Review: Ramen Assassin by Rhys Ford + Guest Recipe! + Giveaway

Review: Ramen Assassin by Rhys Ford + Guest Recipe! + GiveawayRamen Assassin (Ramen Assassin #1) by Rhys Ford
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Ramen Assassin #1
Pages: 216
Published by Dreamspinner Press on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When life gives Kuro Jenkins lemons, he wants to make ponzu to serve at his Los Angeles ramen shop.

Instead he’s dodging bullets and wondering how the hell he ended up back in the black ops lifestyle he left behind. After rescuing former child star Trey Bishop from a pair of murderous thugs, he reluctantly picks his guns up again. It seems trouble isn’t done with Trey, and Kuro can’t quite let go… of either danger or Trey.

Trey never denied his life’s downward spiral was his own fault. After stints in rehab, he’s finally shaken off his Hollywood bad-boy lifestyle, but not his reputation. The destruction of his career and relationships was epic, and no one trusts anything he says, including the LAPD. When two men dragging a dead body spot him on a late-night run, then try to murder him, Trey is thankful for the tall, dark, and deadly ramen shop owner not just for rescuing him, but also for believing him.

Now caught in a web of murders and lies, Trey knows someone wants him dead, and the only one on his side is a man with dark secrets. Trey hopes Kuro will stick around to see what the future holds for them once the dust settles, but from the looks of things, neither of them may survive to find out.

My Review:

This book will make you hungry. For some good ramen. (The author has even sent a recipe to get you started!) And for more of this series and these characters. Consider yourself warned!

I want to say that the opening of Ramen Assassin reminds me more than a bit of Sinner’s Gin. But that’s not strictly true. What the initial scenes really remind me of is the opening of a James Bond movie, the part before the opening credits where Bond finds himself unexpectedly in the middle of a firefight and has to kill someone whose death seems coincidental but turns out to be critical to the main story.

And that is the way that Ramen Assassin opens. Kuro Jenkins is a covert (US) government agent, and he enters the story rescuing a bunch of kidnapped children, tearing up the streets in a bullet-riddled van only to crash through the gates of the American Embassy and smack dab into a crowd of international reporters covering a garden party.

With his cover completely, totally and utterly blown, and his body nearly as full of bullets as that van, Kuro hangs up his secret identity and opens a tiny noodle shop in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles.

Just because he’s hung up his secret identity doesn’t mean that he’s put away all the tools of his former trade. That turns out to be a good thing for washed-up former child star Trey Bishop, when Trey races past his closed shop in the middle of the night, chased by armed goons for no reason that Trey knows.

Except that he witnessed those goons transporting a very dead body – an act they clearly don’t want any witnesses for – whether those witnesses will be believed or not.

And this is the point where the opening starts reminding me of Sinner’s Gin. Because Trey needs protection – not just from the goons, but from his sister-the-cop, the dysfunctional rich family that he has disappointed at every turn, and his own demons.

In protecting Trey, Kuro discovers that he’s never lost the taste for the adrenaline rush of his old job – and hasn’t lost many of his skills either. He’ll need to be back on his A game to protect Trey from whoever is out to get him – because that dead guy was not the figment of Trey’s formerly drug-addled mind as the police in general and his sister in particular want to believe it was.

Someone is out to get Trey, and Kuro is the only thing standing in their way. If he’ll stick. Something that neither Trey nor Kuro have much practice in. But the goon squad is playing for keeps – and it turns out, so is Kuro. And surprising everyone who knows him, so is Trey.

If Kuro can keep both of them alive long enough to figure it all out.

Escape Rating A-: It’s not just that the relationship between Kuro and Trey reminds me more than a bit of the relationship between Miki St. John and Kane Morgan in Sinner’s Gin – although it does. It’s also that we discover very early on that Trey is a fan of Miki’s – so this is the same world and it’s possible they might overlap at some point.

I hope so, it’s always good to see how old friends are doing – and for many, many readers, the cast of the Sinner’s series have become very good friends indeed. However, the connection is extremely loose and there’s no NEED to read the Sinner’s series before Ramen Assassin, but if you like this you’ll like that and vice versa.

But back to Ramen Assassin, which has to be one of the great titles. It’s completely apt, brings a smile to the reader’s face, intrigues one to read more to figure it out – and it’s absolutely apropos. Kuro may not have exactly been an assassin, but he was a government agent with the proverbial license to kill, and he is currently a ramen shop owner and chef.

Ramen Assassin is romantic suspense, at least it’s that more than it’s any other genre. As romantic suspense, that means there are two primary plot threads, one is the budding romantic relationship between Kuro and Trey, and the second is figuring out who is after Trey and why so that our heroes can figure out whether they have a future together – after they deal with whoever is trying to prevent them from having a future at all.

Watching Kuro and Trey hesitantly work towards a relationship is beautifully torturous. They sorta/kinda knew each other before the alley shootout. They live in the same neighborhood, Kuro lives above his shop, and Trey is a semi-regular customer. They’ve been eyeing each other for a while, but they both have cases of the “I’m not worthys”, albeit coming from entirely different perspectives.

Kuro’s former occupation did not exactly lend itself to long-term relationships, as evidenced by any spy thriller or cop series where the operative has to remain unknown and undercover. Having to lie about who you are, what you do and where you go is not exactly conducive to any relationship longer than a brief fling.

Kuro’s just inexperienced and out of practice – not that he ever had much – at relationships. Trey, however, has a metric buttload of baggage dragging behind him. He doesn’t think he’s worthy of a relationship or capable of being part of one because he hasn’t been. He was a spoiled, indulged child star who descended into booze, drugs and entirely too many self-induced near-death experiences. He’s lied, cheated and stolen to get his next fix, and his family are the people he’s lied to the most. Hence his sister-the-cop’s complete distrust of anything he says or does.

But Trey’s been clean and sober for two years now – and beginning to be fed up with continuing to pay for his mistakes. Not that there weren’t plenty of them and not that he didn’t deserve to pay and pay plenty. But there has to be a point where the hard work that he’s done in the past two years earns him at least a tiny bit of “trust but verify” instead of suspicion and derision and only suspicion and derision.

With Kuro, Trey has a clean slate. Building a relationship is hard – it’s hard for both of them. But watching them work towards it is terrific. They earn their chance at happy.

The suspense plot starts with a bang. Honestly, lots of bangs. Initially, it seems very simple – two goons are transporting a dead body and try to clean up the only witness – Trey. But that simple beginning spirals out of control in every possible direction. The goons go after Kuro directly – big mistake. More goons come after Trey. That initial dead body is somehow tied to Trey’s uber-rich daddy and his very successful business. The cops are fixed in their belief that everything must be Trey’s fault. And it kind of is, but not anything like the way they think it is.

In the end, the mess goes into (I really want to say “goos” into, because it’s a big sploogy mess), some of the shadier parts of Kuro’s past and some of the murkier places of not Trey’s past but his dad’s. And finally explodes in a direction that felt like it came a bit out of left field – at least for this reader.

I loved Ramen Assassin. I enjoyed the developing relationship between Kuro and Trey, the beginnings of Trey’s redemption with his highly dysfunctional family, and peeks into Kuro’s secret history.

I’m hungry for more. Soon, please!

Guest Post from Rhys (and Recipe from Kuro!)

Hi! I am Rhys Ford and I would like to welcome you to this stop on the Ramen Assassin Blog Tour!

I am looking forward to introducing you a new series as well as two very fun characters I enjoyed writing, Kuro Jenkins and Trey Bishop. The first book, Ramen Assassin, came to me as a nebulous idea but then really pushed into the forefront of my brain while I was beginning to write Hellion, the third book in the 415 Ink series. Unfortunately, I scared TA Moore with a very bad habit of mine called staring into space while thinking. I was contemplating the ins and outs of a series called Ramen Assassin and she took my crazed, unfocused look as the possibility of a spider of the wall behind her.

There was no spider. But what did come out of it was a murder mystery about a former government operative turned ramen chef and the recovering drug addict, former child star he saves from certain death and eventually falls in love with.

This book allowed me to combine two things I love — killing people and cooking. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. On this blog tour, I’m going to be sharing a few of my favorite dishes as well as a how to throw together ramen with what you have in your pantry and refrigerator. Please be sure to hit up every single stop on the blog tour for a different recipe at each stop as well as that blog’s giveaway!

Be sure to enter to win a twenty dollar gift certificate from Dreamspinnerpress.com! One for every stop!

And now, onto the food…

Oyakodon

Ingredients

1⁄4 cup onions, peeled and sliced julienne
1  boneless chicken thigh cut into bite-size strips
1⁄8 cup kamaboko (fish cake) cut into strips (optional)
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons dashi, you can use scratch or instant. In a bind, chicken stock will work.
2 Eggs

Garnish
1 pinch sliced green onions
1 dash furikake optional / nori flakes will do

 Instructions

Break 2 eggs into a bowl, and lightly beat the eggs, make sure that the whites and the yolk are not completely incorporated. It should look partially separated.

Combine the onions, chicken, kamaboko, mirin, soy sauce, sake, and dashi in a 6 inch non stick pan and place over high heat. When the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 3 minutes, until the chicken cooks through. Move the pan around as it cooks.

While the broth is still lightly simmering, pour three-fourths of the egg mixture over the chicken, onions, and broth.

Leave the pan still and do not mix for about 1 minute.

Add the remaining one-fourth egg over the ingredients in the pan. Cover the skillet and cook for 30 seconds more.

Turn off the heat, and let the oyakodon rest, covered, for 1 minute.

While the oyakodon is resting, portion the rice into a bowl. Gently slide the Oyako into the bowl and garnish. Serve immediately.

About the Author

Rhys Ford is an award-winning author with several long-running LGBT+ mystery, thriller, paranormal, and urban fantasy series and is a two-time LAMBDA finalist with her Murder and Mayhem novels. She is also a 2017 Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Florida Authors and Publishers President’s Book Awards for her novels Ink and Shadows and Hanging the Stars. She is published by Dreamspinner Press and DSP Publications.

She’s also quite skeptical about bios without a dash of something personal and really, who doesn’t mention their cats, dog and cars in a bio? She shares the house with Harley, a grey tuxedo with a flower on her face, Badger, a disgruntled alley cat who isn’t sure living inside is a step up the social ladder as well as a ginger cairn terrorist named Gus. Rhys is also enslaved to the upkeep a 1979 Pontiac Firebird and enjoys murdering make-believe people.

Rhys can be found at the following locations:

Blog: www.rhysford.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/rhys.ford.author
Twitter: @Rhys_Ford
On Your Alexa device on the Alexa Skills at: https://www.amazon.com/Witlingo-Rhys-Ford-Casting/dp/B07N7MJ7C8/

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

Rhys is giving away a $20 Dreamspinner Press Gift Certificate at every stop on this tour. Fill out the Rafflecopter to enter here!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow the rest of the blog tour here:

Review: Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter

Review: Summer by the Tides by Denise HunterSummer by the Tides by Denise Hunter
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 302
Published by Thomas Nelson on May 21, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of The Convenient Groom (now a beloved Hallmark Original movie) comes a heartfelt story of family secrets, forgiveness, and unexpected romance.

Following a painful betrayal, Maddy Monroe's love life is a wreck, and her restaurant career is in shambles. When her grandmother goes missing, she and her estranged sisters converge at the family beach house in Sea Haven, North Carolina. Being with uptight Nora and free-spirited Emma at the place where their family broke apart is a struggle, and undercurrents of jealousy and resentment threaten to pull the sisters under. In the midst of the storm, sparks begin to fly between Maddy and Gram's maddening neighbor, Connor Murphy.

As the sisters pack up the family belongings, memories of idyllic, slow-paced summers are resurrected. But long-buried secrets also come to light as Maddy discovers that all was not as it appeared that last summer in Sea Haven--nor today in the seemingly perfect lives of her sisters.

As family tensions rise and Connor causes tumult in Maddy's heart, the sisters must find a way to accept each other for the women they've become before the bitterness of the past destroys their hope for a future.

My Review:

The Monroe family turns out to be a living embodiment of the Anna Karenina principle. You know the one, it’s that quote that goes, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The Monroe sisters are all unhappy, and all of their unhappy leads back, in one way or another, to one summer 20 years ago when their lives were torn apart by betrayal. Actually, that should be betrayals, plural, because there were plenty to go around – including one that the sisters never knew about.

Secrets cast long shadows, and they hide lots and lots of baggage. Although, as one of the characters puts it very well, adult humans all have baggage. As we do.

Nora, Emma and Maddy are drawn back to the place where they spent that last fateful summer, the last time their family was all together, by their grandmother. Or rather, by their grandmother’s absence.

The feisty old lady isn’t dead – she’s just missing – and she’s still sharp as a tack so whatever has happened to her it isn’t Alzheimer’s. But she seems to have left her cottage on an extended outing of some kind without either cancelling her newspaper, taking her car or telling anyone that she planned to take a trip.

Her worried neighbor (and occasional volunteer handyman) calls the sisters when Gran doesn’t turn up after a few days. He’s not her caretaker – she doesn’t need one – but whatever happened is out of character enough to worry him – and in turn, all three of her granddaughters.

Maddy, at loose ends after discovering that her boyfriend was cheating on her with their boss in order to cheat her out of a promotion, leaves Charleston for the four-hour drive to the North Carolina coast as soon as she comes out of her much-deserved funk. She has nothing to do in Charleston, no idea where she’s going to turn next and welcomes the distraction of her grandmother’s disappearance although certainly not the cause of it.

She arrives at her grandmother’s cottage to discover that both her sisters are on their way – and that neither knows the other is coming. Maddy is stuck in the peacemaker role between her two much older sisters. Sisters who have been at war with each other for 20 years with no letup.

By the time they learn that their Gran is alive and well and set them all up in her cottage for yet one more attempt at family reconciliation, they have all settled into the job of fixing up the cottage and clearing out the attics. And none of them seem to be in any hurry to leave. Maddy knows she has nothing to go back to in Charleston, but has no clue why either of her sisters, both happily married with busy lives and/or careers (at least as far as Maddy knows) seem to be not merely willing but downright eager to stay in Gran’s cottage and fix it up – albeit not with each other – for an infinite amount of time. And neither seems to be calling home.

Very much on Maddy’s other hand, she hasn’t exactly said anything about her sudden lack of either a job or a love life – so who knows what secrets her sisters are hiding?

When all the secrets that all of the Monroe women have been hiding – including Gran! – they pull together to save themselves – and to save each other – as a hurricane rips through Gran’s coastal community – and finally stitches their hearts back together.

Escape Rating B: Fair warning, this is going to be a mixed feelings review. There were a lot of things about this story to love – and one that still makes my blood boil more than a bit.

While the circumstances are different, Summer by the Tides is the kind of story that works well in women’s fiction – and this is more women’s fiction than it is romance although there certainly is more than a touch of romance. There have been several recent books by Susan Mallery that have explored parts or all of this themes, the warring sisters who finally make peace and come together in a crisis, and the family healing that comes after. There’s also been a recent book (whose title I can’t remember and it’s driving me crazy) where three women in a family gather together because all of their love lives and/or careers have gone to hell in a handcart at the same time.

In spite of not having siblings of my own – or perhaps because of it – I generally enjoy these stories. It’s fun to see them putting what’s gone wrong in their relationships with each other behind them, and watching them move forward into a brighter future. Any new romantic relationships they form in the course of the story are icing on the cake and not the actual cake. That’s true in Summer by the Tides as well. Not all of the happy ever afters are romantic, but all finish the book in happier and more fulfilling places than they began it.

I love a good romance as much as the next reader, but particularly for books that feature women in the 21st century I like the story much better when the women find their own fulfillment, whatever it might be, so that any romance they find is an enhancement to that fulfillment rather than the fulfillment itself. People can’t find happiness together unless they have it within themselves.

My 2 cents and I’ll step away from my soapbox for a minute. I’ll be getting back up on it later.

So I liked the story, I enjoyed the relationships between the sisters, and even though I guessed some of what had gone wrong in the past, the revelation was still heartbreaking and there were certainly aspects revealed that I had not previously figured out. The events were devastating, that they left all three sisters with serious trust issues made so much sense. That Maddy first distrusts Gran’s neighbor Connor, and takes hesitant steps towards a relationship fits well into the way the story and characters worked.

Okay, soapbox time, because this seriously affected my enjoyment of the story. Although it doesn’t become blatantly obviously until somewhere close to the halfway point, the characters in this story are explicitly Christian, which shouldn’t have been a surprise to me as the book is published by Thomas Nelson, a noted Christian publisher. That being said, I’ve recently read several books published by Nelson, and those have not been overtly or even covertly religious, so I was lulled and didn’t expect it here.

That some characters are religious is not the issue. People – and characters – do and don’t have belief systems, and those beliefs or lack thereof do affect their lives. What disturbed me greatly occurred in reference to Maddy’s ex, who is an absolute douchecanoe. That’s not a spoiler, it’s his douchecanoe nature that kicks off Maddy’s part of the story. But, and for me it was a huge but, when Maddy talks about her breakup, she says that she should have known he was a douche because he wasn’t a Christian. There’s an implication there that I find disturbing and unnerving, that only Christians can be trusted and that non-Christians by default have no moral or ethical code and should not be trusted.

And now I really will get down off my soapbox.

To sum it up, as I said at the top, there were plenty of things about this story that I liked, elements that I’ve read before and enjoyed, so I was happy to see them again. And there was one element that disturbed the hell out of me and reminded me to be more careful about books from this publisher.

Your reading mileage, of course, may vary.

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Review: The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery

Review: The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan MalleryThe Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Hqn on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Baxter sisters come from a long line of women with disastrous luck in love. But this summer, Sunshine and Margot will turn disasters into destiny...As an etiquette coach, Margot teaches her clients to fit in. But she's never faced a client like Bianca, an aging movie star who gained fame--and notoriety--through a campaign of shock and awe. Schooling Bianca on the fine art of behaving like a proper diplomat's wife requires intensive lessons, forcing Margot to move into the monastery turned mansion owned by the actress's intensely private son. Like his incredible home, Alec's stony exterior hides secret depths Margot would love to explore. But will he trust her enough to let her in?Sunshine has always been the good-time sister, abandoning jobs to chase after guys who used her, then threw her away. No more. She refuses to be "that girl" again. This time, she'll finish college, dedicate herself to her job as a nanny, and she 100 percent will not screw up her life again by falling for the wrong guy. Especially not the tempting single dad who also happens to be her boss.Master storyteller Susan Mallery weaves threads of family drama, humor, romance and a wish-you-were-there setting into one of the most satisfying books of the year!

My Review:

As part of the tour for this book, last week I posted an excerpt from The Summer of Sunshine and Margot. Now we’re back for the rest of the story!

Like so many of this author’s standalone titles, The Summer of Sunshine and Margot revolves around two sisters, Sunshine and Margot. While they are fraternal twins, they don’t seem to be much alike. Margot is tall, willowy and just a bit of an ice queen. Sunshine is short, curvy and more than a bit of a good time girl.

This is all about the summer where both of them plan to make changes in their lives. Those changes have a lot to do with their family’s legendary bad luck with men. Sunshine has picked the wrong men, pretty much over and over, instead of making something of her own life. Now she’s 31 and starting over again.

Margot keeps getting back together with the same wrong man over and over, and it’s past time for her to be done. It would help a lot if her friends would support that decision instead of sabotaging her by giving the jackass her address and phone number each time she cuts him off and changes her contact info.

Summer works as a nanny, but she never sticks – because some guy comes along, sweeps her off her feet, and she leaves. This time she’s fallen in love with her charge, little Connor, and wants to be around for him and his ant farm. She’s started college and make something of herself and stay away from men. Except for little Connor of course. And his lonely and extremely yummy dad.

On the surface – actually on several surfaces – Margot’s job is the more interesting of the two. Her job is to help people fit into new and unfamiliar surroundings. Usually those surroundings involve changes in status or business in foreign countries. Her current client is a free-spirited actress who plans to marry the love of her life, a foreign diplomat. In order to tone down some of Bianca’s wilder tendencies, Margot will live with her and her adult son, a man who makes both Margot’s intellectual side as well as her hidden passionate side sit up and take notice.

Nothing about either of their situations runs smoothly. The only thing that does is the rock solid love and support the sisters give to each other. And that’s enough to see them through.

Escape Rating A-: This was just a sweet and delightful read. From a certain perspective, not a lot happens – or at least not in a big way. At the same time, it just reads so well. I started it at dinner and finished later that evening because I couldn’t put it down.

Not so much because I needed to see what happened next as because I just enjoyed spending time with Sunshine and Margot. Their lives were very, very different, but they managed to maintain a close and loving relationship – something that isn’t always easy between sisters.

Often when I read family relationship stories, I find myself grateful to be an only child. But not with this author. Many of her stories wrap around sisterhood, and her portraits of sisters who manage to pull together or stay together and be there for each other makes me a bit envious.

The romantic relationships that Sunshine and Margot find in this story, and unsuccessfully resist, are as different as they are. But are both equally romantic and equally interesting to follow. And they both earn their happily ever afters, but in completely different ways.

The wild card character in this one is the wild child actress Bianca. It’s so obvious from early in the story that Bianca has both a story of her own, and an agenda that she keeps carefully under wraps. The revelation of what made her the person that she is is heartbreaking, and the reason she finally lets the secret go is reaffirming, both of love and of the ability to set yourself free of the past – at any age.

And it ties in to both Sunshine’s and Margot’s journeys, as they all are in the process of becoming their best selves. Journeys that are marvelous to follow every halting step of the way.

For a good reading time, pick up anything by Susan Mallery. You’ll be glad you did!

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Review: Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillan

Review: Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillanMurder in the City of Liberty (A Van Buren and DeLuca Mystery #2) 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 #2
Pages: 336
Published by Thomas Nelson on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Hamish DeLuca and Regina "Reggie" Van Buren have a new case--and this one brings the war in Europe dangerously close to home.

Determined to make a life for herself, Regina "Reggie" Van Buren bid goodbye to fine china and the man her parents expected her to marry and escaped to Boston. What she never expected to discover was that an unknown talent for sleuthing would develop into a business partnership with the handsome, yet shy, Hamish DeLuca.

Their latest case arrives when Errol Parker, the leading base stealer in the Boston farm leagues, hires Hamish and Reggie to investigate what the Boston police shove off as a series of harmless pranks. Errol believes these are hate crimes linked to the outbreak of war in Europe, and he's afraid for his life. Hamish and Reggie quickly find themselves in the midst of an escalating series of crimes that seem to link Boston to Hamish's hometown of Toronto.

When an act of violence hits too close to home, Hamish is driven to a decision that may sever him from Reggie forever . . . even more than her engagement to wealthy architect Vaughan Vanderlaan.

My Review:

Luca Valari is still the man of mystery behind the shady goings on in this second book in the Van Buren and DeLuca series. But Reggie Van Buren and Hamish DeLuca are definitely front and center in this atmospheric story of pre-WW2 Boston.

Although, just as in Murder at the Flamingo, it’s almost halfway through the book before the dead body turns up, there’s already plenty of shady goings on.

Nate Reis, Hamish’ roommate and the unofficial Jewish prince of the city’s immigrant North End, is hiding something – not that the increasing amount of Antisemitism and anti-immigrant fury is hiding anything from him.

Hamish and Reggie find themselves in multiple kinds of trouble when they investigate what looks like a potential housing development that plans to create substandard housing on land that is certain to be not merely unsuitable but actually unstable – and not with the consent of the current owner.

The situation gets even dicier when a figure from their past with Luca Valari and his Flamingo Club appears in the shadows – and someone pushes Reggie into the freezing waters of Boston Harbor.

The client they do manage to retain is the Black minor league baseball player Errol Parker, better known as Robin Hood for his base-stealing prowess. Parker has been the victim of an escalating series of so-called pranks, and he wants Van Buren and DeLuca to get to the bottom of it before someone roughs up his 16-year-old nephew. Again.

When the boy turns up dead in the locker room wearing his uncle’s jersey, they are left to investigate whether his murder was due to the color of their client’s skin, the shady people the boy was doing errands for, the rise of racial tension in general – or something else all together.

Something that might lead back to Luca Valari.

Escape Rating B: There’s something about this entry in the series that feels much darker than the previous book. Not that there isn’t plenty of mystery in both, but it feels like there were more lighthearted moments in Murder at the Flamingo – at least before said murder – than there are in Murder in the City of Liberty. Or it may be that Reggie Van Buren and Hamish DeLuca were just a lot more naive in the first book than they are, three long years later, in the second.

Some of that is the time period. While Flamingo takes place during the Depression, which was no picnic, this book is set in 1940. By this point in history, World War II had already begun in Europe, Hamish’ home country of Canada was already involved, and people in the U.S. were dealing with the sense that they would be caught up in the war, whether they wanted to be or not, sooner or later. Most likely sooner.

Which doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of isolationists doing their level best – or should that be absolute worst – to keep the U.S. out of the war as long as possible. And a lot of their reasoning revolved around their disgusting propaganda campaigns to keep America white and Christian and to denigrate, persecute and even murder anyone who was not. A propaganda campaign – with its associated violence – that has both Hamish and Reggie’s client Errol Parker and their friend Nate Reis squarely in its sights.

The threats hanging over Parker and Nate are part of the darkness that permeates the story, as is shadowy presence of Hamish’ cousin Luca – who is up to his neck in something shady yet again. Someone is following Hamish, but whether it’s Luca’s agents attempting to keep Hamish safe, or Luca’s enemies trying to get at Luca through Hamish is all part of the puzzle. A puzzle that keeps Hamish – and the reader – guessing until the very end.

Speaking of that end, at the end of Murder in the City of Liberty Hamish is brought face to face with his parents’ past – a past that has been hidden from him all of his life. However, that past is not hidden from the reader – or at least not the readers of the author’s Herringford and Watts historical mystery series, which features Hamish’s mother and her bestie – and eventually leads to the events which led to the “falling out” between Hamish’ parents and Luca Valari’s.

It seems like everything in Hamish’ life comes back to Luca, one way or another. But the Herringford and Watts series looks scrumptious! So it looks like the first book, The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder, will be going on my TBR pile as something to tide me over until the next installment in the Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries!

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Review: The Summer Country by Lauren Willig

Review: The Summer Country by Lauren WilligThe Summer Country by Lauren Willig
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 480
Published by William Morrow on June 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The New York Times bestselling historical novelist delivers her biggest, boldest, and most ambitious novel yet—a sweeping, dramatic Victorian epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.

1854. From Bristol to Barbados. . . .

Emily Dawson has always been the poor cousin in a prosperous merchant clan—merely a vicar’s daughter, and a reform-minded vicar’s daughter, at that. Everyone knows that the family’s lucrative shipping business will go to her cousin, Adam, one day. But when her grandfather dies, Emily receives an unexpected inheiritance: Peverills, a sugar plantation in Barbados—a plantation her grandfather never told anyone he owned.

When Emily accompanies her cousin and his new wife to Barbados, she finds Peverills a burnt-out shell, reduced to ruins in 1816, when a rising of enslaved people sent the island up in flames. Rumors swirl around the derelict plantation; people whisper of ghosts.

Why would her practical-minded grandfather leave her a property in ruins? Why are the neighboring plantation owners, the Davenants, so eager to acquire Peverills—so eager that they invite Emily and her cousins to stay with them indefinitely? Emily finds herself bewitched by the beauty of the island even as she’s drawn into the personalities and politics of forty years before: a tangled history of clandestine love, heartbreaking betrayal, and a bold bid for freedom.

When family secrets begin to unravel and the harsh truth of history becomes more and more plain, Emily must challenge everything she thought she knew about her family, their legacy . . . and herself.

My Review:

The first book by Lauren Willig that I read was The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, probably 15 years ago. It got me hooked on her lush historical books, and I dip into one whenever I have a bit of time.

And so we come to The Summer Country, another lush and sumptuous historical by Lauren Willig. Unlike her well-known Pink Carnation series, this story takes place not in late 18th century France, but in mid-19th century Barbados.

However, they are both time slip stories. But the time that is slipped in The Summer Country encompasses considerably fewer centuries. The Pink Carnation series tells its historical story through a 21st century frame. But The Summer Country interweaves the past of Barbados at two periods only a couple of generations apart. Its “past” is in the early 1810s, and its “present” in the mid 1850s.

In other words, more than close enough together that the events of the past directly shape events in the story’s present – whether the protagonists are aware of that shaping or not. Mostly not. The time periods are also more than close enough together that it is within living memory for many people who still have secrets they desperately feel the need to keep.

At any cost. At all the times.

Escape Rating A-: The Summer Country is an example of the kind of epic family saga that they don’t publish much anymore. Because it’s a marvelous example of that kind of sweeping story, it does make the reader wonder why not. It’s lovely and captivating and pulls the reader into its world, much as its Barbados setting pulls in the characters who find themselves navigating the exotic and unfamiliar colony in the wake of their grandfather’s death.

A death that sets the whole story in motion.

This is a story about secrets, the cost of keeping them, and the fear of letting them go. It’s also a story that unspools as lazily as a day in the colonial heat – complete with an overarching sense of menace that coats the skin like sweat – and bites like the local mosquitoes.

It’s not a book to rush through. It begins with Emily Dawson, doing her level best to make her own way in this new world, trying to unravel the mystery that her grandfather has left her with his bequest of the ruined Peverill plantation. We see Emily buck the tide of ALL the men in her life and her orbit who are just certain that a woman couldn’t possibly know her own mind.

And we see the past, when her grandfather was a young man at Peverills, not as the owner, but as the poor bookkeeper. And we see all the people who stood in both their ways – some of whom still do.

It’s enthralling, it’s delicious, it’s decadent and at times it’s downright chilling. This is a book to wallow in – and you’ll be glad you did.

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Review: Summer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross + Giveaway

Review: Summer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross + GiveawaySummer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Honeymoon Harbor #3
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Summertime is the best time to lose yourself in the romance of Honeymoon Harbor…

When he lands in the emergency room after collapsing at the funeral of a colleague and friend, Wall Street hotshot Gabriel Mannion initially rejects the diagnosis of an anxiety attack. But when warned that if he doesn’t change his adrenaline-fueled, workaholic lifestyle he could end up like his friend, Gabe reluctantly returns to his hometown of Honeymoon Harbor to regroup.

As he adjusts to the sight of mountains instead of skyscrapers, Gabe discovers advantages to this small Pacific Northwest town he once couldn’t wait to escape. But it’s irresistible librarian Chelsea Prescott who, along with the two foster children she’s taken under her wing, makes slowing down seem like the best prescription ever.

Over the course of their summer romance, Gabe gets a taste of the life he might have had if he’d taken a different path. But with his return to New York City looming on the horizon, he’ll have to choose between the success he’s worked tirelessly for and a ready-made family who offers a very different, richly rewarding future…if he’ll only take the risk.

My Review:

When is a fling not a fling? Possibly when it comes with two children and a boat. But definitely when it begins with thinking you’re having a heart attack. While serving as a pallbearer at the funeral of someone you looked upon as a mentor.

For Gabe Mannion, wanting to be just like his mentor Carter Kensington has taken on a whole new meaning. The man is dead at 46, his heart a victim of the adrenaline rush that is high-level high-stakes trading on Wall Street.

Gabe’s panic-attack-that-feels-like-a-heart-attack is a giant wake up call. As one of his brothers later informs him, if your job gives you panic attacks, you’re doing it wrong. The problem for Gabe is that he doesn’t know how to stop doing it.

So he goes home. In that sense that home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in. Gabe needs to take the summer off and get away from his high-stakes, high-stress, all work and no life life-style, so he takes himself back home to Honeymoon Harbor, the tiny little beach town in the Pacific Northwest that he left for the fast track more than a decade ago.

He’s achieved the wealth that he dreamed of, not because he was greedy, but because money is a way of keeping score. He’s just never figured out when enough is enough, and adrenaline is just as addictive as any other drug.

He thinks he’ll be home for the summer, find a bit of zen, whatever that might mean, or at least ease off on the stress, and then return to the high-pressure world of dollars and cents – and more and more dollars.

Instead, librarian Chelsea Prescott rows over to the beach log mansion (it really is) he’s staying in for the summer, and invades his life, his house, the boat he’s building, and even, just possibly, his heart.

But their summer fling is supposed to have a limited shelf life. Her life, her home, and her life’s work is in Honeymoon Harbor, and he’s going back to New York after Labor Day. Or is he?

Escape Rating B+: This is a sweet little feel-good story about two people who have seen a few too many of life’s bumps and hard knocks, but have come out all the stronger for it.

I’m not actually talking about Chelsea and Gabe. I’m talking about Chelsea and Hannah, the young girl that Chelsea first takes an interest in when she notices that Hannah and her little sister Hailey are spending every afternoon in Chelsea’s library. Once upon a time, Chelsea spent her after school afternoons in that very same library, when her family and her home life was falling completely apart.

Chelsea sees herself in Hannah, using the library as a refuge and taking the very best care she can of her little sister. In Chelsea’s time, the librarian took her under her wing, giving her a refuge, a mentor, and eventually a career that she loves. Now it’s Chelsea’s turn to pay that gift forward.

But the package gets bigger when Hannah and Hailey’s foster mother goes AWOL and the girls need a place to stay. Chelsea steps up, and Gabe, steps up with her. Their fling has just barely begun, and suddenly they are all in together, making a home for two girls who need more than a temporary safe landing. They need a forever home, and Chelsea plans to give it to them.

With or without Gabe. But better with. If he can get his head out of his ass to figure where his heart is. Because Chelsea has already found hers.

Chelsea and Gabe’s relationship is fun to watch, but it’s Chelsea’s burgeoning relationship with the girls that really drives the book. There’s something very right about the family that they build together, a family that they all want Gabe to be a part of if he is willing to take a good hard look at the life he had in New York, the life he has in Honeymoon Harbor, and who the heck he wants to be when he finally grows up. Because when the story begins, he surely hasn’t.

Chelsea, on the other hand, begins the story grown up but closed off. Her childhood trauma has left her with the same need to guard her heart that she sees in Hannah. The way that the woman and the girl grow towards each other, and open their hearts in the process, is lovely to watch.

They are going to get the family they deserve, together, whether Gabe sticks around or not. That he does finally figure it out makes for delicious icing on a very yummy story.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Summer on Mirror Lake to one lucky US or Canadian commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Spotlight + Excerpt: The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan MalleryThe Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Hqn on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Baxter sisters come from a long line of women with disastrous luck in love. But this summer, Sunshine and Margot will turn disasters into destiny…

As an etiquette coach, Margot teaches her clients to fit in. But she’s never faced a client like Bianca, an aging movie star who gained fame—and notoriety—through a campaign of shock and awe. Schooling Bianca on the fine art of behaving like a proper diplomat’s wife requires intensive lessons, forcing Margot to move into the monastery turned mansion owned by the actress’s intensely private son. Like his incredible home, Alec’s stony exterior hides secret depths Margot would love to explore. But will he trust her enough to let her in?

Sunshine has always been the good-time sister, abandoning jobs to chase after guys who used her, then threw her away. No more. She refuses to be “that girl” again. This time, she’ll finish college, dedicate herself to her job as a nanny, and she 100 percent will not screw up her life again by falling for the wrong guy. Especially not the tempting single dad who also happens to be her boss.

Master storyteller Susan Mallery weaves threads of family drama, humor, romance and a wish-you-were-there setting into one of the most satisfying books of the year!

Welcome to the Excerpt part of The Summer of Sunshine and Margot tour! Whenever Susan Mallery has a new standalone title, like California Girls earlier this year (and When We Found Home last year), there’s a book tour with the opportunity for both excerpts in anticipation of the book’s release as a teaser and then, of course, the review tour to tell readers just how awesome the book is. Because they always are. So here I am again, with an excerpt from her upcoming (very, very soon!) book, The Summer of Sunshine and Margot. I’ll be back with a review next week. In the meantime, enjoy!

Excerpt from The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery

Declan Dubois hadn’t had sex in a year. Until a few weeks ago he, honest to God, hadn’t cared, but recently he’d started to notice and now he cared a lot and it was becoming a problem.

The dry spell had started when he and Iris had been having trouble—if that was what it could be called. Not knowing if their marriage was going to survive or not, he’d taken to sleeping on the sofa in his study. Later, she’d been sick and sex had been the last thing on either of their minds. After her death, he’d been in shock and dealing with the reality of having the woman he’d assumed he would spend the rest of his life with gone. There’d been Connor and helping him handle the loss of his mother. Sex hadn’t been important.

But it sure as hell was now, although he had no idea what he was supposed to do about it. Dating seemed impossible and a few minutes in the shower only got a guy so far. At some point he wanted a woman in his bed, and not just a one-night stand, either. He’d never been that guy. He didn’t need love to get it up but some kind of emotional interest was preferred. He hadn’t been on a first date in ten years—how was he supposed to start now? Where would he meet women? Not through work—that never went well. Online?

He walked the short distance from Connor’s room to his study and told himself he would deal with the problem later. Now that his son was asleep, his more pressing issue was to get to know the woman he’d hired to take care of his kid. Somehow three weeks had sped by. If he wasn’t careful, he would turn around and Connor would be graduating from high school and he still wouldn’t know anything about Sunshine.

He sat at his desk and opened the file the agency had given him when he’d first interviewed her. She’d been the fifth nanny he’d hired and he’d been desperate to find someone his son would like. Iris’s death had been a shock. It had been less than a month from the time he’d found out about the cancer until she’d passed away. There’d been no time to prepare, to be braced, and he was an adult. Connor had a lot less skill to handle the im- possibly heartbreaking situation. If Declan’s parents hadn’t come and stayed with them after the funeral, he wasn’t sure either of them would have survived.

He scanned the file. Sunshine was thirty-one. She’d been a nanny on and off from the age of twenty. She had no formal training, no education past high school and a history of walking away from jobs before her contract was finished. He hadn’t wanted to hire her, but he’d been desperate and the agency had insisted he at least talk to her. After blowing through four of their best nannies, he’d realized he couldn’t refuse, so he’d reluctantly met her.

He didn’t remember anything they’d discussed except to insist she and Connor spend a trial afternoon together, supervised by someone from the agency. Connor had come home and announced he liked her and Declan had hired her that evening.

The past three weeks had been a whirlwind of work and travel. He’d wanted to spend more time at home, getting to know her, watching her with Connor, but fate had conspired against him. Still, his son seemed happier than he had in a long time and he sure liked Sunshine.

A knock on his open door brought him back to the present. Sunshine stood in the doorway, her smile tentative.

“Is this a good time?”

He nodded and motioned to the chair on the other side of his desk. Sunshine sat down, then tucked her bare feet under her.

She was nothing like Iris. The thought was unexpected but once formed he couldn’t ignore it. His late wife had been tall and willowy. Delicate, with small bones and long fingers. She’d been pale, with dark hair and dark eyes.

Sunshine was several inches shorter and a whole lot more curvy. Blonde with pale blue eyes. She had full cheeks, large breasts and an ass that… He silently told himself not to go there. Not only wasn’t it appropriate, she wasn’t his type. And again, not appropriate.

Iris favored tailored clothing in black or taupe. From the lit- tle he’d seen of Sunshine, she was a jeans and T-shirt kind of woman. She ate cereal out of the box, had no problem lying on the floor to play checkers with Connor and hadn’t protested an ant farm in the house. Again—not Iris.

Not that he wanted anyone to be Iris. His wife had been his first real love and with her gone, he would never be the same. He wasn’t thinking he couldn’t care about someone again, he had no idea about that, he just knew he didn’t want an Iris replacement.

“You and Connor get along well,” he said.

She smiled. Two simple words that in no way captured the transformation from reasonably pretty to stunning. Declan hoped he didn’t look as stupefied as he felt. After all, he’d seen her smile before. He should be used to it, and yet, he was not.

“He’s adorable. How could you not totally fall for him? He’s a serious kid, but also funny and kind. I know he misses his mom, but he’s dealing. We talk about her whenever he wants to. I know he’s going to therapy and I’m hoping it helps. Obviously the therapist doesn’t say anything to me, but I would say he’s coping well.”

Her appreciation of his kid relaxed him. “Connor’s special,” he said, then looked at the open folder on the desk and decided to be blunt. “I wasn’t sure if I should hire you.”

Instead of getting defensive, she laughed. “I could say the same thing about you. I was hoping to go to work for a high-powered single mom, but the director at the agency talked me into meeting Connor and then I was a goner.”

She pointed to the folder. “Is that about me?”

He nodded.

Her full mouth twisted. “Let me guess. The report says I’m terrific with kids. I like them and they like me. I show up on time, I cook, I help with homework, I’m a safe driver. When there’s an emergency, I’m nearly always available. But…” She looked at him. “There’s a very good chance one day I’ll simply disappear with almost no warning. I’m gone and you’re stuck.” She shrugged. “Does that about sum it up?”

Her honesty surprised him. Was it a tactic or genuine? He had no idea.

She sighed. “It’s true. All of it. I’ve walked away from at least a half dozen jobs. I would meet a guy and fall for him and he’d want me to go with him and I would. Just like that.”

“Go with him?”

Author Info:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives-family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages.Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

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Review: The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair

Review: The Right Sort of Man by Allison MontclairThe Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Right Sort Marriage Bureau #1
Pages: 336
Published by Minotaur Books on June 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"A delightful immersion in the period and personalities, with that touch of depth that transforms a good series to a great one." --Laurie R. King


First comes love, then comes murder.


In a London slowly recovering from World War II, two very different women join forces to launch a business venture in the heart of Mayfair--The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. Miss Iris Sparks, quick-witted and impulsive, and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge, practical and widowed with a young son, are determined to achieve some independence and do some good in a rapidly changing world.

But the promising start to their marriage bureau is threatened when their newest client, Tillie La Salle, is found murdered and the man arrested for the crime is the prospective husband they matched her with. While the police are convinced they have their man, Miss Sparks and Mrs. Bainbridge are not. To clear his name--and to rescue their fledging operation's reputation--Sparks and Bainbridge decide to investigate on their own, using the skills and contacts they've each acquired through life and their individual adventures during the recent war.

Little do they know that this will put their very lives at risk.

My Review:

It’s ironic that the protagonists in The Right Sort of Man are absolutely not looking for the right sort, or even the wrong sort of man for themselves. Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge operate a marriage bureau, and they are in the barely profitable business of finding the right sort of man for other women – as well as the other way around.

And that’s where things hit a snag for our intrepid entrepreneurs. One of their clients has just been murdered – and the one and only suspect that the police are interested in pursuing is the person that the Right Sort Marriage Bureau believed was the right sort for the dead woman.

Obviously, if the police are right, Gwen and Iris were very, very wrong. But they don’t think they are. That’s a conclusion that feels right even at the beginning. It feels like the police have come to the easy solution instead of looking for the correct one – but their case makes very little sense. It ties up all too neatly – but makes no sense whatsoever.

That’s where Gwen and Iris step in. Or perhaps I should say barge in. If Dickie Trower didn’t murder Tillie La Salle, then someone else certainly did. If they can find the real killer, they can save an innocent man from the gallows – and save their fledgling business into the bargain.

So they set out to catch a killer, armed with Gwen keen intuition about people, and Iris’ many mysterious skills gathered during her top secret career in one of Britain’s ultra secret war departments.

It’s too bad she can’t tell Gwen what she did – because the hints she drops are beyond frustrating.

Even without knowing exactly what Iris did, it’s clear that Iris is up for this unpaid job they’ve taken on. The surprise to Gwen is that she is every bit as capable in her own way as Iris. They both survived their war deeply damaged – but survive they did.

Now it’s time to live – if they can just get poor Mr. Trower out of jail first.

Escape Rating A: This was a terrific read and a great blend of historical fiction and historical mystery. The war is over, and it’s not, both at the same time. Particularly in Britain, where rationing was still very much in effect. Rationing didn’t end in Britain until 1954! (It ended in the US in 1945 for everything except sugar and that rationing ended in 1947)

So this story is an excellent portrait of two women who become friends and business partners, who begin with a whole lot of necessary secrets between them, but end up as close as sisters. They bond over their amateur detecting, even though Iris isn’t really an amateur at all.

Both women are left scarred and broken in their own ways by their war experience, and their work together, both in the marriage bureau and in their foray into sleuthing, is part of their healing.

The case itself delves into some of the dark places of post-war life. In their hunt for a murderer, they find themselves in the midst of a counterfeiting case – as well as working both with and against one of the gangs involved with the black market.

What makes their relationship so much fun to watch is that they come from completely different backgrounds and have totally different approaches to their circumstances. Gwen is the child of privilege, where Iris’ background seems to have been middle-class at best. Both are escaping from trauma that they have not dealt with properly, although their escapes methods, while being totally different, are equally unhealthy.

This investigation sees them take their first steps into a brighter future. And it’s terrific to watch. I also think that readers of the Maisie Dobbs series are going to love Iris and Gwen.

In the end, neither Iris nor Gwen finds exactly the right sort of man, but this is absolutely, positively the right sort of book if you’re looking for a terrific story of women’s friendship bonded by solving mysteries together!

Review: The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence + Giveaway

Review: The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence + GiveawayThe Alchemist of Lost Souls (Bianca Goddard Mysteries, #4) by Mary Lawrence
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Bianca Goddard #4
Pages: 320
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A dangerous element discovered by Bianca Goddard's father falls into the wrong hands . . . leading to a chain of murders. Spring 1544 Now that she is with child, Bianca is more determined than ever to distance herself from her unstable father. Desperate to win back the favor of King Henry VIII, disgraced alchemist Albern Goddard plans to reveal a powerful new element he's discovered--one with deadly potential. But when the substance is stolen, he implores his daughter to help.

Soon after, a woman's body is found behind the Dim Dragon Inn, an eerie green vapor rising from her mouth. Bianca has reason to suspect her own mother may be involved in the theft and the murder. When her husband John is conscripted into King Henry's army to subdue Scottish resistance, finding the stone becomes a matter of life and death. Bianca must unravel the interests of alchemists, apothecaries, chandlers, and scoundrels--to find out who among them is willing to kill to possess the element known as lapis mortem, the stone of death . . .

Praise for The Alchemist of Lost Souls "Atmospheric...Fans of Tudor historicals will eagerly await the next installment."--Publishers Weekly

Praise for Death at St. Vedast "Full of period details, Lawrence's latest series outing captures Tudor London in all its colorful splendor. A solid choice for devotees of Elizabethan mysteries."--Library Journal

Praise for Death of an Alchemist "A must read!" --RT Reviews

"Colorful alchemical lore and vividly imagined..." --Publishers Weekly

Praise for The Alchemist's Daughter A Night Owls Reviews Top Pick Suspense Magazine Best Historical Mystery 2015

"A complex plot and likeable cast of characters" --Historical Novel Society

My Review:

This is the fourth book in the Bianca Goddard series, and I picked it up because I read and enjoyed the recreation of Tudor England in the first two books in the series, The Alchemist’s Daughter and Death of an Alchemist. How and why I managed to miss the third book, Death at St. Vedast, I have no idea, but it’s an omission I certainly plan to rectify!

Although this series takes place among people who are living at the bottom of the economic pile, the actions of those at the top still affect the lives of Bianca, her husband John, and her father Albern in ways that never work to their benefit.

Once upon a time Albern Goddard was a respected alchemist in the employ of the king. The respectability of alchemy, while not laughable as it is today, was more than a bit dubious even in the mid 16th century when this story is set.

Albern’s fame and fortunes have considerably dwindled – not that his attitudes towards his wife, his daughter, or the people he lives among have come down even in the slightest. He thinks he’s better and smarter than everyone else looking down his nose at everyone around him, including his family.

And certainly his fellow practitioners of the so-called noble art.

His daughter Bianca, on the other hand, is both a decent brewer of medicinals and a decent judge of human beings. Including her parents. That she lives in an unsavory part of London and practices among those even poorer than herself provides further fuel for her father’s contempt. And that’s in spite of the fact that Bianca has pulled his nuts, literally and figuratively, out of the fire more than once.

Which doesn’t stop either Albern Goddard nor the local sheriff from enlisting her aid. Albern when a precious compound is stolen, and the sheriff when the woman who ended up with it in her possession is murdered.

But the parallel investigations into the theft from her father and the murder that seems to have been its result are not the only problems plaguing Bianca.

Because it is 1544 and Henry VIII plans on one final campaign against England’s perennial enemy, the French. He intends it to be a glorious victory. All that Bianca knows is that her husband has been caught up in the conscription for a war that seems more foolhardy than glorious. Whether he will return in time to see the child she carries – even whether he will return at all – is in the hands, or whims, of a capricious fate.

Escape Rating B+: This is a historical series where the reader kicks the offal, smells the smells, and feels more than a hint of the brutality of life on society’s lowest rungs of the ladder. In that, it resembles the Crispin Guest series by Jeri Westerson, the Thieftaker Chronicles by D.B. Jackson and the Kate Clifford series by Candace Robb.

This is not a pretty view of Tudor England, but one that is biting and raw. Bianca’s circumstances force her to make her living in an area known for its poverty, crime and lawlessness. It’s a world where her father has not only the right but the duty to beat her, in spite of her being an adult living away from his household, and where she is grateful that her husband does not do his duty to beat her as well.

And it is also a period where what we would now label superstition is accepted as fact, and where the worlds of magic and spiritualism lie much closer to everyday life. Which explains the common beliefs in alchemy, as well as nearly everything about the title character of this story, the being known as the Rat Man, who has spent centuries plying the waterways of the Thames and looking for the alchemical element he once created in an attempt to grant eternal life. An element that seems to have only granted him eternal damnation.

He is watching Bianca, in the hopes that she can somehow lead him to the final end that he longs for. And that she will not pay for his death with her own.

But the Rat Man is a shadowy figure, existing mostly on the fringes of this story. It is Bianca that we focus on, and it is her search for the truth, even the truths that she does not want to face, that moves us. While her circumstances may be removed in place and time, the intelligence, deductive reasoning and sheer stubbornness that she uses to achieve her aims are traits that 21st century readers can certainly empathize with – and follow.

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

The author is giving away signed paperback copies of The Alchemist of Lost Souls to two lucky participants in this tour!

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Review: The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayThe Rogue of Fifth Avenue (Uptown Girls, #1) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, eboook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Uptown Girls #1
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on June 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Silver-tongued lawyer.Keeper of secrets.Breaker of hearts.

He can solve any problem…

In serving the wealthy power brokers of New York society, Frank Tripp has finally gained the respectability and security his own upbringing lacked. There’s no issue he cannot fix…except for one: the beautiful and reckless daughter of an important client who doesn’t seem to understand the word danger.

She’s not looking for a hero…

Excitement lay just below Forty-Second Street and Mamie Greene is determined to explore all of it—while playing a modern-day Robin Hood along the way. What she doesn’t need is her father’s lawyer dogging her every step and threatening her efforts to help struggling families in the tenements.

However, she doesn’t count on Frank’s persistence…or the sparks that fly between them. When fate upends all her plans, Mamie must decide if she’s willing to risk it all on a rogue…

My Review:

The Rogue of Fifth Avenue is the first book in the Uptown Girls series, a followup to the author’s Four Hundred series. Both take place among the elite “Knickerbocker” society of New York City in the Gilded Age.

I have to admit, though, that the possibility that this series is named for the Billy Joel song Uptown Girl just makes me smile. It also gives me a rather pleasant earworm. And the lyrics actually work, come to think of it.

The romance in this one is between Mamie Greene, who’s a bit of a “poor little rich girl” and Frank Tripp, who is very definitely a rich little poor boy. Frank is a rich and successful uptown attorney who counts Mamie’s rich and influential father, Duncan Greene as one of his biggest clients.

(There are a LOT of rich people in this story – but in the end the story is surprisingly NOT about their wealth.)

Frank has been following Mamie and her sisters to rather an alarming number of dives and gambling dens. He thinks he’s keeping her out of trouble. Of course, he has no idea what he’s actually gotten himself into.

He thinks he’s saving Mamie. What really happening is that they get along like kerosene and matches – combustible at every encounter. Neither of them can afford to acknowledge the attraction between them. Mamie’s father will never allow her to marry his lawyer, no matter how successful Frank might be. And Mamie is promised to another man.

Frank thinks he’s saving Mamie FROM herself. He’s not willing to acknowledge that he’s really saving her FOR himself. Or that he’s the one who really needs saving.

Escape Rating B-: Although the Uptown Girls series is a spinoff from the Four Hundred series, it is not necessary to read the Four Hundred to get right into the thick of things in The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. There are occasional mentions and appearances by a few of the characters from the previous series, but nothing to interrupt the flow of this story for those who have not read those.

That being said, I really, really liked all three books in the Four Hundred series, and liked them more than I did The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. Or rather, I liked the actual “Rogue”, Frank Tripp, just fine, but I didn’t enjoy Mamie’s character nearly as much as I did the heroines of the previous series.

On my other hand, this one really is the story of Frank’s journey and Frank’s redemption. Mamie feels more like the instrument of said redemption. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Both Frank and Mamie have secrets. Mamie’s secret is that she is literally robbing the rich, picking the pockets of the swells who frequent the elite gambling halls, to provide funds for poor women and their children who quite seriously need the help. And that she is keeping her thievery and her visits to Five Points from her parents.

I found myself applauding her desire to help people while decrying her methods. Not just in the “two wrongs don’t make a right” sense, but in the sense that Mamie has money and could pay out of her pocket as well as fund raise among her rich friends. If her parents had forbidden her activities the secrecy would make more sense, but she hasn’t asked, she’s just assumed. Possibly a correct assumption, but still…considering her parent’s personalities, it would have had a fair chance of working.

Frank, on the other hand, is hiding that he began as a poor boy in Five Points, the child of a drunken wife beater and the poor wife he beat. He got lucky and received a hand up from a local business owner who helped into law school. Everything Frank got from there was on his own merits and hard work, as well as a silver tongue that convinced the upper crust swells that he was one of them.

The story here is that Frank’s old life collides with Mamie’s hidden life, as one of the women she has been helping is arrested for killing her husband. Which she, in fact, did. Not in self-defense, but in defense of their five-year-old daughter. The deck is stacked high against the woman, and Mamie wants Frank to use that silver tongue of his to get the woman off – no matter how much the corrupt police department wants to sweep the case under the rug.

In the process of defending the case, Frank finds himself confronting the family he left behind, and the facade he has created in order to maintain his life cracks under the strain. Whether Mamie is able to forgive him for his necessary deception provides the romantic tension at the end of the story, but this is one of the few times where I really wanted the heroine to forgive the erring hero a lot quicker and more easily than she did.

That being said, the way that this one works out, both in the romantic sense and especially in the courtroom, made for one heck of a slam-bang (also a wham-bam!) ending.

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

To celebrate the release of THE ROGUE OF FIFTH AVENUE by Joanna Shupe, we’re giving away one paperback set of the entire Four Hundred series!

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

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books. Giveaway ends 6/10/2019 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly.