Review: An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow + Excerpt

Review: An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow + ExcerptAn Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Wild River #1
Pages: 379
Published by Hqn on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Alaska, it’s always a white Christmas—but the sparks flying between two reunited friends could turn it red-hot…

If there’s one gift Erika Sheraton does not want for Christmas, it’s a vacation. Ordered to take time off, the workaholic surgeon reluctantly trades in her scrubs for a ski suit and heads to Wild River, Alaska. Her friend Cassie owns a tour company that offers adventures to fit every visitor. But nothing compares to the adrenaline rush Erika feels on being reunited with Cassie’s brother, Reed Reynolds.

Gone is the buttoned-up girl Reed remembers. His sister’s best friend has blossomed into a strong, skilled, confident woman. She’s exactly what his search-and-rescue team needs—and everything he didn’t know he craved. The gulf between his life in Wild River and her big-city career is wide. But it’s no match for a desire powerful enough to melt two stubborn hearts…

My Review:

This holiday romance combines a frenemies into lovers romance with a bit of a second chance at love romance, and wraps it all up in a sparkly bow.

A bow that occasionally seems to be pulled in two directions (and tied in a strangled knot) by two strong-willed workaholics, neither of whom are good at stopping to smell the candy canes and hot cocoa. But then, both Ericka and Reed have spent years working all the hours available in order to keep them too busy to let any of their griefs and fears catch up to them even for a second.

Until Ericka is forced to take a two week vacation – and decides to spend it in Wild River where she grew up with her childhood best friend Cassie – and Cassie’s very hot but exceedingly annoying brother Reed. Ericka and Reed have always seen the worst – and brought out the worst – in each other at every turn. But the sudden sexual chemistry between them adds a new and frustrating aspect to their rocky relationship – in more ways than one.

What at first seems to Ericka as an interminable stretch of time to be away from her high-pressure life as a surgeon at one of Anchorage’s big hospitals turns out to be much, much too short as she and Reed manage to get past their stubborn animosity to explore their intense chemistry.

Only to have her two week vacation abruptly cut in half, just as they figure out that under all that heat – was a whole lot more heat along with an emotional connection that neither of them has found with anyone else – not that either of them left much time in their lives for looking.

But once Ericka is back at work – and under the constantly disapproving eye of her emotionally distant father – who also happens to be her boss – Ericka falls back into her old patterns and lets Reed go – no matter how much she misses him, the connection they share and the much more balanced life she discovered in Wild River.

It takes a crisis of epic proportions – and very nearly a re-enactment of that famous Christmas story The Gift of the Magi – to bring Ericka and Reed to their holiday happy ever after – with just a bit of an assist from her dad the Grinch.

Escape Rating B: I picked this book because I lived in Anchorage for three years, leaving me with a fount of Alaska stories that I’m still telling 15 years later and a love for books set in “The Last Frontier” that persists to this day. That love is at least partially fueled by an equally endless need to figure out what matches the Alaska I remember – and what feels as far off the unbeaten path as Cicely was in the TV series Northern Exposure. (There is no Cicely AK, but local collective wisdom decided that Cicely was meant to stand in for Tok.)

So, I have a few quibbles. There is no Alaska General Hospital in Anchorage or anywhere else. The three “general” hospitals in Anchorage are Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska Native Medical Center and Alaska Regional Hospital.

Only two rail lines run all winter and one only runs once a month – the other and more likely runs once a week, the Aurora Winter Train, beginning in Anchorage and stopping in Wasilla, Talkeetna, Hurricane Flagstop Area (Chase, Curry, Sherman, Gold Creek, Canyon, Twin Bridges, Chulitna, Hurricane, Denali), Healy, Nenana and Fairbanks. Based on the description of Wild River, it’s likely between Wasilla and Talkeetna – or would be if it existed..

Also, contrary to the blurb, Anchorage is no one’s definition of a big-city, except in Alaskan terms. The current population of Anchorage is 380,000. It’s actually one of the smallest cities I’ve ever lived in. It only seems large compared to places like Wild River because it is the largest relatively “big” place that’s closer than Seattle WA or Vancouver BC which are about 700 miles away – basically a 3.5 hour flight.

Setting all that aside – no matter how much it drove me crazy during the story – An Alaskan Christmas is a lovely holiday romance that has a bit more to it than just the romance.

The romance happens fairly quickly, as is often the case in holiday romances. But it doesn’t feel rushed this time around, as Ericka and Reed had known each other for years – although admittedly they didn’t seem to like each other very much. But they were tied together not just by growing up together, but by an important moment that they shared, and a special bond over their lost parents.

Ericka’s mother died at about the same time when Reed and Cassie’s father disappeared. Ericka’s dad retreated into his work and left 15-year-old Ericka to grieve alone with the help of her friends.

Something else they share is missing fathers. Reed and Cassie’s dad is still missing, and Reed is still searching for him. Ericka’s dad, even though he is her boss – or perhaps especially because he is her boss – is a distant and disapproving figure in her life. She runs herself ragged trying to both please and emulate him – and she fails at every turn. Not because she’s not capable – because she’s actually excellent and any parent would be proud to have her as a daughter – but because the man has become so emotionally disconnected that he’s incapable of approving of anything or anyone but especially his own daughter. It IS his way of coping with the loss of his wife but it’s left Ericka quite literally out in the emotional cold. Ericka’s journey in this holiday tale is to finally figure out what SHE wants out of her own life – before she finds herself trapped in her work just like her father. That part of her story was heartbreaking. Ericka deserved better for herself and a big part of her happy ending is that she finally reached out and grabbed that better with both hands.

And like the Grinch, her dad’s heart did seem to grow three sizes at the end – but he still has a long way to go. Ericka, with Reed’s help, has made it.

Excerpt from AN ALASKAN CHRISTMAS by Jennifer Snow

He tossed the blanket over her quickly and stood. “Okay, so you’re all good?”

She nodded, but her gaze was on his midsection. And her unblinking stare was full of unconcealed attraction. The same way she’d checked out his biceps in the bar.

He glanced down to see that his T-shirt had risen slightly on the right side, exposing his stomach.

Obviously his abs were to her liking.

“Erika.”

“Huh?” Still staring.

“It’s been a while, huh?”

She frowned, finally pulling her gaze back to his. “For what?

“Since you’ve had sex.”

Her mouth gaped.

“I mean, that’s why you’re staring at my stomach like I’m a piece of chocolate.”

“I was not,” she said, but her cheeks flushed. “And I’ll have you know, I have plenty of sex…all the time. Men beating down my door for it…” she mumbled.

That he wouldn’t doubt, except he knew from Cassie that she was a reclusive workaholic and he was willing to bet the only penises she saw were her naked patients.

“And anyway, even if that was the case, you’d be the last guy I’d want to break my dry spell.”

Okay, now he was intrigued. Especially since he’d made no motion to fix his shirt and her eyes were glued on his abs again, betraying her words. He crossed his arms, making sure to flex his biceps for her viewing pleasure, as well. She wasn’t going to get him, but all of a sudden, he wanted her to want him. “Oh yeah, why’s that?”

“Because I don’t think you’d be any good.”

What?

“Hot guys are rarely good in bed. They don’t think they need to be. They are selfish and rarely leave a woman satisfied.”

She’d obviously been with the wrong dudes. “In your expert opinion?”

She nodded. “As a doctor and woman. Yes.”

Damn, he’d like to kiss that smug expression right off her face, but the voice in his head told him to leave her drunk ass alone. “Okay, then. Good night.”

“What? Not even going to try to prove me wrong?”

In two strides, he’d reached her. Pulling back the blanket, he lifted her and, seating himself on the couch, he set her down on his lap. A leg on either side, she straddled him. “You sure you want to eat your words?”

Instead of answering, she gripped his face and kissed him. Hard. His surprise faded fast as his mouth suddenly craved hers. The taste of tequila mingled with her cherry lip gloss and he forgot he was the one teaching her a lesson. Her legs gripped his and she pressed her chest against him, the feel of her breasts beneath the soft cashmere making his heart pound against them.

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Review: Meet Me on Love Lane by Nina Bocci + Giveaway

Review: Meet Me on Love Lane by Nina Bocci + GiveawayMeet Me on Love Lane (Hopeless Romantics, #2) by Nina Bocci
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy, women's fiction
Series: Hopeless Romantics #2
Pages: 304
Published by Gallery Books on December 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the USA TODAY bestselling author of On the Corner of Love and Hate comes a romantic comedy about a woman who grudgingly returns home to small-town Pennsylvania, only to find herself falling in love—not only with the town, but with two of its citizens.

Charlotte Bishop is out of options in New York City. Fired, broke, and blacklisted by her former boss, she’s forced to return to her hometown of Hope Lake, PA to lick her wounds. Although she’s expecting to find a miserable place with nothing to do, she is pleasantly surprised to discover it is bustling and thriving.

She’s only supposed to be in Hope Lake temporarily until she can earn enough money to move back to New York. She’s not supposed to reconnect with her childhood friends or her beloved grandmother. She’s not supposed to find her dream job running the local florist shop. And she’s definitely not supposed to fall for not one but two of Hope Lake’s golden boys: one the beloved high school English teacher, the other the charming town doctor.

With a heart torn between two men and two cities, what’s a girl to do?

A perfect blend of humor and heart, Meet Me on Love Lane is the second in a new series from USA TODAY bestselling author Nina Bocci that is sure to charm fans of Josie Silver and Sally Thorne.

My Review:

There are two literary versions of home. One is the Robert Frost version, the one that says that “home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” There’s also the Thomas Wolfe version that says that , “You can’t go home again.”

There’s also the romantic version, the one that says that “home is where the heart is.”.

In a way, Meet Me on Love Lane is a story about crossroads. The story is firmly parked at the corner of contemporary romance and women’s fiction, as it’s partly about Charlotte Bishop’s choice between a romance with the new “Dr. Hotness” in town, and something sweeter but more elusive with someone from her past.

It’s also at the intersection of two of those versions of home. Charlotte has returned to Hope Lake because she needs a place to regroup and recharge, and that takes her back to her childhood home in Hope Lake with her father and grandmother. A home that her mother wrenched her away from when she was 10.

She’s returned to Hope Lake because she has no place else to go, and because she hopes that her family will take her back in – no matter that it has been 20 years since she was last there.

It turns out that the story is about Charlotte discovering that her home is where her heart is, and that, in spite of all the years gone by and all the memories that she’s deliberately suppressed, her heart and her home are in Hope Lake – along with all the love – of all kinds – that she left behind.

All she has to do is squelch the bitter voice of her mother that still rings in her head even years after the woman’s death – and let herself remember all the good things her mother wanted her to forget.

Because her heart has found its home – no matter what her head – and the voices from her past – have to say about the matter.

Escape Rating B+: In spite of the title, Meet Me on Love Lane feels like it’s more about Charlotte and all of her relationships – with her dad, her grandmother, her best girlfriend, her other childhood friends and everyone in her former/future hometown than it is about her romantic escapades.

Particularly poignant is Charlotte’s relationship with her grandmother Gigi – who is an absolute hoot. We all wish we had a grandmother like Gigi – while at the same time feeling for Charlotte and everything she’s missed.

She’s also not really in the “torn between two lovers” situation that the blurb implies. Every woman in town – of every age – seems to drool at least a bit over “Dr. Hotness”, but there’s never any spark there. Charlotte may want there to be, but there’s never even a hint of a need to make a decision on that front.

However, Charlotte is much more torn over the choice between returning to New York City and staying in Hope Lake. Some of that is because of her mother’s disparaging voice in her head, and some of that is just because these are very different kinds of places and they represent very different lives. There’s not a right or a wrong answer to that question, but the adjustments to her life will be profound no matter what she chooses – and it is a choice worth serious consideration.

The sweetness in the story comes from Charlotte’s rediscovery of Henry, the man who once upon a time was a 10 year old boy and her absolute best friend in the whole world. The boy who it hurt so much to leave behind that she made herself forget him. Completely.

The way that Charlotte works her way back to Henry, and reconnects with her own past, is her journey in this story. It lets her relearn just how much she loved this place and these people, and just how much of herself she cut off and left behind in order to survive life with her mother.

Exactly what was wrong with her mother is never completely resolved. No one actually knows. That there is no closure for Charlotte to explain so much that needs explaining leaves Charlotte bewildered but coping (and recommending therapy all around) and leaves the reader with a lack of resolution in that part of the story. While admittedly that’s real life – we don’t always get the explanations we need or want or are due – but in fiction most readers, myself included, expect a bit more satisfaction in our happy ever afters.

But Charlotte – and Henry – certainly earn theirs. With everyone in town cheering them on.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Meet Me on Love Lane to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Cost of Honor by Diana Munoz Stewart + Giveaway

Review: The Cost of Honor by Diana Munoz Stewart + GiveawayThe Cost of Honor (Black Ops Confidential, #3) by Diana Munoz Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Black Ops Confidential #3
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on November 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He gave up everything to escape his family

The only male to be adopted into the notorious Parish family, Tony Parish always did right by his vigilante sisters. But when an attempt to protect one of them went horribly wrong, he had to fake his own death to escape his fanatical family. Tony set sail and ended up in Dominica―face to face with the woman of his dreams...

Now he must give up Honor to save her

After the death of her mother, Honor Silva moved to Dominica, where her family could help her heal and move on. But her activist mother left her more than money, she left her proof that could take down one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.

Tony gave up everything he thought he knew when he fled his family. But when a threat too dangerous for Tony and Honor to fight on their own closes in, he has no choice but to go to them for help. Problem is, they'll demand something in return―something that could cost Tony not just Honor, but also the love that changed him forever.

My Review:

Through a certain lens, all three of this week’s books are wrapped around the question about whether the ends justify the means – and who gets to make that decision.

The way that this is worked out in The Cost of Honor, and in the entire Black Ops Confidential series, makes this both a harder and a deeper story than the events on its surface. And a fitting conclusion to the story arc begun in the awesome I Am Justice. (The book is awesome and so is the character of Justice Parrish.)

While some readers have said that this book can be read as a standalone, I’m not totally sure that’s true. Because this story brings full circle the events of that first book, and also adds new layers to the question that was asked in the second book, The Price of Grace.

It’s the question of whether the Parrish family and its League of Warrior Women is just a tight-knit family of adoption – or if it’s actually more of a cult.

That’s an answer I’m not quite sure of by the end of the story. I actually think the question is even more wide open now than it was at the beginning.

The story in The Cost of Honor is the story of one of the few men adopted into that League of Warrior Women – Tony Parrish. A Tony Parrish who either betrayed the family or tried to protect it at the beginning of I Am Justice – and who let his family believe he was dead rather than face the music of that seeming betrayal.

By this point in Tony’s story, he’s been on the run for months. The family he left behind has finally discovered that he didn’t die after all – and they are pissed.

It’s not all about the lie. Well, it is about the lie about him being dead, and the depths of everyone’s grief. But it’s really about the schism that his departure has created in a family that has prided itself on its rock-solid unity for the past 40 years. A unity that has been protected by their ability to erase inconvenient memories and emotions – like the emotions that led to Tony’s disappearance and his memories of a family that acts as judge, jury and executioner on those who have avoided, evaded or co-opted the law.

Because Tony has been found just as he’s found someone worth keeping ALL his memories intact for. But Honor Silva in just the kind of trouble that his family is expert at fixing. Bringing them in will mean that they will “fix” him in return for their help.

The cost of Tony’s honor may be the loss of her. It’s a price that he may be willing to pay – but Honor definitely is NOT.

Escape Rating B: I leave this book, and this series, with a whole boatload of mixed feelings. About the size of the boat used in the “big finish” rescue that concludes the action of this story.

There were three parts to this story, the romance between Tony and Honor, Tony’s very real fears of being found by his family and having his memory erased, and the equally real danger that Honor finds herself in just as Tony enters her life.

The romance was sweet and very hot. Extremely hot. While the romantic element of romantic suspense like this series are often fast and adrenaline fueled, the hot-sex-into-love relationship between Tony and Honor feels almost too fast for their characters and has more than a whiff of insta-love to it.

The danger that Honor is in is very real, but felt at first like it came a bit out of the blue. And then the story digs into Honor’s past, and her mother’s past, and keeps on digging. Until it finds itself very near something like the Harvey Weinstein case, only even longer lasting and with even deadlier consequences. This got deeper and darker than I expected, and I mean that in the best way possible.

But then, on my third hand, there’s Tony’s story. He wants to help Honor. He needs to help Honor. And he needs to run from his family who mean well in the broadest sense but may not mean the best for him. In order to protect their secret operations, operations which really, really need to be protected, they’re going to fuck with Tony’s mind and memories.

I don’t know about you, but I’d run too. While the theory behind what they plan to do is something I’ve run across before, it still feels like something that no one should do, particularly in the name of “love” the way that it’s presented here. Even though this does manage to get to a happy ending I found that part extremely troublesome. Every organization needs people who ask hard questions. And we are the product of who we’ve been, both the good and the bad parts. That everything manages to work out in the end felt like someone got let off the hook in a way that sticks in my mind with very troublesome thoughts.

The Parrish family have decided that the end result of protecting their operations justifies the means of messing with their own people’s minds and memories. And I’m troubled by that being the happy ending. Your reading mileage may definitely vary.

This is one to read, and ponder. And keep right on pondering. I still am.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Cost of Honor to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: All Fired Up by Lori Foster

Review: All Fired Up by Lori FosterAll Fired Up by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Road to Love #3
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on November 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He’s tantalizing trouble she can’t resist…

Charlotte Parrish has always wanted a certain kind of man: someone responsible, settled, boring. Bad boys need not apply. But when her car leaves her stranded and a mysterious stranger with brooding eyes and a protective streak comes to her rescue, she can’t deny how drawn she is to him. In town searching for family he’s never met, Mitch is everything she never thought she wanted—and suddenly everything she craves.

Finding his half brothers after all these years is more than Mitch Crews has allowed himself to wish for. Finding love never even crossed his mind…until he meets Charlotte. She’s sweet, warmhearted, sexier than she knows—and too damn good for an ex-con like him. But when his past comes back to haunt him, putting Charlotte—and the family he’s come to care for—in danger, Mitch isn’t playing by the rules. He’s already surrendered his heart, but now he’ll risk his life.

My Review:

Once upon a time I used to read ALL of Lori Foster’s books, but it’s been a while. Actually, I just looked and it’s been over a year and a half, so quite a while, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled the last time.

So I took a little break.

All Fired Up reminded me of just why I read so many of her books. So it looks like I’ll be back for the first two books in this series, Driven to Distraction and Slow Ride. Which I have not read, yet, and the lack of which did not detract from my enjoyment of All Fired Up one little bit.

In other words, feel free to start the series here, because it works as a standalone – not that it doesn’t tease interesting things about the previous two.

There are three story threads in All Fired Up. The first two threads are immediately tied together as the story opens, while the third does its level best – and absolute worst – to cut those first two threads into ribbons.

Mitch Crews comes to town because he wants to go home, even if it’s a home he’s never had with people he’s never met – people who don’t even know he exists. But he’s heard stories about Elliott Crews’ perfect family life with his wife and sons so many times that when he needs to put down roots after five years in prison, he goes to find them.

At least to find his two half-brothers. He can’t imagine that the woman his dad was cheating on will possibly want anything to do with him, a living reminder that her husband cheated on her at pretty much every turn.

But Elliott’s descriptions of his “real” family sounded so much better than Mitch’s childhood in a crime-riddled and poverty-stricken area, left in the neglectful care of his addict mother and her psychopathic dealer/boyfriend.

He wants to be close to his family, even if he’s not sure they are exactly his, or that they will want to have anything to do with him. Nothing surprises him more than their instant acceptance, not just on the part of his two older brothers, but especially the instant love and acceptance from their mother Ros. A woman who should hate him for where he came from but instead loves him as just another one of her boys.

There is one other thing that knocks him for six. His instant attraction to Charlotte Parrish, the Crews brothers’ office manager, assistant, and adopted sister. Brodie and Jack Crews may treat Charlotte like a little sister, but Mitch’s feelings for her are far from brotherly.

Mitch tries to ease his way cautiously into the kind of family that he’s never dreamed of, only to see those dreams come crashing down when the trouble that has trailed him all his life tails him back to his new-found family.

He’s ready to run, sure that they will want to cut their losses and cut him loose – only to discover that he’s theirs and they are his, through thick or thin or any trouble that might come their way.

Escape Rating B: There are, as I said, three threads to this story. One I loved, one I liked, and one didn’t quite work for me. Hence the B rating.

The part of the story that I really enjoyed was the relationship between Mitch and the family that turns out to be his after all. There’s a bit of a fairy tale element to his instant acceptance, but it adds to the joy of the story. The Crews family, with the exception of dear-old-philandering-dad, are all absolute gems. Even dad manages to grow up, at least a bit, by the end of the story – surprising the heck out of absolutely everyone.

But the best parts of this book are the interactions between Mitch and his brothers, and the way that the family accepts him, and the way that he learns to let them – in spite of his own issues and complete lack of experience in the way that a reasonably functional family should function.

That part of the story was particularly strong and it just plain worked.

Mitch’s budding romance with Charlotte had its ups and downs in a number of ways. Charlotte at 25 does seem rather innocent when it comes to men. (Charlotte’s actual awesomeness seems to have been a big part of the previous stories – this may be the one thing I missed by not having read the other books.) The men in their small town don’t seem to be worth the gas it would take for one of her brothers’ Mustangs to drive over them – and Brodie and Jack have done an entirely too excellent job of making sure that no one unworthy touches their little sister.

They think that Mitch “might” be worthy, if he decides to stay, so they don’t so much warn him off as warn him to take it slow and be damn sure of his intentions first. So the romance in this one consists of mostly heated thoughts and longing looks for a good bit of the story. Once they do get there, though, they do burn up the sheets – but it takes longer than normal for them to reach that point.

The psychopath following Mitch, the arsehole who was his mother’s drug dealer and her boyfriend, well, he drove me a bit batty. He’s disgusting slime and when the story switched to his perspective and his actions, let’s just say that it was not a head I wanted to spend any time in whatsoever. Also he seemed to be a cliched villain and, in the end, a bit of a paper tiger. The fear of him turned out to be greater than the reality – or he was just too damn good at picking his victims.

But I loved the way that Mitch, his family and friends took care of that disgusting piece of baggage from his past so that he and Charlotte and their extended family could have a much brighter future!

Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline ScottThe Poppy Wife: A Novel of the Great War by Caroline Scott
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War I
Pages: 448
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the tradition of Jennifer Robson and Hazel Gaynor, this unforgettable debut novel is a sweeping tale of forbidden love, profound loss, and the startling truth of the broken families left behind in the wake of World War I.1921. Survivors of the Great War are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many have been reunited with their loved ones, Edie’s husband Francis is still missing. Francis is presumed to have been killed in action, but Edie knows he is alive.

Harry, Francis’s brother, was there the day Francis went missing in Ypres. And like Edie, he’s hopeful Francis is living somewhere in France, lost and confused. Hired by grieving families in need of closure, Harry returns to the Western Front to photograph soldiers’ graves. As he travels through France gathering news for British wives and mothers, he searches for evidence his own brother is still alive.

When Edie receives a mysterious photograph that she believes was taken by Francis, she is more certain than ever he isn’t dead. Edie embarks on her own journey in the hope of finding some trace of her husband. Is he truly gone, or could he still be alive? And if he is, why hasn’t he come home?

As Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to the truth about Francis and, as they do, are soon faced with the life-changing impact of the answers they discover.

An incredibly moving account of an often-forgotten moment in history—those years after the war that were filled with the unknown—The Poppy Wife tells the story of the thousands of soldiers who were lost amid the chaos and ruins in battle-scarred France; and the even greater number of men and women hoping to find them again.

My Review:

I read this book on November 11, the day that was originally created as Remembrance Day. A day to commemorate those who served in the war that is over but not done for the protagonists of this marvelous story.

They always say that funerals are for the living, not the dead. They provide closure, and as humans, we all need that. Or, to put it another way, we need to get through those famous “seven stages of grief“ to move on with our lives after a loss.

This story is not merely about the two protagonists, but about thousands of people – possibly whole nations of people – who are stuck in that first stage of grief, shock and denial. Because there’s no body, no definitive answer. Only a gaping wound where a loved one used to be and no certainty that they are really gone. Only that they are lost – and so are their survivors.

Edie and Harry are linked by one such loss. Her beloved husband Francis was Harry’s oldest brother. Or at least by 1921 the past tense in reference to Francis is presumed but not absolutely certain. Francis is one of the thousands of soldiers who has been labeled “missing, presumed dead.”

Harry saw him wounded, shot in the chest at Ypres. Harry saw him sent back to an aid station, and was certain that his brother’s wound was fatal. But Francis’ body was never processed. If he is truly dead, no one seems to know where or when.

But four years after the war, someone sends Edie a photograph of Francis in the mail. It’s a Francis she never knew, a man who had been ravaged by war. But a man still alive – at least at the time the photograph was taken. There’s no note with the photograph and nothing to say where or when it was either taken or mailed.

So Edie asks Harry to look, again, for Francis. Not that Harry hasn’t looked plenty of times before – and not just for Francis. After all, it’s Harry’s job to go to the battlefields and graveyards and photograph the graves, the artifacts, and the ruins. He is the photographer of the lost. (This book was originally published in the U.K. under that title, The Photographer of the Lost.)

But sending Harry doesn’t stop Edie from also going herself. To look, one more time, for evidence that her husband is dead – or to find him if he is alive. She is not alone on her journey – and neither is Harry.

Their dead travel with them – and with every single person they meet along the way, all hoping against hope that this time they will find what they are looking for. Even if it’s just that much needed but so far elusive sense of closure.

Escape Rating A: The word most commonly used in reviews of The Poppy Wife (under both of its titles) is haunting. Because it is. All of Europe is haunted by the ravages and losses of the Great War, and so are all those left behind, as Edie, Harry and the people they meet along the way certainly are.

I will also add here that while this book is beautiful, it is not one to read if you are already down. This is a story about finding closure, not about finding a happy ever after. Unless you are prone to schadenfreude while watching other people grieve, this is a hard book to read. Beautiful and deeply felt, but if you’re in the doldrums it’s likely to make them worse, not better.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Or so goes the famous quote by William Faulkner. The Poppy Wife is the story of two people, and an entire generation, who are doing their best to put the dead into their own past. One step, one relic, one graveyard at a time. And we grieve with them.

I leave you, The Poppy Wife and The Photographer of the Lost with this final note. The painful and painstaking journey that Edie and Harry and the many characters of this story are trapped in the middle of continues to the present day. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, there are, on average, 50 discoveries of World War I remains every year, but few are ever identified. The remains of Lance Corporal Frederick Thomas Perkins were discovered in 2018, giving his granddaughter the closure that his family still needed more than a century after he was declared “missing, presumed dead.”

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Review: Angel in a Devil’s Arms by Julie Anne Long + Giveaway

Review: Angel in a Devil’s Arms by Julie Anne Long + GiveawayAngel in a Devil's Arms (The Palace of Rogues, #2) by Julie Anne Long
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Palace of Rogues #2
Pages: 368
Published by Avon on October 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From USA Today bestselling author Julie Anne Long comes the second book in an exciting new historical romance series, the first since her beloved Pennyroyal Green series.

He has devil's blood in his veins. At least, that's always been the legend. How else could the Duke of Brexford's notorious bastard son return from the dead? The brutal decade since Lucien Durand, Lord Bolt, allegedly drowned in the Thames forged him into a man who always gets what—and who—he wants. And what he wants is vengeance for his stolen birthright...and one wild night in Angelique Breedlove's bed.

Angelique recognizes heartbreak when the enigmatic Lord Bolt walks into The Grand Palace on the Thames, and not even his devastating charm can tempt her to risk her own ever again. One scorching kiss drives home the danger.

But in the space between them springs a trust that feels anything but safe. And the passion—explosive, consuming—drives Lucien to his knees. Now his whole life depends on proving his love to a woman who doesn't believe in it...because his true birthright, he now knows, is guardian of Angelique Breedlove's heart.

My Review:

I picked up Angel in a Devil’s Arms because I absolutely adored the first book in the Palace of Rogues series, Lady Derring Takes a Lover. That first book was just an absolutely terrific time. It sparkled with wit and humor and romance to the point where I smile just thinking about it.

But the marvelousness of Lady Derring makes it a very difficult act to follow for this second book in the series.

These are two very different romances, in part because the home-like inn and business venture grandly named The Grand Palace on the Thames is in a much better – and more successful position than it was during the first book.

But especially because Lady Delilah Derring (the Lady Derring of the first title) and Mrs. Angelique Breedlove (the Angel of the second) are, in spite of being the best of friends – or possibly because – very different people.

Including the way that they ended up in this business together. Lady Derring spent her life attempting to stay on the straight and narrow all of her life, while Angelique Breedlove got shoved off the path early in hers. There’s an irony in them both ending up in the same place – and at the dead hands of the same man – but that’s the story of the first book.

At this point, Delilah has found her happy ever after in the arms of the law-and-order bent Captain Hardy. Angelique begins this story happy for her friend and content with the safe and ordered life she has made for herself.

A life that is disturbed by Lucien Durand’s advent into their haven and into the midst of their found family.

Because Lucien, in spite of his title, was shoved off that straight and narrow path just as forcibly as Angelique – and just as early. He’s a bastard, both in the literal and figurative sense, but the literal sense definitely came first. The circumstances of his birth only form one part of what has made him the man he is. That his noble father’s wife attempted to have him murdered is certainly an even bigger part of how he came to be quite as scandalous as he is.

Also the reason that the ton has believed he was dead for the past decade – because he very nearly was.

Lucien is back in London, whether to exact revenge or simply rub everyone’s nose in his success – as well as his successfully continuing to breathe – is anyone’s guess. That he would find peace and contentment among Delilah and Angelique’s little found family – because of and not in spite of the rather unusual rules they insist that ALL their guests adhere to – no matter how rich or noble – is as much of a surprise to him as it is to anyone else.

That Lucien and Angelique, with their different perspectives on their surprisingly similar emotional wounds, would be drawn to each other like iron filings to magnets astonishes them both.

She’s been hurt by men who wanted her too many times to give in easily. And he’s been abandoned too often by people he thought loved him to believe that he’s capable of that emotion.

But they are. They both, most definitely, are.

Escape Rating B: I liked reading Angelique and Lucien’s story, and I adore Angelique as a character. But this is a very different book from Lady Derring Takes a Lover, and it suffers in the comparison.

Angel in a Devil’s Arms is a much quieter book than the first one. There was just so much going on in that first book. Not only do Delilah and Angelique go into business together, they create the inn of their dreams, begin putting together their found family AND help Captain Hardy uncover the smuggling ring.

That’s a LOT. And the dialog between Delilah and Captain Hardy zips and zings all along the way.

Angelique and Lucien’s romance is very different. They both been battered a lot more by the school of hard knocks – and taken more than their share of those knocks – then Delilah and Tristan, even though their road was far from easy.

Angelique and Lucien are both wounded souls, and both wounded in the same way. Angelique was seduced and betrayed and ended her “career” as the late unlamented Lord Derring’s mistress because she had no other choices. Lucien’s mother was the mistress of an Earl who abandoned both her and Lucien when Lucien was 15, at the behest of his new wife. The one who tried to have Lucien killed. Those acts embittered Lucien and killed his mother – even before the attempted murder.

But they are both coming from rather dark places and are having difficult times making peace with themselves. That they manage to find peace with each other is a surprise and not initially a welcome one. They both have to change who they thought they were to make it work – and they very nearly don’t.

Angel in a Devil’s Arms misses the dramatic ups and downs of the first book. But the happy ever after is still very much earned.

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

To celebrate the release of ANGEL IN A DEVIL’S ARMS by Julie Anne Long, we’re giving away a paperback copy of Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long!

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GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR. Giveaway ends 11/12/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.

Review: Gold Digger by Rebecca Rosenberg + Giveaway

Review: Gold Digger by Rebecca Rosenberg + GiveawayGold Digger, The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor by Rebecca Rosenberg
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 318
Published by LION HEART PUBLISHING on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

GOLD DIGGER, The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor!

One look at Baby Doe and you know she was meant to be a legend! She was just twenty years old when she came to Colorado to work a gold mine with her new husband. Little did she expect that she’d be abandoned and pregnant and left to manage the gold mine alone. But that didn’t stop her!

She moved to Leadville and fell in love with a married prospector, twice her age. Horace Tabor struck the biggest silver vein in history, divorced his wife and married Baby Doe. Though his new wife was known for her beauty, her fashion, and even her philanthropy, she was never welcomed in polite society.

Discover how the Tabors navigated the worlds of wealth, power, politics, and scandal in the wild days of western mining.

“Rosenberg’s rollicking Western adventure strikes gold with a gutsy, good-hearted spitfire of a heroine and action aplenty.”—THELMA ADAMS, bestselling author of The Last Woman Standing

Gold Digger tells the true story of Lizzie “Baby Doe” Tabor, a beautiful young woman who in 1878 marries the son of a wealthy miner in order to save her family from penury. Shrewd and stubborn, Lizzie fights back-biting Victorian society, wins and loses vast fortunes, and bests conniving politicians in her larger-than-life story. A twisting tale worthy of Mark Twain, with a big-hearted heroine at the center. —MARTHA CONWAY, author of The Underground River

My Review:

Mark Twain once said that “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities;Truth isn’t.” There are plenty of variations on this quote, but the one by Twain is particularly apropos to this story as it was written in 1897, during the time period covered by this chapter of Baby Doe’s life.

Baby Doe Tabor ca 1883

Her real life. Because even though Gold Digger is a novel, it is based on the life of a real person, Lizzie “Baby Doe” Tabor. A person who became a legend, even in her own lifetime.

Baby Doe’s life was a rags to riches story, in the best Western tradition. But, and it turned out to be a very big but, her life turned back into rags, as so many did when their fortunes rose and fell with the price of gold, or in her case silver, and on the vicissitudes of governments and the claiming and production of always chancy mines.

Because Baby Doe was not just a woman but a beautiful, intelligent and ambitious woman at a time when women who were the first were supposed to hide the second and third, and in a place where women of any kind were rare and as hardened as the men, the life she led and the legends that followed her are heavily influenced by those attitudes.

That she used her beauty and ambition to seduce or ensnare – at least as her contemporaries saw it – a married man who possessed both wealth and political ambition did not endear her to those contemporaries.

That at least according to this book she sincerely loved him, and that she certainly stuck with him through thick and thin – and there was plenty of both – may lend credence to the romantic parts of this story. She certainly stood by him when plenty of others didn’t.

But this is her life – or at least the biggest part of it. And it’s a life well worth learning about – and remembering.

Escape Rating B: I have some mixed feelings about this re-telling of Baby Doe Tabor’s story. On the one hand, her life was absolutely legendary. It makes for the sort of story that would be labeled highly implausible if it were purely fiction. As the fictionalization of a true story, it’s a marvel. The treatment of her life story, both contemporaneously and after her death, is a reflection on the way that the lives of exceptional women are so often dealt with. She was vilified as a homewrecker – and worse – during her lifetime and erased after the fact.

Baby Doe Tabor, photo taken 1885-1895

Her story is well-known in Colorado where she lived, but not outside her old stomping – and mining – grounds.

So on the one hand her story is one very much worth telling.

But this telling of it gave me a bit of pause. Attempting to get inside the head of a historical figure, even in fiction, doesn’t always work. (One of the things that worked well for me in yesterday’s book was that the author did not attempt to get inside Princess Margaret’s head. We saw what she did, and other people’s reactions to it, but we didn’t hear her thoughts and that felt right.)

We spend a lot of time in Baby Doe’s head, and her thoughts as presented owed more to historical romance than history – or so it felt to me. And her internal dialog felt a bit overblown – although that matches with writing of her time period. Leaving this reader a bit torn.

In the end, Baby Doe’s life is one that should be better known, and I would be interested in knowing more about. But this particular treatment didn’t quite work for me.

Your reading mileage, whether by car or mining cart, may definitely vary.

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

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Review: The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blalock

Review: The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie BlalockThe Other Windsor Girl: A Novel of Princess Margaret, Royal Rebel by Georgie Blalock
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In a historical debut evoking the style of The Crown, the daughter of an impoverished noble is swept into the fame and notoriety of the royal family and Princess Margaret's fast-living friends when she is appointed as Margaret's second Lady-in-Waiting.

Diana, Catherine, Meghan…glamorous Princess Margaret outdid them all. Springing into post-World War II society, and quite naughty and haughty, she lived in a whirlwind of fame and notoriety. Georgie Blalock captures the fascinating, fast-living princess and her “set” as seen through the eyes of one of her ladies-in-waiting.

In dreary, post-war Britain, Princess Margaret captivates everyone with her cutting edge fashion sense and biting quips. The royal socialite, cigarette holder in one hand, cocktail in the other, sparkles in the company of her glittering entourage of wealthy young aristocrats known as the Margaret Set, but her outrageous lifestyle conflicts with her place as Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister. Can she be a dutiful princess while still dazzling the world on her own terms?

Post-war Britain isn’t glamorous for The Honorable Vera Strathmore. While writing scandalous novels, she dreams of living and working in New York, and regaining the happiness she enjoyed before her fiancé was killed in the war. A chance meeting with the Princess changes her life forever. Vera amuses the princess, and what—or who—Margaret wants, Margaret gets. Soon, Vera gains Margaret’s confidence and the privileged position of second lady-in-waiting to the Princess. Thrust into the center of Margaret’s social and royal life, Vera watches the princess’s love affair with dashing Captain Peter Townsend unfurl.

But while Margaret, as a member of the Royal Family, is not free to act on her desires, Vera soon wants the freedom to pursue her own dreams. As time and Princess Margaret’s scandalous behavior progress, both women will be forced to choose between status, duty, and love…

My Review:

Vera Strathmore may be telling this story, but it’s Princess Margaret who dominates every single page, just as she does Vera for ten of the best/worst/most notorious years of both of their lives.

This isn’t a complete biography of Margaret, nor is it intended as nonfiction. Not that the reader doesn’t wonder, every single step of the way, how much fact underlies the fiction.

After all, this was a storied life, conducted all too frequently in public, and most of the facts are known. Whether the author has captured the feelings behind those facts? Well, that’s something that the reader will have to decide for themselves.

But what we have feels like a peek behind the scenes of Buckingham Palace – or Buck Place as it is referred to in the book – into the life of Princess Margaret, the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, during Margaret’s glory years. The years when Margaret was to the post-war Press what Princess Diana became in the late-20th century – a source for endless photographs and reams of scandalous speculation and gossip, as well as a tear-jerker of a story of tragic romance.

The difference is that Margaret outlived her legend, while Diana never did.

But the times were very different. In 1949, when Vera meets the Princess, Britain is still languishing in the doldrums of post-war austerity. Unlike the US, rationing was still in force – and enforced. The old, privileged aristocratic way of life, so lovingly portrayed in Downton Abbey, was breathing its last – and Vera felt like her life was expiring with it.

Princess Margaret in 1951

Into the gloom of Vera’s life, as well as the gloom of post-war Britain, Princess Margaret, her outrageous bon mots and the larger-than-life antics of her “Set” blew through like a strong wind – a harbinger of change.

In the story, Vera served the Princess from 1949 to 1959. During that decade, Margaret went from the spoiled and self-indulgent but favorite daughter of the King to the disregarded and scandal-prone sister of the Queen. It’s no surprise that the years when Margaret is at her most sparkling are the years before her beloved father’s death.

And that she never manages to recapture that sparkle again.

Instead, we watch through Vera’s eyes as the Princess’ “set” breaks up and Margaret is increasingly alone. While the author never attempts to portray Margaret’s inner life, we see her actions, and their consequences, through Vera as she makes the Princess’ world her own – to her own detriment.

Because the Princess lives in a bubble of her own making. And when Vera, out of love and friendship, pricks that bubble even a little, she finds herself on the outside, alone and adrift, as everyone around her warned she would.

It’s only at that point that Vera finally takes her life in her own hands and forges her own path. A feat that Margaret, for all her privilege, never manages to achieve.

Escape Rating A-: I stayed up half the night reading this. It was like the best kind of gossip – compelling and absolutely fascinating from beginning to end, a peek into a world that I’ll never see in real life. At the same time, it also has the compulsion of driving by a wreck and being unable not to look. Knowing anything of Princess Margaret’s history we already know it’s a train wreck – but we can’t turn our eyes away as the vehicle – in this case Margaret’s life – crashes and burns.

I will also say that it is weird to see events that I remember contemporaneously being treated as historical fiction. Very weird. The whole idea that the 1960s have now become “historical” feels very odd indeed.

What everyone remembers of Margaret’s life is the irony factor in her tragic romance with Peter Townsend. In 1936, her uncle King Edward VIII was forced to abdicate the throne to her father, King George VI, because he wasn’t permitted to marry divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson. The head of the Church of England could not marry a divorced person. By 1953, Margaret had dropped from being heir presumptive to the throne on her sister’s ascension to being fourth in line after Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. But she was still high enough in that line, and divorce was still so deeply frowned upon that her desire to marry the divorced Peter Townsend – was forbidden by both her sister the Queen and the Church of England.

I always found it ironic that Margaret’s eventual marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones ended in divorce. In 1953 it was anathema for her to marry a divorcé, but by 1978 she had become one herself. In all likelihood, Margaret’s marital failure paved the way for the acceptance of the same by several of her royal nephews and nieces, including the Prince of Wales.

Princess Margaret in 1958

But Margaret in the 1950s is a compelling character who stands firmly at the center of this story – to the point where Vera and her own needs, wants and desires fade into the background – even for herself. We also see Margaret change from glittering to brittle as the spotlight moves away from her to her sister, the “perfect” Queen.

While Margaret had always been capricious and frequently cutting, the more she is pushed into the background the more she tried to escape that background by being as outrageous as possible – and the more those around her suffered for her whims and moods. Margaret is never a villain, but she is also never someone that Vera could or should rely on. Her whims could be cruel, and Vera and the other members of Margaret’s household were her closest and most frequent targets.

In the end, this is the portrayal of two women locked together in a crisis of their own making. The one who seemingly holds all the cards having less freedom than the one who initially feels like the dependent partner of a codependent relationship.

Margaret’s life was a train wreck, not all of it of her own making. And we can’t turn our eyes away.

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Review: Tell Me No Lies by Shelley Noble + Giveaway

Review: Tell Me No Lies by Shelley Noble + GiveawayTell Me No Lies (Lady Dunbridge) by Shelley Noble
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Dunbridge #2
Pages: 368
Published by Forge Books on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Miss Fisher meets Downton Abbey in Tell Me No Lies, part of the critically acclaimed Lady Dunbridge Mystery series from New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble.

Rise and shine, Countess, you're about to have a visitor.

Lady Dunbridge was not about to let a little thing like the death of her husband ruin her social life. She's come to New York City, ready to take the dazzling world of Gilded Age Manhattan by storm. The social events of the summer have been amusing but Lady Phil is searching for more excitement---and she finds it, when an early morning visitor arrives, begging for her help. After all, Lady Phil has been known to be useful in a crisis. Especially when the crisis involves the untimely death of a handsome young business tycoon.

His death could send another financial panic through Wall Street and beyond.

With the elegant Plaza Hotel, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the opulent mansions of Long Island's Gold Coast as the backdrop, romance, murder, and scandals abound. Someone simply must do something. And Lady Dunbridge is happy to oblige.

My Review:

I picked up Tell Me No Lies because I really enjoyed the first book of Lady Dunbridge’s adventures, Ask Me No Questions. And yes, I sense a theme in those titles and I’m wondering where it goes from here. The (presumably) original Oliver Goldsmith quote, from his play She Stoops to Conquer, just say “Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no fibs.” Close enough.

So, here we have the delicious fun of Tell Me No Lies. And it is definitely delicious – and that’s no fib at all. And fun. Also deadly. But Lady Philomena Dunbridge, Phil to her friends and readers, is there to save the day.

Where in Ask Me No Questions Phil literally walked into the murder, and is caught in the middle of the investigation because she needs to get her friend Reggie and herself out of the frame that they have definitely been placed in, she has spent the several months since those events researching the proper procedures for conducting investigations, with the able assistance of her supposed servants, Preswick and Lily.

All in order to be of future assistance to the charming, mysterious Mr. X who is paying Phil’s rent in exchange for future investigative services – and possibly more.

Phil’s involvement with this new case is a direct result of the previous. High society in Gilded Age Manhattan is rather a tight circle, and Phil has developed a reputation for saving reputations where such is warranted. The morning after Phil’s attendance at the sparkling debut ball for debutante Agnes Pratt, Mr. Luther Pratt, the debutante’s father, appears at Phil’s door to request her immediate return to the scene of the festivities.

The corpse of one of the other guests has been found in the laundry. It’s up to Phil to figure out just how the man ended up dead, and whether the deed was done by one of the well-heeled guests or one of their respectable servants. But better a servant than a guest – especially since the guests were all important titans of banking and industry, and a scandal amongst them could precipitate a further destabilization of the volatile stock market.

Little do they know that it’s already too late for most of them to save themselves from either the investigation, the fallout, or the impending crash.

All Phil can do is make sure that only the guilty are punished for the crime. As soon as she can figure out the who, the how and most especially the why of it all. No matter how important the man who stands in her way.

Escape Rating A-: I enjoyed Tell Me No Lies every single bit as much as I did Ask Me No Questions. I absolutely adore the character of Phil, her perspective is witty and trenchant and just the right amount of cynical. That she reminds me very much of Phryne Fisher is certainly a plus.

Howsomever, I do have just a couple of quibbles. The blurbs describe this series as Miss Fisher (presumably of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) meets Downton Abbey. Those same blurbs also set the series in Gilded Age New York City. There’s truth in those descriptions, as well as more than a bit of hyperbole.

Also more than a hint of misdirection. This entry in the series in particular is set in late October, 1929. As the story opens, the talk of the town is that J.P. Morgan and his business associates have just attempted to stop the fall of the banks by injecting millions of dollars of their own money into the system. (This really happened.) But their efforts were doomed to fail, a fact that is fairly obvious in the background of the story.

In other words, this story takes place in the days, the very last days, before Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the day the stock markets fell in a crash that had been anticipated for over a month – and was certainly both feared and foreseen by the many financiers in this story.

So not actually the Gilded Age, but the glorious excess of that Gilded Age probably sounds more lively than the Great Depression. Not that this book isn’t plenty lively in spite of the shadows of doom. Phil is guaranteed to put plenty of life into any party.

Also there’s not so much of Downton Abbey here. Not just because the story is set in New York, and service in the U.S. was never nearly as entrenched as it was in Britain, but also because Phil exists between the classes. By birth she is upper class, but she is also living by her wits. She knows how the upper class thinks and functions – at least back home – but she isn’t exactly a part of it the way the Crawleys are. And certainly her two loyal retainers, the butler Preswick and the lady’s maid Lily, are much more partners-in-solving-crime than they are servants in any traditional sense.

But the strong resemblance to Miss Fisher, Miss Phryne Fisher, is definitely present. Phil and Phryne would either get along like the proverbial house on fire, or would fight like two cats over the same territory – and possibly the same men. They are very much alike in perspective and attitude.

And Phil’s handsome cop with somewhat of a stick up his ass, Detective Sergeant John Atkins, is a dead ringer for Detective Inspector John “Jack” Robinson, at least as portrayed by Nathan Page in the TV series. With zero resemblance (by either) to the same character in the book series. The flirtation between Atkins and Phil certainly furthers the likeness.

At the beginning I referred to the Oliver Goldsmith quote as the source – so far – of the titles for this series. But there’s a Lynyrd Skynard song has a few more lines that might be relevant later.

So, don’t ask me no questions
And I won’t tell you no lies
So, don’t ask me about my business
And I won’t tell you goodbye

We’ll see. Hopefully. Soon.

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

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Review: This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman + Giveaway

Review: This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman + GiveawayThis Earl of Mine (Bow Street Bachelors, #1) by Kate Bateman, K.C. Bateman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Bow Street Bachelors #1
Pages: 336
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on October 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The first book in a new Regency romance series, an heiress and a rogue accidentally end up in a secret marriage of convenience.

In a desperate bid to keep her fortune out of her cousin's hands, shipping heiress Georgiana Caversteed marries a condemned criminal in Newgate prison. The scoundrel's first kiss is shockingly heated, but Georgie never expects to see her husband again. Until she spots him across a crowded ballroom. Notorious rogue Benedict Wylde never expected a wife. He was in Newgate undercover, working for Bow Street. To keep their marriage of convenience a secret, Wylde courts Georgie in public, but the more time they spend together, the more their attraction sparks. Could an heiress with the world at her feet find happiness with a penniless rake? Kate Bateman's This Earl of Mine is a delightful start to the Bow Street Bachelors series, with witty banter, dynamic characters, and swoon-worthy romance.

My Review:

The way that this story opens reminded me of something I’ve always wondered about. Considering the incredible lengths that Regency heroines seem to have had to go to in order to protect themselves from predatory family members and their machinations, just how vanishingly small was the percentage of even slightly functional families among the upper classes?

I understand completely why Georgie goes to the lengths she does to keep her (OMG) cousin Josiah from compromising her so that she is forced to marry him, so that he can drain her extensive fortune to the dregs. He’s a complete wastrel, addicted to gambling, alcohol and opium – and he’s also complete slime. I can totally empathize with her desire not to marry him under any circumstances and don’t blame her a bit for the ruse she intends to enact.

I only question why there doesn’t seem to be anyone getting this bastard off her back – before he puts her on hers against her will. I’ve read this trope before, and it is infuriating. We empathize with her immediately, but as level-headed as Georgie is I can’t help but think there should be someone effective on her side.

Rant ends.

But I love Georgie as a protagonist. She is smart, she’s a successful businesswoman, she knows her own mind and skills and is both willing and able to act on her own behalf. She is not waiting for anyone to rescue her – and I’m happy that she isn’t. She neither needs nor wants someone to stand in front of her and fight her battles for her. She needs someone to stand beside her, support her in her own struggles and assist her when she decides she needs assistance.

That she finds that person in Newgate Prison is a surprise to everyone involved. Herself – and himself – included.

She goes into Newgate intending to marry a condemned prisoner who will be conveniently (for Georgie, anyway) hung the next morning. She ends up married to Ben Wylde, a covert agent of the crown masquerading as a convicted smuggler and working for Bow Street (hence the title of the series).

Ben is the brother of the impoverished Earl of Morcott. He’s also a veteran of the recently and hopefully finally completed Napoleonic Wars. Most important for the story, he’s a known rake on the fringes of the ton, those sticklers of high society. A high society that Georgie’s ambitious mother wants to ascend to, by way of Georgie’s beautiful but clumsy younger sister.

Which means that Georgie and Ben are fated to meet as soon as he bribes his way out of Newgate – not that he was in there as his real self in any case. It was all part of his current case for Bow Street. But their marriage is valid, which leaves Georgie and Ben on the horns of a rather dicey dilemma. (Horns is also punnily appropriate for Ben’s condition every time they are within sight of each other!)

Georgie needs to be married to fend off Cousin Josiah. Ben has neither the need nor the desire for a wife – whatever he feels for, or in the presence of, Georgie. Particularly as it is well known that Ben and his brother John (the Earl) are in dire need of a rather large fortune to redeem their late father’s many, many (many) gambling debts. While Georgie, who possess that large fortune from the successful shipping business that she inherited and has expanded (all by her ownsome, thankyouverymuch), is naturally wary of men who want to marry her for access to her fortune.

But they are stuck with each other. Or are they? Georgie very nearly gamed the system before in order to protect what she holds dear. Can she do it again – with Ben’s able assistance?

And can they manage to do it for keeps?

Escape Rating B+: I certainly enjoyed This Earl is Mine, and that’s because of the characters. Georgie is an absolute gem. Her independence of thought, and her willingness to act on that thought, make her a character that 21st century readers can easily identify with – and root for.

At the same time, the strictures wrapped around her life also firmly ground her in her time and place – or at least do so enough to not make her attitudes anachronistic. She knows what she’s good at, and she knows what she’s worth – and not just in the financial sense. At the same time her life is hemmed in by the restrictions placed on women of her time. She colors outside the lines but not too much and is always aware that there are lines and that she – and her family – will pay a price if she steps too far outside those lines and is caught.

She also knows what she wants in a man and a husband, and isn’t willing to settle for less. She just doesn’t believe that she can have what she wants – a man who will stand beside her and not in front of her. The way that she and Ben find out just how good they are together, while filled with plenty of heat, isn’t based solely on their explosive sexual chemistry. They become friends first – in spite of how difficult that seems. And what they share that matters the most is their love of adventure in a way that bonds them so closely that when they finally realize they love each other they are both shocked, because neither of them expected it – or the other – at all.

That Ben’s pride almost gets in the way of their happiness feels real – and that they overcome it due to her good sense and forthright nature seems right.

On my other hand, Cousin Josiah reads like a bit of a paper tiger. He’s terrible and awful but as soon as Georgie has someone effective in her corner his fate is inevitable. And that whole situation felt a bit contrived from beginning to sticky end.

I will say that this book drove me a bit crazy, because I kept having the feeling that I’d read something a lot like it before. And I’ve been looking for what that was for days now.

In the end, This Earl of Mine feels like a combination of The Duke’s Den series by Christy Carlyle, the Bareknuckle Bastards by Sarah MacLean and the Bastion Club by Stephanie Laurens – all the best parts of each, of course. It also bears a strong but slightly twisted resemblance to the Sebastian St. Cyr series by C.S. Harris. I say twisted in that last instance because the author took a character who should have been the hero of a romance and turned him into a tormented solver of mysteries for Bow Street. Ben Wylde and his friends feel like the other side of that coin, a war veteran like St. Cyr who solve crimes for Bow Street while staying on the romantic hero side of the equation.

If you like any of those series, you will also love This Earl of Mine, and vice-versa. But the Bow Street Bachelors are far from finished. The series will return with To Catch an Earl next summer, when the focus moves from Ben and Georgie to Ben’s friend and fellow agent, Alex. And I’m looking forward to the season AND definitely the book!

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

Thanks to the publisher, I am giving away a paperback copy of This Earl of Mine to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway