Review: Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean + Giveaway

Review: Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean + GiveawayBrazen and the Beast (The Bareknuckle Bastards, #2) by Sarah MacLean
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Bareknuckle Bastards #2)
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on July 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Lady’s Plan

When Lady Henrietta Sedley declares her twenty-ninth year her own, she has plans to inherit her father’s business, to make her own fortune, and to live her own life. But first, she intends to experience a taste of the pleasure she’ll forgo as a confirmed spinster. Everything is going perfectly…until she discovers the most beautiful man she’s ever seen tied up in her carriage and threatening to ruin the Year of Hattie before it’s even begun.

The Bastard’s Proposal

When he wakes in a carriage at Hattie’s feet, Whit, a king of Covent Garden known to all the world as Beast, can’t help but wonder about the strange woman who frees him—especially when he discovers she’s headed for a night of pleasure . . . on his turf. He is more than happy to offer Hattie all she desires…for a price.

An Unexpected Passion

Soon, Hattie and Whit find themselves rivals in business and pleasure. She won’t give up her plans; he won’t give up his power . . . and neither of them sees that if they’re not careful, they’ll have no choice but to give up everything . . . including their hearts.

My Review:

I picked up Brazen and the Beast because I enjoyed the first book in the series, Wicked and the Wallflower, and wanted to see where the story went from there.

There is plenty to love in this series – and this story in that series. Particularly for readers of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series and/or Sophie Barnes’ Diamonds in the Rough series.

Because the story of the Bareknuckle Bastards is a story about the underbelly of the Regency and post-Regency periods, as are both of those series. The actual Bareknuckle Bastards themselves, Devil (hero of Wicked and the Wallflower) and his brother Beast here in Brazen and the Beast are the uncrowned kings of Covent Garden and the working-class districts that surround it.

The bastards control the area, and all the legal – and definitely all the illegal – trade that takes place therein. And their people love them for it, because the bastards provide good well-paying jobs, protection and economic security for their fiefdom.

A fiefdom that they have, and will, defend to the death.

And that’s where Hattie Sedley careens into the picture. She’s a “lady” but not a “Lady” – and she’d rather not be either. Her father is an Earl, but it’s a life peerage, so he can’t pass it on to her brother. And that’s a good thing, because Augie Sedley is a waste of space.

It’s Hattie who is her father’s true heir in every way that matters, but the man can’t see past the fact that she’s a woman.

She’s also 29, big and loud and brash and brazen, so society has put her very firmly on the shelf. A shelf that she is happy to occupy, as long as she gets to take care of her father’s shipping business. And that’s a possibility that she is determined to seize with both hands – and that her brother seems determined to ruin. Stealing from the Bareknuckle Bastards isn’t just stupid – it’s downright suicidal. But Augie doesn’t care that he’ll take the family with him.

It’s up to Hattie to “negotiate” with Beast to find her family a way out of Augie’s mess – and to figure out how she can win the business into the bargain.

But there are more wheels turning than even Hattie can see, and more consequences than she knows. She’s met her match in Beast. But he’s met his match in her just as much. Figuring out that he can love her, or he can protect her, but that he can’t manage both makes for a hot, sparky (sometimes literally) romance!

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot to love in Brazen and the Beast – in multiple ways. First, there’s just a lot of Hattie Sedley to love – and Beast loves her just the way she is – as do the readers.

Hattie manages to absolutely ooze body positivity while at the same showing just how vulnerable her differences have made her – and that those differences haven’t kept her from reaching for what she wants.

Hattie is big and tall and bold in a society that expects women to be tiny and demure, to be seen as little as possible and not heard at all. And she can’t be any of those things, so she does her best to be who and what she is. At the same time, she’s still very aware of how she’s seen – and it hurts her.

Society seeks a freak, but Beast sees a queen – and he makes Hattie not just see herself that way, but embrace that identity. All the parts of her that high society wants to quash are just the parts that the more realistic world around Covent Garden values.

What makes the romance between Hattie and Beast (his actual name is Whit), so fascinating is its central conflict. Not that there aren’t plenty of secondary and ancillary conflicts. The tension between Hattie and Whit over who will get the better of whom and Whit’s need to protect his people vs. Hattie’s need to protect hers sparks and sizzles on every page.

The romantic conflict is all about how they will define their relationship to each other, and how that ties into their essential selves. Whit is a protector. It’s who he is, it’s what he does, and he can’t seem to turn off that side of his nature. That his society in general believes that women should be protected at every turn just adds to his deep-rooted need to protect everyone he cares for.

But that is not what Hattie is built for. For her, protection is a cage. She has to be his partner – or she’ll be nothing to him at all. It’s a hard lesson for him to learn – and he only figures it out when he has no choice. But he does get it by the end – and that’s what gives this story its heart.

There are two very hard parts to this book. One is the opening. Until Hattie and Beast have their first real meeting in the high class female-serving (and not female-using) brothel, a lot of her self-talk revolves around just how hard it is to get her father to see that she’s the better fit to run the shipping business. Because she so obviously is, her brother is so obviously an idiot, and her father is just being ridiculously obtuse. It’s everything that women hate about the patriarchy, and is compounded because her father was awarded that life peerage for being an excellent businessman. His estate will not be entailed and he can bequeath whatever to whoever. The same man who built the business couldn’t be that big an idiot.

And then there’s the overarching story of this series. Devil, Beast, their half-brother Ewan and their adopted sister Grace all suffered – extremely – under the machinations of their father the Duke. Ewan “won” the competition to become the Duke’s heir, and in the process betrayed the rest of them. He’s been pursuing them ever since because he wants Grace. Ewan’s stalkerish pursuit/revenge has been dastardly from the very beginning, and his obsession with Grace is frankly a bit creepy. It’s clear from the teaser at the end of Brazen and the Beast that the next story, Daring and The Duke, will finally resolve that long-standing issue.

And do I ever wonder how that’s going to work out!

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

I’m giving away a copy of Brazen and the Beast to one very lucky US/Can commenter on this tour!

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Review: Sentinel by Anna Hackett

Review: Sentinel by Anna HackettSentinel (Galactic Gladiators: House Of Rone #1) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators: House Of Rone #1
Pages: 209
Published by Anna Hackett on July 21st 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Fighting for love, loyalty, and freedom on the galaxy’s lawless outer rim…

When Quinn Bennett’s exploration ship is attacked, the security chief finds herself abducted by alien slavers. Unable to save her crew, she is taken across the galaxy and sold to a desert scavenger on the lawless planet of Carthago. Driven by her guilt and failure, she’ll do anything to escape and save the other abductees from her ship. Chained and forced into servitude, she’s waiting for her chance to strike, when across a dusty trading post, she comes face to face with a big, cyborg gladiator.

Jaxer Rone’s loyalty is to his imperator—the man who saved him from a lethal cyborg military program. Jax works tirelessly for his gladiatorial house and would die for his fellow cyborgs. His emotional dampeners have never functioned well, but while he feels some emotion, he never lets it get in the way of his duty. Right now, his mission is to find the stolen humans from Earth. But when he rescues the fierce, relentless Quinn, he starts feeling a rush of emotion he’s never experienced before.

Quinn and Jax join forces to track down the aliens holding the other Earth women captive. Side by side, they venture into the desert and uncover a desire hotter than the desert suns. But the aliens who captured Quinn want her back. In order to protect Quinn, will Jax embrace his newfound feelings or shut them off to keep her safe?

My Review:

In my review of Cyborg, one of the last books in the Galactic Gladiators series – and the direct precursor to Sentinel – I opined that the series could continue indefinitely without feeling thing and stretched the way that the author’s Hell Squad series has begun to feel, at least for this reader.

And here we have that continuation, and it’s every bit as much fun as the series from which it sprang.

The premise of the Galactic Gladiators series was that a temporary wormhole opened up between far, far distant Carthago and Jupiter Station in our own solar system. The wormhole was exploited by the slave-trading Thraxians, who kidnapped a bunch of humans from Jupiter Station and dragged them back to Carthago before the wormhole closed.

By the end of the final book in the series, Imperator, all of the humans who had been rescued from the Station had found their HEA with the gladiators of the House of Galen and their allies. One of said allies is Magnus Rone, cyborg and Imperator of his own gladiatorial house.

In Alien Hunter, part of the novella duo Hunter that bridges between the Galactic Gladiators series and the new House of Rone series, our friends discover that Jupiter Station was not the only place in our solar system that the Thraxians raided. At least one ship on it way to Jupiter from Earth was also picked up on that raid – so there’s a whole new batch of Earth humans to find and rescue.

A journey that begins in Sentinel, the first book of the House of Rone.

The House of Rone, in general, offers a deeper dive into the science fictional world that the author has created. Galen’s house is primarily a gladiatorial house. That’s how they make their money, and that’s how they support all of the members of the house and its operations, including the underground mission of not just rescuing Earthan refugees, but of buying and freeing as many people as possible who have been enslaved in the less-savory gladiatorial houses.

All of the gladiators in Galen’s house are free. They fight willingly – and very successfully – in the Kor Magna Arena.

The House of Rone has a more multifaceted operation. Magnus Rone and his fellow cyborgs are not allowed to fight in the arena. They have an extremely unfair advantage because of their cybernetic enhancements. Which does not mean that the House of Rone doesn’t compete in the arena. Magnus has plenty of unenhanced but skillful and effective fighters who compete under his House’s banner.

He has also funded a highly sought after medical service that sells cybernetic limbs to the wealthy and provides replacement limbs free of charge to those who need them but can’t afford them. While the research into cybernetics is self-serving in that he and his inner circle all require those services themselves, using that same research to help others is very much not.

Magnus began his house by rescuing his fellow cyborgs, starting with Jaxer, the hero of Sentinel. Most of the cyborgs in the House of Rone have faulty programming – much like Magnus himself. They were supposed to be programmed not to feel, but underneath – or in one case outside of – the enhancements they are men and not machines.

When the faults in Jaxer’s programming became so obvious that he was about to be terminated, Magnus rescued them both and brought them to Kor Magna. All of the stories in the House of Rone series look like they will be about the cyborgs of Magnus’ inner circle discovering just how many messy emotions are hiding under their usually impassive exteriors.

Jax is the first. His programming has always been the flakiest, so he has both hero-worshipped his rescuer Magnus and feels duty-bound to help shoulder some of his rescuer’s burdens now that Magnus has found his own surprising HEA. Magnus promised Galen that he would continue the search and rescue of the Earthan refugees and Jax intends to take over as much of that effort as he possibly can.

And that’s what sends him into the path of Quinn Bennett, the former ship’s security chief and now slave on Carthago. In spite of her terrible circumstances, Quinn is beaten but not bowed. Her spirit is still alive and fighting, and when she sees the cyborgs, she does her best to help them, in spite of the beating that follows.

Jax sees her – and now he has a specific woman to rescue – not just the duty of rescuing faceless people he’s never met. Not that he won’t, and not that they don’t deserve rescue. But in spite of everything he tells himself, over and over, Jax wants to rescue Quinn for himself.

Even if he doesn’t think he deserves her. Especially because he doesn’t think he deserves her. But who is he to tell Quinn what she needs, wants or deserves?

Escape Rating B+: I realize that I’ve written a lot about the setup of this story. Consider that a sign that in spite of Sentinel being the first book of a new series, the majority of the worldbuilding for this series is in the previous series. In other words, Sentinel is probably not the best place to start. I’m not sure you’d have to read the entire Galactic Gladiators series to get into Sentinel, but at least the first one or two plus Cyborg and the novella Alien Hunter in Hunter.

Why not just begin at the beginning at binge? This series is a whole lot of fun from beginning to current end – and I expect the fun to continue in future entries.

One of the things that I continue to love about this series is that in spite of so many strikes against them, the refugees from Earth are not damsels in distress. They don’t need “rescue” in the traditional sense, they just need a little help rescuing themselves. And they are active participants in everything that happens from that initial intervention to adapting to their new world to finding their HEA and claiming it.

They are all kickass, but they are not all kickass in the same way. Some have been warriors, but they’ve also been engineers and computer geeks and doctors and pretty much everything else. There’s no one way to be a heroine in this series (or in any of this author’s work)

However, one thing about the Galactic Gladiators series as a whole, including the House of Rone spinoff, that’s starting to stretch my willing suspension of disbelief just a tiny bit – although certainly not enough to keep me from continuing to enjoy the series.

Jupiter Station, and any ships en route to or from it, would presumably have had crews consisting of all genders. But all of the books in the series, with the notable exception of Champion, have featured an Earthan female and a male from somewhere in the wider universe. Only in Champion is that reversed.

If there were extremely few men on Jupiter Station and the ships servicing it – why? If the Thraxians chose to only capture females – why? I find the second possibility more likely than the first, but there must be a reason. Especially since I’d love to see one of the books in this series feature a female warrior and a male who is not. There are certainly plenty of female gladiators to make this a possible scenario.

Consider the above comment my the first item on my “wish list” for this series. Because I do love it and want to see it go more places and do more things. It’s a big galaxy!

The House of Rone continues in Defender, coming in August. Oooh!, something for me to look forward to, to bring me out of my post-WorldCon blahs!

Review: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal + Giveaway

Review: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal + GiveawayWhen We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Lake Union Publishing on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From the author of The Art of Inheriting Secrets comes an emotional new tale of two sisters, an ocean of lies, and a search for the truth.

Her sister has been dead for fifteen years when she sees her on the TV news…

Josie Bianci was killed years ago on a train during a terrorist attack. Gone forever. It’s what her sister, Kit, an ER doctor in Santa Cruz, has always believed. Yet all it takes is a few heart-wrenching seconds to upend Kit’s world. Live coverage of a club fire in Auckland has captured the image of a woman stumbling through the smoke and debris. Her resemblance to Josie is unbelievable. And unmistakable. With it comes a flood of emotions—grief, loss, and anger—that Kit finally has a chance to put to rest: by finding the sister who’s been living a lie.

After arriving in New Zealand, Kit begins her journey with the memories of the past: of days spent on the beach with Josie. Of a lost teenage boy who’d become part of their family. And of a trauma that has haunted Kit and Josie their entire lives.

Now, if two sisters are to reunite, it can only be by unearthing long-buried secrets and facing a devastating truth that has kept them apart far too long. To regain their relationship, they may have to lose everything.

My Review:

This is the story about the deconstruction of a life. Not in the sense that things fall apart, because the lives of both Kit and Josie Bianchi fell apart a long, long time ago. The echoes of what happened in their childhood have rippled like aftershocks through everything that has happened since.

Including, but definitely not limited to, Josie’s death – and the faking thereof.

When We Believed in Mermaids is rather about the examination, in memory, of those long ago events. What begins as a look back at a seemingly perfect childhood that was ripped apart by the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 reveals cracks in that perfection – just as the girls’ examination of their cliffside house revealed cracks that made the house’s fall inevitable.

There were plenty of warning signs that a disaster was coming – but the adults were too wrapped up in themselves, and much too damaged themselves, to see it. And the girls were children. It’s only as adults that they are able to look back and see that what went wrong was hardly their fault.

But now they are both adults. And both still scarred. Both, in their own ways, isolated because of it. Kit, whose life has come to be confined to her ER practice, her surfing, and her cat. While Josie, who seemingly has it all, is isolated by her secrets. No one knows her true self. Her past is another country, on another continent, and it happened to someone else.

One brief moment in the background in someone else’s camera frame brings Josie’s worlds into collision. And Kit’s walls come tumbling down.

Escape Rating B+: This is a story that can best be described as quietly charming. It feels like one of those stories where not a lot happens on the surface, but that surface is only 10% of what’s happening. Underneath, Kit and Josie are paddling like crazy.

While the comparison is to an iceberg, there’s nothing cold about the story – including its two settings, the California coast and Auckland, New Zealand. Where it’s a hot and steamy late summer when Kit arrives to investigate that three-second sighting of the sister who has been presumed dead for 15 years.

We begin the story from Kit’s point of view as she believes, disbelieves, questions and investigates a possibility that has haunted her for all of her adult life. What if Josie is still alive?

In alternating chapters we find ourselves looking through the eyes of a woman named Mari. Who seemingly has it all, a rich and handsome husband, two terrific kids, a storied house to investigate – and a gigantic secret.

As both Kit and Mari remember their childhoods, with each dive into the past revealing more cracks in that originally perfect surface, their memories converge. It’s obvious fairly quickly that Mari is Josie, and that she’s rightfully worried that her few seconds in that background shot are going to bring her world crashing down – and she’s right.

But until the crash, it’s Kit’s view that holds the attention. While Mari has found the life she dreamed of, and is afraid of losing it – Kit is very much still seeking, not just Josie, but a life that will not merely sustain her but support her and enrich her spirit. Her search, including her hesitant relationship with the handsome Spanish guitarist Jose Velez, opens her heart and shakes her certainties – even as she hunts down the sister she never expected to find.

Kit’s on a quest, and somewhat ironically, Josie is the macguffin she’s looking for. But all the while, both of them are internally exploring their memories of the life they once shared together. As those memories reach toward the present, Josie and Kit reach towards each other.

And the possibility of a shared – and much brighter – future.

I picked up When We Believed in Mermaids because I enjoyed The Art of Inheriting Secrets by this same author very much, with just a few quibbles. The same is true about When We Believed in Mermaids, including the quibbles. Both are stories where events in the present cause the narrator(s) to search through their own pasts as well as the past of a place that they become involved with in the course of the story, so if you like one you’ll definitely like the other.

In The Art of Inheriting Secrets, I had a couple of issues with the way that the hesitant romance in that book proceeded, but loved the look back into the past of the house she inherits and the mother she discovers that she never really knew. There’s also an old house in Mermaids, and I was hoping for as interesting a reveal of its history as there was in Secrets, but alas, it was not to be. The secrets about Sapphire House, when finally revealed, felt anticlimactic. That was the one part of the story where I really expected more.

Then again, I love stories about research done well and filled with fascinating reveals. And there were plenty of those fascinating reveals in Kit and Josie’s hesitant journeys down memory lane. As I said, this story is quietly charming, and I was certainly charmed. If you’re looking for a beach read this summer all you have to do is believe in these mermaids!

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

I’m giving away a copy of When We Believed in Mermaids to one lucky (US/CAN) commenter on this tour!

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TLC
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Review: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Review: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi WaxmanThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley Books on July 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"Abbi Waxman is both irreverent and thoughtful."--#1 New York Times bestselling author Emily Giffin

The author of Other People's Houses and The Garden of Small Beginnings delivers a quirky and charming novel chronicling the life of confirmed introvert Nina Hill as she does her best to fly under everyone's radar. Meet Nina Hill: A young woman supremely confident in her own...shell.

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book. When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They're all--or mostly all--excited to meet her! She'll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It's a disaster! And as if that wasn't enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn't he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options. 1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.) 2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee). 3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It's time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn't convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It's going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

My Review:

If you are one of those people (like me) who firmly believes that not only are books the perfect presents to give yourself, but that spending time with them is one of the best things EVAR, than you will probably feel for Nina Hill as much as I did.

Those of us who are book dragons (because being a bookworm just doesn’t describe us accurately – we will defend our bookish choices and bookish friends with dragon-like aggression!) may have come to our love of reading from somewhat different directions that Nina, once we’re there, we’re definitely each other’s people. Each reading quietly in a corner when we’re not passionately discussing our bookish loves – and hates.

So it was easy for this reader to identify more than a bit with Nina and her very bookish life as the story opens. She has a tiny apartment, filled with books – and a cat! – loves her bookstore job and reads in her downtime. All of it not spent doing chores, running errands, working, sleeping or attending to the cat’s every need. As we do.

Which means that Nina’s life – although it may seem boring to some, sounds a bit idyllic to those of us who read for pleasure, for solace, and just because.

Admittedly some of us may not be the obsessive planner that Nina is. But still…

Nina’s life revolves around her job, Phil the cat, reading, and trivia night with her friends. Her constant reading makes her an excellent trivia contestant – as every librarian will also agree. But Nina doesn’t just play for fun – she’s a competitive trivia player – right along with her teammates on Book ‘Em Danno.

Their rivals on the LA trivia circuit are You’re a Quizzard, Harry, but Nina is convinced that Harry Potter may be the only book some of them have read. Especially Tom, who helps his team beat Nina’s by being a sports trivia expert – which Nina is just so not.

Of course Nina notices Tom all the time – and vice versa. They may be rivals in trivia, but they sizzle with possibility.

A possibility that Nina is afraid to fit into her overplanned schedule. (Nina and Hermione Granger would have LOTS in common.)

Nina has just discovered that the father she never even knew about has died. Leaving her a piece of his rather large estate and a veritable herd of relatives that painfully introverted Nina never knew existed.

As the only child of a globe-trotting mother who left her in the care of an absolutely fantastic nanny for nearly all of her life, Nina doesn’t know how to let strangers into her life. That doesn’t mean that her new relatives, at least some of them, aren’t more than happy to clue her in on everything she’s missed.

Having to emerge from her comfortable shell into the boisterous horde of her sudden siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and even great-nieces and great-nephews, Nina discovers the joy – and sometimes the pain, of having family.

And once she’s poked out of her shell, she’s able to see just how much sizzle there is between herself and Tom-the-Quizzard.

But her shell was quiet and safe, and she was, if not happy, at least very, very contented there. Turtles may only move forward when they stick their necks out – but Nina isn’t sure she’s ready to protect hers from being chopped off – or maybe that’s her heart.

Escape Rating B+: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill was sweet and fun and funny. It’s a voyage of discovery by a woman who may be pushing 30 but hasn’t been willing to push outside her own very comfortable boundaries.

The fates have conspired against her, in a mostly lovely way, to make her stick her neck out whether she wants to or not. Her newfound family won’t take no for an answer. Most of them are more-than-happy to have a new sibling, cousin, or whatever. And they have charts to show Nina whatever the relationship might be. And they need them. Her sperm donor’s family life was hella complicated but it has mostly produced people that Nina is lucky to have in her life.

And it’s fascinating to watch her as she discovers where the parts of her that were nature and not nurture actually came from. Suddenly seeing her eyes or her chin or her gestures on someone else who resembles her makes her rethink some of her own life in interesting ways.

At the same time that the family descends, Nina job is threatened. The place isn’t making a profit and the owner hasn’t paid the rent. Nina may have to try her wings whether she wants to or not, and in her fear of all the new that has assailed her, she tries to jump back into her shell and leave behind the one new thing that has given her life so much bright sparkle. By that I mean Tom the Quizzard.

While there is a Happy Ever After in Nina Hill’s bookish life, this isn’t a so much a romance as it is a story where a romance occurs. The heart of the story is Nina opening her heart and her life, not just to her friends, but to her newfound family. And it’s a whole lot of bookish fun.

Review: Hunter by Anna Hackett

Review: Hunter by Anna HackettHunter (Galactic Gladiators #12) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #12
Pages: 199
Published by Anna Hackett on June 30th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

From the dangerous desert sands to the deadly glitz of the city, the lawless desert planet of Carthago is filled with lethal hunters risking it all for the women who capture their hearts. HUNTER contains two novellas and one short story all set in the Galactic Gladiators series.

Desert Hunter: desert Hunter Bren will do whatever it takes to protect the smart, beautiful Mersi from his darkest secrets.

NOTE: previously released as part of the 2018 Pets in Space Anthology

Born, raised, and sold into servitude on the desert world of Carthago, Mersi Kassar has finally found her freedom and her place on the Corsair Caravan, leading travelers from the gladiator city of Kor Magna through the desert. She also works side by side with her friend—the big, silent Bren—a man she’s desperately in love with. But stubborn Bren shuts down her every attempt to deepen the feelings they have for each other and Mersi isn’t sure she can take the pain anymore.

Desert hunter Bren Hahn hides a terrifying darkness within, and will protect the few people he cares about. That includes Mersi—a woman who sparks a simmering passion he finds harder and harder to ignore. On a perilous journey in the heart of the desert, Mersi and Bren rescue a strange alien creature. Working together to heal the big, shaggy canine, their smoldering desire ignites, but their feelings turn out to be the least of their concerns. A deadly enemy is hunting their new pet. An enemy that threatens Bren’s darkest secret and all they hold dear.

Alien Hunter: head of security Tannon Gi lets no one get close, until a feisty cocktail waitress explodes into his orderly life.

NOTE: this is a brand-new, never-before-published story

Mina Lan’Gar left the desert for a new life in the glitzy heart of Kor Magna known as the District. As a brand-new cocktail waitress at the hottest casino, the Dark Nebula, she’s just trying to get ahead, but all she seems to do is lock horns with the casino’s taciturn head of security, Tannon Gi. The man’s hard body, neat suits, and serious face make her want to mess him up a bit. When she overhears people conspiring to strike a private gladiator party the casino is hosting, she knows she needs to help Tannon stop the attack.

Once a deadly alien hunter assassin, Tannon finally left the life that was destroying him one kill at a time, and made a life for himself at the Dark Nebula Casino. Nothing and no one causes trouble on his watch, and that includes the mysterious woman from the desert who stirs feelings in him that he’s never felt before. When he and Mina find themselves swept up in a fierce passion and a deadly plot, they will soon learn that nothing is quite what it seems…

Includes the short story: A Galactic Gladiators Christmas

NOTE: this is a free read on my website

Mistletoe, Santa Claus, and eggnog. Cyborg Imperator Magnus Rone finds himself in the middle of party filled with rescued humans from Earth, gladiators, cyborgs, and children, trying to understand the strange traditions of Christmas.

My Review:

Just like Rogue, one of the previous books in the Galactic Gladiators series, Hunter is really two books in one. Except that this time it’s more like two and a smidgen books in one.

The first novella included in Hunter is Desert Hunter, which was previously released in Pets in Space 3. As the Pets in Space anthologies tend to only be available for a limited time, now that the time is up Hunter is the only place to read Desert Hunter, a marvelous story about two members of Corsair’s caravan who love each other but haven’t managed to find their way towards each other.

Fiend from Desert Hunter by artist Nyssa Juneau

In this dangerous trek across a shifting planet, they finally bond – with the help of a very, very shaggy dog. Who isn’t always a dog, but who does love them both with all of its heart.

I was lucky enough to receive a preview copy of Desert Hunter and reviewed it as part of the run up to Pets in Space 3. It’s a terrific shaggy dog story, a lovely introduction to the world of the Galactic Gladiators, and a great friends-into-lovers combined with hero-feels-unworthy romance.

At the time, I gave it a B+, and I’ll stand by that rating.

The second novella in Hunter is Alien Hunter, which serves as a kind of “bridge” story between the Galactic Gladiators series and its followup House of Rone series, both set on the far-across-the-universe world of Carthago, amidst the gladiatorial arenas of its capital-city-cum-tourist-mecca, Kor Magna.

And just like one of the earlier stories in the Galactic Gladiators series, Guardian, Alien Hunter is set among the glittering lights of Kor Magna’s premier casinos, Dark Nebula.

The Dark Nebula Casino, and its owner Rillian, have ties to both the House of Galen and the House of Rone, along with some truly excellent security. Making it the perfect place to host a big party for the allied gladiatorial houses.

But someone wants to breach that excellent security. Probably plenty of someones, as the two houses have made it their business to wipe out the slavers’ illicit fight rings on Carthago while rescuing as many of the prisoners of those slavers as possible. With particular emphasis on rescuing the people that were taken from Earth.

As many of the gladiators have fallen in love with those Terran refugees, they have a vested interest in finding and freeing as many as possible. But these are both Houses of good guys (although not all of them are guys) who have been rescuing people from the slavers for all of their existence.

The romance in Alien Hunter is a bit different, and as usual not so much because of the hero but because of the heroine. Tannon Gi is the head of security for Dark Nebula, and he seems like a humorless monolith pretty much devoted to his job. Of course, there’s plenty of heart under that seemingly impenetrable mask.

Mina Lan’Gar, however, is not what she seems. Not even to herself. On the surface, she seems like a waitress without much education but with a heart of gold. She gives of her own meager salary to help those she works with who are in need.

She thinks that’s all there is to her, a woman from the desert who is hiding from her past. At least, that’s what she thinks until the aforementioned security breach, when she discovers all sorts of hidden talents of the “kicking ass and taking names” variety that she has no idea how she acquired.

Tannon tries to figure her out – and figure out why he can’t help but be attracted to her. When both of their secrets are finally exposed, they discover that they are perfect for each other – and that the secrets that were kept from Mina will help the Gladiators rescue yet more refugees.

There’s a lot packed into Alien Hunter, with enough backstory for new readers to get into this terrific SFR series.

I’m happy to give Alien Hunter another B+

And then there’s that smidgen of a short story, A Galactic Gladiators Christmas. This is a story that I had some series problems with. Not so much the story itself, which is cute and sweet and a great way to see how all the friends from the previous books in the series are doing.

The issue I have is that it’s a Christmas story. Not that I don’t read plenty of Christmas stories, in spite of it very much not being my holiday.

But this is a story set in a future that is far enough from now that Earth has a working space station orbiting Jupiter, with regular shuttle service between Earth and Jupiter. A future that I’d love to see, but based on current technology and current political will probably won’t exist for a century if not two.

To compare it to a different SFnal universe, Star Trek: Enterprise was set in the 22nd century, about 150 years from now. The Star Trek universe by that point was kind of post-religion, quite probably because no one wanted to go there in a world intended for mass appeal. There’s no way to deal with religion without making lots of people angry.

The question I ended up with after reading A Galactic Gladiators Christmas revolved around why Christmas? Or more specifically, why Christmas exclusively? Christmas is far from a universal holiday in the present. Because I’m a librarian, I looked up the numbers. About ⅓ of the current world population is Christian, ¼ is Muslim, ⅙ is unaffiliated and ⅙ is Hindu. Everyone else takes up the rest. Which means that Christmas is far from an Earth-wide holiday, and my personal opinion is that this won’t change in the future. (I tend to believe that religious adherence on Earth in the future will more resemble the Babylon 5 episode The Parliament of Dreams, where the line of representatives of Earth’s many different religions stretches beyond the range of the camera.)

To make a long story short, as this exposition is rapidly reaching the length of the short story it refers to, I found the Xmas story a disruption to my willing suspension of disbelief. I don’t think the population of Earth will give up all religious adherence in 150 or even 250 years. I can’t believe that a space station, which would be a collection of the best and the brightest from the entire planet, would be made up entirely of Christians. Nor do I believe that if a universal winter solstice holiday arises from our many current belief systems, that it will be called Christmas, which is a sacred holiday for a specific religion, regardless of the commercialism that has become attached to it.

In that Xmas party scene, I expected to see some people in the corners who, while more than willing to celebrate their friends’ holiday and/or to celebrate their survival and even their thriving in this new place with friends and family, would have been also sharing their own holiday traditions and reminiscing about their own family celebrations.

My feelings about this story are too conflicted to give it a rating. Your warp speed may definitely vary.

Review: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite + Giveaway

Review: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite + GiveawayThe Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: F/F romance, historical romance
Series: Feminine Pursuits #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon Impulse on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

My Review:

In late 19th century New England, they’d have called the relationship between Lucy Muchelney and Catherine St. Day a “Boston Marriage”. In early 19th century “old” England, it becomes a life and business partnership, because a traditional marriage is not a possibility for two women who want to spend their lives together in their own happily ever after.

Along the way it’s a beautiful story about falling in love, creating a partnership of equals, and dealing with all of the crap that society doles out to those of us “living while female” – no matter who we love.

It begins with Lucy. Lucy thinks of herself as an astronomer. She knows that she has spent the last ten years as her father’s unpaid and unacknowledged apprentice and assistant, performing the complex mathematical calculations that made it possible for others to follow his erratic but brilliant paths across the stars.

But her father is dead, and no one except her brother knows that she provided the backbone of his work for the previous decade. Stephen, a mostly unsuccessful painter, is now the head of her family and household. He tells her that it’s time for her to give up her “hobby” and get married. He plans to sell her precious telescope to keep himself in paints and parties.

In the wake of witnessing her lover’s wedding, Lucy takes a desperate leap. One of her father’s patrons needs him to translate an important work of astronomy, currently available only in French. There are plenty of people who can translate the language, even a few who have the necessary background in astronomy, but none who have the language, the astronomy and the crucial ability to follow the mathematical calculations that are integral to the text.

Except Lucy.

Having nothing left except the work that her brother has threatened to take away, Lucy takes herself to London, to the (not-so) Polite Science Society of which her father was a member, and to the potential patron who made the request, Catherine St. Day, Countess of Moth, widow of the naturalist George St. Day, world traveler and funder of her husband’s many, many expeditions.

Catherine has no desire to yoke herself to another genius. She’s been there and done that, and has the emotional scars to prove it. Her late husband has been dead for two years but she still flinches upon entering the rooms that he marked out as “his”.

But Lucy needs succor. And a patron – or perhaps a patroness. Catherine needs a purpose.

Together they set the scientific world on fire. And each other.

Escape Rating B+: In the end, I enjoyed this a LOT, but there were points in the middle where I kind of wanted to turn my eyes away. Not in a bad way, but I FELT for both characters so much, and I kept expecting more bad things to happen to them than actually did. Or for the story to descend into misogynistic cliches – which it never does.

The romance here, while it does happen just a bit fast, is a beautiful exploration of consent at every turn. No one ever overpowers the other. There is no sweeping away of one by the other. But there is still plenty of love and heat and fire, as these two women carefully – and sometimes not so carefully – explore what they can be to each other. It is every bit as romantic as any romance I’ve ever read.

Unfortunately that includes the misunderstandammit that nearly breaks them apart. It does, however, lead to a beautiful and epic reconciliation scene. As it should.

Once upon a time, an author of m/m romance told me that she had fallen for the genre because both protagonists in a romance were equals. The power imbalances that used to be a traditional feature of traditional romance simply aren’t present. Which made it easy to identify with either or both characters.

That observation came to mind somewhat ironically in the case of The Lady’s Guide, because in this f/f romance the protagonists are also equal. What gives this story its heart and soul is that both protagonists are equally in the “one down” position in society. In spite of Catherine’s wealth and relatively high social position, her opinions, her contributions, her very presence is always discounted by the men she deals with. That is true even when it is her money making their work possible.

The way that the so-called “important” men in this story attempt and frequently succeed in cutting both Lucy and Catherine down at every turn is heartbreaking – and easily identifiable with for any woman. We’ve all been talked over, talked down and discounted at every turn.

That Lucy and Catherine discover a way to not just knit their own lives together but to also bring many of the forgotten women of science and art out of the shadows into which they have been cast by male scientists and artist felt like a phenomenal way to bring this historical romance to a wonderful conclusion.

As well as set up hopefully many future stories in the Feminine Pursuits series!

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

 

To celebrate the release of THE LADY’S GUIDE TO CELESTIAL MECHANICS by Olivia Waite, we’re giving away a bound manuscript copy of the book to one lucky winner!

LINK: http://bit.ly/2HIlsH1 

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a bound manuscript copy of The Lady Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 7/9/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.

Review: Say No to the Duke by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: Say No to the Duke by Eloisa James + GiveawaySay No to the Duke (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #4) by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Wildes of Lindow Castle #4
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


One little wager will determine their fate—a daring escape or falling into temptation with a rakish lord.

Lady Betsy Wilde’s first season was triumphant by any measure, and a duke has proposed—but before marriage, she longs for one last adventure.

No gentleman would agree to her scandalous plan—but Lord Jeremy Roden is no gentleman. He offers a wager. If she wins a billiards game, he’ll provide the breeches.

If he wins…she is his, for one wild night.

But what happens when Jeremy realizes that one night will never be enough? In the most important battle of his life, he’ll have to convince Betsy to say no to the duke.

My Review:

The Wildes of Lindow Castle are all very, very wild. Or, at least the Wildes that have featured in the previous books in this marvelous series, Wilde in Love, Too Wilde to Wed and Born to be Wilde certainly have been very wild indeed. But the Wildes of the previous books have all been men.

The story in Say No to the Duke is the story of Lady Boadicea Wilde. Who would rather be called Betsy. Not just because Boadicea is rather a mouthful, but because Betsy fits much better with the persona she projects to the world. Lady Betsy gives the outward appearance – and performs all the public actions – of the perfect lady that she pretends to be.

Only one man seems to see through Betsy’s never-ending stellar performance. Jeremy Roden may seem to be in his cups nearly all the time, but his performance as a drunken wastrel is just as perfect as Betsy’s – and just as fraudulent.

Not that Jeremy doesn’t seem to drink like a fish – but he doesn’t get drunk. He wishes he could. Get drunk. Or sleep. Or do pretty much anything to keep his demons at bay. The ghosts of the men he lost during England’s vain attempt to get her rebellious North American colonies back.

It may be that it takes one to know one. Jeremy pretends to be drunk to keep his well-meaning friends away while he stews in his own regrets and remorse. Not to mention his misplaced guilt, his all-too-real fears and his PTSD.

Betsy pretends to be a lady because her mother manifestly was not. And because the “mean girls” at her boarding school spent all of their gossiping time speculating on just when her mother’s lascivious nature would manifest in her daughter.

Betsy can’t get their cutting words and nasty whispers out of her head any more than Jeremy can stop the voices of the men who followed him to their deaths. So Jeremy drinks and Betsy projects the perfect image of a perfect lady, while underneath she is torn between “winning” her debutante season by being perfectly respectable every single moment and collecting marriage proposals from all the high-ranking bachelors participating in the Marriage Mart – or being the person she really is.

Because what Betsy really wants is an adventure – just like all of her brothers. She wants the chance to go out and do the things that men do without either thought or consequence. Not anything truly scandalous – or not exactly. She’s not really looking for a romantic dalliance. What she wants is the opportunity to play pool in a club, go to an auction and bet on something – on her own. She wants a day without having to be a perfect lady every minute and watch every second of her own behavior – because men never have to.

Betsy is every bit an unconventional as every single one of the Wildes – even the ones who are adopted. And she wants one adventure of her very own before she says yes to that duke.

But just as she’s beginning to edge her way towards that “yes”, Jeremy finally realizes that he wants her to say “no” – even though that duke is a good man and one of his best friends. And that as much as Jeremy himself wants Betsy, he knows that he is much too damaged to be good for her – even if she’s perfect for him.

Escape Rating B+: There are a lot of things that I really enjoyed in Say No to the Duke, and just a couple that made me go “huh?” and kept it from being a Grade A book.

One of the great things about this one, like all of the books in the Wildes series, is the quality and quantity of the banter between the characters. All of the characters in this series are both interesting and intelligent, and they all talk to each other, about each other and frequently over each other with wit and style and verve.

Another thing that worked really well is that even though this story sounds like it might veer into the dreaded “love triangle” territory, it actually doesn’t. The heroine does have to make up her mind between the duke and the (pretend) drunkard, but there’s no “torn between two lovers” angst.

Not only is her decision-making logical, she also has the option of choosing neither. She does not have to marry either one. Unless she wants to. Or unless she thinks she ought to for some reasons that didn’t work too well for this reader.

I also liked that this one did not fall into the dreadful trope of being forced to choose between a dreadful but financially stable marriage and a happy but poor one. The Duke in question is a decent man, and will make someone an excellent husband. He’s just the wrong husband for Betsy and she’s the wrong wife for him. But there’s nothing wrong with him. Nor does he pursue once he knows his suit will not be accepted. A decent chap all the way around.

There were just those couple of niggles.

I liked Betsy as a character a whole lot more after she stopped nattering on about stamping out any hint of anything less than ladylike behavior for fear that she would be seen as just like her rather wayward mother. I understood why she kept up that veneer in public, but her inability to let herself be herself in private didn’t quite ring true – particularly with the wild reputation of the Wilde family – both male and female – to bolster her.

The other issue revolves around the villain of the piece, Jeremy’s completely vile cousin. As a character he was over-the-top and his part of the puzzle ended up feeling unresolved. When his hamfisted attempts to either get Jeremy killed or remove him from the line of succession to his father’s marquessate fail, it felt like the punishment phase was left unresolved in rather glaring fashion. And the whole farrago just didn’t feel necessary to add tension to the story or to put roadblocks in the way of Jeremy and Betsy’s relationship. They were perfectly capable of adding plenty of obstacles without outside assistance.

In the end, Betsy and Jeremy fall for each other not just because they complete each other, but because they truly understand and accept each other – as they are – warts and impulses and demons and all. And it’s lovely.

Betsy Wilde may have said “No” to the Duke, but you’ll want to say “Yes” to this book. If you love witty historical romance, you’ll be glad you did!

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

To celebrate the release of SAY NO TO THE DUKE by Eloisa James, we’re giving away a paperback copy of Wilde in Love by Eloisa James to one lucky winner!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2VyJ1Wf 

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Wilde in Love by Eloisa James. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 6/28/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Books will send the prize to the winner directly.

Review: Hell Squad: Dom by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Dom by Anna HackettDom (Hell Squad #18) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #18
Pages: 178
Published by Anna Hackett on June 17th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

As the battle against the invading aliens intensifies, a group of bad boy bikers and mercenaries will stand and fight for humanity’s survival…

Squad Three berserker Dom Santora has an ugly past he can’t forget. Born and raised in the darkness, he spent his life before the alien invasion as a Mafia enforcer. He’s found some meaning fighting against the aliens with his fellow berserkers, but he knows his soul is too stained to ever find redemption. And there is no way he’ll ever deserve the quiet beauty of a woman like Arden Carlisle.

When the raptors invaded, Arden lost her husband and children in the first horrible, bloody wave of the attack. Since that terrible night, she’s survived, but she hasn’t been living. Hollowed out by her grief, she’s found a way to keep going as the comms officer for Squad Nine. But lately, color has started to seep back into her world, and the person she sees most clearly is the dark, handsome, and lethal Dom.

Dom and Arden are two damaged souls who find each other in the darkness. But the Gizzida are putting the final pieces of their endgame into place. The aliens want the Earth and to wipe out the human survivors once and for all. As Dom, Arden, and the berserkers work to find a deadly alien bomb, they uncover the true horror of the aliens’ plans. To have any chance at love, life, and survival, Dom and Arden will have to fight harder than ever before.

My Review:

There can be a HUGE difference between real world time and book time, and that is certainly the case in the Hell Squad series.

The first (and absolutely awesome) book in the Hell Squad series, Marcus, was published in 2015. That was four years and 17 books ago. Having read the series as it was published from the very beginning, it feels like the Gizzida invasion of our Earth was a long time ago, unfortunately not in a galaxy far, far away.

In the books, it’s only been two years. Half the time. So, while the survivors of the invasion sometimes feel like they’ve been fighting with and hiding from the aliens FOREVAH, it hasn’t really been all that long for them.

Long enough that any relationships that develop between the survivors living in the Enclave don’t qualify as insta-love (although there’s a hint in Dom that something of that sort may happen later with a current non-resident of the Enclave). There just aren’t THAT many people hiding there. Enough to make a community, but not so many that everyone doesn’t have at least a nodding acquaintance with pretty much everyone else.

It’s also been three months since the previous book in this series came out, and I have to say that longer intervals work better for me in regards to reading this series. There are certainly patterns to all of the books in the series, but they are less obvious to this reader when I’ve had a bit more of a gap between books.

To put it another way, I like the individual books better when I’ve been away long enough to miss seeing all my friends in the series.

About this particular entry in the series…

The relationship that develops between Dom Santora and Arden Carlisle is a bit different from some of the other romances in this series, and it’s because of Arden. Dom is certainly one of the baddest of the baddasses that make up the squads, but even with his past as a Mafia enforcer, he’d still have a few other contenders in a battle for squad member with the darkest past and the worst emotional scars.

None of the Berserkers in Squad Three have ever made any claims to being white knights. And the women they fall in love with are never damsels waiting for said knight to rescue them. They are all more than capable of rescuing themselves, thankyouverymuch.

While Dom may not stand out as being any darker of past than any of the other Berserkers, Arden is a bit different from the usual heroines of this series. Why? Arden feels like the first heroine we’ve had in this series who was happily married with children before the invasion, and is the only survivor of her family. She was with her husband and two children when the attack came and she watched them die.

In the two years since the invasion, she’s had a lot to grieve, and has spent a lot of her time grieving. As this story opens, enough time has past that she is starting to see the light at the end of her own personal dark tunnel. She’s not quite there yet, but she’s at the point in her grief when she knows that she will get there, with the help of friends like Indy Bennett (heroine of the previous book, Griff) and her job as comms officer for Squad Nine.

And quite possibly with the hands-on assistance of her own personal dark knight, Dom Santora.

Escape Rating B+: Dom and Arden’s story was definitely better for the break from this series. While their relationship goes through similar situations to many of the others it’s their personalities, particularly Arden’s, that give this entry in the series that bit of different and interesting to make it shine.

The book ends with a rousing speech by General Holmes (military leader of the Enclave and titular hero of book 8) ties it in nicely with the overarching plot of the series – the fight to kick the Gizzida off our Earth and take back the planet. There have been setbacks in reaching that goal, but his speech felt like the kind of “once more unto the breach, dear friends” speech that the leader of the light gives just before the climactic battle – which they go on to win. I hope so, and I hope soon!

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!

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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 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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