Review: Mr. Clarke’s Deepest Desire by Sophie Barnes

Review: Mr. Clarke’s Deepest Desire by Sophie BarnesMr. Clarke's Deepest Desire (Enterprising Scoundrels #2) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, Victorian romance
Series: Enterprising Scoundrels #2
Pages: 180
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 22, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

When an earl's daughter falls for a businessman in this secret identities Regency romance, she risks more than heartbreak when his connection to her past threatens her reputation...

How can he build a future with a woman whose father ruined his life?

Having recently suffered the death of her father, Rosamund Parker faces an uncertain future. Intent on retaining her independence, she plans to invest her modest inheritance. But the man whose help she seeks is as infuriating as he is handsome. For reasons she can't comprehend, he's set on thwarting her at every turn, even as he tempts her with kisses she ought not want.

Matthew Clarke needs funding for his locomotive business, but he'll not accept it from the Earl of Stoneburrow's daughter. As far as Matthew's concerned, that entire family can go hang. Unfortunately, Lady Rosamund seems to pop up wherever he goes. Ignoring the fire she stirs in him becomes an increasing challenge. But surrendering to it could prove disastrous. It could in fact ruin both their lives...

My Review:

Mr. Clarke’s Deepest Desires, the second book in the Enterprising Scoundrels series after Mr. Donahue’s Total Surrender (I sense a theme in the titles, don’t you?) is a delightfully frothy bit of Victorian romance with some dark notes in the background. And a whole heaping helping of insta-lust in the lush foreground.

A part of me wants to make some terrible puns about Rosamund Parker and her need to have her engines overhauled – or at least her ashes hauled, but that’s not where this story begins. In a perverse way it began way back when, when her late, lamented, dear old dad couldn’t resist forcing their housemaid to haul his – will she or nill she. And of course he fired her when she informed him that she was carrying the inevitable consequence of his actions.

Now he’s dead and buried, and the mourning period has just officially ended. The reading of his will has left his daughter in a bit of a fix of a different sort. As the daughter (and only child) of an Earl, she knew she would not inherit his title or the entailed estate. But she expected a bit more than 500 pounds. Not per annum, but in total. Along with a binding clause that her uncle, the new Earl, was not permitted to maintain or support her.

(If you’re curious, that’s just over $60,000 in today’s dollars. A more-than-decent one year’s salary, but not nearly enough for a relatively young woman to live off of for the rest of her life.)

Rosamund, who does want to marry, also wants to have enough time going about the selection process to ensure that she makes a choice that satisfies both her head and her heart. So, instead of rushing into anything or anyone she plans to invest most of her money and life off the income from her investment while she makes a considered choice.

It’s a sensible plan, which makes sense. Because Rosamund is a very sensible woman. Also a very intelligent one.

But her plans go up almost literally in smoke when she meets Matthew Clarke, the owner of A&C Locomotive. Because Rosamund and Matthew strike more sparks from each other than any one of his engines do when they screech their brakes. Not that either of them can manage much of anything except almost literally screeching at each other.

Matthew’s mother was the housemaid that Rosamund’s father forced into his bed and then out the door, leaving both mother and 12-year-old Matthew destitute. Matthew refuses to take Rosamund’s investment money – no matter how much he actually needs it. He’s still carrying that grudge – and is an absolute ass about it to Rosamund even though she has no clue what he’s so angry about.

After all, she was all of 10 at the time and it’s not exactly a subject that any father would raise with his own daughter – particularly not in the Victorian Era!

But Rosamund is determined to invest in the burgeoning railroad industry, and Matthew still does need investors. Which means that they keep meeting – and meeting – and meeting at various gatherings of industry executives and potential investors. The more often they run into each other, the more sparks that fly – no matter how little Rosamund wants to believe the truth about her beloved father.

The push-pull of their relationship, the way that they hate each other but still want each other desperately, is hot enough to fuel a locomotive or ten without the use of coal. All they need to do is give in – before they make a mistake that will haunt the rest of their lives.

Escape Rating B+: One of the things that I really enjoy about the Enterprising Scoundrels series is that the heroes all work for a living. Admittedly it’s work among the wealthy and powerful, and they’ve done well for themselves, but it’s still real work that gives them real purpose. This is a series where happiness is not just the province of the idle rich to the point where it openly questions whether the idle rich are all that happy.

Matthew Clarke is an especially delicious hero in this mold because he’s a self-made man who has not either lost the threads of his humanity or obtained his wealth outside the law. Both of which are not uncommon backgrounds for heroes of historical romances.

What made this book downright refreshing is that even the bounder who tries to interfere with the romance between Rose and Matthew is really after Rose for her prodigious intellect and genius ideas, while her truly delectable person is icing on the cake of her splendid brain and not the other way around.

But speaking of that bounder, he’s not really a villain – at least not in the bwahaha sense that often happens. He’s out for himself and he does take advantage of a situation, but he doesn’t make the situation and he’s just not evil. Selfish and self-centered, but not beyond human reason.

So I didn’t leave this book, as I did Mr. Donohue’s Total Surrender, with the feeling that there were too many characters who did not receive the desserts they had so richly earned. If there is a villain in this piece it’s Rosamund’s father, and he’s already having that discussion with his Maker when the story begins.

I do have to say that I found the blurb for the book a bit deceptive. This isn’t really a story of secret identities. Rosamund and Matthew know exactly who each other is. She doesn’t know that he and his mother were once in service to her family – at least not at the beginning – but his business success wipes out most of that stigma. They do end up on the wrong end of a lot of social opprobrium, but it’s as a result of their actions in the present and not some hidden secret in either of their pasts.

While I’m not personally satisfied with the amount of groveling Matthew does over that incident, he does manage to screw his courage to the sticking point and fix things before it’s too late – with a whole lot of professional assistance from his soon-to-be bride. Which makes for happy endings all around – as they certainly deserved.

Review: Death on a Winter Stroll by Francine Mathews

Review: Death on a Winter Stroll by Francine MathewsDeath on a Winter Stroll (Merry Folger #7) by Francine Mathews
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: holiday fiction, mystery
Series: Merry Folger Nantucket Mystery #1
Pages: 288
Published by Soho Crime on November 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

No-nonsense Nantucket detective Merry Folger grapples with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and two murders as the island is overtaken by Hollywood stars and DC suits.

Nantucket Police Chief Meredith Folger is acutely conscious of the stress COVID-19 has placed on the community she loves. Although the island has proved a refuge for many during the pandemic, the cost to Nantucket has been high. Merry hopes that the Christmas Stroll, one of Nantucket’s favorite traditions, in which Main Street is transformed into a winter wonderland, will lift the island’s spirits. But the arrival of a large-scale TV production, and the Secretary of State and her family, complicates matters significantly.

The TV shoot is plagued with problems from within, as a shady, power-hungry producer clashes with strong-willed actors. Across Nantucket, the Secretary’s troubled stepson keeps shaking off his security detail to visit a dilapidated house near conservation land, where an intriguing recluse guards secrets of her own. With all parties overly conscious of spending too much time in the public eye and secrets swirling around both camps, it is difficult to parse what behavior is suspicious or not—until the bodies turn up.

Now, it’s up to Merry and Detective Howie Seitz to find a connection between two seemingly unconnected murders and catch the killer. But when everyone has a motive, and half of the suspects are politicians and actors, how can Merry and Howie tell fact from fiction?

This latest installment in critically acclaimed author Francine Mathews’ Merry Folger series is an immersive escape to festive Nantucket, a poignant exploration of grief as a result of parental absence, and a delicious new mystery to keep you guessing.

My Review:

The Nantucket Stroll sounds like a lovely holiday tradition. Setting this mystery at the time of the 2021 Stroll, just after the President’s own traditional visit with his family, the first visit and first ‘regular’ Stroll as everyone hopes the worst of COVID has passed grounds the mystery into the here and and the now.

(No, the President, whose identity is screamingly obvious – and also quite real as he and his family did visit Nantucket for the 2021 Stroll and do have a family tradition of attending – is not an actual part of this story. But the Secretary of State, who is very much and very obviously fictional – certainly does.)

After the President and his Secret Service detail leave the island, Police Chief Folger faces not one but two invasions. There’s the Secretary of State, her husband, his restless, shiftless adult child of a son, the Secretary’s security detail, her staff, her childhood on the island and her husband’s big ego and bad memories of the place.

Pretending that they are on the island for a happy family vacation is just a bit of a stretch.

Then there’s the even bigger incursion from Hollywood filming a direct-to-streaming TV series on the sprawling estate of THE local tech billionaire. Between the director, the co-stars, the producer and chief financial backer and all the other members of the cast and crew – not to mention their egos and outsized personalities, the horde at the property known as Ingrid’s Gift is even bigger than the gang that SecState brought home with her.

Not that all is exactly well in either of the invading “armies” but their problems are not Merry’s problem – at least not until the first dead body turns up, with links to more of the visitors in both parties than could possibly be explained by the long arm of coincidence.

Which Police Chief Folger, being a very good cop, does not believe in. At all.

Escape Rating A+: In spite of its small-town setting, Death on a Winter Stroll is not a cozy mystery, even though it’s a setup that could easily lend itself to one. But Merry Folger isn’t a cozy sort of person – and I like her a lot for that – and the murders she has to solve, at least in this outing – are far, far from cozy. Not so much the murders themselves – as cozies manage to cozy up all sorts of ways that people shuffle off this mortal buffalo. But the motives for these murders and the slime that is revealed in their investigation are simply not the stuff of which cozies are made.

But if you like your murder mysteries seasoned with the nitty-gritty of real life and real people – even really disgusting people – Death on a Winter Stroll is absolutely excellent. And Merry Folger is a terrific avatar for competence porn. She’s very human – not superhuman – but she’s extremely good at her job and not afraid to display it – especially to people who think she’s less-than because she’s relatively young, because she’s a woman, because she’s a small-town police chief and not a big city cop or federal agent – or just because they’re assholes used to throwing around their power and privilege.

Death on a Winter Stroll turned out to be a one-sitting read for me, I sunk right into it and didn’t emerge until I was done three hours later. I was completely absorbed in the mystery, the setting and the characters, and didn’t feel like I was missing anything at all, in spite of this book being book SEVEN in an ongoing series that began with Death in the Off-Season. Whether it’s because this is the first post-pandemic book in the series, or whether the author is just that good at keeping things self-contained, I got what I needed about Merry’s past – including the loss of her grandfather to the pandemic – without having read the previous books.

Howsomever, I enjoyed this so damn much that I am planning to get them all. This series has all the hallmarks of an excellent comfort read, and I need more of those. Doesn’t everyone these days?

In addition to liking Merry as a character, and being able to identify with her in all sorts of wonderful ways, I appreciated the way that the mystery in this story worked, and that it dealt with real, important and ugly issues without either sensationalizing them or trivializing them.

One of the things that also made this story work for me is that the red herrings were more than tasty. There was one character who started out in a hole – or at least a whole lot of suspicion – and couldn’t seem to stop digging himself deeper. It would have been an easy solution to make him the murderer – or to have the cops attempt to pin it on him. The actual solution was much more devious and it was great the way the investigation didn’t fall into the trap of zeroing in on the obvious suspect first.

There was both compassion and redemption for a lot of the people who got caught up in the mess. None of the solutions were easy, most of them included a lot of pain and either past or present trauma. But the characters felt real, Merry and her family, friends and colleagues most of all.

In short, I loved this mystery, am so, so glad that I joined this tour and was introduced to this author, and can’t wait until I have the chance to dive into the rest of the series. And I’m utterly gobsmacked that the author also writes the Jane Austen Mysteries as Stephanie Barron. I think I hear my virtually towering TBR pile piling up another turret!

About the Author:

Francine Mathews was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written thirty books, including six previous novels in the Merry Folger series (Death in the Off-SeasonDeath in Rough WaterDeath in a Mood IndigoDeath in a Cold Hard Light, Death on Nantucket, and Death on Tuckernuck) as well as the nationally bestselling Being a Jane Austen mystery series, which she writes under the pen name Stephanie Barron. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado.

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Review: The Girl with the Emerald Flag by Kathleen McGurl

Review: The Girl with the Emerald Flag by Kathleen McGurlThe Girl with the Emerald Flag by Kathleen McGurl
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Collins on November 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A country rebelling
It’s 1916 and, as war rages in Europe, Gráinne leaves her job in a department store to join Countess Markiewicz’s revolutionary efforts. It is a decision which will change her life forever. A rebellion is brewing, and as Dublin’s streets become a battleground, Gráinne soon discovers the personal cost of fighting for what you believe in…
A forgotten sacrifice
Decades on, student Nicky is recovering from a break-up when a research project leads her to her great-grandmother’s experiences in revolutionary Ireland. When Nicky finds a long-forgotten handkerchief amongst her great-grandmother’s things, it leads to the revelation of a heartbreaking story of tragedy and courage, and those who sacrificed everything for their country.
Inspired by a heartbreaking true story, this emotional historical novel will sweep you away to the Emerald Isle. Perfect for fans of Jean Grainger, Sandy Taylor and Fiona Valpy.

My Review:

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” or so claimed both Winston Churchill and Nicky Waters, the late 20th century protagonist of this dual-timeline story about Ireland’s Easter Rising. But another quote about history, from another continent is equally apropos. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The early 20th century heroine of this story, that girl with the emerald flag herself, Gráinne MacDowd, witnessed the bending of that arc from its beginning in the Eastern Rising to what seems like its right, proper and fitting ending in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, bringing peace – more or less – between the Republic of Ireland and a Northern Ireland still controlled by Britain.

But it all begins, or at least this version of it, with a college student both being rebellious and studying rebellions, and her great-grandmother – who she calls Supergran (best name for a great-grandmother EVER) – who was in the rooms where a lot of a real and significant 20th century rebellion happened.

And has a story that she has been waiting nearly a century for someone to finally want to hear.

Escape Rating A-: Nicky Waters and Gráinne MacDowd are the same age at the opposite ends of their century. It’s only Gráinne’s long life and continued good health and mental acuity that allows this story to happen.

(It’s more plausible than one might think. A friend’s grandmother, not even his ‘Supergran’, crossed the US in a covered wagon with one of the last of the wagon trains and lived to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.)

I digress.

This story is told in two timelines. In 1998, the year that the Good Friday Agreement was, well, agreed to, Nicky Waters is a bit spoiled, a bit selfish, a lot self-indulgent, and trying to stretch her wings at uni. It’s her need for a project on historic rebellions that kicks things off – even though she resents her mother’s suggestion that Supergran’s experiences would make a fantastic springboard for her project.

But then, she resents her mother a lot at this point in her life. They love each other but don’t seem to be sympatico at all. Some mother-daughter relationships just go that way.

The heart of the book, both literally and figuratively, is Gráinne telling her story to Nicky. And telling it to the reader as she does.

Gráinne’s story takes place over an intense period of time from the fall of 1915 when she becomes the right-hand-woman of Countess Constance Markiewicz (see quote and picture above) through the Rising itself in its glory and its inevitable defeat. And its immediate aftermath, the nights when the survivors huddled together in Kilmainham Gaol and the mornings when they heard but could not see their leaders facing one firing squad after another.

Gráinne’s story brings Nicky up short, letting her see that rebellion without good purpose has no meaning. Nicky’s turnaround was a bit abrupt, but the harrowing events that her Supergran lived through make the story shine – even if sometimes with tears.

What makes this story so touching – although that’s nearly a big enough word – is the way that it allows the reader to experience this history making and in some ways history shattering event in a way that brings the Rising and the people who gave their lives for it to vivid life.

Gráinne and her beau Emmett are the only important characters in the story who are fictional. All of the leaders of the Rising are presented as they were, and this event is more than close enough in history that documentation exists for much of what Gráinne saw, heard and felt. Including the heartbreaking jailhouse wedding between Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford. (I honestly expected that to be a bit of literary license but it was NOT.)

Gráinne as a character reads as both plausible and aspirational. Women really did all the jobs she performed during the Rising, and she makes the reader hope that they would have done as well in the same cause. At the same time, her example leads her great-granddaughter to do and be better, by example and not by exhortation.

Any reader who loves historical fiction, or has any interest at all in Irish history and the Easter Rising will fall in love with The Girl with the Emerald Flag as much as I did. This story is terrific, and it’s told in way that both tugs at the heartstrings and practically compels the reader to look for more.

One final note. That arc of history is still bending. In the Good Friday Agreement, the politicians on both sides basically finessed some of long-standing issues through both countries’ membership in the European Union. Brexit brought many of those issues, particularly the economic ones – as well as questions about how to deal with the border – back to life. While this is not exactly part of this story, considering that it ends when it does as a way of attempting to close the circle, it’s difficult not to point out that the circle keeps on turning.

About the Author:

Kathleen McGurl lives near the coast in Christchurch, England. She writes dual timeline novels in which a historical mystery is uncovered and resolved in the present day. She is married to an Irishman and has two adult sons. She enjoys travelling, especially in her motorhome around Europe and has of course visited Ireland many times.

Social Media Links – 

https://kathleenmcgurl.com/

https://www.facebook.com/KathleenMcGurl

https://twitter.com/KathMcGurl 

 

Spotlight: Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden + Excerpt

Spotlight: Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden + ExcerptUnder a Veiled Moon (Inspector Corravan #2) by Karen Odden
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Inspector Corravan #2
Pages: 336
Published by Crooked Lane Books on October 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

In the tradition of C. S. Harris and Anne Perry, a fatal disaster on the Thames and a roiling political conflict set the stage for Karen Odden’s second Inspector Corravan historical mystery.
September 1878. One night, as the pleasure boat the Princess Alice makes her daily trip up the Thames, she collides with the Bywell Castle, a huge iron-hulled collier. The Princess Alice shears apart, throwing all 600 passengers into the river; only 130 survive. It is the worst maritime disaster London has ever seen, and early clues point to sabotage by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who believe violence is the path to restoring Irish Home Rule.
For Scotland Yard Inspector Michael Corravan, born in Ireland and adopted by the Irish Doyle family, the case presents a challenge. Accused by the Home Office of willfully disregarding the obvious conclusion, and berated by his Irish friends for bowing to prejudice, Corravan doggedly pursues the truth, knowing that if the Princess Alice disaster is pinned on the IRB, hopes for Home Rule could be dashed forever.
Corrovan’s dilemma is compounded by Colin, the youngest Doyle, who has joined James McCabe’s Irish gang. As violence in Whitechapel rises, Corravan strikes a deal with McCabe to get Colin out of harm’s way. But unbeknownst to Corravan, Colin bears longstanding resentments against his adopted brother and scorns his help.
As the newspapers link the IRB to further accidents, London threatens to devolve into terror and chaos. With the help of his young colleague, the loyal Mr. Stiles, and his friend Belinda Gale, Corravan uncovers the harrowing truth—one that will shake his faith in his countrymen, the law, and himself.

Welcome to the blog tour for Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden, organized by Austenprose PR. I’m especially excited to be part of this tour as I’ve already read this book and was absolutely thrilled by it. It’s a dark and compelling historical mystery (and so is Inspector Corravan’s first outing, Down a Dark River). If you’re intrigued by this excerpt, take a look at my reviews of Down a Dark River as well as Under a Veiled Moon to see just what a treat is in store for you!

Excerpt from Chapter 2, pp. 8-10 of Under a Veiled Moon © 2022, Karen Odden, published by Crooked Lane Books 

I knocked twice and inserted my key in the lock.

Even as I did so, I heard the twins, Colin and Elsie, their voices raised as they talked over each other—Elsie with a sharp edge of frustration, Colin growling in reply. Odd, I thought as I pushed open the door. Since they were children, they’d baited each other and teased, but I’d never known them to quarrel. 

Colin sat in a kitchen chair tilted backward, the heel of one heavy boot hooked over the rung. He glared up at Elsie, who stood across the table, her hand clutching a faded towel at her hip, her chin set in a way I recognized. 

“Hullo,” I said. “What’s the matter?” 

Both heads swiveled to me, and in unison, they muttered, “Nothing.” 

They could have still been five, caught spooning the jam out of the jar Ma hid behind the flour tin. Except that under the stubble of his whiskers, there was a puffiness along Colin’s cheek that appeared to be the remnants of a bruise. 

Colin thunked the front legs of the chair onto the floor and pushed away from the table. “I got somethin’ to do.” He took his coat off the rack—not his old faded one, I noticed, but a new one—and stalked out the door, pulling it closed behind him. 

I raised my eyebrows and turned to Elsie. She grimaced. “He’s just bein’ an eejit, like most men.” Her voice lacked its usual good humor; she was genuinely angry. 

Jaysus, I thought. What’s happened?
But I’d give Elsie a moment. “Where’s Ma?”

“Went down to the shop for some tea.” She stepped to the sideboard and moved the kettle to the top of the stove. The handle caught her sleeve, pulling it back far enough that I caught sight of a white bandage. 

“Did you hurt your wrist?” 

She tugged the sleeve down. “Ach, I just fell on the stairs. Clumsy of me.” 

The broken window and Colin’s abrupt departure had been enough to alert me to something amiss. Even without those signs, though, I wouldn’t have believed her. I knew the shape a lie took in her voice. 

“No, you didn’t,” I said. 

Her back was to me, and she spoke over her shoulder. “It’s nothing, Mickey.” 

I approached and took her left elbow gently in mine to turn her. “Let me see.” 

Reluctantly, she let me unwrap the flannel. Diagonal across her wrist was a bruise such as a truncheon or a pipe might leave, purple and yellowing at the edges. 

I looked up. “Who did this?” My voice was hoarse. 

Her eyes, blue as mine, stared back. “Mickey, don’t look like that. It was dark, and I doubt he did it on purpose.” 

“Jaysus, Elsie.” I let go of her, so she could rewrap it. “Who?” 

“I don’t know! I was walking home from Mary’s house on Wednesday night, and before I knew it, twenty lads were around me, fightin’ and brawlin’, and I jumped out of the way, but one of them hit my wrist, and I fell.” 

“What were you doing walking alone after dark? Where was Colin?” 

She gave a disparaging “pfft.” “As if I’d know. Some nights he doesn’t come home until late. Or not at all.” 

Harry’s words came back to me: “Out . . . as usual.” 

I cast my mind back to my own recent visits. Colin had often been absent, partly because he’d been working on the construction of the new embankment, but that had ended in July. So where was he spending his time now? And where had he earned the money for his new coat? 

We both heard Ma’s footsteps on the inside stairs. 

“Don’t tell Ma,” Elsie said hurriedly, her voice low. The bandage was completely hidden by her sleeve. “She has enough to worry about. Swear, Mickey.” 

Even as I promised, I wondered what else was worrying Ma. But as the door at the top of the inner stairs opened, I had my smile ready. 

Ma emerged, carrying a packet of tea from the shop. “Ah, Mickey! I’m glad ye came.” Her face shone with genuine warmth, and she smoothed her coppery hair back from her temple. Her eyes flicked around the room, landing on Elsie. “Colin left?” The brightness in her expression dimmed. 

“Just now,” Elsie replied. Their gazes held, and with the unfailing instinct that develops in anyone who grew up trying to perceive trouble before it struck, I sensed meaning in that silent exchange. But before I could decipher it, Elsie shrugged, and Ma turned to me, her hazel eyes appraising. 

“You look less wraithy than usual.” She reached up to pat my cheek approvingly. “Elsie, fetch the preserves. I’ll put the water on.” 

“I’ll do it, Ma.” I went to the stove, tonged in a few lumps of coal from the scuttle and shut the metal door with a clang. As Elsie sliced the bread, I filled the kettle and Ma took down three cups and saucers from the shelf. 

The tension I sensed amid my family derived from something drifting in the deep current, not bobbing along the surface, driven by a single day’s wind and sun. Something had changed. 

About the Author:

Karen Odden earned her Ph.D. in English from New York University and subsequently taught literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has contributed essays to numerous books and journals, written introductions for Victorian novels in the Barnes & Noble classics series and edited for the journal Victorian Literature and Culture (Cambridge UP). Her previous novels, also set in 1870s London, have won awards for historical fiction and mystery. A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and the recipient of a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Karen lives in Arizona with her family and her rescue beagle Rosy.

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Review: A Matter of Happiness by Tori Whitaker

Review: A Matter of Happiness by Tori WhitakerA Matter of Happiness by Tori Whitaker
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 364
Published by Lake Union Publishing on November 8, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A cherished heirloom opens up a century of secrets in a bittersweet novel about family, hard truths, and self-discovery by the author of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish.
Melanie Barnett thinks she has it all together. With an ex-fiancé and a pending promotion at a Kentucky bourbon distillery, Melanie has figured out that love and career don’t mix. Until she makes a discovery while cleaning her Jordan MX car, a scarlet-red symbol of the Jazz Age’s independent women that she inherited from her great-great-great-aunt Violet. Its secret compartment holds Violet’s weathered journal—within it an intriguing message: Take from this story what you will, Melanie, and you can bury the rest. Melanie wonders what more there is to learn from Violet’s past.
In 1921 Violet Bond defers to no one. Hers is a life of adventure in Detroit, the hub of the motorcar boom and the fastest growing city in America. But in an era of speakeasies, financial windfalls, free-spirited friends, and unexpected romance, it’s easy to spin out of control.
Now, as Melanie’s own world takes unexpected turns, her life and Violet’s life intersect. Generations apart, they’re coming into their own and questioning what modern womanhood—and happiness—really means.

My Review:

Melanie Barnett and her ‘Great Aunt Grape’ were simpatico in a way that Melanie and her judgmental, disapproving and disappointed mother were not. So it wasn’t at all surprising that the late and much lamented Violet Bond left her classic 1923 Jordan Playboy car to Melanie when she died.


1920 Jordon Playboy at Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum

What is surprising is the treasure trove of her personal papers and memories that Violet hid inside the car – just waiting for Melanie to check all the compartments and bring them to light.

As this story opens, Melanie is finally claiming that legacy, wishing that she had taken a look a whole lot earlier. But the time is now, and Melanie discovers the whole truth of Violet’s story just in time to help her decide the path she should take for her own.

In spite of her mother’s constant needling that Melanie’s choices are all the wrong ones. Inspired by Violet’s story, Melanie takes a good hard look at what she’s doing and where she’s going, and figures out that when it comes to the matter of her happiness the choices will have to be her own.

Just as Violet’s did. No matter what anyone else might think.

Escape Rating B+: I picked up A Matter of Happiness because I loved the author’s first book, Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish. I liked A Matter of Happiness quite a bit, but it didn’t quite match up to the first book, although I think that the nostalgia of its Cincinnati setting pulled a bit more at my personal heartstrings than this one did. But I think that’s a ‘me’ thing and not a commentary on either book. A Matter of Happiness was definitely worth the read.

Like Millicent Glenn’s story, this one also exists in two time frames – but it is also told by two rather different people. Melanie’s story is set in pre-COVID 2018 (I have a feeling that authors are going to avoid the COVID years a LOT because they were just SO WEIRD). Melanie is at a bit of a crossroads in her life. The man she thought she’d marry thought that she would be happy to give up her career for his big promotion. But that promotion was taking him to Silicon Valley, and her career is in the Kentucky bourbon industry, which necessitates that she live, unsurprisingly, in her home state of Kentucky.

And now she’s sworn off men, devoting herself to her career, pursuing a promotion to management at the company she’s been working at for several years. She hopes that if she reaches a management position that her striving, seeking, disapproving mother will finally be proud of her.

But she’s found her great-aunt’s diary in the hidden compartments of that old car. A diary of Violet Bond in the 1920s, in her 20s, at a crossroads in her own life. Going off to Detroit to get a job in the burgeoning automobile industry, living on her own by her own wits and on her own wages, pursuing a career and swearing off men – albeit for different reasons than Melanie.

Melanie sees a bit of her own journey in her beloved great-aunt’s story. And we see a bit of our own in both of theirs. And in reading about the choices and the sacrifices that her aunt made in order to live the life she wanted, Melanie finds her own way forward.

Along with a secret that changes her perspective on how both she – and her mother – see their past and their places in a family they thought they knew.

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

Review: Pets in Space 7 by S.E. Smith, R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, Kyndra Hatch

Review: Pets in Space 7 by S.E. Smith, R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, Kyndra HatchPets in Space 7 by S.E. Smith, R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, Kyndra Hatch
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, science fiction romance
Series: Pets in Space #7
Pages: 1369
on October 4, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Pets in Space® is back for a new year of adventures!

Pets in Space is back and better than ever! Featuring 13 original, never-before-released stories from some of today's bestselling science fiction romance authors, starring your favorite sci-fi pets. These furry, feathered, and slightly alien friends are always ready for a new adventure with their two-legged human and alien companions. From dogs to cats to sea creatures and unicorns, these romantic tales show that pets are more than just animals – they’re family.

This limited-edition anthology includes stories by some of the biggest names in science fiction romance. New York Times Bestseller S.E. Smith and USA Today Bestsellers R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, and Kyndra Hatch, plus Leslie Chase, Winnie Winkle, and Candace Colt.

The Pets in Space 7 authors continue their vital support of HeroDogs, the non-profit charity that improves quality of life for veterans of the U.S. military and first-responders with disabilities.

★ Don't miss out — grab this limited-edition anthology before it's too late! ★

Exclusively in Pets in Space 7:
◆“Wynter and the Stone Dragon” by S.E. Smith: Love blossoms between a human king and an alien princess when a portal between their worlds opens.
◆“Life-Debt” by R.J. Blain: Hybrid human Viva and her pet fox have two rules: no names and no attachments. Why does the handsome man she rescued makes her want to break both?
◆“Marked Mate” by Grace Goodwin: An elite hunter pursues a dangerous criminal on an unsuspecting Earth, only to be distracted by a mysterious woman and her furry pet.
◆“Alien Abduction for Unicorns” by Skye MacKinnon: Unicorns are real, and alien Bruin is sexy as the stars. Can Scottish tour guide Tara forgive them for kidnapping her in the name of science?
◆“An Entanglement of Griffins” by Carol Van Natta: A space pirate and a pet sanctuary owner suspected of grand larceny get help from genetically-engineered griffins to recover the goods and find love.
◆“Cyborg Rider” by Honey Phillips: Can a bioengineered mole named Eglantine find a way to rescue the scientist and the cyborg who are depending on her?
◆“Healer Heart” by Carysa Locke: A telekinetic healer on a mission and a telepathic killer who is afraid to feel must trust an intelligent cat to help them save a group of children from death.
◆“Myra’s Big Mistake” by S. J. Pajonas: She’s burdened by a lifetime of disappointment. He’s been her secret admirer for years. Will a roll of the dice lead to a cosmic courtship?
◆“Desert Flame” by JC Hay: Dr. Cerridwen Lewis is prickly, foul mouthed, and quick to anger; in other words, she’s everything Captain Kal and his pet scythewing ever wanted.
◆“Death Angel” by Kyndra Hatch: How do you choose between your people and your mate? Especially when you're a Korthan cyborg captain and your human mate unknowingly holds the key to lasting peace or unending war?
◆“Written in the Stars” by Leslie Chase: Megan isn’t looking for love, especially not from an alien mercenary just passing through. But love, and her winged cat Nebula, have other plans.
◆“Liquid Courage” by Winnie Winkle: Powerful sea witch Morgan is determined to save her beloved ocean creatures from thieving aliens. Tony offers to help, but he's got secrets.
◆“Rhea’s Conundrum: A Witch in Space” by by Candace Colt: Eccentric witch Rhea only dreamed of the stars. So how did she and her snarky cat end up in a junk-picker spaceship with sexy alien captain C'tloc?

My Review:

Pets in Space is always an utterly marvelous treat. Every year an absolutely stellar group of science fiction romance writers get together to create this annual collection of space ships and adventure, featuring romance between humans and/or aliens, ably assisted by companion creatures, whether animals or AI, whether furry or feathered or something out of this world.

The proceeds from the sale of each Pets in Space collection go to charity, specifically to Hero Dogs, an organization which provides trained service dogs to heroes, specifically to wounded military veterans and first responders.

So the book supports a terrific cause, and the stories within are always out of this world. This is the seventh collection, and it contains a lucky THIRTEEN science fiction romance novellas in a whopping 1369 page book.

That’s a lot of book, and a lot of treats to savor until the next one arrives!

For me, the annual collection is a reading delight that will last through lots of reading time, especially over the winter with a cat in my lap and a cup of tea or hot cocoa at my side. It’s much too big for one sitting or even one weekend. I always want to take my time and enjoy every page.

This is a book that requires a plan of attack!

I confess that I always read the cat stories first. Partly because it’s always fun to imagine what cats would have to say if they could talk. And because my own feline overlords wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m supposed to reassure them that they’re the best cats in the universe and they aren’t shy about telling me so!

But seriously, I generally do read the cat stories first – as I did this time around. I save the stories about other animals, and in worlds I’m not familiar with, for times when I can dive into the towering TBR pile – or add to it – to get stories in the same worlds featured in the collection that are new to me.

So I’ll be treating myself to more of Pets in Space 7 over the months ahead.

Howsomever, I can’t leave you without making a few review-type comments about those three cat stories, “Healer Heart” by Carysa Locke, “Written in the Stars” by Leslie Chase and “Rhea’s Conundrum: A Witch in Space” by Candace Colt.

“Healer Heart” was interesting because it contained some elements of Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, particularly her genetically engineered and ruthlessly trained assassins, the Arrows. In the universe of the Telepathic Space Pirates there is also a group of genetically engineered assassins. And like the Arrows, some of those born and bred killers want more from life than just death. Which is where telepathic healer Nayla and the hunter cat Rasalas come in. While she personally wants to help one particular assassin, her assignment is to help assassin-trained children before the training is too deeply ingrained to be countered. She helps the kids with dogs, but it’s the cat pushing her to make things right with the man who broke her heart trying to protect her from himself.

There’s just so much to love in this one. Nayla is beating her head against the wall using her own gifts and training to help people who are determined to blame her for every break from tradition; the man she loves is terrified he’ll kill her if his training overcomes his reason; and the kids she is able to help are heartbreaking but hopeful. This universe is an absolute mess but this healer seems to have a cure for at least a bit of what’s ailing it.

“Written in the Stars” revolves around a woman stranded on a failing space station with her vast collection of books, her flying cat, and her determination to save up enough money to get back to something a little bit more like civilization. Megan is plucky beyond belief, and lucky beyond reason, as she finds both someone to love and a purpose for living in helping to rescue the space station from itself. Her winged cat Nebula is both very cat and very reminiscent of some famous literary felines, as Nebula is an intergalactic traveling version of the winged cats in Nebula-Award winning Ursula LeGuin’s lovely Catwings series.

Last but not least, “Rhea’s Conundrum: A Witch in Space” by Candace Colt. This one was my favorite because Rhea is a witch of a certain age who learns that love has not passed her by, and that she is not yet ready (if, admittedly, she ever will be) to settle down and help raise her grandchildren. Her conundrum is a devastating one, as the necklace that powered her journey to C’tloc’s spaceship can either take her back to her home or power his spaceship so that he can get back home, but not both. If she leaves, he’ll die. If she stays, by the time she manages to get back to Earth her family will probably be long dead. She can only live one life, and she has to make a bittersweet choice between loves – with the help of her very snarky cat. This one was a heartbreaker.

Escape Rating A: This collection is always a Grade A read, no matter when I pick it up or where I choose to dip into it at any given time. The stories are always a delightful range of styles and worlds and pets, and this year is no exception.

That it supports a wonderful cause while giving hours if not days of reading delight is just icing on a very lovely reading cake – with a puppuccino on the side.

But Pets in Space 7 is, as always, a limited edition. So if any – or hopefully ALL – of the stories appeal to you, be sure to get your copy before they fly off to the stars for another year. Because every collection, every year, is a feathery, whiskery, winged delight!

Review: Riverside by Glenda Young and Ian Skillicorn + Giveaway

Review: Riverside by Glenda Young and Ian Skillicorn + GiveawayRiverside: The feel-good, life-affirming story of love, friendship, family and new beginnings by Ian Skillicorn, Glenda Young
Narrator: David McClelland, Melanie Crawley, Becky Wright, Lisa Armytage, Gerard Fletcher, Toby Laurence, Glen McCready, Penelope Rawlins, Keith Drinkel, Michael Chance
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: family saga, romantic comedy
Pages: 336
Length: 3 hours 51 minutes
Published by Wyndham Media Ltd. on July 21, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon

The feel-good, life-affirming story of love, friendship, family, and new beginnings!

Changes are coming to the riverside town of Ryemouth, and while some of the community are excited by new beginnings, others are finding it hard to let go of the past.

A new 14-episode audio soap with a cast of loveable characters you'll want to laugh and cry along with.

Susan and her boyfriend Dave can't wait to open their new café and deli, The Old Engine Room. But Susan's dad, George, is not so thrilled. He's never approved of Dave, who used to hang out with the wrong crowd. Can the happy young couple win George round?

Mary and Ruby have been friends since the first day of infant school, even though their lives have turned out very differently. Mary has a contented family life with husband George and daughter Susan. Poor Ruby has never been so lucky in love. Then she meets her teenage crush in surprising circumstances. Mary has her doubts about the charming Paul. Will Ruby finally get her own happy ever after?

Dave wants to put his past behind him. His dream is to make a success of the business, and one day be a good husband and father, like his own dad, Mike. Yet, he's forced to keep a secret from everyone he loves. Who should he turn to for help out of a tricky situation?

When the community comes under threat from developers, can everyone put their differences to one side to defend the town they love?

Riverside is full of romance, heartbreak and secrets, as well as gentle wit and humor.

The Riverside audiobook drama is based on the popular weekly magazine serial written and created by Glenda Young.

My Review:

A small town, a big change and two families whose reactions to that change and fortunes as a result of that change have gone in somewhat different directions. And in the middle, a young couple, not exactly Romeo and Juliet, but still caught in the tension between their two sets of parents but wanting to make a go of their own life – together.

If only they can get their parents – or at least get her acerbic, reluctant, pessimistic dad – to see that his perpetual “glass half-empty” attitude is driving a wedge between his daughter and her happiness. The one thing he wants more than anything else.

Once upon a time, Ryemouth was a shipbuilding town. A time that is not so long ago that Mike Brennan and George Dougal didn’t both spend 30 years of their working lives at the shipyard. But Mike and George are in the 50s now, both trying to figure out what happens next in their lives.

And that’s where the story gets its tensions from. It’s not that Mike and George are enemies, more that their fortunes have taken different turns afterwards. George fights change at every turn, while Mike embraces it – with the result that the Dougals have had a more difficult economic time in the aftermath of the shipyard closure, while the Brennans are doing well.

That George’s daughter Susan and Mike’s son Dave have been dating seriously for a while is just part of the simmering undercurrent. Mike is opening a new restaurant as part of the gentrification of the land that used to be that old shipyard. His son is the manager, and George’s daughter Susan is the assistant manager – putting her in constant company of a man George already doesn’t approve of.

Then again, George doesn’t approve of change much at all. And isn’t in the least shy about saying so at pretty much every opportunity. The families will need to find a way for everyone to do more than co-exist. They need to support their kids and launch them successfully into their own futures.

The parents just have to figure out how to get out of their own way. Well, at least George does.

Escape Rating B: If the premise of this sounds comfortably familiar, it should. It’s pretty much the opening scenario for every soap opera ever. And there’s a reason for that comfort, because this format is a lovely way to introduce all sorts of sometimes cozy, occasionally uncomfortable, and frequently just close enough to real situations to tug at the heartstrings.

What makes Riverside a bit different from the usual run of soaps – in addition to its small-town English setting – is that the story is told entirely in audio. But it’s not a radio play. The story is told through just the voices of the characters. There is minimal narration and very little in the way of sound effects – mostly ringing phones and doorbells.

In order for this to work, the voices have to be distinct and the actors have to be excellent at telling their part of the story through tone and inflection – because the listener doesn’t have anything else to go on.

The story that is told in Riverside is comfortably familiar. Two families, who have known each other since the parents grew up together – if not longer – have to work their way through ties of friendship and thorny knots of contention to support the next generation. While that next generation has their own issues to deal with.

But the way the story is told makes everything fresh and new, whether it’s the way that George is finally able to weaponize his hatred of change for the good of the community, Mary Dougal’s best friend Ruby and her lifelong misadventures in romance, or young Dave Brennan forced to confront the misadventures of his not so distant youth before they consume the hope of his present – and his future with Susan.

So if you’re looking for a way to while away a few hours that will pass very swiftly, listening to the trials and triumphs of the Dougals and the Brennans in Riverside is a lovely way to make a Sunday drive go just that much faster – without breaking the speed limit!

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

Giveaway to Win 5 x Audio copies of Riverside (Open to UK/US)
*Terms and Conditions –UK/US entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.
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Review: The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews + Giveaway

Review: The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews + GiveawayThe Belle of Belgrave Square (Belles of London, #2) by Mimi Matthews
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Belles of London #2
Pages: 432
Published by Berkley on October 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A London heiress rides out to the wilds of the English countryside to honor a marriage of convenience with a mysterious and reclusive stranger.
Tall, dark, and dour, the notorious Captain Jasper Blunt was once hailed a military hero, but tales abound of his bastard children and his haunted estate in Yorkshire. What he requires now is a rich wife to ornament his isolated ruin, and he has his sights set on the enchanting Julia Wychwood.
For Julia, an incurable romantic cursed with a crippling social anxiety, navigating a London ballroom is absolute torture. The only time Julia feels any degree of confidence is when she’s on her horse. Unfortunately, a young lady can’t spend the whole of her life in the saddle, so Julia makes an impetuous decision to take her future by the reins—she proposes to Captain Blunt.
In exchange for her dowry and her hand, Jasper must promise to grant her freedom to do as she pleases. To ride—and to read—as much as she likes without masculine interference. He readily agrees to her conditions, with one provision of his own: Julia is forbidden from going into the tower rooms of his estate and snooping around his affairs. But the more she learns of the beastly former hero, the more intrigued she becomes…

My Review:

The first book in the Belles of London series, The Siren of Sussex, introduced readers to four Victorian heroines who cared more for their horses, and the equestrienne skills required to master them, than for the marriage mart that was supposed to have been every young lady’s dream.

Not that the romantic heroes of the series, at least so far, are any more conventional than the heroines have so far proven to be.

The second book in the series’ case in point, presumed wallflower Julia Wychwood – with her dowry of 50,000 pounds, and reluctant fortune hunter and Crimean War veteran Captain Jasper Blunt.

But neither of them is exactly what they appear to be on the surface, as Julia and Jasper discover – very nearly to their cost – after it is too late to get out of their hasty marriage. Probably too late, anyway.

A problem which hinges on one of the many, many secrets that have either been kept from them or that they are keeping from each other. Any one of which could break them. Or their marriage. Or both.

Escape Rating B: In a review of another work of historical fiction, I said that “it seems as if behind every successful woman there’s either a rotten first husband, a harridan of a mother, or both.” I forgot about just how selfish and/or profligate fathers can be in attempting to doom their daughters to dependency or failure. I was definitely remiss.

Because Julia Wychwood has both the harridan of a mother and the selfish, self-indulgent cruelty of a father to contend with. And as the story begins she is not contending terribly well at all.

Her parents, both wealthy hypochondriacs, quite literally plan on marrying Julia off to a rich man who will keep her in London, near to their home in Belgrave Square, so that she can continue to be their unpaid attendant, verbal punching bag and slave for the rest of her life.

What makes the first third of this book hard to read is that she doesn’t fight back, in spite of being of age and having an inheritance of her own that is not dependent on her father. Because she is so beaten down that she can’t imagine getting out from under.

It’s only when the hypochondriacs bring in a quack doctor who bleeds her half to death that the penny finally drops that she isn’t even safe in her parents’ household. Their plan is to bleed her into insensibility so that she can be declared unfit and they can marry her off to a man they know will at least verbally abuse her just as much as they do.

It’s hard to read about Julia becoming increasingly downtrodden – particularly when it becomes known that she has options she isn’t exercising.

But that’s where Blunt comes in. He tried to do the honorable thing and marry her with her father’s permission, which was denied because Blunt intends to take Julia to his estate in the Yorkshire moors. A place where she’ll be much, much happier. She hates the London Season for a myriad of reasons that only begin with her acute social anxiety.

It’s when he finally manages to literally sweep Julia off her feet, in the most romantic fashion possible, that the story lifts itself up – right along with Julia’s health and spirits – and runs off with the reader’s heart. Because it’s when they are away from London that they are able to see all the problems that their hasty marriage has led them into – and to see a way out of those problems together.

Once they finally begin telling each other the truth.

As a reader, I have to say that Julia’s helplessness in that first third of the story hit a whole bunch of triggers for me – to the point where if this hadn’t been for a tour I would have DNF’d the book.

But I hung on because so many people love this series so much, and there were so many interesting features in the first book that I kept going to see if I could find the charm that others have found. And I have to say that I did.

In the first third of the story Julia has no agency, which is hard to read. At that point she finally takes her life into her own hands – no matter how much those hands happen to be trembling with weakness from blood loss at the time – and proposes marriage to Blunt and asks him to rescue her because she is temporarily incapacitated and rightfully afraid to stay another minute.

And who can blame her?

But once they are out of that terrible house the story takes off too. They have a lot to learn about each other, and they’ll need to grow together, but they have a solid friendship as well as a growing attraction to build upon.

Once they get all of the secrets between them out of the way.

Most of those secrets are fairly obvious to the reader pretty early on, but that doesn’t detract from the story at all. It’s the reveal of those secrets to each other that is key, not whether the reader has figured it out beforehand. Especially considering that those secrets are real and important and not just misunderstandammits. We understand the reason they were kept and empathize with how difficult it is to finally let them go.

One of the fun parts of the story is the way that literature and fairy tales are woven into the romance without ever taking it over. Julia is very much Belle to Jasper’s Beast, but that’s not the only trope that gets woven into the story.

In the end, The Belle of Belgrave Square is a charming Victorian romance about learning to face one’s tormentors, standing on one’s own two feet AND finding the right person to stand with you. It’s about planting yourself where you belong and blooming there. And it’s about doing the right thing rather than the easy thing – and taking the lumps for it.

While I had my doubts at the beginning, by the end I was all in for this one. To the point where I’m very curious to see where the series goes in its next entry, The Lily of Ludgate Hill, coming out in January of 2024.

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

Mimi has generously offered a fabulous giveaway that book tour participants can add to their post and on social media. Here are the details:

Giveaway period: October 3 – October 30

Terms & Conditions:

Giveaway hosted by Mimi Matthews. No Purchase Necessary. Entrants must be 18 years or older. Open to US residents only. All information will remain confidential and will not be sold or otherwise used, except to notify the winner and to facilitate postage of the book to the winner. Void where prohibited.

Giveaway Details:

1 winner (selected at random by Rafflecopter) receives a paperback copy of The Belle of Belgrave Square, signed and annotated by the author with personal comments, underlining of her favorite lines, and other highlights by Mimi Matthews. 

Giveaway is open from 12:01 am Pacific time 10/03/22 until 11:59pm Pacific time on 10/30/22. 

The winner will be announced on Mimi’s blog on 10/31/22.

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Review: In the Shadow of a Queen by Heather B. Moore

Review: In the Shadow of a Queen by Heather B. MooreIn the Shadow of a Queen by Heather B. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 384
Published by Shadow Mountain on October 4, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Based on the true story of the free-spirited daughter of Queen Victoria.
Princess Louise’s life is upended after her father’s untimely death. Captive to the queen’s overwhelming mourning, Louise is forbidden to leave her mother’s tight circle of control and is eventually relegated to the position of personal secretary to her mother—the same position each of her sisters held until they were married.
Already an accomplished painter, Louise risks the queen’s wrath by exploring the art of sculpting, an activity viewed as unbefitting a woman. When Louise involves herself in the day’s political matters, including championing the career of a female doctor and communicating with suffragettes, the queen lays down the law to stop her and devotes her full energy to finding an acceptable match for her defiant daughter.
Louise is considered the most beautiful and talented daughter of Queen Victoria, but finding a match for the princess is no easy feat. Protocols are broken, and Louise exerts her own will as she tries to find an open-minded husband who will support her free spirit.
In the Shadow of a Queen is the story of a battle of wills between two women: a daughter determined to forge her own life beyond the shadow of her mother, and a queen resolved to keep the Crown’s reputation unsullied no matter the cost.

My Review:

There’s a saying that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But sometimes, history repeats even when it is remembered. Because before Elizabeth II, the longest ruling monarch in British history, there was Victoria, relegated to being the second longest ruling monarch in that history. And there are definitely elements of that history that repeats because the patterns for it were set in protocol and tradition long before either was born.

Princess Louise c. 1860s

Queen Victoria is the queen under whose shadow all of her children existed, but the one whose early life is examined in this fictional biography is that of Princess Louise, her fourth daughter and NINTH child. The focus is on Louise because she is the one who rebelled against her mother’s strictures the most in the end and became a talented and prolific artist and sculptor. Her statues of her mother are still on display at Kensington Palace and Lichfield Cathedral in England and McGill University in Canada.

In the Shadow of a Queen is a portrait of the unconventional princess as a girl and young woman, in the ten critical years of her life after the death of her beloved father, Prince Albert. It’s the story of Louise growing up in a household of never-ending mourning amid endless and often contradictory restrictions, trying to find a space for herself in a world that remained under the constant, depressing pall of her mother’s grief.

Rather than a portrait of a rebellious royal, In the Shadow of a Queen is instead the portrait of a girl growing into womanhood under the shadow of a mother who is both larger than life and a law unto herself as that princess sows the seeds of the rebel she will one day become. Once she emerges into her own light.

Escape Rating B: As the story of Princess Louise’s early years, this is a story of obedience and eventually manipulation and maneuvering rather than rebellion. And unfortunately, disobedience would have been a lot more interesting to read about than obedience turns out to be.

At the same time, while Louise’s personal perspective on events is that of a child in the early parts of the book, what she is observing is a fascinating portrait of life in the royal household in the 1860s and 1870s. It’s easy for the reader to get caught up in the day-to-day happenings, even when not all that much happens from day to day.

What grabbed me in particular were questions outside of Louise’s experience because they reflect more recent events. Like Victoria, Elizabeth II reigned long and well into her Prince of Wales’ adulthood. Bertie was 60 when he finally became King Edward VII after a scandal plagued marriage and a long and strained relationship with his mother because of those scandals. While King Charles III’s relationship with his mother seems to have been less fraught, the scandal part of their stories does have some parallels.

The restrictions on not just Louise’s life but on any possible husband for her and all of the rules and regulations – and interference from the Queen in their lives even before the wedding – can’t help but make readers reflect on how much things have remained the same even with more than a century in between.

In spite of that invasive, restrictive, and sometimes downright capricious interference, the story ends with Louise’s marriage to John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, heir to the Dukedom of Argyll. The story portrays their marriage as a love match, resulting in a happy ever after for the book that was not reflected in the historical record. But it does mark a convenient place to bring the story of Louise’s early years to a relatively optimistic conclusion.

This version of Louise’s story is an intimate portrait. While not told from directly inside Louise’s head, it is focused on her perspective and only deals with outside events as she would have known about them. A perspective that expands as she grows from a tween into a woman in her early twenties. It is a family portrait, just that the family in question was, at the time, the ruling family of an empire that spanned the globe.

However, In the Shadow of a Queen is not the only such portrait of Princess Louise to be published this year or even this season. An Indiscreet Princess by Georgie Blaylock, also focuses on Louise’s early adulthood, but more specifically looks at her artistic ventures outside of the Palace and her many rumored romances. I can’t resist comparing the one book to the other, so I’ll be reviewing Louise’s other fictionalized biography in the coming weeks.

Because whether one looks at her art, her romances or her strained relationship with the short but towering figure of Queen Victoria, her life and her times were absolutely fascinating. Just as In the Shadow of a Queen is a portrait of the artistic rebel as a young princess, the times in which she lived serve as a picture of the events and the family that shaped the world we live in today. For both good and ill.

Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle

Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne CastleSweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, futuristic, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, science fiction romance
Series: Harmony #15
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on September 20, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Welcome to the world of Harmony, where--despite its name, things are anything but--danger lurks just beneath the surface in this new novel by New York Times bestselling author, Jayne Castle.
If there's something Ravenna Chastain knows, it's when to end things. And after she almost winds up the victim of a cult that believes she's a witch, it's easy to walk away from her dead-end career, ready for a new start. But where to find a job that would allow her to use her very specialized skill set? The answer is clear: she becomes a matchmaker.
But even a successful matchmaker can't find someone for everyone, and Ravenna considers Ethan Sweetwater her first professional failure. After nine failed dates, Ravenna knows it's time to cut Ethan loose. But Ethan refuses to be fired as a client--he needs one final date to a business function. Since Ravenna needs a date herself to a family event, they agree to a deal: she will be his (business) date if he will be her (fake) date to her grandparents' anniversary celebration.
What Ethan fails to mention is that attending the business function is a cover for some industrial espionage that he's doing as a favor to the new Illusion Town Guild boss. Ravenna is happy to help, but their relationship gets even more complicated when things heat up--the chemistry between them is explosive, as explosive as the danger that's stalking Ravenna. Lucky for her, Ethan isn't just an engineer--he's also a Sweetwater, and Sweetwaters are known for hunting down monsters...

My Review:

When I originally saw the title of this latest entry in the Harmony series, at first I thought it was going to be a Western – or at least a Weird West – kind of story. (The rhythm of the words in the title keeps taking me back to the movie McCabe & Mrs .Miller which was a sort of Western. I digress. Again. I know.) Harmony is absolutely wild enough and definitely weird enough to resemble the Weird West, but it’s a far-future lost colony world that presented some unique challenges to the first settlers and still does to their descendants even two centuries later.

The planet of Harmony – which doesn’t generally exhibit all that much harmony or we wouldn’t have this marvelous series – was settled by a group of human colonists that included members of the Arcane Society and their allies back on Earth. Who were people with psi powers as portrayed in the Victorian and contemporary set Arcane Society series and its offshoots, which were published under the author’s Amanda Quick and Jayne Ann Krentz pen names.

(If the setup sounds a bit familiar, it’s also the setup for the Celta series by Robin D. Owens, so if you like one you’ll like the other.)

By the time in Harmony’s history when this story takes place, Harmony has lost all contact with Earth, and the upheavals of that loss have settled back into a history that is still well-remembered but no longer as influential as it once was. Not that there aren’t some people looking to recreate the past glories of their ancestors. Even if those so-called glories are only in the minds of past – and present – psychopaths.

Which is what this entry in the series turns out to be about. Two people who think they can do their criminal predecessors one better, and two people who stand in their way. And eventually stand together to do it.

Escape Rating A-: What makes this entry in the series so much fun is the witty banter and slowly building romance between Ethan Sweetwater and Ravenna Chastain. She’s a police profiler turned matchmaker, and he’s the client she’s supposed to find a match for but it’s not working. At all. Which he refuses to acknowledge or let the project go for reasons that Ravenna doesn’t see but the reader probably does.

It’s only when Ethan helps her take out the trash – by which I mean the comatose body of her first stalker – that Ravenna gets the idea that there’s more to Ethan than initially appeared. Which is, of course, more than true.

He presented himself as a mild-mannered, kind of dorky engineer. And he is. But underneath that unassuming persona lurks a man who knows just who to call and how to dispose of a not-quite dead body. Ravenna is worried that he might be connected to the mob.

Ethan, on the other hand, knows that she’s his match. Lucky for him – in a twisted sort of way – the deadly adventures that keep finding them give them plenty of chances to bond into a relationship where they both know they’ll have each other’s backs through thick, thin, nightmares and flame-throwers.

All they have to do is convince each other it’s for keeps. And keep fighting to make sure that they will be a “keeps” to have.

That this turns out to be a delightful romance to go with the deadly danger has to do with the personalities of the three protagonists; Ethan, Ravenna, and Ravenna’s dust bunny Harriet. They make one hell of a team where each has a crucial part to play in taking down the villains and having a bit of fun along the way.

Dust bunnies excel at finding the fun in EVERYTHING!

One final note; there is obviously a long and storied history to Harmony but each book stands pretty much on its own. The necessary parts of the background history are always explained, while the occasional mention of a particular person or incident is more in the form of an “Easter Egg” that brings a smile if you know but lack of that knowledge does not detract from enjoyment of the book in hand. The romances are always self-contained to the individual book. That being said, the books in the series are a bit like potato chips in that you won’t want to read just one.

And I guarantee you’ll wish you had your own dust bunny to chortle at your side as you read!