Review: When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis

Review: When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera LewisWhen the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 240
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 2, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Marjorie Herrera Lewis’s debut historical novel the inspiring true story of high school teacher Tylene Wilson—a woman who surprises everyone as she breaks with tradition to become the first high school football coach in Texas—comes to life.

"A wonderfully touching and beautiful story…Tylene makes me laugh, cry, and cheer for her in ways I have not done in a long time.”—Diane Les Bocquets, bestselling author of Breaking Wild  

It's a man's game, until now...Football is the heartbeat of Brownwood, Texas. Every Friday night for as long as assistant principal Tylene Wilson can remember, the entire town has gathered in the stands, cheering their boys on. Each September brings with it the hope of a good season and a sense of unity and optimism.

Now, the war has changed everything.  Most of the Brownwood men over 18 and under 45 are off fighting, and in a small town the possibilities are limited. Could this mean a season without football? But no one counted on Tylene, who learned the game at her daddy’s knee. She knows more about it than most men, so she does the unthinkable, convincing the school to let her take on the job of coach.

Faced with extreme opposition—by the press, the community, rival coaches, and referees and even the players themselves—Tylene remains resolute. And when her boys rally around her, she leads the team—and the town—to a Friday night and a subsequent season they will never forget.           

Based on a true story, When the Men Were Gone is a powerful and vibrant novel of perseverance and personal courage.

My Review:

This is an absolute awesome story – and it is all the better for being based on a true one. It also has a surprising amount of resonance. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Tylene Wilson was a real person. She really did coach men’s football in Brownwood Texas during World War II, as the title says, when all the men were gone. One of the differences between the fictional Tylene and the factual Tylene was that the real Tylene coached college football, not high school.

But, as has so often happened, the real Tylene’s achievements, like so many women’s achievements, has been lost to history – and that’s in the spite of the fact that WW2 is still in living memory – albeit for a decreasing number of people. The author of this book was inspired by the case of a real, 21st century woman who is following in Tylene’s fading footsteps, coaching men’s college football.

Without nearly enough historical documentation, the author was forced to fictionalize Tylene’s achievement – and the struggles that she went through to achieve it. The fictionalized version of her story is compelling AND has plenty of resonance with today.

Tylene knows football. And she knows it really, really well. Her dad taught her, both how to play and how to analyze plays. Not because he had a not-to-secret yearning for a son, but because Tylene had rickets as a child. The cure for rickets is Vitamin D, most easily found in good old sunshine.

Girls didn’t play a lot outside, even in small-town Texas, in the early 20th century. But boys certainly did. So Dad learning football and baseball and any other sport or activity that would make his little girl eager to get out into the sunshine – and get well and stay well. It worked.

And it gave Tylene a lifelong love of the sport.

World War II was a period when all the young men went to war – and all the young women went into the factories. I have my parents’ high school annuals from that period, and the teachers all had, as the saying went at the time, “one foot in the grave and the other one on a banana peel”. There were no young teachers. It is easy to imagine that in a small town like Brownwood, there were no young men, period, who were not either medically ineligible (and therefore would have been medically ineligible to have played football) or had served and been invalided out.

There do seem to be plenty of older men. But just because someone can “Monday Morning Quarterback” with the best of them doesn’t mean that they have any of the actual knowledge required to coach a real team, even a high school team. The lack of real knowledge may stop them from volunteering to coach or being qualified to do so. Of course it does not stop them from complaining that a woman can’t possibly know enough to coach – even if she does.

Her situation feels real – only because it was. What adds to the poignancy is that this story takes place in the fall of 1944. She wouldn’t have known it the time, but her desire to keep the high school football program going for one more year would save the lives of those boys who would have enlisted instead of hanging around tiny Brownwood. She just wanted to give them one more year of adolescence before they went to war. She probably saved their lives.

But the forces arrayed against her, while couched in the even more overt misogyny of the mid-century, sound all too similar to the voices that every 21st century woman has heard in her life about why women are unsuited to this, that, or the other thing because whatever it is is supposed to be the province of men.

All those men sound shrill and frightened and very, very real. And they haven’t changed a bit in all the years since.

Escape Rating A-: This was an incredible book – and a very fast read. This is also one of those times when I wish there had been just a bit more of the story. While it does end on a paradoxically high note, I wanted more. At least an epilog where we get to find out how the season went and witness the announcement of the end of the war and the impact on the school, students and town. (Yes, I know it’s fiction. I still wanted more closure.)

Which does not mean that I did not enjoy the book, because I certainly did. And the ending, while it felt a bit premature, was definitely at a high point. Not because her team won the game, but because she won the team – and, it seemed, the town.

But it’s the chorus of naysayers that stick with me, because it all sounded so damn familiar.

Tylene faced endless amounts of sexual harassment – from every side – all the time. The opposing coach for her team’s season opening game was ready to forfeit. He was convinced that it would be less embarrassing for his team to forfeit the game and take a loss than it would have been to play the game and win in a rout. He never considered that it would be a fair and close game, win or lose. He couldn’t believe that a woman could possibly coach that well, or that a team would support a woman coach that well.

While her husband was supportive, he was also very, very shaken. There were points when the negativity and the pressure were so intense that he also wanted her to give in and give up. His best friend and the mainstay of his business refused to do business with him after Tylene became the coach. The school board held a special meeting to remove her from the job – and no one in town told her about the meeting in advance.

And any woman who does not hear the echoes of those scared, shrill male voices rising against Tylene shouting in today’s news hasn’t been paying attention. That kept me riveted to the book from beginning to end – and haunts me still.

TLC
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Review: Desert Hunter + Pets in Space 3 Spotlight + Giveaway

Review: Desert Hunter + Pets in Space 3 Spotlight + GiveawayEmbrace the Passion (Pets in Space Anthologies, #3) by S.E. Smith, Anna Hackett, Ruby Lionsdrake, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, E.D. Walker, Tiffany Roberts, Carol Van Natta, Alexis Glynn Latner, J.C. Hay, Kyndra Hatch
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Pets in Space #3
Pages: 1305
on October 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Pets in Space is back! Join us as we unveil eleven original, never-before-published action-filled romances that will heat your blood and warm your heart! New York Times, USA Today and Award-winning authors S.E. Smith, Anna Hackett, Ruby Lionsdrake, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Carol Van Natta, Tiffany Roberts, Alexis Glynn Latner, E D Walker, JC Hay, and Kyndra Hatch combine their love for Science Fiction Romance and pets to bring readers sexy, action-packed romances while helping our favorite charity. Proud supporters of HeroDogs.org, Pets in Space authors have donated over 4,400 in the past two years to help place specially trained dogs with veterans. Open your hearts and grab your limited release copy of Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 3 today!

My Review of Desert Hunter by Anna Hackett

Because Desert Hunter is a short story, this is going to be a short review. Especially since I have plenty to share with you about Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 3 – the anthology that this story is included in.

Desert Hunter is also part of Anna Hackett’s absolutely marvelous Galactic Gladiators series. The story of the Galactic Gladiators and the women (and men) who love them begins in Gladiator, but Desert Hunter is a fine story to give you a taste of this fascinating world.

FIEND!

The hero and heroine of Desert Hunter are neither gladiators nor are either of them part of the kidnapped Earth crew – not that they don’t have ties to both. But those ties are tangential to this story. Bren, Mersi and the all important Fiend are all Carthago natives, and the inherent cruelty of the place and its corrupt power structures have scarred them all.

Bren and Mersi’s romance is a combination of the classic tropes of friends-into-lovers and hero-feels-unworthy. Yes, I know that second one isn’t really a named trope, but it ought to be. Bren and the caravan captain Corsair saved Mersi’s life back when she was a runaway slave. While Corsair has found his own happiness with one of the Earth crew, Bren has loved Mersi while keeping himself apart from her – not willing to even see that she loves him as well.

It takes the intervention of a big, hairy, matted dog named Fiend to show Bren that his taint is no bar to being loved and wanted, and that he does have plenty to give, and not just to Mersi. And that even the scarred and broken ones are still worthy of being loved.

The message that it isn’t what you are but what you do that matters is lovely. Of course Fiend steals every scene he’s in – and that’s just how it should be.

Escape Rating B+

Spotlight on Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 3

It’s no secret that I loved the previous Pets in Space collections, Pets in Space and Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 2. And that I also really love Anna Hackett’s work, so when Anna asked if I’d be willing to do a spotlight for the latest collection AND that she would let me host a giveaway for one of the Galactic Gladiators titles, I was all in. I would love to have a review of the entire Pets in Space 3 collection to accompany this spotlight, but the book just came out yesterday and even I don’t read that fast. Besides, I do love these collections and want the chance to savor every story.

You will too.

So, just to whet your appetite a bit, take a look at the descriptions of the rest of the stories in this collection – then get them while they’re hot! Or cool, or lukewarm, or whatever body temperature each member of this intergalactic menagerie prefers. And don’t be put off by the stories that are series entries. Like Desert Hunter, these are meant to serve as introductions to their series – not that you won’t want to add the rest of each series to your TBR pile the minute you’re finished. I know I will!

HEART OF THE CAT
By S.E. Smith
Series: Sarafin Warriors Book 3

Prince Walkyr d’Rojah’s mission is to find an ancient artifact known as the Heart of the Cat, a revered gem that holds the mystical power that connects his people with their cat-form. He isn’t the only one searching for the Heart. A secret sect determined to overthrow the royal families wants the power contained in the gem, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to obtain it.

Trescina Bukov’s affinity and ability to care for large cats has taken her all over the world. A frantic call from a rescue group compels her to fly to Wyoming in the western part of the United States. She is confused and wary when she discovers the injured leopard is more than he seems.

Walkyr is shocked when the human female caring for him connects with his leopard and recognizes who he is. Now, he has to contend with the assassins who followed him, his leopard who wants to claim the woman, and find out why all the clues in his search for the Heart of the Cat are pointing to a planet so far from home.

When Walkyr discovers the secret that Trescina has been hiding, he is forced to make a difficult decision: let her go, or kidnap her and return with her to his world. Can Walkyr convince Trescina that their lives are bound in more ways than one or will she flee, taking her secret and the future of the Sarafin species with her?

QUASHI
By Ruby Lionsdrake
Series: The Mandrake Company

“If she’d had a hand free, she would have scratched her head. Lab rats didn’t trill, did they?”

When Chanda decided to finagle her way into a job she wasn’t qualified for, she didn’t expect to end up on a ship full of hulking mercenaries. They’re rude, crude, and so covered with scars and tattoos that she can’t imagine any woman being interested in them. Except perhaps for the soft-spoken doctor with the haunted eyes.

She would love to know more about him, especially since he stares at the game logo on her T-shirt rather than her breasts, but a little problem comes aboard the ship at the same time she does. Quashi. Furry alien fluff balls with stubby legs and very expressive antennae. Are they harmless – or a danger to the ship? And why were they in a box labeled lab rats?

When some of the creatures go missing and systems start malfunctioning, Chanda is assigned the task of quashi wrangler. Though she’s worried she isn’t qualified, the intriguing doctor is also sent to help, and she’s determined not to fail in front of him. Maybe this is her chance to find out what network games he plays and why his past troubles him. But as the lights flicker and the ship’s life support systems are threatened, Chanda realizes there might not be time for romance. If they can’t round up the missing quashi before it’s too late, she may never see home again.

STAR CRUISE: MYSTERY DANCER
By Veronica Scott
Series: The Sectors SF Romance Series

Tassia Megg is a woman on the run after the death of her elderly guardian. Her search to get off the planet in a hurry comes when chance directs her to an open dance audition for the luxury cruise liner Nebula Zephyr’s resident troupe. If there is one thing Tassia can do, it is dance!

Security Officer Liam Austin is suspicious of the newest performer to join the Comettes. She shows all the signs of being a woman on the run and seems to fit the Sectors-wide broadcast description of a missing thief, accused of stealing priceless artifacts. As he gets to know Tassia during the cruise, he starts to wonder if she’s something more – a long vanished princess in hiding from deadly political enemies of her family perhaps? And what’s the story with the three-eyed feline companion other crew members swear Tassia brought aboard the ship? Does the animal even exist?

As the ship approaches its next port of call, all the issues come to a boil and Liam must decide if he’ll step in to help Tassia or betray her. Life is about to get very interesting aboard the Nebula Zephyr as Liam tries to uncover the truth. Could F’rrh, the peculiar alien cat he has been hearing about, be the key to the mystery and Tassia’s fate?

OPERATION ARK
By Pauline Baird Jones
Series: Project Enterprise

She’s a USMC Sergeant deployed to the Garradian Galaxy.

He was raised by the robots who freed him from slavery.

It’s a match made nowhere anyone can figure out.

They clashed as enemies but joined forces to defeat a common foe. Now they’re tasked with returning some freed prisoners to their home worlds. In the next galaxy. With an alien, a robot, and a caticorn. It was a bar joke without a punch line, though Carolina City has a feeling it is out there—like the truth.

Kraye isn’t eager to return to his galaxy where the dark secret of his past lays in wait, but he’s willing to risk it in hopes that Caro can teach him what the robots couldn’t: how to be human.

Together they must face a dangerous journey, a lethal enemy with a score to settle, their unexpected desire, and an uncertain future if they make it out alive.

Can Caro and Kraye navigate the minefields—both emotional and space based—to land a happy homecoming for the sentient animals in their care? Can the man raised by robots learn how to kiss the girl while the starchy Marine decides if she is willing to bend the rules for a happy ever after? Don’t miss Pauline Baird Jones’ newest Project Enterprise story!

CATS OF WAR
by Carol Van Natta
Series: A Central Galactic Concordance Novella

Military Sub-Captain Kedron Tauceti counts the days until he can leave the rare metals factory and his current duty station as the liaison to the Criminal Restitution and Indenture Obligation system. The post was protection—and punishment—for exposing a theft ring in his previous assignment. He’s more than ready to get his career back on track on a new base halfway across the galaxy, even if it means leaving behind the one person who makes him want to stay. Not that he’s told her, because technically, he’s her warden.

Former financial specialist and current indenturee Ferra Barray, hiding from her past, only has three months to go on her restitution sentence. She’s lucked into a tech repair job, and If she keeps her head down, she’ll be free to figure out her future. Unfortunately, the local boss behind every illegal scheme in the facility wants her to steal for him, and she’s running out of excuses. And now the heroically handsome Tauceti, who she hoped could help, is transferring out.

Everything changes when Ferra discovers two genetically modified cats. Saving them takes incredible risks. She doesn’t know what she’ll do if she can’t convince Tauceti to take them with him and keep them until she’s free to come for them.

When trouble erupts at the factory, it might just be the cats who save them. Find out what happens in this exciting stand-alone novella from Carol Van Natta’s award-winning Central Galactic Concordance space opera series.

HUNTER OF THE TIDE
By Tiffany Roberts
Series: The Kraken #3

HIS SOLACE AND HIS HOPE

Randall Laster crossed Halora to hunt the kraken, sea monsters that weren’t supposed to be real. Betrayed by men he trusted, he was left to die. Instead, he finds himself living with the beings once meant to be his prey. Randall struggles to find his place amongst the kraken and to find a purpose to the new course his life has taken. Hope comes in two unexpected forms: an injured, amphibious sea creature in need of care, and Rhea, a strong-willed kraken who’s made no secret of her interest in him. Can he reconcile the tensions between humans and kraken and look beyond their differences so that he can claim Rhea as his own, or will old prejudices and hostilities tear them apart forever?

STARWAY
By Alexis Glynn Latner

Starway is an interstellar hotel that offers guests something to satisfy almost any wish—even wishes they didn’t know they had.

Nikka Steel is a lonely interstellar pilot. Danyel Parry is a wealthy passenger’s mistreated consort. When they find each other in Starway, they discover how much they have in common, including remorseless enemies and resourceful friends—one of which has four paws—and mutual attraction as perilous as it is powerful.

Danyel and Nikka soon realize that they have a hopeful new destination. The interstellar crossroads at Starway can take travelers to many places, some of which are strange and secret. To get there, though, they will have to find their way through anger, danger and—even more frightening—change.

THE BAJO CATS OF ANTEROS XII
By E D Walker

Zandro alienated the love of his life years ago with one giant mistake. Consumed by his animal rescue work, he didn’t realize what he had given up until she was gone. Now, his work to save two alien kittens with dangerous pheromones will reunite him with his old flame – and hopefully give him a second chance.

Aliette’s work as a space captain keeps her mind off of what she lost – Zandro – or it did until she receives his desperate plea for help. She reluctantly agrees to assist him for old time’s sake. But the simple transport mission quickly escalates into a fight for survival. The local drug cartel has discovered the unusual kittens and will do anything to obtain them.

With dangerous events and concern for the vulnerable kittens drawing them close again, Aliette will have to decide if being with Zandro is worth sacrificing everything for – even her life.

SHADOW OF THE PAST
By JC Hay

Loss casts a shadow you can’t outrun…

Commander Rafe Penzak is tired of jockeying a desk. With only months left before his forced retirement from the rangers, he decides to bend a few rules for one last mission: follow up on intelligence that vicious criminals have found the ranch that supplies the rangers’ umbra wolves. He’s ready to confront the reminder of his wolf’s death, but nothing in the Three Systems could prepare him for the spitfire who runs the farm.

Veterinarian Nafisi Sultana has run her wolf breeding program her way since the death of her husband. The last thing she wants is another ranger taking up space, correcting her methods, or being underfoot. But she can’t miss the pain and sorrow that haunts the greying commander, and her need to heal others pulls her into his orbit despite the agonizing memories he wakes in her.

With storms, raiders, and a renegade wolf pup driving them together, Nafisi and Rafe have to set aside their damaged past, or they’ll never be able to save something they both want more—a future.

AFTER THE FALL
By Kyndra Hatch

A’ryk Chiste of Korth marooned himself on an uninhabited world for a reason. He doesn’t want to be reminded of a galaxy where his people lost the war, taken over by the merciless Invaders who changed his life forever. A galaxy where he failed at the one thing he was born for, to protect worlds. He wants no part of the shaky forced ‘peace.’ So when an Invader crashes onto his planet, the simple solution is to let her die. But his furry companions have other ideas.

Lyra Merrick is a surveyor for the Earth Council of Habitable Worlds. She searches for and reports planets that can be terraformed for human survival, comfort and stability. It is business as usual when she finds another planet in a little-known section of the galaxy. A routine mission turns into a fight for survival when her ship has a malfunction and she crashes to the icy, unrelenting world. When she comes to, she hears a voice in her head. Confused, she wonders if the lonely existence of a surveyor finally made her crazy. Not only is she hearing things, her eyes are deceiving her too, because she’s in the domicile of the sexiest man she’s ever seen.

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

I’m very happy to say that I am giving away a signed paperback copy of one of my personal favorite books in Anna Hackett’s Galactic Gladiators series, Hero to one lucky commenter on this post! Anna lives in Australia – so this giveaway is open to ALL!

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Review: The Love that Saved Him by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Love that Saved Him by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Love That Saved Him by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 219
Published by Sophie Barnes on October 2nd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He needed escape…

Suffering from the recent loss of his wife, Pierce Jackson leaves behind his corporate job in New York City and heads to the Klondike. There he meets Sarah Palmer whose eighty-five year old gold mining grandfather wants to lease the most dangerous part of Pierce's property. The last thing Pierce wants is to fall for Sarah. But as they start working together, a bond begins to form, and Pierce must eventually ask himself if he can overcome guilt and heartache and welcome the love of another woman into his heart.

And found a new beginning instead.

Sarah has a lot more on her mind than starting a relationship with her handsome new neighbor. But as she gets to know Pierce, she begins to wonder, what if? Encouraged by her matchmaking grandfather whose biggest wish is to see her settled, Sarah finds herself swept up in the most unexpected romance. But with shocking family history unfolding and a gold-mining expedition that could go wrong in so many ways, there's a lot for Sarah and Pierce to take care of before they can find their happily ever after.

My Review:

It’s also about the love that saved her. And it got me right in the feels, on multiple levels. On all the levels. I’m still reeling.

The cover for this one just looks so adorable, but the story is much deeper than it appears. This is one of those ones where not judging the book by its cover is good. Because the cover looks fluffy, and this is not a fluffy story.

It’s an excellent story, but not a fluffy one.

Both Pierce and Sarah have suffered from terrible tragedies. At 35, Pierce lost his wife to leukemia. It was swift and sudden and awful and a year later he is still in the midst of his grief and not dealing with it well. But what he is not is also in the midst of the tatters of the life they planned together. Once the dust settled a bit on her passing, he packed himself up and moved to the Klondike, to the land she inherited from her grandfather.

Whatever starting over he was or wasn’t going to do, he planned to do it far from New York City, their apartment, their career-driven lives, and the friends she left behind. And both his and her still-grieving parents. Because so far all they were sharing was pain, and Pierce just couldn’t.

Sarah Palmer has suffered her own tragedy. At 25 she is living with her grandfather, estranged from her parents, still grieving the loss of her unborn child and reeling from the drunken brute that the baby’s father turned into.

She’s still living in the midst of all her pain, because that’s where her grandfather lives, and his support and their work together are the things that have kept her going through everything.

Sarah’s grandfather Thomas is a gold miner. So is Sarah. They still exist in the Klondike (and other places) even though the easy, close to the surface stuff was gone long ago. There are plenty of smaller veins that were inaccessible but now are thanks to modern machinery. It’s those veins that Thomas and Sarah’s company tries to explore.

But the one place that Thomas Palmer has always been dead certain held a rich vein has always been out of his reach. It’s the ridge on the property that Pierce has just moved into – and for the first time in 30 years the lease on that land is available to him.

Just in time for one last hurrah – and a chance for Pierce, Sarah and everyone else in both their families to heal what’s been broken for far longer than they ever imagined.

Escape Rating A: For a relatively short book it’s a surprisingly slow-burning romance at the beginning. But then again, once you get into the story the romance turns out to be not the half of what’s waiting to be explored. And that’s pretty awesome.

One of the things that makes this story work is the instant closeness between Pierce and the Palmers. It could have seemed much too fast, that they were all too quick to trust, but it reminded me of my own experience in Alaska. In places that are remote and have relatively small populations, those “six degrees of separation” are more like three, or maybe two. And it happens surprisingly fast – as it does in this story.

The reason this story hit me so hard is personal. I’m 20 years older than my husband, so we’ve had to have the conversation about what happens if he ends up in the situation that Pierce is in, because that is the more likely scenario – although hopefully not for a long time yet. But still, this felt so REAL to me that it made my own heart hurt in sympathy with the character.

Part of what I loved about the story was the way that both Pierce and Sarah, coming out of their very different but equally difficult wounds, managed to reach towards each other so slowly and so carefully but still find a way through – and just how much of their respective family traumas managed to get healed in their wake. In spite of the blows yet to come.

The characters of this story, especially Thomas Palmer, are right. Life is too short to not take the time to say and do the things that need to be said. And in spite of the ever increasing height of my towering TBR pile – and the number of sniffles engendered by this reading, it’s too short not to take a couple of hours and fall into this book.

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

Sophie Barnes and IndieSage PR are giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: The Silver Shoes by Jill G. Hall

Review: The Silver Shoes by Jill G. HallThe Silver Shoes: A Novel by Jill G. Hall
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 336
Published by She Writes Press on June 19th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In her second novel, Jill G. Hall, author of The Black Velvet Coat, brings readers another dual tale of two dynamic women from two very different eras searching for fulfillment.

San Francisco artist Anne McFarland has been distracted by a cross-country romance with sexy Sergio and has veered from her creative path. While visiting him in New York, she buys a pair of rhinestone shoes in an antique shop that spark her imagination and lead her on a quest to learn more about the shoes’ original owner.

Almost ninety years earlier, Clair Deveraux, a sheltered 1929 New York debutante, tries to reside within the bounds of polite society and please her father. But when she meets Winnie, a carefree Macy’s shop girl, Clair is lured into the steamy side of Manhattan—a place filled with speakeasies, flappers, and the beat of “that devil music”—and her true desires explode wide open. Secrets and lies heap up until her father loses everything in the stock market crash and Clair becomes entangled in the burlesque world in an effort to save her family and herself.

Ultimately, both Anne and Clair—two very different women living in very different eras—attain true fulfillment . . . with some help from their silver shoes.

My Review:

I want to call this one a timeslip book, but it really isn’t. The only thing that exists in both 1929 and today are those titular silver shoes. But the action does alternate between those two eras, with Clair back in the age of Prohibition, flappers, speakeasies and the Great Depression, and Anne today.

Their lives should seem far apart. And they kind of are – but they mostly aren’t.

Besides the shoes, they are linked by two things. They are both constrained by the familial and societal expectations placed on them because they are women. And in the end, they both break free in order to pursue their own needs for self-fulfillment – and live their own dreams.

Neither story ends up being a romance. This is not a book about finding your happy ever after in the traditional romantic sense. As much of both of these women eventually manage to break tradition, it shouldn’t be. In the end, it’s about reaching deep and finding the courage to make your own happiness your own way, whether romantic love comes with it or not.

Escape Rating B-: It is really difficult to talk about this book without giving some of the game away, so the rating comes a bit early in this one.

I loved the way that the theme finally comes out, that both of these women find self-fulfillment through their art rather than love and marriage. Not that I don’t love a good romance, but I also don’t believe that every story with female central characters needs to be a romance. This one is better for not reaching that traditional ending.

On that other hand, a big part of both women’s stories is just how much they knuckle under to the pressures and expectations that constrain women’s lives.

Clair in 1929 is a poor little rich girl. Her businessman father tries to arrange her life so that she will be “taken care of” instead of asking her what she wants. She wants to go to Juilliard to study music, she’s been accepted, but he wants to marry her off. That he chooses badly is icing on a pretty ugly cake in that he never takes her own wants and needs into consideration and doesn’t see why he should until it is almost too late.

Clair takes her freedom at first in teeny, tiny and very secret doses, because she knows he won’t approve and can make her life miserable – as very nearly happens. In the end, it is only when his own pretty awful secrets are exposed AND when the true depth of wrongness of his choices for her is revealed that she is finally able to completely break free.

Reading about how completely circumscribed Clair’s life is may be accurate, but it doesn’t make for easy reading – particularly when it is held up to Anne’s life in comparison. Because Anne’s life doesn’t feel all that much better.

I know that objectively it is, but it didn’t feel that way. I just didn’t buy into her romance with Sergio. That’s possibly because by the time the story begins the romance is in the middle, but they didn’t work for me.

Instead it felt like she was caught up in the romance of a romance with a well-off sexy Italian who lived in New York. They didn’t seem to have enough in common, and she spent way too much time placating him or pretending to be different than she was in order to make things easier for him.

It also felt like she was giving in to pressure much more subtle than the pressure on Clair, but still present, to be involved with a man and get married (and give up her art) because she was 30 and it was time to stop being “foolish” or “childish” or “self-indulgent” or whatever. That she seemed to have no ability to manage her own finances just added to that picture as well as making it seem like she needed Sergio more than she loved him.

Both relationships fall into crises. In Clair’s case part of the crisis was very real and beyond everyone’s control – the Great Depression was called “Great” for a reason. Her father, though misguided, was attempting to do right by her by the lights of their time – admittedly badly.

I liked that she finally rescued herself, even if it took a bit too long and a bit too much melodrama. And Anne, in the end, finally figured out her best course – but in her case only after ignoring a whole bunch of signs that she was heading down the wrong path. And in Anne’s case, the only thing making her ignore that still small voice was herself.

Although I was glad she finally listened to it.

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Review: A Tall Dark Cowboy Christmas by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: A Tall Dark Cowboy Christmas by Maisey Yates + GiveawayA Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas (Gold Valley, #4) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Gold Valley #4
Pages: 496
Published by Hqn on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s Christmas in Gold Valley, and this wounded widower is about to get another shot at love…

Grant Dodge didn’t expect to find a woman sleeping in an abandoned cabin on his family ranch. Or to find her so intriguing. Unlike every other woman in town, McKenna Tate doesn’t know Grant’s a widower. There’s no pity in the looks she gives him. McKenna wants him, and Grant has forgotten what it’s like to feel like a man. A no-strings fling for Christmas might be the kind of holiday cheer Grant needs…

With only a suitcase to her name, McKenna came to Gold Valley to confront her birth father. She didn’t plan to work at the Dodge ranch or fall for the gorgeous cowboy who keeps his heart roped off. But there’s no denying the way their broken pieces fit together. Hope brought her to Gold Valley—but will it be the gift that could finally heal Grant, and McKenna’s own wounded heart?

Also includes a bonus Gold Valley novella, Snowed in with the Cowboy!

My Review:

It’s hard to believe that anyone would actually WANT to win a gold medal in the “Life Sucks” Marathon, but when Grant Dodge and McKenna Tate meet they are both serious contenders for that “grand” prize.

Possibly it’s a grand prize in the joke sense that first prize is one week in Hell and second prize is two weeks – although the way they both have been chasing this particular goal, that might actually be the other way around.

We’ve met Grant Dodge in the previous books in the Gold Valley series as his brothers have discovered their own happy ever afters. But Grant is a special case. He already found his happy, and knew perfectly well at the time that there was no “ever after” attached. Grant is semi-famous for having married his high school sweetheart knowing that she had terminal cancer, and caring for her for the eight years she managed to survive.

But he’s also been a widower for eight years, and is more than tired of all the pitying looks he gets from everyone in town and everyone he meets. His tragedy was so touching that it became fodder for one of the morning quasi-news shows, so no one ever lets him forget.

He’s wrapped his misery around him like a well-worn but scratchy blanket and doesn’t let anyone get close – not even his family – even though they are all working on the ranch together.

While Grant should be the first place finisher in that misery marathon, McKenna Tate is still in the running. He finds McKenna camped out in one of the ranch’s few remaining dilapidated (unheated and uninsulated) remote cabins. In December. In Oregon.

He claims he doesn’t want to be bothered, but he still takes her into the ranch house, where his brother and sister-in-law promptly offer McKenna a job and a cabin. She doesn’t want to take the charity, but she NEEDS it. She’s broke and homeless and out of options.

And she needs to be in Gold Valley. Her mother gave up her parental rights back when McKenna was only two, so she was raised in, or survived, foster care. Now she’s 24 and has come to Gold Valley to discover if the man listed on her birth certificate as her father is willing to give her a hand up.

She’s afraid to acknowledge, even to herself, that what she really wants is to belong. To someone. To be part of something. To finally have a place.

But while she tries to figure out how to approach her possible father, who turns out to be “rodeo royalty”, she becomes part of the mixed family of birth and choice that centers around the Get Out of Dodge Ranch.

And just maybe, she and Grant might manage to stop racing towards that first place in the misery marathon and reach for each other instead.

Escape Rating B+: In my review of Good Time Cowboy I called Maisey Yates the cowgirl queen of angsty western romance. The story in A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas certainly adds more sparkle to that crown.

Both Grant and McKenna begin the story in a serious bad way. But the bad way they’ve found themselves in, and the equally bad ways that they feel about it, feel like exactly the way a person would feel under their individual circumstances. It’s not manufactured angst or self-inflicted angst. They’ve had terrible things happen to them and they feel terrible because of those things.

Grant, in particular, has been living so much on the periphery of life at the ranch that it is more than possibly to read this book without having read the other books in the series first – not that they aren’t terrific reads. But Grant has done his best to not let other people in, to the point where he only plays a very minor role in his brothers’ lives – and is only willing to let them a tiny way into his.

McKenna has certainly had a lifetime of hard knocks that led her to Gold Valley. But she also has one attribute that draws Grant in like a magnet – she doesn’t know anything about his history. She doesn’t pity him or feel sorry for him. And she doesn’t want either of those things from him. She just thinks he’s hot. And she gets him hot and bothered in a way that he’s never allowed himself to feel.

The begin what becomes their relationship by finally giving into their amazing chemistry. They both think that’s all they have. But as much as Grant tries to stick to a rule of “no talking”, they can’t. McKenna can’t stop herself from talking under any circumstances, and Grant has spent so many years locked inside his own head that once he opens up at all he can’t make himself stop.

There is so much heartbreak in this story. Both Grant and McKenna begin the story as very broken people, and it’s tough reading their emotional turmoil. Watching them slowly heal each other is lovely, especially with their acknowledgement that it’s the hurts that they’ve each suffered that has made them the people they need to be for each other.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas to one lucky US/CAN commenter!

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Review: The Secrets We Carried by Mary McNear

Review: The Secrets We Carried by Mary McNearThe Secrets We Carried (Butternut Lake, #6) by Mary McNear
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary fiction, women's fiction
Series: Butternut Lake #6
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Readers who love Susan Wiggs and Susan Mallery will adore New York Times bestselling author Mary McNear newest novel. A young woman travels home to Butternut Lake, confronting her past and the tragedy she and her friends have silently carried with them for over a decade while also facing an unknown future.

Butternut Lake is an idyllic place—but for one woman, her return to the lake town she once called home is bittersweet…

Sometimes life changes in an instant. 

Quinn LaPointe grew up on beautiful Butternut Lake, safe, secure, sure of her future. But after a high school tragedy, she left for college and never looked back. Becoming a successful writer in Chicago, she worked to keep out the dark memories of an accident that upended her life. But now, after ten years, she’s finally returned home.

Butternut is the same, and yet everything is changed. Gabriel Shipp, once her very best friend, doesn’t want anything to do with her. The charming guy she remembers is now brooding and withdrawn. Tanner Lightman, the seductive brother of her late boyfriend, wants her to stick around. Annika Bergstrom, an old classmate who once hated Quinn, is now friendly. Everyone, it seems, has a secret.

Determined to come to terms with the tragedy and rebuild old relationships, Quinn settles into Loon Bay Cabins, a rustic but cozy lakeside resort, where she begins writing down her memories of the year before the accident. Her journey though the past leads her to some surprising discoveries about the present. As secrets are revealed and a new love emerges, Quinn finds that understanding the past is the key to the future. 

My Review:

In my reviews of previous books in the Butternut Lake series I have said that Butternut Lake should be renamed “Second Chance Lake” because those stories have featured a second chance at love for the hero, the heroine, or both.

The Secrets We Carried does not follow the pattern of the previous books, and there’s nothing to keep a reader from starting here and deciding if you like the place and want to go back. I definitely like the place. A lot.

But this story is still about second chances. In the end, there’s even a second chance at love – but that is not the kind of second chance that is the centerpiece of this particular story.

This one is about a second chance at life. And it’s about finally forgiving yourself so that you have a chance at grabbing that second chance.

Because that’s what Quinn LaPointe needs to do. And that’s why she’s come back to Butternut Lake, the place she grew up, ten years after the tragic accident that overtook her senior year in high school. A tragic accident that she has never fully dealt with – or completely healed from. An accident that she feels at least partially responsible for.

But she’s not the only person carrying that particular secret. And she’s not the only person who has not been able to move her life past that terrible fixed point in time.

In her life post-Butternut Lake, she has kept moving forward, but she hasn’t moved on. An anonymous invitation to the dedication of a memorial to the accident, and the three young men who needlessly, recklessly, stupidly died in it, gives her the chance to take herself back to the place she once called home.

And gives her the opportunity that she needs. A chance to finally remember, an opportunity to hopefully understand, and above all, both the proximity and the distance that she needs to finally forgive herself.

Quinn needs to let go of her past, so that she can finally claim her future.

Escape Rating A: I wasn’t in the mood for a romance, and that turned out to be an excellent thing. In spite of the way that the blurb reads, and contrary to the previous books in this series, The Secrets We Carried is not a romance.

Instead, this book is more of a character study, crossed with more than a bit of “women’s fiction”. In other words, if a man had written this story, it would just be labeled “fiction”.

I digress – but mostly because I just finished this book and I’m still reeling a bit. This was absolutely marvelous – especially because it wasn’t what I expected. It went a whole lot deeper than that.

Quinn’s high school career ended in tragedy. Her boyfriend and his two best friends drowned in Butternut Lake under the stupidest of circumstances. Jake Lightman was drunk and so were his buddies. Jake drove his truck out onto the frozen surface of Butternut Lake one night in the late spring and just sat there, in the truck, until the ice gave way and the three young men drowned.

Quinn blames herself. She broke up with Jake that night because she caught him lying to her, and not for the first time. She believes that he drank so heavily because of their breakup, and that he was out in the middle of the lake because she told him that’s where she lost the promise ring he gave her.

So Quinn comes to Butternut Lake for the dedication of the memorial to his death, and the deaths of his friends.

But Quinn isn’t the only person who has spent the past ten years heaping blame on herself for the events of that long ago night. Or rather, a night that should be long ago but seems to be ever-present as Quinn decides to stay in Butternut Lake and finally process the events of that night by writing all of her memories.

As part of her “memory writing” she touches base with not just the events but also the people who were part of that time, and who, it turns out, also have not been able to let things go. The deeper Quinn digs, the more she discovers that there is plenty of guilt to go around.

And like so many burdens, once that guilt is shared, once all of the people who touched and were touched by those events lays out the part that they each feel they played that night, they reach, tentatively and together, for a truth that was hidden by the secrets they all carried. A burden shared is a burden halved. A burden shared by as many people as have a share in this one lightens their load, and their lives, to the point where they can put the past behind them. Forgive themselves but never forget.

This is a beautiful story where the only way forward is through. Everyone holds back and everyone hides pieces of themselves that have come to hurt to much to be revealed. Quinn’s need to get it all out there, at least in her own mind, conflicts deeply and realistically with her desire to bury it all as deeply as possible.

The ending, when Quinn finally reaches it, goes all the way back to the beginning. And it sets her free.

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Review: Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawaySeason of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Haven Point #9
Pages: 320
Published by Hqn on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He’s giving her children a season of wonder…

Dani Capelli seized a chance to start over in a small town with her daughters. Now, facing her first Christmas in Haven Point, she wonders if leaving New York was a mistake. Dani loves working alongside veterinarian Dr. Morales, but her two children aren’t adjusting to small-town life. And then there’s Dr. Morales’s son, Ruben—Dani’s next-door neighbor. Gorgeous, muscled and dependable, the deputy sheriff is everything she secretly craves and can’t bear to risk loving…and losing.

Ruben never pictured himself falling for a big-city woman like Dani. But beneath her prickly facade, she’s caring and softhearted and she needs all the love and protection he can give. When Dani’s teenage daughter starts acting out, Ruben draws on family traditions to show the girls just how magical a Haven Point Christmas can be. But can he convince Dani that she’s found a home for the holidays—and forever—in his arms?

My Review:

It still feels too early to be reading holiday books, but here we are. And as much as I shivered at the reminders about snow and cold, Season of Wonder is a lovely little story.

It also feels like Haven Point is just down the road from Robyn Carr’s Thunder Point – even though Thunder Point is on the coast of Oregon and Haven Point is in Idaho within a couple of hours of Boise.

Let’s call them sister cities. Or at least sister villages.

Both are small towns where most of the folks are friendly and welcoming of newcomers – and where a family in need of a fresh start has an excellent chance of finding one.

Also, although both series are billed as contemporary romances, and the books in them certainly do include a romance along with its requisite HEA, the real stories often seem to be more in the line of small-town feel good cozy stories. The romance feels like the cherry on the top of the sundae, with that sundae being the newcomers making a place for themselves in a welcoming community in spite of whatever heavy baggage brought them in the first place.

And that’s the story in Season of Wonder, which is a cute holiday story and also feels like a pretty good place to begin your visit to Haven Point if you aren’t already a fan of the series.

Dani Capelli is the new vet in town. She’s got a freshly minted vet degree from Boston, a gigantic pile of student loans and two young daughters. She’s come to Haven Point in the hopes that she can start over, and that her year of interning with retiring vet Frank Morales will enable her to buy his practice when her internship is up.

Both of them want to make this work. Dr. Morales has given her a small house, rent-free, during her internship. He really wants this to work and his wife really wants him to retire. If Dani and her little family like living in Haven Point and the residents of Haven Point end up liking her and thinking she’s a good vet, it could all work for everyone.

But Dani has a past that she wants to bury, along with her late ex-husband. Tommy DeLuca died in a hail of gunfire, robbing a bank and killing two cops, back in Dani’s hometown of Queens. She divorced Tommy years ago, and hadn’t heard from him in all that time.

Which doesn’t mean that when everyone in Haven Point finds out that her ex was a criminal and a cop killer that some people won’t tar her and her daughters with the brush of his crimes. After all, she married him and she had two children with him.

People will speculate that apples don’t fall too far from their parent trees. So when her 13-year-old daughter Silver is caught spray painting her next door neighbor’s boat, she fears that her secret will come out.

After all, her neighbor is a trained investigator – he’s a member of the Haven Point County police. And he’s the son of her boss – who is the one person in town who does know the truth.

When Ruben Morales is more than willing to let Silver clean up all THREE places she tagged in return for not putting her through the system, it gives Dani and Ruben a chance to get to know each other – and to see if the chemistry between them is worth exploring.

Even though Dani is dead certain that a criminal’s ex-wife is no fit partner for a cop. She’s sure he’ll agree, just as soon as he figures out the truth.

Escape Rating B: Season of Wonder is a short and sweet holiday story, just the perfect length to kick off the holiday romance season. (Even if it feels too early to talk about Xmas yet)

But speaking of feels, it feels like the parts of this story that get the most pages are the parts about Dani and her daughters adapting to living in Haven Point – with a bit too big of a heaping helping of Dani’s generally negative self-talk.

The girls, Silver and Mia, are 13 and 6 respectively. They are also day-and-night opposites. Some of that opposition is the age difference. Silver is entering her teenage years, she has all the moody defiance that marks that period of life AND she’s been taken away from her friends and familiar surroundings and stuck in what feels like the middle of nowhere after living in Queens and Boston. That she acts out is not a big surprise – but it is a big disappointment to her stressed-out mother.

Mia is 6 and still believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. She’s sweet, light and funny in equal turns. She still sees the best in everyone, and in spite of her initial shyness, is generally a joyful little girl.

It’s Silver who provides most of the drama in the story, as she’s first caught tagging, and is later accused of theft. And it’s the trail of trouble that follows her, not all of it her fault, that both pushes Dani and Ruben together AND pulls them apart.

I’ll admit that I didn’t completely buy the romance. It may be that the book is too short, and there just wasn’t enough time to really make the reader feel the tension between them. A lot went on in a relatively short number of pages. (The blurbs claim 320 but this was only 2800 kindle locs, which is way less than that.)

Dani’s self-talk is very negative, and that’s what causes much of the dramatic tension between her and Ruben. She’s sure she’s a screw-up and a failure, when she most definitely is not. (And not that we don’t all talk to ourselves like that sometimes.) She’s also dead certain that her ex-husband’s terrible crimes are going to follow her and her daughters for the rest of their lives – and there is at least one douchebag in town who espouses that view. But Ruben is also correct that most people, and anyone she might possibly want to associate with AT ALL, will recognize that anything that the jerk did six years after she left him is in no way her fault.

In conclusion, Haven Point is an absolutely lovely little town, especially during the holiday season, and always willing to take a stranger into their hearts. I enjoyed the story of Dani finding her way and her HEA in her new home, and I look forward to many future visits to Haven Point.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Season of Wonder to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang + Giveaway

Review: The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang + GiveawayThe Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Pages: 364
Published by Lake Union Publishing on September 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Two hearts. Twice as vulnerable.

Manhattan, 1850. Born out of wedlock to a wealthy socialite and a nameless immigrant, Cora Lee can mingle with the rich just as easily as she can slip unnoticed into the slums and graveyards of the city. As the only female resurrectionist in New York, she’s carved out a niche procuring bodies afflicted with the strangest of anomalies. Anatomists will pay exorbitant sums for such specimens—dissecting and displaying them for the eager public.

Cora’s specialty is not only profitable, it’s a means to keep a finger on the pulse of those searching for her. She’s the girl born with two hearts—a legend among grave robbers and anatomists—sought after as an endangered prize.

Now, as a series of murders unfolds closer and closer to Cora, she can no longer trust those she holds dear, including the young medical student she’s fallen for. Because someone has no intention of waiting for Cora to die a natural death.

My Review:

In the end, Cora Lee isn’t quite impossible – merely highly improbable. But those improbabilities lead her to a fascinating and dangerous life on the margins of mid-19th century New York City in a way that makes for marvelous fiction – especially because it’s the most improbable aspects of her life that are based in fact.

There really were resurrectionists, not merely in New York City, but certainly in other places where the supply of corpses for anatomical study was insufficient to the needs of doctors, surgeons and their trainees to learn as much as possible about the ins and outs (so to speak) of the human anatomy before going into practice on living bodies.

While the practice of haunting graveyards and digging up recent corpses seems unsavory at best and disgusting at worst, it was necessary – if a bit ghoulish. As distasteful as the concept of digging up bodies for medical study may seem, the idea that all those would-be doctors and surgeons learn anatomy from dead bodies before they start cutting up live ones seems prudent, at least in retrospect.

And for anyone who thinks the practice of opening up the gallery to the general public seems prurient at best and obscene at worst, we still have plenty of examples of more sanitary versions of the same practice, such as the Bodies exhibition currently touring the world. (it’s here in Atlanta at the moment and no, we have not attended and have no interest in doing so.)

Making arrangements for the bodies to become corpses in an untimely fashion, however, is still murder. And that’s where this story gets its mystery from. Resurrectionist Cora Lee just keeps a watch on people who will make interesting (and lucrative) corpses. Someday they will naturally come into her hands, so to speak. Well, at least they’ll die of natural causes. The process by which Cora obtains their fresh corpse is fairly unnatural, not to mention downright criminal.

But someone is anticipating nature and killing the people on Cora’s list. And she fears she’s next.

Cora’s body should prove just as unusual a specimen as any of the recent victims, because Cora has two hearts. Doctors have been interested in “ottomizing” her since the day of her birth. That someone might want to hasten her death in order to open her chest is a fear that she and her family have lived with since the day she was born.

It’s ironic that her business as a resurrectionist gives her a finger on the pulse (so to speak) of any trade in unusual specimens in New York City. It should give her some warning if someone starts looking for her.

But she never expects that her greatest danger lies so close to home – or that her biggest rival may be the instrument of her deliverance.

Escape Rating B+: The story of The Impossible Girl is fascinating and creepy in equal measure. The tone at times feels almost like one of the “penny dreadfuls” so popular at the time, or like that of one of the Gothic mysteries that became so popular.

The character of Cora is one of duality, and not merely as a result of her two hearts. Cora also lives two lives, by day the consummate “lady”, and by night the hard-bitten resurrectionist. In order to maintain that separate between her daily life and her business life she also has two faces. By day she is Cora, and by night she is Cora’s twin brother Jacob. While Cora is a lady, Jacob is no gentleman, being rough, a bit brutish, and ruling their gang with an iron fist while Cora holds the velvet glove.

Jacob is both Cora’s disguise and her protection – as well as her instrument of freedom. As a man, Jacob has the ability to go wherever he wants, do whatever he wants, see whatever he needs to see and punch out whoever needs to be punched.

Even without the need to conceal her anatomical aberrance, Cora, as a female in mid-19th century New York City, is never, ever free. She is constantly hedged around by the restrictions placed on women in her society, restrictions that Jacob allows her to escape whenever she needs to or she must.

While the central mystery of this story is creepy and chilling, it was unfortunately a little too easy for this reader to figure out. I’ll admit that I guessed what was going on, and who was perpetrating it, just a bit too early to give The Impossible Girl an A grade.

But the story is imminently readable. Cora’s character, intelligence and rather unique solution to her own multiple dilemmas is absolutely absorbing. And the portrait of mid-19th century New York City on the margins draws the reader into the center of its mass of contradictions from the very first page.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Impossible Girl to one very lucky US commenter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayA Notorious Vow (The Four Hundred, #3) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Four Hundred #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Joanna Shupe returns to New York City’s Gilded Age, where fortunes and reputations are gained and lost with ease—and love can blossom from the most unlikely charade

With the fate of her disgraced family resting on her shoulders, Lady Christina Barclay has arrived in New York City from London to quickly secure a wealthy husband. But when her parents settle on an intolerable suitor, Christina turns to her reclusive neighbor, a darkly handsome and utterly compelling inventor, for help.

Oliver Hawkes reluctantly agrees to a platonic marriage . . . with his own condition: The marriage must end after one year. Not only does Oliver face challenges that are certain to make life as his wife difficult, but more importantly, he refuses to be distracted from his life’s work—the development of a revolutionary device that could transform thousands of lives, including his own.

Much to his surprise, his bride is more beguiling than he imagined. When temptation burns hot between them, they realize they must overcome their own secrets and doubts, and every effort to undermine their marriage, because one year can never be enough.

My Review:

While A Notorious Vow is the third book in the Four Hundred series, it is absolutely not necessary to have read the first two in order to get into this one – but for an unusual reason.

Although the stories all take place within the same place and time, and even though our protagonists do meet the Hatchers (the h/h of the first book, A Daring Arrangement) the previous couples and previous stories don’t really impinge on this one.

Because for very different reasons, both Oliver and Christina are pretty much recluses. Neither of them moves in society at all, because neither of them wants to. A decision that comes back to bite both of them during the course of this story.

And, in the best romantic tradition, neither of them initially believes it about the other.

Oliver Hawkes, a young, wealthy and brilliant inventor as well as reclusive investor, is deaf, and has been since a bout of scarlet fever in his early teens. He remembers being able to hear, but no longer can. Equally, he can no longer stand the terrible treatment he suffered at the hands of so-called “society” as everyone mocked not just the voice he could no longer hear, but also his ability to “speak” with his hands and his need to write down complex thoughts – and receive their replies, in a small notebook.

He is more than wealthy enough not to need a “day job” and quite capable of living mostly on his own. Within his own house, the staff have all learned enough sign language to communicate, and he lives quite well and is reasonably content. Until Christina quite literally falls into his lap.

Actually she falls in his garden, with the enthusiastic “help” of his dog Apollo, who knocks her down in his enthusiasm to greet a new person.

Christina’s desire to retreat from society is due to an extreme lack of confidence – a lack that has been instilled in her, and is constantly reinforced, by her greedy, grasping mother. Christina is always and forever a disappointment, and her lack of confidence allows the crueler elements of society to make fun of her at every turn.

The truth is that all of them are jealous of her in one way or another, including, most especially, her mother. But Christina has been programmed practically from birth not to be able to see it.

Christina and her parents are in New York out of the necessity of repairing the family fortunes. Christina’s father-the-earl is an inveterate gambler – and not a winner. Both of her parents have always lived well outside their means, even before he gambled away all the means.

They have fled England just barely ahead of their creditors – and those whom they outright swindled – in order to sponge off their New York relations and auction Christina off to the highest bidder.

That said highest bidder is the most disgusting and despicable person imaginable is also a standard of the romantic tradition – although this bastard manages to exceed expectations on all counts – as does the behavior of Christina’s parents. It is up to Oliver, who has no desire to be involved with society at all, to save Christina from not merely her parents but also a fate that is guaranteed to be worse than death – until it turns into actual death.

While at first it seems as if they will have their work cut out for them just trying to make a workable marriage out of what is still a rather nascent friendship, the situation becomes even more dire.

Just how corrupt is Tammany Hall, anyway?

Escape Rating B+: There were several elements that made A Notorious Vow interesting in unusual ways as well as a lot of fun to read. I got sucked right in and didn’t get out until I finished – more or less in one go.

We’ve seen plenty of wallflower heroines in historical romances, but very seldom a “wallflower” hero. Oliver’s exile from society seems mostly self-imposed. He has the money and the social standing to ignore the whispers that he can lip read quite well – but he chooses not to do so. His reasons for withdrawing are certainly valid, and not merely from his own perspective. But he could just as easily have gone the other way, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, and the doubters be damned. And as events later prove, it probably would have resulted in a better outcome after some initial discomfort.

Which is not to say that his discomfort isn’t very real. Like so many other handicaps, deafness was not much written about, talked about, or studied in the late 19th century. Oliver could not hear, but that did not mean that any of his other faculties were affected at all – which did not stop popular imagination from assuming that they had. A problem which is nearly his undoing.

But the crux of the romantic conflict between Oliver and Christina has little to do with his deafness, although that does make it more difficult – but far from impossible – for them to discuss the problem.

Oliver exhibits that unfortunate tendency of very intelligent people to assume that because they are so often the smartest person in any room that they inhabit, they are therefore always the most knowledgeable and always know best for everyone else. And the problem lies in that “always”. Few things are ever “always” true or “always” right. Because it seldom happens to him, Oliver is unable to recognize that it does occasionally happen even to him, and especially when it comes to his dealings with Christina. He doesn’t know what she wants or needs or thinks because he doesn’t ask her – he assumes he already knows. And of course he doesn’t.

This is a problem that would exist whether Oliver could hear a pin drop or can’t hear a thing – because it is an innate part of his personality. (And one that affects plenty of contemporary men as well!)

In addition to having an interesting and unusual hero and heroine, A Notorious Vow also has what can best be described as a surfeit of villains – especially when considering that the three villains are not working together. They are all separately and individually villainous, For the purposes of villainy, I’m counting Christina’s parents as a single villain. For all we see of the earl, they might as well be.

Her parents attempt to sell her to the highest bidder in order to get themselves out from under their debts and swindles. Her mother, in particular, is particularly vile. The highest bidder they attempt to sell her to is a disgusting old man who has probably murdered his three previous wives. When Oliver rescues Christina from their clutches, mommy dearest continues to clutch in the hopes of getting a better deal – even though her continued contact with Christina endangers the deal currently on the table. That there is a deal at all says everything that needs to be said about Christina’s parents.

When Oliver’s equally venal cousin bribes a judge and conspires to get him committed to an insane asylum, the disgusting old man bribes Tammany Hall to KEEP him imprisoned. Yet these individuals do not seem to be working together. I found the continued presence of Christina’s parents at this juncture to be one villain too many.

That does not take anything away from the horrific nature of Oliver’s imprisonment or the appalling stink of corruption that surrounds the entire case – and that unfortunately bears all too close a resemblance to real circumstances at the time.

Taken all together, A Notorious Vow turns out to be an engaging romance of surprised (and surprising) equals who have to overcome more difficulties than expected. And who discover at the end that their hard-won happy ever after is well worth the changes that they both have to make in their lives.

If this is the final book in the Four Hundred series, it is a fitting end. But I’ve enjoyed the whole series very much and would love to see it continue!

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


To celebrate the release of A NOTORIOUS VOW by Joanna Shupe, we’re giving away one paperback set of the entire Four Hundred series!

Link: http://bit.ly/2P4dd94

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 9/25/2018 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Spotlight + Giveaway: Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven

Spotlight + Giveaway: Phoenix Unbound by Grace DravenPhoenix Unbound (Fallen Empire, #1) by Grace Draven
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Fallen Empire #1
Pages: 384
Published by Ace Books on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Every year, each village is required to send a young woman to the Empire's capital--her fate to be burned alive for the entertainment of the masses. For the last five years, one small village's tithe has been the same woman. Gilene's sacrifice protects all the other young women of her village, and her secret to staying alive lies with the magic only she possesses.

But this year is different.

Azarion, the Empire's most famous gladiator, has somehow seen through her illusion--and is set on blackmailing Gilene into using her abilities to help him escape his life of slavery. And unknown to Gilene, he also wants to reclaim the birthright of his clan.

To protect her family and village, she will risk everything to return to the Empire--and burn once more.

Grace Draven has been recommended to me over and over (and over) again, pretty much ever since my dear friends at the late, lamented Book Lovers Inc all read Master of Crows and squeed out their love for it. After reading Draven’s entry in Amid the Winter Snow last year – and absolutely loving it – she definitely moved up the towering TBR pile. Phoenix Unbound, as the first book in a new series, seems like the perfect time to read more of an author that everyone just loves.

My review of Phoenix Unbound will appear in a couple of weeks, closer to its release date.

But in the meantime, in honor of the forthcoming release, because it is the first book in a new epic fantasy romance series, her publisher, Ace Books, is sponsoring an epic giveaway of not just Phoenix Unbound but also the first novels in FIVE other epic fantasy romance series. I’ve read four of the five (the fifth also moved up the towering TBR pile), and they are all fantastic, marvelous, wonderful and epic in their own ways. If you’ve ever had a yen to read Patricia Brigg’s Alpha & Omega series, Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series, Chloe Neill’s Heirs of Chicagoland series or Anne Bishop’s The Others, the first book in all of those series is included in this Romantic Fantasy Starter Kit along with Phoenix Unbound.

That’s plenty of books to warm up a few of the upcoming cold winter nights, especially when you factor in your inevitable addiction to all of these terrific series.

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

To enter the giveaway click HERE!

The winner will receive all of the following:

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) by Ilona Andrews
Written in Red (The Others #1) by Anne Bishop
Cry Wolf (Alpha & Omega #1) by Patricia Briggs
Phoenix Unbound (Fallen Empire #1) by Grace Draven
Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1) by Chloe Neill
Slave to Sensation (Psy/Changeling #1) by Nalini Singh

20 runners up will receive an Advance Reading Copy of Phoenix Unbound!

The giveaway runs from 9/3-9/19: https://sweeps.penguinrandomhouse.com/enter/fantasy-romance-starter-kit-giveaway