Review: Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose + Giveaway

Review: Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose + GiveawayTiffany Blues by M.J. Rose
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Atria Books on August 7, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York, 1924. Twenty‑four‑year‑old Jenny Bell is one of a dozen burgeoning artists invited to Louis Comfort Tiffany’s prestigious artists’ colony. Gifted and determined, Jenny vows to avoid distractions and romantic entanglements and take full advantage of the many wonders to be found at Laurelton Hall.

But Jenny’s past has followed her to Long Island. Images of her beloved mother, her hard-hearted stepfather, waterfalls, and murder, and the dank hallways of Canada’s notorious Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women overwhelm Jenny’s thoughts, even as she is inextricably drawn to Oliver, Tiffany’s charismatic grandson.

As the summer shimmers on, and the competition between the artists grows fierce as they vie for a spot at Tiffany’s New York gallery, a series of suspicious and disturbing occurrences suggest someone knows enough about Jenny’s childhood trauma to expose her.

Supported by her closest friend Minx Deering, a seemingly carefree socialite yet dedicated sculptor, and Oliver, Jenny pushes her demons aside. Between stolen kisses and stolen jewels, the champagne flows and the jazz plays on until one moonless night when Jenny’s past and present are thrown together in a desperate moment, that will threaten her promising future, her love, her friendships, and her very life.

My Review:

This is a story about finding beauty in what is broken. It is also a story about creeping menace among the beauty. And it’s a love story. Not just about romantic love, but also the love of family, the love of making beauty – and love gone very, very wrong.

As the story begins, Jenny Bell is standing in the charred ruins of Laurelton Hall, looking back at her past. Or at least one particular summer of her past, the summer of 1924, how she got there, why she left, and finally, what brought her to come back, and look back, on the events that transformed her life – both the dark side and the light.

Laurelton Hall circa 1924

Laurelton Hall was the real-life home of a school for artists run by the famous artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. Yes, that Tiffany, of the gorgeous stained glass windows and the little signature blue boxes. (At least, the only Tiffany boxes I’ve ever received have been very, very small.)

Tiffany’s Foundation sponsored summer artists’ retreat for several years. (This is real, not fictional.) Jenny Bell and most of the events of the summer of 1924, however, are mostly fictional – with the possible exception of the visit by Thomas A. Edison.

Jenny is an artist, a painter, who is exploring the creation and perception of light through her paintings. But she has washed all the colors out of her work after a terrible tragedy, accompanied by an equally terrible miscarriage of justice. And even though Jenny was not to blame for the events that have cast a shadow over her life – she is the only one left who knows the truth of the day that her stepfather died. Not just why and how his death occurred, but why the events that came afterwards seemed necessary at the time.

But Jenny put that horrible day, and the years that followed it, behind her. Or so she thinks. At least until her past follows her to Laurelton, and takes away her brightest future.

Unless it is not too late to pick up the threads she left behind.

Escape Rating A-: There are so many marvelous things to unpack about this story. All of them fascinating and all of them guaranteed to both keep the reader on the edge of their seat and draw them deeply into the world of Laurelton and the Jazz Age.

Jenny is a great character to follow. She is both very, very strong and completely broken all at the same time. As are the people who become closest to her, her best friend Minx Deering and her lover Oliver Tiffany. But then, all of the artists who come to Laurelton are broken in one way or another. World War I feels just barely over, and even those who did not serve lived in its terrible shadow.

And the frenetic gaiety that followed has caused its own damage.

Jenny tries to be an enigma to those around her, but inside her own head she is all too aware of what happened and what she did. But also what she didn’t. And she’s paid a very high price for protecting her mother and her unborn brother – a price that in its aftermath may not have been worth it after all.

Even though she has tried to bury her past, there is someone at Laurelton who seems to know at least the public version of events, and either wants to reveal her secrets, punish her more directly, or just break her all over again – for reasons that Jenny does not know.

All she knows is that something is very, very wrong, and both she and her friend Minx are in terrible, but terribly different, kinds of danger. The portrait of a woman who knows that there is something wrong, who fears that she knows at least part of what that is, but is too afraid to ask for help and for a long time too willing to disbelieve her own fears is both compelling and all too familiar.

The air of creeping menace is palpable, and permeates the whole story. It casts a shadow over the beauty of the place, much in the way that the contrast between shadow and light creates both beauty and perspective in art.

In the end, the resolution is both cathartic and bitter. Jenny pays a great price, yet again, for a crime that she did not commit. But then there is the sweet, and the ending shows that there is beauty in the breakdown, and even in the shards of our lives.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Tiffany Blues to one very lucky US or Canadian commenter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Wedding from Hell: The Reception by J.R. Ward + Excerpt

Review: The Wedding from Hell: The Reception by J.R. Ward + ExcerptThe Reception (The Wedding From Hell, #2; Firefighters, #0.6) by J.R. Ward
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Firefighters #0.6
Pages: 39
Published by Gallery Books on August 7, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads


The Wedding from Hell, Part 2: The Rehearsal Dinner
is the exciting second adventure in J.R. Ward’s three-part ebook serialization: The Wedding From Hell. This exclusive prequel to her upcoming standalone suspense, Consumed (available in October 2018) takes us to where it all started between arson investigator Anne Ashburn and ‘bad boy’ firefighter Danny Maguire. The Wedding From Hell is a sexy standalone novella that sets up Consumed's storyline, leaving fans hungry for more and dying to snatch it up.

The Wedding From Hell, Part 2: The Reception: As the wedding from hell continues, Anne and Danny find themselves walking the delicate balance between professional distance and explosive attraction. Will the desire they feel last through the night and change their lives? Or are they doomed to part after one night of passion?

My Review:

This really is the wedding from hell. It’s so obvious that it should not be happening, that everyone involved has to grit their teeth to get through it – including the bride and the groom.

But this little prequel to the author’s upcoming book Consumed does not, thank goodness (or possibly thank badness, because this wedding is really, really awful) feature the bride and groom.

Instead, it revolves around two members of the groom’s firefighting company, who are both serving as groomsmen at the wedding. They may possibly be two of the most ironic characters to serve as groomsmen, possibly ever.

Anne Ashburn isn’t actually a groomsMAN after all. But the rest of their fire company are groomsmen, so she is too. And happy to be so. She has no desire to descend into the snakepit that is the cookie-cutter bridesmaid clones – and she doesn’t fit in with the clones, either. And also thank goodness for that – because none of that bunch would make remotely sympathetic characters – although possibly bad henchwomen with the bride being the evil villainess.

I digress… just a bit.

The other groomsman featured is Danny McGuire. Unfortunately for everybody concerned, he met the bride first and made the mistake of having a one-night stand with the….hellspawn. She turned to her poor groom in order to make Danny jealous and it backfired spectacularly. Which didn’t stop her from propositioning Danny one last time the night before her wedding.

Danny turned her down. Not just because she’s marrying his friend. Not even just because she’s evil, although both of those things are certainly true. But Danny turned her down because the only woman he wants is Anne.

It seems like Anne has finally stopped fighting the epic attraction between them – or at least she’s willing to for just one night. She’s right that any relationship between them will have long-term consequences to her career and her life, and that all those consequences will fall on her.

Life isn’t fair.

But when the fire burns as hot as it does between Anne and Danny…once is never going to be enough.

Escape Rating B+: This is a direct follow up from the first prequel novella, The Wedding from Hell, the Rehearsal Dinner. The character development and situational setup are all in that first prequel, so grab that before heading to The Reception. Both novellas are short, and both are FREE, so there’s no excuse not to indulge in the whole steamy story.

Now that the prequel is finished, we get a glimpse of where the first book in the series will be going. Danny and Anne have incredibly hot chemistry, and their work partnership is so solid that they can practically read each other’s minds on the job.

They need each other, both personally and professionally. But Anne is also correct that they aren’t supposed to have both. There are rules about fraternizing within a fire company. If they want to have a relationship, one of them has to transfer to a different company.

While that sounds simple, it actually isn’t – because nothing is ever that easy. Right now, they both work in the premier company, the one that gets all the hard jobs and does all the biggest, hottest and most dangerous fires. It’s a step down for the career of whichever one transfers out.

Which would be Anne, not because she’s the woman but because she has less seniority. All of the rest of the crap that would follow would all be because she’s a woman. Once it becomes known that she is in a relationship with one firefighter, her professionalism will be questioned at every turn. She’s worked hard to get where she is, and she’s not willing to lose the respect she’s earned for good sex. Or even epically fantastic sex.

Whether they’ll be able to keep away from each other, and keep their hands off each other, when Anne runs headlong into the danger that makes up the suspense part of the first book in the Firefighters series, Consumed, is something that we will all find out in October.

After these hot, steamy teasers, I can hardly wait!

Excerpt from The Wedding from Hell: The Reception

Saturday, October 31
T minus 2 hours ’til blastoff
St. Mary’s Cathedral, New Brunswick, Massachusetts

Anne Ashburn had never had veil envy, as they called it. As a young girl, she had never pictured herself walking down an aisle in a white dress, ready to be rescued by a knight-in-shining-armor groom who was going to take charge and take care of her for the rest of her life.
Nope. Anne had wanted to fight fires like her father and then her brother. Even though she no longer respected the former, and had a strained relationship with the latter, she’d wanted to pull on turnouts and strap an air tank to her back and breathe canned air as she ran into open flames dragging hundreds of pounds of charged line with her. She’d wanted to rescue grandmothers, and children, and people who had succumbed to smoke inhalation. She’d been ready to cut open crumpled cars and drag broken bodies out of wreckage at the sides of highways. She’d been determined that the extremes of cold winter nights, hot summer days, physical exhaustion, and mental fatigue would never keep her from doing her job.
So, yup, the old fashioned Mrs. degree had never held any fascination for her. There was no way in hell she was going to be like her mother, living a derivative, nineteen-fifties version of life, nothing but a pretty blow-up doll that was expected to cook, clean, and cut the yapping.
On that note, as she pulled into St. Mary’s parking lot and looked up at the great cathedral’s stained glass windows and lofty spires, she decided it made sense that not only was she not the bride, she wasn’t even a bridesmaid.
Like the rest of the crew down at the 499 firehouse, she was a groomsmen in the impending nuptials of Robert “Moose” Miller and Deandra—what the hell was her last name anyway? Cox. That was it.
Anne was thinking groomsmen was a role she might as well get used to. Not that Duff, Emilio, Deshaun, or any of the other men she worked with were settling down anytime soon.
Especially not Dannyboy Maguire.
Right on cue, a Ford truck entered the parking lot, the late afternoon sun flashing across its windshield.
As Anne’s heart kicked in her chest, she was tempted to hustle in the side door of the church—but she had never been one to run from a challenge.
Danny was more than just a challenge, though.
And okay, fine. So maybe she had already run out of his way at least once: Last night, at the rehearsal dinner, she’d positively bolted after he’d made that speech of his.
I never believed in love . . . I thought it was just a word, a title folks gave to daydreams and misconceptions about destiny, a lie folks told to themselves to make them feel solid in this imperfect, unreliable, and mean-ass world.
Now I know it can happen between two people. And it doesn’t have to make sense because it’s not about logic. And it doesn’t have to have good timing because forever is like infinity, without beginning or end. And it doesn’t have to be defined because truth is like faith—it just is.
So, let’s toast to love.
He’d looked at her while he’d spoken. He had been talking . . . to her . . . in that slow, deep voice.
Everybody else had toasted Moose and Deandra. But Anne had known it hadn’t been about them. Danny, ever the ladies man, king of the one-night stand, he who shalt never be tied down . . . seemed to be suggesting not just that he’d had a change of heart.
But that he might have given his own to Anne.
Unless she was misreading everything? Then again, they had kissed the night before that. In her living room. While riding an adrenaline high after they’d saved a life in an alleyway.
And lips-to-lips had been better than good, the rare circumstance when reality had improved on a fantasy. After two years of attraction and sizzle and unacknowledged heat, that which had been pushed under the rug was exposed now. And there was no going back.
Especially as she felt the same way.
So hell yeah she had bolted out of that restaurant. The second she had been able to get up from her chair, she had hit the exit and left Danny without a ride home.
He’d called two hours later. He’d been in a bar, probably
Timeout where the crew always went, the noise in the background loud and raucous.
She had not answered. He had left a short message, but not called again.
Anne just wasn’t sure what to do. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There were plenty of things she wanted to do to him, with him, on him—all of which were naked and erotic and not necessarily only horizontal.
Refocusing, she watched Danny’s truck pass by. From behind the wheel, he looked over at her.
She waited for him to find a space and get out, and as he walked across to her, she tried—tried—not to go sixteen-year-old girl at the sight of him in a tuxedo.
#epicfail
He was very tall, over six feet five, and he was built hard and muscular, his shoulders so wide, his chest so broad, his waist the point of the inverted triangle of his torso. His jet-black hair was still damp, and what sunlight there was in the mostly cloudy sky flashed blue in its depths. He was freshly shaven—his cologne reaching her nose even before he stopped in front of her—and his eyes were that brilliant blue that had always arrested her. Irish eyes.
But they were not smiling.
For a man who was rarely serious, he looked positively grim, and she frowned.
“You okay?” Stupid question. “I mean—”
“Yeah, no. I’m fine.”
Standard answer for firefighters when they were in pain. And she wondered if it had to do with that speech of his, and what she could have sworn he had been telling her.
His eyes shifted off to the side and then his mouth got thinner.
“And here’s the blushing bride.”
A stretch limo entered the parking area and made a fat turn toward the back door of the cathedral. When it stopped, its driver got out and went to the rear door.
Seven all-in-pink, spray-tanned, body-glittered, and blond-streaked women got out one by one, a clown car of bridesmaids who were such carbon copies of each other, it was like they had been ordered out of a catalogue.
And then the white dress emerged.
Deandra, Moose’s intended, had her blond-streaked hair—natch—piled up on her head in an organized, sculpted waterfall of curls. Her veil was a gossamer fall over her tiny waist and her big skirt, and the shimmer of crystals across the bodice and down the front and sides of the gown made her look like a princess.
Provided you didn’t catch her expression.
She was sour as an old woman with gout and shingles. In spite of the fact that she was supposedly marrying her true love, she looked downright nasty as she snapped at the driver, glared at her maid of honor, and yanked her skirting up to march into the back of the church.
“Wow,” Anne muttered. “That’s a happy bride.”
“Whatever. They’re on their own with this dumbass idea.”
“Did you happen to talk to Moose last night?” she blurted.
“As in out of this? Or would that be considered tacky given it was less than twenty-four hours before the priest hit the altar with them.”
Danny rolled his eyes. “He’s bound and determined to ball-and-chain himself. Personally, I’d be running in the opposite direction.”
And then there was silence between them. Tension coiled up quick, and as Anne’s temples started to pound, she decided it was going to be a long night, just not for the reasons she’d assumed at the beginning of the weekend.

Review: Entropy by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Entropy by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayEntropy (Atrophy, #4) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Atrophy #4
Pages: 387
Published by Entangled Publishing on August 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Captain Qaelan Forster is used to trouble. He lives on the wrong side of the law and he’s on the most-wanted lists. He’s mixed up in his cousin's mess who has problems on a cosmic level—like shape-shifting aliens who want them dead. But Qaelan’s not prepared for the cheeky kind of trouble called Camille Blackstone, whose infamous father has any man interested in his daughter executed.

After Camille drags Qaelan into an impulsive act of rebellion, she finds herself trying to defend the sexy captain from her overprotective father's wrath, even if she has to handcuff herself to the captain to keep him alive. However, it soon becomes apparent there are much more dangerous things lurking in the dark corners of the universe than a vengeful pirate lord. And she's just landed in the middle of it.

My Review:

Initially Entropy has more of the feel of the Blood Hunter/Dark Desires series by Nina Croft (which are awesome BTW), or this author’s own Valiant Knox series than it does the earlier books in the Atrophy series. Then a significant part of the focus switches from Captain Qaelan Forster to his cousin Captain Rian Sherron, and we’re back at Firefly – or at least a version of Firefly where Captain Mal Reynolds and River Tam are combined into one crazy person with Mal’s dark moods and unsavory enemies along with River’s insane powers and even more insane nightmares.

And where it turns out that this universe’s version of Inara Serra has more than a bit of River Tam in her, too.

If you’re not still mourning Firefly, or if the resonances just don’t work for you, it doesn’t matter. The Atrophy series is not a clone of Firefly by any means. But if you still have a Serenity-shaped hole in your heart, it does come more than close enough to staunch that wound.

What we do have is a band of misfits and rebels out to save the galaxy from itself. Because this crew of rebels and misfits has found itself in the midst of a galaxy gone terribly, terribly wrong. We’ve been invaded, not by the usual bug-eyed monsters, but monsters nevertheless.

The Reidar are shapeshifting aliens from another galaxy who think that homo sapiens is so far from sapient that they’re using us as lab rats while impersonating key members of every planetary government in the system.

Only Rian Sherron and the crews of the Imojenna and the Ebony Winter know the threat. And Rian Sherron is out to eliminate that threat any way he can – even if that means allying with pirates and taking the Reidar out one at a time.

But Rian’s lost his ship, and his crew has been laying low in the Barbary Belt, a notorious pirate haven run by an even more notorious pirate. And that’s where the trouble begins. It’s not even Rian’s fault – at least not this time. At least it’s not all Rian’s fault.

His cousin Qaelan Forster makes the mistake of getting involved with the pirate’s daughter. Cami Blackstone. Her father has killed plenty of men for a whole lot less. Instead, he sends Qae on a wild goose chase that might get him killed – or might pay off what the pirate sees as Qae’s debt to him. Mostly the pirate sends him on a dangerous and possibly suicidal mission just to protect his own street cred. The man is, after all, a notorious pirate.

Cami has other plans. Her plans, her father’s plans, Qae’s plan to pay her daddy back, and Rian Sherron’s plans to get his ship back all collide in one big ball of wrong that might just have a chance or turning out right.

But has a much higher chance of getting them all killed. All in a day’s work for the crew of the Imojenna – even when the Imojenna herself is nowhere to be found.

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot going on in this entry in the Atrophy series, and all of it turns out to be a rip-roaring good time. But be warned, while Atrophy is not so much like Firefly that you won’t get it if you don’t remember the show, it is very much like unto itself. This is a series where the action and the overall story build from one book to the next. So if this sounds like your kind of trip into the black, start with the first book in the series, Atrophy. (If you love SFR you’ll understand why this series has won multiple SFR Galaxy Awards.)

The relationship between Qae and Cami is a big part of this story, but not by any means all of it. They are an interesting couple. Qae is openly flirtations with anyone of any gender. Think of Captain Jack Harkess in Doctor Who and Torchwood, or the character of Reyes Vidal in the video game Mass Effect Andromeda. Qae has plenty of charisma, no humility whatsoever, and a trail of previous lovers from one end of the galaxy to the other. He doesn’t lead anyone on, but he also doesn’t leave anyone with even a chance at a piece of his heart.

Cami, on the other hand, is buttoned up tight, and with good reason. Her daddy, the pirate Rene Blackstone, has “disappeared” any guy she’s ever looked at twice. She doesn’t know whether those guys are dead or just far, far away – and she’s way too scared to find out. She’s caught in the middle, working for her father, living at home, treated like a teenager when she’s well into her 20s, and too scared to go out on her own. She’s both afraid of her father and afraid of the kind of people who will go after her in order to get at her father – and she’s right to be afraid.

Literally chaining herself to Qae is her chance, not only at rebellion, but at putting her demons to rest and making a life for herself out from underneath her father’s heavy thumb. That Qae, Rian and their crew are strong enough to stand up to her father is a big part of her reasoning.

In addition to the romance, there is also a big piece of this book that moves the overarching story forward. Rian goes after his missing ship after a year dirtside. His need to get his ship back lines up very well with the older Blackstone’s need to get back at his deadliest rival – AND – gives Cami a chance to take her life back from the bastard who stole her confidence and her innocence years ago. It’s going to take a big, bold plan with a lot of moving pieces to make good on all of the competing and conflicting agendas in play. There are so many ways it can go pear-shaped – and so many times it very nearly does.

This story feels like a turning point in Sherron’s one-man crusade against the Reidar. He finally finds a way to take the fight to them, and it’s clear that things are going to heat up – and get a whole lot bloodier, from here.

And I’m all in with his crew. I can’t wait to see what crazy twists and turns this series goes through next, as well as which crew member finds that one person in the galaxy who makes them whole – and fills an empty spot on the ship’s roster!.

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

Jess is giving away a $15 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen Brooks

Review: The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen BrooksThe Locksmith's Daughter by Karen Brooks
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 576
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From acclaimed author Karen Brooks comes this intriguing novel rich in historical detail and drama as it tells the unforgettable story of Queen Elizabeth's daring, ruthless spymaster and his female protégée.

In Queen Elizabeth's England, where no one can be trusted and secrets are currency, one woman stands without fear.

Mallory Bright is the only daughter of London's most ingenious locksmith. She has apprenticed with her father since childhood, and there is no lock too elaborate for her to crack. After scandal destroys her reputation, Mallory has returned to her father's home and lives almost as a recluse, ignoring the whispers and gossip of their neighbors. But Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's spymaster and a frequent client of Mallory's father, draws her into his world of danger and deception. For the locksmith's daughter is not only good at cracking locks, she also has a talent for codes, spycraft, and intrigue. With Mallory by Sir Francis’s side, no scheme in England or abroad is safe from discovery.

But Mallory's loyalty wavers when she witnesses the brutal and bloody public execution of three Jesuit priests and realizes the human cost of her espionage. And later, when she discovers the identity of a Catholic spy and a conspiracy that threatens the kingdom, she is forced to choose between her country and her heart.

Once Sir Francis's greatest asset, Mallory is fast becoming his worst threat—and there is only one way the Queen’s master spy deals with his enemies…

 

My Review:

If you like utterly absorbing, densely plotted historical fiction, then The Locksmith’s Daughter is going to open a key into your reading heart.

This story is set at a time of intense political and religious ferment. It’s also a time we think we know, the Elizabethan period of English history. In fact, a particular piece of that period, the 1580s, the time when religious persecution of Catholics was at its height, right alongside, and considerably as a result of, Catholic plots to overthrow Elizabeth and bestow the crown on some supposedly worthier Catholic monarch. (I’m not making a religious comment here, but I am doubtful that any ruler of any religious stripe could have done a better job for their country in that particular place and time than Elizabeth did for England.)

That decade includes the execution of Elizabeth’s most prominent Catholic rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as the debacle of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Well, it was certainly a debacle from the Spanish perspective. The English perspective, the one we tend to adopt here in the U.S., was that it was a resounding success for England.

History is always written by the victors.

But Elizabeth’s reign in general, and this period in particular, was also a period of political and social upheaval. And whenever there are societal changes, there are plenty of people on both sides of every issue working as hard as they can to ensure that their side is the one that comes out on top.

In other words, politics. Lots and lots of politics. And wherever there are politics, there are plenty of people manipulating events behind the scenes, both by fair means and foul.

Espionage may not be the oldest profession, but it is certainly one of the oldest. One of its foremost practitioners was either a hero or villain of this period. Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster.

Our peek into the skullduggery and machinations at the heart of Elizabeth’s reign is Mallory Bright, the titular locksmith’s daughter. This story of underhanded dealings at the centers of power – or on its shadowy fringes, is told from Mallory’s first person perspective.

For her time and place, Mallory is singular. She’s not merely the daughter of a respected locksmith, but also his unofficial apprentice, better at picking locks than even the master himself. She is also an educated woman at a time when that was not the norm. And as the story opens, she has returned to her parents’ household after her own disgraceful actions ruined her reputation and her prospects.

Mallory needs a future. Her father’s surprising friendship with Walsingham provides her with a means to make her own. With her education in languages and mathematics as well as her skill in lock-picking, Mallory is the perfect candidate to learn the art of spycraft.

At first, it is a game at which she excels. She enjoys the learning of it, and she relishes the challenge. But when the ciphers and secrets turn deadly, she discovers that her challenges come at too high a price. A price that is initially paid by others, but could all too easily be wrenched from her own heart, soul and body.

Escape Rating A: The Locksmith’s Daughter is a LOT of book. An absolutely absorbing lot, but definitely one to tackle when you either have plenty of time on your hands or are willing to forego a certain amount of sleep. Or both.

That being said, Mallory’s first-person perspective sucks the reader right in. Even though we initially know little about her circumstances, we see it all through her eyes and hear her thoughts and feel right there with her. There are two things that make Mallory an excellent first-person narrator. She’s intelligent, so she’s very thoughtful about everything that passes through her head. And she’s lonely. She has very few people to talk to, and no one to confide in. She both keeps her thoughts to herself and works them over in her own mind on a regular basis. Some first-person narrators are either not introspective or are so censorious of their own self-talk that even the view from inside their heads is limiting. Mallory is not that way. She thinks, she ponders, she considers – and we get to see it all.

It’s not just that Mallory is an easy character to empathize with, but also that what she experiences is absolutely fascinating. There are lots of stories where a big part of the story is the training of the character from apprenticeship to master. This is one where that process is done well. It’s doubly interesting to see her master the tradecraft of espionage in a way that shows just how little has changed from the 16th century to the 21st, as well as how much.

If you want to be transported back in time to Elizabethan England, The Locksmith’s Daughter is a fabulous time machine.

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Review: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal

Review: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’NealThe Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 364
Published by Lake Union Publishing on July 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

When Olivia Shaw’s mother dies, the sophisticated food editor is astonished to learn she’s inherited a centuries-old English estate—and a title to go with it. Raw with grief and reeling from the knowledge that her reserved mother hid something so momentous, Olivia leaves San Francisco and crosses the pond to unravel the mystery of a lifetime.

One glance at the breathtaking Rosemere Priory and Olivia understands why the manor, magnificent even in disrepair, was the subject of her mother’s exquisite paintings. What she doesn’t understand is why her mother never mentioned it to her. As Olivia begins digging into her mother’s past, she discovers that the peeling wallpaper, debris-laden halls, and ceiling-high Elizabethan windows covered in lush green vines hide unimaginable secrets.

Although personal problems and her life back home beckon, Olivia finds herself falling for the charming English village and its residents. But before she can decide what Rosemere’s and her own future hold, Olivia must first untangle the secrets of her past.

My Review:

The story opens with American Olivia Shaw discovering that she is the long-lost heir to a title and an estate in England. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it?

But just as every cloud is supposed to have a silver lining, every silver lining definitely has its own cloud. Olivia has just made this momentous discovery because she found paperwork regarding the estate among her late mother’s things. Her mother has only been gone a few weeks, and Olivia is still devastated by her death as well as completely overwhelmed by the whole horde of secrets which have suddenly come to light.

Or at least come to less dark. Olivia had no idea that her mother was the Countess of Rosemere, or that the title came with an estate. A profitable estate that includes gardens and farmland and a crumbling (and possibly haunted!) Elizabethan country house. And secrets. Mountains and molehills and acres of secrets.

Her mother was a well-known artist and illustrator of children’s books. Olivia always assumed that the enchanted forest that appeared in so much of her mother’s work was a creation of her imagination. But in truth her mother painted Rosemere over and over and over for her entire life.

One of the questions is why? Another is why did her mother leave the place to rot? And an even bigger question, why did her mother never tell her anything about Rosemere, her inheritance, her legacy, her background or her past?

Olivia’s mother loved treasure hunts. And she has left her daughter one final doozy of a hunt – to discover the secrets and the truths that lie hidden at Rosemere. So those secrets can finally be brought to light, and so that Olivia can finally find her own way.

Escape Rating B+: There is a lot to love in this book, and just a couple of things that didn’t quite work, or at least didn’t work for me.

The story is a gem, combining Olivia’s hunt for her mother’s last secrets with Olivia’s own romance with both novelist-turned-thatcher Samir Malakar and with Rosemere itself. Herself.

Olivia arrives at Rosemere at a personal crossroads. Not just that her beloved mother is dead and left this gigantic mystery, but also that Olivia is still recovering from a terrible automobile accident that left her with a still-healing injury and caused the death of her beloved dog. The injury caused her to take a six weeks and counting leave of absence from her job as editor of a prestigious food and gourmet magazine. To top all of that off, her relationship with the man she’s been living with for the past eight years is falling apart. Or has already fallen.

Olivia comes to Rosemere to pull herself together in the present as much as she does to unearth the mysteries of the past.

In the process, Olivia falls in love with both a person and a place. The more she looks into the secrets of Rosemere, and the more that she explores the tumbledown wreck of the house, the more questions she has. It’s obvious that something truly terrible happened all those years ago to force her mother to leave it all behind and completely reinvent herself.

It’s also equally obvious that she discovers that she feels tied, not so much to the land as to the people that inhabit and surround it. She becomes involved with village life, even as many elements of that society either reject her or her choices. It’s clear that there are multiple agendas revolving around the old estate.

That society also looks down on her choices for friendship and companionship. Her first and closest friends in the village are the Anglo-Indian Malakar family. Olivia’s grandmother came home to England from India with Samir and Pavi’s grandmother Nandini, and the two families have been close ever since. Olivia’s burgeoning relationship with Samir echoes that closeness much more nearly than they believe. But they do not fool themselves that the local squirearchy will not and does not approve of the new Countess’ relationship with someone who is not ‘one of them’, let alone someone of Samir’s heritage.

Olivia’s journey, her search, is absolutely fascinating. She’s our point of view into the story, and she is easy to empathize with and interesting to follow. She’s got a lot on her plate at the beginning, not just her own recovery from both injury and grief, but the gigantic number of decisions she has to face at a time when she is at a very low ebb.

It’s easy to see how Rosemere winds its way into her heart. And her fresh perspective on whatever secrets are hidden there give her both the imperative to discover the truths and just enough distance not to fear whatever may be revealed.

There were a couple of things that niggled me about this story, just enough to keep me from raising it into the A’s. Olivia has plenty of problems to tackle between her mother’s secrets, Rosemere’s secrets, her attempt to rehabilitate the crumbling house and her relationship with Samir. That’s more than enough drama for one life and one book without tacking on either the swindling caretakers or the douchecanoe ex-lover. Throwing both into the soup brings the book a bit too close to melodrama, and definitely went over-the-top in the number of drama llamas.

As much as I loved the way that the relationship developed between Olivia and Samir, a part of it didn’t quite ring true. Again, they had plenty to contend with, as no one seems to have approved for all kinds of reasons. But Olivia made a gigantic deal out of being 7 years older than Samir. She’s 39 and he’s 32, which makes both of them well into adulthood – certainly more than far enough into adulthood for a seven year gap not to be all that big of a deal, and absolutely more than adult enough for Samir to be aware of his own mind and heart. I am 20 years older than my husband, and while I certainly did a fair amount of soul-searching at the beginning of our relationship, I didn’t agonize nearly this much over a gap that is considerably greater. Because of my own experience, some of Olivia’s reactions in this regard didn’t quite ring true for me.

But quibbles and niggles aside, I enjoyed The Art of Inheriting Secrets a great deal. This was the book I was reading as the movers packed up all of our stuff and moved it out of the old house and into the new house. Reading Olivia’s trials and tribulations with beautiful old Rosemere certainly put my moving into perspective!

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Review: Frenchman Street by Suzanne Johnson + Giveaway

Review: Frenchman Street by Suzanne Johnson + GiveawayFrenchman Street (Sentinels of New Orleans #6) by Suzanne Johnson
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #6
Pages: 374
Published by Suzanne Johnson on July 24th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

The uneasy truce between the preternatural species of New Orleans has shattered, with wizards and elves, shifters and vampires—not to mention the historical undead—struggling for ultimate control of the city, including the humans who still think they’re atop the food chain.<

They aren’t, however—and the Summer Prince of Faerie wants them to know it.

Stuck in the middle? One unemployed wizard sentinel. For DJ Jaco, war makes for strange bedfellows as she finally embraces her wizard-elven heritage and strikes a deal with the devil so she and her ragtag band of allies can return to defend her hometown. After all, when the undead French pirate Jean Lafitte has been hired by the mayor as a consultant, things could go horribly wrong.

War is coming to New Orleans just in time for Mardi Gras, with the elves and wizards lined up on opposite sides, the shifters without a leader, the vampires promising loyalty to the highest bidder, and the soul of the Crescent City resting on the outcome of the civil war going on in Faerie between the rival princes of summer and winter.

Mardi Gras Day is approaching fast, the much-anticipated new Krewe of Enyo is not what it seems, and the line between friends and enemies grows thin as DJ tries to stave off open warfare between faeries on the St. Charles Avenue parade route.

Laissez les bons temps rouler…but be careful, or the good times might roll too close for comfort.

My Review:

When it comes to the life of DJ Jaco, the phrase “out of the frying pan and into the fire” doesn’t begin to cover the level of trouble DJ usually finds herself in. A better description might be out of the conflagration and into the inferno. Or something about jumping from one hot circle of hell into an even hotter one.

Royal Street by Suzanne JohnsonDJ hasn’t gotten a moment’s rest since Hurricane Katrina brought down the wards between New Orleans and the various realms of the Beyond – events that are detailed in the opening book in the Sentinels of New Orleans, Royal Street.

(BTW, if you are looking for urban fantasy that deals with Hurricane Katrina well and really describes the feel of the city both before and after, I highly recommend both Royal Street and The Map of Moments by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon. But I digress…)

Frenchman Street is the culmination of the series. All the chips are down, all the old alliances are in tatters, and all the old (and new) enemies have chosen New Orleans as their battleground.

DJ has been forced by circumstances as well as inclinations from what was originally a very junior position as a magical enforcer to the center of a substantial power nexus. She certainly did not start this fight, but she arrives in Frenchman Street determined to finish it, or die trying.

Not that death has necessarily stopped all of either DJ’s allies or her enemies. Ever since Katrina, the various preternatural factions have been lining up for a showdown. The only group firmly on DJ’s side are the Historical Undead led by the pirate Jean Lafitte. Jean will live as long as people remember him, and people in New Orleans will remember Lafitte for a long, long time. After their rocky beginning in Royal Street, Lafitte is the only powerful person on DJ’s side.

Elysian Fields by Suzanne JohnsonThe elves are mostly backing DJ, but out of a kind of twisted self-interest after the events in Elysian Fields.

The Wizards’ Congress has declared DJ an outlaw to be killed on sight. Not because she did anything wrong, but because she embarrassed their leader more than his tiny “ego” could tolerate.

Most of the shifter population has either lined up behind the wizards or stayed scrupulously neutral. Except for DJ’s best friend, the merman Rene Delachaise. Meanwhile, the fae courts of Winter and Summer have chosen to battle it out for the supremacy of both the fae and human worlds – with New Orleans in the midst of Mardi Gras.

If the above sounds confusing, that’s because this is the final round in a six-book series, and all of the tension has been building from the very beginning back in Royal Street. If you’ve been following the series, Frenchman Street is every bit as satisfying a conclusion as beignets at the Cafe du Monde at the end of a fantastic night.

Escape Rating A: The Sentinels of New Orleans has been an utterly marvelous urban fantasy series from its beginning in Royal Street to its ending here on Frenchman Street. If you love urban fantasy and have not started this series, pick up Royal Street and settle in for a fantastic binge read.

Obviously, this is not the place to start the series. Some series are loose enough to be picked up in the middle, but this isn’t one of them. Now that the story is over, it is easy to look back and see that it has been one continuous story from beginning to end.

Part of what makes this so good is the worldbuilding. There is no place else like New Orleans. There are plenty of cities that are older, but there are few if any that have both the history and the gumbo of cultures that make New Orleans what it is. And it’s that melange that makes it a great setting. Many urban fantasy series use both vampires and shapeshifters. There are some that include the elves and/or the fae, sometimes as separate creatures and sometimes as the same species. The Sookie Stackhouse series certainly used all of these species.

But the Historical Undead in the Sentinels of New Orleans are something special. And New Orleans is one place that has the kind of long, crazy, colorful history that makes the concept work. The addition of Jean Lafitte as DJ’s frenemy turned flirtatious ally is a delight from beginning to end.

The other thing that makes this series so good are the characters. Not just Lafitte, or not even especially him, because he is not the point of view character. The person we identify with, with all of her faults and virtues and flaws and weaknesses and strengths is DJ Jaco. She begins as someone pretty low on the magical pecking order, but is forced to step up and become something very major. She’s the eye of the storm. And sometimes she’s the storm itself.

I personally enjoyed the way that, while DJ has a love life that frequently sputters, this isn’t a romance, at all. She tries, she fails, she trusts the wrong people, and she loves unwisely and not too well into the bargain. And she never gives up her essential self, no matter who or what tries to take it from her.

DJ’s adventures have been a wild, crazy, hair-raising, teeth-gnashing ride.

I’m going to miss her.

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

1 Grand Prize: $50 Amazon gift card

5 $10 Amazon gift cards

Open internationally. For international winners, equivalent order from Book Depository will be substituted if desired.

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Review: Born to Be Wilde by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: Born to Be Wilde by Eloisa James + GiveawayBorn to Be Wilde (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #3) by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Wildes of Lindow Castle #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The richest bachelor in England plays matchmaker…for an heiress he wants for himself!

For beautiful, witty Lavinia Gray, there's only one thing worse than having to ask the appalling Parth Sterling to marry her: being turned down by him.

Now the richest bachelor in England, Parth is not about to marry a woman as reckless and fashion-obsessed as Lavinia; he's chosen a far more suitable bride.

But when he learns of Lavinia's desperate circumstances, he offers to find her a husband. Even better, he'll find her a prince.

As usual, there's no problem Parth can't fix. But the more time he spends with the beguiling Lavinia, the more he finds himself wondering…

Why does the woman who's completely wrong feel so right in his arms?

My Review:

While Born to be Wilde certainly has elements of the Shakespearean farce referred to be one of the characters, there are also some interesting and surprisingly serious notes in this glorious romp of a historical romance.

At first this seems like a frenemies into lovers story. We’ve met both Lavinia Gray and Parth Sterling in the previous books in this series. Lavinia, Willa (the heroine of Wilde in Love) and Diana (heroine of Too Wilde to Wed), are best friends. Willa and Lavinia were raised together. In fact, Lavinia had set her cap for the Wilde that Willa eventually married. Lavinia’s mother tried to set Lavinia’s cap for the Wilde that Diana finally married.

Parth Sterling was raised with the Wilde brothers from the age of five. Parth is Anglo-Indian, and his parents sent him from India to be raised by his father’s friend, the Duke of Lindow. When his parents died, Parth became part of the Wilde family – and was every bit as wild a boy as any of his adopted brothers.

But Parth has a serious side. He’s become the richest bachelor in England by profitably owning and operating several factories and even his own bank. He’s a man who works hard and gets things done.

He seems to see Lavinia as merely a fribble. A lighthearted and light-minded woman who fritters away her time and her fortune on gowns, bonnets and gloves. That upper-class women are all supposed to be fribbles doesn’t keep him from seeming to look down upon her at every turn.

And she, in turn, seems to look down upon him. In her presence he always seems to be prim and proper and gloomy and doomy. In his presence she acts almost like a halfwit.

Of course, nothing is as it seems – except that they drive each other completely crazy. It’s exactly what kind of crazy that’s hiding underneath all of their cutting remarks towards each other.

It’s only when Lavinia finds herself in desperate needs of Parth’s undeniable ability to get things done that they discover that there’s more hiding behind both of their surface personas than either of them ever imagined.

But neither of them imagines how difficult it will be to let go of years of preconceived notions about each other – or about themselves. Or how much damage all those accumulated cutting remarks have already caused.

Escape Rating B+: For a story that certainly has its serious side, it is also a tremendous amount of fun, livened up by oodles of witty banter. That the heroine is far, far deeper than the shallow puddle that the hero initially claims her to be just makes the story that much more delicious.

At the same time, the story deals with some fairly serious topics. A big part of the story, introduced very early on, is that Lavinia’s mother is addicted to laudanum, otherwise known as tincture of opium. While laudanum was dispensed quite legally in many forms until the 1860s, the effects of addiction were also known – if usually swept under the rug and secreted within the family.

Lavinia begins this story where Too Wilde to Wed ends. She has discovered that her mother has squandered not just their own money but also all of Willa’s as well. And she’s sold all of her own jewelry, Lavinia’s, and Willa’s and replaced them with copies. And stolen Diana’s jewelry as well, causing the rift between Diana and her family and forcing her into the circumstances she finds herself in at the start of Too Wilde to Wed.

Lavinia needs to marry a rich man, not just to make good on everything that her mother stole, but also because she needs a husband with enough power and influence to keep her mother out of jail and to make sure the scandal doesn’t erupt.

While marrying Parth or one of the wealthy men he introduces her to would solve her problems, Lavinia also has a tremendous amount of pride, as well as one marketable talent. She hasn’t been buying all those bonnets because she’s frivolous – well, at least not just because she’s frivolous.

She’s been studying them. Lavinia has the talent, the taste and the style to become a fashion designer, or what her world calls a modiste. Diana’s upcoming wedding provides her with the opportunity to not merely arrange but actually create Diana’s incredible trousseau – and to receive commissions from all of her suppliers for the materials that are purchased for the wedding party. And from there to build a business that can pay back what her mother stole, fund her mother’s long-term care, replace her own dowry and even live independently.

In other words, more than enough commission to make a serious dent in the financial hole her mother has left them in. And that would be just the start.

But the misunderstandammit in the story is that Lavinia doesn’t want Parth to know that she’s working to pay off that debt. So the more she accomplishes, the more he sees her as still frittering away her time playing with expensive fashion. Even as they finally admit that all of their name calling and backbiting has been hiding their true feelings for each other – they aren’t quite able to let go of the hurt on both sides it has caused.

In the end, Parth has to give really good grovel, not just in begging for forgiveness, but in demonstrating that he finally understands just what a gem and an artist Lavinia truly is, for them to win through.

Lavinia, in some ways, has the harder task. She has to let go, not just of those old hurts, but the even older ones – that still small voice inside her head that sounds remarkably like her mother, that says she’s frivolous and stupid and shallow and insipid and that no one will ever pay any attention to anything she says or does.

Accepting that the voice is wrong is the hardest lesson of all.

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

To celebrate the release of BORN TO BE WILDE by Eloisa James, we’re giving away one hardcover set of THE WILDES OF LINDOW CASTLE series!

LINK: https://www.subscribepage.com/BornToBeWilde

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a hardcover set of The Wildes of Lindow Castle series by Eloisa James. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 8/10/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Day of the Dead by Nicci French

Review: Day of the Dead by Nicci FrenchDay of the Dead (Frieda Klein #8) by Nicci French
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Frieda Klein #8
Pages: 416
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on July 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Now the final book in this extraordinary series is here. And it's an ending you'll never forget.

A decade ago, psychologist Frieda Klein was sucked into the orbit of Dean Reeve -- a killer able to impersonate almost anyone, a man who can disappear without a trace, a psychopath obsessed with Frieda herself.

In the years since, Frieda has worked with -- and sometimes against -- the London police in solving their most baffling cases. But now she's in hiding, driven to isolation by Reeve. When a series of murders announces his return, Frieda must emerge from the shadows to confront her nemesis. And it's a showdown she might not survive.

This gripping cat-and-mouse thriller pits one of the most fascinating characters in contemporary fiction against an enemy like none other. Smart, sophisticated, and spellbinding, it's a novel to leave you breathless.

My Review:

This is definitely going to be one of those mixed feelings kind of reviews, because I certainly have a whole river’s worth of mixed feelings about this book and the end of the Frieda Klein series.

When this series began back in Blue Monday, we met Frieda Klein as a psychotherapist who sometimes worked with the police, and seems to have sometimes worked against them over the course of her career. But in the background of all her cases has lurked Dean Reeve, a serial killer who has been fixated on Frieda for nearly a decade.

At times, Reeve has acted to smooth Frieda’s way, murdering people who were opposing her. At other times, he has killed people who he perceived as being too close to her, in the belief that those people were getting in the way of her focus on him, or his focus on her. Sometimes he has murdered people as surrogates for her, or simply to remind her that he is still around.

He also murdered his twin brother, to confuse the police and make them believe he was dead, and that Frieda’s seeming obsession with him with delusional.

But at the end of the previous book in the series, Sunday Silence, Frieda finally decides that she has had enough of Reeve’s obsession with her, and the constant danger he poses to any person even tangentially in her orbit.

She disappears, in the hope of taking Reeve’s focus away from her friends and colleagues. But when she is found by a young and extremely naive criminal psychology student, she discovers that Reeve has been trying to get her attention all along.

And that when he can’t find her, he’ll happily find other people to kill to keep himself amused – just so that he can get her attention.

Once he has it, their long history moves to the endgame. And just as in the chess games that Frieda loves to play, only one side can win.

Escape Rating B: While Frieda Klein has been a fascinating character throughout the entire series, she’s also kind of a Sherlock Holmes. Not in the sense that she’s an eccentric genius, although that may not be far off the mark, but in the sense that she seems to be operating on instinct and intuition. Left to her own devices, she doesn’t expose much of her inner thoughts or emotions.

As readers, we need to see what she’s thinking. In the previous books in the series, she has been surrounded by a circle of friends and colleagues, and it is in her discussions with them, or sometimes her probing by them, that we are able to peek inside her head.

In this book she has deliberately taken herself away from her circle, in the hopes of keeping all of them safe. But in order for us to understand and empathize with her, she still needs a ‘Watson’, someone to explain things to so that we can hear. And that’s where this story gave me all of those mixed feelings.

The character who becomes the audience surrogate is young Lola Hayes, that naive criminal psychology student. Lola is a pawn throughout the story. At first, she is a pawn of her thesis advisor and one of her other professors, who set her on a collision course with Frieda Klein in the hopes of scoring points against someone they see as a kind of academic rival.

Neither of them cares what happens to Lola, or seems to give a damn about the tragic body count that has always followed in Frieda’s wake – and whether they’ve just thrown Lola’s body onto that pile.

Lola herself frequently comes off as TSTL (too stupid to live). She’s lazy, she wants everyone else to do her work for her, she’s thoughtless and she’s clueless. She takes the easy way out every time, and as a consequence she gets used at every turn. But most of all she’s just plain annoying.

Lola is there to be used, and she is used by everyone in the story, including, by the end, Frieda. She’s a frustrating inclusion in a series that usually features smart, or at least interesting, characters.

A big part of this story is that of Frieda tying up all the loose ends. She circles back through everything that has happened in the series and every case that Dean Reeve has touched on. While I think there is enough explained that readers don’t need to have read the entire series to be invested in this volume, there’s certainly more resonance if you’ve read at least some of the previous entries, particularly the first, Blue Monday, and the most recent, Sunday Silence.

The cat and mouse game between Dean Reeve and Frieda Klein does come to a satisfying, albeit surprisingly low-key, conclusion. In all of their previous encounters, Reeve has always seen himself as the predatory cat, while he has cast Frieda as his mouse-prey.

Reeve forgets that just as every dog has his day, every once in a while, the mouse roars.

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Review: Shattered Silence by Marta Perry + Giveaway

Review: Shattered Silence by Marta Perry + GiveawayShattered Silence by Marta Perry
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Echo Falls #3
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A woman on the run seeks sanctuary in a peaceful Pennsylvania Dutch community--and finds a protector in the most unlikely of men...One moment Rachel Hartline is secure in her career and community. The next, she's in the wrong place at the wrong time--watching her ex-husband commit a crime that puts her in unfathomable danger. Fear and hurt send her home to an Amish farm and the family she's always trusted. But a private investigator is close behind--and he may be a threat to her in more ways than one...Cold, calculating Clint Mordan isn't convinced Rachel is as innocent in her ex-husband's schemes as she claims, but when her ex's enemies target Rachel, Clint is driven to keep her safe. Maybe the terror in her beautiful eyes and the target on her back aren't an act. But as his feelings toward her deepen, Clint realizes he's the only one who can keep Rachel alive in a game where only the killer knows the stakes.

My Review:

This story opens with Rachel Hartline trying to get her ex-husband to sign off on the documents to put the house they still jointly own on the market. He’s promised to sign off, but he’s made plenty of promises throughout their marriage, and seems to have kept very few of them.

But then, as Rachel tells herself frequently throughout the story, addicts lie. And her husband is addicted to gambling. He’s also always expected her to believe him and cover for him, so when she finds him in his boss’ office copying files from his boss’ computer, he expects her to believe him and cover for him one more time.

And he still doesn’t sign the damn papers. But he does leave her holding the bag, so to speak, when his theft is discovered and everyone wants to retrieve the documents he copied – especially his ex-friend and extremely antisocial boss.

That’s where Clint Mordan comes in. Said boss has hired his private investigations firm to discover the stolen documents – and Rachel is the first and best suspect. If not for the theft itself, then certainly for helping out her ex. She seems strangely protective of the man – more than seems logical to the initially skeptical private investigator. Most ex-wives wouldn’t piss on their ex-husbands if the men were on fire, so Rachel’s reluctance to cooperate seems suspicious.

At least until her house is broken into and she’s attacked. Whatever is going on, someone seems determined to get something out of Rachel that she doesn’t have – and not just Clint.

But in the process of following Rachel from Philadelphia to her grandparents’ home in the tiny Amish community of Echo Falls, Clint figures out that whatever loyalty Rachel might still feel, it doesn’t including lying or covering up for her ex-husband.

And while Clint may indeed be paranoid, there is certainly someone out to get Rachel. And it isn’t her ex.

The longer the case goes on, the more that Clint and his partner realize that their client is keeping them in the dark. And the more protective of Rachel Clint becomes. And the more she trusts him, in spite of her fairly awful track record with trusting men.

But can either of them trust the feelings that have arisen in the midst of so much terror?

Escape Rating B+: I seem fated to read the final book in one of Marta Perry’s trilogies without having read the first books first. And to those books turning out to be the right book at the right time each time.

I was interested in Shattered Silence because of its ties to the Pennsylvania Dutch community without being fully set in that world. My husband grew up English in and around Lancaster Pennsylvania, so the Amish background always piques my interest. This story felt like it did a particularly good job of opening a window into that world without pretending to tell a story that is part of it. The times that I’ve read Amish-set books out loud to him he usually finds the descriptions pretty laughable, but that wasn’t the case here.

Just as I read and enjoyed How Secrets Die without having read the first two books in the House of Secrets trilogy, I read and enjoyed Shattered Silence without having read the first two books in the Echo Falls trilogy. In this case, the series seems rather loosely connected, sharing Echo Falls as a location without sharing other elements of the stories.

Shattered Silence turned out to be great romantic suspense. The danger reaches out and grabs the reader from the very beginning, with an exasperated Rachel discovering her ex in the middle of something highly questionable, and moving on from there as Rachel is forced to jump out of the frying pan into the fire.

I also liked the way that while she ended up in trouble over and over, she did not come off as too stupid to live as is so often in the case in “heroine in jeopardy” type romantic suspense. The mess is not her doing, and the mistakes she makes seem realistic. She lets her guard down repeatedly, but only when she thinks she’s in a safe place or that the danger seems over.

The interlude at grandparents’ farm provided a marvelous break in the tension while showing more interesting facets of all the characters. That she and Clint turn to each other in the midst of all of the drama, but also feel reluctant to trust and worried that the heightened tension of the situation is causing them to act out of characters felt right.

The resolution to the mystery felt right, as did their earning of their HEA. And while Rachel bore part of the responsibility for ending up in that final confrontation, she was equally responsible for helping to rescue herself. And that’s the kind of HEA I always love!

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

I am giving away a paperback copy of Shattered Silence to one lucky US/Canadian commenter on this tour!

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Review: Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillan

Review: Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillanMurder at the Flamingo (A Van Buren and DeLuca Mystery #1) by Rachel McMillan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Van Buren and DeLuca #1
Pages: 352
Published by Thomas Nelson on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

“Maybe it was time to land straight in the middle of the adventure…”

Hamish DeLuca has spent most of his life trying to hide the anxiety that appears at the most inopportune times -- including during his first real court case as a new lawyer. Determined to rise above his father’s expectations, Hamish runs away to Boston where his cousin, Luca Valari, is opening a fashionable nightclub in Scollay Square. When he meets his cousin's “right hand man” Reggie, Hamish wonders if his dreams for a more normal life might be at hand.

Regina “Reggie” Van Buren, heir to a New Haven fortune, has fled fine china, small talk, and the man her parents expect her to marry. Determined to make a life as the self-sufficient city girl she’s seen in her favorite Jean Arthur and Katharine Hepburn pictures, Reggie runs away to Boston, where she finds an easy secretarial job with the suave Luca Valari. But as she and Hamish work together in Luca’s glittering world, they discover a darker side to the smashing Flamingo night club.

When a corpse is discovered at the Flamingo, Reggie and Hamish quickly learn there is a vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots in 1937 Boston—and that there’s an underworld that feeds on them both. As Hamish is forced to choose between his conscience and loyalty to his beloved cousin, the unlikely sleuthing duo work to expose a murder before the darkness destroys everything they’ve worked to build.

My Review:

This historical mystery begins when two 20-somethings run away from home. Separate homes.

Hamish DeLuca runs away from his home in Toronto, Regina Van Buren runs away from her home in New Haven Connecticut. They both end up in Boston in the midst of the Depression, and they both end up working for, or with, Luca Valari as he performs all the wheeling and dealing necessary to open his high-class nightclub, The Flamingo.

Hamish intended to end up with Luca. Luca is his cousin, his favorite cousin. And the only person who ever seems to have treated Hamish as normal and not as “poor Hamish” afflicted with a nervous disorder. Hamish has severe panic and anxiety attacks. His most recent, or most embarrassing, occured in the middle of a courtroom as he attempted to defend his first client. In the aftermath, he discovered that even the job he thought he’d earned had been given to him as a favor to his father.

Hamish ran off to Luca.

Reggie ran away from her upper crust family and her upper crust boyfriend when said boyfriend decided to announce, in the middle of a huge family party, that he and Reggie were engaged. They weren’t. He hadn’t even asked. The force of the slap she administered could be heard echoing all the way to Boston. Or so it seemed.

She packed a bag and ran away, intending to make a life for herself away from her family’s privilege, money and restrictions. Luca hired her to answer his phone and stave off his creditors, not necessarily in that order, and to provide a touch of class to his new establishment.

Reggie and Hamish find themselves, and each other, working with Luca. But the trail of slimy double-dealings has followed Luca from Chicago to Boston – and it catches up with them all.

Escape Rating B: This is the first book in an intended series. Book 2, Murder in the City of Liberty, scheduled for publication next spring. As such, it has to carry the weight of all the worldbuilding for the series, and it’s a lot of weight.

The characters of both Hamish and Reggie are interesting, and Reggie in her exploration of Boston’s working class precincts is a lot of fun, but they cut themselves off from their backgrounds, leaving a lot about where they respectively began more than a bit murky.

But not nearly as murky as the character of Luca Valari, around whom so much of the story resolves. Luca seems to be absolutely dripping in charisma, and Hamish certainly hero-worships him. Reggie is grateful for a job opportunity that does not involve being groped and ogled, and is caught up in his spell to some extent, but not in a romantic sense. Still, she’s aware that Luca has something that makes people want to please him.

However, while it is obvious fairly early on that Luca is up to his eyeballs in something at least slightly dirty, neither Hamish nor Reggie are savvy enough to figure out exactly what, or how much, until it is far too late. Unfortunately for the reader, Luca is so good at keeping his secrets that even after all is supposedly revealed, it still feels like some things remain lost in that murk.

This is also a very slow building story. The titular murder does not occur until the mid-point of the story, and it is only then that things begin to move into a higher gear. While the introduction to the characters and their situation is interesting, it takes rather long to get to the meat of the story.

Murder at the Flamingo, as hinted at by its art deco inspired covers, takes place in the late 1930s, post-Prohibition, pre-World War II and in the depths of the Great Depression. This isn’t a period that has been seen a lot previously in historical mystery, so readers may not be as familiar with this setting as, for example, the “Roaring 20s” or the WWII time frame. More grounding in the setting might have been helpful.

If this time period interests you, another historical mystery series set in the 1930s, the Jake and Laura series by Michael Murphy, is worth taking a look at. The first book is The Yankee Club, and it comes at the period from a different perspective as both Jake and Laura, while doing well by the time the story begins, both had a much more hardscrabble upbringing than either Hamish or Reggie.

I liked Hamish and Reggie more than well enough to stick around for their next adventure. I want to see if Quasimodo manages to figure out that he really is Superman, and gets the girl after all.

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