Review: Write My Name Across the Sky by Barbara O’Neal + Giveaway

Review: Write My Name Across the Sky by Barbara O’Neal + GiveawayWrite My Name Across the Sky by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 366
Published by Lake Union Publishing on August 10, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

The USA Today bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids returns with a tale of two generations of women reconciling family secrets and past regrets.
Life’s beautiful for seventysomething influencer Gloria Rose, in her Upper West Side loft with rooftop garden and scores of Instagram followers—until she gets word that her old flame has been arrested for art theft and forgery. Knowing her own involvement in his misdeeds decades earlier, Gloria realizes she could be the next arrest and must flee. But first, she needs to make sure her nieces are protected from any fallout.
The sisters, though in their thirties, are still constantly at odds with each other. Willow, struggling to live up to their mother’s fame as a singer-songwriter, is recovering from a failed album and yet another heartbreak, while Sam is desperate to revive her floundering video game company.
When circumstances out of their control bring the three women back together, they will each have to reckon with and reconcile their interwoven traumas, past loves, and the looming consequences that could either destroy their futures or bring them closer than ever.

My Review:

This is the story of two pairs of sisters all of whom were, in their own ways, trailblazers. Sam and Willow are in their late 30s when this story opens. Sam was one of the first women to head her own gaming company, and one of the first to design action/adventure games specifically intended to appeal to girls. While her company was an “overnight” success 20 years ago, in internet time, 20 years is a century, and her company is floundering.

Her sister Willow is a musician, a violinist who’s most recent solo album tanked. Sank without a trace, taking her boyfriend, her current home and pretty much everything she owned down with it. Willow is a folk/electronica violinist with a unique sound who just hasn’t found the right audience. But at 35, her time couch-surfing and hoping for a big break is running out.

Gloria and her sister Billie came of age in the so-called “Swinging 60s”. Gloria was a stewardess for TWA, back in the days of Coffee, Tea or Me, when stewardesses were expected to tolerate getting groped on every flight in return for the opportunity to visit exotic places for multi-day layovers back when international travel was an expensive novelty and not an every-hour-on-the-hour occurrence.

Bille was a rock musician in the 1960s and 70s, said to be a combination of Joan Jett and Janis Joplin. Unfortunately Billie followed Janis’ trajectory all the way down to an early death, leaving her sister Gloria to raise the daughters she left behind – not that she was all that present when she was alive.

And Billie’s ghost still haunts them all when this story begins. And not just because Gloria is still living in the luxury New York apartment that Billie bought with the royalties from her first album, the place where Gloria raised her girls to adulthood and left them with a yearning to blaze their own trails.

But they’re both failing when this story begins, while Gloria is faced with the sudden failure of the facade she has been maintaining for over 50 years. The man she has loved for all of those years has finally been caught. By Interpol. Suddenly, the biggest of her youthful sins looks like it’s either going to send her on the run or land her in jail for the rest of her life.

Escape Rating A-: Let me get this out of the way first, because it drove me crazy. If the title of the book is giving you an earworm you can’t quite place, it’s because it IS a line in a song, just not the title and not exactly word for word. In the 1971 song by the Stylistics, it went “Write YOUR name across the sky…” but Billie Thorne turned it around because she’d learned from both her mother and her sister not to let anyone else define or restrict her life. Which didn’t stop the world from doing it anyway.

Like the two previous books by this author that I have read, The Art of Inheriting Secrets and When We Believed in Mermaids, this is a story about the past crashing headlong into the present, pushing all of the characters to remember people and events that they have forced into the background of their minds and hearts, until their memories crash into the same heartbreaking epiphany and they’re all finally able to move forward.

I liked this one just a tiny bit better than the previous books, although I certainly liked both of them quite a lot. But the difference in this one was the character of Gloria, who represents a different generation and an entirely different perspective on the people and events that shaped all of their lives. Because through Gloria’s memories we’re allowed to see the late Billie Thorne as she was, through the eyes of someone who was an adult at the time, and not just through the memories of the childhoods that she scarred.

This is also explicitly not a romance, although there are romances in it, and that includes 74-year-old Gloria. For both Gloria and Sam, it’s a second chance at romance, while Willow puts herself and her music first, and finds love as the reward.

As much as the story’s focus is on Sam and Willow, it was Gloria’s story that held my attention. As much as all three women are at crisis points in their lives, it was Gloria’s that brought me the most “feels”, probably because I’m closer to her age than to either of her nieces. I loved that Gloria is happy with the career she had, and has found a second act through her plants and her friends and her instagram feed and followers, because I know how that goes. At the same time, while she doesn’t handle the crisis she is faced with terribly well for most of the story, it was all too easy to slip inside her feelings of desperation, her desire to protect the ones she loves, and her acknowledgement that the long ago events that brought her to this pass were of her own making.

I certainly liked the way that all three of these women’s stories resolved themselves. Gloria faced the demons of her past. Sam found a way to silence the demons inside her head, or at least learned to stop letting them spill out of her mouth. And Willow, in learning from the stories of her mother AND her sister, played her way to the top of the world. A feel good ending all around that I hope will bring as big a smile to other readers’ faces as it did mine.

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

I’m very happy to say that I’m giving away a copy of Write My Name Across the Sky to one lucky US commenter on this tour. But some of you will hate me because the question in the rafflecopter is about songs that give you earworms and how you get rid of them, which will probably implant the song you least want stuck in your head in your brain. “It’s a Small World After All” anyone?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: For the Love of April French by Penny Aimes + Excerpt

Review: For the Love of April French by Penny Aimes + ExcerptFor the Love of April French by Penny Aimes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, LGBT
Pages: 352
Published by Carina Adores on August 31, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An Entertainment Weekly Best Romance of Summer 2021!
“This book gave me every last one of the Intense Romance Feelings I crave.” —New York Times bestselling author Talia Hibbert

April French doesn't do relationships and she never asks for more.
A long-standing regular at kink club Frankie's, she's kind of seen it all. As a trans woman, she’s used to being the scenic rest stop for others on their way to a happily-ever-after. She knows how desire works, and she keeps hers carefully boxed up to take out on weekends only.
After all, you can't be let down if you never ask.
Then Dennis Martin walks into Frankie's, fresh from Seattle and looking a little lost. April just meant to be friendly, but one flirtatious drink turns into one hot night.
When Dennis asks for her number, she gives it to him.
When he asks for her trust, well…that's a little harder.
And when the desire she thought she had such a firm grip on comes alive with Dennis, April finds herself wanting passion, purpose and commitment.
But when their relationship moves from complicated to impossible, April will have to decide how much she's willing to want.
Carina Adores is home to highly romantic contemporary love stories where LGBTQ+ characters find their happily-ever-afters. Discover a new Carina Adores book every month!

My Review:

At the beating heart of this story is the romance between two people who might just be perfect for each other. The potential heartbreak in this romance is that just as much as their likes and dislikes, quirks and propensities align to make them a perfect match, their insecurities and emotional baggage are just as well (or poorly, depending on how you look at it) aligned to drive them apart.

Both April French and Dennis Martin are kind of new in Austin. Both have fled there, from opposite coasts, after each of them left places and lives that were just too full up of memories of everything that went wrong in their previous relationships.

April’s been in Austin just a few years, but long enough to have settled in, as much as she can, into Austin being her city and her home, with the kink club Frankie’s being the center of the life that she has carved out for herself, one painstaking piece at a time.

Dennis’ best friend Jason – rumored to be a silent partner in Frankie’s – steers him towards the club because he knows that Dennis has a place there, and that the kink community in Austin is at least one place Dennis will be able to call home.

April is a submissive whose previous long term relationship was with a Domme who abused both her love and her trust. In his last long term relationship, Dennis unknowingly abused his power as a newbie Dom over his sub because he didn’t learn how to separate the power dynamic of the play from the rest of their lives. She was drowning, he thought everything was copacetic until it all blew up in both their faces.

Both are feeling guilty and insecure. Both are starting over. When they meet for the first time, they connect instantly on multiple levels. Their kinks align perfectly. But the guilt and insecurity they carry from their previous relationships creates an emotional minefield. He’s learned enough to know that he needs clear consent at every stage. He’s afraid to push too hard out of fear that he’ll recreate the mess he caused before. He’s learned more but not nearly enough.

And April has learned to her cost that partners like her, and are interested in playing with her for a while, but that no one ever stays. She’s internalized the feeling that she is not enough, so she’s learned not to let herself get too involved, because that only ends in heartbreak.

But from the moment they meet, they each want more than just a fling, or even a friends with benefits kind of thing. In their heart of hearts, they want a happy-ever-after with each other.

And they’re both, out of their own equal and opposite baggage, afraid to reach for it.

Escape Rating A: On the one hand, For the Love of April French is some of the fluffiest fluff that ever fluffed. And that’s both in spite of AND because of the way that the story deals with a whole bunch of really serious stuff along with, under, besides and on top of its fluffy fluff. I want to say it’s like cotton candy with a Sweet-Tart center, which captures the flavor but perhaps trivializes issues that shouldn’t be trivialized and that the story does not.

This is a nerd romance. And it’s a BDSM romance that emphasizes the romance while not shortchanging either the BDSM or the sexual aspects of their relationship. It’s an interracial romance, as Dennis is black and April is white. It’s also a romance between a transwoman and a cis man. As the icing on the surprisingly sweet cake of all of the above, it is also, briefly – very briefly – a secret workplace romance, which turns out to be the straw that very nearly breaks the proverbial camel’s back.

There’s also an explicit message about not just acknowledging your own baggage but actually dealing with your own crap, because no one else can do it for you. They can support you through the hard parts, but they can’t pick up your emotional baggage and process it on your behalf. If you don’t do it for yourself, if you don’t learn to love and care for yourself, whoever and whatever and however you might be, you won’t truly be a fit partner for anyone else.

And that’s a message of universal applicability that doesn’t get the attention it deserves in romance. A happy ever after won’t heal your emotional wounds. Working on your own emotional scars gets you ready for an HEA.

Not that, in this story, both April and Dennis don’t have a few extra pieces of emotional baggage to deal with because of the ways that societal expectations and limitations impact them because of their identities. Something which gives them each an insight into the shape of what the other faces without having much knowledge of details of it.

An exploration that feels like it’s handled both well and not so well at the same time. For example, each knows that the other faces a metric buttload of microaggressions – and all too often macroaggressions – without knowing the details until they get slapped in the face with exactly what the other faces.

The way that this got dealt with was the one thing in the story that got handled both well and not so well. It feels fair to say that the author probably assumed that readers wouldn’t know every detail about what it’s like to live as a black man or as a white transwoman and/or a member of the kink community and every other detail of those lives that makes them different. We may have some knowledge and hopefully a lot of empathy but not full knowledge of absolutely everything.

The method for dealing with those different perspectives and levels of knowledge was to tell the story in the first person, first from April’s perspective and then from Dennis’. As Dennis has more to learn because he didn’t learn what he should have about being a Dom in addition to what he needs to know to be the right partner for April, his point of view is more informative for those of us who are less aware. But the story is more April’s journey than Dennis’ so we start with her point of view and stay with it for the first half or so of the story. Then we switch and see the exact same events from his perspective.

It’s a bit jarring, because we go back in time several months on that start over. I think it would have worked better as a storytelling device if they’d alternated perspectives chapter by chapter or event by event.

Both perspectives are necessary, because we see more from her perspective but we learn more from his. Still the switches between them are just awkward. And very much on my other hand, as rough as those changeovers were they give the reader way more than a glimpse into the minds of a transwoman in a cis world, and a Black man in a largely-white world, both in the kink community and in general. That the author covers this territory at all, and covers it well, is noteworthy and absolutely adds to the reader’s empathy for these characters.

So the roughness of the changes between perspectives, which is a writing thing and not a story thing, is enough to drop the rating from an A+ to an A because at that level I start getting a bit picky about the writing things.

But the story, oh this fluffy, romantic, wonderful story is so very worth reading. It’s the kind you finish with a smile on your face and possibly even a bit of a happy song in your heart.

Considering that this is the author’s debut novel, the whole thing is beautifully awesome and I can’t wait to read more of her work! But first, you get to experience a bit of this wonderfully fluffy romance with this excerpt from the first chapter. Enjoy!

Excerpt from For the Love of April French

April French was having what she considered to be a good night. She was lonely and she was horny, but the lovely thing about Frankie’s, even on a Wednesday, was that she was probably not the only one. And the welcome wagon gambit was working. New doms always responded well to a little attention. She wondered how many of the hookups in her limited sexual history it accounted for—post-transition, of course. Her sexual history pre-transition was not only limited but singular.

On second thought, that was a depressing thing to contemplate. She decided to steer her mind back to the present, because her present was damn good-looking. He was Black, looked to be about her age, dark-skinned and tall, with narrow hips and shoulders that were probably narrower than hers, too.

There were clear hints of lean muscle under his suit, and the suit looked expensive. She didn’t really care about the name brand, but she had to admit the cost was reflected in how well it draped his body. He had short-cropped, wiry hair and that sexy kind of two-day stubble thing happening. A reassuring bass voice and an unreadable calm that made his face a handsome mask. The tightly wound dominants were almost always the most fun to see come unraveled with desire.

“So. You can flirt,” she said, trying to keep her voice even despite the smile tugging the corners of her mouth. It wouldn’t do to tip her hand just yet about how attractive he was. “And you wear nice suits. What else should I know about you?”

“Well, I just moved here,” he said. “Which you also knew. My name is Dennis. I came here from Seattle.”

She nodded, as Aerith set down a new Painkiller in front of her. “I’m April. Grow up out there?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Illinois, actually. Little tiny town.”

“Oh hey,” she said, her smile shifting to be a little less flirtatious and a lot more genuine. It was always a treat to meet someone from the same basic context; someone she could count on to get it. Not that she expected to spend much time talking about growing up in the Midwest, but it was still a nice bonus. “Ohio. I went to school out East, though, and worked there for a while.”

He laughed. “So a lot like me, but in the opposite direction. UC Santa Barbara.”

She bobbed her head. “Wesleyan.”

They exchanged graduation years; she guessed he was probably thirty-five or thirty-four to her thirty-two. “What took you out there?” he asked.

“It was as far away as I could get without driving into the

ocean,” she said with a laugh. “And they had good financial aid. You?”

“About the same, about the same. Lots of loans, in the end.” She nodded as he went on. “While I was getting my masters, a couple of my friends got a start-up going and brought me in, and we headed up the coast to Seattle.”

“Ooh,” she said. “A techie. I should’ve known.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Well, most of the folks who come here from the West Coast are,” she said. Especially the ones who could afford that suit.

“You’re right, anyway. I was the support team, not the talent, though. My degree’s in technology management.” He sipped. “Start-up life isn’t for the long haul, so I came here to take a job as CTO for a small firm. What about you?” he asked.

She fidgeted with the little straw in her drink, then drew it out. Chomped a cherry deliberately. “Poli-sci major. I don’t use it, though.”

“Hm.” His eyes watched her mouth. Good. “So weird, isn’t Austin where they have that political particle accelerator?”

He was smirking at his pun, and she snorted. “Queeons and Kingons?” At his blank expression, she added, “You don’t read Terry Pratchett, do you?”

He shook his head. “No, I was just teasing.”

Her smile snatched at the corners of her mouth again. “Teasing’s okay.” She was fighting herself not to relax fully into the moment, to keep up her boundaries until they crossed the preliminary hurdles. This might not be anything, yet. But he was cute, and he was funny, and he was—so far—gentle. She thought she could really like this guy. She knew she liked the way his eyes settled on her, the weight his gaze seemed to have.

Review: A Terrible Fall of Angels by Laurell K. Hamilton

Review: A Terrible Fall of Angels by Laurell K. HamiltonA Terrible Fall of Angels by Laurell K. Hamilton
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Zaniel Havelock #1
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley on August 17, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Angels walk among us, but so do other unearthly beings in this brand new series by #1 New York Times Bestselling author Laurell K. Hamilton.
Meet Detective Zaniel Havelock, a man with the special ability to communicate directly with angels. A former trained Angel speaker, he devoted his life to serving both the celestial beings and his fellow humans with his gift, but a terrible betrayal compelled him to leave that life behind. Now he’s a cop who is still working on the side of angels. But where there are angels, there are also demons. There’s no question that there’s evil at work when he’s called in to examine the murder scene of a college student—but is it just the evil that one human being can do to another, or is it something more? When demonic possession is a possibility, even angelic protection can only go so far. The race is on to stop a killer before he finds his next victim, as Zaniel is forced to confront his own very personal demons, and the past he never truly left behind.
The first in a new series from the author of the Anita Blake and Merry Gentry series.

My Review:

First, I have to say that I’m surprised at just how good this book is. Pleased as punch, but also surprised as Heaven, as the characters in the book would say.

Second, I feel the need to say upfront that nobody gets laid in this book. I know that’s a strange place to start a review, but as one of the many readers who loved the first few Anita Blake books before they got to be a sex-fest, I felt like that needed to be said early on because it became such an overwhelming feature of both the Anita Blake and Merry Gentry series.. Not that there isn’t a potential romance brewing – actually more than one – but this book goes back to the good old days of urban fantasy, back when the main character had a magical or mysterious crime to solve and a love life like a sinking ship. When the focus was on the story and the world and the insanely powerful beings who were out messing things up and not on how many people the protagonist could get between the sheets.

The above is probably going to disappoint some readers who are expecting more of like her other series, but it was a relief to me. Your reading mileage may vary.

Zaniel “Havoc” Havelock is a detective in the Metaphysical Coordination Unit of the City of Angels, which is probably a stand-in for the city of Los Angeles, whose name literally translates from Spanish as “the Angels”. His world, and his city, are a variation of our own, not just a place where magic works, as is so often the case in urban fantasy, but a place where angels manifest in the world and where specially talented children, including Zaniel once upon a time, are recruited by the hierarchy that serves the Angels to be their representatives here on Earth.

Zaniel was trained to be an angel-speaker. But something broke – it seems like a lot of things broke – just as he was about to take his final vows. So he left, joined the army, and eventually became a cop who deals with crimes that involve angels and/or demons. And that’s where we meet him, called into a case because an angel has deliberately left a feather at the scene of a rape/murder that otherwise has no ethereal or infernal overtones whatsoever.

Until the angel who left that feather tells Zaniel that circumstances are not at all what they appear, and that there is something infernal going on in the City of Angels that not just should not be happening but that should not even be capable of happening.

And that it is up to Zaniel to pick up the mantle he left behind, or at least as much of it as he is willing to carry, figure out what has gone so terribly wrong, and fix it – along with possibly himself – before the impossible-to-exist demon gets too big for anyone to possibly stop.

First Anita Blake book, cover circa 1993

Escape Rating A: I have to say that I picked this up because my curiosity bump itched something fierce. I loved the early Anita Blake books, back when in the day when they were urban fantasy with just a hint of paranormal romance, but I kept on reading long after they turned into recitations of just how much sex Anita had. At least the Merry Gentry series started out that way, so I knew what I was getting into. But for me, at least, there’s a point where other people’s sex lives gets boring, and Anita passed that somewhere earlier in the series than when I finally stopped reading it.

So I came into this book with a whole lot of reading baggage in the hopes I might get to drop some of it. And I’m extremely happy to say that I was able to drop pretty much all of it. Because A Terrible Fall of Angels harkens back in the best way to the early Anita Blake books. It’s solidly urban fantasy, with terrific setup and just enough otherworldly world building to create a strong foundation for a new series.

And in Zaniel “Havoc” Havelock the author has created an appropriately tormented detective with a fascinating background and a foot in both camps. He’s a veteran police detective in the unit that handles crimes that are wrapped around the axle of angels and demons, who are real and manifest entirely too frequently in our world – to both their and our cost.

Because what’s good for the demons, and even what’s good for the angels, might not be what’s good for humanity. As Havoc knows entirely too well. As the story opens, we don’t know what happened in Havoc’s past to tear him away from his upbringing in the College of Angels and place him on the streets of the city as a cop. We just know that whatever it was it was heartbreaking in a way that is still echoing through his life like the tolling of a bell.

The other thing we know about Havoc is that his current personal life is a mess. He’s separated from the wife and child that he loves because she can’t handle being a cop’s wife. They’re still in counseling but even though there seems to be some hope at the end of this story I honestly hope they don’t make it. It reads like there’s something wrong with her – or wrong with the way she treats him – that can’t be fixed.

On the other hand, and very different from the author’s previous series, Zaniel is still married, still hopeful, and still in love with his wife. He finds other women attractive, and he’s tempted but he never crosses that line. And that was a huge surprise throughout the entire book.

One of the things that fascinated me about the way that this world and its magic systems are set up is that in spite of the influence of angels and demons, all faiths and belief systems are recognized as not just valid but as having actual power – by everyone except those who serve the angels. A conflict that I suspect is going to become more overt and more problematic as the series continues. Or at least I hope so.

This turned out to be a fast one-day read for me. I absolutely could not put it down. It reminded me of the early Anita Blake books in all the best ways, particularly the way that it seemed like there was a force embedded between the pages that kept me reading late into the night because I was so caught up in the story and it was just so good.

The world here is complex and compelling. Even as Havoc keeps unravelling the case and the case keeps on unravelling all the trauma in his past, there’s just so much going on and it was all just so captivating that I kept reading long after the point where I should have called it a night because I could not stop. I loved Zaniel as a character and really liked the cop shop vibe of the people who surround him at work in spite of not really liking his wife at all but still loving his continuing to try to make things better.

And the creeping evil of the crime spree put just the right amount of shiver up my spine. This was just very well done all the way around. I want more! Please!

Review: The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable

Review: The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle GableThe Bookseller's Secret by Michelle Gable
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction, World War II
Pages: 400
Published by Graydon House on August 17, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Bookseller's Secret is a delight from start to finish, a literary feast any booklover will savor!”—Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Rose Code
ARISTOCRAT, AUTHOR, BOOKSELLER, WWII SPY—A THRILLING NOVEL ABOUT REAL-LIFE LITERARY ICON NANCY MITFORD
In 1942, London, Nancy Mitford is worried about more than air raids and German spies. Still recovering from a devastating loss, the once sparkling Bright Young Thing is estranged from her husband, her allowance has been cut, and she’s given up her writing career. On top of this, her five beautiful but infamous sisters continue making headlines with their controversial politics.
Eager for distraction and desperate for income, Nancy jumps at the chance to manage the Heywood Hill bookshop while the owner is away at war. Between the shop’s brisk business and the literary salons she hosts for her eccentric friends, Nancy’s life seems on the upswing. But when a mysterious French officer insists that she has a story to tell, Nancy must decide if picking up the pen again and revealing all is worth the price she might be forced to pay.
Eighty years later, Heywood Hill is abuzz with the hunt for a lost wartime manuscript written by Nancy Mitford. For one woman desperately in need of a change, the search will reveal not only a new side to Nancy, but an even more surprising link between the past and present…
“With a vivid cast of unforgettable characters, Gable expertly and cleverly delivers wit, humor, and intrigue on every page. What a delightful escape.”—Susan Meissner, bestselling author of 

The Nature of Fragile Things


“A triumphant tale that highlights the magic of bookshops and literature to carry people through even the darkest days of war.”—Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of Sold on a Monday

My Review:

The secret that the bookseller is keeping forms a link between the lives of two women who are facing the same crisis in the same location – eighty years apart.

When Nancy Mitford and Katharine Cabot each step through the doors of the Heywood Hill Bookshop in London, they are writers who seem to have lost their writing mojo – even if Nancy Mitford wouldn’t have known what that term meant.

Both have had moderate success, along with a couple of books that sank nearly without a trace. In 1942, Mitford was still smarting from the failure of timing that was the publication of Pigeon Pie, a book lampooning the “Phoney War” of 1939. Unfortunately for Mitford, the book was released just as the Sitzkrieg became the Blitzkrieg, making the book not just passe but in very poor taste.

(The sinking of Pigeon Pie got a brief mention in another recent WW2 book set in a bookstore, The Last Bookshop in London, as the unsold copies got summarily returned to the publisher. If you liked that book you’ll probably like this one and vice versa.)

As each of the women crosses the threshold of Heywood Hill they are facing variations of the same crossroad. In the midst of the war, Mitford feels as if she’s lost both the time and the inclination to write. Katie, in the wake of multiple personal losses, isn’t sure she has it in her to write again, and is even less certain that it’s worth trying.

We follow their stories back and forth, from Nancy during the war years working in the bookshop to keep body and soul together in a material sense while worried that she’ll ever find time to write anything ever again. She’s somewhat desperately in search of both a few spare minutes a day to write and a muse to inspire her to write.

It’s that search for inspiration, or rather what she seems to have found to fill it, that links Mitford to Katie. Peter Bailey has scraps of evidence that Mitford was writing an autobiography about her war work with refugees, a story that would feature his own grandmother. He’s searching for the manuscript of that book – if it even exists.

Katie, who wrote her thesis on Mitford, is willing to help him search for that manuscript so she can continue procrastinating over her own empty pages. That Bailey is intelligent, interesting and incredibly handsome doesn’t impact Katie’s desire to help him in the slightest.

Right.

In the past, we follow Mitford during the war years – a period that she did not write about herself – as she uses that attempted autobiography to get out of her slump – even if it never sees the light of day.

In the present Katie uses her search for the manuscript and her flirtation with Bailey to inspire her to pick up her own pen – or in her case open her word processor.

While the current manager of Heywood Hill looks on and hopes that he is doing the right thing. It’s left up to the reader to be the judge of that!

Escape Rating A-: I was a lot more charmed by this than I expected to be, and also a lot less lost than I thought I might be. I have not read Mitford at all, so when I came into this the only background I had were some of the better-known historical bits, that her family was involved in leftist politics before, during and after the war. I did think this might be a bit more like The Last Bookshop in London than it turned out to be, so that reference to Pigeon Pie did link the two a bit.

My lack of background about Mitford wasn’t really an issue as this story is very much a “what if?” kind of story. It’s not biographical because little is known about Mitford’s activities during the war, particularly her work at Heyward Hill. So all of the parts from Mitford’s perspective are meant to look and sound and act like her, but may or may not bear huge resemblance to what she actually did during those years.

Nancy Mitford

Whatever she truly did during the war, it’s clear that Nancy Mitford was a complex individual who mined the triumphs and tragedies of her life – and there were plenty of both – in her fiction. Her best known works, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, both published after the end of the war, managed to tell and retell different variations of her life in a way that let her explore her past and possibly expiate it without making relationships with her family any worse or more strained than they already were.

But when this story takes place, those bestselling books weren’t even a gleam in the author’s eye. Her success was still in the future and her present was a bit bleak in more ways than one.

And that’s where Katie’s story comes in. She has one bestselling book under her authorial belt and zero inspiration for a second. She turns to Mitford for both comfort and inspiration, comfort in the re-reading of her favorites and inspiration because Mitford went through a 15-year dry spell and Katie’s isn’t nearly that long yet. What she hopes for but doesn’t expect to find is a way forward for herself in both her life and her art.

Both parts of this story weave the personal with the professional, the difficulty of getting out of a slump, the relentless pressures of time and just plain life in general, and the way that real life intrudes and inspires at the same time. Katie both feels for Mitford and gains perspective from her at the same time.

I think that’s the part that charmed me. Coming into this cold, so to speak, I didn’t have any preconceptions about Mitford so was able to see the ways in which the two women were alike in spite of the difference of nearly a century. Both independent, both sometimes bowed under the weight of other people’s expectations, both having an approach/avoidance conflict about their work and everything else in their lives. They seemed like sisters under the skin and I wanted a happy ending for them both, but on their terms. Mitford seems to have more or less gotten hers, so Katie definitely has a chance!

Because that bookseller kept his secret after all.

Review: Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman

Review: Radar Girls by Sara AckermanRadar Girls: a novel of WWII by Sara Ackerman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large Print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, women's fiction, World War II
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on July 27, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An extraordinary story inspired by the real Women’s Air Raid Defense, where an unlikely recruit and her sisters-in-arms forge their place in WWII history.
Daisy Wilder prefers the company of horses to people, bare feet and salt water to high heels and society parties. Then, in the dizzying aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Daisy enlists in a top secret program, replacing male soldiers in a war zone for the first time. Under fear of imminent invasion, the WARDs guide pilots into blacked-out airstrips and track unidentified planes across Pacific skies.  
But not everyone thinks the women are up to the job, and the new recruits must rise above their differences and work side by side despite the resistance and heartache they meet along the way. With America’s future on the line, Daisy is determined to prove herself worthy. And with the man she’s falling for out on the front lines, she cannot fail. From radar towers on remote mountaintops to flooded bomb shelters, she’ll need her new team when the stakes are highest. Because the most important battles are fought—and won—together.
This inspiring and uplifting tale of pioneering, unsung heroines vividly transports the reader to wartime Hawaii, where one woman’s call to duty leads her to find courage, strength and sisterhood. 

My Review:

Like the author’s previous books, including last year’s Red Sky Over Hawaii, Radar Girls is a story that talks about World War II on a slightly different homefront from most.

The experience of the war was a bit different in both Hawaii and Alaska, as these two U.S. territories were considerably closer to the front lines than the 48 contiguous states. Alaska was vulnerable because of its large size and relatively small population, making it an easy target – except for the weather. Islands in the Aleutian chain were occupied during the war.

Hawaii, on the other hand, was a small, sparkling, isolated jewel in the middle of the Pacific. It was the perfect location for the U.S. to have a forward base in the Pacific – and provided a tempting target for Japanese forces to use as a stepping stone to the U.S. mainland.

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 showed the U.S., and especially the Islands’ residents, just how vulnerable their paradise could be. In the wake of the attack, they were determined not to get caught with their defensive pants down a second time.

The centerpiece of that determination forms the heart of this story, as Hawaii mobilizes its men for war and its women for defense, armed with a new tool in their arsenal – RADAR.

This story of previously unsung heroines is wrapped around three fascinating threads. First, of course, there’s the war. But secondly, there’s the story of the sisterhood of women who were recruited to learn military communication, signal interpretations and vectorology, in spite of all the men who said they couldn’t do it. Daisy Wilder, her friends and her frenemies become the heart and soul of the Women’s Air Raid Defense of the Islands, watching for enemies approaching by air and sea, locating downed American pilots and piloting those in trouble safely home.

Daisy comes into the program as a loner, having been raised around more horses than people in the isolated cabin she and her mother have shared since her father’s death. Daisy has been her little family’s primary breadwinner, and dropped out of school in order to make a living at the stables where her father was once employed.

She doesn’t expect to become part of this group of women – after all, it’s not something she has any experience with. That two of the other women are upper class and look down on her for lack of education, her towering height and her practical, unfeminine wardrobe is what she expects. She expects to fail.

Instead she succeeds. Her supposedly “unfeminine” traits and interests make her a good fit for the WARD, and becomes part of this tight-knit sisterhood in spite of those expectations – and in spite of those frenemies.

So a story of unexpected sisterhood set amidst a story of rising to the occasion in the midst of war. But it wouldn’t be complete without the romance that weaves through it. A romance that might never have happened without the war breaking down the barriers between the son of one of the richest men on the island and the daughter of the man his father accidentally killed.

Escape Rating B+: I picked this up because I enjoyed the author’s previous book, Red Sky Over Hawaii, in spite of one seriously over-the-top villain – as if the ordinary wartime conditions weren’t enough trouble for one woman to be dealing with.

I liked Radar Girls more than Red Sky because it didn’t go over that top and dump ALL the troubles of the world onto the same woman’s shoulders. Not that Daisy and her group of found sisters didn’t have plenty of problems, but they were a bit more evenly shared.

One of their training officers is a creeper, stalker and sexual harasser. One of their husbands is MIA and presumed dead. Another woman’s husband is a gambler who has lost their house. Someone else just has terrible luck with men – or makes terrible choices of men. Or a bit of both. Daisy herself is in love with someone she can’t believe could love her back considering their backgrounds.

And they adopt a kitten, who has kittens providing comfort and comic relief in equal measure. While someone in the neighborhood keeps stealing their lingerie from the clothesline.

And over all of it, the constant tension of interpreting radar signals that might, this time, be a second invasion, knowing that getting it wrong could have potentially dire consequences. It’s a stress that increases with each day and each potential sighting – and that never lets up.

Considering that WARD operated behind the scenes – or underground – this is a story where there aren’t a lot of really BIG events happening onstage. There are lots of radar sightings that have the potential to be a second invasion – but it never happens. The women are, by the top secret nature of the job, in an isolated environment. There are big battles, and they all listen to them on the radio, but the battles don’t come to them.

But in spite of all that, in spite of the big drama happening offstage, the story is captivating from the very first page, with Daisy on a remote beach seeing the Japanese planes screaming overhead. Daisy is a fascinating character who is just different enough for 21st century readers to identify with while still feeling like a part of her own time.

Also, I love a good training story, so the parts of this one where Daisy and her cohort get a crash course in their new duties and master them was a treat. It was easy to imagine oneself being part of that crew and doing one’s own bit to fight their war.

This author seems to be making a specialty of telling captivating stories about the homefront experience of her own home state during World War II. I’m looking forward to more – and I expect them to keep getting better and better!

Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady HendrixThe Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: horror, thriller
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley Books on July 13, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A fast-paced, thrilling horror novel that follows a group of heroines to die for, from the brilliant New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires.
In horror movies, the final girl is the one who's left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?
Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she's not alone. For more than a decade she's been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette's worst fears are realized--someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.
But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

My Review:

Whew! This was an extremely compelling, one-sitting kind of read. I’m not going to say I enjoyed it, because honestly, joy is an emotion that doesn’t get anywhere near this book. But I was certainly fascinated, to the point where I couldn’t stop until I got to the end.

And then I had to go to my happy place for a while to get over the whole experience.

This doesn’t exactly take place in the real world. But it’s close enough to make some really disturbing parallels. Because this is a story that begins with the premise that all of those teenage slasher movies are based on real people’s real stories which have been adapted and exploited for sensationalism and especially for cash..

Which means that the girl – and it’s usually a girl – who survives and kills the monster is a real person who has been violated first by the monster and second by the sexualization of violence against women and third by the system and fourth by all the sick fans and sicker media – is also a real person.

A young woman who has to live her life after all the horrible things that have happened to her with one hell of a case of PTSD. It’s not paranoia if someone really is out to get you, and someone really is out to get all of these women – even before the members of their support group start getting killed, one after another, in VERY rapid succession.

One of those women, one of those survivors, is on the run, desperately trying to keep her shit together and searching for the person who really is out to get all of them. Each twist of the plot is like a turn of the screw for Lynnette Tarkington, as she escapes from custody, alienates all of her friends, and accuses one member of the support group after another as she works her way through her own psychoses along with a breadcrumb trail of clues that is designed to make her look even more crazy than she is. Right before the monster at the heart of this web finally ends her story.

Unless she ends theirs.

Escape Rating B+: I’m not a horror reader, so I wasn’t expecting to get as involved in this as I did. I also started it with more than a bit of an approach/avoidance conundrum, because not only am I not a horror reader, but I think I was the only person in my reading circle that did not absolutely adore the author’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires last year. I went into this one with concerns that the same issues that tripped me up in that book would appear again.

That certainly did not happen. This time, the point-of-view character, the not really a Final Girl Lynnette Tarkington really worked for me as a perspective. Her head may have been a really messed up place to be, but it was messed up in a way that felt consistent for her story and her experience. I felt for her even as I was grateful not to be her.

(She kind of reminded me of Linda Hamilton’s character at the beginning of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, all alone and prepping obsessively for a doomsday that she is certain is going to come to pass even if no one else is. And of course her fears are justified, just as Lynnette’s are.)

But the story here mixes its slasher sequel plot of the endless parade of descendants, copycats and slavish fans of the original monster returning to kill the one that got away, over and over again, with a commentary on the sexualization and fetishization of violence against women in a way that is not even subtext, but is actual text underpinning the story. (I certainly  saw it as text, but I’m sure people who want to ignore the entire sick, ugly business will either see it as subtle subtext or not see it at all.)

And that’s what disturbed me the most in reading this. While Lynnette comes off as a slightly crazed and increasingly desperate woman, she turns out to be the hero of this story – even though someone is trying to victimize her yet again. That’s what kept me reading through every twist and turn and walk through the valley of the shadow of nightmare. I wanted to see her not just survive, but win – and I was so afraid so often that she wouldn’t.

So I didn’t enjoy this at all, but I felt compelled to keep turning pages and finish. There was absolutely no way this had a happy ending, but I was hoping for catharsis. And I can say that the ending turned out to be relief, release and redemption all rolled into one slightly crazed ball.

I may not have exactly enjoyed this book, but my cats certainly did. I sat still for most of three hours, and they were all overjoyed that I was providing them a warm lap to nap in. I was just glad of their comfort.

Review: Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Doan

Review: Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason DoanLady Sunshine by Amy Mason Doan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Graydon House on June 29, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

“A delicious daydream of a book.” —Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of 28 Summers
“With lyrical writing and a page-turning plot, this sun-dappled book has it all: heart, smarts, and an irresistible musical beat. A tone-perfect evocation of the free-spirited late 1970s and a riveting coming-of-age story.” —Karen Dukess, author of The Last Book Party
“In LADY SUNSHINE, Amy Mason Doan has crafted an engrossing tale of secrets, memory, music, and the people and places you can never outrun. This novel will transport you to the ‘70s and summertime magic and a long overdue reckoning. A fantastic summer read.”—Laura Dave, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Thing He Told Me
ONE ICONIC FAMILY. ONE SUMMER OF SECRETS. THE DAZZLING SPIRIT OF 1970S CALIFORNIA.

For Jackie Pierce, everything changed the summer of 1979, when she spent three months of infinite freedom at her bohemian uncle’s sprawling estate on the California coast. As musicians, artists, and free spirits gathered at The Sandcastle for the season in pursuit of inspiration and communal living, Jackie and her cousin Willa fell into a fast friendship, testing their limits along the rocky beach and in the wild woods... until the summer abruptly ended in tragedy, and Willa silently slipped away into the night.
Twenty years later, Jackie unexpectedly inherits The Sandcastle and returns to the iconic estate for a short visit to ready it for sale. But she reluctantly extends her stay when she learns that, before her death, her estranged aunt had promised an up-and-coming producer he could record a tribute album to her late uncle at the property’s studio. As her musical guests bring the place to life again with their sun-drenched beach days and late-night bonfires, Jackie begins to notice startling parallels to that summer long ago. And when a piece of the past resurfaces and sparks new questions about Willa’s disappearance, Jackie must discover if the dark secret she’s kept ever since is even the truth at all.
Lady Sunshine is shot through with free love, hope, and all the magic of the ’70s, but under the sun and music lie dark secrets.It’s a thrilling ride, a beautiful evocation of an era, and a story that will keep readers entranced from the first page to the last.”—Rene Denfeld, bestselling author of The Child Finder
“This book is gorgeous. A gold-drenched nostalgic dream with a fierce female friendship at its heart.”—Marisa de los Santos, New York Times bestselling author of I'll Be Your Blue Sky
“Haunting and vivid, with layered, complex characters and an evocative setting that sparkles with detail, LADY SUNSHINE will stay with me for a long time.”—Julie Clark, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Flight

My Review:

This story feels like its drenched in summer, not just any summer, but those summers that exist only in memory, the summers of childhood where the season seems endless when school lets out, but speeds up inexorably as the number of carefree sunny days dwindles down at the end as school looms on the horizon.

Even though Jackie and her cousin Willa are not children in this particular summer. But at 17 when the story begins, they are not exactly adults either. This is a story of that summer where it all changes.

It’s also a story about another summer, the summer twenty years later when Jackie returns to the place she left behind, all alone with her memories of friendship and love and loss. Only to find that she isn’t quite as alone as she believed, and that those memories, as painful as they are, are not quite done with her yet – no matter how much she wants to be done with them.

It’s the summer of 1979, and Jackie has come to spend her last summer of high school at the Sandcastle, the home of her uncle Graham Kingston, a famous folk singer of the 1960s whose best performing and recording years seem to be behind him – along with the demons that lifestyle brought with them.

Jackie, escaping from the straitjacket of conformism that is life with her father and stepmother, finds herself, and finds herself a home, in the free-spirited and freewheeling circle of artists, musicians and friends that hangs around her uncle at the Sandcastle. And she finds the sister of her heart in her cousin Willa.

Twenty years later it’s all gone. Her larger-than-life uncle is long dead, as is her cousin Willa. No one is left except Jackie to inherit the house, the grounds, the studio and all the memories they left behind. She’s back for one final summer, the summer of 1999, to pack it all up and sell it all away. Forever.

But first she has to go back to the time, and the place, where it all went so very wrong. There are pieces still left to break her heart one last time – if only she’ll reach out and grab them.

Escape Rating B: This is such a summer book. The heat of both of those long-ago summers practically steams off the page, and the sound of the surf rolls in your ears as you read Jackie’s old diary over her shoulder.

But the story also moves at the pace of those long ago summers, in that it builds slowly at the beginning, like the early days of summer when it feels like the season will last forever. And occasionally it feels like that part of the book is taking its own sweet summer time to get itself off the ground.

Once it catches its own wave, once the end of both summers is on the horizon, the pace picks up as the girls of 1979 and the woman of 1999 try to wring the last drop of bittersweetness out of each and every day that is left.

In 1979, Jackie doesn’t want to leave. In 1999, it feels like she can’t until she’s done. Or until it’s done with her.

Although speaking of 1979, on the one hand I have to say that it read like I remember. I was just a few years older than Jackie and Willa at the time. On the other hand, I kept wondering why the author chose that particular time period, and I think it must have been the music.

As I said, Jackie’s 1979 felt like the one I remember. Which is part of what carried me through the early parts of the story.

Because it’s the story of that golden summer that sweeps the reader up and carries them away, just as Jackie was carried away by the larger than life figure of her uncle and the place he created around himself on the northern California coast.

Because of the dual timelines, we start the story know that something terrible happened at the end of that summer. The questions all revolve around what that something was that made the idyll crash and burn.

Waiting to discover what that “something” was hangs over the entire book, because even in the secondary timeline of 1999 Jackie refuses to get near that memory. As the story spun out, it became clear that it was a loss of innocence, but not sexual. This is not Summer of ‘42 and the girls neither lose their virginity nor get sexually abused by a trusted mentor or family member. It’s much more complicated, and therefore more interesting, than that.

It turns out that the loss is twofold, they discover that their hero has feet of clay up to the knees, and they discover that their attempts to “fix” things can have tragic consequences. But it takes a fair bit of story to get there.

While the foundation of everything is in 1979, the 1999 portions of the story were more dynamic. More things happen and they happen faster, even as Jackie continues to avoid the real issues that brought her back.

But when those issues finally come full circle, it provides a lovely ending for the whole emotional package. There were points in the middle where I wondered whether this story was ever going to get itself to its sticking point, but when it finally did it made for just the right coda to the entire journey.

Review: The Summer of No Attachments by Lori Foster

Review: The Summer of No Attachments by Lori FosterThe Summer of No Attachments by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Summer Friends #2
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on June 22, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Summer flings with no strings mean nobody gets hurt.At least, that was the plan…
After putting the brakes on her dead-end relationship, local veterinarian Ivey Anders is ready to soak up this summer on her own terms. The way she sees it, no dating means no disappointment. Why complicate life with anything long-term? But when she meets Corbin Meyer—and his troubled young son, Justin—Ivey’s no-strings strategy threatens to unravel before she can put it into practice.
Trust doesn’t come easy for Ivey’s best friend, Hope Mage, a veterinary-clinic assistant who’s affected by an incident that’s colored every relationship she’s had. Though Hope’s happy for Ivey, she can’t quite open her own heart to the possibility of love. Not just yet… Maybe not ever. Soon, however, she’s faced with a dilemma—Corbin’s older brother, Lang. He’s charming, he’s kind…and he may just be the reason Hope needs to finally tear down her walls.
And as the sweet summer months unspool, the two friends discover love won’t give up on them so easily.
"Brimming with heart, heat and humor."—Jill ShalvisNew York Times bestselling author, on Worth the Wait

My Review:

The irony of The Summer of No Attachments is that the first thing that Ivey does after declaring that she isn’t going to get attached to anyone this summer is that she immediately gets attached to someone.

However, as Ivey is a veterinarian, that she finds herself instantly attached to a slightly skittish rescue dog named Daisy – along with all of the puppies that Daisy gave birth to practically in Ivey’s lap – is not all that big a surprise.

But Daisy and her puppies are all adorable, so we all do fall right along with her. That Daisy is the first Jack-A-Bee dog I’ve heard of or read about made her extra cute. (A Jack-A-Bee is the result of mating a Jack Russell Terrier with a Beagle and the whole idea just oozes cuteness.)

Ivey’s romance with Daisy would have been an adorable story, but that’s not what we’re here for. And honestly, that’s not what Ivey is there for, either. Okay, it is part of what she’s there for, but not ALL of it.

As the story opens, Ivey finds Daisy and Daisy has her puppies at the end of what has already been a very long day for Ivey and her best friend and veterinary assistant Hope Mage. When Ivey finally makes it home, her boyfriend of two years is lounging on her couch bitching about her being home late.

It’s the latest in a string of disappointments in that relationship, and it’s the last. Ivey kicks Geoff to the curb and vows to have a summer of hookups with no need to fall into another relationship.

Haven’t we all made those kinds of vows?

Ivey’s promise to herself turns out to be about as successful as you might expect. The meet cute in this story isn’t between Corbin Meyer and Ivey Anders, although they certainly do meet. But the real cute in that meeting is the one between Corbin’s son Justin and Daisy and her pups.

There’s something about Justin, scared, shy and uncertain, that reaches out to Daisy – and surprisingly vice-versa for the boy and the dog. That the dad and the vet can’t resist seeing the two fall in love and help each other heal makes this a lovely story with a lot of heart.

And doggie kisses!

Escape Rating A: I just plain fell in love with these characters, this place and this story, to the point where I was up until 4 am because I couldn’t resist reading just a little longer – all the way to the very heartwarming conclusion with its happy ever afters all around. HEAs for everyone turned out to be just what I needed.

The primary story is in not just the romance between Corbin and Ivey, but in the way that they both fall in love with Justin and build a family together out of some pretty shaky circumstances.

As the story begins, Corbin and Justin are still walking on eggshells around each other. Justin’s mother dumped him on Corbin, after telling Corbin that the child she never bothered to inform him existed was his and it was time for him to take over childcare full-time while she ran off. As the truths about Justin’s circumstances are slowly revealed – not just to the reader but to Corbin – the scope of the tragedy-in-the-making becomes both clearer and wider.

So Corbin is adjusting to having a pre-teen son he never knew about. He hasn’t really got the time or the energy for a relationship and Ivey is more than a bit gun-shy about diving into a relationship with anyone at all. (Not that her ex was evil or anything, but she feels like she just climbed out of a rut and is worried about climbing into another one.)

But they do it anyway, in spite of themselves, two steps forward and one step back, while Corbin’s family rallies around and life goes on.

The secondary characters were icing on a very tasty cake, especially the romance between Corbin’s brother Lang and Ivey’s bestie Hope. That could have been a whole romance all of its own, and it would have been a great one even by itself, but the story was even better in the contrast between the kind of second chance that Corbin, Ivey and Justin are reaching for and the much more difficult one that Hope needs to let herself have after trauma and betrayal.

The depth of the friendship between Ivey and Hope was beautiful, and added something special to the whole story. A story that was just plain special all the way around.

Goodreads says that this book is the second book in The Summer Friends series that begin with The Somerset Girls, which I have but have not read. Although now that I’ve visited Sunset, Kentucky, I’m sure I’ll find my way back!

Review: Shiftless by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Shiftless by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayShiftless (Night Shift #3) by T.A. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Night Shift #3
Pages: 112
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on June 19th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Night Shift is the city's thin, silver line- and some nights it's thinner than others.

It isn't the fact he almost died last night that's thrown Night Shift officer Kit Marlow. He's used to that. It's the fact that instead of a werewolf trying to rip his throat out, it was his friend and colleague who tried to put him in the ground.

Well, 'friend.'

Now Marlow's been framed for a murder he didn't commit by a man who's committed more than his fair share. Half the cops in San Diego want to see Marlow behind bars for what he's supposedly done, and the other half want him dead before he can tell his side of the story. The problem is that he can't tell them apart.

There's only one person in town that Marlow can trust, even though he knows he shouldn't drag Cade Deacon into his problems. The sharp-tongued CEO of a private security firm might have gotten close to Marlow over the last few weeks, but taking on the SDPD is a lot to ask.

Marlow doesn't have much choice, though. If he can't clear his name before the last full moon of the month sets, he might not see another one. That'd be a shame since Marlow would really like to spend the night with Cade without needing protective gear.

My Review:

The one thing I knew going into this book was that she couldn’t do it to me again. Thank goodness.

Shiftless is the final novella in the Night Shift trilogy, which meant that the author simply couldn’t end the book on a damn cliffhanger the way that she did the first two books, Shift Work and Split Shift.

Honestly, if she’d managed to do it again anyway I’d have figured out a way to reach through the screen and deliver a Howler from up close and personal because damn that would have been the absolute limit.

Not that I won’t be riveted, again, if the author ever returns to Marlow and Cade’s world. Because it’s fascinating and they’re snarky, hot and a whole lot interesting to follow.

Escape Rating A-: First of all, the Night Shift series isn’t so much a “series” as it is a single story split into three bite-sized pieces. So if you love paranormal romance, if you enjoy enemies-into-lovers, if a world where even though it isn’t quite ours the story still captures your attention from the first page, takes you away and still manages to say quite a bit about our world into the excellent bargain, start with Shift Work and settle in for a compelling ride – and read.

This is a world where werewolves rule, and the laws are bent to fit them, because they have all the power and it seems like a fair amount of the money. One of the things that makes this world a bit different is that being a werewolf also seems to be completely normal – it’s the so-called “nulls” that are weird.

If you’ve ever heard of the 80/20 law, it’s kind of like that, only the proportions aren’t nearly so even. Some people, not a big percentage at all, can’t be turned. They don’t “wolf out” the three nights of the full moon and can’t be changed to do so.

Kit Marlow is one of those nulls. He’s a police officer, a member of the “Night Shift” who works those three nights. Because someone has to serve and protect the people who don’t have an inner wolf – and sometimes even the werewolves need to be protected from themselves or each other.

The problem Kit has – well, he has two, come to think of it. He can’t trust his fellow officers at his back. Too many of them are tied in with the dirty cop he sent to prison a few years ago – and the rest looked the other way. The one person he can trust is the one person he really shouldn’t. Because three nights of the month, Cade Deacon thinks Kit Marlow is dinner – and not in any good way from Kit’s perspective.

But Kit has been framed, and Cade is his only hope of something. Whether that’s rescue, protection or the opportunity to clear his name is to be determined. What they’ll be at the end of it all, if Kit will still be anywhere at all, is anybody’s guess.

So a big part of this story is Kit trying to clear his name. An important part of the story is Kit and Cade trying to figure out what they are to each other, as neither of them has any experience with relationships to begin with – and theirs has the possibility of being especially fraught. The occasionally-partially-resolved sexual tension between the two of them heats up the entire story.

The third part is, in its way, even more interesting. Because Marlow needs to figure out who he’s going to be when this whole mess comes out the other side. Unless he’s dead or in prison and then dead which is still a possibility. He trusts a person who’s supposed to be an enemy way more than anyone who is supposed to be at least a colleague if not a friend. There’s a whole lot wrong with that picture and what that says about the Night Shift in specific and possibly about the real world in general is still keeping me thinking.

I’m going to miss Marlow and Cade and their very fascinating world. While they seem to have reached as much of an HEA as either of them is capable of, I’d love to explore this place more. Lots, lots more.

Guest Post from TA Moore + Chapter 2 of the Night Shift short (check out Chapter 1 at Love Bytes)

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Shiftless by TA Moore, which completes the Night Shift trilogy! I believe it is still technically a novella, although it’s the novella that kicked the other novellas out of the nest and ate all the food!

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

Chapter Two

Warden Brunell stepped back from the door and waved Marlow into the hut. He glanced over at the crowd of people still stuck behind red tape and reminded himself that there was only one way to find out what he needed to know.

Or only one he could think of.

Associate Warden Brunell’s office was warm and faintly ripe with the odor of old sweat and recent fear. There was no shame in that. Brunell spent the full moon with only pre-fab walls and chains between him and a few dozen hungry wolves, and not even a single silver bullet for emergencies.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it? The quiet echo of Piper’s voice bounced around inside Marlow’s skull. Shouldn’t there be a level playing field?

It sounded reasonable, but Piper always did. That was why Marlow was here and not at the bar with the rest of the squad. He wanted to make up his mind before Piper made it for him.
Brunell extended his hand. “Officer…?” he trailed off, one eyebrow raised expectantly.

“Marlow.”

“First or last?”

“Yes.”

There was a pause, and then Brunell laughed. It sounded scratchy and exhausted, but genuine.

“There it is,” he said. “Never met a Night Shift officer who wasn’t an asshole. No offence. Midnight under the full moon, that’s a survival instinct. Sit down. How can I help you?”

Brunell waved Marlow to one of the chairs—metal and folding. Like everything else in the hut, it was portable and cheap… just in case—as he went back behind his desk. There was a stack of folders by his elbow, intake forms that needed to be matched with the release forms being signed right now, and a glass of something that probably wasn’t water by one hand.

“Kit,” Marlow provided as he sat down. “Thirsty work running the Crate?”

“It is,” Brunell agreed, unphased, as he took a drink. If it was liquor—and Marlow would put money on it that it was—Brunell didn’t flinch as it hit the back of his throat. “But while I can’t leave until the last inmate has gone through their exit interview, my shift ended at the same time as yours. So, technically, I’m not drinking on the job. Want one?”

It was tequila, and it wasn’t good tequila. Marlow recognised the bottle that Brunell pulled out of a drawer. The idea of it made Marlow’s mouth twist in a confused mixture of parched and revolted. He might want a drink after last night, but the idea of getting cheap tequila drunk didn’t appeal.

“I’ve plans for the day I need to be upright for,” Marlow said. “At least, for part of the day.”

Brunell chuckled and winked at Marlow. “Enjoy it while you can. Night Shift don’t die in bed, so make the most of the time you do spend there, that’s what I say.”

He raised his glass in a toast. Marlow didn’t have the heart to disillusion him.

Night Shift could get laid, that was true. Sleep was more elusive. Given a choice between the two…

Okay, most of the time they’d pick sex. On the second day of the Full Moon? An empty mattress, cool sheets, and no-one who needed anything from you? Then it was a harder question.
Marlow’s only plans for his bed involved him, slightly more Tylenol than recommended on the bottle, and a good six hours of not doing anything at all. He didn’t want any company. If it got Brunell onside, though, let him think that Marlow had a much more Piper-like life.

“Doctor Ben Crenshaw,” Marlow said.

“Who?” Brunell asked, head cocked to the side.

“Could you check your records?” Marlow asked. “See if someone by that name checked out last month?”

Catch the next chapter tomorrow at Book Gemz and follow the tour for the rest of the story!

 

About the Author:

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sector before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

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Review: Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia

Review: Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa AfiaDead Dead Girls (Harlem Renaissance Mystery #1) by Nekesa Afia
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Harlem Renaissance #1
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on June 1, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The start of an exciting new historical mystery series set in 1920s Harlem featuring Louise Lloyd, a young black woman caught up in a series of murders way too close to home...
Harlem, 1926. Young black girls like Louise Lloyd are ending up dead.
Following a harrowing kidnapping ordeal when she was in her teens, Louise is doing everything she can to maintain a normal life. She's succeeding, too. She spends her days working at Maggie's Café and her nights at the Zodiac, Manhattan's hottest speakeasy. Louise's friends might say she's running from her past and the notoriety that still stalks her, but don't tell her that.
When a girl turns up dead in front of the café, Louise is forced to confront something she's been trying to ignore--several local black girls have been murdered over the past few weeks. After an altercation with a local police officer gets her arrested, Louise is given an ultimatum: She can either help solve the case or let a judge make an example of her.
Louise has no choice but to take the case and soon finds herself toe-to-toe with a murderous mastermind. She'll have to tackle her own fears and the prejudices of New York City society if she wants to catch a killer and save her own life in the process.

My Review:

It’s 1926. The Roaring 20’s. The period of the “lost generation” post-WW1 and pre-Depression. In Britain, Lord Peter Wimsey is dealing, sometimes badly, with his PTSD and solving crimes. In Australia, Phryne Fisher is seducing young men, solving crimes, and proving to anyone who even thinks to criticize her for doing a man’s job that she’s doing it better than anyone else, including the police, thankyouverymuch and please keep your opinions to yourself.

Dead Dead Girls takes place in the same time period, following the same avocation, but not exactly the same world.

Louise Lloyd, a black woman in her late 20s, is caught up in a seemingly endless round of late nights dancing at speakeasies, waitressing during the day to pay for those late nights, and living in a single women’s boarding house with-and-not-with her best friend and lover, Rosa. Louise is trying to outrun her demons by dancing and drinking her nights away.

But those demons reach out for her in a way she can’t ignore. Young black women are turning up dead in Harlem, and Louise has just discovered the latest victim on the front step of the diner where she works.

So many girls have been killed, so close together, that even the white powers-that-be of the NYPD can’t ignore the serial killings any longer – no matter how much they’d rather sweep it all under the rug.

When Louise’ anger and frustration at the situation, along with the way that the cops seem to be using the murder investigation as an excuse to harrass as many Harlem residents with no pretext whatsoever rather than solve the crime, bubbles over, she hits a cop, ends up in jail and facing the kind of offer that it isn’t safe to refuse.

Help the cops find the killer, or go to jail and let herself be further abused by the system that is designed to keep her people down.

At first both reluctant and amateur in all her investigation and interrogation techniques, as the body count rises and the cops make no progress whatsoever, Louise finds herself drawn deeper into a web of hatred, lies and a determined desire on the part of officialdom to look the other way as long as all of the victims are black.

Louise can’t look away. She’s frightened at every turn, knowing that she, or someone she loves, could be next. And that no one except her own community will care. But when she stares into the abyss, she discovers that the abyss has been staring back at her all along.

Escape Rating B: I have to say that in the end this story hits like a hammer. And I’m still reeling from the blow. But that needs a bit of explanation. Perhaps more than that, because this is one of those stories that made me think – and I’m still thinking.

As a historical mystery, Dead Dead Girls manages to hit the sweet spot – or in this case the bittersweet spot – of being both firmly fixed in its time and place while being utterly relevant to the present, to the point where the reader, as much as they know it’s there and then, is certain that it could just as easily be here and now with entirely too few changes.

The consequence is that the mystery has a bit of a slow start, because it takes a while for the time machine to transport us back to Harlem in the 1920s. It’s definitely worth the trip, but it takes a few chapters to get us there.

At the same time, OMG but this is a hard read after this past year. Because of the way that it feels both historical and all too plausible in the present day. Particularly as I’m writing this review on June 1, the 100th anniversary of the second day of the Tulsa race massacre. Which Louise would have known all about – but which entirely too many of us did not and do not to this day.

Just as the murder spree in Harlem that touches Louise’ life much too closely would have been reported on extensively in the Black newspapers of the day like The Defender but would have been totally ignored by the white papers.

As a character, at first I found Louise a bit difficult to get close to, because so much of her behavior seems so deliberately reckless. It took me quite a while to get it through my head that her irresponsible behavior doesn’t really matter. She’s in a no-win scenario and nothing that she does or doesn’t do will make it any better. Like all of the things that we women are taught not to do because we might get raped, when the fact of the matter is that rape is about power and not about sex, and there’s little we can do to prevent it – and that we’ll be blamed for it anyway.

Louise’ situation is that only multiplied. Exhibiting different behavior, while it might have made her life in her father’s house more tolerable, doesn’t change the way the world perceives her and treats her. She has the power to make things worse, but not to make them better. At least not on her own. Lashing out however and whenever she can is a reasonable response. But I admit that I had to work my way towards that reaction.

The mystery that Louise has to solve is as dark and mesmerizing, twisty and turny as any mystery reader could possibly desire. But the circumstances in which Louise has to solve it are weighted with the baggage of racism and sexism in a way that fill much of the story with the darkness of the evil that men do and the inexorable weight of power corrupting – even just the power of small-minded people with little authority – and absolute power corrupting absolutely and inciting more of the same.

Dead Dead Girls is the author’s first novel – and what a searing debut it is. I’m looking forward to great, great things in her future work – particularly the second projected book in this series!