to miss her friends, her sister, and especially Drake.

But the idea of Serena moving away finally hits Drake with the clue by four. Or another way of putting it is that now that she’s leaving, now that each dinner and each meeting is nearly the last, he discovers that he’s no longer able to hide his feelings for Serena.

No matter how “noble” he’s trying to be, and he thinks he is, he’s always loved her. He’s just never let himself show it.

At first it was because of their age gap. When he was a senior in high school, she was just a freshman. That gap is huge. When she was a senior in high school, he was in college – and away. Also a gap. The timing wasn’t right. When she came back to Bayside to work with him, they were both adults and both in the same place at the same time.

But her declaration that it was only temporary held him back. He didn’t want to get between her and her dreams. What he didn’t know was something important that Serena’s mother told her, that “what you wish for today may not be what you truly want tomorrow.”

So he never asks if she still wants that big city career more than anything else. And he never tells her how he feels. So when they finally begin breaking down the barriers between the friendship they have and the romance they both want, there’s more than a bit of confusion and anger on Serena’s side. It does feel like he’s messing with her.

But she’s committed to Boston and her new job. Over time both she and Drake become committed to figuring out how to make a long-distance relationship work. And then a miracle occurs, and they find a way to move forward so that they both get not just what they want, but what they need – and each other.

Escape Rating for Sweet Heat at Bayside: B-
Escape Rating for Bayside Heat: B+

Even though the story is the same, I think it does matter which version you read. And the steamier version just reads better. It’s not just about the sex. Actually, it’s not about the sex, per se, at all.

The series is about a group of 20- and 30- something who have mostly known each other forever, some of whom are siblings, who have met and/or recognized the love of their lives and have found their happy ever afters. Most of the ones who have paired off by the third book in the series are still newlyweds. They are all adults and there’s a fair amount of sexy talk and sexual teasing among the entire group. Both about who is and isn’t getting any, and how little anyone’s brother or sister wants to hear any details about their sibling’s sex life. It’s frequently funny and often a bit dirty and it all loses something in the translation when it has to all be toned down.

Also, one of the characters just has a potty mouth. Every time she means to drop an “f-bomb” and it’s changed to “frick” it drops me out of the story.

Part of Drake and Serena’s mutual seduction uses a lot of hot, steamy, dirty talk as foreplay. It’s as intelligent and as much fun as the eventual sex. At the point they are in their relationship, convincing themselves as well as each other that they are all in for whatever their relationship might become, seduction by words is every bit as hot as when they finally touch. It needs to be suggestive and naughty and dirty and the need to keep it sweet lets too much of the steam out of the room.

There is also one sexual encounter early in their relationship that is very sexy but does not include actual sex. It’s a scene where exactly what they did, and exactly what they didn’t, is a part of the emotional confusion between the two of them. Because the clean version can’t detail what happened, the entire scene is reduced to a single sentence – one that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until you go back and read the steamy version.

As a friends into lovers story, Drake and Serena’s romance is a whole lot of fun to read. While they do have a lot of baggage that makes the arc of their relationship finally make sense, it’s not so heavy that it can’t be lifted with a little help from their friends. The gang as a whole has really great chemistry, so even though this is Drake and Serena’s story and we don’t see how everyone else got together, they are still a fun bunch to be with and we do get a good view of how our hero and heroine for this story fit into the whole.

And even though I haven’t read either version of the previous books in the series, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything – except that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with these folks myself. We’d all like to have a circle of friends this tight.

In summary (I know I can’t say “in short” at this point) it feels like Bayside Heat is the better and more authentic version of the story. But for those who feel like they have already read enough “f-bombs” for their lifetime the sweet version does a credible job of telling this “friends to lovers” tale with plenty of love but a bit less lust.

For this reader, the next time I’m faced with this particular dilemma, I know I’ll choose the “full Monty” version for my reading…pleasure.

Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew ShafferHope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 304
Published by Quirk Books on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This mystery thriller reunites Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama for a political mashup full of suspense, intrigue, and laugh out loud bromance.

Vice President Joe Biden is fresh out of the Obama White House and feeling adrift when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues. To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” re-teams with the only man he’s ever fully trusted—the 44th president of the United States. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.

Part noir thriller and part bromance novel, Hope Never Dies is essentially the first published work of Obama/Biden fanfiction—and a cathartic read for anyone distressed by the current state of affairs.

My Review:

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

While I will not judge this book by its cover, I will say that I absolutely did pick this book up for its cover. Which I absolutely could not believe when I saw it, and couldn’t resist once I read the blurb.

Which is completely insane – but all too hilarious – both at the same time.

There is no doubt that this is a terrific piece of what is called “real person fanfic”, which is a thing in fanfiction circles. While fanfiction is usually written about fictional characters, no matter the source, just as there is fanfiction about movie and TV characters there is also fanfiction about the actors who play those characters. When it’s romance fanfic, that can seem a bit creepy and/or stalkerish and is frowned upon in some circles.

One thing that is common in fanfiction in general is the way that the stories often go places that the creator of the original work never intended, and generally the further afield those places are the more it adds to the fun.

This is the kind of story where you don’t so much willingly suspend your disbelief as throw it out the window of a speeding muscle car, like oh, say, the Trans Am that Joe and Barack end up powering through the streets of Wilmington Delaware in the course of this case.

Because this piece of real person fanfiction is a noir-ish murder mystery. And a fairly complicated one – with comic relief provided by this extremely amateur pair of occasionally bumbling wannabe detectives.

Admittedly “Amtrak Joe” Biden does most of the bumbling, while Barack Obama provides even more “cool” than he displays in real life.

The scene of Obama rescuing Biden from a motorcycle gang by casually firing a sawed-off shotgun while lying about Seal Team 6 waiting in the wings was absolutely priceless.

There is a mystery at the heart of this wild and crazy road novel, and it’s all about a good man gone wrong and a bad man hiding in plain sight finally brought low by a couple of past and possibly future politicians who are searching for a third act in their lives.

And who discover that their enduring friendship is the greatest gift of all.

Escape Rating B-: As mysteries go, this is no Murder on the Orient Express or even The Word is Murder. The red herrings are plenty tasty, but our amateur detectives do fumble and bumble a lot, even more than Inspector Clouseau.

And I can’t deny that the whole effort has a very strong whiff of the bear dancing, in that you are not surprised that it is done well, you are surprised that it is done AT ALL.

But it is done considerably better than the outrageous premise might lead one to believe.

What makes the mystery part of this work is that we see this fictional version of Joe Biden as an essentially honest man who wants to see justice done for a good friend – and who admittedly is uncertain where he goes next in his life.

His dilemma about what happens after you’ve been to the top, or at least to your own personal top, is pretty easy to identify with. We all get there sooner or later.

What makes the story work, and makes the reader willing to go along for the ride, is the combination of the sometimes over-the-top but occasionally spot on banter between Obama and Biden, and the first-person perspective of the story through fictional Joe Biden’s eyes.

If you are looking for an antidote to the political insanity in every newspaper and on every newscast, Hope Never Dies is a somewhat rueful, slightly nostalgic, always engaging treat.