Review: Summer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross + Giveaway

Review: Summer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross + GiveawaySummer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Honeymoon Harbor #3
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Summertime is the best time to lose yourself in the romance of Honeymoon Harbor…

When he lands in the emergency room after collapsing at the funeral of a colleague and friend, Wall Street hotshot Gabriel Mannion initially rejects the diagnosis of an anxiety attack. But when warned that if he doesn’t change his adrenaline-fueled, workaholic lifestyle he could end up like his friend, Gabe reluctantly returns to his hometown of Honeymoon Harbor to regroup.

As he adjusts to the sight of mountains instead of skyscrapers, Gabe discovers advantages to this small Pacific Northwest town he once couldn’t wait to escape. But it’s irresistible librarian Chelsea Prescott who, along with the two foster children she’s taken under her wing, makes slowing down seem like the best prescription ever.

Over the course of their summer romance, Gabe gets a taste of the life he might have had if he’d taken a different path. But with his return to New York City looming on the horizon, he’ll have to choose between the success he’s worked tirelessly for and a ready-made family who offers a very different, richly rewarding future…if he’ll only take the risk.

My Review:

When is a fling not a fling? Possibly when it comes with two children and a boat. But definitely when it begins with thinking you’re having a heart attack. While serving as a pallbearer at the funeral of someone you looked upon as a mentor.

For Gabe Mannion, wanting to be just like his mentor Carter Kensington has taken on a whole new meaning. The man is dead at 46, his heart a victim of the adrenaline rush that is high-level high-stakes trading on Wall Street.

Gabe’s panic-attack-that-feels-like-a-heart-attack is a giant wake up call. As one of his brothers later informs him, if your job gives you panic attacks, you’re doing it wrong. The problem for Gabe is that he doesn’t know how to stop doing it.

So he goes home. In that sense that home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in. Gabe needs to take the summer off and get away from his high-stakes, high-stress, all work and no life life-style, so he takes himself back home to Honeymoon Harbor, the tiny little beach town in the Pacific Northwest that he left for the fast track more than a decade ago.

He’s achieved the wealth that he dreamed of, not because he was greedy, but because money is a way of keeping score. He’s just never figured out when enough is enough, and adrenaline is just as addictive as any other drug.

He thinks he’ll be home for the summer, find a bit of zen, whatever that might mean, or at least ease off on the stress, and then return to the high-pressure world of dollars and cents – and more and more dollars.

Instead, librarian Chelsea Prescott rows over to the beach log mansion (it really is) he’s staying in for the summer, and invades his life, his house, the boat he’s building, and even, just possibly, his heart.

But their summer fling is supposed to have a limited shelf life. Her life, her home, and her life’s work is in Honeymoon Harbor, and he’s going back to New York after Labor Day. Or is he?

Escape Rating B+: This is a sweet little feel-good story about two people who have seen a few too many of life’s bumps and hard knocks, but have come out all the stronger for it.

I’m not actually talking about Chelsea and Gabe. I’m talking about Chelsea and Hannah, the young girl that Chelsea first takes an interest in when she notices that Hannah and her little sister Hailey are spending every afternoon in Chelsea’s library. Once upon a time, Chelsea spent her after school afternoons in that very same library, when her family and her home life was falling completely apart.

Chelsea sees herself in Hannah, using the library as a refuge and taking the very best care she can of her little sister. In Chelsea’s time, the librarian took her under her wing, giving her a refuge, a mentor, and eventually a career that she loves. Now it’s Chelsea’s turn to pay that gift forward.

But the package gets bigger when Hannah and Hailey’s foster mother goes AWOL and the girls need a place to stay. Chelsea steps up, and Gabe, steps up with her. Their fling has just barely begun, and suddenly they are all in together, making a home for two girls who need more than a temporary safe landing. They need a forever home, and Chelsea plans to give it to them.

With or without Gabe. But better with. If he can get his head out of his ass to figure where his heart is. Because Chelsea has already found hers.

Chelsea and Gabe’s relationship is fun to watch, but it’s Chelsea’s burgeoning relationship with the girls that really drives the book. There’s something very right about the family that they build together, a family that they all want Gabe to be a part of if he is willing to take a good hard look at the life he had in New York, the life he has in Honeymoon Harbor, and who the heck he wants to be when he finally grows up. Because when the story begins, he surely hasn’t.

Chelsea, on the other hand, begins the story grown up but closed off. Her childhood trauma has left her with the same need to guard her heart that she sees in Hannah. The way that the woman and the girl grow towards each other, and open their hearts in the process, is lovely to watch.

They are going to get the family they deserve, together, whether Gabe sticks around or not. That he does finally figure it out makes for delicious icing on a very yummy story.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Summer on Mirror Lake to one lucky US or Canadian commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence + Giveaway

Review: The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence + GiveawayThe Alchemist of Lost Souls (Bianca Goddard Mysteries, #4) by Mary Lawrence
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Bianca Goddard #4
Pages: 320
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A dangerous element discovered by Bianca Goddard's father falls into the wrong hands . . . leading to a chain of murders. Spring 1544 Now that she is with child, Bianca is more determined than ever to distance herself from her unstable father. Desperate to win back the favor of King Henry VIII, disgraced alchemist Albern Goddard plans to reveal a powerful new element he's discovered--one with deadly potential. But when the substance is stolen, he implores his daughter to help.

Soon after, a woman's body is found behind the Dim Dragon Inn, an eerie green vapor rising from her mouth. Bianca has reason to suspect her own mother may be involved in the theft and the murder. When her husband John is conscripted into King Henry's army to subdue Scottish resistance, finding the stone becomes a matter of life and death. Bianca must unravel the interests of alchemists, apothecaries, chandlers, and scoundrels--to find out who among them is willing to kill to possess the element known as lapis mortem, the stone of death . . .

Praise for The Alchemist of Lost Souls "Atmospheric...Fans of Tudor historicals will eagerly await the next installment."--Publishers Weekly

Praise for Death at St. Vedast "Full of period details, Lawrence's latest series outing captures Tudor London in all its colorful splendor. A solid choice for devotees of Elizabethan mysteries."--Library Journal

Praise for Death of an Alchemist "A must read!" --RT Reviews

"Colorful alchemical lore and vividly imagined..." --Publishers Weekly

Praise for The Alchemist's Daughter A Night Owls Reviews Top Pick Suspense Magazine Best Historical Mystery 2015

"A complex plot and likeable cast of characters" --Historical Novel Society

My Review:

This is the fourth book in the Bianca Goddard series, and I picked it up because I read and enjoyed the recreation of Tudor England in the first two books in the series, The Alchemist’s Daughter and Death of an Alchemist. How and why I managed to miss the third book, Death at St. Vedast, I have no idea, but it’s an omission I certainly plan to rectify!

Although this series takes place among people who are living at the bottom of the economic pile, the actions of those at the top still affect the lives of Bianca, her husband John, and her father Albern in ways that never work to their benefit.

Once upon a time Albern Goddard was a respected alchemist in the employ of the king. The respectability of alchemy, while not laughable as it is today, was more than a bit dubious even in the mid 16th century when this story is set.

Albern’s fame and fortunes have considerably dwindled – not that his attitudes towards his wife, his daughter, or the people he lives among have come down even in the slightest. He thinks he’s better and smarter than everyone else looking down his nose at everyone around him, including his family.

And certainly his fellow practitioners of the so-called noble art.

His daughter Bianca, on the other hand, is both a decent brewer of medicinals and a decent judge of human beings. Including her parents. That she lives in an unsavory part of London and practices among those even poorer than herself provides further fuel for her father’s contempt. And that’s in spite of the fact that Bianca has pulled his nuts, literally and figuratively, out of the fire more than once.

Which doesn’t stop either Albern Goddard nor the local sheriff from enlisting her aid. Albern when a precious compound is stolen, and the sheriff when the woman who ended up with it in her possession is murdered.

But the parallel investigations into the theft from her father and the murder that seems to have been its result are not the only problems plaguing Bianca.

Because it is 1544 and Henry VIII plans on one final campaign against England’s perennial enemy, the French. He intends it to be a glorious victory. All that Bianca knows is that her husband has been caught up in the conscription for a war that seems more foolhardy than glorious. Whether he will return in time to see the child she carries – even whether he will return at all – is in the hands, or whims, of a capricious fate.

Escape Rating B+: This is a historical series where the reader kicks the offal, smells the smells, and feels more than a hint of the brutality of life on society’s lowest rungs of the ladder. In that, it resembles the Crispin Guest series by Jeri Westerson, the Thieftaker Chronicles by D.B. Jackson and the Kate Clifford series by Candace Robb.

This is not a pretty view of Tudor England, but one that is biting and raw. Bianca’s circumstances force her to make her living in an area known for its poverty, crime and lawlessness. It’s a world where her father has not only the right but the duty to beat her, in spite of her being an adult living away from his household, and where she is grateful that her husband does not do his duty to beat her as well.

And it is also a period where what we would now label superstition is accepted as fact, and where the worlds of magic and spiritualism lie much closer to everyday life. Which explains the common beliefs in alchemy, as well as nearly everything about the title character of this story, the being known as the Rat Man, who has spent centuries plying the waterways of the Thames and looking for the alchemical element he once created in an attempt to grant eternal life. An element that seems to have only granted him eternal damnation.

He is watching Bianca, in the hopes that she can somehow lead him to the final end that he longs for. And that she will not pay for his death with her own.

But the Rat Man is a shadowy figure, existing mostly on the fringes of this story. It is Bianca that we focus on, and it is her search for the truth, even the truths that she does not want to face, that moves us. While her circumstances may be removed in place and time, the intelligence, deductive reasoning and sheer stubbornness that she uses to achieve her aims are traits that 21st century readers can certainly empathize with – and follow.

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

The author is giving away signed paperback copies of The Alchemist of Lost Souls to two lucky participants in this tour!

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Review: Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank

Review: Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton FrankQueen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, women's fiction
Series: Lowcountry Tales #12
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times-bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank returns to the American South in this latest novel about friendship and love that is full of heart, humor, and rich description.

A woman wounded by her past comes to Sullivan's Island, South Carolina to find new meaning in life and to find herself. As she takes up a new hobby of beekeeping, she begins to come into her own and rebuild her life. When a new friend comes in and she finally allows for something more than just "friendship", everyone will realize that life could use a little taste of sweetness.

In what is sure to be another classic, Dorothea Benton Frank weaves a fun tale of self-discovery, love, and friendship with her signature charming wit, indelible poignancy, and hallmark themes.

My Review:

This book is a fun read and a hot mess at the same time. I would have thought those two things would be mutually exclusive, but after reading Queen Bee, they definitely are not.

Let me explain…

But first, I’d like to perform a bit of public service. The blurb for this book bears virtually no resemblance to the actual book. The book the blurb represents might be a very good book, but it certainly isn’t this book. At all.

To begin with, Holly Jensen doesn’t come to Sullivan’s Island, she already lives there. In fact, she grew up there and hasn’t left except for college. Nor does just just “take up” beekeeping. She IS a beekeeper and she has been one for several years. In fact, she’s an established beekeeper who has well-maintained hives full of happy bees who give her plenty of honey to sell – as well as giving her a sympathetic ear – or a thousand ears – when life starts closing in..

That new friend isn’t new, either. They went to school together. They just seem to have lost touch with each other over the years. As happens, even in small towns.

It happens especially easily in this case because Holly has found herself shackled to Sullivan’s Island, taking care of her cantankerous mother, the actual Queen Bee of the title. That “friend” of hers is in the nearby town, a member of the local police.

The person who does come back to town, because she’s been wounded by her present, not her past, is Holly’s sister Leslie. Leslie married Charlie, a man Holly refers to as “the wallet”, and blithely moved to Charleston. It seemed like Leslie’s marriage was perfect – at least self-absorbed Leslie made it seem that way.

Then again, everything Leslie does is perfect, at least in the eyes of the Queen Bee. Holly resents her sister’s freedom, resents being stuck on Sullivan’s Island taking care of their mother, and resents her mother’s resentment that Holly isn’t “perfect” Leslie. Because it seems to Holly that Leslie can do no wrong and she, Holly, can do no right.

When Leslie comes home, the three lives of the three women get forcibly kicked out of the ruts they’ve all been stagnating in – in more ways than one.

Leslie’s back because her husband, Charlie the wallet, wants to make a new identity for himself as a female impersonator, and is off to a contest in Atlantic City to see if he has a chance. He expects Leslie to be enthusiastically supportive of his decision, even as Charlie begins changing their entire lives to live as Charlene rather than Charlie.

(And that’s the last time I’ll refer to Charlie as either Charlie or as “him”, because from this point forward a gender-neutral pronoun is required.)

Leslie is more than a bit confused by the changes, and both she and the Queen Bee are at the “not just no but hell no” stage of, let’s call it, non-acceptance.

Then things change. A lot. Charlene wins a prize in the contest, and decides to stretch their wings by moving to Las Vegas to participate in even more contests. Charlene want to make a career out of this, and really, seriously want to become a star.

Leslie, hesitatingly, reluctantly, moves from “hell no” to being more open-minded, and ultimately more supportive. Holly, completely open-minded about Charlene, is just plain grateful that Charlene’s need for a support team and especially a costume designer gets the Queen Bee out of the depressive, self-destructive funk she’s been living in for years and temporarily moves her from Sullivan’s Island to Vegas to help Charlene take the first steps into this new world.

Meanwhile, back home, Holly is on her own and feeling relieved and miserable at the same time. On the one hand, she has the freedom to do what she wants when she wants without her mother’s constant negativity and harping.

On that other hand, what Holly wants is to finally get close to the widower next door. She’s been helping him out with his two young sons ever since his wife died, and she’s hoping there might be something more there. She fancies herself in love with him.

He fancies himself using her as an unpaid babysitting service while he marries a woman who makes the Wicked Witch of the West seem like a saint. That the original Wicked Witch is killed by a house falling on her head makes this resemblance surprisingly more relevant.

The bees fix everything for their queen. It’s up to Holly to take it from there.

Escape Rating B+: I have mixed feelings about this one. Lots of them. All of them.

First things first, this is a terrifically fast and fun read. It goes really quick, at least in part because there’s so much happening – and because so much of it is unexpectedly off the wall. And not in a bad way, either.

I will say that Holly is a doormat for way too long. She doesn’t grow a spine until 2/3rds of the way through the book, and listening to her internal dialog about Arch-next-door gets really old, really fast.

Admittedly, from the way that Holly’s mother treats her at the beginning, Holly’s spine has been pretty much surgically removed every single day of her life. It’s a bit of a miracle that she manages to grow one at all. But doormats do not compelling protagonists make – at least not for moi.

However, this is really a three-pronged story. Holly has a third, Leslie has a third and the Queen Bee has a third. And that’s where things get interesting. And also completely off the script of that blurb.

Leslie’s story moves from negativity to acceptance and resolution. It’s a reasonable progression and also a positive one. In the end, Leslie supports Char and the changes in their life while coming to the conclusion that as much as she loves the person, she is no longer sexually attracted to them as a spouse.

The resolution of Leslie and Char’s story takes as much “book time” as Holly’s, and is more interesting to follow.

Then there’s the Queen Bee’s story. The QB gets a new lease on life by going to Vegas. She also finds love with the genderqueer Suzanne Velour, an older female impersonator who has taken Char under their rather capacious wing.

That romance is sweet and surprising for all concerned, including the QB and Suz themselves. Unfortunately for the story, that romance feels a bit “shot out of a cannon” and proceeds too quickly. What we see of it is terrific, but it just happens too damn fast.

There’s a bit of “woo-woo” type magic between Holly and her bees – not enough to tip this into paranormal, but enough to make it feel like things happen on Sullivan’s Island, and in the Lowcountry, that just don’t happen anywhere else.

In the end, I liked the book, and had a good time reading it. I’ll admit to some serious questions about why two thirds of the story, featuring two genderqueer characters, were completely erased from the blurb. Anyone picking this book up based on the blurb is going to be surprised. Hopefully as pleasantly as I was, but surprised nonetheless.

Holly is the one who sums up this story, and all the relationships, best, when she says that “love comes in every color, shape, and size”, and that every life needs a little bit of sweetness. And she’s right.

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Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly HarmsThe Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 332
Published by Lake Union Publishing on May 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Overworked and underappreciated, single mom Amy Byler needs a break. So when the guilt-ridden husband who abandoned her shows up and offers to take care of their kids for the summer, she accepts his offer and escapes rural Pennsylvania for New York City.

Usually grounded and mild mannered, Amy finally lets her hair down in the city that never sleeps. She discovers a life filled with culture, sophistication, and—with a little encouragement from her friends—a few blind dates. When one man in particular makes quick work of Amy’s heart, she risks losing herself completely in the unexpected escape, and as the summer comes to an end, Amy realizes too late that she must make an impossible decision: stay in this exciting new chapter of her life, or return to the life she left behind.

But before she can choose, a crisis forces the two worlds together, and Amy must stare down a future where she could lose both sides of herself, and every dream she’s ever nurtured, in the beat of a heart.

My Review:

Even those of us who don’t need an actual #momspringa (because we’re not actual moms) can relate to Amy Byler’s need to take a vacation from her own life to see what’s working, what’s not, what might have been and what might be.

Not that Amy WANTS that vacation from the real, but she certainly does need it. Watching her embrace it makes for a fun and fascinating book, a story about friendship and sisterhood and learning that while having it all may be a myth, having all you really need is definitely possible.

And that “all” is different for each of us – as it is for Amy and her two best friends, Lena and Talia.

Our story begins when Amy spots her “ex” husband at her local small-town pharmacy. John left 3 years ago for a business trip to Hong Kong – and never came back. Leaving her with their two school-age kids, their historic fixer-upper of a house, a library degree that she hadn’t dusted off in ten years and not much else.

She ranted, she raged, she cried but most of all, she coped. Now he’s back and she’s sure that he’s going to disrupt her fragile but workable apple-cart. An apple-cart that has meant that she has turned over her entire life to being the “best” mother possible to make up for the dad who ran away to find himself with a younger woman.

Now he’s back in an attempt to “fix” his relationship with his children. And Amy knows she has to let him try – even though she rightfully doesn’t trust him at all. The kids will be better off with him in their lives – if he sticks this time. He doesn’t need to stick in Bucks County, but he does need to stick to his relationship with them.

He has one chance. She’s letting him have the kids for one week. The kids, who are not fooled by any of this, decide to take him for all he’s worth while he’s around. Not in a bad or entitled way, but making his responsibilities crystal clear – especially since he hasn’t paid a dime in child support while he’s been living it up in Hong Kong.

But that week leaves Amy with a giant-sized hole in her life. For the past three years she hasn’t done anything for herself. She doesn’t know what to do with herself without being constantly needed by her kids, who are now in their teens.

In desperation, she decides to go to New York City, the city she loved when she was single in her 20s, a lifetime ago. She finds a library conference to use as an excuse, and plans to spend a week with a friend she hasn’t seen in years.

When the week turns into an entire summer, and when her friend’s dying magazine uses Amy’s vacation for one last hurrah before they go all digital or fold, a new hashtag is born – #momspringa.

Amy’s #momspringa is both the breaking and the making of her – all at the same time. It makes her question her life and her purpose. Because if she’s not a mother 100% of the time, then who is she? And if she doesn’t take some fulfillment for herself, is she anyone at all?

Escape Rating B+: In the end, I loved this book, but I’ll confess that it had a hard start. And a slightly sticky bit near the end. At the beginning, Amy is extremely invested, understandably so, in being both a mother and more than a bit of a martyr about it.

While the situation makes total sense under the circumstances, I had a difficult time identifying with her until she starts breaking out of the concrete-lined rut she is stuck in – even though that rut is far from being all her own making.

In other words, I had a hard time relating to her intense investment in being a mother and sacrificing herself to that, because it’s not merely not my experience but not an experience I ever wanted.

Her problems with and resentments of the douchebag ex I was completely on board with. Even those of us who have met the “handsome prince” have kissed (and sometimes married) more than a few frogs along the way. And there’s no question this guy was a frog of a husband. Whether he’s also a frog of a father is a big part of the story.

But after the first third of the story, it’s all about Amy’s empowerment, Amy’s steadfast female friendships, and Amy’s journey to find a way to have a fulfilling life that is not 150% wrapped around her kids. Not that those kids aren’t supremely important, but Amy having some life just for Amy is important for them too.

There are also a lot of fun conversations between Amy and her daughter, and between Amy and the colleagues she meets at the conference, about the joys of reading, and about the love of books in general and some books in particular. There’s also some lovely feels about just how marvelous it is to match the right book with the right reader that I really identified with – after all, that is part of the reason that I started this blog and have kept up with it for so many years.

In the end, or rather in the middle, this was a book where I absolutely had to skip to the end to find out whether, after everything, Amy went back to the douchebag ex. Because if she did I was going to die.

I lived. And so does Amy Byler.

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Review: Anything but a Duke by Christy Carlyle + Giveaway

Review: Anything but a Duke by Christy Carlyle + GiveawayAnything But a Duke (The Duke's Den, #2) by Christy Carlyle
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Duke's Den #2
Pages: 368
Published by Avon on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Self-made man Aidan Iverson has seen more closed doors in his thirty years than he’s ever cared to count. As a member of the elite Duke’s Den, he has all the money he could possibly need, but the one thing he can’t purchase is true power. If roguish Aidan can’t buy his way into society’s hallowed halls, he’ll resort to a more extreme measure: marriage.

Brought up to be a proper lady, the only thing Diana Ashby desires is to be left alone to the creation of her own devices. But when her dreams are crushed, she must find another way to secure the future of her invention. Knowing his desire to enter her world, Diana strikes a deal to arrange Aidan’s marriage to the perfect lady—as long as that lady isn’t her. She doesn’t need any distractions from her work, particularly of the sinfully handsome variety.

As Diana and Aidan set out to find him an aristocratic match, neither are prepared for the passion that ignites between them or the love they can’t ignore.

In the Duke’s Den, can happiness ever be a winning prospect?

My Review:

I picked up Anything But a Duke because I absolutely adored the first book in the Duke’s Den series, A Duke Changes Everything. So naturally I wanted to see what happened next to the Duke’s Den gambling den and investors’ club.

While the two things that go on in the Duke’s Den may seem like opposites, they also aren’t. Because the three owners of the Duke’s Den, Nicholas Lyon (hero of A Duke Changes Everything), Aiden Iverson (the hero of our current tale) and Rhys Forrester (presumably the hero of the next book) invest in inventions. Often very large inventions on a grand scale, but not always. But whether those inventions will succeed or fail is really just gambling under a different name – and a slightly more respectable one at that.

Think of the Duke’s Den as a historical version of Shark Tank. The rules seem to be very similar – but without the posturing for TV cameras. (And OMG the original international version of Shark Tank is called Dragons’ Den!)

Diana Ashby has come to the Duke’s Den, just as inventors come to Shark Tank, to convince them to invest in her household, housewide, vacuuming system. It’s ingenious in its way, a system that once installed in an establishment, will vacuum every room with merely the priming of a suction pump.

While Diana is unable to immediately convince the members to invest in her device, she IS able to get a stay of execution on their refusal – because Aiden Iverson clumsily broke her model. And because once upon a time, not so very long ago, she saved his life.

There’s a spark that runs hot between them, so in a bit of self-deception they decide to use each other – as an excuse to remain in each other’s company just a bit longer.

Diana needs funding for her inventions. She’s under a deadline from her mother to either get funding within a month or finally throw herself into the “marriage mart”. Fully aware that marriage will probably make her miserable. Not that she might not want to get married and have a household and family of her own, but that under the current laws any husband can and probably will force her to stop inventing – and she needs to invent rather as much as she needs to breathe – possibly more.

Iverson needs to marry into the aristocracy. He has plenty of money, but his origins, both that they are common and that they are secret, keep him from the highest strata of society. And it’s that strata that controls memberships and inclusion into the areas that he needs to be in to bring the inventions he funds to their fullest potential.

They make a bargain. Diana will find Iverson an aristocratic wife, and he will fund her vacuum invention and help her find a buyer.

But no woman can live up to the fire in Diana, and no invention – no matter how successful – can make Diana feel as alive as Iverson does.

The question is whether they can step back from what they both said they wanted to what they truly need – each other.

Escape Rating B+: Anything But a Duke is a whole lot of fun. I’ll confess it’s not quite as much fun as A Duke Changes Everything (which was pretty amazeballs), but it is a terrific historical romance and I enjoyed every minute of it!

One of the things that I really liked about Anything But a Duke is that the characters, while part of the upper classes (that’s a whole ‘nother topic we won’t get into here) were neither of them actually titled members of the aristocracy.

Rather they were both upper-middle class, and both had mixed feelings and reactions about that situation. Diana feels stuck because she really wants to work on her inventions, but is being forced to submit to being “a lady” with all of the restrictions that are involved.

Meanwhile her brother is out drinking and gambling and wasting money that the family cannot publicly admit they don’t have. Diana’s mother needs her to make an “good” marriage to save the family from penury. (I have thoughts about her brother – and they are not complimentary thoughts in the slightest – but this isn’t his story.)

Iverson, on the other hand, is a self-made man. His mother abandoned both him and his sister to the workhouse. He’s not even sure that “Iverson” is his true name and has absolutely no idea who his father was. His lack of pedigree keeps him from getting into places that he needs to get into to further the inventions he invests in. He’s willing to make an arranged marriage, offering his money to save some aristocratic family’s position in order to get the entree into society he requires.

Diana and Iverson really do belong together. It’s obvious to the reader – in a very good way – and seems to be obvious to everyone except the two of them for the longest time. The way that the tension builds between them is delicious – even more so because it isn’t fake in any way but is inherent in the situation in which they have placed themselves.

And Diana is a wonderful character for 21st Century readers to identify with! I’m not sure her position is historically accurate, but it feels plausible enough to work – and work well.

One final note, there have been a rash of historical romances where the hero unexpectedly becomes a duke, with mixed results. Based on the title, I expected that to happen here, and I was so happy when it didn’t. Part of what makes Iverson so interesting is that he isn’t part of the nobility. I really liked seeing a hero and heroine who are not, were not and do not become aristocrats. It’s a refreshing change and I hope to see more of it!

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

To celebrate the release of ANYTHING BUT A DUKE by Christy Carlyle, we’re giving away one paperback set of A Duke Changes Everything and Anything But a Duke!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2WmtcTY

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of A Duke Changes Everything and Anything But a Duke by Christy Carlyle. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 5/16/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly.

Review: Pets in Space Sampler by S.E. Smith, Anna Hackett, Tiffany Roberts, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Donna McDonald, Cassandra Chandler and Alexis Glynn Latner

Review: Pets in Space Sampler by S.E. Smith, Anna Hackett, Tiffany Roberts, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Donna McDonald, Cassandra Chandler and Alexis Glynn LatnerPets in Space 4 Sampler by Alexis Glynn Latner, Anna Hackett, Cassandra Chandler, Donna McDonald, Pauline Baird Jones, S.E. Smith, Tiffany Roberts, Veronica Scott
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Pets in Space
Published by Cats, Dogs & Other Worldly Creatures Books on May 4th 2019
Publisher's Website
Goodreads

Pets in Space® 4 Sampler: Stories & Art
from some of today’s best known and award winning Science Fiction Romance authors!

NEW & EXCLUSIVE short stories from
* S.E. Smith, Lords of Kassis series
* Anna Hackett, Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone
* Tiffany Roberts, The Kraken series
* Veronica Scott, Star Cruise series
* Pauline Baird Jones, Project Enterprise series
* Donna McDonald, My Crazy Alien Romance series
* Cassandra Chandler, The Department of Homeworld Security series, and
* Alexis Glynn Latner

Not enough? Check out the preview chapters of their upcoming Pets in Space 4 stories from:
Laurie A. Green, Regine Abel, JC Hay, E. D. Walker, and Kyndra Hatch! Finish off this fabulous Sampler with gorgeous alien artwork from Tiffany Roberts.

My Review:

When I received multiple invitations to grab this FREE sampler this weekend, I just couldn’t resist. I’ve loved every single one of the Pets in Space series, so I was certainly up for a teaser for the next one.

Don’t let the words “sampler” or “teaser” fool you. There are plenty of complete stories in this collection. But those complete stories are also teasers or prequels for stories that will be in the next Pets in Space collection (Pets in Space 4) and are also introductions to worlds that these authors have already created and have appeared in previous Pets in Space collections.

And there are some outright teaser chapters. I’m certainly officially teased all the way around!

This was a collection where I enjoyed all the stories, although often, as was intended, I found myself wanting more. Of course that more is going to be provided in Pets in Space 4.

My favorite prequel in this anthology was Anna Hackett’s House of Rone: Beginnings. While the House of Rone series is a new series for the author, it is a spinoff from her terrific Galactic Gladiators series. Readers of the series have met Magnus and Jax before, but not like this. Magnus has dropped a few sparse hints of what his life was like before Kor Magna, and Beginnings is that story in full. It’s a great place to get into the world of the Galactic Gladiators without having to have read any of the previously published books.

I also enjoyed Pauline Baird Jones’ Code Blue. It takes place in her Project Enterprise series, and while I’ve read the first book or two in the series, I’m not as familiar with it as I’d like to be. But the love I have for this story without having much background means that it can be joyously read by anyone else who hasn’t read the series.

What makes this so much fun is that it is one of those classic stories of family lore, as the protagonists, Doc and Hel, are telling their children, yet again, the story of how the family pet Piggy Love, first came into their lives – and sort of saved them. By grunting like the little piggy that he is. The story is light and fun and Piggy Love is absolutely adorable – which is way more than can be said about the vulture-people he helps them overcome.

But the story I absolutely loved in this bunch was The Magic Mountains by Alexis Glynn Latner. It’s the longest story in the book, at novelette (very short novel) length. And while it is set in the same future history as stories in the previous anthologies, I don’t remember those and this story stands on its own.

The Magic Mountains is, on the one hand, a story about a visit to an interstellar amusement park that goes very, very wrong. It also kind of a “wolf with red roses” story, in that the heroine finds herself attracted to her extremely dangerous partner in this wild adventure. That she’s an academic who is able to give in to the wild side in herself is part of what makes this one so delicious. And unlike the usual symbolism of the wolf with red roses, this one feels like it has the chance of a happy ending – because the wolf treats her as an equal and not as either a victim or as potential prey.

Escape Rating B+: For any reader who loves SFR, or anyone who is looking for an introduction to the genre, and especially anyone who loves the Pets in Space collections and feels like October (and Pets in Space 4) is a long, long time from now, this sampler is a real treat. And it’s FREE! Right HERE!

I’m certainly teased, and I’ll be back for the complete collection, in all of its reading glory in October!

Review: The View from Alameda Island by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The View from Alameda Island by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe View from Alameda Island by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Mira on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr delivers a poignant and powerful story about how one woman’s best intentions lead to the worst of situations and how the power of love helps her to heal and ultimately triumph.

From the outside looking in, Lauren Delaney has a life to envy—a successful career, a solid marriage to a prominent surgeon and two beautiful daughters who are off to good colleges. But on her twenty-fourth wedding anniversary Lauren makes a decision that will change everything.

Lauren won’t pretend things are perfect anymore. She defies the controlling husband who has privately mistreated her throughout their marriage and files for divorce. And as she starts her new life, she meets a kindred spirit—a man who is also struggling with the decision to end his unhappy marriage.

But Lauren’s husband wants his “perfect” life back and his actions are shocking. Facing an uncertain future, Lauren discovers an inner strength she didn’t know she had as she fights for the love and happiness she deserves.

My Review:

This is a story about finally taking your life into your own hands and making a new beginning. And it’s also a story about karma being a beautiful brass-balled bitch.

Lauren Delaney is 24 years into a marriage that looks perfect on the outside – but is completely rotten on the inside. She knows that she’s let herself be a victim, and she’s pretty damned ashamed of that.

At the same time, she’s also aware that her husband is a controlling douchebag, and that she’s stayed because he threatened to cut their daughters off without a penny – or at least without enough pennies to pay for college.

He’s also certain that because he’s been the breadwinner as a successful and (self-) important surgeon that everything will go his way in any divorce. He knows how to turn on the charm when he needs to suck up – not that Lauren has had that charm directed at her in nearly two decades. But that over-inflated sense of his own self-importance has led him to completely ignore the fact that California is a community property state. Just because he’s done his level best to convince Lauren that she’s stupid doesn’t mean that she actually is.

Her departure is arranged. And secret. Her daughters are grown or nearly so, and it’s time to start living her own life without fear of abuse.

But no plan survives contact with the enemy – and neither does Lauren’s.

The family takes sides, with Lauren, her sister and her older daughter on one side – and her husband and younger daughter on the other. Along with a whole lot of friends that Lauren never realized she had.

She just has to survive long enough to see it all through.

Taking another chance at romantic love is absolutely nowhere on her horizon. After the way her marriage descended into an abyss, and the emotional cost of keeping up appearances long enough to get her daughters launched, she just isn’t ready to trust another man with any part of her slightly battered self.

At least not until she meets someone who has run the same gauntlet she has – someone who helps her see that the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel isn’t always an oncoming train.

Escape Rating B+: This was a hard books for me personally. In the end, a terrific one, but difficult at the beginning. My own first marriage went down on the same rocks that Lauren’s did. Not to the same degree by any means (and no kids for him to hold hostage), but the paths were surprisingly similar. It was painful and cathartic to read the story of someone else who came out the other side.

I also enjoyed that this is a story of a second chance at life and love for two people who are not 20somethings anymore. I always enjoy romances where the protagonists are a bit seasoned (and a bit closer to my own age!)

The story sits on the border between contemporary romances and women’s (or relationship) fiction. Because as much as the second half of the story focuses on Lauren’s initially stumbling steps towards a new relationship, a great deal of the narrative focuses on Lauren getting out of the old one, the bigger stumbling blocks to reaching that goal, and her relationships with the other women in her life.

Particularly her relationships with her daughters, her sister, and the women she thought were keeping her at arm’s length. After she leaves the jerk, she discovers that she was the one holding everyone else away, because it was easier to keep her secret in isolation than to lie with every second breath.

The way that her daughters react is painful but also feels all-too-real. The older one remembers more of the abuse than Lauren herself was willing to acknowledge. She’s thrilled that her mom is finally breaking away. But the real part is the way that the older girl was always aware that her younger sister was her dad’s favorite so she and her mother are more closely bonded.

The younger girl believes everything her daddy says, and is convinced her mother is having a midlife crisis and will come to her senses at any moment. It’s only when she is faced with incontrovertible evidence that she is finally able to let go of her own selfishness enough to realize that her mother has been telling the truth all along.

The romance that Lauren finds develops slowly and reluctantly. She’s been damaged, and her new friend has been hurt in the same way. They both lived with abusive spouses, both managed and cajoled and tolerated the abuse for the sake of their children, and both were finally able to let go once the children were nearly grown.

That both of their separated spouses tried to take the law into their own hands provided the tension in the story. This was a case, or rather two cases, where Chekhov’s Ex (the creepy stalkerish ex-relationship that looms over the entire plot like Chekhov’s Gun) took itself down off the shelf and hit the story with both barrels.

That the shots rebounded on their shooters made for a deliciously cathartic ending. Karma really is a beautiful bitch.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The View from Alameda Island to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Pirate’s Pleasure by Lisa Kessler

Review: Pirate’s Pleasure by Lisa KesslerPirate's Pleasure by Lisa Kessler
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #3
Pages: 295
on April 22, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

John Smyth has survived mutinous pirate crews, wars, and the passage of centuries by keeping his life as he did his ships, organized and well stocked. But when his crew is tasked with stealing Pandora's Box for the government, it opens a door to destruction, and her name is Harmony Andrews.

A risk-taking investment broker by day, and a thief by night, Harmony is a member of the underground Digi Robins crew. Stealing relics to sell on the dark web, they donate the money to people without insurance who need life-saving medical treatments.

What she doesn't realize is the box she just stole is the very one her boss is looking for––the boss who just happens to be an immortal pirate. And as their adventure heads into the danger zone, she doesn't know what's more dangerous: the risk to her life or the risk to her heart.

My Review:

One of the things about human beings is that we all require purpose. That purpose might be a career or a cause, or it might just be the hard work of keeping your family housed and fed and clothed and working to give your kids a better life than you had.

One of the problems of being immortal, or nearly so, is that the world changes and you mostly don’t. That the world passes you by while you stay frozen in it. And that it’s hard to find a purpose when you have already amassed all the wealth you could possibly need and when you have to stay out of the public eye in case someone figures out that you don’t age. And that it’s heartbreaking to have a family to provide for when you know up front that you’ll watch them all, including your children, grandchildren and great or even great great grandchildren grow up, grow old and die while you remain young and are forced to keep your distance.

The problems of immortality catch up with both the pirate John Smyth of the Sea Dog and the FBI Agent David Bale who leads Department 13 – the agency that deals with the paranormal and supernatural.

John Smyth was the Sea Dog’s boatswain back in those long ago days when they roamed the seas in search of booty and bounty. His job was to take care of the ship’s stores and hand out the pirates’ shares of the prize money. And he’s still doing it, over two centuries later.

But now he also does that same job for others who look at the success of his investment brokerage, Privateer, and put some of their own hard-earned money into his care. The rituals of his life keep him sane, but they aren’t really living.

The events of Magnolia Mystic and Pirate’s Passion, when someone stole the Holy Grail that gave the pirates of the old Sea Dog their immortality woke up the sleeping buccaneer in his soul. In the quest to get the relic back from the Serpent Society that stole it, John Smyth’s wild spirit woke up out of a long sleep – and it won’t go back.

Enter Harmony Andrews. Not exactly. Harmony is one of his top brokers at Privateer. She’s so good that he’s thinking of promoting her. But Harmony also has a secret wild side. She’s one of the Digi Robins, an underground hacker collective that robs from the rich and gives to people who need expensive medical care. Once upon a time, the Digi Robins saved her brother. Now she pays that gift forward by hacking and stealing to save others.

But someone has stolen Pandora’s Box. The very real, and very dangerous, box that contains all the world’s ills. Department 13 has contracted with the crew of the Sea Dog to steal it back.

From Harmony and the Digi Robins.

Escape Rating B+: If the Holy Grail is real, and it is in this series, there’s no reason why Pandora’s Box couldn’t be real too. As well as a whole lot of other dangerous artifacts that need to be locked up in the bowels of Warehouse 13 or Area 51 (or Area 52) or someplace else extremely secure. And deeply, permanently secret.

Pirate’s Pleasure is all about putting one of those extremely dangerous “genies” into that seemingly secure bottle – although we discover that Department 13’s warehouse isn’t quite as secure as everyone thought. Their method of transferring material into it certainly is not – as the Digi Robins exploit to kick off the story.

There are multiple things going on in this entry in the series, and all of them fascinating.

At the top, we have the very messy quest to get Pandora’s Box into safe (and secure) hands. But that quest sets off a worm-eating-its-tail loop of betrayals, counter betrayals, intended betrayals and feared (and preempted) betrayals. No one seems to be telling anyone much of the truth in this one.

When Harmony reveals her participation in the Digi Robins to John, in hopes of getting him onside their goals, it also sets off a chain reaction between them. No one has ever played him before – not in over two centuries. He’s intrigued. More than that, Harmony’s wild side speaks to his own – he’s just not sure he can (or should) trust her.

And she’s afraid to trust him. Or anyone. A situation that nearly leads to disaster. All of them.

Because Harmony has already been betrayed, and not by John Smyth. There’s a darkness at the heart of the Digi Robins, one that has reached out and compromised both her group and Department 13.

It may make Agent Bale just a bit more human and less unfeeling Agent Automaton. If he survives the experience. If any of them survive his experience.

There’s a whole lot to unpack in Pirate’s Pleasure – and there’s a whole lot of pleasure in reading all about it!

Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Review: Old Baggage by Lissa EvansOld Baggage by Lissa Evans
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Harper Perennial on April 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The author of the acclaimed Crooked Heart returns with a comic, charming, and surprisingly timely portrait of a once pioneering suffragette trying to find her new passion in post-WWI era London.

1928. Riffling through a cupboard, Matilda Simpkin comes across a small wooden club—an old possession that she hasn’t seen for more than a decade. Immediately, memories come flooding back to Mattie—memories of a thrilling past, which only further serve to remind her of her chafingly uneventful present. During the Women's Suffrage Campaign, she was a militant who was jailed five times and never missed an opportunity to return to the fray. Now in middle age, the closest she gets to the excitement of her old life is the occasional lecture on the legacy of the militant movement.

After running into an old suffragette comrade who has committed herself to the wave of Fascism, Mattie realizes there is a new cause she needs to fight for and turns her focus to a new generation of women. Thus the Amazons are formed, a group created to give girls a place to not only exercise their bodies but their minds, and ignite in young women a much-needed interest in the world around them. But when a new girl joins the group, sending Mattie’s past crashing into her present, every principle Mattie has ever stood for is threatened.

Old Baggage is a funny and bittersweet portrait of a woman who has never given up the fight and the young women who are just discovering it.

My Review:

I’ve just realized that the title of this book is a bit of a pun. The main character, Mattie Simpkin, is referred to as an “old baggage”, meaning a cantankerous old woman. But the point of this story is that she is also carrying a lot of “old baggage”, as in emotional baggage. And that the old baggage actually isn’t carrying her old baggage terribly well, leading to the crisis point in the story.

Mattie is also fond of sprinkling her speech with quotations from authors, historians and philosophers. There’s one that’s used in the book, and is extremely appropriate to the story, even if there seems to be some debate on who originated it.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” And so it proves for Mattie Simpkin.

At first, this seemed to be a simple story about someone whose glory days were long behind them – and that same person’s inability to cope with that fact. But it’s not nearly that simple.

As the story begins, it’s 1928. Mattie is in her late 50s, and while she may not think of herself as old, it’s clear that others around her do. (I found this poignant and ironic at the same time as I’m older than Mattie but don’t see myself that way at all. It’s true that “old” starts at least 15 years past one’s own age)

Once upon a time, Mattie was one of the celebrated (and frequently derided) suffragists that marched, agitated and were jailed to goad the powers-that-were to grant women in Britain the right to vote. (It wasn’t any better in the U.S.)

The right was granted, under rather stringent conditions, in 1918 in the exhausted aftermath of World War I. At which point the movement towards women’s equality collapsed. (If this sounds familiar, let’s just say the pattern repeats).

But Mattie has never given up the fight, and ten years later she is still on the lecture circuit, attempting to enlist a new generation of women into the cause. She’s failing, and her lectures are increasingly poorly attended.

The situation changes when an old frenemy comes back into her life, and Mattie is galvanized into bringing young girls of her present some of the same educational and recreational experiences that formed her character. The problem is that her frenemy is plumping for the nascent Nazi party.

And Mattie’s need to prove herself to someone who has never had any intention but to bring her down and keep her there has no end of bad consequences. For Mattie, for her best friend Florrie, and especially for the girls and young women they have taken under their wings.

Escape Rating B+: At first, it didn’t seem like a whole lot happened in this book. Looking back on it, not a whole lot does – at least not in the sense of groundbreaking or earthshaking adventure. But there is plenty of drama underneath the quiet surface.

Initially, Mattie seems like somewhat of a comic figure. She’s an old battle axe who doesn’t seem to recognize that it’s time to put the axe up on the wall. While her mannerisms can be amusing, and her stubbornness is plenty infuriating to her friends and neighbors, she’s also right. Those two things don’t cancel each other out.

The cause was not won, only placated a bit. The fight was not over. Women were not equal. (They still aren’t) But Mattie’s methods don’t do her any favors, and she alienates as many people as she convinces. Probably alienates more people than she convinces.

The quiet drama in the story is the way that Mattie gets led astray, not so much from her cause as from her bedrock straightforward way of going about it.

Because while Mattie may be an old baggage, there are also a couple of nasty pieces of baggage who are deliberately, or not so deliberately, undermining her efforts. And her sense of self is what suffers along the way.

It’s when she finally comes back to herself that she is finally offered that opportunity to be what she might have been. And it’s her redemption that she takes it.

In the end, Old Baggage was nothing like I expected. But it was a charming read every step of the way.

Review: Winds of Marque by Bennett R. Coles

Review: Winds of Marque by Bennett R. ColesWinds of Marque: Blackwood Virtue by Bennett R. Coles
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Blackwood & Virtue #1
Pages: 368
Published by Harper Voyager on April 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"Bennett R. Coles ranks among my go-to list in SF. Entertaining and intelligent storytelling and terrific characters. In Winds of Marque, Coles may well have invented a whole new subgenre that has me scrambling for a description--Steam Space?  Whatever you call it, a blast to read. Here's hoping that many more adventures are in the offing for Blackwood and company."  Steven Erikson, New York Times bestselling author

The first novel in an exciting science fiction series—Master and Commander in space—a swashbuckling space adventure in which a crew of misfit individuals in the king’s navy are sent to dismantle a dangerous ring of pirate raiders.

In a dense star cluster, the solar winds blow fiercely. The star sailing ship HMSS Daring is running at full sheet with a letter of marque allowing them to capture enemy vessels involved in illegal trading. Sailing under a false flag to protect the ship and its mission, Daring’s crew must gather intelligence that will lead them to the pirates’ base.

Posing as traders, Daring’s dashing second-in-command Liam Blackwood and brilliant quartermaster Amelia Virtue infiltrate shady civilian merchant networks, believing one will lead them to their quarry.

But their mission is threatened from within their own ranks when Daring’s enigmatic captain makes a series of questionable choices, and rumblings of discontent start bubbling up from below decks, putting the crew on edge and destroying morale. On top of it all, Liam and Amelia must grapple with their growing feelings for each other.

Facing danger from unexpected quarters that could steer the expedition off course, Blackwood and Virtue must identify the real enemy threat and discover the truth about their commander—and their mission—before Daring falls prey to the very pirates she’s meant to be tracking.

My Review:

The blurbs and the reviews for this book say the same two things fairly consistently. One, that it’s a whole lot of fun. Two, that it’s Aubrey and Maturin (Master and Commander) in space.

The first thing is definitely true. Winds of Marque is a whole lot of fun. I’m a bit less sure about the second thing – and I’m saying that as someone who read the entire Aubrey and Maturin series.

What makes this so much fun is that it is a romp of swashbuckling derring-do, but set in space in the distant future – on a Navy ship under letters of marque (government-licensed piracy) with a mission to find the real pirates and wipe them out before humans end up in a war with the insect-like Sectoids.

Our plucky heroes are Subcommander Liam Blackwood and Petty Officer Amelia Virtue. Fraternizing between the ranks is about to become the least of their problems.

Blackwood, second-son of the nobility and Executive Office (XO) of the HMSS Daring, has a reputation for coddling, chivying and generally outmaneuvering dunderheaded noble Captains so that they manage not to kill their entire crews in acts of noble idiocy. He’s unfortunately good at his job – because it’s bad for his career. Someone has to take the blame for the untouchable nobles’ disasters, and it’s generally their frustrated XO.

Virtue is the newly promoted quartermaster of the Daring. She’s relatively young, hyper-competent, and has the combined duty of making sure the Daring is fully supplied without resorting to Naval stores while instructing Blackwood in just how different the life of a commoner ranking sailor is from that of even a second-born noble son.

It’s probably going to be the making of him, if they survive the mess they are currently in.

Because nothing about their mission is exactly what it seems. Not the inexperienced but not unintelligent Captain Lady Sophia Riverton, not the pirates and certainly not the Sectoids.

That there’s a noble fop on board who is just dead certain that he can do everything better than his Naval superiors but social inferiors is nearly the deadly icing on a very explosive cake.

And it’s a blast from beginning to end.

Escape Rating B+: I had a great time while I was reading this. The verve and drive of the narrative really sweeps the reader along. But, I’m not sure how well it holds up upon further reflection. Not that I won’t pick up the next book in the series when it comes out. I did have a great time.

Part of the problem for this reader may be in all those comparisons to the Aubrey and Maturin series. Which was marvelous and excellent and terrific and if you enjoy naval stories or Napoleonic war stories is highly recommended. The audio is particularly good.

One issue, at least so far, is that Blackwood is not analogous to Aubrey (neither is Riverton) and there is no Maturin, at least so far. And that one aspect of the story, the Napoleonic wars in space, has been done before by David Weber in the Honor Harrington series. (It’s also been done in fantasy in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik!)

Where it is similar to the Aubrey and Maturin series is in its detailed descriptions of the working of the ship. That the Daring is a ship powered by “solar sails” makes that resemblance more pronounced, but also a bit out of place. I’m not sure whether it’s that we’ve become so used to FTL (Faster Than Light) ships being sleek and powered internally that solar sails feel less possible (not that FTL drives in general are possible at the present) or that the whole “sailing” aspect feels like an artificial way for the author to insert sailing jargon and terminology that would not otherwise be present.

One aspect of the story, although not the primary aspect, is the developing romance between Blackwood and Virtue. As much as I like both characters, there doesn’t feel like there’s enough there to sell the romance. While it does take a reasonable amount of time for them to fall in love, because the story is told from Blackwood’s perspective we don’t see enough of Virtue’s thought processes to “feel” their romance. It’s a not nearly enough significant glances and conversations about ship’s business that fall into bed – or rather office floor at a crisis point.

Although this is a navy that has given up on anti-fraternization regulations, these are people from two different worlds that don’t mix. If they are going to be together, there need to be a whole lot more conversations about how that’s going to work. Because what Virtue tells Blackwood is correct – as a noble he can do anything at all to her, up to and possibly including murder but certainly including rape and assault – and he will never be punished because he’s a member of the aristocracy and she’s a commoner. That power imbalance is going to require one hell of a reckoning at some point.

The book this reminds me of the most is The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis. That book incorporates its equivalent ship jargon much more smoothly. Transferring the terminology of sailing vessels to an airship that sails the air felt smoother even if the war they are flying in is just as deadly. That story also includes a noble fop, but that one manages to get better – if not less foppish – as the adventure goes along.

The situation that the Daring finds herself in is a well-worn and well-loved trope. The ship of misfit naval personnel go rogue with official sanction but no official backing to do a job that desperately needs to be done – but that no one in the official navy wants to be caught dirtying their hands to actually get done. If they complete their mission someone else will get the glory, but if they fail the survivors will take all the blame.

And it’s so much fun that none of them can resist signing up for another mission. Readers won’t be resisting either!