Review: ‘Nother Sip of Gin by Rhys Ford + Guest Post + Giveaway

Review: ‘Nother Sip of Gin by Rhys Ford + Guest Post + Giveaway'Nother Sip of Gin by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance, short stories
Series: Sinners #7
Pages: 190
Published by Dreamspinner Press on August 18, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

For Crossroads Gin rock stars Miki, Damien, Rafe, and Forest, life is a Möbius strip of music, mayhem, and murder. Through it all, the sweet, hot moments between tours with lovers, friends, and family keep them sane, healthy, and happy.
This Sinners collection features short stories spanning the entire series, from before the first note to after the lights go out.
['Nother Sip of Gin features bonus shorts finally together in one volume as well as four new Sinners Gin stories, combining classic foundational pieces with newly written material.]

My Review:

This collection is lagniappe for lovers of the Sinners series. It’s a little gift that we had no reason to expect, but are oh so happy to receive. And it’s absolutely yummy from beginning to end.

Some are even brand new, which makes it an even bigger present. The stories are certainly new to me and I’m thrilled to have them all together. Of course, new and old, they are all great stories.

This is a collection of little slices of life of the members of Crossroads Gin and the men who love them. They are interstices. Places between. Things that take place before, between and after the books in the series, or in one truly memorable case, right alongside.

The stories also contain hints of Rhys’ other series. Not deep dives into their past or present, but just enough to make a regular reader of her work realize that many of her contemporary series take place in the same world. Enough to tease but not enough to torment.

Still, this is definitely a collection for the fans. Because we care about these characters, and have missed them now that their story seems to be over and they have all managed, by hook, by crook and mostly by miracle, to have found their happily ever afters.

For those of us who have followed the series, this is a visit with old friends, sitting around, swapping stories. Except that they have all the best stories and we’re just listening in.

As great as it is – and it is terrific – to glimpse a bit of Miki and Damien before they became famous, or to peek into Miki and Kane’s happy ever after, My favorite story in the book, hands and paws down, is Hair of the Dog. Because Dude, the dog who adopted Miki just before the series opens, tells the entire story of the first book, Sinner’s Gin, from his rather unique perspective. After all, Dude is the one responsible for bringing Miki and Kane together, and he has a lot to say about how it happened. He’s also one smart and savvy dog.

Escape Rating A: Lovers of this series are going to be all in for this collection. We’ll all probably have our own favorites, but the whole of it is just a great time. If you’re not already a fan of the series, this is not the place to start. Start with Sinner’s Gin and get swallowed up by the lost band and the found family that forms the backbone of the series. It’s a marvelous wild ride from beginning to end!

Guest Post from Rhys + Sinner’s Calling

Never thought I’d be back on the road with these guys again but … here we are. And nothing makes me happier than to take to the pages with the Sinner Boys all over again. ’Nother Sip of Gin came from a friend asking me if I’d ever consider pulling together some of the blog spots I’d done into a book they could read on their Kindle. I’ve held that possibility in my head for a while and then I got the time and space to pull not only the foundational stories I’d already shared but a few brand new stories I’ve always wanted to explore, short bits of emotions and life moments I’ve enjoyed pulling together. I’ve included long stories like Hair of the Dog and a few others because well, they were fun to write in the past but also provided a solid base for so much of the Sinners lore.

For this blog tour I wanted to take a bit of time to talk about five lyric snippets and how they connect to the characters as well as the meaning behind a few of them. It was great to go through the anthology and once again visit with the guys. I’ll be writing a novella about Connor and Forest in the near future so this trip down memory lane has been a great revisit with old friends, reacquainting me with their voices, quibbles, and most of all, their lives.

Bled onto my hand,
Shoved his fist into mine
Stood tall against anyone
Who’d break through our line

No matter what they do
No matter what they say
Death’s already tried to part us
And we’ve already made him pay

So lift a glass to the Sinners
Lift a glass of cheap ass gin
Put your lips on the Gates of Heaven
‘Cause we’re taking you to sin.
Sinners’ Calling


I’m actually going to end this blog tour where everything started — Damien and Miki.

When I first envisioned the series, I started with the image in my head of a shattered, broken-down musician who was angry at the world. The prologue to the series came to me before any of the details or other characters in Sinners Gin. I knew what Sinjun lost before Kane ever knocked on his door. I knew somewhere out in the universe was a soul that balanced out my complicated, slightly antisocial warrior-poet. This person would be his equal in musicianship but his opposite in personality. In a lot of ways, it was imperative to take away Miki’s balance, his dependence on one person he held in his heart in order for him to understand there was room there for someone else.

Dude was pretty much training wheels for Miki and his growing trust in letting himself feel. Despite every denial of the dog belonging to him, Dude was an integral part of his life. The terrier became the reason for Miki to get up in the morning, to make sure there was food, and even to make sure there was some play time. His world had become cloaked shadows and he could no longer sense the sand slipping away through the hourglass. Dude became a marker of time as well as a portal back to an engagement in life for Miki.

He also became an important piece of Miki’s heart he was willing to defend when a blue-eyed Irish cop pounded on his front door.

I also imagined Damien to be much more charismatic and kind of the salesman in a way. He is a driving force behind the band, as much of a part of its engine as Miki with a clear vision of where he wants to be. What I’ve never had the chance to explore and really it’s a pretentious luxury to do so, is simply writing about the two of them being together for no purpose other than being together. That brotherhood is really what I wanted to capture because I wanted to show two men who have a deep connection but weren’t blood related. They have fought — and probably will continue to fight — about big things and little things but their love for one another is unwavering. There never should have been a moment when the reader would wonder if one of them would walk away. That was very crucial.

In a lot of ways, Miki’s relationship with Damien and how they communicated helped forge his relationship with Kane. For all of his lack of social skills, Miki is able to love fiercely and understand compromise and open discourse is truly the only way to have a relationship. He knows you don’t purposely hurt the people closest to you and in a world where too many people believe just because someone loves them gives them the freedom to be sarcastic or mean because they believe they’ll be forgiven, Miki’s foundational understanding about taking care of the other person’s emotional health makes it easier for him to deal with all the conflicts he and Kane have to face.

With Damien woven so deeply into Miki’s psyche, I knew I needed to write Sinners Gin in such a way that the reader could feel the pain of Miki’s loss but without the specter of Damien standing between Miki and Kane. I think in some way Miki’s anger waking up alone in a hospital, having lost everything in his life but his body, made it easier to develop his relationship with Kane. In no way did his growing affection minimize his love for Damien who was his brother and Kane, having brothers himself, clearly understood the significance of Damie in Miki’s life. Without Damien, Miki probably would’ve never discovered music and his innate talents to create it. He never would’ve had the subspace of being on stage, unfurling the part of himself he kept very down deep inside of him, that slinky sensual creature who loved to dance in the lights and growl around words he found in his soul. So no matter what Kane thought of Damien, he understood how important he was to Miki.

And of all the scenes that I’ve ever written, I will readily admit the one where Damien and Miki find each other again — in the middle of a noisy Morgan kitchen — was one of the hardest emotion-filled silences I’ve ever had craft. It was a delicate balance of disbelief, hope, and reignited love to capture in words and I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to communicate that caught-on-the-edge-of-the-universe breathlessness they both shared.

You see, for Miki and Damien… they weren’t in that kitchen. They were nowhere near the Morgan household. The men they loved were not nearby. In that moment, it was the early morning hours in a misty Chinatown alleyway, the air carrying the smell of spicy noodles with a metallic hint of iron flakes from an aging fire escape. Between them, the fading notes of an old Janis Joplin song and Damien had just discovered a broken-winged angel waiting for him outside of a failed gig.

That’s what this song is about. Hell, that’s what this whole series is about and no matter where they go, it will always have each other — Miki and Damien are as eternal as the stars just like the love they have for the men they found along the way.

Follow the ‘Nother Sip of Gin Tour for more lyrics and more giveaways!

About Rhys Ford

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 of 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/
Twitter: @Rhys_Ford

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

And as usual, there is a giveaway! Please enter to win a $20 gift certificate to the etailer of your choice and be sure to hit up every blog stop to enter every giveaway! Never say no to books. grins

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Review: The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan + Giveaway

Review: The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan + GiveawayThe London Restoration by Rachel McMillan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, World War II
Pages: 336
Published by Thomas Nelson on August 18, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In post-World War II London, determined to save their marriage and the city they love, two people divided by World War II's secrets rebuild their lives, their love, and their world.
London, Fall 1945. Architectural historian Diana Somerville's experience as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park and her knowledge of London's churches intersect in MI6's pursuit of a Russian agent named Eternity. Diana wants nothing more than to begin again with her husband Brent after their separation during the war, but her signing of the Official Secrets Act keeps him at a distance.
Brent Somerville, professor of theology at King's College, hopes aiding his wife with her church consultations will help him better understand why she disappeared when he needed her most. But he must find a way to reconcile his traumatic experiences as a stretcher bearer on the European front with her obvious lies about her wartime activities and whereabouts.

My Review:

I picked this one for two reasons. One was the time period. It’s starting to look like the early Cold War era is the new big thing in historical fiction, and so far the books have been excellent – and this one was no exception. Reason number two was that I enjoyed the first two books in this author’s Van Buren and DeLuca series (Murder at the Flamingo and Murder in the City of Liberty) and hoped that this book would be as good if not better.

That hope was definitely realized.

The story begins late in 1945, and the shooting war is over. Diana and Brent Somerville, like so many who married during the war, have to figure out whether the love that sustained their spirits during the war’s separation and all its horrors, can survive in its aftermath. They both carry secrets from those long years, and those secrets form a barrier between them that both are afraid to bridge.

Brent wants to protect Diana from the horrors of his war and the extent of his wounds, both physical and emotional.

Diana needs to protect both Brent and herself from the consequences of her work at Bletchley Park as one of the codebreakers. She signed the Official Secrets Act. She literally CANNOT tell him about her wartime service under threat of imprisonment. That she is still continuing that wartime “secret” service unofficially, as a favor to a friend, adds to the weight of the secrets that fester between them.

Unless she can bring him into the world of shadows that she now inhabits. Before the new “Cold War” claims their marriage as one of its early victims. Or takes both of their lives.

Escape Rating A-: The deeper I got into this story, the more that the multiple interpretations of the title ensnared me.

There’s the obvious one, that this story takes place during the restoration of London after the war is over. But it’s also about the restoration of their marriage, which takes place in London. That would be enough to be going on with. But there’s that third interpretation, the way that Diana’s love of the architecture of the Christopher Wren churches of London loops back to history, to the restoration of London after the Great Fire of 1666.

It was also fascinating to read a romance that is very different from any of the standard tropes, at least in the story’s “present”. The original romance between Diana and Brent is a classic. Lovers meet, discover their other half, fall instantly and completely, have a quirky but romantic wedding and live happily ever after. And maybe they will, but they certainly don’t in the immediate term, because the Blitz rains down on their wedding night, then both of them are off to war.

What makes the romance part of this story so marvelously different from the usual is that it’s a romance between two people who are already married, and yet they are strangers to each other after four years of war. In order for their wartime marriage to survive where so many did not they have to get to know the people they are now and fall in love with each other all over again.

And it’s lovely.

One of the things that this story also does well is the way that it portrays the consequences of the abrupt change to both their lives, but particularly Diana’s, after the war is over and life is supposed to go back to “normal”. The problem is that the aftermath of any catastrophic change is never easy, and that whatever normal is will not be and cannot be the exact same as it was before the catastrophe.

(This is just as true in our own now as ever. The world post-pandemic will be different from the pre-pandemic world, we just don’t know exactly how yet.)

Diana is supposed to become a housewife, taking care of her husband and any children they have. But Diana is one of the most rubbish housewives ever to grace a page. And she’s not going to change. Because she has already changed. Her service at Bletchley Park opened a world for her that she wants to continue to inhabit, just with her husband at her side. For four years she lived a life of purpose and challenge, and she just isn’t willing to give that up. She’s not made to give that up.

Finding a way to bridge the minefield between herself and her husband so that she can continue to serve her country and especially continue to feed her brilliant mind is what really sets her on her course to unofficially help her friend, fellow codebreaker and MI-6 agent uncover the first agents of that Cold War – and nearly gets both her and Brent killed in the process.

Summing up, the history is fascinating, the hunt for the spies is thrilling and the romance is lovely. Come to this book for whichever appeals to you the most. But definitely do come! The London Restoration is a marvelous story from its lonely beginning to its friendship and love-filled end.

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

I am giving away a copy of The London Restoration to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

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TLC
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Review: Better than People by Roan Parrish

Review: Better than People by Roan ParrishBetter Than People by Roan Parrish
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Pages: 336
Published by Carina Adores on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s not long before their pet-centric arrangement sparks a person-centric desire…
Simon Burke has always preferred animals to people. When the countdown to adopting his own dog is unexpectedly put on hold, Simon turns to the PetShare app to find the fluffy TLC he’s been missing. Meeting a grumpy children’s book illustrator who needs a dog walker isn’t easy for the man whose persistent anxiety has colored his whole life, but Jack Matheson’s menagerie is just what Simon needs.
Four dogs, three cats and counting. Jack’s pack of rescue pets is the only company he needs. But when a bad fall leaves him with a broken leg, Jack is forced to admit he needs help. That the help comes in the form of the most beautiful man he’s ever seen is a complicated, glorious surprise.
Being with Jack—talking, waking, making out—is a game changer for Simon. And Simon’s company certainly…eases the pain of recovery for Jack. But making a real relationship work once Jack’s cast comes off will mean compromise, understanding and lots of love.

My Review:

It seems fair to say that most people who have companion animals have at least occasionally had the thought that animals are better than people. Or at least that most animals are better than most people. Or something along those lines.

It’s partly that when they love us, they love us unconditionally. And it’s especially that animals don’t judge and can’t talk back. Well, they can’t talk back in any language we understand. Also, cats, at least, certainly do judge, ALL THE TIME. But they mostly judge us for how we treat them and not for any of the frankly stupid shit that humans judge us for. Cats don’t care whether we are fashionable or not, whether we are tidy or not, whether we are neuroatypical or not. Or who we love – as long as we love them and treat them right. Treat the cats right, I mean. How we treat other humans in our lives isn’t their concern unless it leads to them getting more of what they want or less.

Both Jack Matheson and Simon Burke are of the opinion that animals are better than most people most of the time. They get to that point from different directions, but they are still both in that same kind of headspace when they meet, fittingly enough, literally over the heads of Jack’s mixed menagerie of cats and dogs. I put the cats first because there may be fewer of them but the cats clearly rule this house. Especially Pirate.

Obviously, I got into this book for the animals. But there is a story about the humans as well, both their human and the human who becomes theirs in the end. After all, the only reason the humans meet is because of them. It’s the dogs’ fault, after all.

Jack lives in a fairly remote cabin, and he’s fine with that. So is the menagerie. But when he falls while chasing after Puddles – the dog who is afraid of puddles – and breaks his leg, Jack has a major problem on his hands. Mostly his crutches. And the four dogs – plus Pirate the Cat – who need to be walked multiple times a day. In the admittedly slightly tamed wilderness that surrounds Jack’s cabin.

That’s where Simon comes in. Simon needs regular contact with animals to help manage his paralyzing anxiety – at least as much as it can be managed. He doesn’t have a menagerie of his own because he lives with his recently widowed and extremely allergic grandmother. So he volunteers for an organization that matches people who need animals with animals whose people need a bit of help.

The overwhelming nature of Simon’s social anxiety causes him an intense amount of difficulty when dealing with new people and/or stressful situations. Jack has been a bit of hermit after the person he thought was his friend and business partner stole Jack’s ideas for his own. So he’s not much thrilled with the human race at the moment. None too thrilled with himself either. He’s depressed and now miserable at feeling helpless to take care of the animals that are both his friends and his solace.

On a temporary basis, at least, Jack and Simon are made for each other. But neither are good at letting many people get close. And Simon fully expects that their relationship will only last as long as Jack needs help with the animals. Simon’s experience is that people get tired of dealing with his mental health challenges and that Jack will give up on him the way that most of his family has. Jack, initially afraid to trust himself, knows that it won’t be easy. But he’s in it for the long haul.

He just has to convince Simon that it really is possible for them to create their own version of normal – and be happy with it. Together.

Escape Rating B+: I really did pick this up because the animals, caring for them and being managed by them was such a big part of the story. And that felt real, the differences in their personalities and how their humans cope with them. (I have four cats and variations in personality and mannerism are very real – as is the amount that they are each individually indulged in their preferences!)

But of course it’s the humans and the relationship they build together who hold the story.

The story is told in alternating perspectives, one chapter from Jack’s side of the story and the other from Simon’s. Jack’s is the easier to identify with, while Simon’s is more painful. It’s also painfully clear that Simon is more articulate – as well as even more down on himself – inside his own head than he is able to voice or even text.

It’s also lovely that they both have people in their lives who call them on their respective shit when it needs doing. In Jack’s case his older brother, and for Simon his grandmother. Those relationships also help round out both characters. I wish we had a scene between the two of them comparing notes because that would have been a hoot!

While Jack isn’t exactly an extrovert, he does have more need for social interaction than Simon does. Jack’s the kind of introvert who is open in a limited circle – but he needs that circle. Except that as the story opens he’s withdrawn from his circle out of betrayal. If one person he believed was a friend could betray him that badly, so could others. However, it was good that the author did not fall down the oh-so-common rabbit hole of having that betrayer be not just a friend and a business partner but also an ex-lover. That would have been over-the-top in a way that this story just doesn’t need.

Simon’s severe social anxiety is a hard enough issue to deal with. And a big part of the way that their relationship develops revolves around Jack learning how to be with Simon. A part of me wants to use words like manage or cope with or assist or ameliorate and none of them work and all of them feel insulting and ableist. But a big part of the story is Jack finding his way through all those words so that they can have a relationship that works for both of them.

It’s not easy for either of them because they both have those trust issues. That they manage it, together, to become part of their animals’ pack forms the heart of the story.

Review: Peachy Scream by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

Review: Peachy Scream by Anna Gerard + GiveawayPeachy Scream (Georgia B&B #2) by Anna Gerard
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Georgia B&B #2
Pages: 320
Published by Crooked Lane Books on August 11, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

To die or not to die? Georgia B&B proprietor Nina Fleet struts and frets to bring the curtain down on a Shakespearean actor's killer.
It's nothing short of inevitable that Cymbeline, GA, hosts an annual Shakespeare festival. But stage-struck Nina Fleet is about to learn that putting on an amateur theatrical production can be murder. Nina's anticipating showbiz glamour and glitz when a community Shakespearean troupe arrives for a two-week stay at her B&B. But the lights dim when she learns the company's director is her nemesis, struggling actor Harry Westcott--who still claims to be the rightful heir to Nina's elegant Queen Anne home.
Meanwhile, the troupe members are not content to leave the drama upon the stage. Accusations of infidelity and financial malfeasance make a shambles of rehearsals. And then, two days into the troupe's stay, the lead actor is found dead in Nina's formal Shakespeare garden. Murder most foul!
Worse, it seems every member of the amateur troupe has a motive--including wealthy construction company owner Marvin Jeffers, who seems to have a personal interest in Nina. But when the sheriff arrests the supposed boyfriend of the slain actor's widow, Nina suspects that the wrong troupe member is in jail. She and her trusty Australian Shepherd, Matilda, join forces (none too happily) with Harry to sleuth out the murder plot.
Will they find the real killer before someone else shuffles off this mortal coil? Find out in Anna Gerard's delightful second Georgia B&B mystery.

My Review:

The first book in this series, Peach Clobbered, was just the quintessential first book in a cozy mystery series. The location was marvelous, the characters were appropriately quirky, the dog was adorable and the mystery was properly twisty while the story had a lot of heart – and a superfluity (that’s the correct word, I looked it up) of surprisingly with-it elderly nuns.

I miss the nuns. (Now there’s a sentence I never expected to write!)

Not that Nina Fleet – and her still adorable dog Mattie – aren’t still operating the Fleet House B&B in lovely Cymbeline Georgia. And not that I still wouldn’t love to find the place that inspired it once travel is safe again.

But I miss the nuns. They brought something to the first book that isn’t present in the second one. Making Peachy Scream more of a typical cozy than one that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

The story in Peachy Scream is still plenty charming – although the murder victim certainly is not.

When Nina’s nemesis, jobbing actor Harry Westcott, returns to her B&B with a troupe of amateur Shakespeare players in tow, Nina is certain that Harry is up to something. Again.

After all, when Nina and Harry first met, it was over his lawsuit to vacate her ownership of his great-aunt’s house. The place that Nina had just bought and just started setting up as a B&B in touristy Cymbeline. Not that Nina didn’t buy the house fair and square, rather that Harry’s contention was that the seller had no rights to sell because his great-aunt promised to leave him the house in her will. Which she didn’t – or at least no such will has ever been found although I expect it to turn up at some point later in the series. (That is a guess on my part and not a spoiler. I could be totally wrong. Time will eventually tell. Hopefully.)

Still, Harry’s back and Nina’s suspicious. As she should be.

But Cymbeline, named for Shakespeare’s play, is just about to open its popular, profitable and annual Shakespeare Festival. Harry and his troupe are the contracted acting company for this year’s play, Hamlet. And every other possible place for the players to stay was booked long ago. The festival is very popular!

Which means that Nina, rightfully suspicious as she is, can’t afford to throw Harry out on his rather delectable ass. Not that she’s noticed. Much.

It’s clear to Nina from the moment that she is introduced to Harry’s troupe of players that, to quote the Bard, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” or at least in the state of the company. When the man whom everybody seems to hate – including his trophy wife – turns up his toes in the middle of Nina’s Shakespeare garden, there’s a bushel of suspects, a peck of motives and no end in sight. But the show must go on.

And so must Nina’s and Harry’s reluctant collaboration in investigation. But this time, it’s not the play that’s “ the thing to uncover the conscience of the king”, it’s the play within a play within a play that catches the murderer.

Escape Rating B: Anyone who has spent their school years being endlessly compared to an older sibling or cousin and always failing to measure up will understand my reaction to Peachy Scream. I absolutely loved Peach Clobbered and picked up Peachy Scream because I was hoping for more of the same – or hopefully even better – in the second book in the series now that the setting and characters had been established.

I just didn’t realize how much of the charm of the first book was owed to the nuns. Without them, Peachy Scream doesn’t have quite the same charm. It’s still a good cozy mystery, but the nuns made the first book rise in a way that this one doesn’t.

Not that the story doesn’t have its own charms. The troupe of players, their surprisingly convoluted relationships and the almost internecine warfare amongst them certainly adds plenty of drama to a scenario that is already fraught with it. After all, these are actors – albeit amateur ones – and drama is their natural state.

The whole concept of the play within a play within a play really works here, especially as it seems completely natural for Cymbeline to host a Shakespeare Festival. It would be more of a surprise if they didn’t!

And the hidden agendas of the players make for an appropriate tipping of drama into melodrama, while the strange and strained relationship between Nina and Harry adds an element of farce.

There’s one element of the story that, while in some ways it’s done very well, in one particular aspect adds to some discomfort while reading. It was a common device in several of Shakespeare’s plays, for example in As You Like It, for the Bard to play with gender roles and gender stereotyping by having one or more female characters spend much of the play masquerading as male characters, with all of the dramatic and comedic possibilities for mistaken identities and misplaced affections on full display.

So the concept that one of the members of the troupe is a woman pretending to be a man fits right into the Shakespearean milieu that Cymbeline plays homage to with its festival.

But Nina’s reaction to discovering the possibility that the Chris that presents themselves as male may be female made for a very uncomfortable read. In 21st century terms, when this story is set, it is entirely possible that Chris is in transition rather than in disguise. Nina’s waffling about how to refer to Chris inside her own head, her seeming compulsion to hang herself up on knowing Chris’ gender felt so wrong that it literally dropped the grade of the book from a B+ to a B. The point where Harry just tells Nina to get over herself and use the gender nonspecific “they” in reference to Chris made ME heave a sigh of relief. And it should not have been necessary.

That being said, there was a lot about Peachy Scream to enjoy. The cast was even quirkier, in their own way, than the previous book. The town of Cymbeline is filled with a terrific bunch of folks, and while the Reverend Dr. Bishop, local minister, funeral home director and county coroner, wasn’t as much fun as the nuns; he was a fascinating character in his own right and I hope we see more of him in the series.

And Nina’s relationship with Harry, as weird as it already is, got even weirder at the end of the book. I’m terribly curious to see how THAT plays out in future books in the series!


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Review: The Friendship List by Susan Mallery

Review: The Friendship List by Susan MalleryThe Friendship List by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on August 4, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

[ ] Dance till dawn

[ ] Go skydiving

[ ] Wear a bikini in public

[ ] Start living


Two best friends jump-start their lives in a summer that will change them forever…
Single mom Ellen Fox couldn’t be more content—until she overhears her son saying he can’t go to his dream college because she needs him too much. If she wants him to live his best life, she has to convince him she’s living hers.
So Unity Leandre, her best friend since forever, creates a list of challenges to push Ellen out of her comfort zone. Unity will complete the list, too, but not because she needs to change. What’s wrong with a thirtysomething widow still sleeping in her late husband’s childhood bed?
The Friendship List begins as a way to make others believe they’re just fine. But somewhere between “wear three-inch heels” and “have sex with a gorgeous guy,” Ellen and Unity discover that life is meant to be lived with joy and abandon, in a story filled with humor, heartache and regrettable tattoos.

My Review:

There’s an old saying that the only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions. And that’s where this story begins, with best friend Ellen Fox and Unity Leandre both stuck in very long ruts. Very, very long.

The problem with ruts is that they can be surprisingly comfortable down there at the bottom. There’s nothing challenging a person out of their comfort zone. Ruts are easy and change is hard – and frequently painful.

Ellen had sex once, 17 years ago, found herself pregnant and unenthused about the process that got her there and settled into life as a single mother with a tiny bit of help and a whole lot of grief and attitude from her disapproving parents. Now she’s in her mid-30s, her son is at the end of his junior year in high school, and the kid is unwilling to apply to the colleges he really wants to go to because he’s afraid of leaving his poor mother all by herself because she doesn’t have a life outside of her teaching job, her two best friends, and him.

The worst part is that he’s not wrong.

Unity is even more stuck than her bestie. Her young husband died serving his country, but Unity seems to have thrown herself at least partway in that grave with him. She lives in his childhood home, sleeps in his childhood room, and has kept all of his things right where he – and his late parents – left them. She’s either living with his ghost or waiting to die. Or both. All of her friends except Ellen live in the age-restricted community where she does a lot of her home handyman work, and it’s a good thing the place is age-restricted or she’d have moved right in. If she could bring herself to move, that is.

Even Unity’s grief group has had enough of the way that Unity seems to feed her grief instead of letting it heal.

So they challenge each other to step out of their oh-so-comfortable ruts. To stretch their horizons and find out who they still have plenty of time to be before it’s too late. Before the dimensions of their ruts close off at the ends into graves.

Because they are both still young and have way too much life ahead of them to spend it waiting for the end. They’ll just have to make that hard climb over the sides of those ruts.

Escape Rating A-: Ellen and Unity may need to step out of their comfort zones, but in picking up this book I stepped right into mine. This was just the kind of friendship story that this author does so well, and reading it was a terrific pick-me-up for these troubled times.

What was great was that I felt for the situations of both of these women, in spite of both of their experiences being so far outside my own. Sometimes I wanted to beat them both with a clue-by-four, but in the way one does with long-term friends. As in I may think you’re way off base and I’ll tell you that in private while in public I’ll defend you from all comers.

Ellen and Unity have that kind of friendship and it’s an enviable one. It’s also easy to empathize with the way that they are both just trying to get through this thing called life and doing the best they can at it, even if from the outside it’s clear that they’re not really doing all that well at all. They are sabotaging themselves in ways that are easy to recognize and understand.

I also loved that they were able to finally figure out that many of their issues were sourced in the same place – Ellen’s rule-bound, disapproving parents – and that they both started figuring out ways to remove themselves from those naysaying voices.

One of the highlights of the story was Unity’s friendship with the larger-than-life Dagmar, and the contrast between Dagmar’s 70-something joie de vivre and eagerness to live each day to the absolute fullest, while Unity seems to be counting down the days, weeks, months and years until she can move into the senior village. Dagmar is clearly refusing to go gentle into that good night, in stark contrast to Unity who seems to have already went even though she’s still alive.

I loved the way that they each managed to work their way out of their respective ruts. It also felt very real that they had to be separate for a few weeks in order to make that happen. They were clearly enabling each other to stay stuck, whether intentionally or not.

But as much as I enjoyed this story, and I very much did, there’s a niggle that kept it from being an A. I think I’d have enjoyed the whole thing more if the solution to both women’s issues hadn’t been a romance. Or if it hadn’t felt like the romance and the healing were tied in a bit too strongly together. These women both needed to heal themselves first, and that’s not quite how it felt, particularly in Unity’s case. That Unity was healed enough at the end for an actual HEA doesn’t feel right, although Ellen certainly earned hers.

Still, this was a lovely read and I’m very glad I read it. I just picked up the ARC for Susan Mallery’s next standalone book, The Vineyard at Painted Moon, and I’m already looking forward to it.

In the meantime, if you’re thinking about picking up The Friendship List, I posted an excerpt from the first chapter last week as part of a tour. You can still follow the tour entries to get a taste of this delicious story.

Review: The Hero of Hope Springs by Maisey Yates

Review: The Hero of Hope Springs by Maisey YatesThe Hero of Hope Springs (Gold Valley, #10) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Gold Valley #10
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on July 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Will Gold Valley’s most honorable cowboy finally claim the woman he’s always wanted?
For as long as brooding cowboy Ryder Daniels has known Sammy Marshall, she has been his sunshine. Her free spirit and bright smile saved him after the devastating loss of his parents and gave him the strength to care for his orphaned family. Only Ryder knows how vulnerable Sammy is, so he’s kept his attraction for his best friend under wraps for years. But what Sammy’s asking for now might be a step too far…
Something has been missing from Sammy’s life, and she thinks she knows what it is. Deciding she wants a baby is easy; realizing she wants her best friend to be the father is…complicated. Especially when a new heat between them sparks to life! When Sammy discovers she’s pregnant, Ryder makes it clear he wants it all. But having suffered the fallout of her parents’ disastrous relationship, Sammy is wary of letting Ryder too close. This cowboy will have to prove he’s proposing out of more than just honor…

My Review:

There’s a big part of me that wants to call this a “friends to lovers” romance. And that’s kind of true. As the story opens – actually, as the entire Gold Valley series opens, Ryder Daniels and Sammy Marshall have been friends, but never lovers. Not for the 17 years that they’ve known each other. And not that Ryder, at least, hasn’t had thoughts in that direction.

Thoughts that he has ruthlessly if not completely suppressed, every time they’ve, well, come up.

That’s something Ryder has had lots of practice with. By that I mean suppressing any thoughts he doesn’t think he can afford to let fester inside his skull – and that he can’t let out of his mouth, either.

But Sammy and Ryder are more than just friends. They’re best friends. They are deep inside each other’s lives, and occupy a whole lot of space inside each other’s hearts. So it feels more like this is a story about two people finally acknowledging a relationship that’s been there all along.

There are, however, a few problems with changing what they are to each other. As it turns out, more than a few. Lots and bunches.

The biggest one being that any attempt to change what they are to each other has the strong possibility of wrecking everything that they are to each other. A risk that neither of them is willing to take.

Until there’s no choice at all.

Escape Rating B-: This is a mixed feelings review in multiple directions. So let’s get right to it.

One of the reasons that I love this author is that she creates tension in romantic situations that feels REAL. The problems between Ryder and Sammy, and there are lots of them, feel organic to their lives and aren’t silly misunderstandammits that could be resolved with a single conversation.

The problem for the reader, or at least this reader, is that a huge chunk of their mutual problem, as much as they are definitely a case of opposites attracting, is that for entirely different reasons both of these people live a lot of their lives inside their own heads.

Ryder’s stuck inside his head because his parents died when he was 18 and about to go off to college on a football scholarship. He had big plans far away from the family ranch. But Ryder was the oldest of several children, and the only way for them all to stay together and keep the ranch was for Ryder to give up his dreams and become a surrogate father to his siblings and his cousins who also lived with them.

So Ryder’s always had LOTS of thoughts about what might have been, what he wished was, and just getting through being a parent when he wasn’t quite done with being a child himself.

Sammy lives inside her own head because it was the only place she could be free. She learned to distance herself emotionally when she couldn’t do it physically while her angry and violent father was taking out all of his disappointments on Sammy – with his fists. While her mother looked on. She left her parents and moved into a tiny camper on the grounds of Ryder’s ranch when she was 16 and he was 18, because he made her feel safe.

He still does.

While the reasons that both Ryder and Sammy live inside their own heads a lot – and with a lot of internal angst – feels like an entirely real response to the situations in their lives. It makes for hard reading. Because they also have their heads inside their own asses a lot, unable to get out of their own ways.

So this is a story where it reads like there’s more internal dialog than external dialog – or action. And that’s right for these characters but drove this reader a bit bananas. Your reading mileage may definitely vary.

As I said, I finished this book with mixed feelings. While there was more internal angst than worked for me in a romance, the reason for that angst felt real and true to life. I liked these characters and wanted them to achieve their HEA, but admit to being kind of surprised that they actually managed to do it! But I do enjoy the Gold Valley series so I’m looking forward to seeing Ryder and Sammy again as secondary characters in later books. Especially as it looks like some of Ryder’s siblings are up next!

Review: Falling for Mr. Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes

Review: Falling for Mr. Townsbridge by Sophie BarnesFalling For Mr. Townsbridge (The Townsbridges #3) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Townsbridges #3
Pages: 105
Published by Sophie Barnes on July 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He knows he ought to forget her…

When William Townsbridge returns from Portugal and meets Eloise Lamont, the new cook his mother has hired, he’s instantly smitten. The only problem of course is that she’s a servant – completely off limits for a gentleman with an ounce of honor. But as they become better acquainted, William starts to realize he must make Eloise his. The only question is how.

Eloise loves her new position. But William Townsbridge’s arrival threatens everything, from her principles to her very heart. Falling for her employer’s son would be monumentally stupid. All it can lead to is ruin, not only for the present, but for her entire future. So then the simplest solution would be to walk away. But can she?

My Review:

When it comes to love and marriage, it seems that the Townsbridges are prepared to do whatever it takes, and brave whatever opprobrium society decides to administer, in order to marry the person they love.

In the first book in the series, Charles Townsbridge falls for the fiancée of his best friend – and very much vice versa. They try to do the right thing and forget each other, only to eventually realize that the so-called right thing is not the best thing and marry each other anyway in When Love Leads to Scandal.

Brother James compromises a young woman, or at least it appears that way on the surface. James and his new fiancee don’t even like each other, but the strictures of society have them stuck with each other whether they like it or not. But the lady is willing to court scandal in order to not marry a man who can’t stand her, only to discover that James Townsbridge is, after all, Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match.

But neither of these romances is nearly as unconventional as the one that occurs in this book. Because the woman who finds herself Falling for Mr. Townsbridge is the family cook, Eloise Lamont.

Unlike his brothers’ eventual wives, Eloise Lamont is not a member of the same social class as the Townsbridges, and everyone is all too aware of that fact. Not in the sense of thinking that anyone is above or below anyone else, but in the acknowledgement that any attention William Townsbridge pays to Eloise is going to ruin her reputation, no matter how innocent that attention might be.

And his family did an excellent job of educating all three of their sons that even an innocent flirtation with a servant is simply not done because of those consequences. Especially as William’s interest is not innocent at all. He’s also blunderingly obvious about it to everyone.

He just needs to look inside himself long enough and hard enough to figure out that his interest is worth courting any censure that society might administer as long as he can also court Eloise with the intention of marriage.

Something that takes him so long to figure out that she nearly escapes him altogether – no matter how little she actually wants to.

Escape Rating B: In the end, this is a lovely little romance about falling for the boss set at a time period when that possibility was fraught with even more ways that the situation can go terribly, terribly wrong. Yet it still comes out right.

Their initial teasing between William and Eloise is a bit unsettling for contemporary readers. He may intend it to be just teasing, and as the hero of this piece undoubtedly means it that way, but every single sentence is a two-edged sword that she sees all too clearly. There are obviously too many times already in her history when those exact same words in that exact same tone were just the prelude to sexual harassment. She knows it and we do too. But he has the privilege of being either oblivious or uncaring. A state that he returns to fairly often in the course of the story.

When the scene morphs into mutual banter, it’s a relief. There’s a feeling that she dodged a bullet. Until she steps right back into its path.

Because after the initial awkwardness and outright fear, there’s a mutual attraction here that neither of them is able to deny. No matter how hard both of them try to.

It felt like that was what made the story for me. They are in a supremely awkward situation. No matter how much they like each other or find each other interesting, they’re in positions that mean that his interest in her has the potential to actually ruin her life if he’s not excruciatingly careful. His entire family presses that upon him, so what would have once upon a time been the occasion for wink, wink, nudge, nudge doesn’t happen. And the story is the better for it.

I’m emphasizing his part of this dynamic because of his position of privilege. Whatever happens, it won’t affect him much. The need for caution has to be impressed upon him, frequently and often. Eloise is all too aware that the chance of this not damaging her life is vanishingly small, and she does her best to keep as far away from him as possible.

It’s his family who step in to make him aware that his privilege extends to marrying whoever he wants to, including the cook. Because for much of the story he doesn’t allow himself to think that at all and it nearly destroys any possibilities of happiness.

So, while William and Eloise form the romantic heart of this story, it feels like his family are really the heroes, because they see outside of society’s box and get him to see it too. And that part, the family love and family support – no matter how much society is going to balk – make the story.

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Friendship List by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Friendship List by Susan MalleryThe Friendship List by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on August 4, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

[ ] Dance till dawn

[ ] Go skydiving

[ ] Wear a bikini in public

[ ] Start living


Two best friends jump-start their lives in a summer that will change them forever…
Single mom Ellen Fox couldn’t be more content—until she overhears her son saying he can’t go to his dream college because she needs him too much. If she wants him to live his best life, she has to convince him she’s living hers.
So Unity Leandre, her best friend since forever, creates a list of challenges to push Ellen out of her comfort zone. Unity will complete the list, too, but not because she needs to change. What’s wrong with a thirtysomething widow still sleeping in her late husband’s childhood bed?
The Friendship List begins as a way to make others believe they’re just fine. But somewhere between “wear three-inch heels” and “have sex with a gorgeous guy,” Ellen and Unity discover that life is meant to be lived with joy and abandon, in a story filled with humor, heartache and regrettable tattoos.

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for The Friendship List by Susan Mallery. Susan always manages to write stories that sweep me up and take me away, and I’m sure that The Friendship List will be no exception. I’m so sure, in fact, that I’ll be reviewing this book next week! I’m definitely looking forward to reading this, and I hope you will be too!

Excerpt from The Friendship List by Susan Mallery (continued from yesterday’s Excerpt at Moonlight Rendezvous)

When Unity had driven away, Ellen returned to the kitchen where she quickly loaded the dishwasher, then packed her lunch. Cooper had left before six. He was doing some end-of-school-year fitness challenge. Something about running and Ellen wasn’t sure what. To be honest, when he went on about his workouts, it was really hard not to tune him out. Especially when she had things like tuition to worry about.

“Not anymore today,” she said out loud. She would worry again in the morning. Unity was right—Cooper was going to keep changing his mind. Their road trip to look at colleges was only a few weeks away. After that they would narrow the list and he would start to apply. Only then would she know the final number and have to figure out how to pay for it.

Until then she had plenty to keep her busy. She was giving pop quizzes in both fourth and sixth periods and she wanted to update her year-end tests for her two algebra classes. She needed to buy groceries and put gas in the car and go by the library to get all her summer reading on the reserve list.

As she finished her morning routine and drove to the high school where she taught, Ellen thought about Cooper and the college issue. While she was afraid she couldn’t afford the tuition, she had to admit it was a great problem to have. Seventeen years ago, she’d been a terrified teenager, about to be a single mom, with nothing between her and living on the streets except incredibly disappointed and angry parents who had been determined to make her see the error of her ways.

Through hard work and determination, she’d managed to pull herself together—raise Cooper, go to college, get a good job, buy a duplex and save money for her kid’s education. Yay her.

But it sure would have been a lot easier if she’d simply married someone with money.

*

“How is it possible to get a C- in Spanish?” Coach Keith Kinne asked, not bothering to keep his voice down. “Half the population in town speaks Spanish. Hell, your sister’s husband is Hispanic.” He glared at the strapping football player standing in front of him. “Luka, you’re an idiot.”

Luka hung his head. “Yes, Coach.”

“Don’t ‘yes, Coach’ me. You knew this was happening—you’ve known for weeks. And did you ask for help? Did you tell me?”

“No, Coach.”

Keith thought about strangling the kid but he wasn’t sure he could physically wrap his hands around the teen’s thick neck. He swore silently, knowing they were where they were and now he had to fix things—like he always did with his students.

“You know the rules,” he pointed out. “To play on any varsity team you have to get a C+ or better in every class. Did you think the rules didn’t apply to you?”

Luka, nearly six-five and two hundred and fifty pounds, slumped even more. “I thought I was doing okay.”

“Really? So you’d been getting better grades on your tests?”

“Not exactly.” He raised his head, his expression miserable. “I thought I could pull up my grade at the last minute.”

“How did that plan work out?”

No bueno.”

Keith glared at him. “You think this is funny?”

“No, Coach.”

Keith shook his head. “You know there’s not a Spanish summer school class. That means we’re going to have to find an alternative.”

Despite his dark skin, Luka went pale. “Coach, don’t send me away.”

“No one gets sent away.” Sometimes athletes went to other districts that had a different summer curriculum. They stayed with families and focused on their studies.

“I need to stay with my family. My mom understands me.”

“It would be better for all of us if she understood Spanish.” Keith glared at the kid. “I’ll arrange for an online class. You’ll get a tutor. You will report to me twice a week, bringing me updates until you pass the class.” He sharpened his gaze. “With an A.”

Luka took a step back. “Coach, no! An A? I can’t.”

“Not with that attitude.”

“But, Coach.”

“You knew the rules and you broke them. You could have come to me for help early on. You know I’m always here for any of my students, but did you think about that or did you decide you were fine on your own?”

“I decided I was fine on my own,” Luka mumbled.

“Exactly. And deciding on your own is not how teams work. You go it alone and you fail.”

Tears filled Luka’s eyes. “Yes, Coach.”

Author Info:

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

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Review: The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull

Review: The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn TurnbullThe Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Mira on July 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This novel is the fictionalised story of the American divorcée who captured Prince Edward’s heart before he abdicated his throne for Wallis Simpson.
In the summer of 1926, when Thelma Morgan marries Viscount Duke Furness after a whirlwind romance, she’s immersed in a gilded world of extraordinary wealth and privilege. For Thelma, the daughter of an American diplomat, her new life as a member of the British aristocracy is like a fairy tale—even more so when her husband introduces her to Edward, Prince of Wales.
In a twist of fate, her marriage to Duke leads her to fall headlong into a love affair with Edward. But happiness is fleeting, and their love is threatened when Thelma’s sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, becomes embroiled in a scandal with far-reaching implications. As Thelma sails to New York to support Gloria, she leaves Edward in the hands of her trusted friend Wallis, never imagining the consequences that will follow.

My Review:

The Woman Before Wallis takes a bit of the classic “poor little rich girl” trope, mixes it with a splash of royal scandal, stirs it with more than a dash of the over-the-top behavior of the rich and famous and splashes into a punch bowl of history’s froth. It’s the kind of gossipy, scandal-ridden story that is easy to eat up with a very large reading spoon, because it’s just so delicious and decadent.

And both the fun of it and the tragedy of it is that we already know how it ends, because the worst excesses of the story are part of history.

Thelma and the Prince in 1932

Thelma Morgan Converse Furness was a secondary character in not one but two of the great society scandals of the 1930s, one on each side of the Atlantic. In England, as her marriage to the Viscount Furness was in the process of falling apart, she became one of the Prince of Wales’ many lovers. That she was the one who introduced him to her friend and fellow American divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson is the stuff of which tragic romances are made – both hers and theirs.

At the same time, she left England and “David” to Wallis’ not-so-tender mercies in order to go to New York and support her twin sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, in what at the time was considered the custody trial of the century, referred to in the tabloids as “The Matter of Vanderbilt”. Thelma’s little niece, Gloria Vanderbilt (yes, THE Gloria Vanderbilt) was kidnapped by her aunt, the artist Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who sued Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt for custody of the little heiress and won, based on some rather questionable evidence provided by members of both families who seem to have hated the mother much more than they cared what was best for the child. Little Gloria seems to have been a pawn of the older women in her life until she reached adulthood.

That the same person was a secondary player in both of these history-making scandals makes Thelma an ideal candidate for a salacious, gossipy, scandal-ridden story of epic proportions.

This is her story, from her ring-side seat to history. And it’s a juicy one.

Escape Rating B: I have mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, it’s a very juicy story of debauchery and decadence, a gossipy melange of well-known historical figures with a whole lot of dirt and scandal.

On the other hand, as glitzy and glittery as this story is, the people covered in that glitz feel shallow. I think we’re meant to feel that both Thelma and Gloria, the twin Morgan girls, were in the end somewhat hard done by. That they loved and lost and didn’t have nearly enough control of the circumstances under which they lived or the choices they made. Poor little rich girls who made one hell of a lot of mistakes.

Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt with her daughter at age eight

In the end, it felt like the only person really hard done by in this story is little Gloria, whose custody and whose fortune end up being the prize in a long-running battle between her mother, her aunt and her grandmother over who hates whom the most and who can throw the most muck at whom fast enough to win. The problem with this kind of muck-racking fight is that no one emerges from it either clean or unscathed. And so it proved in this case.

Thelma, in the end, feels like a secondary player in her own life, supporting her twin sister at the cost of her own happiness. And that’s after ending her second marriage to have an affair with the Prince of Wales, only to be abandoned in favor of Wallis Simpson when the scandal of her sister’s custody trial began to turn in her direction – and his.

That all adds up to very mixed feelings. The book is compulsively readable, and I enjoyed the portrait of life among the rich and famous in the years just before and after the start of the Great Depression. But there’s a sense of “fiddling while Rome burns”, that there’s just no there there under the glamour.

I can’t help but think of the true definition of the word glamour, however. That a glamour is, according to Merriam-Webster, “An exciting and often illusory and romantic attractiveness.” By that definition, this story is glamorous indeed.

Review: Silk Dragon Salsa by Rhys Ford + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Silk Dragon Salsa by Rhys Ford + Excerpt + GiveawaySilk Dragon Salsa (Kai Gracen, #4) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Kai Gracen #4
Pages: 206
Published by Dreamspinner Press on July 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

SoCalGov Stalker Kai Gracen always knew Death walked in his shadow. Enough people told him that, including his human mentor, Dempsey. Problem was, the old man never told him what to do when Death eventually caught up.
Where Tanic, his elfin father and the Wild Hunt Master of the Unsidhe Court, brought Kai pain and suffering, Dempsey gave him focus and a will to live… at least until everything unraveled. Now caught in a web of old lies and half-truths, Kai is torn between the human and elfin worlds, unsure of who he is anymore. Left with a hollowness he can’t fill, Kai aches to find solace in the one elfin he trusts—a Sidhe Lord named Ryder—but he has unfinished business with Dempsey’s estranged brother, a man who long ago swore off anything to do with the feral elfin child Dempsey dragged up from the gutter.
Reeling from past betrayals, Kai searches for Dempsey’s brother, hoping to do right by the man who saved him while trying to keep ahead of the death haunting his every step. Kai never thought he’d find love or happiness as a Stalker, but when Death comes knocking at his door, Kai discovers a fierce need to live life to the fullest—even if that means turning his back on the people he calls family.

My Review:

There’s something that Kai says, about 3/4ths of the way through Silk Dragon Salsa, that really hit me, because Kai thinks he’s talking about other people, not realizing that he’s really talking about himself. Not that he’s not talking about other people too – for rather elastic and expansive definitions of people – but his comment is really about the story of Kai’s life in general, and this installment in particular.

“There was a constant, roaming quest to discover the depths or heights of humanity, and sometimes that journey took a hard left turn into a what-the-hell neighborhood.”

Kai’s whole story is hard left turn into that particular neighborhood, but especially this part of it. Because the opening of this story takes away everything that Kai thought he knew about himself when his adopted father Dempsey makes a deathbed confession. It’s Dempsey’s chance to clean his slate, but it strips away too many of the things that Kai believed, not just about himself, but about his relationship with Dempsey and his relationship with all of the people who have come to make up his world and his family.

Well, at least all of the purely human members of that family.

Kai is a chimera, a construct of both Sidhe and Unsidhe. An abomination according to his own people. An experiment and a slave according to the being who was both his biological parent and his creator.

Dempsey always told Kai that he won him in a card game. But that deathbed confession reveals that the man kidnapped him as part of an under-the-table Stalker hunt. And not that Kai wasn’t sorely in need of rescue.

But Kai had grown up – or matured – or stopped being feral – or all of the above, believing that Dempsey had trained him and adopted him after that card game and that the human family that he’d become a part of loved him and cared for him. Now he’s learned that Dempsey had to fight with all of them to keep him and train him rather than turn Kai in for a very hefty bounty.

A bounty that is either still active – or has been reactivated. In the wake of Dempsey’s death, Kai is being hunted again. This time by his own kind. Meaning by his fellow Stalkers. Kai has to delve in Dempsey’s past as well as his own to discover who is still after him after all these years.

So he can take them out before they do him in.

Escape Rating A+: The beginning of this story is a gut-punch, and so is the ending. In the wild ride of a middle, there’s a quest, and it’s one of the oldest and best ones in the book. While on the surface Kai is searching for whoever wants him captured or dead, what he’s really hunting for is his identity.

After all, if he’s not who Dempsey told him he was, then who is he? And if his “family” wanted to turn him in rather than help him up, who will stand with him in a world where he knows many are against him, doing a job that is pretty much guaranteed not to let anyone make old bones. Not even an immortal elfin.

It’s a quest that literally tears him apart and puts him back together. It’s a story where, even though Kai has been an adult for all the life he remembers, he finally grows up and reaches out for who he’s meant to be.

And that allows him to finally become comfortable in his own skin – no matter how much pain and discomfort has been and will continue to be inflicted on that skin and the heart that lives inside it. Also, no matter how many times his semi-feral cat Newt tries to claw that heart out and eat it because his dinner is 5 seconds late.

I read the first book in this marvelous urban fantasy series, Black Dog Blues, way, way back in 2013, before Dreamspinner published it, at a point where Kai was the author’s half-feral child and there was no certainty there would even BE a series. Book 2, Mad Lizard Mambo, was on my “Best E-Originals” list for 2016 in Library Journal, and the cover quote for Silk Dragon Salsa is from that review. (And I’m still over the moon seeing that on the cover!)

But at Kai’s introduction it was very much urban fantasy in a fascinating world where the elfin realms of the Sidhe and the Unsidhe had crashed – or merged – into ours, with catastrophic results. At the time, it was definitely urban fantasy because Kai read like the kind of urban fantasy protagonist with a really shitty love life. At the beginning, Kai didn’t even like himself enough to love anyone else.

He’s healed a lot since then. Not that he’s not still a mess, but he’s more accepting of himself, warts and all, than seemed possible in the beginning. Of course, that means that just as this story ends, and it finally looks like Kai might be within spitting distance of something that might be as close to happy ever after as Kai is likely to get, a piece of his past crawls out of the woodwork to set things up for even more danger and angst in his next outing.

And I can’t wait to read it!

Guest Post from Rhys PLUS Part 4 of License to Stalk, a NEW Kai Gracen short story

Hello! 

And welcome back to my world of dragons, intrigue, hot guns, fast cars and a grumpy, slightly anti-social Chimera of a Sidhe and an Unsidhe who really only wants to hunt monsters and go home to his probably carnivorous cat. My name is Rhys Ford and I’ll be your guide today as on July 14th,I’ll take you back to the Kai Gracen series for Book Four — Silk Dragon Salsa. 

If you’re following the blog tour from the beginning, you can skip this bit and head to the serialized part of the story but if this is your first time with me, let me ramble a bit about my grouchy special kitten, Kai. I’ve used the past three books to set up his relationships and world and kind of settling him for what should have been a changing environment. He’s never really had a lot of contact with the elfin and never really wanted any. Ryder, the Lord of the Southern Rise Court, blew into Kai’s life like a hurricane with a grudge and Kai’s had to not only learn how to get along with the man but also adjust to the fact the elfin are in his life to stay. Not something Kai ever wanted. He was raised by humans, thinks of himself as human, and was pretty happy about it.

Then his world changed and he was dragged kicking and screaming and probably stabbing into a bit of elfin affairs even as he knew it would probably be the death of him.

And in Silk Dragon Salsa, I really turn his world upside down. 

It was a long time coming and Kai, in his true quick-on-his-feet fashion, knows he must change with it. Because the Merged world is going forward — with or without his approval — and this time, he has a chance for a bit of happiness, if he can find it in the chaos storm hunting him down in Silk Dragon Salsa.

Silk Dragon Salsa Information and Purchase Links

Kai’s fourth book is being published by Dreamspinner Press and I’ve had the fantastic honour of working with Chris McGrath again for its cover. Chris is a fantastic artist and he totally captured the feel of the book in this cover. I am so very grateful for his contributions in bringing Kai to life.

AND Greg Tremblay will once again bring his talent and gorgeous voice to breathing life and mayhem into Kai’s world as he narrates — nay, acts — Silk Dragon Salsa. I’ll be announcing the audiobook’s release date once I have it so watch my social media for further details.

Silk Dragon Salsa can be purchased at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon and other fine online ebook retailers.

And now… for License to Stalk, A Kai Gracen Short Story

Part Four

We’d holed up in one of the town’s farmer’s empty barns, parking Dempsey’s truck at an angle near the structure’s open back doors. The place seemed solid enough, probably meant for goats or smaller livestock. It smelled faintly of hay and dusky farm animal discards, a lingering ripeness of old droppings clinging to its walls. A hundred yards to the right sat another barn, much bigger and newer and as I dressed the remainder of the two small deer I’d brought in with the salamander, voices carried across the yard, getting louder with each cut I made.

“All I’m saying is that you didn’t do the Run so I’m not paying for two Stalkers.” The big bellied man who’d been grateful to see us taking their contract when we first arrived now was a blustery, red-faced wobbling hunk of angry flesh. His liver spotted pate glistened in the late afternoon sun, sweat dotting his brow and a few drops slipped down his forehead, catching in his nettle-patch white eyebrows. “’Sides, the other one doesn’t count. He’s not even human.”

“He’s my apprentice,” Dempsey spat back. His fingers were curled around a stub of a cigar but it was unlit, probably to the relief of the young farmer pacing behind the pack of older men. “Stalker regulations state I can send him out in my stead and get a full payment.”

“Yeah? Then let’s see his license,” a thin man dressed in overalls spat out. A look of revulsion curdled his features, his tiny dark eyes flicking back and forth to where I stood. “Because I don’t think any state’s going to let one of those things carry a gun, much less a Stalker license.”

I glanced up from where I stood near the truck’s lowered tailgate, one hand wrapped around a bloodied knife while I used the other to pull on the deer’s remaining back leg to stretch out the joint. The young farmer met my gaze and held it, a burning heat searing over the town elders’ shoulders then he looked away, a red flush creeping over his cheeks. I knew what he wanted. It wasn’t the first time I’d gotten that kind of appraisal from someone lingering on the edges of a collective outrage and it probably wasn’t going to be the last. 

“If he’s got a license, I’m a fairy princess.” One of the other men chortled, his fleshy neck wobbling with each guffaw. “’Sides, what are you lot going to do? Put the damned thing back?”

I stopped cutting, flicking my knife clean with a twist of my wrist. The stamped down hay at my feet was slick with blood, cast off from the bled-out carcasses. I found Dempsey’s eyes, readying for a fight if he was going to take a step in. Sometimes things went bad and while I called him an old man, his fists were stone blocks and tireless but there were six of them and only two of us since Jonas stayed in town to pick up supplies. 

The soulful eyed farmer back pedaled away from the older men, his hands up in surrender. “I didn’t sign on for cheating them. I lost the most stock. I think we should—”

“You didn’t put in the most money though, O’Malley.” The mustached man spat at his feet. “Greany is right. They’ll take what they get and move along. Worse than thieving gypsies, that’s what Stalkers are.”

“Think we can’t do anything?” I finally said, strolling over to where the men stood. My clothes were mostly clean and my knives were bare of blood, but the smell of death still clung to me. “Dempsey here can put a black mark on your town. Same as Jonas. Two strikes and no one’s going to pick up any contract you take out. This time it’s a salamander. What if the next time it’s an ainmhi dubh? What are you going to do when no Stalker comes in to save your asses then?”

“This time it’s chicken and goats,” Dempsey murmured in his low, angry voice. Stabbing his cigar stub into the corner of his mouth, he worked at the end. “Next time, it’s your kids. Maybe even your wives and mothers. You willing to do that over a handful of money? Because the boy here’s stocked up our stores for a long time. Even enough to spread out over to those families who don’t have much. We finish up here without a payout and we’re not just dropping venison off. We’ll be telling everyone we run into how you don’t think their lives are worth the shit you’re stepping in.”

They paid. 

And I went back to dressing the deer, fairly certain I was going to have a bit of company later on and not sure I was going to be up to it. Especially since the men were right. There was no way in hell any state government was going to pin a Stalker badge on me. 

Follow the Silk Dragon Salsa Blog Tour (for the rest of the story!)

 

About Rhys Ford

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 of 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/
Twitter: @Rhys_Ford

For more information and to keep track of his upcoming releases, visit Greg Tremblay at: https://gregtremblay.com/

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

And what would be a blog tour without a giveaway? Enter to win a $20 USD gift certificate to the online etailer of your choice! Amazon! Dreamspinner! Starbucks! Funko! Where your heart desires so long as I can get the winner a gift certificate there! Enter at every blog on the tour because it’s a gift certificate giveaway for every stop!

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