Review: Battle Bond by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Battle Bond by Lindsay BurokerBattle Bond (Death Before Dragons #2) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Death Before Dragons #2
Pages: 316
Published by Lindsay Buroker on March 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

If you think having one dragon around messes up your life, imagine what it’s like when a second one shows up.

I’m Val Thorvald, assassin of magical bad guys and tenuous ally to the dragon lord Zav.

He still calls me a mongrel and thinks I’m a criminal, but he healed my wounds after we fought those dark elves together. That’s progress, right? Maybe one day, he’ll deign to use my name.

Not that this is my primary concern. I’m busy with a new assignment. Nin, the awesome lady who makes my magical weapons, has a werewolf problem. Specifically, sleazy loser werewolf competitors who want to drive her out of business. Or worse.

Normally, a couple of werewolves wouldn’t be a big deal, but these ones have powerful allies. And then there’s that new dragon.

It turns out he’s one of Zav’s enemies, and he wants to use me against him.

I don’t know why he’s picking on me—it’s not like I mean something to Zav—but somehow I’ve gotten stuck in the middle of dragon politics. If you think that sounds like a nightmare, you’re right.

If I can’t figure out a way to help my friend with the werewolves while keeping these dragons from tearing me apart, we’re both going to end up flatter than the deck chairs when Zav lands on the roof of my apartment building.

My Review:

After falling into the first book in this series, Sinister Magic, earlier this month, I was on pins and needles waiting for Val’s second outing to arrive on my ereader. And Battle Bond generally did not disappoint.

Even if I haven’t figured out the title yet. I’m saying that because I just realized what the “sinister magic” of the first title referred to. I wasn’t having much luck with understanding the series title either, until I read a bit of background posted on the author’s site and she explained it was all about Val’s perspective, that she would prefer to be dead rather than become a dragon’s pawn or thrall.

Not that she doesn’t keep ending up in just that position – but she gets better. Also her own personal dragon, while still copping a smug and superior attitude that should get him a slap upside the head, is, not exactly mellowing, but becoming a bit less unbearable.

Particularly in comparison to the dragon that has come to our Earth in order to bait, annoy and try to kill Val’s good frenemy, the dragon Zavryd. A dragon who really doesn’t like it when Val refers to him as Zav.

The story in Battle Bond picks up immediately after the ending of Sinister Magic. Val’s government boss is still recovering from the magical cancer that the dark elves infected her with, and Val is still driving the government loaner Jeep that she requisitioned after Zav threw her old Jeep into the upper branches of a very tall tree.

In this outing, Val’s cases, as is probably going to turn out to be usual for her, intersect with a vengeance. Also with actual vengeance.

A dragon has come to Earth to harass Zav, for reasons that will probably become clear later in the series when we – and Val – know a whole lot more about dragon politics back on Zav’s homeworld.

Meanwhile this dragon is kidnapping children. And hikers. And eventually taking over large but remote government compounds, all as part of a twisted desire to put Zav off his game so that he can be eliminated. Possibly eliminating Val along the way.

But Val also has a case that she is taking pro bono. Her friend and magical weapons supplier Nin is being harassed by a pride of big cat shifters who want to drive her out of business. If they put her in the ground as part of that driving out they really don’t care.

Val, however, cares a LOT. She just has to find a way to convince an entire pride of over a dozen members and growing – also growling, that Val AND Nin are not to be messed with. Possibly by messing with them – permanently. Whether she’s supposed to or not.

Both cases prove to Val that none of the things she thought she wrapped up at the end of the first book are remotely done with her yet. And that she’s going to be ass-deep in dark elves AND dragons for the foreseeable future.

If she has one.

Escape Rating B+: I really, really like Val as a character. She has all kinds of doubts and fears, making her very human in spite of her half-elven parentage. She’s also got some really interesting quirks and a seriously problematic Achilles heel. She’s far, far from perfect, and she’d be the first to admit it.

That she has a therapist who can’t help but remind her of all the ways she’s failing herself just adds to the portrait of the kickass heroine as a flawed human being – whether or not she’s only half-human.

For the most part, Battle Bond is at the same breakneck-pace-with-occasional-pauses as the first book in the series. Val’s world, the mixture of the magical and the mundane that she has to navigate, is complicated by its resemblance to the world we know. Finding out what makes it different among the sameness requires some tricky and time-consuming but pace-slowing worldbuilding. Something that I’m generally for and complain about when I don’t get so I’m happy to see that investment here at the beginning.

At the same time there’s still quite a bit of setup over the first half of the book. But once this one gets going – once all of Val’s ducks have been completely knocked out of alignment and all of her plans have been subjected to Murphy’s Law, the entire thing kicks into very high gear.

I want to say that Val leaps out of the frying pan into the fire, but that’s not strictly true. Val is trying to do the right thing under some very difficult constraints – especially the constraint that the government for the most part refuses to acknowledge that magic exists and therefore doesn’t have much of an arsenal for dealing with or recovering from it. And that her mandate is to eliminate the threat to the human population while the dragon Zav’s mandate is to punish and rehabilitate evildoers from his realm who have come to Earth. It’s more like Val leaps out of the frying pan and the fire just appears – over and over and over.

There is a sense that Val spends a lot of this story as a chew toy being fought over by two dragons who both think of her as a MUCH lesser being but are more than happy to use her for their own ends. And that in spite of her stated desire to die rather than become a dragon’s pawn, she spends a lot of this installment being just that.

She does get better. For the most part. But this book does hint at an eventual romance between Val and Zav, and I’ll admit that so far I’m not there for it. It’s going to take a LOT of this author’s generally excellent worldbuilding and character development to get me there.

But I’ll be back next month for the third book in the series, Tangled Truths, to see just how that turns out!

Review: The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne

Review: The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne ThayneThe Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on March 17, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The life Olivia Harper always dreamed of isn’t so dreamy these days. The 16-hour work days are unfulfilling and so are things with her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when she hears that her estranged mother, Juliet, has been seriously injured in a car accident, Liv has no choice but to pack up her life and head home to beautiful Cape Sanctuary on the Northern California coast.

It’s just for a few months—that’s what Liv keeps telling herself. But the closer she gets to Cape Sanctuary, the painful memories start flooding back: Natalie, her vibrant, passionate older sister who downward-spiraled into addiction. The fights with her mother who enabled her sister at every turn. The overdose that took Natalie, leaving her now-teenaged daughter, Caitlin, an orphan.

As Liv tries to balance her own needs with those of her injured mother and an obstinate, resentful fifteen-year-old, it becomes clear that all three Harper women have been keeping heartbreaking secrets from one another. And as those secrets are revealed, Liv, Juliet, and Caitlin will see that it’s never too late—or too early—to heal family wounds and find forgiveness.

My Review:

One of the great things about being part of, let’s call it pre-Millennial Generation is that all of our youthful embarrassments and peccadilloes were thankfully NOT recorded and posted on the interwebs for all to see – and for all to resurrect from the dusty vaults of the Internet Archive or the Wayback Machine if we become even semi-famous, whether accidentally or on purpose.

However, some of us wrote in diaries made out of dead-tree stuff. In other words, paper. And paper is a fantastic way of preserving the thoughts and feelings of the past – whether those thoughts and feelings deserve preservation or not.

The things that Olivia Harper and her late sister Natalie wrote in their high school diaries creep out of the dusty past to bedevil and haunt not just the still-surviving – and still wounded – Olivia after all these years, but also Natalie’s daughter Caitlin, now 15 and searching for the baby daddy that her mother never revealed to a soul. Not her daughter, not her mother, not her sister, not her best friend – not even the baby daddy himself.

There’s also a feeling that this story is about self-protection and self-preservation, especially of the variety where we lie to someone in a way that is supposed to protect them, but is really all about covering our own broken places and protecting ourselves.

At the heart of this story, of the Sea Glass Cottage itself, is a circle of those kinds of social – and emotionally distancing – lies.

Olivia’s ability to continue telling herself she is absolutely fine is shaken when she witnesses a senseless attack in her favorite coffee shop. Her emotional and physical distance from her mother is shattered when her mother’s fall from a ladder puts Juliet into the hospital and rehab, forcing Juliet to acknowledge that she needs her daughter’s help – and that she’s in love with her friend and neighbor, Henry.

Olivia’s return to Cape Sanctuary makes her re-examine her life, her relationships, and the job that keeps her well-paid but prevents her from fulfilling her dreams.

And Caitlin’s compulsive reading of both her mother’s and her aunt’s teenage diaries brings all of the secrets that have been hidden out into the open, surprising everyone with just how much they’ve all been hiding in the vain attempt to keep each other “safe”.

The kind of safety they are all trying to maintain is an illusion, but love, on the other hand, is very, very real. If you let it in.

Escape Rating B+: The Sea Glass Cottage isn’t really a romance, in spite of the number of romances that take place within its pages. And not that two of its heroines don’t find their HEA by the time the story ends.

But the heart of this story is the relationship between three generations of Harper women, grandmother Juliet, daughter Olivia, and granddaughter Caitlin. And even 15-year-old Caitlin’s HEA is hinted at being somewhere in her future, just not yet.

But it’s the way that the relationships among the three women are changed by Juliet’s accident and Olivia’s return to Sanctuary Cove that create the beating heart of this story. And at the center of their story – and their estrangements – are a series of lies and half-truths that have kept them apart and in some ways kept them broken for most of Caitlin’s life.

What reshapes their story and their lives is the unraveling of the truth about the events that took Steve Harper’s life all those years ago. Juliet’s husband Steve was the chief of the volunteer fire department, and he died in a fire that he should never have entered, alone and unequipped, because he believed his daughter’s best friend was inside the burning house.

And that’s a burden that Cooper Vance, the best friend in question, has been shouldering alone for all these years. He feels like he’s the reason his friend and mentor died, and indirectly the reason that the Harper family fell to shreds – as well as the reason that Natalie fell into addiction until it killed her.

Caitlin’s discovery of her mother’s and her aunt’s diaries has opened all of the old wounds, but Caitlin, like Cooper, like Juliet and like Olivia, tries to bear the weight of those secrets alone. Until they all come spilling out, all the ugly truths are finally revealed, and healing can finally begin.

At the beginning of the story, Caitlin is, quite honestly, a bitch all the way around. She’s 15 and trying to hold a terrible secret. She lashes out at pretty much everyone around her, and her parts are difficult to read for quite a while into the story. She does get less abrasive as the story goes on and the reveals start coming, but it takes a while.

She’s holding her aunt Olivia responsible for crap she said when she was hurting, oddly enough around the age that Caitlin is now. But Caitlin isn’t able to make the leap from her own hurt feelings to the idea that an adult in her life, one that she loved and respected, was once a whiny teenage girl – just like her.

The romances are of the extremely slow burn variety. A burn that catches its fire off-screen, but the slow progression of the romances feels right for the way that the story works. I found it particularly poignant that one of those romances featured 50something Olivia, and was with her younger friend and neighbor at that! Her hesitance and the reasons for it felt very real.

Although the first half of the book was a bit slow-going, it has a lot of heavy lifting to do, setting up the relationships, the crises, the family background and all the secrets. Once this one gets going, it reads really fast as the hits come thick and fast and all of the burning issues get resolved. So when you start this one, have a little patience and hang on for a lovely read!

Review: The Moonglow Sisters by Lori Wilde

Review: The Moonglow Sisters by Lori WildeThe Moonglow Sisters by Lori Wilde
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on March 3, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s Jill Shalvis meets Susan Mallery in this gorgeous novel by New York Times bestselling author Lori Wilde about three sisters, one small town, a wedding, and the summer that changes everything.

Welcome to Moonglow Cove, Texas, a place where your neighbors know your name and the gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico lap lazily against the sands. It’s a magical spot, especially in the summertime…

Once the town was the home of the Clark sisters—brought up by their grandmother at the Moonglow Inn. Nicknamed “The Moonglow Sisters”, as children they were inseparable.  Then, a wedding-day betrayal tore them apart and they scattered across the globe and away from each other.  But the sisters have at last come home…

There’s Maddie: smart, sensible, and stubborn. Shelley, who ran off to find her bliss. And Gia, a free-spirit determined to keep the peace. It’s her impending wedding that keeps them together…but Gia has a secret, and when her sisters find out all heck is going to break loose!

The Moonglow Sisters continues Lori Wilde’s trademark storytelling to create an unforgettable novel of family, betrayal, love, and second chances.

My Review:

This is a story that invokes ALL the feels. Seriously. All of them.

By that I mean that this story of sisterhood, family ties, family love, family secrets and especially long-held family grudges swings from grief to anger to joy and back around again as the Moonglow sisters come home, but not together, to take care of their beloved Grammy – but seem to have no intention of taking much care – or paying much attention to – each other.

Once upon a time the Moonglow sisters, take-charge Madison, peacemaker Gia and impetuous Shelley, were the darlings of not just their grandmother and her best friend Darynda but the entire town of Moonglow Texas.

At least until five years ago, when Madison caught Shelley kissing Madison’s fiance on Madison’s wedding day, and the sisters broke apart on the rocks of anger, jealousy and disappointment with each other’s lives and choices.

Madison left for New York City and is now a reality-TV star with her own hit cable TV show about making a beautiful home. Something that she herself lacks, as her controlling nature has pushed away not just her family but also the fiancee with whom she shared a terrible loss.

Shelley disappeared to Costa Rica and her sisters have not heard a thing from her in those same five years. Grammy knows where Shelley is, but there doesn’t seem to be much communication there, either.

Gia turned her passion for kite-making into an apprenticeship with a master kite-maker in Japan, and has returned to Moonglow to open her own business, making and selling artisan kites.

Gia, living in Moonglow, is the one who arrives at Grammy’s for their regular weekly brunch to discover that Grammy has left a note for her, asking Gia to get her sisters back together in Moonglow, to fix their fractured family and finish the “Wedding Ring” quilt that was supposed to have been a present for Madison for that dramatically cancelled wedding.

The note makes it clear that the message may very well embody Grammy’s last wishes. As Gia reads the devastating message, Grammy is in surgery. She has stage 4 brain cancer, and the surgery is intended to remove as much of the cancer as possible to slow down its growth. This won’t make her well, but it may give her more time. It may also kill her or leave her a vegetable for whatever time she has left.

Gia treats Grammy’s message as a mission, as Grammy intended. She gets Madison back to Moonglow, and reaches out to Shelley. Madison comes home looking like a million-dollar New York TV star. Shelley blows in worn-out and haunted, with a backpack containing all her possessions, no cell phone and a $200 taxi fare to pay.

It is not an auspicious start for any of the things that Gia thinks she has to accomplish. It’s not exactly an auspicious middle, either, as Grammy remains in a coma after surgery and Madison and Shelley both threaten to leave. It takes a whopper of a tall tale to get them to stay – at least until they discover they have an entirely different mission to carry out.

It’s going to take a village, the entire little town of Moonglow, to take care of Grammy, save her house, and put the Moonglow sisters back together. And it’s touch and go every step of the way.

Escape Rating B+: This one definitely invokes all the feels from beginning to end. It all starts with Grammy writing that message, knowing that she’s just placed a nearly – but not totally impossible burden on Gia. And not knowing that she’s leaving behind as big of a mess as she actually is.

The family dynamic is so fractured that at first it looks like there’s no fixing it. And all of those fractures were created by a whole bunch of family secrets. The sisters don’t know why their mother stopped speaking to their grandmother, and none of them seem to know exactly what was motivating the others during the wedding debacle.

And then there’s the current set of secrets, all brand new and all created post-family feud.

One of the interesting parts of their dynamic is the way that they don’t fit the usual birth order stereotypes. Oldest sister Madison is plenty take-charge and controlling, but middle sister Shelley is the wild child and youngest Gia is the peacemaker instead of the other way around.

But it’s the way that they pull together while falling apart that carries the story. Even though they don’t figure out the darkness that’s at the heart of their fracture until the very end, they still manage to take care of everything that needs to be taken care of, including each other, in spite of everything that’s wrong between them.

In the end, it was intensely cathartic to see Gia finally break. Because her breaking let all the secrets out, and the healing is stronger, a real fix and not just a temporary patch job over everything that had gone wrong.

I also perversely loved that the ending is bittersweet. The sisters can repair the damage to their relationship, they can finally learn and understand what went wrong between their mother and their grandmother, and that reveal allows Grammy to live her own truth for her remaining time. But that time is sadly, appropriately short. Time may heal many wounds, but it cannot heal brain cancer.

At the same time, she’s content with her ending, that she accomplished what she intended to, and got her girls back together before it was too late.

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Review: Aunt Gertrude’s Red Hot Christmas Beau by Cerise DeLand

Review: Aunt Gertrude’s Red Hot Christmas Beau by Cerise DeLandAunt Gertrude's Red Hot Christmas Beau (Christmas Belles #6) by Cerise DeLand
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Christmas Belles #6
Pages: 102
Published by W. J. Power on January 31st 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

When The Countess of Marsden throws a house party, she expects to marry off her family and friends. Never herself. Not at her age!

At the Countess of Marsden’s house party, she plans to marry off her family and friends. But when the Duke of Harlow strides into her bedroom on Christmas Eve, Gertrude’s ready to continue the charming affair they began last summer. Even though she’s a lady of a certain age. Even though she’s never loved any man other then her dear departed husband!

Harlow’s enchanted by Gertrude. He’s done with mourning—and he’s ready to laugh again! But he wants more than a few nights with her. When he tells her, what will she say?
Can she love him? At his age? Imperfect as he is? Loving her as he does?

My Review:

I totally bought this one for the cover. And the story. But what initially grabbed my attention was that cover. That picture looked like someone drew John Barrowman as a silver fox, and it’s not a bad look. At all. More than enough to make me give this book a second and third look.

And that’s when I got hooked by the story. There aren’t nearly enough romances that feature couples where both parties are “a certain age”. By which I mean over 40. (If you want a contemporary with this same kind of pairing check out the awesome Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory).

I was also looking for something light and fun, as an antidote to all the news this week. Admittedly, I was also looking for something short. I’m in the middle of reading A Pale Light in the Black, and listening to Dragonslayer, and while they are both awesome, neither is exactly light. Pale Light isn’t exactly short, either.

Which brought me to Aunt Gertrude and her exceedingly hot beau – and previous fling – the Duke of Harlow.

Gertrude, Countess of Marsden and George, Duke of Harlow have both been widowed, so their fling, while possibly a bit scandalous if anyone found out, didn’t exactly hurt anyone. And it’s entirely possible that Gertrude is past worrying about presenting the Duke with a spare to go along with his 31-year-old heir.

They were, and are, both in a position where they can please themselves with their friendships and liaisons. So they did.

But Harlow, the cad, never wrote to Gertrude after their interlude. Never contacted her. Not out of guilt, but out of pride and an overzealous attention to duty.

Gertrude, on the other hand, isn’t quite so proper. Or stuck on herself. Or simply is more willing to acknowledge that life is too short not to spend as much time as possible with someone who makes you laugh. Especially when that someone can make you breathless in plenty of other ways as well.

She just has to get Harlow off his noble high horse to admit that they can have a beautiful future together. And he has to convince her that the difference in their stations doesn’t matter at this point in their lives, if indeed it ever did.

It all hinges on Harlow getting the stick out of his own arse and realizing that he’s kept his twice-widowed son from the love of HIS life more than long enough.

Escape Rating B+: This one was mostly fluff. And it was wonderfully fluffy. EXACTLY what I was looking for! It’s short and sweet with just the right amount of spice, making it a perfect read for my mood.

I loved that both parties in this romance were older, and the portrayal had a hint of realism about that. Harlow is in his 50s and Gertrude is a few years younger, so late 40s most likely. They both worry about not being what they were in their youth, but are both more than willing to embrace the time they can have together.

I also liked that Gertrude was the one who took the initiative. She wanted to see him, so she invited him to her holiday party and made it very clear in her message that the invitation included her bed.

Gertrude’s frankness did highlight that this takes place before the Victorian era of extreme and false modesty. These events occur in December of 1814, while Napoleon was in exile on Elba. Part of the purpose of her soiree is to allow her nieces to get engaged to their own loves, who have been in France fighting Napoleon for the past several years. Napoleon and the war do cast a bit of a shadow, as we know that while Napoleon spent that Christmas at Elba, he didn’t remain “on ice” on Elba.

Meanwhile, it’s a time of joy that Gertrude is more than willing to add to on her own account, not that she expects an offer of marriage out of it. But she does expect a good time, both in bed and out, with a man she cares for and who makes her laugh and takes her out of herself. And it’s refreshing to read about a woman who knows her mind, her heart, and her libido.

That the whole thing nearly gets derailed by Harlow’s long-standing estrangement from his son adds just the right note of piquancy to a tale that would otherwise be a bit too sweet. That Gertrude helps him understand the errors of his ways, and doesn’t accept a future with him until he both acknowledges and redeems those errors, was a welcome change from so many romances where the hero really screws up and the heroine takes him back without even a proper grovel.

All in all, this was a lovely Georgian-era romp with just the right amounts of sweet, savory and spice to make it a delicious read!

Review: One Little Lie by Colleen Coble

Review: One Little Lie by Colleen CobleOne Little Lie (The Pelican Harbor #1) by Colleen Coble
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense
Series: Pelican Harbor #1
Pages: 352
Published by Thomas Nelson on March 3, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It started with one little lie. But Jane Hardy will do everything in her power to uncover the truth. 

Book one in a gripping new series from USA TODAY bestselling romantic suspense author Colleen Coble.

When Jane Hardy is appointed interim sheriff in Pelican Harbor, Alabama, after her father retires, there's no time for an adjustment period. He is arrested for theft and then implicated in a recent murder, and Jane quickly realizes she's facing someone out to destroy her father.

They escaped from a cult fifteen years ago, and Jane has searched relentlessly for her mother—who refused to leave—ever since. Could someone from that horrible past have found them?

Reid Bechtol is a well-known journalist who makes documentaries, and his sights are currently set on covering Jane's career. Jane has little interest in the attention, but the committee who appointed her loves the idea of the publicity.

Jane finds herself depending on Reid's calm manner as he follows her around taping his documentary, and they begin working together to clear her father. But Reid has his own secrets from the past, and the gulf between them may be impossible to cross.

It started with one little lie. But Jane Hardy will do everything in her power to uncover the truth. 

My Review:

There’s more than one lie at the heart of this mystery – and none of those lies are exactly little ones.

This is also a story about revenge being a dish best served cold – but it never gets all that cold in the Gulf Shores. And the revenge story, while fascinating, turns out to be a smokescreen for the bigger reveal. But no less deadly for all that.

When this story begins, it’s not where we think it’s going to be. It’s also not when we think it’s going to be. But that beginning sets up the wider story in a way that doesn’t become clear until much later in the book, after we’ve gotten to know these characters and have learned why at least some of them relate back to Button, 15 years old and 15 years ago, fleeing a religious cult with her father as bullets fly around them.

Fast-forward those 15 years and the focus turns to Jane Hardy, the newly minted police chief of tiny Pelican Harbor, following in her father’s law enforcement footsteps, occupying the office that was his not long ago.

There’s a crime spree in town. Someone claiming to be a vigilante has been punishing, let’s call it moral turpitude, all over town. The exposure of the wrongdoers has generally been embarrassing, but not deadly. At least not until now.

Jane suddenly has not one but two murders to investigate. One looks like the vigilante just went too far, or simply didn’t know that his victim was allergic to feathers. The intention was to leave the adulterer tarred, feathered and locked in the stocks, but instead her allergy killed her.

As strange as that may have been, it makes more sense than the body that one of the local shrimpboats hauls up in its nets. Or rather, the headless, armless and legless corpse that the old shrimper finds in a cooler that he hauls up in his nets.

So Jane has two murders to solve and a documentary filmmaker in tow. The Mayor wants to reap the good publicity of having a female Police Chief in an era where they are fairly thin on the ground.

But that publicity may not be all that the city fathers and mothers hoped it would be. One of Jane’s officers is a suspect in the tar-and-feather murder. He’s certainly the married man the victim was having an affair with. Jane’s father, the former chief himself, is arrested by the FBI for a whole laundry list of crimes.

And the documentary filmmaker has an agenda that Jane will hate and love in equal measure. If they live long enough to learn the truth about that one, long ago, little lie.

Escape Rating B+: I have to start off by saying that I am absolutely one with Jane Hardy’s taste in reading. The two books she is mentioned as reading are Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series and C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Both are old favorites. And there’s an audiobook of John Cleese reading Screwtape that is marvelous if you can find it – and still have a cassette player around.

But seriously, that peek into Jane’s reading habits made it easy to get inside her head and really feel for her as a character. Readers identify with other readers.

Climbing down off my librarian soapbox, I should probably talk about the two mysteries in this story, because there are definitely two – and surprisingly for a police procedural type mystery they are not related to each other.

Come to think of it, there are really three mysteries.

The most sensational is the vigilante turned killer, not that vigilantes don’t usually turn out to be killers. Pelican Harbor is a small town, which means that everybody knows everybody else’s business whether they want to or not. That someone would take their frustrations with other people’s immorality out in some kind of public shaming doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. But when it turns into murder it feels like a strange kind of escalation – only because it is.

The arrest of Jane’s father doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere with what’s happening, until it does. When that plot thread wriggled up out of the blue I’ll admit that I thought they had to be connected even if neither the how nor the why was obvious. And they were, just not in anything like any of the ways I was expecting.

But the heart of both of those mysteries leads to the third. While they aren’t all part of the same thing, they all have one big thing in common. Both of these mysteries involve the betrayal of someone close to Jane. Someone that she has misjudged all along. Which leads back to that first lie.

While she worries that her father has lied to her about who and what he really is, that he might be guilty of the crimes he’s been accused of, that’s not the real betrayal. His real betrayal occurred 15 years ago on that night they fled the cult compound, the scene that opens the book.

Jane had a child. Had literally just had the child. Her father told her that her perfect little boy was dead. He lied. And that’s the lie that comes back to haunt them all.

What made this story so fascinating was that it was so easy to empathize with so many of the characters. There were two who were just a bit out there, notably the vigilante killer who had a much bigger plan than anyone realized and was just a bit cray cray. And the documentary filmmaker’s ex who just felt tacked onto the story without really being integral to a plot that already had plenty of meat to it.

But at the heart the story revolved around Jane, her father, that documentary filmmaker, and his son. All of them felt like real people and what they did and the reasons that they did it all made sense. Even, in the end, the lie at the start of it all.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

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 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: supplied by 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: supplied by 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!

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Review: Blood and Blade by Lauren Dane

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

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

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

This time she’ll need her friends, too.

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

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

This book is approximately 77,000 words

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Meet Me on Love Lane by Nina Bocci + Giveaway

Review: Meet Me on Love Lane by Nina Bocci + GiveawayMeet Me on Love Lane (Hopeless Romantics, #2) by Nina Bocci
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy, women's fiction
Series: Hopeless Romantics #2
Pages: 304
Published by Gallery Books on December 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the USA TODAY bestselling author of On the Corner of Love and Hate comes a romantic comedy about a woman who grudgingly returns home to small-town Pennsylvania, only to find herself falling in love—not only with the town, but with two of its citizens.

Charlotte Bishop is out of options in New York City. Fired, broke, and blacklisted by her former boss, she’s forced to return to her hometown of Hope Lake, PA to lick her wounds. Although she’s expecting to find a miserable place with nothing to do, she is pleasantly surprised to discover it is bustling and thriving.

She’s only supposed to be in Hope Lake temporarily until she can earn enough money to move back to New York. She’s not supposed to reconnect with her childhood friends or her beloved grandmother. She’s not supposed to find her dream job running the local florist shop. And she’s definitely not supposed to fall for not one but two of Hope Lake’s golden boys: one the beloved high school English teacher, the other the charming town doctor.

With a heart torn between two men and two cities, what’s a girl to do?

A perfect blend of humor and heart, Meet Me on Love Lane is the second in a new series from USA TODAY bestselling author Nina Bocci that is sure to charm fans of Josie Silver and Sally Thorne.

My Review:

There are two literary versions of home. One is the Robert Frost version, the one that says that “home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” There’s also the Thomas Wolfe version that says that , “You can’t go home again.”

There’s also the romantic version, the one that says that “home is where the heart is.”.

In a way, Meet Me on Love Lane is a story about crossroads. The story is firmly parked at the corner of contemporary romance and women’s fiction, as it’s partly about Charlotte Bishop’s choice between a romance with the new “Dr. Hotness” in town, and something sweeter but more elusive with someone from her past.

It’s also at the intersection of two of those versions of home. Charlotte has returned to Hope Lake because she needs a place to regroup and recharge, and that takes her back to her childhood home in Hope Lake with her father and grandmother. A home that her mother wrenched her away from when she was 10.

She’s returned to Hope Lake because she has no place else to go, and because she hopes that her family will take her back in – no matter that it has been 20 years since she was last there.

It turns out that the story is about Charlotte discovering that her home is where her heart is, and that, in spite of all the years gone by and all the memories that she’s deliberately suppressed, her heart and her home are in Hope Lake – along with all the love – of all kinds – that she left behind.

All she has to do is squelch the bitter voice of her mother that still rings in her head even years after the woman’s death – and let herself remember all the good things her mother wanted her to forget.

Because her heart has found its home – no matter what her head – and the voices from her past – have to say about the matter.

Escape Rating B+: In spite of the title, Meet Me on Love Lane feels like it’s more about Charlotte and all of her relationships – with her dad, her grandmother, her best girlfriend, her other childhood friends and everyone in her former/future hometown than it is about her romantic escapades.

Particularly poignant is Charlotte’s relationship with her grandmother Gigi – who is an absolute hoot. We all wish we had a grandmother like Gigi – while at the same time feeling for Charlotte and everything she’s missed.

She’s also not really in the “torn between two lovers” situation that the blurb implies. Every woman in town – of every age – seems to drool at least a bit over “Dr. Hotness”, but there’s never any spark there. Charlotte may want there to be, but there’s never even a hint of a need to make a decision on that front.

However, Charlotte is much more torn over the choice between returning to New York City and staying in Hope Lake. Some of that is because of her mother’s disparaging voice in her head, and some of that is just because these are very different kinds of places and they represent very different lives. There’s not a right or a wrong answer to that question, but the adjustments to her life will be profound no matter what she chooses – and it is a choice worth serious consideration.

The sweetness in the story comes from Charlotte’s rediscovery of Henry, the man who once upon a time was a 10 year old boy and her absolute best friend in the whole world. The boy who it hurt so much to leave behind that she made herself forget him. Completely.

The way that Charlotte works her way back to Henry, and reconnects with her own past, is her journey in this story. It lets her relearn just how much she loved this place and these people, and just how much of herself she cut off and left behind in order to survive life with her mother.

Exactly what was wrong with her mother is never completely resolved. No one actually knows. That there is no closure for Charlotte to explain so much that needs explaining leaves Charlotte bewildered but coping (and recommending therapy all around) and leaves the reader with a lack of resolution in that part of the story. While admittedly that’s real life – we don’t always get the explanations we need or want or are due – but in fiction most readers, myself included, expect a bit more satisfaction in our happy ever afters.

But Charlotte – and Henry – certainly earn theirs. With everyone in town cheering them on.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Meet Me on Love Lane to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

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