Review: Gift of Griffins by V.M. Escalada

Review: Gift of Griffins by V.M. EscaladaGift of Griffins by V.M. Escalada
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Faraman Prophecy #2
Pages: 352
Published by DAW Books on August 7, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The second book in the Faraman Prophecy epic fantasy series returns to a world of military might and magical Talents as Kerida Nast continues the quest to save her nation.

Kerida Nast and her companions have succeeded in finding Jerek Brightwing, the new Luqs of Farama, and uniting him with a part of his Battle Wings, but not all their problems have been solved. Farama is still in the hands of the Halian invaders and their Shekayrin, and it's going to take magical as well as military strength to overcome them.

Unexpected help comes from Bakura, the Princess Imperial of the Halians, whose Gifts have been suppressed. As the Voice of her brother the Sky Emperor she has some political power over the Halian military, and she will use it to aid the Faramans, if Kerida can free her from what she sees as a prison. But whether Kerida can help the princess remains to be seen. If she succeeds, Bakura may prove their salvation. But should Kerida fail, all may be lost....

My Review:

Gift of Griffins is the direct followup to last year’s terrific Halls of Law. The action in Gift picks up right where Halls leaves off, and the two books as a whole feel like one single story that was just too long to fit into a single volume. So the author committed duology.

Gift makes no sense whatsoever without Halls. Consider yourself warned.

The story told in the two, however, is a lot of fun. This is epic fantasy that plays with some of the standard tropes in neat twisty ways.

Our point of view character is Kerida Nast. Ker was planning to be a soldier, like pretty much all of the women and men in her family before her. Two of her older sisters have risen to high rank in the Faraman military, and Ker expects to follow in their bootsteps.

So from the very beginning, the story feels like a heroine’s journey rather than a hero’s journey. One of the truly neat things about the story is the way that it turns out that Ker Nast is not the heroine whose journey fulfills the epic prophesy and saves the day.

Ker is only a piece, admittedly a big piece, of the prophecy that kicks the invaders out of the Faraman Peninsula and brings the mythic griffins back to their long abandoned home.

As we discover in Gift of Griffins, all of the various magics used by the human population of this world were literally gifted to them by the griffins centuries if no millennia ago. But humans being human, pretty much the first thing those magic users did was band into tribes based on exactly which kinds of magic they used in exactly what way. Then they bickered amongst themselves until, humans being human again, wars broke out, different groups gained ascendancy, and then ruthlessly tried to wipe out whichever faction was sucking hind tit.

Humans do kind of suck sometimes. The griffins, taking the very (very, very) long view, are none too happy with the way that their gift is being abused.

So when Ker finds their stronghold, courtesy of her friend Wiemark – a very, very young griffin that she found and “woke” in the griffins old ancestral home – the griffins tell her to solve her own problems and refuse to let Wiemark go back with her to help her.

Ker has a lot of problems to solve. Her homeland has been invaded by the forces of the Sky Emperor of Halia across the ocean, along with their mages. The Halians believe that women are chattel, and therefore maraud through Faraman killing every woman they see who does not immediately obey their every command – as well as all the women in the military because of course women bearing arms is absolute anathema.

They also kill every single Faraman mage (called Talents) that they find. Because Faraman magic is also utterly corrupt – because they believe it is used by women to deceive and enslave men.

(Any commentary on any contemporary groups, issues or problems feels intentional to this reader. Your mileage may vary.)

Ker, along with the friends and allies that she has gathered along her journey, has to figure out a way to defeat a force of magic users who specialize in mind control – and are all too proficient at it.

But she has an unexpected ally – in the middle of the enemy stronghold. If she can be rescued. If they can join forces. If Faraman can be saved. If the prophecy can be brought to fruition.

The odds are long, the stakes are high – and not everything is quite the way it seems.

Great fun.

Escape Rating B+: On the one hand, it is very nice indeed to have an epic fantasy that seems to be complete in merely two books – and only a year apart at that. On the other hand, the ending felt a bit rushed. It seemed like Ker was still getting her allies lined up when the villains essentially delivered themselves into her waiting (and fully armored) arms.

Not that I wasn’t perfectly happy to see more-or-less good triumph and for definitely evil to get its just desserts – but it felt like 1.9 books of build up and only .1 books of resolution. It felt like the ending happened awfully fast. I wasn’t ready and it didn’t feel like they were, either.

Again, not that they are supposed to be so fully ready that the final battle turns out to be a cakewalk – but they didn’t feel quite ready enough.

On my third hand (so, I’m an alien – or Kali the Destroyer. Sue me if you dare! BWAHAHAHAHA) and not that Ker and her allies couldn’t have used Kali’s power, one of the things I really liked about Gift of Griffins was the discover that while Ker is part of the prophecy, she is not the usual “prophesied one” or “chosen one” who is supposed to save the day. And that the “chosen one” in this story was also a woman and not the boy king – a character who does exist in this story and does help but is also just part of the prophecy and not its culmination.

The characters, well, the ones on the side of the angels at least, are all interesting and Ker in particular is a lot of fun to follow. One of the things that also makes this story work, at least for me, is that Ker’s side, while it is manifestly better than the villains, is never claimed to be perfect. Ker’s people have certainly done their share of murder and suppression, just not on the grand and horrific scale that the Halians are engaging in.

That the Halians turn out to not be the cookie-cutter villains they first appear to be makes the story just that much more involving.

That Ker is working to restore a system that may very well separate her from the man she loves, because it is a better system overall for everyone else, is a big and interesting part of her internal conflict – and we like her because of it. We want her to both help save the day and find a way to keep her own personal happiness.

She’s earned it.

Review: The Wedding from Hell: The Reception by J.R. Ward + Excerpt

Review: The Wedding from Hell: The Reception by J.R. Ward + ExcerptThe Reception (The Wedding From Hell, #2; Firefighters, #0.6) by J.R. Ward
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Firefighters #0.6
Pages: 39
Published by Gallery Books on August 7, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads


The Wedding from Hell, Part 2: The Rehearsal Dinner
is the exciting second adventure in J.R. Ward’s three-part ebook serialization: The Wedding From Hell. This exclusive prequel to her upcoming standalone suspense, Consumed (available in October 2018) takes us to where it all started between arson investigator Anne Ashburn and ‘bad boy’ firefighter Danny Maguire. The Wedding From Hell is a sexy standalone novella that sets up Consumed's storyline, leaving fans hungry for more and dying to snatch it up.

The Wedding From Hell, Part 2: The Reception: As the wedding from hell continues, Anne and Danny find themselves walking the delicate balance between professional distance and explosive attraction. Will the desire they feel last through the night and change their lives? Or are they doomed to part after one night of passion?

My Review:

This really is the wedding from hell. It’s so obvious that it should not be happening, that everyone involved has to grit their teeth to get through it – including the bride and the groom.

But this little prequel to the author’s upcoming book Consumed does not, thank goodness (or possibly thank badness, because this wedding is really, really awful) feature the bride and groom.

Instead, it revolves around two members of the groom’s firefighting company, who are both serving as groomsmen at the wedding. They may possibly be two of the most ironic characters to serve as groomsmen, possibly ever.

Anne Ashburn isn’t actually a groomsMAN after all. But the rest of their fire company are groomsmen, so she is too. And happy to be so. She has no desire to descend into the snakepit that is the cookie-cutter bridesmaid clones – and she doesn’t fit in with the clones, either. And also thank goodness for that – because none of that bunch would make remotely sympathetic characters – although possibly bad henchwomen with the bride being the evil villainess.

I digress… just a bit.

The other groomsman featured is Danny McGuire. Unfortunately for everybody concerned, he met the bride first and made the mistake of having a one-night stand with the….hellspawn. She turned to her poor groom in order to make Danny jealous and it backfired spectacularly. Which didn’t stop her from propositioning Danny one last time the night before her wedding.

Danny turned her down. Not just because she’s marrying his friend. Not even just because she’s evil, although both of those things are certainly true. But Danny turned her down because the only woman he wants is Anne.

It seems like Anne has finally stopped fighting the epic attraction between them – or at least she’s willing to for just one night. She’s right that any relationship between them will have long-term consequences to her career and her life, and that all those consequences will fall on her.

Life isn’t fair.

But when the fire burns as hot as it does between Anne and Danny…once is never going to be enough.

Escape Rating B+: This is a direct follow up from the first prequel novella, The Wedding from Hell, the Rehearsal Dinner. The character development and situational setup are all in that first prequel, so grab that before heading to The Reception. Both novellas are short, and both are FREE, so there’s no excuse not to indulge in the whole steamy story.

Now that the prequel is finished, we get a glimpse of where the first book in the series will be going. Danny and Anne have incredibly hot chemistry, and their work partnership is so solid that they can practically read each other’s minds on the job.

They need each other, both personally and professionally. But Anne is also correct that they aren’t supposed to have both. There are rules about fraternizing within a fire company. If they want to have a relationship, one of them has to transfer to a different company.

While that sounds simple, it actually isn’t – because nothing is ever that easy. Right now, they both work in the premier company, the one that gets all the hard jobs and does all the biggest, hottest and most dangerous fires. It’s a step down for the career of whichever one transfers out.

Which would be Anne, not because she’s the woman but because she has less seniority. All of the rest of the crap that would follow would all be because she’s a woman. Once it becomes known that she is in a relationship with one firefighter, her professionalism will be questioned at every turn. She’s worked hard to get where she is, and she’s not willing to lose the respect she’s earned for good sex. Or even epically fantastic sex.

Whether they’ll be able to keep away from each other, and keep their hands off each other, when Anne runs headlong into the danger that makes up the suspense part of the first book in the Firefighters series, Consumed, is something that we will all find out in October.

After these hot, steamy teasers, I can hardly wait!

Excerpt from The Wedding from Hell: The Reception

Saturday, October 31
T minus 2 hours ’til blastoff
St. Mary’s Cathedral, New Brunswick, Massachusetts

Anne Ashburn had never had veil envy, as they called it. As a young girl, she had never pictured herself walking down an aisle in a white dress, ready to be rescued by a knight-in-shining-armor groom who was going to take charge and take care of her for the rest of her life.
Nope. Anne had wanted to fight fires like her father and then her brother. Even though she no longer respected the former, and had a strained relationship with the latter, she’d wanted to pull on turnouts and strap an air tank to her back and breathe canned air as she ran into open flames dragging hundreds of pounds of charged line with her. She’d wanted to rescue grandmothers, and children, and people who had succumbed to smoke inhalation. She’d been ready to cut open crumpled cars and drag broken bodies out of wreckage at the sides of highways. She’d been determined that the extremes of cold winter nights, hot summer days, physical exhaustion, and mental fatigue would never keep her from doing her job.
So, yup, the old fashioned Mrs. degree had never held any fascination for her. There was no way in hell she was going to be like her mother, living a derivative, nineteen-fifties version of life, nothing but a pretty blow-up doll that was expected to cook, clean, and cut the yapping.
On that note, as she pulled into St. Mary’s parking lot and looked up at the great cathedral’s stained glass windows and lofty spires, she decided it made sense that not only was she not the bride, she wasn’t even a bridesmaid.
Like the rest of the crew down at the 499 firehouse, she was a groomsmen in the impending nuptials of Robert “Moose” Miller and Deandra—what the hell was her last name anyway? Cox. That was it.
Anne was thinking groomsmen was a role she might as well get used to. Not that Duff, Emilio, Deshaun, or any of the other men she worked with were settling down anytime soon.
Especially not Dannyboy Maguire.
Right on cue, a Ford truck entered the parking lot, the late afternoon sun flashing across its windshield.
As Anne’s heart kicked in her chest, she was tempted to hustle in the side door of the church—but she had never been one to run from a challenge.
Danny was more than just a challenge, though.
And okay, fine. So maybe she had already run out of his way at least once: Last night, at the rehearsal dinner, she’d positively bolted after he’d made that speech of his.
I never believed in love . . . I thought it was just a word, a title folks gave to daydreams and misconceptions about destiny, a lie folks told to themselves to make them feel solid in this imperfect, unreliable, and mean-ass world.
Now I know it can happen between two people. And it doesn’t have to make sense because it’s not about logic. And it doesn’t have to have good timing because forever is like infinity, without beginning or end. And it doesn’t have to be defined because truth is like faith—it just is.
So, let’s toast to love.
He’d looked at her while he’d spoken. He had been talking . . . to her . . . in that slow, deep voice.
Everybody else had toasted Moose and Deandra. But Anne had known it hadn’t been about them. Danny, ever the ladies man, king of the one-night stand, he who shalt never be tied down . . . seemed to be suggesting not just that he’d had a change of heart.
But that he might have given his own to Anne.
Unless she was misreading everything? Then again, they had kissed the night before that. In her living room. While riding an adrenaline high after they’d saved a life in an alleyway.
And lips-to-lips had been better than good, the rare circumstance when reality had improved on a fantasy. After two years of attraction and sizzle and unacknowledged heat, that which had been pushed under the rug was exposed now. And there was no going back.
Especially as she felt the same way.
So hell yeah she had bolted out of that restaurant. The second she had been able to get up from her chair, she had hit the exit and left Danny without a ride home.
He’d called two hours later. He’d been in a bar, probably
Timeout where the crew always went, the noise in the background loud and raucous.
She had not answered. He had left a short message, but not called again.
Anne just wasn’t sure what to do. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There were plenty of things she wanted to do to him, with him, on him—all of which were naked and erotic and not necessarily only horizontal.
Refocusing, she watched Danny’s truck pass by. From behind the wheel, he looked over at her.
She waited for him to find a space and get out, and as he walked across to her, she tried—tried—not to go sixteen-year-old girl at the sight of him in a tuxedo.
#epicfail
He was very tall, over six feet five, and he was built hard and muscular, his shoulders so wide, his chest so broad, his waist the point of the inverted triangle of his torso. His jet-black hair was still damp, and what sunlight there was in the mostly cloudy sky flashed blue in its depths. He was freshly shaven—his cologne reaching her nose even before he stopped in front of her—and his eyes were that brilliant blue that had always arrested her. Irish eyes.
But they were not smiling.
For a man who was rarely serious, he looked positively grim, and she frowned.
“You okay?” Stupid question. “I mean—”
“Yeah, no. I’m fine.”
Standard answer for firefighters when they were in pain. And she wondered if it had to do with that speech of his, and what she could have sworn he had been telling her.
His eyes shifted off to the side and then his mouth got thinner.
“And here’s the blushing bride.”
A stretch limo entered the parking area and made a fat turn toward the back door of the cathedral. When it stopped, its driver got out and went to the rear door.
Seven all-in-pink, spray-tanned, body-glittered, and blond-streaked women got out one by one, a clown car of bridesmaids who were such carbon copies of each other, it was like they had been ordered out of a catalogue.
And then the white dress emerged.
Deandra, Moose’s intended, had her blond-streaked hair—natch—piled up on her head in an organized, sculpted waterfall of curls. Her veil was a gossamer fall over her tiny waist and her big skirt, and the shimmer of crystals across the bodice and down the front and sides of the gown made her look like a princess.
Provided you didn’t catch her expression.
She was sour as an old woman with gout and shingles. In spite of the fact that she was supposedly marrying her true love, she looked downright nasty as she snapped at the driver, glared at her maid of honor, and yanked her skirting up to march into the back of the church.
“Wow,” Anne muttered. “That’s a happy bride.”
“Whatever. They’re on their own with this dumbass idea.”
“Did you happen to talk to Moose last night?” she blurted.
“As in out of this? Or would that be considered tacky given it was less than twenty-four hours before the priest hit the altar with them.”
Danny rolled his eyes. “He’s bound and determined to ball-and-chain himself. Personally, I’d be running in the opposite direction.”
And then there was silence between them. Tension coiled up quick, and as Anne’s temples started to pound, she decided it was going to be a long night, just not for the reasons she’d assumed at the beginning of the weekend.

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: Entropy by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Entropy by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayEntropy (Atrophy, #4) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Atrophy #4
Pages: 387
Published by Entangled Publishing on August 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Captain Qaelan Forster is used to trouble. He lives on the wrong side of the law and he’s on the most-wanted lists. He’s mixed up in his cousin's mess who has problems on a cosmic level—like shape-shifting aliens who want them dead. But Qaelan’s not prepared for the cheeky kind of trouble called Camille Blackstone, whose infamous father has any man interested in his daughter executed.

After Camille drags Qaelan into an impulsive act of rebellion, she finds herself trying to defend the sexy captain from her overprotective father's wrath, even if she has to handcuff herself to the captain to keep him alive. However, it soon becomes apparent there are much more dangerous things lurking in the dark corners of the universe than a vengeful pirate lord. And she's just landed in the middle of it.

My Review:

Initially Entropy has more of the feel of the Blood Hunter/Dark Desires series by Nina Croft (which are awesome BTW), or this author’s own Valiant Knox series than it does the earlier books in the Atrophy series. Then a significant part of the focus switches from Captain Qaelan Forster to his cousin Captain Rian Sherron, and we’re back at Firefly – or at least a version of Firefly where Captain Mal Reynolds and River Tam are combined into one crazy person with Mal’s dark moods and unsavory enemies along with River’s insane powers and even more insane nightmares.

And where it turns out that this universe’s version of Inara Serra has more than a bit of River Tam in her, too.

If you’re not still mourning Firefly, or if the resonances just don’t work for you, it doesn’t matter. The Atrophy series is not a clone of Firefly by any means. But if you still have a Serenity-shaped hole in your heart, it does come more than close enough to staunch that wound.

What we do have is a band of misfits and rebels out to save the galaxy from itself. Because this crew of rebels and misfits has found itself in the midst of a galaxy gone terribly, terribly wrong. We’ve been invaded, not by the usual bug-eyed monsters, but monsters nevertheless.

The Reidar are shapeshifting aliens from another galaxy who think that homo sapiens is so far from sapient that they’re using us as lab rats while impersonating key members of every planetary government in the system.

Only Rian Sherron and the crews of the Imojenna and the Ebony Winter know the threat. And Rian Sherron is out to eliminate that threat any way he can – even if that means allying with pirates and taking the Reidar out one at a time.

But Rian’s lost his ship, and his crew has been laying low in the Barbary Belt, a notorious pirate haven run by an even more notorious pirate. And that’s where the trouble begins. It’s not even Rian’s fault – at least not this time. At least it’s not all Rian’s fault.

His cousin Qaelan Forster makes the mistake of getting involved with the pirate’s daughter. Cami Blackstone. Her father has killed plenty of men for a whole lot less. Instead, he sends Qae on a wild goose chase that might get him killed – or might pay off what the pirate sees as Qae’s debt to him. Mostly the pirate sends him on a dangerous and possibly suicidal mission just to protect his own street cred. The man is, after all, a notorious pirate.

Cami has other plans. Her plans, her father’s plans, Qae’s plan to pay her daddy back, and Rian Sherron’s plans to get his ship back all collide in one big ball of wrong that might just have a chance or turning out right.

But has a much higher chance of getting them all killed. All in a day’s work for the crew of the Imojenna – even when the Imojenna herself is nowhere to be found.

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot going on in this entry in the Atrophy series, and all of it turns out to be a rip-roaring good time. But be warned, while Atrophy is not so much like Firefly that you won’t get it if you don’t remember the show, it is very much like unto itself. This is a series where the action and the overall story build from one book to the next. So if this sounds like your kind of trip into the black, start with the first book in the series, Atrophy. (If you love SFR you’ll understand why this series has won multiple SFR Galaxy Awards.)

The relationship between Qae and Cami is a big part of this story, but not by any means all of it. They are an interesting couple. Qae is openly flirtations with anyone of any gender. Think of Captain Jack Harkess in Doctor Who and Torchwood, or the character of Reyes Vidal in the video game Mass Effect Andromeda. Qae has plenty of charisma, no humility whatsoever, and a trail of previous lovers from one end of the galaxy to the other. He doesn’t lead anyone on, but he also doesn’t leave anyone with even a chance at a piece of his heart.

Cami, on the other hand, is buttoned up tight, and with good reason. Her daddy, the pirate Rene Blackstone, has “disappeared” any guy she’s ever looked at twice. She doesn’t know whether those guys are dead or just far, far away – and she’s way too scared to find out. She’s caught in the middle, working for her father, living at home, treated like a teenager when she’s well into her 20s, and too scared to go out on her own. She’s both afraid of her father and afraid of the kind of people who will go after her in order to get at her father – and she’s right to be afraid.

Literally chaining herself to Qae is her chance, not only at rebellion, but at putting her demons to rest and making a life for herself out from underneath her father’s heavy thumb. That Qae, Rian and their crew are strong enough to stand up to her father is a big part of her reasoning.

In addition to the romance, there is also a big piece of this book that moves the overarching story forward. Rian goes after his missing ship after a year dirtside. His need to get his ship back lines up very well with the older Blackstone’s need to get back at his deadliest rival – AND – gives Cami a chance to take her life back from the bastard who stole her confidence and her innocence years ago. It’s going to take a big, bold plan with a lot of moving pieces to make good on all of the competing and conflicting agendas in play. There are so many ways it can go pear-shaped – and so many times it very nearly does.

This story feels like a turning point in Sherron’s one-man crusade against the Reidar. He finally finds a way to take the fight to them, and it’s clear that things are going to heat up – and get a whole lot bloodier, from here.

And I’m all in with his crew. I can’t wait to see what crazy twists and turns this series goes through next, as well as which crew member finds that one person in the galaxy who makes them whole – and fills an empty spot on the ship’s roster!.

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

Jess is giving away a $15 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal

Review: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’NealThe Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 364
Published by Lake Union Publishing on July 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

When Olivia Shaw’s mother dies, the sophisticated food editor is astonished to learn she’s inherited a centuries-old English estate—and a title to go with it. Raw with grief and reeling from the knowledge that her reserved mother hid something so momentous, Olivia leaves San Francisco and crosses the pond to unravel the mystery of a lifetime.

One glance at the breathtaking Rosemere Priory and Olivia understands why the manor, magnificent even in disrepair, was the subject of her mother’s exquisite paintings. What she doesn’t understand is why her mother never mentioned it to her. As Olivia begins digging into her mother’s past, she discovers that the peeling wallpaper, debris-laden halls, and ceiling-high Elizabethan windows covered in lush green vines hide unimaginable secrets.

Although personal problems and her life back home beckon, Olivia finds herself falling for the charming English village and its residents. But before she can decide what Rosemere’s and her own future hold, Olivia must first untangle the secrets of her past.

My Review:

The story opens with American Olivia Shaw discovering that she is the long-lost heir to a title and an estate in England. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it?

But just as every cloud is supposed to have a silver lining, every silver lining definitely has its own cloud. Olivia has just made this momentous discovery because she found paperwork regarding the estate among her late mother’s things. Her mother has only been gone a few weeks, and Olivia is still devastated by her death as well as completely overwhelmed by the whole horde of secrets which have suddenly come to light.

Or at least come to less dark. Olivia had no idea that her mother was the Countess of Rosemere, or that the title came with an estate. A profitable estate that includes gardens and farmland and a crumbling (and possibly haunted!) Elizabethan country house. And secrets. Mountains and molehills and acres of secrets.

Her mother was a well-known artist and illustrator of children’s books. Olivia always assumed that the enchanted forest that appeared in so much of her mother’s work was a creation of her imagination. But in truth her mother painted Rosemere over and over and over for her entire life.

One of the questions is why? Another is why did her mother leave the place to rot? And an even bigger question, why did her mother never tell her anything about Rosemere, her inheritance, her legacy, her background or her past?

Olivia’s mother loved treasure hunts. And she has left her daughter one final doozy of a hunt – to discover the secrets and the truths that lie hidden at Rosemere. So those secrets can finally be brought to light, and so that Olivia can finally find her own way.

Escape Rating B+: There is a lot to love in this book, and just a couple of things that didn’t quite work, or at least didn’t work for me.

The story is a gem, combining Olivia’s hunt for her mother’s last secrets with Olivia’s own romance with both novelist-turned-thatcher Samir Malakar and with Rosemere itself. Herself.

Olivia arrives at Rosemere at a personal crossroads. Not just that her beloved mother is dead and left this gigantic mystery, but also that Olivia is still recovering from a terrible automobile accident that left her with a still-healing injury and caused the death of her beloved dog. The injury caused her to take a six weeks and counting leave of absence from her job as editor of a prestigious food and gourmet magazine. To top all of that off, her relationship with the man she’s been living with for the past eight years is falling apart. Or has already fallen.

Olivia comes to Rosemere to pull herself together in the present as much as she does to unearth the mysteries of the past.

In the process, Olivia falls in love with both a person and a place. The more she looks into the secrets of Rosemere, and the more that she explores the tumbledown wreck of the house, the more questions she has. It’s obvious that something truly terrible happened all those years ago to force her mother to leave it all behind and completely reinvent herself.

It’s also equally obvious that she discovers that she feels tied, not so much to the land as to the people that inhabit and surround it. She becomes involved with village life, even as many elements of that society either reject her or her choices. It’s clear that there are multiple agendas revolving around the old estate.

That society also looks down on her choices for friendship and companionship. Her first and closest friends in the village are the Anglo-Indian Malakar family. Olivia’s grandmother came home to England from India with Samir and Pavi’s grandmother Nandini, and the two families have been close ever since. Olivia’s burgeoning relationship with Samir echoes that closeness much more nearly than they believe. But they do not fool themselves that the local squirearchy will not and does not approve of the new Countess’ relationship with someone who is not ‘one of them’, let alone someone of Samir’s heritage.

Olivia’s journey, her search, is absolutely fascinating. She’s our point of view into the story, and she is easy to empathize with and interesting to follow. She’s got a lot on her plate at the beginning, not just her own recovery from both injury and grief, but the gigantic number of decisions she has to face at a time when she is at a very low ebb.

It’s easy to see how Rosemere winds its way into her heart. And her fresh perspective on whatever secrets are hidden there give her both the imperative to discover the truths and just enough distance not to fear whatever may be revealed.

There were a couple of things that niggled me about this story, just enough to keep me from raising it into the A’s. Olivia has plenty of problems to tackle between her mother’s secrets, Rosemere’s secrets, her attempt to rehabilitate the crumbling house and her relationship with Samir. That’s more than enough drama for one life and one book without tacking on either the swindling caretakers or the douchecanoe ex-lover. Throwing both into the soup brings the book a bit too close to melodrama, and definitely went over-the-top in the number of drama llamas.

As much as I loved the way that the relationship developed between Olivia and Samir, a part of it didn’t quite ring true. Again, they had plenty to contend with, as no one seems to have approved for all kinds of reasons. But Olivia made a gigantic deal out of being 7 years older than Samir. She’s 39 and he’s 32, which makes both of them well into adulthood – certainly more than far enough into adulthood for a seven year gap not to be all that big of a deal, and absolutely more than adult enough for Samir to be aware of his own mind and heart. I am 20 years older than my husband, and while I certainly did a fair amount of soul-searching at the beginning of our relationship, I didn’t agonize nearly this much over a gap that is considerably greater. Because of my own experience, some of Olivia’s reactions in this regard didn’t quite ring true for me.

But quibbles and niggles aside, I enjoyed The Art of Inheriting Secrets a great deal. This was the book I was reading as the movers packed up all of our stuff and moved it out of the old house and into the new house. Reading Olivia’s trials and tribulations with beautiful old Rosemere certainly put my moving into perspective!

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Review: Born to Be Wilde by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: Born to Be Wilde by Eloisa James + GiveawayBorn to Be Wilde (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #3) by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Wildes of Lindow Castle #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The richest bachelor in England plays matchmaker…for an heiress he wants for himself!

For beautiful, witty Lavinia Gray, there's only one thing worse than having to ask the appalling Parth Sterling to marry her: being turned down by him.

Now the richest bachelor in England, Parth is not about to marry a woman as reckless and fashion-obsessed as Lavinia; he's chosen a far more suitable bride.

But when he learns of Lavinia's desperate circumstances, he offers to find her a husband. Even better, he'll find her a prince.

As usual, there's no problem Parth can't fix. But the more time he spends with the beguiling Lavinia, the more he finds himself wondering…

Why does the woman who's completely wrong feel so right in his arms?

My Review:

While Born to be Wilde certainly has elements of the Shakespearean farce referred to be one of the characters, there are also some interesting and surprisingly serious notes in this glorious romp of a historical romance.

At first this seems like a frenemies into lovers story. We’ve met both Lavinia Gray and Parth Sterling in the previous books in this series. Lavinia, Willa (the heroine of Wilde in Love) and Diana (heroine of Too Wilde to Wed), are best friends. Willa and Lavinia were raised together. In fact, Lavinia had set her cap for the Wilde that Willa eventually married. Lavinia’s mother tried to set Lavinia’s cap for the Wilde that Diana finally married.

Parth Sterling was raised with the Wilde brothers from the age of five. Parth is Anglo-Indian, and his parents sent him from India to be raised by his father’s friend, the Duke of Lindow. When his parents died, Parth became part of the Wilde family – and was every bit as wild a boy as any of his adopted brothers.

But Parth has a serious side. He’s become the richest bachelor in England by profitably owning and operating several factories and even his own bank. He’s a man who works hard and gets things done.

He seems to see Lavinia as merely a fribble. A lighthearted and light-minded woman who fritters away her time and her fortune on gowns, bonnets and gloves. That upper-class women are all supposed to be fribbles doesn’t keep him from seeming to look down upon her at every turn.

And she, in turn, seems to look down upon him. In her presence he always seems to be prim and proper and gloomy and doomy. In his presence she acts almost like a halfwit.

Of course, nothing is as it seems – except that they drive each other completely crazy. It’s exactly what kind of crazy that’s hiding underneath all of their cutting remarks towards each other.

It’s only when Lavinia finds herself in desperate needs of Parth’s undeniable ability to get things done that they discover that there’s more hiding behind both of their surface personas than either of them ever imagined.

But neither of them imagines how difficult it will be to let go of years of preconceived notions about each other – or about themselves. Or how much damage all those accumulated cutting remarks have already caused.

Escape Rating B+: For a story that certainly has its serious side, it is also a tremendous amount of fun, livened up by oodles of witty banter. That the heroine is far, far deeper than the shallow puddle that the hero initially claims her to be just makes the story that much more delicious.

At the same time, the story deals with some fairly serious topics. A big part of the story, introduced very early on, is that Lavinia’s mother is addicted to laudanum, otherwise known as tincture of opium. While laudanum was dispensed quite legally in many forms until the 1860s, the effects of addiction were also known – if usually swept under the rug and secreted within the family.

Lavinia begins this story where Too Wilde to Wed ends. She has discovered that her mother has squandered not just their own money but also all of Willa’s as well. And she’s sold all of her own jewelry, Lavinia’s, and Willa’s and replaced them with copies. And stolen Diana’s jewelry as well, causing the rift between Diana and her family and forcing her into the circumstances she finds herself in at the start of Too Wilde to Wed.

Lavinia needs to marry a rich man, not just to make good on everything that her mother stole, but also because she needs a husband with enough power and influence to keep her mother out of jail and to make sure the scandal doesn’t erupt.

While marrying Parth or one of the wealthy men he introduces her to would solve her problems, Lavinia also has a tremendous amount of pride, as well as one marketable talent. She hasn’t been buying all those bonnets because she’s frivolous – well, at least not just because she’s frivolous.

She’s been studying them. Lavinia has the talent, the taste and the style to become a fashion designer, or what her world calls a modiste. Diana’s upcoming wedding provides her with the opportunity to not merely arrange but actually create Diana’s incredible trousseau – and to receive commissions from all of her suppliers for the materials that are purchased for the wedding party. And from there to build a business that can pay back what her mother stole, fund her mother’s long-term care, replace her own dowry and even live independently.

In other words, more than enough commission to make a serious dent in the financial hole her mother has left them in. And that would be just the start.

But the misunderstandammit in the story is that Lavinia doesn’t want Parth to know that she’s working to pay off that debt. So the more she accomplishes, the more he sees her as still frittering away her time playing with expensive fashion. Even as they finally admit that all of their name calling and backbiting has been hiding their true feelings for each other – they aren’t quite able to let go of the hurt on both sides it has caused.

In the end, Parth has to give really good grovel, not just in begging for forgiveness, but in demonstrating that he finally understands just what a gem and an artist Lavinia truly is, for them to win through.

Lavinia, in some ways, has the harder task. She has to let go, not just of those old hurts, but the even older ones – that still small voice inside her head that sounds remarkably like her mother, that says she’s frivolous and stupid and shallow and insipid and that no one will ever pay any attention to anything she says or does.

Accepting that the voice is wrong is the hardest lesson of all.

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

To celebrate the release of BORN TO BE WILDE by Eloisa James, we’re giving away one hardcover set of THE WILDES OF LINDOW CASTLE series!

LINK: https://www.subscribepage.com/BornToBeWilde

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a hardcover set of The Wildes of Lindow Castle series by Eloisa James. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 8/10/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Shattered Silence by Marta Perry + Giveaway

Review: Shattered Silence by Marta Perry + GiveawayShattered Silence by Marta Perry
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Echo Falls #3
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A woman on the run seeks sanctuary in a peaceful Pennsylvania Dutch community--and finds a protector in the most unlikely of men...One moment Rachel Hartline is secure in her career and community. The next, she's in the wrong place at the wrong time--watching her ex-husband commit a crime that puts her in unfathomable danger. Fear and hurt send her home to an Amish farm and the family she's always trusted. But a private investigator is close behind--and he may be a threat to her in more ways than one...Cold, calculating Clint Mordan isn't convinced Rachel is as innocent in her ex-husband's schemes as she claims, but when her ex's enemies target Rachel, Clint is driven to keep her safe. Maybe the terror in her beautiful eyes and the target on her back aren't an act. But as his feelings toward her deepen, Clint realizes he's the only one who can keep Rachel alive in a game where only the killer knows the stakes.

My Review:

This story opens with Rachel Hartline trying to get her ex-husband to sign off on the documents to put the house they still jointly own on the market. He’s promised to sign off, but he’s made plenty of promises throughout their marriage, and seems to have kept very few of them.

But then, as Rachel tells herself frequently throughout the story, addicts lie. And her husband is addicted to gambling. He’s also always expected her to believe him and cover for him, so when she finds him in his boss’ office copying files from his boss’ computer, he expects her to believe him and cover for him one more time.

And he still doesn’t sign the damn papers. But he does leave her holding the bag, so to speak, when his theft is discovered and everyone wants to retrieve the documents he copied – especially his ex-friend and extremely antisocial boss.

That’s where Clint Mordan comes in. Said boss has hired his private investigations firm to discover the stolen documents – and Rachel is the first and best suspect. If not for the theft itself, then certainly for helping out her ex. She seems strangely protective of the man – more than seems logical to the initially skeptical private investigator. Most ex-wives wouldn’t piss on their ex-husbands if the men were on fire, so Rachel’s reluctance to cooperate seems suspicious.

At least until her house is broken into and she’s attacked. Whatever is going on, someone seems determined to get something out of Rachel that she doesn’t have – and not just Clint.

But in the process of following Rachel from Philadelphia to her grandparents’ home in the tiny Amish community of Echo Falls, Clint figures out that whatever loyalty Rachel might still feel, it doesn’t including lying or covering up for her ex-husband.

And while Clint may indeed be paranoid, there is certainly someone out to get Rachel. And it isn’t her ex.

The longer the case goes on, the more that Clint and his partner realize that their client is keeping them in the dark. And the more protective of Rachel Clint becomes. And the more she trusts him, in spite of her fairly awful track record with trusting men.

But can either of them trust the feelings that have arisen in the midst of so much terror?

Escape Rating B+: I seem fated to read the final book in one of Marta Perry’s trilogies without having read the first books first. And to those books turning out to be the right book at the right time each time.

I was interested in Shattered Silence because of its ties to the Pennsylvania Dutch community without being fully set in that world. My husband grew up English in and around Lancaster Pennsylvania, so the Amish background always piques my interest. This story felt like it did a particularly good job of opening a window into that world without pretending to tell a story that is part of it. The times that I’ve read Amish-set books out loud to him he usually finds the descriptions pretty laughable, but that wasn’t the case here.

Just as I read and enjoyed How Secrets Die without having read the first two books in the House of Secrets trilogy, I read and enjoyed Shattered Silence without having read the first two books in the Echo Falls trilogy. In this case, the series seems rather loosely connected, sharing Echo Falls as a location without sharing other elements of the stories.

Shattered Silence turned out to be great romantic suspense. The danger reaches out and grabs the reader from the very beginning, with an exasperated Rachel discovering her ex in the middle of something highly questionable, and moving on from there as Rachel is forced to jump out of the frying pan into the fire.

I also liked the way that while she ended up in trouble over and over, she did not come off as too stupid to live as is so often in the case in “heroine in jeopardy” type romantic suspense. The mess is not her doing, and the mistakes she makes seem realistic. She lets her guard down repeatedly, but only when she thinks she’s in a safe place or that the danger seems over.

The interlude at grandparents’ farm provided a marvelous break in the tension while showing more interesting facets of all the characters. That she and Clint turn to each other in the midst of all of the drama, but also feel reluctant to trust and worried that the heightened tension of the situation is causing them to act out of characters felt right.

The resolution to the mystery felt right, as did their earning of their HEA. And while Rachel bore part of the responsibility for ending up in that final confrontation, she was equally responsible for helping to rescue herself. And that’s the kind of HEA I always love!

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

I am giving away a paperback copy of Shattered Silence to one lucky US/Canadian commenter on this tour!

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Review: The Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner by J.R. Ward + Excerpt

Review: The  Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner by J.R. Ward + ExcerptThe Rehearsal Dinner (The Wedding From Hell #1) by J.R. Ward
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Firefighters #0.5
Pages: 63
Published by Gallery Books on July 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Don’t miss #1 New York Times bestselling author J.R. Ward’s three-part ebook serialization: The Wedding From Hell. This exclusive prequel to her upcoming standalone suspense Consumed (available in October 2018) takes us back to where it all started between arson investigator Anne Ashburn and ‘bad boy’ firefighter Danny Maguire. The Wedding From Hell is a sexy standalone novella that sets up Consumed’s storyline, leaving fans hungry for more and dying to snatch it up.

The Wedding From Hell, Part 1: The Rehearsal Dinner: It’s a classic recipe for disaster: Take one bridesmaid who thinks pink is the root of all evil, mix with a best man who’s hotter than a four-alarm fire, add in their explosive sexual attraction, a nightmare bridezilla, two cat fights, and an emergency call, and you have the wedding from hell.

Experience the sizzling start of Anne and Danny’s intense relationship. Is this the start of something good...or just an erotic one-night stand that rocks their world, but must never be repeated?

My Review:

Because this is a short teaser of a book, it’s going to be a short teaser of a review, too.

I got into this tour, and the prequel novellas, because my curiosity bump itched something fierce. I loved Black Dagger Brotherhood way back when, although I didn’t finish the series because they started to get a repetitive for me. But I enjoyed the hell out of the early books in the series.

Howsomever, I DNF’d The Bourbon Kings at about the halfway point. The only reason I didn’t throw it against the wall was that my iPad is WAY too expensive to throw at walls. But I was still tempted.

When I saw the info for The Wedding from Hell introductory novellas along with the blurb for the full-length Consumed, I decided to give this author another try.

And so far, I’m glad I did.

The Wedding from Hell, at least so far, combines some really terrific tropes. The romance, or at least the steamy and unresolved chemistry so far, is between two members of a small-town New England fire department. She’s the daughter of a local legend and the sister of a current commander. He’s the company man-whore. Or at least he used to be.

They work well together, seemingly able to sense what the other is thinking, and always managing to be in the right place at the right time with the right equipment.

But this assignment isn’t work. Not exactly.

A member of their company is getting married and he wants all of the “guys” from his station house to be his groomsmen. Including Anne Ashburn. That she’s not a guy pisses the bridezilla right off – not that that takes much. But Danny McGuire, the best man and Anne’s work-partner, knows that bridezilla should not be marrying one of his best friends. He won’t let Anne out of the wedding, because he needs the moral support.

And because he hasn’t been able to get Anne out of his head or his heart since the day she walked into the station. He’s got it really, really bad.

But no matter how much Anne is interested in him, she’s not interested in being another notch on his bedpost – especially once she figures out that bridezilla got there first.

Escape Rating B+: As a FREE teaser novella, this certainly does its job. I definitely feel teased, although I admit not nearly as teased as Ann and Danny are by each other.

I enjoy a good firefighter romance, I love to see the rake get reformed, and the wedding so far as produced oodles of cringeworthy scenes of epic bridezilla-dom, injecting just the right touch of sheer insanity into the story.

As short as this story is, we still get a good introduction to Anne and Danny and at least some of their crew. More than enough to want to find out just how long they manage to resist each other – and whether anyone else in the crew is running a betting pool on it.

I can wait to get to the next installment of The Wedding from Hell, The Reception.

Excerpt from The Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner

Thursday, October 29
T minus 48 hours ’til blastoff
College Row, New Brunswick, Massachusetts

Because women are not frickin’ groomsmen! That’s why she can’t be in the goddamn wedding!”
As Anne Ashburn walked in the back door of the shotgun apartment, that happy little explosion was not only what she’d expected all along, it also offered her the out she’d been praying for. And it was probably the one and only time she was ever going to agree with the bride.
Not about the role of females in bridal parties, but that Anne wasn’t going to be in the “goddamn wedding.”
Everyone standing in the kitchen turned and looked at her: Deandra Cox, the impending wearer of the white dress; Robert “Moose” Miller, her exhausted fiancé and Anne’s fellow crew member down at the 499 fi rehouse; and . . . Dannyboy Maguire.
Who was the only one she really noticed and, for that reason, the person she refused to look at.
Too bad Danny always made an impression. Like most firefighters, he was in great physical shape, his big body thickly muscled and ready to snap into motion in an instant. With his heavy arms linked over that chest and his long legs crossed at the boots, he was leaning back against the chipped countertop, his too-blue stare missing nothing. He was fresh from a shower, his glossy black hair wet, and Anne tried not to picture him naked under the spray, his tattooed torso arching as he rinsed the shampoo out of his—
She put her hands up to stop herself as much as the argument. “Look, I don’t want to cause any problems. I’m happy to step aside—”
“And now I have one too many bridesmaids.” The bride-to-be refocused on her intended. “My count is wrong. You wait until two days before the wedding to tell me this when you know I’m not going to like it, and now my count is off!”
As the groom focused on the linoleum floor, it was impossible not to picture a wax version of the couple on a multi-tiered cake: Deandra in skinny jeans and that tight cashmere sweater, her dark hair streaked blond, her body cocked forward like she was going to throat-punch the man she was going to marry; Moose in his New Brunswick Fire Department T-shirt, all broad-shouldered and bearded around the face, easing back like someone with the flu was about to sneeze in his face.
Ah, true love.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Moose muttered. “Anne’s a member of the four-nine-nine crew, and everyone else is with me.”
“She’s a girl.” Deandra pointed at Anne. “It throws off everything.”
“I really don’t want to cause any problems.” Anne put her hands up again. “So I’ll just be in the congregation. It’s perfectly fine—”
Deandra’s glare swung Anne’s way. “The count is still wrong. And my friends have already paid for their dresses. They were a hundred and twenty dollars apiece.”
And that’s my cue to go, Anne thought. Moose may have volunteered for this, but no one else had or needed to—
“I think women can be whatever they want.”
As Danny spoke up, everyone looked at him—including Anne, who suddenly felt shades of what Deandra was throwing out.
Don’t you dare, she mouthed at him behind the bride’s back.
Danny just shrugged like he’d thrown on a pantsuit and was channeling Oprah, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton all at once. “I mean, Deandra, you’re above all that sexism, aren’t you? No one’s going to tell you what’s right and wrong for your own wedding. You’re more secure than that.”
I am going to kill you, Anne vowed. “I think Deandra wants things done properly for her only wedding.”
Danny frowned in pseudo-confusion. “So you’re saying it’s okay to have a double standard for men and women? That’s a shocker given how you are at the station. I thought you believed in equality.”
“I do,” Anne snapped. “But this isn’t about equality.”
“You sure? I don’t know how you can support traditional gender roles when it comes to a wedding ceremony at the same time you defend the right for women to be firefighters, cops, and on the front lines in the military.”
“Spare me someone who’s never been in a dress having an opinion about women’s issues, okay?”
“I’m just pointing out that you don’t want women out of dresses.”
“It’s her wedding.” Anne jabbed a finger at Deandra. “She’s the bride. She gets to say what’s right and wrong for her, and she does not need some man telling her what to do.”
“Even if I’m defending the rights of women?”
“Until you grow a set of ovaries, you can shut the hell up about our rights!”
As Anne’s voice ricocheted around the kitchen, she realized that she’d marched right up to Danny—and that Deandra and Moose were watching the two of them in total stillness.
She cleared her throat and took a step back. “Anyway, Deandra’s made up her mind. And I support her decision.”
Deandra’s eyes narrowed on Danny, and something about the way the woman looked at him didn’t seem right.
“Actually,” the bride said, “maybe she should be in the wedding party.”
Anne prayed her expression stayed neutral. “Don’t compromise your vision on my account.”
“I won’t.” The woman stared at Danny. “Fine. Let’s put her in a tuxedo like the rest of the men. She can walk my sister down the aisle, just like a man should. Her shoulders are too big for a gown, anyway, and that way my count stays the way it should.”
Anne rolled her eyes. Let’s hear it for girl power.
“So it’s settled,” Deandra said with a tight smile. “You need a tux. Unless you already own one.”
For a moment, Anne waited for somebody to argue with the woman. Like Moose. But he was clearly done falling on swords over the wedding details, and Danny had just gotten what he wanted so he wasn’t going to say a damn thing.
And the truth was, after how many years of fighting fires with these men, they were her brothers in all but blood. Even though she thought Moose had lost his ever-loving mind marrying this beautiful but sour woman after knowing her for a matter of months, Anne was still going to stand up for the guy if he wanted her to—and he did. He’d asked her down at the stationhouse specifically.
“Where did you guys rent your suits?” Anne said to him.
“Tuxedoes,” Deandra corrected.
The groom blinked like he’d forgotten how to speak English. Then again, he’d been doing that a lot at the firehouse lately. “You’re actually going to wear one?”
“What the hell do I care?”
“Yes, she is wearing one,” Deandra cut in.
Danny spoke up. “I’ll go with you. I know where the place is.”

Review: Imperator by Anna Hackett

Review: Imperator by Anna HackettImperator (Galactic Gladiators #11) Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #11
Pages: 206
Published by Anna Hackett on July 10th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
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Space station security specialist Sam has done one thing since her abduction by alien slavers…fight to survive. But now one strong alien gladiator stands at her side and Sam knows she is no longer alone.

Thrust into a lawless desert arena, Sam Santos has done terrible things in order to stay alive. As the Champion of Zaabha, she’s been fighting to find a way out. Everything changes when the Imperator of the House of Galen sacrifices his freedom to help her. The hard-bodied, fierce man has vowed to help her escape, but getting out of Zaabha is only the first deadly task they face.

Galen was bred to be a royal bodyguard and protect his prince. With his planet now destroyed, he’s grown powerful and forged his wealthy gladiatorial House on the desert planet of Carthago. All Galen knows is honor, service, and sacrifice. Now his life depends on working with one battle-hardened woman of Earth as they fight together to survive. But Sam Santos is not what he expected. Tough, yes. A brilliant fighter, for sure. But there is a softer side to the woman as well. And Galen finds himself irrevocably drawn to all of Sam’s captivating facets.

Then they uncover a devious plot by the Thraxians that could bring down the foundations of the Kor Magna Arena and all they hold dear. Galen and Sam will stop at nothing to defeat the evil alien slavers, even if it means war. In amongst the fighting, Sam may finally show a man who lives for everyone else, that he deserves more than just honor and freedom, but love as well…if they survive the coming battle.

My Review:

Imperator is the culmination of all ten previous books in Anna Hackett’s marvelous, universe-spanning Galactic Gladiators series. It brings this story to a fantastic, heart-stopping doozy of a happily ever after for the humans stolen from Jupiter station and the gladiators (and a few select others) who take these refugees into their hearts.

Even in a couple of cases where those gladiators weren’t actually sure they still (or ever) had hearts.

The series began in Gladiator when the slave-trading Thraxians exploited a temporary wormhole that led from Carthago on the far side of the galaxy to our own solar system. The Thraxians, being the bloodthirsty and evil slave traders that they are, attacked the station and kidnapped as many humans as they could, skedaddling back through the wormhole before it closed.

There may be no place like home, but there’s no way back home for the kidnapped humans.

As the series progressed, one by one, those humans were rescued from the slave traders and their illegal fighting pits by the gladiators of the House of Galen, led by their leader, the Imperator Galen himself.

The House of Galen discovered that the Thraxians and their allies were operating an underground fight ring, using kidnapped, enslaved, tortured and experimented upon fighters. At first the ring was literally underground, but when the gladiators discovered that set of pits, the masters of Zaabha moved to a floating arena, one that flies over the more deserted parts of the planet.

Imperator opens on the heels of the final events of the previous book, Cyborg. Galen and his gladiators have managed to free all the human captives save one, but at tremendous cost. Galen himself is stuck on the floating Zaabha, along with the one human woman that he has not been able to forget.

Galen would say that he stayed on Zaabha because he promised the human mates of his gladiators that he would rescue their friend Samantha Santos from Zaabha. But the truth is that he wants to rescue Sam for himself.

In the end, they’ll have to rescue each other. Not just from Zaabha, but from all of the guilt and demons locked inside their own hearts.

Escape Rating B+: I have loved this entire series. While I’m a bit sorry to see it end, I’m glad that the author left a glimmer of possibility for future stories in this world. There could be other captured humans that they have not found. Yet.

But this part of the story is done. The House of Galen and their allies have all found their happily ever afters with humans from Earth. And it was fitting that Galen’s story was the last – because he couldn’t let his own guard down until every single person under his protection had been taken care of.

And now they have.

Imperator is the final story in this series. Even if more kidnapped humans do turn up, this story ends this section. As such, this is no place to start the series. I’m not totally sure that they have to be read strictly in order, but I would recommend starting with one of the first three books, Gladiator, Warrior or Hero. Once you’re hooked, you’ll want to read them all, but there’s a point in this series where things really build on the previous books – a point we’re well past by Imperator.

This book also includes a bit of, not exactly an epilog, but a few scenes where we see the present from each of the preceding couples’ points of view. And those scenes only have resonance if you know where everyone is coming from.

In all of the stories, and especially in this wrap up, those HEAs are very definitely earned.

And it’s fantastic!

Review: Trapped by Kevin Hearne

Review: Trapped by Kevin HearneTrapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #5) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: borrowed from library, purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles #5
Pages: 290
Published by Del Rey Books, Random House Audio on November 27, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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After twelve years of secret training, Atticus O’Sullivan is finally ready to bind his apprentice, Granuaile, to the earth and double the number of Druids in the world. But on the eve of the ritual, the world that thought he was dead abruptly discovers that he’s still alive, and they would much rather he return to the grave.   Having no other choice, Atticus, his trusted Irish wolfhound, Oberon, and Granuaile travel to the base of Mount Olympus, where the Roman god Bacchus is anxious to take his sworn revenge—but he’ll have to get in line behind an ancient vampire, a band of dark elves, and an old god of mischief, who all seem to have KILL THE DRUID at the top of their to-do lists.

My Review:

I really have a concentration problem this week. I hope it gets better soon, or next week is going to be hell. Then again, the house closing is this afternoon, so afterwards I’ll either have more concentration to read, or a whole lot less. OMG.

I bounced off of three books before I got a clue and decided to finish Trapped. I was in the middle of listening to it during workouts – Atticus certainly makes the treadmill fly by – but was figuring I’d finish in a couple of weeks, one way or another.

It’s now. As I was already literally at the mid-point, I knew I liked the book more than well enough to finish it. And I’m glad I did.

Although it’s really weird that even when I’m reading the book, I still hear it in Luke Daniels’ voice. His voice has become the voice of Atticus O’Sullivan, and I can’t get it out of my head.

Just like the title says, Atticus spends most of this book in one trap or another, and often hounded from one trap to another, and sometimes even trapped within a trap within a trap.

This is also a story about karma being a serious bitch. So many of the people setting traps for Atticus are people that he seriously pissed off somewhere along the way.

Not that the traps aren’t ingenious and that Atticus’ escape from them isn’t interesting and occasionally epic, but everything that happens in Trapped is pretty much all stuff that he brought upon himself.

After all, back in Hammered, Jesus and Ganesha both told him not to go to Asgard. Or at least not to go with the band of revenge seeking deities, immortals and supernatural badasses he took with him. They told him that no good was ever going to come of that mess – and they were right.

In addition to bringing on Ragnarok AND killing off a whole bunch of the Norse gods who were supposed to get in its way, Atticus also managed to get Bacchus honked off at him back in Hexed. And he’s been redirecting the blame for many of his less than savory actions onto the Svartalfar for centuries. Word was bound to get back to them – eventually.

So all of Atticus’ sky-is-falling chickens come home to roost just when he needs a few months of peace in a nice cave in friendly woods so he can finally bind his apprentice Granuaille into her power. So she can finally stop being his apprentice so they can shag each other blind for a few days.

Oberon is right, human mating rituals are weird and occasionally stupid. But it’s up to the Irish wolfhound to help keep his humans safe from everything that’s after them – even if evil, mesmerizing steaks just happen to drop into his path.

Escape Rating B+: Like all of the Iron Druid Chronicles so far, Trapped is a lot of fun. It also feels like a story that closes off a chapter, so it’s not a good place to start the series. Go back to Hounded, which is not only the first book but also the one that is nearly all joy and snark. Atticus’ world gets continually darker from that point. Not that there aren’t still plenty of moments of joy and epic amounts of snark.

But Atticus kills a god in Hounded, and his life is never the same after that.

Trapped is a story where Atticus is forced to reap a whole lot of what he’s sowed. The Norse want him to pay a blood price for killing the Norns, Thor and Heimdall. Since they won’t be available to play their parts in Ragnarok, Atticus needs to take their place. All of their places, which is not going to be an easy job.

Bacchus is after him because Atticus killed a whole bunch of his baccantes back in Hexed. He had a good reason, but Bacchus is just not the understanding type.

Atticus own pantheon, the fae in Tír na nÓg, aren’t happy with him because they see him as being on the “wrong” side in their own little bit of internecine warfare. And they’re peeved because he successfully pretended to be dead for several years. Nobody likes being fooled – especially a deity.

The vampires are after him because as a druid he knows how to unbind them – meaning kill them. The vampires are the reason that Atticus has been the only druid in the world for past millennia – and they are not giving up on their purge now – especially because Atticus is about to bind a new druid to the earth.

And for the past millennia or so, every time Atticus has needed someone to blame for something he did, he’s blamed the Svartalfar, the dark elves. They’ve finally found out – and found Atticus.

Under the principle of the “enemy of my enemy is at least my ally”, all of these groups are working together to wipe Atticus off the face of the Earth, and any other plane he manages to escape to.

The scene where an entire clown parade turns into Svartalfar and chases after Atticus, Granuaille and Oberon is particularly creepy.

So the story in Trapped is a story of running hither, tither and yon, and then back again. It’s also a story that feels like it’s one gigantic interruption. Every time they settle down to take care of Granuaille’s bindings, another faction is led to them and disrupts the work. Which makes this very much an “out of the frying pan into the fire” kind of story.

And it’s a fun one.

Fair warning, it ends on a cliffhanger of truly epic proportions! But that’s OK, because I’ve already got Hunted queued up and ready to go!