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: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Whitaker Island #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on December 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


No matter where you run to…

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

Desire will find you...

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Review: The Country Guesthouse by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

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

A summer rental, a new beginning…

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Review: The Case of the Spellbound Child by Mercedes Lackey

Review: The Case of the Spellbound Child by Mercedes LackeyThe Case of the Spellbound Child (Elemental Masters, #14) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fantasy
Series: Elemental Masters #14
Pages: 320
Published by DAW Books on December 3, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The fourteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series continues the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate 20th-century England.

While Sherlock is still officially dead, John and Mary Watson and Nan Killian and Sarah Lyon-White are taking up some of his case-load--and some for Lord Alderscroft, the Wizard of London.

Lord Alderscroft asks them to go to Dartmoor to track down a rumor of evil magic brewing there. Not more than four hours later, a poor cottager, also from Dartmoor, arrives seeking their help. His wife, in a fit of rage over the children spilling and spoiling their only food for dinner that night, sent them out on the moors to forage for something to eat. This is not the first time she has done this, and the children are moor-wise and unlikely to get into difficulties. But this time they did not come back, and in fact, their tracks abruptly stopped "as if them Pharisees took'd 'em." The man begs them to come help.

They would have said no, but there's the assignment for Alderscroft. Why not kill two birds with one stone?

But the deadly bogs are not the only mires on Dartmoor.

My Review:

I actually read this a couple of weeks ago, while I was in the middle of listening to The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl followed by Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage. I was on a Sherlock Holmes kick and looking for stories that were at least Holmes-adjacent, as both Mesmerizing Girl and Spellbound Child turned out to be.

In other words, unlike Mycroft and Sherlock, which is definitely Holmesian all the way even if it is still focused more on the older brother than the younger, both the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club and the Elemental Masters are series that I got into for Holmes but stayed in for everybody else.

Which is a good thing, because Spellbound Child, like last month’s Mesmerizing Girl, is all about the everybody else and only tangentially about Holmes. At least in Spellbound Child Sherlock isn’t in need of rescue along with some of that everybody else.

This story is part of the author’s Elemental Masters series. In this series, the world is an alternate version of our own history, it’s just a version in which magic works but is mostly hidden and strictly controlled by its practitioners – especially those who are masters of their particular elements.

The series began with The Fire Rose back in 1995 – a story that I read at the time but have no recollection of beyond the concept. I kept up with the first few books in the series, but then dropped it for a long time, until A Scandal in Battersea caught my attention two years ago, not for its fantasy but for its screamingly obvious Sherlockian elements. And have continued with the series ever since, even stepping back one book to A Study in Sable, where the entire current cast of characters was introduced.

The above should give heart to any readers who have not read the whole series. I do think starting with A Study in Sable would be beneficial to becoming acquainted with the current cast and situation. And all Holmes pastiche series seem to start with a play on the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, as this one does.

However, Holmes is not an elemental master – at least not unless someone declares logic to be a form of elemental magic. He is, rather, a skeptic. In spite of his friend and biographer, Dr. John Watson, being an elemental master himself, as is Watson’s wife Mary. It is an interesting take on their long-term friendship and collaboration, as Holmes has his sphere in which he is an acknowledged expert, but Watson also has his. And there are times when logic must defer to magic, no matter how much Holmes may scoff. He does not believe, but he has seen. And there have been multiple occasions where magic is the only answer left after he has eliminated the impossible.

This story takes place during Holmes’ hiatus after Reichenbach Falls, so his presence is very much on the QT, as that saying goes. He’s part of the story but neither the integral or central part, and that’s as it should be.

Because this is a case that is intimately steeped in magic. And in a peculiar way, it hearkens back to the original premise of this series, that of retelling fairy tales in a new and magical world.

The child who is missing, and spellbound, turns out to be a surprisingly rational and logical version of Gretel. Making her also missing, also spellbound, but ot nearly as mature or rational or logical little brother Hansel. (This is a series where the females often get top billing and solve the case – and so it proves here.)

It is up to non-magical but highly practical Gretel, really Helen Byerly, to figure out just how the extremely wicked witch was ensorcelling ALL the children, and escape to find help. Help in the form of Dr. John Watson, his wife Mary, Spirit Master Sarah Lyon-White and psychic Nan Killian, along with their foster daughter Suki and their highly intelligent birds Grey and Neville, sent to the “wilds” of Dartmoor by the Wizard of London to determine why so many children have gone missing in recent years – and why so little is being done about it.

While this case doesn’t wind up at Baskerville Hall – as I fully admit I was more than half expecting – it has every bit as as many twists, turns and surprises as Holmes’ and Watson’s more famous visit to the moor.

Escape Rating B+: If you look carefully at the background image in the book cover, you’ll recognize the silhouette of the famous detective, complete with pipe and just the suggestion of a deerstalker cap. It does lead one to believe that there will be more of Holmes than actually occurs in this case. On the other hand, there’s plenty of Watson, or rather, Watsons in this one, as the Wizard of London has tasked the Watsons with a case that he finds more important than the locals seem to.

After all, it’s obvious to him fairly early on that someone is kidnapping children with magical talent. While all that the locals notice is that the missing children are “not their kind” meaning either poor or members of the Travelers, and are therefore beneath society’s notice.

Everyone involved, the Watsons, Nan and Sarah, as well as Holmes (and the reader) are fairly incensed by that attitude and determined to do what they can to get to the bottom of it.

I found the case to be an intriguing one, as the perspective switches from the imprisoned children to the search for them and back again. In spite of the magic involved, the search is actually fairly straightforward, even if some of the means and methods are otherworldly. What tugs at the heart in this story is the plight of those children, trapped by chains of both metal and fear to serve as magical “batteries” for a hedge wizard who would be a bully with or without magic.

The character who really shines in this story is the non-magical but eminently practical and oh-so-brave Helen Byerly. She’s trapped with the others, chained by magic she doesn’t understand, and yet she still finds a way to improve conditions for everyone she takes under her care – and reasons her way to an escape that has a chance of freeing them all. The story may focus on the Watsons and the other masters and magic users, but Helen is the real hero of the tale.

And I always love seeing a smart girl participate in her own rescue!

Review: This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman + Giveaway

Review: This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman + GiveawayThis Earl of Mine (Bow Street Bachelors, #1) by Kate Bateman, K.C. Bateman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Bow Street Bachelors #1
Pages: 336
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on October 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The first book in a new Regency romance series, an heiress and a rogue accidentally end up in a secret marriage of convenience.

In a desperate bid to keep her fortune out of her cousin's hands, shipping heiress Georgiana Caversteed marries a condemned criminal in Newgate prison. The scoundrel's first kiss is shockingly heated, but Georgie never expects to see her husband again. Until she spots him across a crowded ballroom. Notorious rogue Benedict Wylde never expected a wife. He was in Newgate undercover, working for Bow Street. To keep their marriage of convenience a secret, Wylde courts Georgie in public, but the more time they spend together, the more their attraction sparks. Could an heiress with the world at her feet find happiness with a penniless rake? Kate Bateman's This Earl of Mine is a delightful start to the Bow Street Bachelors series, with witty banter, dynamic characters, and swoon-worthy romance.

My Review:

The way that this story opens reminded me of something I’ve always wondered about. Considering the incredible lengths that Regency heroines seem to have had to go to in order to protect themselves from predatory family members and their machinations, just how vanishingly small was the percentage of even slightly functional families among the upper classes?

I understand completely why Georgie goes to the lengths she does to keep her (OMG) cousin Josiah from compromising her so that she is forced to marry him, so that he can drain her extensive fortune to the dregs. He’s a complete wastrel, addicted to gambling, alcohol and opium – and he’s also complete slime. I can totally empathize with her desire not to marry him under any circumstances and don’t blame her a bit for the ruse she intends to enact.

I only question why there doesn’t seem to be anyone getting this bastard off her back – before he puts her on hers against her will. I’ve read this trope before, and it is infuriating. We empathize with her immediately, but as level-headed as Georgie is I can’t help but think there should be someone effective on her side.

Rant ends.

But I love Georgie as a protagonist. She is smart, she’s a successful businesswoman, she knows her own mind and skills and is both willing and able to act on her own behalf. She is not waiting for anyone to rescue her – and I’m happy that she isn’t. She neither needs nor wants someone to stand in front of her and fight her battles for her. She needs someone to stand beside her, support her in her own struggles and assist her when she decides she needs assistance.

That she finds that person in Newgate Prison is a surprise to everyone involved. Herself – and himself – included.

She goes into Newgate intending to marry a condemned prisoner who will be conveniently (for Georgie, anyway) hung the next morning. She ends up married to Ben Wylde, a covert agent of the crown masquerading as a convicted smuggler and working for Bow Street (hence the title of the series).

Ben is the brother of the impoverished Earl of Morcott. He’s also a veteran of the recently and hopefully finally completed Napoleonic Wars. Most important for the story, he’s a known rake on the fringes of the ton, those sticklers of high society. A high society that Georgie’s ambitious mother wants to ascend to, by way of Georgie’s beautiful but clumsy younger sister.

Which means that Georgie and Ben are fated to meet as soon as he bribes his way out of Newgate – not that he was in there as his real self in any case. It was all part of his current case for Bow Street. But their marriage is valid, which leaves Georgie and Ben on the horns of a rather dicey dilemma. (Horns is also punnily appropriate for Ben’s condition every time they are within sight of each other!)

Georgie needs to be married to fend off Cousin Josiah. Ben has neither the need nor the desire for a wife – whatever he feels for, or in the presence of, Georgie. Particularly as it is well known that Ben and his brother John (the Earl) are in dire need of a rather large fortune to redeem their late father’s many, many (many) gambling debts. While Georgie, who possess that large fortune from the successful shipping business that she inherited and has expanded (all by her ownsome, thankyouverymuch), is naturally wary of men who want to marry her for access to her fortune.

But they are stuck with each other. Or are they? Georgie very nearly gamed the system before in order to protect what she holds dear. Can she do it again – with Ben’s able assistance?

And can they manage to do it for keeps?

Escape Rating B+: I certainly enjoyed This Earl is Mine, and that’s because of the characters. Georgie is an absolute gem. Her independence of thought, and her willingness to act on that thought, make her a character that 21st century readers can easily identify with – and root for.

At the same time, the strictures wrapped around her life also firmly ground her in her time and place – or at least do so enough to not make her attitudes anachronistic. She knows what she’s good at, and she knows what she’s worth – and not just in the financial sense. At the same time her life is hemmed in by the restrictions placed on women of her time. She colors outside the lines but not too much and is always aware that there are lines and that she – and her family – will pay a price if she steps too far outside those lines and is caught.

She also knows what she wants in a man and a husband, and isn’t willing to settle for less. She just doesn’t believe that she can have what she wants – a man who will stand beside her and not in front of her. The way that she and Ben find out just how good they are together, while filled with plenty of heat, isn’t based solely on their explosive sexual chemistry. They become friends first – in spite of how difficult that seems. And what they share that matters the most is their love of adventure in a way that bonds them so closely that when they finally realize they love each other they are both shocked, because neither of them expected it – or the other – at all.

That Ben’s pride almost gets in the way of their happiness feels real – and that they overcome it due to her good sense and forthright nature seems right.

On my other hand, Cousin Josiah reads like a bit of a paper tiger. He’s terrible and awful but as soon as Georgie has someone effective in her corner his fate is inevitable. And that whole situation felt a bit contrived from beginning to sticky end.

I will say that this book drove me a bit crazy, because I kept having the feeling that I’d read something a lot like it before. And I’ve been looking for what that was for days now.

In the end, This Earl of Mine feels like a combination of The Duke’s Den series by Christy Carlyle, the Bareknuckle Bastards by Sarah MacLean and the Bastion Club by Stephanie Laurens – all the best parts of each, of course. It also bears a strong but slightly twisted resemblance to the Sebastian St. Cyr series by C.S. Harris. I say twisted in that last instance because the author took a character who should have been the hero of a romance and turned him into a tormented solver of mysteries for Bow Street. Ben Wylde and his friends feel like the other side of that coin, a war veteran like St. Cyr who solve crimes for Bow Street while staying on the romantic hero side of the equation.

If you like any of those series, you will also love This Earl of Mine, and vice-versa. But the Bow Street Bachelors are far from finished. The series will return with To Catch an Earl next summer, when the focus moves from Ben and Georgie to Ben’s friend and fellow agent, Alex. And I’m looking forward to the season AND definitely the book!

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

Thanks to the publisher, I am giving away a paperback copy of This Earl of Mine to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayLady Abigail's Perfect Match (The Townsbridges #2) by Sophie Barnes
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Townsbridges #2
Pages: 99
Published by Sophie Barnes on October 29th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A kiss can cure any ailment…

Lady Abigail has been infatuated with Mr. James Townsbridge for three years. But when she is finally introduced to him, she finds him arrogant and rude. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop her heart from racing or her stomach from flip-flopping while in his presence. In fact, being near him makes her feel somewhat ill. Which complicates matters when they are suddenly forced to marry.

James doesn’t like the aloof young lady to whom he has recently been introduced. And since he has a blistering headache, he doesn’t have the patience for someone who clearly doesn’t want to be in his company. But when she lands in his lap and he accidentally rips her gown, his duty is clear. Now James must try to get along with his awful fiancée, or risk living unhappily ever after. But is that possible?

My Review:

This story was a surprise. Oooh was it ever! And I meant that in a very good way.

At the beginning, it seemed like it was going to be the misunderstandammit to end all misunderstandammits. Admittedly, at the beginning, the hero and heroine don’t know each other AT ALL, so the way that they begin by misunderstanding each other and keep on doing it at every turn is a direct result of them being barely acquainted in the first place.

That their first meeting is far from auspicious doesn’t help matters. He’s really, seriously hungover, and she’s shy and tongue-tied in that way that comes off as standoffish and disapproving when it’s really all about wanting to disappear.

Then they each disappear from the party that neither of them wants to be at, in order to find a dark, quiet room where they can just breathe and give in to their equal but opposite desires to be anywhere else.

Until she sits on him in the dark – literally – and their quiet room is invaded by everybody and his brother – as well as both of theirs – discovering them in a position that looks extremely compromising.

This is a Regency romance, which means that they have to marry to preserve her reputation. Even if it seems as if he quite literally makes her sick to her stomach.

At this point I kind of wondered where the story could possibly go from here, because it seemed as if every time they were in the same room together they managed to make the whole situation worse.

Until they began writing notes to each other, and discovered that they have the same somewhat morbid and slightly offbeat sense of humor. They begin to find a way, and it starts to look like their impending marriage is going to be glorious and not doomed.

Of course there’s one more crisis that nearly drives them apart – again. But in their forced walk through some very dark places, they manage to find their way into the light. Happily. And together.

Escape Rating B+: I picked this book because I really enjoyed the first book in the series, When Love Leads to Scandal, and wanted to see where the story led next. (There’s no NEED to read the first to like the second, the one is not dependent on the other. But the first book is VERY short and a quite delightful romp all by itself.)

At first, I’ll admit that I totally wondered where Lady Abigail was headed (both the book and the character!) The misunderstandammit is one of my least favorite tropes, but in the first half of the story it seemed as if the whole thing was one giant misunderstanding and not much else. I’ll also confess that the reason Lady Abigail was so tongue-tied it made her sick – that James Townsbridge is just too handsome for words – felt a bit silly. But then, the whole misunderstandammit trope is pretty silly.

Once Lady Abigail put on her metaphorical big girl panties by talking to James through the shrubbery(!), their relationship began to sing. Or at least giggle and chortle quite a bit. It was certainly working.

When the crisis came and everything nearly fell to bits, things got very dark. And I’m trying not to spoil it, because the way they eventually recovered and learned to get past it was extremely well done.

So this one isn’t nearly as light and fluffy as that blurb might lead you to believe. And it’s all the better for it.

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

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Review: Meant to be Yours by Susan Mallery

Review: Meant to be Yours by Susan MalleryMeant to Be Yours by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Happily Inc #5
Pages: 464
Published by Hqn on October 22, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Happily Inc, love means never having to say “I do”…

Wedding coordinator Renee Grothen isn’t meant for marriage. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, plan. But she never could have planned on gorgeous, talented thriller writer Jasper Dembenski proposing—a fling, that is. Fun without a future. And the attraction between them is too strong for Renee to resist. Now she can have her no-wedding cake…and eat it, too.

After years in the military, Jasper is convinced he’s too damaged for relationships. So a flirtation—and more—with fiery, determined Renee is way too good to pass up…until his flame becomes his muse.

Renee is an expert at averting every crisis. But is she finally ready to leap into the one thing that can never be controlled: love?

My Review:

There’s a theory that dogs come into our lives because we need them, but cats come into our lives because they need us, can’t admit it, and the entire universe is rigged to do their bidding anyway. I digress, just a bit.

But this story begins with a dog. In fact, poor Koda is the first person who comes into Jasper Dembenski’s life because they are meant to be his. And helps Jasper to heal enough – or to acknowledge the progress he’s made in his own healing enough – to allow Jasper to let Renee Grothen into his heart – by way of his bed. Or hers.

Because they’re meant to be each other’s – even if it takes them both a while to figure that out.

After all, Jasper believes that the things he experienced during his military service, and the PTSD the service left him with, have left him too damaged to deal with any relationship more complicated than friends-with-benefits, with as much emphasis on the benefits and as little on the actual friendship as his partners in those “relationships” are willing to tolerate.

Renee is one of the wedding planners at Weddings Out of the Box, the themed wedding service venue owned and operated by Pallas Saunders Mitchell, the heroine of the series opener You Say it First (which, BTW was lovely and fun and charming and got me hooked on this series.)

When it comes to weddings, Renee believes that those who can, do. And those who can’t become wedding planners. Her love life has been fairly disastrous, and she’s not interested in trying again.

But a woman has needs. Needs that Jasper is more than willing to help her with. After all, men have needs too. In Jasper’s case, while he’s all in on the benefits of the friends with benefits relationship they enter into, Jasper also needs something else from Renee.

Jasper is the best selling author of a long-running detective series. And that particular series needs to wrap up. Both Jasper and his editor are sure that what his loner of a detective (art imitates life) needs is to fall in love and find his HEA – or at least some purpose to his life besides catching serial killers.

However, Jasper can’t figure out how to write a female character who is not either a serial killer herself or the victim of one. He needs to learn out how women think. So he turns to his friend Renee for help and advice.

Thus the confirmed bachelor ends up shadowing the wedding planner to discover what makes women tick by observing them as they plan their weddings. And Jasper and Renee end up spending a lot of time together, fully dressed, in scenarios where they have to talk with each other in complete sentences.

Not that they don’t still nearly screw everything up.

But with the help of nearly every person in Happily Inc, Jasper’s dog Koda, Renee’s cats Fred and Lucille – and Renee’s mother Verity who understands what ALL the animals in town are thinking – they finally manage not to mess up their own HEA.

Even if there are more than a few times when it feels like the entire situation is going to the dogs. Complete with pooper scooper.

Escape Rating B+: Koda does come into Jasper’s life because Jasper needs him. Don’t get me wrong, the dog gets PLENTY out of the arrangement, but Koda does an especially good job of helping Jasper. Meanwhile, Fred and Lucille come into Renee’s life because they need her to help them get back together.

And in spite of how many times Renee’s mother Verity’s gift for understanding what animals are thinking has caused Renee all kinds of grief, it’s Verity’s gift that allows Koda, Fred and Lucille to get their messages across.

Obviously I fell into this particular book for the pets, and they are an important part of this story. Also, the giant dog wedding is a hoot!

But as much fun as all of the animal interactions are, it’s the humans in this one who are involved in the romance. Even if that’s not what either of them thinks is happening at first. Especially if that’s not what either of them wants to happen, or thinks is even possible TO happen.

The romance of this one is watching Jasper and Renee take two steps forward and sometimes three steps back on their road to a real relationship. At the beginning they are both certain that they are too broken for love or marriage – but having a regular sex partner is terrific.

They become friends. Slowly and hesitatingly. And their friendship eventually manages to work because Renee calls Jasper on his shit and doesn’t back down until he both understands what he did wrong AND apologizes for it.

His laser focus on his work and his tunnel vision in pursuing his vision of it does get him into trouble. Watching him work his way out of that trouble is fascinating. At the same time, one of the things that really worked for me in their relationship is the way that Renee accepts his need to completely concentrate on the work when it’s flowing. She doesn’t expect him to change who he is. He just needs to learn to not step on anyone else in his drive to get the story “right”.

As much as I love the town of Happily Inc and this series, it was the portrayal of Renee that dropped the story from an A- to a B+. Let’s just say that I empathize with how hard Jasper found it to get inside her head because I had the same difficulty.

I liked so much about her, but her fear of a relationship didn’t feel quite right, at least not based on the examples of where her previous relationships went wrong. The action and reaction didn’t feel quite proportionate – but YMMV.

I did like the way their relationship built slowly, and by fits and starts. And I certainly loved seeing Jasper grovel when he needed to – and there were plenty of times when he needed to.

But for this reader the animals stole the show and happily trotted away with it!

Review: Nothing to Fear by Juno Rushdan + Giveaway

Review: Nothing to Fear by Juno Rushdan + GiveawayNothing to Fear (Final Hour #2) by Juno Rushdan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Final Hour #2
Pages: 448
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on August 27, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The clock is ticking

Fearsome Gray Box operative Gideon Stone is devoted to his work and his team. He's never given reason to doubt his loyalty...until he's tasked with investigating Willow Harper, a beguiling cryptologist suspected of selling deadly bio-agents on the black market.

He knows she's innocent. He knows she's being framed. And he knows that without him, Willow will be dead before sunrise.

Thrust into the crossfire of an insidious international conspiracy, Gideon will do anything to keep Willow safe...even if that means waging war against his own. With time running out, an unlikely bond pushes limits―and forges loyalties. Every move they make counts. And the real traitor is always watching...

My Review:

The title of this nonstop romantic suspense thriller may be Nothing to Fear, but Gray Box hacker-agent-operative Willow Harper has PLENTY to fear – she just doesn’t know it as this story opens.

She’s being setup to take the fall for the murder, while in Gray Box custody, of an enemy intelligence agent code-named “The Ghost”. But he stopped being a ghost once Willow focused her hacker skills on ferreting him out.

Now the mole in the Gray Box has to eliminate the threat to the organization that they really work for, while keeping their hidden status in place. That’s where Willow came in, unfortunately – or so it seems – for her.

Willow may be a genius programmer, and she has mad skills when it comes to data security, but her everyday, run of the mill life skills security is not so hot.

At first she’s just one of many suspects, but the mole has set Willow up to take the fall for everything, complete with a multi-million dollar account in the Caymans. An account that Willow knows nothing about. It’s not that the account is fake – the money is all too real – but that whoever set up the account was definitely not Willow Harper.

When the evidence turns up, with the black operations of Gray Box already in the cross-hairs, the agency’s director has no choice but to take her into custody.

And Gideon Stone, the agent who is certain that Willow is innocent, feels as if he has no choice but to take Willow and go on the run – in the hopes that he can get to the bottom of the set up, find the mole AND protect Willow – before their enemies manage to take her out and complete the frame.

The forces that are after them are bigger and better organized than Gideon imagined, and the hurricane that crosses their path is just the beginning of the danger that they face.

But the biggest danger for both of them is the damage that they can do to each other. If they’re not carefully, they’ll shoot each other in the heart.

Escape Rating B+: Nothing to Fear is absolutely a thrill-a-minute ride from beginning to end. It has all the classic elements of a great romantic suspense story, with its tough hero, offbeat heroine, secret black ops agency and spies, moles and counterspies at every twist and turn.

Not to mention that desperate run through a hurricane – although what happens on the boat stays on the boat. Or at least it’s supposed to.

As a “black” operation of our very own government – and isn’t that a scary thought all the way around – Gray Box makes a fascinating backdrop for a series. Everyone is a spy, or an agent, or an operative, or all of the above. Everyone has secrets – and everyone has committed unspeakable acts on behalf of the country. And all of their actions can and will be disavowed if that country feels it is necessary.

That Gray Box absolutely HAS to find the traitor within its ranks to keep the entire agency from being “whitewashed” just adds to the tension of the whole story. They have to find the mole, they have to clean up the agency, and they have to help Gideon and Willow however they can in the hope that everyone comes out the other side – except the mole, of course.

At the same time, Gideon and Willow are running as fast as they can, trying to stay half a step ahead of their pursuers, while being all too aware that everyone they left behind is in terrible danger – and not just their colleagues at Gray Box. The enemy is going after their families and friends in an attempt to run them to earth or bring them to heel. It’s a deadly chase.

And at the heart of the story are Gideon and Willow. Neither of them feels worthy of being loved nor is either of them quite sure they are capable of feeling or returning the emotion. Gideon is certain that the deeds he has committed are too dark, that his past is too dirty and that he is too much a creature of violence for anyone to be safe around him. And Willow, while a genius with computers, is at a loss with the unpredictability of human behavior and human emotions.

Which doesn’t stop them from falling for each other. But it sure does stop them from trying to stay together once the danger is over. Or does it?

The suspense of Nothing to Fear will keep readers on the edge of their seats from the first page to the last. And the story of this couple who make each other strong in their broken places will warm the least romantic heart.

Nothing to Fear is the second book in the Final Hour series. I haven’t read the first book, Every Last Breath, and had absolutely no problem getting right into the action in this one. But as wrapped up as I was in Nothing to Fear, that first book has certainly climbed higher in my towering TBR pile. After all, I have to read it in time to get the third book in this series, Until the End, late next spring!

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

I’m giving away a copy of Nothing to Fear to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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