Spotlight + Excerpt: The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan MalleryThe Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 400
Published by HQN Books on February 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Step into the vineyard with Susan Mallery’s most irresistible novel yet, as one woman searches for the perfect blend of love, family and wine.
Mackenzie Dienes seems to have it all—a beautiful home, close friends and a successful career as an elite winemaker with the family winery. There’s just one problem—it’s not her family, it’s her husband’s. In fact, everything in her life is tied to him—his mother is the closest thing to a mom that she’s ever had, their home is on the family compound, his sister is her best friend. So when she and her husband admit their marriage is over, her pain goes beyond heartbreak. She’s on the brink of losing everything. Her job, her home, her friends and, worst of all, her family.
Staying is an option. She can continue to work at the winery, be friends with her mother-in-law, hug her nieces and nephews—but as an employee, nothing more. Or she can surrender every piece of her heart in order to build a legacy of her own. If she can dare to let go of the life she thought she wanted, she might discover something even more beautiful waiting for her beneath a painted moon.

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery. She writes lovely and wonderful books that sweep me up, take me away, and put me right into the heart of relationships that manage to be both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing The Vineyard at Painted Moon in the weeks ahead, so here’s a teaser to whet all of our reading appetites!

Excerpt from The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery (continued from Friday’s Excerpt at Jathan & Heather)

The song ended and Rhys led her back to Giorgio, who was chatting with several guests. As Barbara walked over to the bar to get a glass of wine, her youngest joined her.

 “Barbara,” Catherine said pleasantly. “Wonderful party.” 

Barbara did her best not to bristle. At the beginning of high school, Catherine had insisted on changing her name to Four, of all things. As in the fourth child. Barbara had refused to accommodate her, so Catherine had started calling her by her first name, to be annoying.

 Barbara simply didn’t understand where things had gone wrong. She’d been loving but fair, had limited TV and made all her children eat plenty of greens. Sometimes parenting was such a crapshoot. 

She motioned to her daughter’s dress. “One of your own creations?” 

Catherine spun in a circle. “It is. Don’t you love it?”

 “With all my heart.”

 Catherine grinned. “Sarcasm? Really?”

 “What did you want me to say?”

 Catherine’s good humor never faded. “What you said is perfect.” 

As her daughter drifted away, Barbara moved closer to Giorgio. He put his arm around her waist, the pressure against her back both comforting and familiar. She nodded as he talked, not really listening to the conversation. Whatever he was saying would be charming. He was like that—well-spoken, always dressed correctly for the occasion. He had an enviable way with people and a natural charm she’d never possessed. She supposed that was what she’d first noticed—how easy he made everything when he was around. 

This night, she thought with contentment. It was exactly right. Her children and grandchildren were around her. Giorgio was here. The vines were healthy and strong and come September there would be another harvest.

 She spotted Avery, her oldest grandchild, talking to her father, Stephanie’s ex. Kyle was too smooth by far, Barbara reminded herself. Their marriage had been a disaster from the beginning, but Stephanie had been pregnant, so there had been no way to avoid the entanglement or the subsequent divorce. 

At least Avery and Carson hadn’t been scarred by the breakup. Barbara couldn’t believe Avery was already sixteen. She was going to have to remind Stephanie to keep a close eye on her daughter when it came to boys and dating. If she didn’t, there was going to be a second generation with an unplanned pregnancy, and no one wanted that.

 She often told people that children and vineyards meant constant worry. Just when you were ready to relax, a new season started with new challenges. 

Stephanie walked over to her. “Mom, it’s about time for the toast, if you’re ready.” 

“I am.”

 Barbara excused herself to follow her daughter toward the DJ and the small platform by the dance floor. She took the microphone the young man offered and stared out at the crowd. Stephanie called for quiet and it took only a few seconds for the party to go silent.

 “Thank you so much for joining me and my family at our tenth annual Summer Solstice Party,” Barbara said, pausing for applause, then holding up her glass of chardonnay. 

“To my children—may the next year be one of happiness for each of you. To my grandchildren—know that you are loved by all of us.” She turned and found her daughter-in-law, then smiled at her. “To my special daughter of the heart—the day you came into our lives was a magnificent blessing.” 

There was more applause. 

Barbara looked at Giorgio and smiled. They’d discussed whether or not she should mention him, and he’d asked her not to. After all, he was just the boyfriend and he’d said tonight was about family—yet another reason she loved him. The man understood her and wasn’t that amazing.

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.

Website | Facebook | TwitterInstagram

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

Review: The Secrets of Colchester Hall by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Secrets of Colchester Hall by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Secrets Of Colchester Hall by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: Gothic, historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 148
Published by Sophie Barnes on January 12, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

As one of six possible candidates vying for Viscount Sterling's hand, Lady Angelica has been invited to stay at his grand manor for a week-long house party. But an unpleasant feeling lurks within Colchester Hall. It's almost as if someone's watching Angelica just beyond the edge of her vision. And while she tries to explain the chill creeping up behind her as merely a draft, she can't shake the feeling that something disturbing might be at play.
When Sterling decides she's the woman he wants, can Angelica accept her new home and the sinister secrets she fears it might hold, or will she give up on true love because of what could prove to be nothing more than her own imagination?
NOTE: This novella was previously included in the anthology, Wicked Liaison

My Review:

It’s not illogical that the result of a man discovering that his late wife was unfaithful would be for him to ensure that his next wife wouldn’t be tempted. Or in the case of Viscount Randolph Sterling’s search for a new bride, wouldn’t be tempting to others.

The problem is that his next viscountess really does need to be tempting to him.

It’s a conundrum that he intends to solve by inviting six women who are “on the shelf” to his home, with their chaperones, in the hopes that one will strike his fancy – even if it seems that the entire ton has labelled them as unmarriageable for one reason or another.

Three are shy to the point of paralysis, which explains their lack of previous offers. One is a bit shy, but is mostly disqualified because she’s already in love with someone else, who of course doesn’t seem to notice that she exists. (I really liked Lucy and wouldn’t mind seeing her story!)

One of the eligible ladies has the personality of a narcissistic velociraptor. And I might have just insulted velociraptors. It’s clear upon first meeting that the reason no one has offered marriage to Lady Seraphina is because she’s a vicious bitch. And again, that’s an insult to both vicious people and bitches. She’s a piece of work.

That leaves our heroine, Lady Angelica. She’s not shy. In fact, many might say that her lack of shyness, certainly her lack of what was considered decorum and proper behavior for ladies, was the reason that no one – at least so far – had wanted to marry her. Angelica speaks her mind, to the point where she is considered to be blunt to a fault.

Angelica is exactly what Randolph Sterling has been looking for. Over the course of a week where he “interviews” all of his prospective brides, he already knows that he has made his choice.

If Angelica will agree. And if the malign spirit that seems to haunt Colchester Hall will let her live long enough to reach the altar.

Escape Rating B+: For a surprisingly short book, The Secrets of Colchester Hall manages to encompass some seriously creepy Gothic chills while solving the mystery of those titular secrets and leading to a satisfactory – and heated – romantic happy ever after.

Of course, the protagonists need the heat of that HEA to get over the chills induced by those terrible secrets.

The Secrets of Colchester Hall is billed as a gothic romance, and was originally published as part of an anthology of gothics. Gothic romances are a subgenre that isn’t as popular as it was once upon a time, so it was fascinating to read one that invoked some of the classics of the genre.

There are hints of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, to the point where that story is deliberately lampshaded in the bookstore when the hero recommends the book to the heroine. A heroine who is a fan of such gothic romances, as is the heroine of Northanger Abbey herself.

But it feels like the real inspiration for this foray into those secrets at Colchester Hall is Dame Daphne du Maurier’s classic creeper Rebecca. The story has several similar elements, enough to let a reader predict at least some of the outcome. But it stands more than well enough on its own to keep the reader shivering and turning pages to the very last.

What makes this one stand out is the character of Angelica. Her bluntness and plain-speaking make her easy for contemporary readers to identify with, and her willingness to say what she really thinks, no matter the social cost, provides the story with many of its best and most lighthearted moments – as well as providing Sterling with all the reasons he could ever want to ask Angelica for her hand.

Like most gothic romances, there is more than a bit of willing suspension of disbelief involved. The actual villain of the piece is flesh-and-blood and certainly among the living, and that person’s machinations are plausible. Sinister, murderous, manipulative, but still plausible. But there’s an element of paranormal woo-woo involved in most gothics and this one was no exception. Angelica is receiving messages from the beyond and those messages are getting her attention – as well as the attention of the villain. That the story requires her to believe those messages and for the hero to believe her and not have her committed, is a bit of a stretch.

A stretch that works, and chills the reader right to the bone.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Review: Find Me in Havana by Serena Burdick

Review: Find Me in Havana by Serena BurdickFind Me in Havana by Serena Burdick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row Books on January 12, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A stunning new novel of historical fiction from the author of
The Girls with No Names
based on the true unsolved murder of Cuban-born Hollywood actress Estelita Rodriguez.
Cuba, 1936. As her family struggles to recover from the Cuban Revolution, Estelita's own world opens when she's "discovered" singing in Havana nightclubs. At fifteen, her dreams to travel to America come true with the invitation to sing at the Copacabana. There, she begins a whirlwind romance with Chu Chu Martinez, a handsome actor she later marries. But when Chu Chu forbids her from performing, Estelita takes their daughter, Nina, and escapes to Hollywood.
Big Sur, 1966. Nina Rodriguez grew up enamored by her mother's beauty and glamour. She still doesn't understand how her vivacious mother could have died so quickly from influenza and suspects a more sinister plot pointing to her mother's most recent romance. When Nina finds herself repeating her mother's destructive patterns with men, she looks to the lessons of her mother's past to find a new way forward.
Based on the true events of Estelita Rodriguez's sensational life and exclusive interviews with the real Nina, Find Me in Havana beautifully captures the love, sacrifice and deep understanding that can only come from a mother-daughter relationship.

My Review:

This is one of those stories that lives up to the adage “fiction is the lie that tells the truth.” Because this is a fictionalized story of a real life, a real death, and a real mystery. The author, having been told this story, filled in the blanks provided by the story of a daughter, 30 years later, telling the story of the mother who died under mysterious circumstances, and whom, quite possibly, she never really knew.

The woman at the center of this story is Estelita Rodriguez, a Cuban actress who was featured in a series of Westerns with Roy Rogers, and whose best known role was in Rio Bravo with John Wayne.

She died young and under rather mysterious circumstances in 1966, at the age of 37, leaving behind a husband she was about to divorce and a 20-year-old daughter whose memories provide the heart of this pseudo-speculative biography.

I say pseudo because Nina Rodriguez, although she tells this story much, much later in her life, is remembering events in her mother’s life that she either witnessed as a child or pieced together long after the events. Much of what she remembers is filtered through her childhood perspective and some of it may be inaccurate, either because of a lack of perspective, a lack of information, or simply the tendency of memories to blur over time.

So Nina’s memory of her stepfather Grant Withers’ death isn’t quite what happened. Or rather it isn’t quite when and where it happened. He did die that way, but four years after her mother divorced him and neither Estelita nor Nina were witnesses.

Time and memory play tricks on us all.

The story is also speculative because the cause of Estelita’s death was not determined at the time, so the mystery surrounding her death has never been resolved. It may be as Nina describes it in the book. That story fits the pieces she had but we’ll never really know.

Estelita Rodriguez

What we do have is a story that blends Nina’s memories with messages that are written as if they came from Estelita. It’s the story of a life that had its highs and lows, but also a life that traveled from, through, and returned to some very dark times and places.

And she survived, even if entirely too often by the skin of her teeth. Until, suddenly and unexpectedly, she was gone. Leaving her daughter to pick up the tiny, broken pieces of both of their lives.

Escape Rating B: In a week where I was looking for stories with happy endings, this one was particularly heartbreaking. Estelita’s story is a walk through some very dark places, to the point where the reader sometimes questions how she managed to survive as long as she did.

It’s also a story where the protagonist has sown the seeds of their own destruction to the point where it’s not really a surprise that it finally reaches out and sucks her under.

One of the things that surprised me while reading is just how much Estelita and the heroine of yesterday’s book have in common. That they are both Latinx is the superficial part of that similarity. The deeper underlying commonality is the way that they both spend their lives looking for validation through the eyes of and in their relationships with, men. Usually the wrong men, at that. The differences begin because Jasmine, yesterday’s heroine, gets herself out of that trap, where Estelita never does. But part of Jasmine’s ability to do that comes from her marvelously supportive family, where Estelita seems to have always been an outsider in hers.

And that the times they lived in were so very different.

The hardest part of Estelita’s life to read, however, relates to her experience of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, when she briefly returned to her homeland after her father and two of her brothers-in-law had been imprisoned for their support of the ousted Batista. The harrowing events of those few brief months, at least according to this fictionalized biography, left both Estelita and Nina emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives.

If it happened this way, or at all.

In the end, I have mixed feelings about this book. It is, as I said earlier, a walk through very dark places, whether fictionalized or not. It’s an absorbing read, even if it was not what I was in the mood for, and that colors my perceptions. The story also feels very subjective, as it isn’t so much Estelita’s story as it is Nina’s recollections of Estelita’s story as seen through Nina’s eyes as a child and young adult. The two women don’t relate as much to or understand each other nearly as well as the blurb might lead readers to believe.

In the end, a frequently compelling read, but not a remotely happy one.

Review: Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg

Review: Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. WillbergMarion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery, steampunk, thriller
Pages: 336
Published by Park Row on December 29, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The letter was short. A name, a time, a place.
Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder plunges readers into the heart of London, to the secret tunnels that exist far beneath the city streets. There, a mysterious group of detectives recruited for Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries use their cunning and gadgets to solve crimes that have stumped Scotland Yard.
Late one night in April 1958, a filing assistant for Miss Brickett’s named Michelle White receives a letter warning her that a heinous act is about to occur. She goes to investigate but finds the room empty. At the stroke of midnight, she is murdered by a killer she can’t see—her death the only sign she wasn’t alone. It becomes chillingly clear that the person responsible must also work for Miss Brickett’s, making everyone a suspect.
Almost unwillingly, Marion Lane, a first-year Inquirer-in-training, finds herself being drawn ever deeper into the investigation. When her friend and mentor is framed for the crime, to clear his name she must sort through the hidden alliances at Miss Brickett’s and secrets dating back to WWII. Masterful, clever and deliciously suspenseful, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is a fresh take on the Agatha Christie—style locked-room mystery with an exciting new heroine detective at the helm.

My Review:

Somewhere in the depths of Miss Brickett’s Investigations and Inquiries, which masquerades as Miss Brickett’s Secondhand Books and Curiosities, there must be a door that leads to the Invisible Library as well as some stacks that wander into the “L” space that leads to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Or if there isn’t, there certainly ought to be. While the Discworld librarian would probably just throw some bananas at the entire mess, Irene Winters, the Librarian who serves as spy, agent and occasionally thief on behalf of the Invisible Library would fit right into Miss Brickett’s. To the point where I wonder if the Library hasn’t used Miss Brickett’s as a training program on multiple occasions.

Because first-year Miss Brickett’s apprentice Marion Lane has exactly what it takes to become Irene’s kind of librarian, and her misadventures read like just the kind of thing that Irene probably cut her teeth on.

And just as much the kind of misadventure that cut its teeth on her.

Marion Lane, like Miss Brickett’s itself (and Miss Brickett herself, for that matter) is more than she appears to be. Miss Brickett’s (the agency) is the kind of place that feels like it ought to exist, even though it really doesn’t. Both in the sense that it would be marvelous if there were people whose lives were dedicated to resolving issues and solving crimes for anyone who needs help, and it would be marvelous if said secret agency operated in secret tunnels under one of the great cities – like London.

London in particular, is so large, has been a city for so long, and has such a many-layered history that we’re not surprised when real things that have been lost for decades – or centuries – turn up under it. Like lost Underground Stations – something that has really happened.

Miss Brickett’s, both the agency and the person, also intersect with the post-World War II history of women who found important jobs and purpose during the war and just weren’t interested in giving it all up afterwards. Particularly women who served at Bletchley Park as codebreakers.

Come to think of it, Sparks and Bainbridge (The Right Sort of Man, A Royal Affair and the upcoming A Rogue’s Company) would have fit right into Miss Brickett’s – even if they would have chafed at some of its many rules and restrictions.

But there are secrets in and under Miss Brickett’s. Not just the secrets its Inquirers investigate, but the secrets that they are keeping. Including their own. Because Miss Brickett’s conceals some of the very shady parts of Britain’s involvement in the late war. And because it guards the mysterious and deadly “Border” between the worlds we know – and someplace we very much don’t.

So when the “Border Guard” is murdered in a locked room named the “Lock Room” Marion Lane risks her apprenticeship and her life to determine who really done it. Because it couldn’t have been the person who was framed for it.

It’s up to Marion and her friends and frenemies to discover the truth – before that truth discovers that they are out to get it – and definitely before it gets them.

The gorgeous UK cover

Escape Rating A-: The blurb is a bit misleading. While the murder at the heart of this mystery is a locked-room mystery, the totality of Marion’s story bears no resemblance to anything by Dame Agatha.

Rather, this reads like it sits at the dangerous crossroads between The Invisible Library and the Scholomance of A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. The dark passages under Miss Brickett’s, the atmosphere of “here be dragons”, complete with monsters that serve as the equivalent of real, honest to goodness dragons, feels very much like the dark, dank and deadly corridors – and especially the lost halls – of the Scholomance.

It’s also clear that survival skills are an unstated but absolutely necessary part of all three curriculums.

While Marion’s misadventures read like some of Irene Winters’ training at the Invisible Library, Marion as a character is very much like El in A Deadly Education. She’s young, she’s still learning, the apprenticeship feels like her last chance to save herself, she’s in over her head and the place and everyone in it really are out to get her.

Not everyone in either case, but that’s how it feels from each of their perspectives at the time the stories open.

Marion’s situation is in many ways more poignant because it is based in the real. She knows that she doesn’t want the life everyone thinks she should want – marriage and children – and she definitely doesn’t want it with anyone that her grandmother picks out for her. She’s desperate to escape her situation and Miss Brickett’s is more than just a job, it’s Marion’s ticket out of her life and into something meaningful, purposeful and marvelous.

She has a lot riding on this apprenticeship – if she can just stick it for the three years required, not merely survive but receive good evaluations,  she’ll be offered a full-time position as an Inquirer – which includes room and board at Miss Brickett’s and away from her harridan of a grandmother.

But, as much as the creepy monsters under the agency, the mysterious “Border” and the hidden laboratories add to the chilling atmosphere of both Miss Brickett’s and the story, it’s the human side of all the equations that compels the reader to explore this world with Marion.

We feel for her personal predicament in the outside world, but it’s her motivations inside Miss Brickett’s that push her to investigate the murder. And it’s those same human motivations that are behind everything; pride, ambition, greed, jealousy and revenge, set against the need to keep the agency’s actions secret at all costs.

And it’s that balance and its breaking, the need to give justice to both the many – the people of London who rely on Miss Brickett’s services – as well as to the few – both the victim of the murder and the man framed for it, set against Miss Brickett’s own need to keep the agency secret so that “Official” London doesn’t shut down its clandestine and frequently illegal operations, that underpins the whole story and provides both its dramatic tension and its relief and release.

Marion and Miss Brickett’s are both fascinating characters. Marion’s career at Miss Brickett’s and her life are both at their starting points. Based on this initial outing, it’s clear that both have many more marvelous stories to tell us.

I hope we get to read them.

Review: Cash in Hand by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Cash in Hand by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayCash in Hand by T.A. Moore
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Pages: 202
Published by Dreamspinner Press on December 15, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The last monster died a hundred years ago. At least, that’s what the monsters want you to think.
Half-monster Cash just wants to keep his head down and raise his daughter, Ellie, to be an upstanding member of monstrous society. Even if she’d rather spend the summer with her human friends than learn the art of man traps at Camp Dark Hollow.
So the last person Cash wants to see is her uncle Arkady Abascal, who’s also Cash’s ex-boyfriend.
Arkady has more than Ellie’s summer plans on his mind. He’s there to enlist Cash to find out who’s been selling monster secrets. Cash hasn’t gotten any better at telling Arkady no, but it’s not just his weakness for Arkady that makes him agree. The Prodigium thinks an Abascal exposed them to humans, and now the whole family is at risk—including Ellie.
Recruited to help Arkady identify the culprit—or frame a scapegoat—Cash finds the machinations of monstrous power easier to navigate than his feelings for Arkady. At least, at first. But when things get bloody, he wishes romantic disasters were all he had to worry about….

My Review:

The monsters hanging out at the Abascal Hotel and Spa make the creatures in that old Halloween staple, Monster Mash, look like the population of the proverbial Sunday School picnic.

Most of us wouldn’t want to meet any of these folks in a dark alley – or even at the Summer Camp dropoff for their children. Monsters’ children, who are off to camp to make the friends and especially the enemies they’ll have for all of their lives. To learn how to be successful predators – or evasive prey, as the case might be.

No one in this story is completely human. But we root for them anyway.

Especially Cash, his little girl Ellie, and his on again/off again flirtation with Arkady Abascal. Arkady, who just so happens to be Ellie’s uncle, a member of the family at the top of the local monster society – and the love of Cash’ life whether he wants to admit it or not.

Usually not. Definitely not.

Which makes Arkady’s bargain with Cash, that Cash will pose as Arkady’s boyfriend for a weekend wedding at the family mansion in return for more protection for Ellie, a dangerous proposition all the way around.

It’s not just Cash’ heart that is at stake, but also what’s left of his human soul – as well as his half-human life. And Ellie’s. Definitely Ellie’s.

Because there’s someone out to get Ellie’s grandmother. And if Donna Abascal, the queen of the immortal monsters, goes down, she’ll take the entire family with her. Including Arkady. Including Ellie.

Whether she’s guilty – this time – or not.

Escape Rating B: It’s pretty clear from the outset – even without the author’s acknowledgement below – that this was originally supposed to have been TA Moore’s entry in the Bad, Dad and Dangerous anthology. But the story grew too many tentacles and other extra limbs to fit inside that particular skin, rather like the monsters and their too tight and wrong-shaped human guises.

(Consider that a monster-sized hint that if you like this story you’ll enjoy Bad, Dad and Dangerous and very much vice-versa. All the stories in that collection as well as this one are just a terrific mix of urban fantasy, paranormal romance and that extra touch of shivery monstrousness that make for a great read!)

This is a bit different from the usual worlds of urban fantasy or paranormal romance in that this is a world where, rather than magic being real – although it sort of is – it’s the monsters that we believe are myths and legends that are real.

Monsters who have their own society and their own laws – especially their own version of the Statute of Secrecy – as well as their own enforcers of those laws. At the same time, these are monsters. They are apex predators, and they hate having to bow to any authority – even one of their own making – even if it gives them things they want in return.

Like willing victims. And good wi-fi.

So the worldbuilding in this story is really neat and just a bit different. I wish we’d gotten a bit more of it, because there are a lot of politics in this story and figuring out who’s doing who and how their rank matters was occasionally just a bit confusing. (The short story that is serialized over the course of this blog tour should help with that, but I wish I’d had it before I read the book. It would have helped!)

As much as some of the politics and relationships confounded a bit, the relationships at the heart of this story are very clear and extremely easy to grasp – and to occasionally gasp at as we figure out just what’s at stake.

In the end, that’s what takes your breath away. The depth of Cash’ love for his daughter Ellie, in spite of everything he knows about both her origins and his own. The love that Cash and Arkady have never been able to get over for each other, no matter how much both of their monster sides tell them it makes them devastatingly vulnerable. Because that’s what love does.

And just how deep and how high the machinations go, to protect what needs protecting, to save who needs saving, and to deceive whoever and whatever needs deceiving to hold on to the most important things in life. Or death. Or undeath.

Whatever the case might be.

And now a word from TA Moore:

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Cash in Hand by TA Moore. Any of you who read Bad, Dad, and Dangerous very nearly got to read this in there. Cash in Hand was the first story I wrote for the anthology, the only problem with it was that it was…a bit long. It was a novel. So I was told to write another novella immediately, and Cash in Hand became a thing in itself! Which I hope you guys check out and enjoy!

For the blog tour I’ve written a short story set in the Prodigium world. I hope you enjoy!

 

Chapter Four

The damask puddled on the ground in front of Grandmother as she worked, peacock green with darker blue patterns woven into the fabric. She clicked her tongue.

“The Left Hand of the Prodigium,” she mused. “In our designs.”

“He’s been in the shop once.”

She waved one leg at him, a gesture that simultaneously dismissed his protest and told him to hush.

“We could put a sign over the door,” she said. “By charter from the Prodigium.”

“He was on his own.”

She gave him a hard look out of one beady, black eye. “You sound like your father.”

Dim pulled a face. He supposed he did. It had been the one thing he’d always swore he’d never do, back when he was Van’s age, but the older you got the more you realised that pessimism was just optimists called reality.

“If we tell people Kohary shops here,” he said. “We’ll lose business. People won’t darken our door for fear they’ll run into him in his underwear.”

For a moment Grandmother stopped work and cocked her head to the side. “Do you think he wears underwear?” she asked. “I would have assumed he was….what’s the word Van uses…commando?”

That was the last thing that Dim wanted to think about. He was going to now, probably for a few restless, sticky hours tonight, but that wasn’t the point. The naked (almost) Kohary in his head — hotter with black briefs that clung to his thighs and outlined his cock? Or without? A question for later — gave him a look that said he knew what he was doing.

Fuck. He might, for all Dim knew. No one really knew what Kohary’s monster was or what it could do. Well, no one knew for long. It was kind of ‘just before you horribly die’ information.

“That’s not the point,” Dim said. “What am I meant to do? I already have a dozen commissions for the end of the month, now I’m meant to come up with an outfit that’s fit for a banquet and an insult?”

Grandmother reached out and patted him on the shoulder. “Is it beyond you?”

Shit. Dim clenched his jaw on the unnatural compulsion that pushed on the bones of his skull. “Grandmother, don’t.”

She tilted her head to look at him with amusement. The curse had left her enough of her face to see the human she’d been, her nose and cheeks and the soft curve of her jaw. It had taken her eyes, though, and replaced them with the black, seed-jewel eyes of a spider. Black mandibles distorbed her mouth, the pink flesh stretched tight and peeled back in places. The black, mitten-fuzzed paw on his shoulder squeezed.

“Can you not do it?” she asked.

Dim clenched his jaw from sheer stubbornness. It didn’t matter. His monster crawled up his throat and wrestled control of his tongue off him.

“I can do it,” he said, through his teeth. Arrogance that wasn’t his–and wouldn’t have to understand the fucking consquences when they got here–filled him. “Just watch me.”

Grandmother swung forward on her line and kissed his cheek. Her mandibles were rough, like a brillo pad that was almost worn out.

“Go and make me proud,” she said. “Grandmother is hungry.”

Gloves hid his bloody fingers. They didn’t help with the restless jitter of his knees and tight shoulders as his monster plucked at his nerves like they were puppet strings.

Stitch. Sew. Buttons. Get it done, prove you can.

He ignored the rant with the ease of long practice and dumped more sugar in his coffee.

“When you imagine going to the Abascal wedding,” he asked idly. “How does it end badly?”

Astrid adjust the fingers on the hand of glory she had in front of her and turned it so the long-dead murderer gave him the bony finger.

“What makes you assume it goes wrong?” she sniffed. “And do you think these need to be tinted a shade more grey? Remember, the banquet will be in the caves?”

Dim cocked his head to the side.

“Remember they’re going to be lit,” he said. “You don’t want them to look alive. And it wouldn’t be an anxiety dream if everything went right.”

Astrid sighed and wiped her waxy hands on her apron. She picked up a shaved off ring of wrist bone and chewed thoughtfully on it as she considered the question. 

“I’m dancing with Belladonna,” she said, her eyes dreamy.It lasted a second and then she sighed as she went on. “She compliments me on what an amazing spread I’ve done, then she apologizes for stepping on my toes. People laugh. I realise I’m naked.”

“Could be a power move.” Dim pointed out.

Astrid sucked the marrow out of the centre of the wrist bone and sighed. “Naked except for my period pants,” she finished.

They both grimaced at that thought.

“Why?” she asked.

Dim shrugged. The scratch in his brain had settled when it realised he was still at work. “Just a thought,” he said. “I see the police are worried about gang violence up in Chesapeake? Anything to do with you?”

She mugged modestly for a moment. “Just a quick test, to see if executing them myself works.”

“And?”

Astrid held her hand out and wobbled it back and forth. “Burns without being consumed and opens a few locks. Good enough for the lunch, and I’ll save the real ones for the big event. I’ve got feelers out ”

“Just be careful,” Dim said. She frowned at him and he shrugged. “The great and the not-so-good are in town, cross them and they’ll sell you out to the Prodigium in a second.”

She rolled her eyes. “Some of us are willing to take risks to get ahead,” she said. “We can’t depend on our family to back us up.”

Dim shrugged. The warning that Kohary was in town stuck in his throat. He liked Astrid, but not enough to cross Kohary. If he wanted a terrible death that left no corpse, he’d go and kick some of his less good-natured relatives awake.

Black Demetrius, his namesake, had slaughtered a dozen hunters and made half of the Prespes his lair. Until Grandmother had tracked him down and tucked him in to sleep so she could get the Prodigium’s permission to come to the New World. 

He’d probably put Dim out of his misery quick enough.

“I should get back to work,” Dim said as he got up. “Thank you for the coffee.”

She grinned at him, her broken, yellow fangs and Gila Monster thick spit on display. “Thank you for the goodie bags,” she said and clapped her hands girlishly. “It’s just the right touch for the fancies.”

For the rest of the story, check out the other stops on this tour!

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: An Unexpected Temptation by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: An Unexpected Temptation by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayAn Unexpected Temptation by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Townsbridges #5
Pages: 146
Published by Sophie Barnes on December 8, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads


No other woman compares...

Six years ago, Athena Townsbridge broke up a wedding. This worked out well for her brother and the lady he loved, but Athena has never forgiven herself for what it did to Robert Carlisle. No one has seen him since he fled the church in humiliation, so when she learns of his estate's proximity to the property she is staying at during a family visit, she sets out, determined to make amends.
When Robert, Marquess of Darlington, is reunited with Athena, she's no longer the troublesome girl he remembers, but rather a fully grown woman. Trapped with her when a blizzard sets in, he rediscovers her playful side, the laughter and joy she can bring to his life. But it is her willful nature that tempts him, both with the need to tame her and with the dream of making her his.

My Review:

At the very beginning of The Townsbridges story, all the way back in When Love Leads to Scandal, there were Robert and Athena. And now, at the end of the saga, tying everything together along with, eventually, the proverbial knot, are Robert and Athena.

But where they began is a far and unpredictable cry from where they ended.

When they began, Athena was only 14 and Robert was a grown man of 24 as well as being her older brother Charles’ best friend. There was no hint of a romance there – and there shouldn’t have been.

Athena was much too young, and Robert was engaged to someone else. In fact, Robert was engaged to the woman who eventually married his best friend, Athena’s brother Charles. An event that could, nearly in its entirety, be laid at Athena’s door.

After all, Athena was that rare person who, when faced with the preacher asking if anyone could show just cause why those two, in this case Robert and his fiancé-on-the-absolute-verge-of-becoming-his-wife Bethany, should not be joined in holy matrimony, Athena spoke up and brought the entire house of polite cards down with a thud. Athena said out loud the thing that everyone else was too polite – or too afraid of starting a scandal – or too worried about hurting Robert’s feelings – to say. That her brother Charles and Bethany had fallen in love with each other.

Six years later Robert is a bit of a recluse. After all, his engagement to Bethany was the second time the man got left at the altar. Six years later Athena is 20 and about to be paraded around the “marriage mart” herself. But both of them are still paying, at least in the social sense, for Athena’s breach of etiquette and manners at the wedding that did not happen.

Everyone thinks that Athena is headstrong and in need of taming, but no one believes that they are up for the job. Certainly not her own family, as much as they love her.

Athena wants someone to love her for herself, personality warts and all, and fears that she will never find such a person. As she hasn’t exactly found that kind of acceptance in the bosom of her own family, her fears are quite real and have done a bit of a number on her self-confidence. Her family would say not nearly enough of a number, which says a lot about that relationship.

So Athena concocts a scheme to repair both her and Robert’s slightly tarnished reputations. She takes herself off to his country house, in secret, to beg his forgiveness for her behavior all those years ago. Not that she thinks she did anything wrong in revealing the truth, but at least conscious that the way she went about it had severe repercussions all around.

Like so many of Athena’s clever schemes, the best laid plans of mice and in this case women very much “gang aft a-gley.”

She gets snowbound with Robert. Who does not want to forgive her or even see her or speak with her, but cannot resist the pull between them. No matter where, or how deep into the surrounding snowdrifts, it might lead them both.

Escape Rating B: The Townsbridges are both a lovely family and a delightful collection of Regency romance novellas. This final entry in the series is a fitting conclusion to every single unconventional romance that has made up the series – and the family.

The Townsbridges marry for love. That was true for Margaret and George (their story is in Once Upon a Townsbridge Story) and it has been true for every single one of their children. But Athena is beginning to suspect it’s not going to happen for her as this conclusion to the series opens.

This is, particularly, Athena’s journey, and with her having opened the series in her unconventional way, it’s possible to see the whole thing as Athena’s journey – just that her brothers and sisters managed to find their own HEAs along the way of Athena growing up and growing into herself.

The hard part of this particular entry in the series is the relationship between Athena and her family, and between Athena and Robert, and the way those two things feed into each other. Because in order for Athena to grow up she has to learn where the lines are. And in order for her to be happy she has to find someone who will help her figure out that terrible lesson without suppressing the core spark of her personality.

And at first we wonder if Robert is remotely up for that job. Athena’s family seems to have abdicated all responsibility in the matter. So on the one hand we have a family that loves her, but from their perspective very much in spite of herself, and on the other hand a man who seems to want to control her or at least manage her – because of course he knows best.

It’s only as the story goes on a bit that the reader, or at least this reader, gets past the uncomfortable bits where Robert talks about Athena needing a “firm hand” – and didn’t that make me squirm – to the point where he’s expressing that he loves her exactly as she is, that her spirit is a big part of what he admires in her, and that what she needs to learn is how to move in society so that she doesn’t either offend or run roughshod over pretty much everyone pretty much all of the time. It’s a bit more subtle than how he sounded at the beginning.

That switch is the making of this story and a fitting end for a lovely series.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Bound by Rhys Ford + Guest Post + Giveaway

Review: Bound by Rhys Ford + Guest Post + GiveawayBound (Chinatown Demons #1) by Rhys Ford
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, urban fantasy
Series: Chinatown Demons #1
Pages: 105
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on November 30th 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Chinatown, San Francisco.

A different place — another time— and where the city’s streets keep secrets, shadowy mysteries SFPD Inspector Spencer Ricci needs to dig through after he finds himself on a case involving a dismembered, mummified man in a restaurant’s locked storage room.

Spencer drags around a lot of baggage, including an ongoing battle with the bottle and a long career as an LAPD detective he’d set fire to in a blaze of booze-soaked mistakes. San Francisco is supposed to be a new start but his old ghosts haunt him, beckoning him back into his self-destructive bad habits. Bad habits that include contemplating doing dirty things with the wrong kind of guy and this time, it’s a sleek, cold-tempered medical examiner named Xian Carter with a complicated reputation.

For a century-old demon, Xian Carter is content with his secretive life. Hiding his nature from the mundane world, he blends in with the city’s inhabitants as best he can but even the best of predators make mistakes. Delving into the mysteries of the dead provide a welcome distraction from endless nights and hiding in plain sight amuses him, until something supernaturally wicked comes knocking on his door with an extremely hot, broody Inspector close behind.

Murder makes for strange bedfellows and this one is no exception. The twists and turns of the case leaves Xian and Spencer on a wild goose chase after clues but Xian can only hope there’s a human at the end of the trail—because the last thing San Francisco needs is another predator.

My Review:

I feel teased. Intrigued, slightly exasperated, and definitely, definitely teased.

I was expecting Bound to be a bit like Dim Sum Asylum, and it kind of is. Bound, like that previous marvelous story, takes place in a slightly off-kilter version of San Francisco. A version of our world where magic definitely exists, although the acceptance of that magic is less in-your-face and more under-the-table in this version of that storied city.

Detective Spencer Ricci certainly starts out this adventure as garden-variety human. Albeit the kind of garden variety that includes a lot of scars, a lot of baggage, a history of alcoholism and a need to make something out of his one last chance at being a cop.

Dr. Xian Carter, on the other hand, is absolutely not original recipe human – or at least not any longer. He might have been, once.

But that once was a century and a half ago. Another continent. Another lifetime. Considering how much has changed since the mid-19th century, another world.

Dr. Xian Carter is a medical examiner for the San Francisco Police Department. He’s the one who gets all the weird and wacky cases. And the case that brings Spencer and Xian together is way past weird and wacky and over the line into downright bizarre.

Somebody found a mummy. Not an honest-to-Bast Egyptian mummy, but a contemporary murder victim. Mummified. It’s Spencer Ricci’s job to figure out who wanted the victim dead. And for that matter, the identity of the desiccated corpse.

It’s up to Xian Carter to learn how, and why and whether this mess means that someone is invading his territory. Because Xian Carter is a demon, and San Francisco belongs to him.

And possibly, so does Spencer Ricci.

Escape Rating A-: Damn, this was good. And DAMN, this was short. As I said at the outset, I feel teased. The case is fascinating, the setup is wild, the chemistry between Spencer and Xian is explosive, and I want more of this world and this story pretty much yesterday.

I wanted to scream “NO!” when this story ended. Because it does end, and it does feel like this piece is complete – but it’s such a tiny piece of such an obviously greater (and great) world. Rhys hints at so much more to discover in this San Francisco, so much tension, so much angst, and SO MUCH MAGIC!

Also magical cats. Not that all cats aren’t at least a bit magical. But seriously, magical cats for the win!

An Alternate San Francisco, Just A Step To The Left Of Our Own Glittering City — (a word from our author, Rhys Ford)

When I began to write Bound, I knew I wanted to have a bit of fantastical combined with a dash of Asian horror. Sort of. The monsters in Asian mythology are usually a bit odd and driven by fierce emotions, usually revenge. There were bits and pieces I wanted to pull together as well as give a shout out to inspirations along the way. Since I’m going to be writing this as a serialized saga, it allows me to tease out bits and pieces of the world as I go, which is a lot of fun.

There’s a long argument of the pros and cons of having a paranormal world that’s hidden or out in the open. I’ve done both, most notably in Ink and Shadows for hidden and blurring the lines of hidden and open in the Hellsinger series. For the Chinatown Demons serializations, I wanted to do a hidden world where only the very wise could see the dangers but people knew something was off about the supernatural. Kind of a step away from the world we live in now.

So with all that being said, let’s talk about world building and what the underlying layers of the Chinatown Demons’ worlds hold.

OH BUT FIRST… A GIVEAWAY! RED ENVELOPE MONEY!

At each stop, enter to win a $20 gift certificate to the online retailer of your choice! Be sure to enter at every stop!


One of the major personality quirks of Xian’s that I’ll explore is his fondness for gambling. Well, his innate love of playing hanafuda, which is a flower card game. I grew up playing hanafuda in Hawai’i and while there are a few variations of the game, it’s the simplest one to master. I’ve even taught Greg Tremblay, the narrator of Bound, how to play it. It’s addicting and challenges the player depending on the level you want to play at. A child could play it and then with the addition of yaku, the playing level becomes harder. It’s a game of patience and calculation or simply matching the cards. Really, it all depends on the level of play.

Which brings me to Xian and his love of the game.

I’m going to include a website link here for the game just so you have a reference. There are very complicated yaku and the link shows some of the basic ones. Only some of these are played in the Hawai’i but it gives you a good idea of how they are constructed. Also, the Hawai’i game does not have the plain cards as 1 pt. For us, they are rubbish and discarded.

Link to basic hanafuda rules: https://www.hanafuda.fr/en/

Hawai’i rules: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawaiian-style_Koi-Koi

In a lot of ways, hanafuda play marks the passage of time. Each suit represents a month as is depicted by a seasonal plant associated with that month. Since the play can vary, there’s a lot of intrigue while laying down your cards and that’s something that would greatly appeal to Xian. See, he truly is by nature a cat and this is one way he plays with humans. His brother, Jiro, has his own ways and those are best left for another time.

The thing with hanafuda and playing in Chinatown gambling halls is not just an exchange of money because trust me, fortunes have been won and lost betting on the appearance of the yakuza card at the wrong moment but there also is the very good chance that a favour or two will be won. Oftentimes, that’s a greater coin than actual cash. Xian is a dealer of secrets and he hoards them, tucking them away until he needs them later on. Remember, for him, this is a long game. Someone might not realize a secret shared over whiskey and cigarettes twenty years ago will come back to haunt him but it will and Xian will probably be the one to reap the rewards.

Gambling is a very serious business and hanafuda games are a great place to do business. Or even simply overhear business. While it’s technically a “Japanese” game, it’s flowed over into other types of dens, including mahjongg parlors but tile play is sometimes too chancy. Xian likes a game he can manipulate and guide.

Which is kind of why Spencer intrigues him so much. Inspector Ricci is not one to be led by the nose and Xian is very much aware of that. In a lot of ways, he is as enigmatic as the hanafuda deck, changeable and with varying levels of emotional power.

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

Facebook Group: Coffee, Cats, and Murder: https://www.facebook.com/groups/635660536617002/

Rhys is giving away a $20 Gift Card to the online retailer of the winner’s choice at every stop on this tour. Fill out the rafflecopter for your chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Review: Deception by Nina Croft + Giveaway

Review: Deception by Nina Croft + GiveawayDeception by Nina Croft
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal romance, science fiction romance
Series: Dark Desires Origins (#2)
Pages: 400
Published by Entangled: Amara on November 23, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Brave new world or the same old crap?
Warlock Milo Velazquez has always dreamed of a day when “monsters” like him don’t have to hide in the shadows. Now, on a planet far from Earth, he’s hoping the old prejudices have been left behind. Though from what he’s seen so far—not a chance.
Their new leader could make life a living hell for Milo and the other immortals illegally transported across the galaxy. Under cover, he scopes out the threat, but he never expected to find a beautiful woman locked in a cell underground. He should ignore her and focus on his mission, but instead he sets her free.
Milo has met all kinds, paranormal creatures and humans, in his centuries of life, but Destiny is like nothing he’s ever encountered before. She’s flawless, and strangely naïve, though she can spout off facts like a walking encyclopedia. He isn’t sure who—or what—she is, or why someone so innocent would be a prisoner.
All he knows is Destiny is different...and finding out why could be their only hope for survival.
Each book in the Dark Desires Origins series is STANDALONE:* Malfunction* Deception

My Review:

It is just so damn good to see Rico Sanchez again. He was my introduction to the original series, all the way back in the original and entirely too short version of Break Out in 2011. I liked that book the first time I read it, absolutely loved it in the expanded edition in 2013, and have followed the series ever since just to follow the misadventures of this vampire in space.

Along with marveling at the whole concept of vampires in space, and wondering why I hadn’t seen this before – but definitely wanted to again!

At the time of Break Out and the entire Dark Desires series, this part of the galaxy had been settled by refugees from Earth for several centuries. The empire they founded on the cornerstones of a universal church and an authoritarian regime has become settled if not stable. The Terran origins of the humans in the Trakis system has receded back into history, to the point of myth and legend.

Except for Rico Sanchez, who lived through ALL of it from the Spanish Inquisition to the time period of the original story in 3058. We’ve seen hints of what happened in between, but didn’t have the full story.

At least not until the Dark Desires Origins series began earlier this year with Malfunction.

While in the first book in this new series it’s the ship that seems to be malfunctioning, the premise of the series as a whole is that the entire Earth was malfunctioning, in a way that we can kind of see from here. The consequence of that malfunction was an expedition to a galaxy far, far away where humans could re-establish themselves as a species – and probably mess up an entire new galaxy as well.

Certainly the “migration” was a clusterfuck in all sorts of very human ways. The best and the brightest were supposed to be “Chosen Ones’, but instead all the places on the 24 ships were taken up but the “rich and powerful” who purchased their places through bribery and kickbacks.

And one ship, just one ship, where Rico Sanchez replaced half of the originally intended passengers with people more-or-less like himself. Vampires, werewolves and other shifters. And at least one warlock.

Not a wizard like Harry Potter – although comparisons could be, and frequently are made. Rather, Milo Velazquez is the immortal “child” (he was over 500 years old before the migration) of a power-hungry witch and a demon. Not just any demon, either, but one of the lords of the seven Hells.

He’s also Rico’s nephew – sorta/kinda – so Rico doesn’t take no for an answer when Milo says he’d rather take his chances on Earth. Milo wakes up aboard Rico’s ship after 500 years of cryo-sleep in a place he swore he’d never go doing the one thing he swore he’d never do again.

Falling in love.

Escape Rating B: I’m enjoying this series so far because its an origin series for something I already loved. Based on reviews, readers new to the series are finding Malfunction and now Deception a great way to get into something marvelous, so don’t feel like you have to go all the way to Break Out to get into this one.

The setup to this series reminds me, in a peculiar way, of the way that Amanda Quick’s Arcane Society series took to the stars to become Jayne Castle’s Harmony series. People with psi powers on Earth first banded together to protect themselves, and then took themselves to the stars where they could fully develop their powers.

(Quick and Castle are the same person, Jayne Ann Krentz, and all of her books are wonderful.)

Robin D. Owen’s Celta series has a similar origin to Harmony. But both are based on the premise that there are people with psi powers here on Earth now who are forced to hide their powers and that they leave Earth not necessarily because the planet as a whole is FUBAR’d but because their particular situation is.

In the Dark Desires world, it’s the paranormal beings who are forced to lead a hidden existence, and who take advantage of a situation to get off Earth along with everyone else.

While most of the people on Rico’s ship are the traditional population of paranormal romance, Milo is a bit different. While it’s impossible not to see the influence of Harry Potter on his presence in this series, Milo explicitly isn’t quite like Harry even if he can do many of the same things.

One of the things that he and Rico have in common is that the “Church”, whatever its current incarnation, has always seen both of them as infernal creatures, eternally damned, who can be persecuted, crucified or burned at the stake – occasionally all of the above – anytime they need a scapegoat to keep the downtrodden masses occupied.

Neither of them is human and they only pretend to be when it suits them. Their views on humanity in general and the Church in specific are often quite scathing while being at the same time completely understandable.

All of which makes Milo’s attraction to the strangely innocent Destiny that much more fascinating. Destiny is naïve in a way that Milo hasn’t been for centuries. She’s not stupid, she’s just sheltered. And the more she breaks out of that shelter the deeper Milo falls – as much as he doesn’t want to.

The reasons behind Destiny’s sheltering turn out to be the heart of everything wrong with the new colony on Trakis Two. Discovering who and what she really is drives her journey and the dramatic tension of the entire story that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat from the minute she awakens to the second she breaks out of her mental cell for good, forever, and especially for Milo.

I am definitely looking forward to more of this prequel series. Hopefully in the not too distant future!

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

To celebrate the release of DECEPTION by Nina Croft, we’re giving away a paperback copy of Malfunction, the first standalone novel in the Dark Desires Origins series!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Malfunction by Nina Croft. This giveaway is administered by BookMojo on behalf of Entangled Publishing. Giveaway ends 12/31/2020 @ 11:59pm EST.

Review: Fishing for Trouble by Elizabeth Logan + Giveaway

Review: Fishing for Trouble by Elizabeth Logan + GiveawayFishing for Trouble (Alaskan Diner Mystery #2) by Elizabeth Logan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Alaskan Diner #2
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on November 24, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Something fishy is going on at a local seafood processing plant, and Charlie Cooke is on the hook to solve the case in this new Alaskan Diner Mystery.
Summer has come to Elkview, Alaska, bringing twenty hours of sunlight every day, not to mention a surge of tourists and seasonal workers. Chef Charlie Cooke is eager for a busy yet relaxing season, but when a young man working a summer job at the local fish processing plant dies moments after walking into the Bear Claw Diner, she’s quickly swept into the investigation.
Soon, through her best friend Annie Jensen, Charlie learns that another student worker at J and M Processing has disappeared, leaving more questions and fewer answers. The near-endless sunlight gives plenty of time to search for clues, but Charlie will have to work with Annie and local reporter Chris Doucette to net the killer before anyone else gets hurt.

My Review:

Whenever someone’s ex shows up in a story, it always means drama. Not always trouble – although usually trouble – but always drama.

In romance, when an ex shows up with whom the protagonist has unfinished business, there’s the possibility of a second-chance-at-love story. But there are always other possibilities, especially in a mystery series like the Alaskan Diner series.

When Charlie’s (let’s call him emotionally abusive – as well as unfaithful) ex turns up in tiny Elkview, Alaska, it certainly wasn’t to deal with any unfinished emotional business between them – no matter what the lying, cheating asshole pretended.

Oh, he’s still emotionally manipulative and abusive – just for kicks. It was enough to make me think that Ryan Jamison was going to turn out to be an EvilEx™ but he wasn’t nearly that important.

He was just a sleazy lawyer on retainer for a local fish processing plant. The very same fish plant that employed a summer worker who had just died in Charlie’s Bear Claw Diner – before his order had even been delivered.

Which doesn’t let food poisoning out as a possible cause of the young man’s death – but certainly absolves the Bear Claw of any possibility of being the agency of the poison. But Ethan Johnson is still dead, his girlfriend tried to skip town and one of his friends is missing.

There’s clearly something rotten in the village of Elkview, and the advent of Charlie’s ex just adds to the stink already coming from the fish processors. Especially when the cause of death turns out to be, not food poisoning, but mercury poisoning – and mercury that was administered over a long-term at that. Mercury that could have been in the fish that was being processed. Or part of an experiment. Or some other cause yet to be determined.

The Alaska State Trooper stationed in Elkview, Cody Graham, is as overworked as he was in the first book in this series, Mousse and Murder, leading him to re-activate his gang of volunteer sleuths – a gang that includes both Charlie and the local newspaper reporter Chris Doucette.

Charlie, both with and without Chris’ assistance – but definitely more with – has to discover out what’s really going on at the secretive fish processing plant – and why so many of its summer workers are going missing, getting into trouble or ending up dead.

And figure out who is leaving Charlie threatening messages – before she ends up in the same boat!

Escape Rating B: This is turning out to be a comfort read series for me. It reminds me just enough of the Alaska I used to live in, although this is certainly a more idealized version of life in the Great State than real life. Even in Anchorage the winter weather is both long and brutal, and the feeling of isolation can be overwhelming. (January generally sucks. Period. Exclamation point.)

But the summers can be glorious, and that is portrayed very well in this second entry in the series, including the strangeness of trying to go to sleep when it’s still light out and getting to be out until midnight while it’s daylight.

So part of what I read this series for is that lovely small-town vibe with a special Alaskan flavor.

That being said, this is a cozy mystery series, and it may eventually run into the conundrum that all such series face – that the population is too small to support the number of murders that will eventually ensue. But that’s for another day, far down the road. For this one, we have students on summer jobs to provide both the corpses and the murder suspects.

This is a story where the red herrings, the many, many red herrings, are particularly tasty – and not just because they’re nestled among the absolutely mouth-watering descriptions of all the yummy things that Charlie cooks, bakes and serves at the Bear Claw Diner.

Charlie and her friends are extremely amateur sleuths. They wander down a lot of dead ends to reach the killer – who in the end reaches out for them because, well, they are so not professional about any of this.

This was a story of multiple misdirections, as none of what looked like clues in the beginning turned out to be germane in the end – at least not to the murder. Not that they didn’t uncover plenty of other skullduggery being processed along with those fish.

The identity of the murderer came a bit out of left field, and it felt like Charlie’s ex exited in that direction. We don’t get near enough clues about the real identity of the murderer or his motives, and Charlie’s EvilEx™ turned out to be a Chekhov’s Gun ex. He hung on the proverbial mantlepiece and wasn’t nearly as involved as it looked like he would be at the beginning.

On the other hand, the tentative beginnings of Charlie’s relationship with Chris became a bit less tentative over the course of the investigation, while Charlie’s frankly adorable relationship with her cat Benny continued to provide just the right amount of sweetness to this story without spoiling the story. Benny on the other hand is VERY spoiled.

In the end, this was as light and fluffy as one of the omelets served at the Bear Claw Diner. I’ll be back for another delicious treat when the author returns to this series with Murphy’s Slaw in May 2021!

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

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Great Escapes
This post is part of a Great Escapes Book Tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: The Formidable Earl by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Formidable Earl by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Formidable Earl (Diamonds in the Rough, #6) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #6
Pages: 416
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 17, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He's breaking the rules for one woman, and coming dangerously close to falling in love…
Simon Nugent, Earl of Fielding, knows he's flawed. He's arrogant, possessive, and haunted by a terrible choice he made long ago. So when a former friend's daughter gives him the chance to do a good deed, he grabs it. Except he'd like to grab her as well and teach her a thing or two about kissing. If only she weren't so damn stubborn.
Ida Strong wants one thing – justice on behalf of her father. She has no room for anything else, in spite of her growing and (at times) inexplicable attraction toward a certain earl. But for a woman who knows what betrayal tastes like, placing her trust in others is hard. Risking her heart, would be downright foolish. Until it's the only thing that seems to make sense.

My Review:

The Formidable Earl harkens back to the first book in this series, A Most Unlikely Duke. In that first story, Raphe Matthews, the very unlikely duke, steals the Earl of Fielding’s fiancee. Not that it was actual theft, not that Gabriela didn’t go extremely willingly, and not that Simon was even remotely heartbroken.

The only parts of Simon that took any kind of hit were his pride and his reputation. Possibly along with the stick up his ass – although that may have become more firmly embedded as the years went by. After all, Simon only proposed to Gabriela because she’d make a perfect countess – not because he cared about her or even really knew her.

It was, after all, what the Earl of Fielding was expected to do. So he did. But fortunately for everyone both in that story and this one, SHE didn’t.

Considering that Simon has a terrible habit of doing what is expected instead of what he wants, well past the point of his own detriment, he’s actually better off without Gabriela, who wasn’t nearly as perfect for the role he imagined for her as he thought she was.

But she’s perfect as the Duchess of Huntley, and Raphe and Gabriela are perfect for each other.

Leaving Simon, in his mid-30s, alone and in need of a wife, or so he – and polite society – believe.

What Simon is really in need of is a LIFE. It’s only when he steps just a bit outside his comfort zone to get one that he finds everything he really needs. All he has to do is consign his starched and pristine reputation to the scrapheap where it belongs.

By marrying a woman who everyone insists is a traitor, a prostitute, and very nearly a murderess into the bargain.

Escape Rating B: There’s a theme to this series, and it’s pretty obvious from the series title. One protagonist or the other is just not “suitable” for marriage into the ton, whether it’s because they were raised outside it, because they were forced out of it, or because they were never part of it in the first place. The usual progress of each story is for the person who does belong to realize that what polite society thinks and believes is a whole lot of horseshit.

The books in the series are only kind of loosely linked, so it really isn’t necessary to read the previous books, or to read all of them, before diving into The Formidable Earl. (I just discovered I missed one along the way and now I WANT to go back to it, but I don’t HAVE to go back.)

The reason for, in this case, the heroine’s unsuitability was fascinating, but the hero’s reaction to it was at times just a bit squicky. Let me explain.

Ida Strong’s dilemma is a reminder that this series takes place at a time when the Napoleonic Wars were not far in the past at all, and that there were still a lot of hard feelings, wounded veterans and general all-around recriminations going on at the time. (The Napoleonic Wars, in a fictional sense, are a gift that just keeps on giving. So many dramatic possibilities both during the war and in the following years.)

Four years before this story begins, Ida Strong’s father, a celebrated British Army General, was convicted of treason in Napoleon’s escape from Elba. Matthew Strong was executed for a heinous crime that he did not commit, and his daughter vowed to find the men responsible and clear her father’s name.

In those intervening years, Ida lived in a brothel owned and operated by her mother’s sister. And that’s where Simon Nugent, the Earl of Fielding, discovers her the one time he decides to break away from his extremely priggish persona.

Simon’s exposure of Ida puts her life in danger from the men who connived at framing her father. The story here is Simon attempting to protect her while falling in love with this woman who is oh-so-wrong according to everyone who is anyone, but oh-so-right for Simon.

But, the exposure of Simon’s thoughts and feelings about the possibility that Ida is a prostitute is extremely uncomfortable to read. It’s not that it isn’t true to what we think of the Regency, it’s that, quite honestly, it just feels awful. It makes all kinds of sense for the era, but it still makes the reader, or at least this reader, squirm when reading it.

Which gives me mixed feelings that Ida has to reject the idea so forcefully in order to be considered “worthy” of becoming his heroine equally squirmy. Again, not that this isn’t true to what we believe of the era. But it still made me uncomfortable.

All of that being said, I really, really liked Ida. She’s a terrific heroine, forthright and proactive with plenty of agency. She was more middle-class to begin with, but society has completely rejected her so she’s pretty much said “to hell with it and the horse it rode in on.”

That Simon is both slavishly devoted to worrying about what people will think and falling desperately in love with Ida puts him on the horns of a delicious dilemma. That Ida has decided what she wants and what she doesn’t, and has no plans to settle, in contrast with Simon’s need to keep her with his initial unwillingness to buck society provides the romantic tension.

That someone really is out to get her, and that they nearly succeed, provides plenty of dramatic tension to keep the reader turning pages until the very last.

I’m certainly looking forward to the continuation of this series with Her Scottish Scoundrel in May of 2021. Not nearly soon enough!

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway