Review: Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian + Giveaway

Review: Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian + GiveawayUnmasked by the Marquess (Regency Imposters, #1) by Cat Sebastian
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: regency romance
Series: Regency Impostors #1
Pages: 320
Published by Avon Impulse on April 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The one you love…

Robert Selby is determined to see his sister make an advantageous match. But he has two problems: the Selbys have no connections or money and Robert is really a housemaid named Charity Church. She’s enjoyed every minute of her masquerade over the past six years, but she knows her pretense is nearing an end. Charity needs to see her beloved friend married well and then Robert Selby will disappear…forever.

May not be who you think…

Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, has spent years repairing the estate ruined by his wastrel father, and nothing is more important than protecting his fortune and name. He shouldn’t be so beguiled by the charming young man who shows up on his doorstep asking for favors. And he certainly shouldn’t be thinking of all the disreputable things he’d like to do to the impertinent scamp.

But is who you need…

When Charity’s true nature is revealed, Alistair knows he can’t marry a scandalous woman in breeches, and Charity isn’t about to lace herself into a corset and play a respectable miss. Can these stubborn souls learn to sacrifice what they’ve always wanted for a love that is more than they could have imagined?

My Review:

This is my first book from the author who claims on her twitter profile to write “Marxist tracts with boning,” but it certainly won’t be my last. I’ll admit that when I read the quote, I expected “boning” to be more of a double entendre, not just referring to sex but also to the boning in ladies’ corsets during the Regency period.

But there are no boned corsets here, at least not ever on the person of the heroine. And that’s a huge part of the point of the story.

The Marquess of the title, Alistair, is unapologetically bisexual. He may have a giant stick up his fundament about his role and his place in society and proper behavior, or at least proper public behavior, for that place, but he doesn’t whinge, whine or feel the least bit guilty about his bisexuality. And that’s refreshing and different, particularly for a character who begins as the epitome of the stock Regency hero of the aristocratic type.

It seems to be the one part of himself that he accepts unconditionally, because most of the rest of the time he’s putting on an act. Multiple acts. In his heart of hearts, he’s not nearly as buttoned up as he plays – but that stick is fairly firmly lodged and it takes Robin and that “champagne pop of laughter” to slowly begin to dislodge the damned thing.

Robin, however,  is nothing like he appears to be. And that is an epic understatement.

Once upon a time, Robin was Charity Church, a foundling who was literally discovered in a church, and raised there for several years. Let’s just the late clergyman who raised her was way better at teaching her to read, write and figure than he was imaginative when it came to names. Charity went from being a foundling at the vicarage to a servant at the Selbys, taking care of old Mr. Selby along with his two children, Robert and Louisa. Robert and Charity were the same age, and Laura just six years younger.

They became friends, and co-conspirators, and eventually family-of-choice. So when it came time for Robert to go off to Cambridge, and he really, really didn’t want to go, Charity went in his place. Literally in his place. As far as her fellow students knew, Charity Church WAS Robert Selby.

As Robert Selby, Charity had the life of the mind she always dreamed of, and the freedom, if not the pockets, to indulge it. The real Robert was an indifferent student at best, but Charity-as-Robert took a double first. She absolutely had the time of her life, and wished it would never end. But she didn’t expect it to continue quite like this.

Charity doesn’t see herself as playing a part. Except for having to pretend to be Robert Selby in particular, as opposed to just being a man and not a woman, she feels like she has found her true self. Being Robert becomes the real person, while being Charity becomes the pretense.

At least until Robert dies, and Charity feels compelled to pretend to be Robert full-time, at least long enough to see Louisa happily and safely married.

And that’s when “Robert” and Louisa come to London for the only Season they can manage to afford, in the hopes that Louisa’s extremely beautiful face will indeed prove to be her fortune. And that’s where “Robert” inserts himself into the outer social circle of Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, and finds all the stratagems that were devised to take care of Louisa have made an absolute mess out of “Robert” and any chances he might find happiness.

Or have they?

Escape Rating A: As a Regency romance, this still has its occasional farcical aspects, but overall this story is an absolute delight from beginning to end, while skewering pretty much every single trope of the genre along its merry way.

Alistair, on the surface at least, seems like the typical, overbearing and often priggish Regency hero who just needs a good woman to help him become less stuffy and less priggish (even if not less overbearing) so that he can find his happy ever after with a woman who will grace his life and give him the heirs his title requires.

Instead, Alistair gets the person he eventually nicknames Robin, and all the qualities, as well as all the flaws, that make Robin Robin are what Alistair really needs – even if he takes a long time and rather a lot of heartache to finally let go of everything holding him back. Because as much as he loves Robin as he is, once he learns that Robin is also Charity he spends a long but not incomprehensible time both loving him as he is and trying to mold Charity into what she isn’t in a way that is as much stubborn as it is stupid.

Even so, part of what makes this story so much fun is its intelligence. Robin and Alistair find their way towards each other with witty dialog and shared interests. Their scenes together are a joy to read and laugh along with.

One of the problems of historical romance, at least for this reader, is the necessity for the author to walk the tightrope between making sure that the heroine has enough agency to actually BE a heroine, without making her so anachronistic that she does not at least plausibly fit into her time and place.

As a solution to that particular dilemma, Charity/Robert/Robin is utterly marvelous. And also marvelously subversive. Robin is who Charity really is, on the inside. She doesn’t seem to want to actually BE a man, but she certainly does want to have the freedom and agency that men have, and she is not merely unwilling but absolutely unable to give it up. But she’s also not just a woman in men’s clothing – that clothing represents her real self. But that real self is neither male nor female as her society defines those terms.

Society may not be able to make heads nor tails of Robin’s gender identity, but Robin knows what works for her. And what I loved about this story is that in the end she doesn’t give up who she is to be who the hero thinks he needs her to be. Instead, Alistair finally realizes that she is, as she is, exactly what he needed all along.

And that’s something that doesn’t happen in historical romance nearly enough.

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

LINK:  https://goo.gl/qQovFr

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 4/22/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: Hot Response by Shannon Stacey + Giveaway

Review: Hot Response by Shannon Stacey + GiveawayHot Response (Boston Fire, #4) by Shannon Stacey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Boston Fire #4
Pages: 288
Published by Carina Press on April 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The men of Boston Fire are back and hotter than ever! Don’t miss this brand-new novel from New York Times bestselling author Shannon Stacey.

Gavin Boudreau lives for the job, but he also believes in “work hard, play harder.” As the youngest guy in Ladder 37, he figures he’s got plenty of time before settling down becomes a priority. Soft, pretty women who aren’t looking for promises are exactly his type, and he’s comfortable with that. Working with a gorgeous EMT isn’t going to change who he is.

The last thing Cait Tasker needs in her personal life is a firefighter whose challenges on-scene have been a thorn in her side from minute one. Her plate’s too full for a man anyway. Back in her childhood home to help her family cope with an unexpected tragedy, she’s got enough to handle without throwing a hot, testosterone-laden fireman into the mix.

As long days on the job lead to long nights together, Gavin and Cait will discover how far temptation can take them—and what happens when the one you thought was all wrong for you turns out to be the person you can’t live without.

My Review:

Hot Response is the fourth book in the Boston Fire series. I read the first book, Heat Exchange and was not nearly as impressed as I expected to be. But I’m happy to say that Hot Response reminded me of all the reasons that I loved this author’s earlier series. Multiples of them. To the point where I’m thinking about going back and seeing where I left off.

The Boston Fire series, unsurprisingly considering the title, is centered around the men and women who make up one shift at one particular firehouse in Boston, as well as the people who are part of their lives, usually in multiple ways, between the firehouse and their regular bar, Kincaid’s. After all, Kincaid’s is owned by a retired member of their company and the owner’s son is a member of their team. There are a lot of ties, including family ones.

The tension that makes this particular romance so fraught and so realistic at the same time is also about family ties. Particularly about the difference between the ties that bind and the ties that strangle.

Our hero, Gavin Boudreau, is a member of Ladder 37. He grew up in the neighborhood and is regularly on call for his parents and his nearby siblings. But for Gavin, it’s a two-way street. Sometimes they need him, and sometimes he needs them, and what goes around definitely comes around, all of it good.

Cait Tasker, on the other hand, seems to be on a one-way street with her family. She gives, and they take, and take, and take. The reasons for it make complete sense, but the result isn’t actually working for anyone, and particularly not for Cait. Her stepfather died suddenly, her mother couldn’t get herself out of the well of depression after losing a husband to early death for the second time, and Cait’s 16-year-old half brother is rightfully frightened but not able to keep his mother going on his own. And he has his own grief to process along with all the normal teenage angst and hormones and attitudes. Cait came home to help out, and she’s still helping. But she’s also helping to keep her mom and her brother from learning to stand on their own two feet. Or their own four feet together. Meanwhile, Cait’s older sister is far away and wants absolutely nothing to do with this mess until it’s fixed. And I can’t blame her. In this scenario, I’d probably BE her.

The last thing Cait needs in her life is a relationship. But it’s also the thing she needs most. Getting involved with Gavin is the first time since she came home that she’s done anything besides work, mediate between her mom and her brother, and crash. Especially since as an EMT she really can’t afford to crash.

The deeper Cait and Gavin get into their relationship, the happier they both are. At least until Gavin delivers some home truths that Cait just isn’t ready to hear. He may not want to make her choose between her family and their relationship, but he’s right that she needs to make some choices of her own. Is she propping up her family because they need her to keep doing it, or is she propping up her family because she’s afraid of what will happen if she lets go?

And is Gavin willing to wait for her to figure it out?

Escape Rating B+: First of all, I liked Hot Response a whole lot more than I did the first book in the series, Heat Exchange, a few weeks ago. You could say I had a much hotter response to this one, especially considering that my feelings about Heat Exchange were lukewarm at best.

One of the things I always loved about this author’s earlier series, something that was missing in Heat Exchange, was the way that the dramatic tension in her romances felt real and not contrived, and that was also true in Hot Response.

Cait and Gavin have chemistry together from the very beginning, even if Cait is trying to pretend it isn’t there.

But as strong as their pull towards each other are the forces that are keeping them apart – even when they’re together. It’s unfortunately all too realistic that the issue between them isn’t really between them so much as it is between Cait and her family and Gavin’s eventual loss of patience with the way things are. And not because anyone is a terrible person or because of anything evil, but just because Cait as well as her mother and brother, are just plain too scared to let go of each other – even when they should.

Both Gavin and Cait are interesting characters with high-pressure and occasionally dangerous jobs who are fun to watch and certainly deserve their fair share of happiness. I think it’s fair to say that they are likeable people who would be fun to hang out with, and we want to see them get their HEA. The things standing between them and that HEA feel all too real, situations that could happen in anyone’s life no matter how much they might wish differently.

Cait’s fear for her mother is understandable, as is Gavin’s decreasing level of patience in the way that Cait deals with that fear. This is one of those stories where the real-life answer is probably counseling for everyone, but that can’t happen until the “everyone” in question is ready for it. And Gavin is correct that they all seem to be holding each other back from reaching for the future by holding on too tightly.

In short, I really liked the hero and heroine, I “bought into” both their relationship and the reasons they had problems in their relationship, and was happy for their HEA. I’ll be looking forward after all to the next book in this series, Under Control, because I bet the situation will be far from under anyone’s control. That always makes for great reading!

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

LINK:   https://goo.gl/tm4d11

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open internationally. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR.  Giveaway ends 4/30/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per person. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Family Gathering (Sullivan's Crossing, #3) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #3
Pages: 288
Published by Mira Books on April 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An exceptional storyteller, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr beautifully captures the emotionally charged, complex dynamics that come with being part of any family. Readers will laugh and shed a few tears as they discover what it means to be loved, supported and accepted by the people who mean the most.

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads in his life. With his elder brother and youngest sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. But, like every visitor to the Crossing, he’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.

Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention at first, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he also gets to know himself and what he truly wants.

When all the Jones siblings gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together for the first time in a way they never were as children. As they struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. But all of them come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.

My Review:

The title of this book turns out to have multiple meanings. The family gathers together, and the family gathers more people into itself. This happens to multiple families during the course of this entry in the Sullivan’s Crossing series. And it’s lovely all the way around.

The main story of this book focuses on Dakota Jones, just as the previous books in the series have focused first on his older brother Cal (What We Find) and then his younger sister Sierra (Any Day Now). And while you probably don’t have to read the first two books to enjoy this one, Sullivan’s Crossing is a marvelous place, the members of the family have an interesting set of dysfunctions, and the books are relatively quick reads that end with smile-on-your-face happy endings.

These are all nice people, and it’s great to see them get their acts together. Because they all sure need the help.

Dakota comes to Sullivan’s Crossing because he’s unexpectedly out of the military after 17 years, and is at a bit of a loose end. After years of staying as far away from his family as he can get, now that he doesn’t know what to do with himself he realizes that he wants to see how they are. Or at least how his brother and younger sister are. His parents still drive him crazy (with very good reason) and his older sister is a bossy control-freak that he can’t stand to be around.

Sullivan’s Crossing pulls him right in, just as it has Cal and Sierra. Part of that pull turns out to be Sid, the beautiful bartender at the local watering hole, just as Maggie changed Cal’s life and Connie did Sierra’s. Dakota doesn’t have any other place to be, no ties anywhere else that he wants to get closer to, and his brother and sister are both happy. Their newfound friends and family are extremely welcoming, and they have babies he can spoil without having to change their diapers.

Dakota may be drifting into life in Sullivan’s Crossing, but he is actively pursuing the extremely gunshy Sid. It’s only when not one but two of the local single women go out of their way to chase Dakota down with painfully obvious sexual intent that he eventually gets the clue that he’s after much more with Sid than just a quick fling. And that’s a good thing, because it’s going to require not just a lot of patience but also a sincere friendship for Sid to let any man other than her brother close enough to see if she might be willing to let her guard down again. Ever.

Escape Rating B+: The Family Gathering, and the entire Sullivan’s Crossing series, is simply a lovely, good time with a really quirky family. The quote that opens the book sums it all up very nicely – “In our family, we don’t hide crazy…we put it on the porch and give it a cocktail.”

The Jones siblings have all been a fairly nice brand of crazy. It’s in this entry that we see some of the darker sides of what has driven all of them to end up in Sullivan’s Crossing.

Their father is a non-functional schizophrenic who self-medicates with marijuana to keep the voices toned down. He’s not violent, in fact he’s rather sweet, but his inability to function in society made for a chaotic childhood for the four kids. Their mother was too busy enabling her husband to make sure that their children had any responsible parenting, but the kids mostly turned out okay with the help and guidance of their grandparents.

While Cal seems to have ended up the most functional, Sierra’s response was to self-medicate her fears of ending up like their father with alcohol, and Dakota ran away to the military at 17 and took a vat of resentment with him. Dakota’s older sister Sedona, the bossy control freak, has anxiety and OCD issues to the point where her family has to stage an intervention. Dealing with Sedona’s crisis is a big part of the story, and an important factor in the gathering of this family back together.

The other issue holding this book together, is the stalking of Dakota. Not that Dakota is stalking anyone, but that he is being stalked by a woman who entered the series in Any Day Now seeming slightly unhinged, but with Dakota entering the picture has escalated into full-scale criminal behavior – and she’s ramping up the violence along with the crazy.

It was marvelous to see this particular shoe on the other foot. I’ve read the trope where a woman is endangered by a crazed sexual stalker so many times that they all read alike, and usually read as an excuse to put the heroine in jeopardy so the hero can save her, often with some rape-porn on the side. Ugh!

This was different, but it was fresh and it also felt realistic. Dakota wants to dismiss it all. He doesn’t want to make trouble, he doesn’t want to seem like trouble to Sid, and he really doesn’t want to get his stalker in trouble for incidents that seems merely misguided – at least at first. It’s the police chief who convinces Dakota that even though the individual incidents don’t seem like much, that there is something going on that needs to be monitored. And that just because Dakota is a soldier doesn’t mean that he can’t be misled, misguided or be a victim of something awful just because the perpetrator is a woman and not another man.

There is also a romance in The Family Gathering, and even though the developing relationship between Sid and Dakota is the tentpole of the plot, it’s really the way that Dakota falls in love with the town, his life there, and his growing relationship with the rest of his family that carries the story.

And it is a lovely read.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Family Gathering to one lucky US commenter!

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Review: My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

Review: My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray & Laura KamoieMy Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 672
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on April 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling authors of America’s First Daughter comes the epic story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton—a revolutionary woman who, like her new nation, struggled to define herself in the wake of war, betrayal, and tragedy. Haunting, moving, and beautifully written, Dray and Kamoie used thousands of letters and original sources to tell Eliza’s story as it’s never been told before—not just as the wronged wife at the center of a political sex scandal—but also as a founding mother who shaped an American legacy in her own right.

A general’s daughter…

Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she’s captivated by the young officer’s charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton’s bastard birth and the uncertainties of war.

A founding father’s wife...

But the union they create—in their marriage and the new nation—is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all—including the political treachery of America’s first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness.

The last surviving light of the Revolution…

When a duel destroys Eliza’s hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband’s enemies to preserve Alexander’s legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she’s left with one last battle—to understand the flawed man she married and the imperfect union he could never have created without her…

My Review:

At the end of the play Hamilton, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, a widow for 50 years after her husband’s famous duel with Aaron Burr, reflects on his life and hers with the song, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.”

The play mostly tells Alexander Hamilton’s story, the man’s story, as American Revolutionary Iconography so often does. 1776, while focusing on a different group of people and a different set of events, also tells its story from the point of view of the men, those “Founding Fathers”, forgetting almost entirely the “Founding Mothers” who stood beside them or waited for them to come back home, even though Abigail Adams explicitly asks her husband John to “Remember the Ladies.”

No one tells Eliza’s story. There is very little written about her, although this was an era of prolific letter writing, a fact that is borne out by the thousands of letters written by Hamilton himself. Few of Eliza’s letter remain, but it is documented that she was a tireless worker after his death, spending her life preserving his legacy, in spite of his betrayals of her if not of his country – even if few of those documents are in her own hand.

Through their pens, however, (word processors, now, of course) two historical fiction writers have attempted to tell the story of Eliza Hamilton as much as possible through her own eyes. And an utterly marvelous story it is.

Escape Rating A: I opened with a reference to the play Hamilton because that is what will bring many readers to this book. In the play, Eliza is very much of a secondary character. But as we see at the end, she had a lot to say, and her lifelong devotion to preserving Alexander Hamilton’s legacy is the reason that there is still so much known about him, and why his achievements endure.

But her story is interesting in its own right. She often was, as another song from the play goes, “In the Room Where It Happened” and she witnessed history as it was being made. As portrayed in this fictionalized biography of her, she was not merely a witness but an informed and opinionated one.

We normally want our fiction to go from small beginnings to big endings. Or from tragedy or ignominy to triumph. At any rate, in fiction we expect the story to go from down to up.

This one can’t. My Dear Hamilton is not merely historical fiction but rather fictionalized history, and we already know how this story ends. Or at least middles, because it middles in tragedy. It begins in triumph, or at least gets there fairly quickly, but Alexander Hamilton’s story is the story of Icarus – he rises too high, and then he doesn’t merely fall – he plummets to the ground in fire. His wife’s story could have ended with his, if not literally, then certainly her history as even the smallest mover and shaker on the world stage.

Part of what makes My Fair Hamilton such a compelling read is that we are following Eliza’s story, and her life does not merely continue, but continues to have its own triumphs and tragedies – and we want to see her rise to meet them.

So this story moves from triumph to tragedy to, if not triumph again, at least reconciliation and understanding. It’s a human journey, and an absolutely marvelous read.

One final note for those who have seen the play, or at least know how the story goes in that re-telling. In the play, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton is portrayed as a bit of a lightweight, and it feels as if her sister Angelica Schuyler was much more Alexander Hamilton’s equal. We are left wondering if perhaps Eliza wasn’t worthy of him.

In My Dear Hamilton, told from Eliza’s perspective, we are left wondering if, after all, Alexander wasn’t worthy of Eliza. He would have been the first to say that he was not. And perhaps he was right.

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Review: Farewell My Cuckoo by Marty Wingate

Review: Farewell My Cuckoo by Marty WingateFarewell, My Cuckoo (Birds of a Feather Mystery #4) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Birds of a Feather #4
Pages: 268
Published by Random House Publishing Group - Alibi on April 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Julia Lanchester must defend her love nest from an invasive species: her boyfriend’s sister. And then there’s the little matter of murder . . .


“The cuckoo comes in April and sings its song in May. In June it changes tune and July it flies away.”

Wedding bells are ringing in the small British village of Smeaton-under-Lyme. Julia Lanchester’s second-in-command at the local tourist center is finally getting married, and the lovebirds are giving Julia and her live-in boyfriend, Michael Sedgwick, ideas about their own future. But before anyone can say “Will you,” Michael’s flighty older sister, Pammy, crashes the party, fresh off a breakup and lugging all her worldly possessions around with her in a tangle of plastic bags.

Before long, Julia’s cozy cottage starts feeling more like Pammy’s bachelorette pad. To keep herself from going cuckoo, Julia throws herself into her pet projects at work—until death disrupts her plans. First a body is found on the estate. Then the police discover that Pammy was the last one to see the man alive. And soon Julia gets the feeling that if she ever wants her home—or her boyfriend—back, she’ll have to get to the bottom of this mystery, even if it means breaking a few eggs.

My Review:

For every single relationship that has hit the rocks over a cheating spouse, an economic pitfall or irreconcilable differences, there are probably at least two that have come to a sad end because of a relative, on one side or the other, who is incapable of properly parsing the sentence, “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” and just won’t leave – along with the person in the relationship who seems to be incapable of making them leave long after they’ve worn out whatever reluctant welcome they had in the first place.

In the case of Farewell My Cuckoo, it’s Michael’s irresponsible sister Pammy who has become the cuckoo in Julia and Michael’s rather tiny little cottage nest in Smeaton-under-Lyme. To the point where I half-expected Pammy to become the corpse in this entry in the series, with Julia as the prime suspect. (For more background on Julia, Michael and Smeaton-under-Lyme, start with the first book in the series, The Rhyme of the Magpie)

Instead, the mystery takes a different path, as an unidentified man is found dead near a local pond. While no one knows exactly who he is, it turns out that there are plenty of people in the village who had at least a nodding acquaintance with “Bob”, even though no one seems to know any of the truly pertinent facts about the man, like his full name, or even where he was staying. If he was staying.

Julia, along with her friend Willow and more than a bit of help from a tourist visitor as well as the seemingly immovable Pammy, can’t resist looking into Bob’s identity and what brought him to live “rough” somewhere in the neighborhood.

Nor can she resist poking her nose into other local mysteries, especially the fervent pursuit of her friend Nuala by a rude and unwelcome stranger who seems to be able to turn on the charm when he needs to get his way. A stranger who seems perfectly willing to mislead Nuala about his own marital status in order to worm his way into her bakery and teashop business. And who has a surprising connection to the late, lamented Bob.

Possibly even a connection worth killing for.

Escape Rating B: For a series that centers around birds, the mysteries are salted with a surprising number of tasty red herrings. It is all too easy to understand why Julia’s amateur sleuthing so often leads her astray – because the reader is right there with her.

Not that some of those false leads don’t uncover important little mysteries of their own, even if their pursuit takes Julia away from the central problem.

As a cozy mystery, Julia’s amateur investigations often take her deep into the heart of village life, and Farewell My Cuckoo is no exception. Poor dead Bob leads not only to his killer, but also to the breakup of a marriage and a dubious business proposition, as well as to a villager who has gone off the rails and to the final, sad end of a long-lost love.

A lot happens, and it is all, in its way, fascinating. But the central problem remains throughout the story, and it isn’t poor Bob’s corpse and how it got there, although it should be. A lot of time is taken up with Pammy and her interloping. The reader will gnash their teeth at the way that both Julia and Michael switch from enabling Pammy’s behavior to her face while vocally resenting it behind her back. And this reader at least was gnashing right beside them.

Julia’s solutions to the mysteries that she comes across are generally interesting and her investigations are often quite a lot of fun. She does, unfortunately, have a penchant both for finding herself in uncomfortable personal situations and getting herself and her helpers into deadly danger, and Farewell My Cuckoo was no exception on either front.

As much as they sometimes drive me a bit crazy, I really like both of this author’s heroines, and find them easy to identify with and fun to follow. But I’ll confess that Pru Parke of the Potting Shed series is my favorite, so I’m really looking forward to the next book that series, Midsummer Mayhem, coming in November.

Tour Participants

April 9 – Babs Book Bistro – GUEST POST

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April 10 – Blogger Nicole Reviews – SPOTLIGHT

April 11 – Reading Reality – REVIEW

April 12 – Readeropolis – AUTHOR INTERVIEW

April 13 – Teresa Trent Author Blog – SPOTLIGHT

April 14 – Maureen’s Musings – SPOTLIGHT

April 15 – Varietats – REVIEW

April 16 – Back Porchervations – REVIEW

April 17 – Mysteries with Character – AUTHOR INTERVIEW

April 18 – My Reading Journeys – REVIEW

April 19 – Brooke Blogs – SPOTLIGHT

April 20 – Laura’s Interests – REVIEW

April 21- Books a Plenty Book Reviews – REVIEW

April 22 – Cozy Up With Kathy – GUEST POST

Review: Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh + Giveaway

Review: Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh + GiveawayCounting on a Countess (The London Underground, #2) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: London Underground #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For a shameless libertine and a wily smuggler in the London Underground, marriage is more than convenience—it’s strategy...

Christopher “Kit” Ellingsworth, war veteran and newly minted Earl of Blakemere, buries his demons under every sort of pleasure and vice. His scandalous ways have all but emptied his coffers . . . until a wealthy mentor leaves him a sizeable fortune. The only stipulation? He must marry within one month to inherit the money. Kit needs a bride and the bold, mysterious Miss Tamsyn Pearce seems perfect.

Husband hunting isn’t Tamsyn’s top priority—she’s in London to sell her new shipment of illicit goods—but she’s desperate for funds to keep her smuggling operation afloat. When a handsome earl offers to wed her and send her back to Cornwall with a hefty allowance, Tamsyn agrees. After all, her secrets could land her in prison and an attentive, love-struck spouse could destroy everything.

But when an unexpected proviso in the will grants Tamsyn control of the inheritance, their arrangement becomes anything but convenient. Now, Kit’s counting on his countess to make his wildest dreams a reality and he plans to convince her, one pleasurable seduction at a time.

My Review:

This is a marriage of convenience story that lives up to the old saw that goes “marry in haste, repent at leisure” because that’s definitely what happens to Kit and Tamsyn. Not that the repentance turns out to be leisurely per se, as they are both awfully, awfully busy while they are repenting.

Kit needs a wife, and Tamsyn needs a husband, and not for any of the usual reasons. Kit can claim a fortune if he marries within 30 days. He may be an earl, but the estate is broke. And Kit wants the money for a completely different reason – he plans to open a pleasure garden to rival Vauxhall as a way of laying his own wartime demons to rest.

If Kit’s reasons weren’t unusual enough, there’s Tamsyn. She needs a husband to give her enough money to buy her uncle’s rundown country house in Cornwall, so that she can continue to lead the smuggling operation that is keeping her village almost literally afloat.

The fishing is down, the taxes are up, and without the money from bringing in brandy and lace from France and far away from the Customs and Excise, the folks of tiny Newcombe would be starving. As they were before then 16-year-old Tamsyn became their de facto leader.

Both Kit and Tamsyn go into their marriage of convenience with what they believe are eyes wide open. Kit plans to purchase the land for his pleasure garden as soon as the ink on their marriage lines is dry. He also plans to continue his life as one of London’s most celebrated rakehells – and has no plans to be faithful to his wife, nor cares if she is faithful to him once she has presented him with the requisite heir – a spare is not even required.

Tamsyn plans to beg her husband to buy the neglected pile in Cornwall so she can continue the smuggling operation.

Neither plans to tell each other anything of much significance, or even spend more than the minimum amount of time necessary together.

But the best laid plans often go astray. The will that gives Kit his fortune has an unusual clause in it – in order to inherit the money Kit has to give control of it to Tamsyn. So instead of her begging him for the funds to buy the estate in Cornwall, he has to beg her for the funds to start his pleasure garden.

There’s only enough money for one – or the other.

Kit isn’t honest about his reasons for seducing Tamsyn, but neither is she honest about why she married Kit. They are caught in a web of lies, and bound together not just by the bonds of matrimony, but by a sexual chemistry that gives neither of them any peace.

It might even be love. But not even the strongest love can survive as much dishonesty as exists between Kit and Tamsyn. Or can it?

Escape Rating B: I picked up Counting on a Countess because I really enjoyed the first book in this series, From Duke Till Dawn, and because I love the action/adventure romances that this author writes under her other name, Zoe Archer.

One of the things that this author does well are her unconventional heroines, and Tamsyn is certainly no exception. She’s a smuggler. She’s even good at it. At the same time, the illegal operation is not romanticized, she’s not a pirate heroine – although she could be. Tamsyn turns to smuggling as the best way to play out a truly awful hand. Her parents are dead, her aunt and uncle are despicable, and the village desperately needs a way to keep the roof over its head and food in its bellies. In a choice between smuggling and starving, most people would pick smuggling every time.

But part of that repenting in leisure is that Tamsyn and KIt barely know each other for less than a week when they marry. Kit isn’t aware that Tamsyn’s frugality is ingrained in her by hard choices – she is used to squeezing every shilling until it screams in agony because those shillings are hard to come by, while Kit has been spending the years after he returned from Waterloo spending money he doesn’t have and not worrying about when the bills will come due.

Tamsyn, for her part, while she is aware that Kit is a former soldier, is not aware that his service has made him a principled defender of his country and its laws. To his mind, smuggling French goods into England without paying taxes is flouting the law he fought to uphold and robbing his country at the expense of its enemies.

She doesn’t see the value in a pleasure garden, and she can’t reveal her part in the smuggling. They are at an impasse.

This story had all the earmarks of a potential misunderstandammit, but it doesn’t feel that way. They are keeping secrets from each other, but those secrets feel necessary and not gratuitous or ridiculous.

However, a big chunk of the story revolves around Kit and Tamsyn moving tentatively and hesitantly towards a relationship, in spite of the vast gulf of lies between them. The one-step-forward, two-steps-back nature of their physical relationship takes up a lot of pages, to the point where it slows down the narrative. While I appreciated the celebration of consent, particularly in a marital relationship, I did find myself wishing they’d just get on with it already.

But the way that they finally manage to come together, not just in the sexual sense but as a working partnership, was marvelous. They find a compromise that allows both of them to get what they need from the relationship, and it works beautifully.

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

LINK: https://goo.gl/kSHsTN

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. Three winners will each receive a paperback copy of From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 4/6/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai + Giveaway

Review: Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai + GiveawayHurts to Love You (Forbidden Hearts, #3) by Alisha Rai
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Forbidden Hearts #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Being bad never felt so good, in the third novel in Alisha Rai’s sexy Forbidden Hearts series!

Well-behaved women don’t lust after men who love to misbehave.

Heiress Evangeline Chandler knows how to keep a secret . . . like her life-long crush on the tattooed hottie who just happens to be her big brother’s friend. She’s a Chandler, after all, and Chandlers don’t hook up with the help. Then again, they also don’t disobey their fathers and quit their respectable jobs, so good-girl rules may no longer apply.

Gabriel Hunter hides the pain of his past behind a smile, but he can’t hide his sudden attraction to his friend’s sheltered little sister. Eve is far too sweet to accept anything less than forever and there’s no chance of a future between the son of a housekeeper and the town’s resident princess.

When a wedding party forces Eve and Gabe into tight quarters, keeping their hands off each other will be as hard as keeping their clothes on. The need that draws them together is stronger than the forces that should shove them apart . . . but their sparks may not survive the explosion when long-buried secrets are finally unearthed.

My Review:

This series in general, including this final book, is for everyone who loves an angsty romance. Because there has been plenty of angst to go around in this series. And it’s awesome.

Once upon a time, John Chandler and Sam Oka opened a grocery store together. Over the years of their extremely harmonious partnership, the C&O chain of high-quality stores spread across the country. They raised their two families together in side-by-side properties as one big and generally happy family.

Then tragedy struck. On a quite literally dark and stormy night, John’s daughter-in-law and Sam’s son-in-law were killed in a highway accident, together, not merely miles but entire states away from where either of them was supposed to be.

In the resulting chaos of gossip and recriminations, John’s son swindled Sam’s daughter out of her half of the family business, the Okas (now the Kanes) were left with nothing and the Chandlers were left in control of both the company, now renamed Chandler’s, and most of the small town they lived in.

But ten years later, the chickens start coming home to roost, and all the truths start coming out. In the first book in the series, Hate to Want You, Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler finally admit that they’ve never stopped loving each other. In the second book, Wrong to Need You, Jackson Kane and Sadia Ahmed, his brother Paul’s widow, reach out for a second chance at happiness together, in spite the ghost standing between them.

In the process of those relationships coming together, Brendan Chandler, the man who committed that swindle, is revealed once and for all as the complete asshole who caused more than just the mess that was obvious on the surface.

In Hurts to Love You, the full tale of just how badly he treated his daughter Eve, and just why his wife was on that highway with Robert Kane, is revealed in all its ugly glory.

This has been a story of forbidden romances, from the two sides of the family feud (Hate) to the relationship between a woman and her late husband’s brother (Wrong) to this one, where the good girl daughter of the Chandlers breaks out of the shell her father’s behavior put her in so that she can find her own happiness in the arms of the town’s bad boy, who has big secrets of his own.

And at the heart of the whole saga lies that oft-told-truth about the extremely short emotional distance between hate and love..

Escape Rating A-: Brendan Chandler doesn’t suffer nearly enough. From the very beginning of this series I wanted someone to take that man and stomp him flat, repeatedly, over and over, with extreme malice and utter disregard for the number of broken bones. Some characters are just plain unredeemable, and he was one. While he does get hurt where it hits him the most, in pride and reputation, he still doesn’t suffer close to enough. But everyone else gets their resolution and closure, so it will have to do.

This series may be “Forbidden Hearts” but the romance in this entry isn’t as taboo as the series title suggests, or as the first two entries in it certainly are. In this one, what initially keeps Gabe and Eve apart are their own internal conflicts, rather than the external conflict of Hate or the relationship taboo in Wrong.

Gabe has kept a secret all of his life. He’s actually one of the Kanes, and is Livvy and Jackson’s older half brother. Their father didn’t cheat, Gabe is the result of a brief relationship their father had before he met their mother. But circumstances at the time kept Gabe an unacknowledged part of the Kane family circle.

Keeping that secret has kept Gabe from revealing his true self to much of anyone, which has made relationships even more difficult than they generally are.

Eve, on the other hand, has spent her life hiding from her emotions due to her asshole dad’s emotional abuse. She’s locked herself down because that’s the only way she could survive. But with her brother Nicholas’ defiance in Hate, she’s begun to let herself out of her shell, at least a little. And that has allowed her to acknowledge that she has always loved Gabe, even though he saw her as a child. But now that she is an adult, their decade-plus age gap is much less important.

And once she figures out his secret, she becomes one of the few people he can reveal his real self to. The more he does, the more he wants to. And the more he wants Eve, though he believes that he’s no good for her. Of course Eve believes that she’s too damaged for him. It takes all the secrets coming out for them to admit that even though neither of them is much good at emotions or relationships, that they need to try – with each other.

I read Hurts to Love You almost as soon as I received it, even though the publication date was a couple of months away. I just couldn’t wait. And if you love angsty romance, you shouldn’t either. Be prepared to binge the series, starting with the awesome Hate to Want You and Wrong to Need You, and then move right on into the stunning and satisfying conclusion in Hurts to Love You.

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

LINK: https://goo.gl/ifskNr
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 4/9/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: The Darkest Promise by Gena Showalter

Review: The Darkest Promise by Gena ShowalterThe Darkest Promise by Gena Showalter
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Lords of the Underworld #13
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


New York Times
bestselling author Gena Showalter returns with a sizzling Lords of the Underworld story about an iron-willed sovereign and the somber beauty who melts him with a glance

Possessed by the demon of Misery, Cameo isn't allowed to experience joy. If she dares, her memory is wiped clean. With no other recourse, she sneaks into a land more fantastical than any fairy tale, determined to find the one man with the key to her redemption.

Lazarus the Cruel and Unusual rules his kingdom with a single unwavering focus: to build his army and annihilate his enemies. Nothing distracts him - until Cameo. He is relentless in his quest to make her smile and seduce her into his bed.

As dark forces conspire against them, threatening to destroy the fragile bond they've forged, the once-calm Lazarus grows crazed. Every heart-stopping kiss and wicked touch causes Cameo to teeter on the brink of happiness. But if she falls, she risks forgetting him forever

My Review:

The Darkest Promise is the hopefully lucky 13th book in the Lords of the Underworld series. It is appropriately just a bit different from the previous books, because the demon in this particular entry inhabits Cameo, the lone woman among the men who became Lords of the Underworld by hosting a demon.

As Cameo herself puts it, she’s the lone Smurfette among all the Smurfs, always having to be twice as hard and four times as badass to get the men to take her seriously.

Unless, of course she lets her demon out. Cameo’s demon is Misery, and when she lets him out, everyone takes her very seriously – about as seriously as a heart attack. Or the deepest darkest depression ever known. When Misery talks, everyone around them cries, runs away and tries to slit their own wrists.

Of course, Cameo’s demon Misery does not just inflict himself on those around Cameo, his greatest victim is Cameo herself, who has him stuck inside her head and is therefore always available for him to do his worst to. And he does, every single day of her long and miserable life.

But even though Misery makes her forget the few times that Cameo manages, well, not to be completely miserable, she is aware that there is one male in the cosmos who made her happy, however briefly. All she has to do is find her way back to the Spirit Realms to see if Lazarus the Cruel and Unusual, Lord of the Realm of Grimm and Fantic, is willing to make her happy yet again.

And if he’s willing to tell her everything that Misery made her forget.

Unfortunately for both Lazarus and Cameo, he isn’t merely the one man who is immune to her demon. Because Lazarus is cursed by his own blood to be turned into a crystal chrysalis by constant exposure to the one woman who is his mate – his obsession. For Lazarus, Cameo is that woman, and her initial visit to his realm has already begun the deadly process of crystallization.

Lazarus has vengeance to wreck before he becomes to enfeebled to carry out his plans. Being with Cameo dramatically shortens the time he has available.

But she is his obsession, and he can’t resist. He isn’t even sure that he wants to. While Cameo, knowing that she will be the cause of her love’s death, opens herself even further to the demon within.

Escape Rating B: As long as this series is, I’m not sure that this book will make any sense without reading at least some of the previous entries. Particularly as this is not the first time we’ve met Cameo and Lazarus and watched them interact. And that’s a good thing, because without those previous meetings this book would smack of insta-love.

The premise behind this whole series is still a fascinating one. The Lords of the Underworld are the warriors who made the extremely foolish mistake of opening Pandora’s Box. When the box was opened, all those escaped demons needed a place to live (and work their worst) so they inhabited the bodies of the warriors near them. A fitting punishment.

But as the series has progressed, those warriors have managed to find love and happiness in spite of the demons they harbor. And with the help of their friends and allies, they are closing in on the location of the Box and perhaps a cure for their “condition”.

Of course, as immortal warriors they have also gathered a whole lot of equally immortal enemies, and often find themselves caught in the crossfire between rival factions. In the case of this entry, they are caught up in the ongoing warfare between Hades and Lucifer.

And yes, this is a story where all the pantheons seem to be real. And active.

The romance in this paranormal romance is between two beings who expect to be hated and reviled – Lazarus, son of the monster Typhon and Cameo, Mother of Misery. These are two people who have zero expectations of a happy ever after, or of ever finding happy at all, and yet, they are perfect for each other – if they can leap over the baggage that they carry and get past millennia of negative expectations and destroyed hopes.

In the end, love does conquer all, and in a way that the reader has been expecting pretty much from the beginning of the story. But it’s an interesting read watching her work for it.

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Review: Fast Burn by Lori Foster

Review: Fast Burn by Lori FosterFast Burn (Body Armor, #4) by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Body Armor #4
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 20th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For the woman who’s his perfect match, he’s willing to break the rules…

The moment Brand Berry meets beautiful, driven Sahara Silver, the connection between them is electric. It’s also something he can’t pursue. Sahara wants him, sure—to join Body Armor, where his MMA skills, size and cocky attitude make him perfect for her elite crew of bodyguards. For Sahara, the agency always comes first, and Brand needs more. Yet when she’s kidnapped by men searching for her missing brother, he doesn’t hesitate.

Somewhere along the way, flirting with Brand for the sake of business turned very personal. Despite his refusal to join Body Armor, it’s Brand who steps up when Sahara needs him most. Now there’s no more time for games, and no point denying the hunger they both feel. They’ll escape together or not at all. But if they survive, can Sahara finally surrender control to claim this blazing passion?

My Review:

Fast Burn is the fourth and it looks like final book in the Body Armor series. I’ve had a mixed reaction to the books in this series. I loved books two and three, Hard Justice and Close Contact, but had a lukewarm reaction to the first book in the series, Under Pressure.

My feelings about Fast Burn are all too similar to my feelings about Under Pressure. Let me explain…

This series is romantic suspense. That has meant that the bodyguards from the Body Armor Agency, former MMA fighters all, have a tendency to fall in love with the body they are guarding. But Fast Burn is a bit different, because the body that needs protection in this case is the owner of the agency, Sahara Silver.

And the man who wants to guard her is not part of Body Armor. Not that she hasn’t tried to recruit Brand Berry, but that Brand has refused to be recruited, in spite of Sahara’s patented full-court press.

Brand is interested in Sahara and not her Agency. He does not want to work for a woman that he wants to date. And a whole lot more. It makes sense to this reader. They can either have a personal relationship or a working one, but not both – especially not in their case, where both of them have the need to be in control of absolutely everything all the time. Compromise is not going to be easy for either of them.

One of the underlying plot threads in this entire series revolves around Sahara’s missing brother Scott. Scott has been missing and presumed dead for a couple of years now, after his boat was found with his girlfriend’s dead body on it and plenty of his own spilled blood along with hers. But his body was never found, and Sahara believes that Scott is out there, still alive.

When a bunch of thugs kidnap Sahara in order to get back the money that Scott owes them, one way or another, their leader believes that putting Sahara in danger will bring Scott out of the woodwork. He might be right, but before that can happen, it brings out the protective instincts of every one of the guys that Sahara has hired at Body Armor. As well as the one that she hasn’t, Brand Berry.

Sahara is now the person with the target on her back, and Brand is more than willing to step up and protect her – 24/7. But not as a member of her staff. Not at all. He just wants to protect her, and wipe the floor with the guys who are after her. Sahara isn’t sure that she can give up being in charge 24/7 in order to let someone take care of her, even for a second.

But the sharks are circling, and it’s a race to the finish. But whose?

Escape Rating C+: One of the things that made the Body Armor series so good was the character of Sahara Silver. As the owner of the agency, she has been part of every single book, and generally a fairly large part. She’s been the person that many of the women in the stories initially turn to, and she’s been kind, understanding and helpful without either giving up any of her femininity or any of her take charge agency. Either the actual agency, Body Armor, or her own personal agency as a mover and shaker in each story.

She loses all of that in Fast Burn. The whole story is all about all the guys, but particularly Brand, patting her on the head and letting her know that they’ve got this and that she really should let them take over and not worry her pretty little head. Whenever she tries to contradict or correct them, they pretty much ignore whatever she says.

While the possibility of her missing brother not only being alive but protecting her from the sidelines is certainly enough to make anyone just a bit crazy, Sahara seems to go off the rails and fall apart, giving Brand the chance to swoop in and protect her – whether she needs it or not.

As one of the characters says in one of my favorite video games, “swooping is bad”.

The men, but particularly Brand, do their level best to keep Sahara from participating in an operation that is all hers – it’s both all about her brother and all about a gang of idiots that keep trying to kidnap her and even succeed more than once. She also runs off half-cocked and puts herself in danger in ways that are definitely outside her character until this book.

This included an added filip of a trope I dislike, the one where the villain has a hard on for the female in danger and has the strong desire to take her and break her. This particular villain was much less vile than most, but that added element wasn’t necessary to ramp up the amount of danger Sahara kept landing herself in.

At the same time, I really love the character of Sahara, and I wanted to see her get her HEA as well as solve the mystery of what happened to her brother. I’ve liked all of the men that she has recruited for Body Armor, and it was fun to catch up with them a bit and see just how much they all care about her boss. I just wish it hadn’t been necessary to take away so much of Sahara’s agency to protect her.

I hope we see more characters like Sahara has been in the previous books, women who are intelligent, capable and very much in charge while still being happy and proud to be women. And we shouldn’t have to watch them sacrifice who they are to get their HEA.

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Review: A Dangerous Game by Heather Graham

Review: A Dangerous Game by Heather GrahamA Dangerous Game (New York Confidential #3) by Heather Graham
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: New York Confidential #3
Pages: 336
Published by Mira Books on March 13th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The third novel in the New York Confidential series by long-established NYT bestselling romantic suspense author Heather Graham. This is the author's romantic-suspense stream, in addition to her successful ongoing mass market paperback paranormal romantic suspense series.

Psychologist Kieran Finnegan is thrust into the middle of an investigation into human trafficking when a desperate woman shoves an infant into her arms and then flees...only to be murdered minutes later on a busy Manhattan street. Despite the fact that it isn't an FBI case, Special Agent Craig Frasier starts poking around, because Kieran can't stop thinking about the child and the victim. Their one lead comes through the pub, Finnegan's on Broadway. One of the waitresses also volunteers at a church outreach center, and had been in contact with a distraught young pregnant woman, whom she recommended Kieran to as someone who might be able to help her. When Kieran goes to the outreach center to do some off-the-books investigating of her own, she is approached by two women who are worried for their missing friend, and who reveal that they were part of a human trafficking ring that did business in babies. As Craig and Kieran delve deeper into the underbelly of NYC trying to find out more, the dangerous elements of the ring come to the surface, hoping to silence Kieran before she exposes them.

My Review:

A Dangerous Game is romantic suspense of the “established couples” variety of romantic suspense. FBI Special Agent Craig Frasier and therapist/pub owner Kieran Finnegan met and fell in love in the first book in the series, Flawless, while Craig was undercover. By the time this third book in the series takes place, after last year’s A Perfect Obsession, the two of them are very much in love and are at the stage of living together without actually deciding to live together. In other words, they spend their nights together, but still have two apartments.

They have been together more than long enough to know each other all too well, including each other’s bad habits and the tells they each exhibit when one or the other is covering something up. What they are covering up is usually a case, because Craig’s FBI work seems to run into either Kieran’s patients or her pub with well-beyond-coincidental frequency.

Kieran is a trouble magnet, and that is what begins this story.

A woman comes to Kieran’s office, calls her by name, and hands her a baby. Then the woman rushes out the door and is murdered within steps after she gets outside. It’s obvious that there is way more going on here than meets the eye, and there is plenty going on from that beginning.

The baby and the woman, both Jane Does, lead the police and the FBI to the seamy underground world of human trafficking and baby harvesting. And their investigation links to an all too similar five year old cold case.

Equally coincidentally, Kieran’s soon-to-be-sister-in-law, an Irish immigrant herself, is contacted by two young women, one of them also Irish, who are on the run from a human trafficking organization controlled by an unnamed but ruthless “King” and “Queen”.

As Craig, the FBI, the NYPD, Homeland Security AND the U.S. Marshalls’ office all investigate the various aspects of what seems to be an extremely well organized criminal enterprise that has eyes and ears virtually everywhere, Kieran strikes out on her own, putting herself in danger over and over again.

Not that Craig is ever exactly safe, but he is, at least trained for this. Kieran just can’t seem to resist putting herself in harm’s way, repeatedly and perhaps just a little too often.

In the end, they manage to cut off the head of this particular snake. And they decide to get married. All in a day’s work.

Escape Rating B: I have not read the previous books in this series, but I did read Law and Disorder, which seems to be part of a side-series to New York Confidential. It gave me enough background to be able to slide right into Kieran’s and Craig’s “adventures”, and into the terrific atmosphere of Finnegan’s Pub.
But I think a reader could come into A Dangerous Game without having read any of the previous books. Events from those earlier stories are certainly referred to, but don’t actually impact current events, except in the sense that they provide a pattern. It’s pretty clear that both Finnegan’s Pub and Kieran Finnegan herself attract trouble the way that certain lights attract bugs, as in they don’t exactly go looking for trouble, but they can’t resist it once they find it, and they willing dash themselves against it no matter how much damage it does to themselves or others.

The case that they have become involved in has a “ripped from the headlines” feel to it. In spite of our problems, the United States is still a country that many people in terrible situations want to come to. And the situations they are often fleeing are so terrible that they believe that any circumstance here, no matter how awful, must be better than the place they are so desperate to leave. The more the screws tighten on legal immigration, the more desperate people become, and the easier it is for the desperate to become prey to monsters in human form.

The human traffickers in this particular story have eyes and ears everywhere, and tentacles in every organization that can help them find more victims and cover up their crimes. Early on in the story, Craig is aware that someone close to the investigation, if not multiple someones, must be in the pay of the criminals. Figuring out who those person or persons might be takes place over a good chunk of the story. In the end, readers will find that the characters they have suspected all along are actually the guilty parties.

In spite of the frenetic beginning, the case as a whole takes a while to ramp up to speed. I found the first third of the book a bit slow going, but once past that point, events occur at breakneck speed and the reader gets caught up in the chase. In spite of the predictable elements to some parts of the ending, the story does keep you glued to your seat from that point forward. In the end, a good time is had by all, including the reader, and evil does get its just desserts. As it should be.

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