Review: Summer on Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + Giveaway

Review: Summer on Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + GiveawaySummer on Firefly Lake (Firefly Lake, #2) by Jen Gilroy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Firefly Lake #2
Pages: 368
Published by Forever on July 25th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A Firefly Lake Novel
Sometimes love is better the second time around . . .
Mia Gibbs spent her marriage putting her husband's needs before her own. And now, after a painful divorce, she's building a new life for herself and her two daughters back home at Firefly Lake. The last thing she needs is a man to complicate things. But former bad boy turned friend Nick McGuire-and the one kiss they've shared-has turned everything upside down . . .
Attorney Nick McGuire wasn't meant to be a family man. His career has always been his focus and after taking time out to help his mother, he's ready to get back to the city . . . until Mia and her daughters arrive at Firefly Lake. Mia is beautiful and intriguing, and it doesn't take long to realize being "just friends" will never be enough. As the summer nights turn colder, Nick will have to choose between the life he's always wanted . . . and the woman he can't live without.

My Review:

Firefly Lake is clearly a lovely place to live. It also seems to be just down the road from Mary McNear’s Butternut Lake, in spirit if not in miles. And both of these little towns seem to be perfect places to find a second chance at love, and a second chance at being sisters.

The first book in this series, The Cottage at Firefly Lake, focused on Charlie Gibbs, her teetering relationship with her sister Mia, and her rekindled romance with local resident Sean Carmichael It was a lovely story, with happy endings almost all around at the end. It also feels like it leads directly into this second book in the series.

In this Summer on Firefly Lake the focus shifts from Charlie to her older sister Mia, and Mia’s long-ago crush on Sean’s best friend, the former town bad boy Nick McGuire. Except that Nick has changed from the town rebel to a workaholic lawyer with a failed marriage behind him and a strong desire to leave Firefly Lake again as fast as he can.

He just needs to get his mother settled first. And that’s where Mia comes in.

Nick is absolutely certain about what his mother should do. Gabrielle McGuire is widowed, 62, and has just survived a bout of cancer. Nick is sure that her big rambling house is just too much for her. And while he may be right, it’s not what Gabrielle wants and moving to a retirement bungalow is not what she’s ready for. It’s also not the only possible solution – it’s just the only that Nick can see in his rather desperate tunnel vision.

Nick needs someone to help his mother clean out all the old closets and attics and storage rooms and cabinets and cubby holes at Harbor House that are filled with over a century of family junk. Mia, recently divorced and looking for work, is happy to step in and help. Her daughters will be spending the summer with their dad, her house is currently under renovation, and she needs both a place to stay and the money the job will bring her.

And Mia loves Gabrielle almost as much as Nick does. She’d help Gabrielle anyway, so it’s nice to get paid much more than the job is worth for something that would be a labor of love.

It also provides a reason for Nick and Mia to spend time together. They are friends now, but once upon a time she was the town princess and he was the local bad boy, and of course they had the teenage hots for each other. Nothing ever came of it, but those feelings are still there, down deep. But at the moment, each of them is convinced that their friendship is too important to risk, that neither of them has the time or inclination for a relationship, and that the other is only interested in being “just friends”. And they’re both certain that they are too damaged to be capable or worthy of being loved.

But as the summer goes on, many, many issues, not just between Nick and Mia, but also Gabrielle’s health, Sean and Charlie’s impending baby, and most especially Mia’s relationship with her pre-teen and teenage daughters and the mess that her ex has already made of their lives and wants to make again, change the dynamic.

Nick and Mia both agree that all they want is friendship “with benefits”. But the closer they get, the harder it is to keep their hearts behind that line. Even if only one of them is able to admit it.

Escape Rating B: At heart, this feels like a story about lessons. And not just lessons in love.

Nick needs to learn to let go, which may seem a bit contradictory for the hero of a romance, but really isn’t in his case. Nick is holding onto a whole lot of things that he shouldn’t, as well as trying to hold onto something that he simply can’t.

His mother’s health scare reminded him just how fragile life is. He’s not ready to lose her, so he’s trying his level best to wrap her in cotton wool and protect her however he can. But life happens, and bad things happen in it, and there’s no way to protect someone you love from cancer. It takes Nick a lot of the book, along with a lot of help from Mia, to stop arguing with his mother over what he thinks is best and listen to what she really wants.

He also needs to let go of his resentment at and anger with his father. Not because the man doesn’t deserve every scrap of opprobrium Nick has in his heart, but because the negativity is hurting Nick way, way more than it could ever hurt his old man. Mia, on the other hand, needs to learn to stand on her own two feet and advocate for what she wants and what she needs, instead of placating the strongest voice in the room – usually her ex-husband.

Speaking of Jay, he’s a douchecanoe. And saying that is actually kind of an insult to douchecanoes. He’s not evil, he’s just awful. It’s also ironic but so often true that women see their father’s big flaws (and did her late, unlamented father ever have a ton of them) and say that they won’t marry a man like dad. Then they end up marrying a man just like dad, and he’s just as awful and in just the same ways.

Mia couldn’t stand up to her father, and she didn’t stand up to Jay as he cut her down at every turn, tried to erase her personality, was a constant cheater who in the end got one of his many, many side-pieces pregnant and finally divorced Mia to marry her. As I said, Jay is a douchecanoe. And Mia was his doormat, but she isn’t any longer.

Mia is way better off without him, and she knows it. But when he threatens her custody of their daughters, both covertly and overtly, Mia has to steel herself for the challenge. Not just because she can never be with the asshat again, but because seeing her cave in to him when they all know he’s a lying, cheating, selfish scumbag is bad for her daughters.

It’s terrific watching Mia take charge of her life, even if she does dither a bit about the past at times. She finally learns to go after what she wants. And if Nick is too stuck in the past to see what’s right in front of him, she’ll manage. It will hurt, a lot, but she’ll manage. And that’s just the example he needs to kick him where it hurts enough for him to finally see the light.

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

Jen is offering one (1) lucky Grand Prize winner a $25 Amazon Gift Card and a paperback copy of both The Cottage at Firefly Lake (the first book in the series) and Summer on Firefly Lake. Five (5) runner-up winners will receive a paperback copy of Summer on Firefly Lake! This giveaway is open internationally. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below:

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Review: Sons and Soldiers by Bruce Henderson

Review: Sons and Soldiers by Bruce HendersonSons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler by Bruce Henderson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: history, World War II
Pages: 448
Published by William Morrow on July 25th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Joining the ranks of Unbroken, Band of Brothers, and Boys in the Boat, the little-known saga of young German Jews, dubbed The Ritchie Boys, who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s, came of age in America, and returned to Europe at enormous personal risk as members of the U.S. Army to play a key role in the Allied victory.
In 1942, the U.S. Army unleashed one of its greatest secret weapons in the battle to defeat Adolf Hitler: training nearly 2,000 German-born Jews in special interrogation techniques and making use of their mastery of the German language, history, and customs. Known as the Ritchie Boys, they were sent in small, elite teams to join every major combat unit in Europe, where they interrogated German POWs and gathered crucial intelligence that saved American lives and helped win the war.
Though they knew what the Nazis would do to them if they were captured, the Ritchie Boys eagerly joined the fight to defeat Hitler. As they did, many of them did not know the fates of their own families left behind in occupied Europe. Taking part in every major campaign in Europe, they collected key tactical intelligence on enemy strength, troop and armored movements, and defensive positions. A postwar Army report found that more than sixty percent of the credible intelligence gathered in Europe came from the Ritchie Boys.
Bruce Henderson draws on personal interviews with many surviving veterans and extensive archival research to bring this never-before-told chapter of the Second World War to light. Sons and Soldiers traces their stories from childhood and their escapes from Nazi Germany, through their feats and sacrifices during the war, to their desperate attempts to find their missing loved ones in war-torn Europe. Sons and Soldiers is an epic story of heroism, courage, and patriotism that will not soon be forgotten.

My Review:

The part of World War II history that is outlined in Sons and Soldiers is history that should be more widely known. But just like the story of the Navajo Code Talkers, has been shrouded in secrecy until relatively recently. Hopefully, Sons and Soldiers will be the first book of many to relate this important and fascinating piece of history, and the story will become as well-known as it ought to be.

Using diaries and interviews from a representative sample of the unsung “Ritchie Boys”, Sons and Soldiers highlights the contributions of a relatively small group of soldiers who had a big impact on the war – just as World War II, its preliminaries and its aftermath had a huge impact on them.

We know what happened in the Holocaust. But one of the things that makes this story so searing is seeing those events from the eyes of those who lived through, not just the camps or the war, but the way that the rise of Nazism broke so many that it touched, even before the concentration camps and mass executions began.

Once a country chooses to dehumanize a part of its citizenry, no atrocity is too terrible to inflict on those people who have been betrayed by that country. While it was certainly scapegoating writ very, very large, powered by a very big lie, the depths of Antisemitism at the root of Hitler’s Nazi Party were always present in Germany and the rest of Europe, just waiting to be plumbed.

The years of the Nazi regime certainly plumbed them to the very depths.

But the stories in Sons and Soldiers, all surprisingly similar, tell a different part of that story. As the tensions ratcheted up, as Germany turned its Jewish citizens into non-persons, many families saw the handwriting on the wall long before Kristallnacht, and certainly after. They tried to get out.

And found that the “Golden Door” beside the Lady with the Lamp in New York Harbor was only open a sliver, at least for them. The U.S. turned the spigot of immigrants to a trickle, particularly Jewish immigrants, making it nearly impossible for families to come to America. The requirements were such that for many families, they could only get one member out in time. And that was usually the oldest son, to carry on the family name and to have the best chance of getting the kind of jobs that would make it possible for them to bring the rest of their families out – if they had enough time. As we know now, and as their parents expected then, they didn’t.

Instead, those boys grew up in the U.S., with a fierce desire to get their families out of Nazi Germany and to strike a blow against the dictator and the policies that caused their heartache – and that threatened the independence of all of Europe and anywhere they could reach. In spite of a U.S. government that initially saw them as “enemy aliens” (how ironic that was), these young men persevered and the newly formed military intelligence units found their skills invaluable.

Sons and Soldiers is the tip of the iceberg of their stories. These men, trained in advanced interrogation techniques and armed with the knowledge of just how their enemies’ minds worked, provided key intelligence breakthroughs that helped end the war sooner and saved countless lives.

Some of them paid the ultimate price. Most of them only found their left-behind families among the names of the dead. These are their stories.

Reality Rating B: So far, this review has been more about the history than about the book of the history. It’s difficult to separate the two, particularly for me. I exist because all my grandparents got out of eastern Europe in the early 20th century, before World War I. They had enough time to do it the way that these boys hoped to get their families out. One person got here, sponsored by a cousin or distant relative or benefactor, worked hard, paid back the benefactor and sponsored the next one. This pattern held for both the boys and the girls. Any family members who didn’t reach the US or Canada before the door closed did not survive the camps.

So the history of this is fascinating to me. I feel like this is a chapter of World War II history that should be much better known, both because it was so heartbreaking and because it turned out to be so crucial to the end of the war in Europe. Classifying something as “military intelligence” has hidden a lot of such developments that should be brought to light – like the Navajo Code Talkers, the codebreakers of Bletchley Park, and even the Manhattan Project.

But as a book, Sons and Soldiers only skims the surface of what feels like a very deep well of history. There are a lot of “origin stories” for the men profiled in the book. And while it feels necessary to the greater narrative that the reader see the decisions and paths that led each of these men to their part in the war, at the same time those stories are at their heart pretty similar. Each story is heartbreaking in its way, but no one stands out. Maybe in history no one particular man did stand out, but for the purposes of the narrative it would have been more engaging for the reader if the story focused on fewer men but told deeper stories about them.

Likewise, while the section of the story that covers their training and simply the fight that each of them had to get training is absolutely fascinating, the chapters that cover their participation in the war itself feel like a recitation of battles rather than getting into the meat of what these men contributed to the theater of war in which they engaged.

All in all, this reader would have preferred a tighter focus on fewer individuals, with a deeper dive into what those particular participants saw and did and accomplished. But I loved this peek into a piece of history that is not widely known, and have high hopes for future books on these undersung heroes.

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Review: The Innkeeper’s Sister by Linda Goodnight + Giveaway

Review: The Innkeeper’s Sister by Linda Goodnight + GiveawayThe Innkeeper's Sister (Honey Ridge #3) by Linda Goodnight
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: women's fiction
Series: Honey Ridge #3
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on July 25th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Welcome to Honey Ridge, Tennessee, where Southern hospitality and sweet peach tea beckon, and where long-buried secrets lead to some startling realizations
Grayson Blake always has a purpose and never a moment to lose. He's come home to Honey Ridge to convert a historic gristmill into a restaurant, but his plans crumble like Tennessee clay when the excavation of a skeleton unearths a Civil War mystery and leads him back to a beautiful and familiar stranger.
Once a ballet dancer, now co-owner of the Peach Orchard Inn, Valery Carter harbors pain as deep as the secrets buried beneath the mill. A bright facade can't erase her regrets any more than a glass of bourbon can restore what she's lost. But spending time with Grayson offers Valery a chance to let go of her past and imagine a happier future. And with the discovery of hidden messages in aged sheet music, both their hearts begin to open. Bound by attraction, and compelled to resolve an old crime that links the inn and the mill, Grayson and Valery encounter a song of hurt, truth, and hope.

My Review:

The Innkeeper’s Sister is a lovely and emotionally fraught story that is told in parallel in two very distinct timelines – and in both stories the heroine is the sister of the owner of the Peach Orchard Inn. Although in the earlier, post-Civil War timeline, the Peach Orchard Inn was still the Peach Orchard Farm. But both Valery Carter in the early 21st century and Patience Portland in the late 19th are sisters to the women who own Peach Orchard, and who have already found a second chance at happiness after a first brush with tragedy.

In the 21st Valery Carter seems to be a good-time girl who can’t be counted on to handle any responsibilities that are handed to her. It’s a picture that is both right and wrong, but if Valery continues on her current self-destructive path, is going to end with that perspective being all right all the time. Until she drowns.

Into her life and her sister’s inn walks Grayson Blake, a one-time resident of Honey Ridge who now develops run-down historic properties into attention-getting five-star restaurants with the help of his brother Devlin. The old gristmill across from the Peach Orchard Inn is one such property, and the Blake Brothers have big plans for it.

Plans that are temporarily delayed when a poke at the rotting basement flooring turns up a human skeleton. The project goes on hold while the wheels grind through the process of determining, if not whose bones they were, at least when those bones were laid down and hidden under the floorboards.

Valery and especially her sister Julia are petrified that the bones might belong to Julia’s missing son Mikey, now lost for nine long, heartbreaking years. And that possibility sends Valery into a tailspin of guilt, grief and remorse.

But the time Grayson is forced to spend at Honey Ridge also unearths the crush that Grayson and Valery unknowingly had on each other back when they were teens. They’re not teens any more, and the mutual admiration and respect they felt then has blossomed into much, much more. Even though Grayson thinks that he’s much too staid and boring for a flirty party-girl like Valery.

And Valery is equally certain that the secrets in her past as well as the problems in her present make her unworthy of the love of a good man like Grayson.

But just as Valery has to reveal her secret burdens in order to reach for healing and happiness, so the secrets buried under the old mill have to come to light, so that the ghosts of that past can finally be laid to rest.

Escape Rating B: This is the third book in the Honey Ridge series, after The Memory House and The Rain Sparrow. I have not read the previous books, but based on their descriptions, they both follow the same pattern – that there is a romance in the present and a mystery to be solved in the past. The past mystery arises because of artifacts that are discovered at the Inn that involve the present day participants in something fascinating that they just can’t let go of.

And both those stories, particularly The Rain Sparrow that features a novelist and a librarian, sound lovely. I haven’t read either of them yet but I’m looking forward to it. That being said, I don’t think it’s necessary to read the series in order – I’m obviously not – but the previous stories, particularly their historical bits, sounded fascinating and I was a bit sorry to have missed them. At least so far.

The two stories in The Innkeeper’s Sister are different in substance, but both have some very serious and angsty issues to deal with. The story in the past is explicitly NOT a romance, but the story in the present is certainly centered around one.

Valery has a ton of issues to resolve, starting with but far from limited to her alcoholism. If she doesn’t get to the heart of her problems, she really isn’t a good match for Grayson, and they both know it. And for Valery to get to the heart of issues, first she has to let them out into the light of day, something that is incredibly difficult for her, for reasons that are made clear within the story. She has a lot of work to do, and it takes her a long and difficult time to figure out how to get to it.

While it is normally a plus when an author is able to misdirect readers away from the heart of a mystery, I will say that it worked a bit too well in Valery’s case. The depth of her guilt over the abduction of her nephew Mike was so searing and so overpowering that I spent a lot of reading time convinced that Mikey had been in her care at the time and had been lost through her neglect. This was not the case, but the way she processed her grief and layered her guilt on top of it made the real reason for this part of her angst feel a bit anticlimactic for this reader.

The story in the past was beautiful and fascinating. Benjamin Portland’s journey to find his long-lost brother, and what he discovered about himself, his family, and the differences between hope and reality for former slaves after the end of the Civil War, was an eye-opener for him and and excellent way of making the past come alive for the reader. I’m looking forward to this element very much in the other books.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Innkeeper’s Sister to one lucky US/Canadian commenter

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Review: Wildfire by Ilona Andrews + Giveaway

Review: Wildfire by Ilona Andrews + GiveawayWildfire (Hidden Legacy, #3) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, eboook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Just when Nevada Baylor has finally come to accept the depths of her magical powers, she also realizes she’s fallen in love. Connor “Mad” Rogan is in many ways her equal when it comes to magic, but she’s completely out of her elements when it comes to her feelings for him. To make matters more complicated, an old flame comes back into Rogan’s life…
Rogan knows there’s nothing between him and his ex-fiance, Rynda Sherwood. But as Nevada begins to learn more about her past, her power, and her potential future, he knows she will be faced with choices she never dreamed of and the promise of a life spent without him.
As Nevada and Rogan race to discover the whereabouts of Rynda’s kidnapped husband and are forced to confront Nevada’s grandmother, who may or may not have evil motives, these two people must decide if they can trust in each other or allow everything to go up in smoke.

My Review:

This was absolutely awesomesauce. And I’m also glad that now I know what the series title means. I won’t spoil it for you, but that is one of those things that just didn’t make a whole of sense, until now. And now, well, sister, does it ever!

Wildfire is the third book in Ilona Andrews’ marvelous Hidden Legacy series, after Burn for Me and White Hot. This is a series where the action, the suspense and the romance built on each other, and the worldbuilding gets deeper and more layered, the more you get into the series. Read from the beginning. You’ll thank me later.

The setting for this series is at the intersection where urban fantasy and paranormal romance meet. And have surprisingly wild and wonderfully weird offspring.

Like much of urban fantasy, this is a near-future or same-time-as-ours-but different version of our world. Like most of urban fantasy, this is a version of our world where magic works. Unlike the usual run of the genre, however, the magic in this world works because of science. Think of it as the mad scientist division of magic. Once upon a time, about a century or so ago, some mad scientist cooked up a formula that bestowed magic powers on those who took it. Exactly how it worked and exactly why different powers manifested in different families is still anyone’s guess.

That those powers are passed down genetically is not a guess. Generations of carefully documented breeding can mostly predict what powers will manifest in children of which parents – and what powers won’t. But just like the 50/50 chance that each baby will be male or female, without reference to previous outcomes, an 80% chance that a child will manifest particular magical abilities also means there’s a 20% chance that it won’t manifest the so-called “correct” magic – or any at all.

However, unlike most urban fantasy, there is also a romance at the heart of all this politicking and power-mongering. And it’s mostly a successful romance, admittedly between two extremely stubborn and hard-headed people who push all of each other’s buttons – both the sexual kind and the seriously-needing-anger-management kind.

Connor Rogan is an extremely powerful telekinetic. He’s also a Prime, which means that he is head of his house, House Rogan, and that many of the laws that apply to us lesser mortals don’t apply to him – not just because they are unenforceable but because the collateral damage of making the attempt is just too high.

Nevada Baylor has just learned that her grandmother, the powerful truthseeker Victoria Tremaine, will do anything, no matter how unethical, to capture Nevada and her sisters. Victoria is the Prime of House Tremaine, and her House is dying. Nevada is her best hope of keeping her House intact. Why? Because Nevada is her granddaughter, and has inherited her truthseeking powers in full measure. A fact that Nevada only became aware of at the end of White Hot.

But the reason that Victoria needs Nevada is also the reason that Nevada has options – admittedly options that she was hoping not to have to exercise. House politics and inter-house rivalries make the bloodshed on Game of Thrones look like the proverbial Sunday school picnic. Nevada has never wanted any part of any of it – but now she has no choice. Filing to become a new house, House Baylor, should protect her from her grandmother long enough for the fledgling house to get itself on a stable footing. If they pass the trials for house creation. If they even manage to get to those trials.

Because there’s a conspiracy afoot, as uncovered in White Hot, to remove even the few restrictions that currently impede the houses from doing whatever they want to whomever they want whenever they want. There are those among them who believe that their absolute power gives them the right to rule absolutely everyone and everything.

It’s up to Rogan and Nevada to stop them yet again. Even as the conspiracy threatens to split them apart and kill everything they hold most dear. By any horrific means available.

Cat 7 hurricane, anyone?

Escape Rating A+: I inhaled this book in a day, finishing at about 2 in the morning with one hell of a book hangover. The story was marvelous, and the world it is set in is absolutely fascinating. I want to go back.

One of the things that makes it all so absorbing is the amount of depth in the characterizations and their backstories. The romance, while marvelous, is far from all there is to either Rogan or Nevada. A very big part of Nevada’s story is just how much she cares, not just about Rogan, but about her family, her family’s business, and anyone she decides is part of her team. At the same time, this is also a story where the child is forced to become, if not exactly the parent, certainly the head of household. It’s not so much about the torch being passed as the dropped torch being picked up and run with. The scene where Nevada has to call her mother on a whole bunch of shit is awesome. Not because Nevada’s mother is in any way a bitch or even that she was wrong in the past, just that some of her decisions have had rather unfortunate consequences, and Nevada is the one who is forced to deal with all the crap and pick up all the pieces. Because while her mother’s solutions may have worked in that past, the world has changed, and they won’t work any longer. A fact that Nevada is all too cognizant of but her mother is extremely reluctant to acknowledge.

I also loved that the solution for Rogan’s ex wasn’t for her to find her own man, dammit, but for her to find her own power and finally own it. It’s a much more empowering solution both for her and for the reader than for Rynda to continue to be such a damned princess. It’s always better to rescue your own self.

This series just keeps getting better and better. And I really, really hope it continues, because the ending left plenty of possibilities for future stories in this world, and I want to read them all.

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

Avon Romance is giving away a romance print prize pack, including Hate to Want You, Just One Touch, White Hot and Wildfire

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Review: Branded as Trouble by Delores Fossen + Giveaway

Review: Branded as Trouble by Delores Fossen + GiveawayBranded as Trouble (Wrangler's Creek, #3) by Delores Fossen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Wrangler's Creek #3
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Every town needs a bad boy, and Wrangler's Creek's has been gone far too long
Getting his high school girlfriend pregnant was just one square in Roman Granger's checkered past, but it changed him forever. When his son's mother skipped town after the birth, Roman decided to do the same, baby Tate in tow, hoping for a fresh start.
Now Roman fears his teenage son is following in his wayward footsteps, so he returns home to Wrangler's Creek, aiming to set him straight. It's there he encounters Tate's aunt, Mila Banchini, the good-girl opposite of Roman who's had a crush on him since childhood. The old spark between them undeniably never died, though Roman worries it'll only lead to heartache. But if falling for Mila is such a bad idea, why does everything about holding her feel so right?
"

My Review:

This book, and this entire series, feels like a “train wreck” read for me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – after all, the reason why gazer block is such a problem after a highway accident is that we can’t turn our eyes away from the disaster.

And so it is for me with the Wrangler’s Creek series. The entire thing is so overrun with stampeding drama llamas, in so many coats and stripes and colors, that even as it drives me absolutely bananas I can’t turn my eyes away. I have to keep going to see what other brand of crazy happens next.

Branded as Trouble is plenty crazy, and plenty entertaining.

This series has been the story of the Granger siblings of Wrangler’s Creek. Or rather, the story of the Granger siblings coming back to Wrangler’s Creek. In Those Texas Nights, sister Sophie comes home to stay. No Getting Over a Cowboy was her brother Garrett’s story, and now it’s bad-boy older brother Roman’s chance to find his own happy. If only he can only get out of his own way.

(I have mixed feelings about whether one needs to read the series from the beginning to “get” what’s going on. I think not. The siblings obviously appear in each other’s stories, as do many of the background characters. But the individual books stand mostly alone.)

Roman doesn’t want to come back to Wrangler’s Creek. He doesn’t want to live anywhere near his mother Belle, and while I can’t blame him, it was good to find out the cause of all the bad blood between them. And there was plenty of cause, and knowing what it was makes a whole lot of their past and present interactions make a lot more sense.

It’s also clear that Roman needs to get past a lot of the bad stuff in his past, not because it wasn’t bad, not because his feelings aren’t justified, but because hanging on to all that old baggage is hurting him more than the people he throws it at – and it’s really hurting his teenage son Tate, who needs Roman to get his head out of his own ass and do what’s best for both of them.

Not that Tate doesn’t have plenty of growing up of his own to do. And his own share of baggage to lose.

Mila is there for both of them. She’s loved Roman since forever, but is all too aware that the feeling is not returned. And she’s mostly made her peace with that. Until Roman comes back to Wrangler’s Creek for the summer, and they find themselves thrown together over and over. Tate needs their help. And they need each other.

Escape Rating B: A great writer, probably several of them, have said that one of the differences between fiction and nonfiction is that fiction has to be plausible, while nonfiction merely has to be true. Branded as Trouble may be the point where the Wrangler’s Creek series fell over the line between crazy-fun and too crazy to be plausible. At least for me. Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t still have a good time, but the amount of eye-rolling I did as I read it was starting to hurt!

I have never liked the character of Belle, Roman’s mother. She’s slightly less offensive in Branded as Trouble, but no less crazy. And she’s not crazy in a fun way, she’s crazy in an annoying and overbearing way. (If no one has guessed, yes, some of her characteristics remind me a bit too much of my own mother. It just doesn’t make a comfortable read for me. Your mileage on this probably does vary).

Mila’s mother Vita is just plain nuts. She’s out there, marching to the beat of her own drummer – and it’s probably some kind of spirit drummer, because Vita seems like a caricature of a practicing witch. Or she’s listening to the voices in her head, or a bit of both. Surprisingly, Vita’s wacky pronouncements do usually make sense in the end, but her method of getting there makes her, as her daughter Mila describes her, into the “ultimate person repellant”, no one wants to get near her. Being Vita’s daughter in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business must have been absolutely hell.

Where things past plausibility for this reader was in both the hero and the heroine have mothers who are way out there in different left fields of cray-cray land. This did pass “over-the-top” for me. Which does not mean that I didn’t like both Roman and Mila, because I certainly did.

Mila owns the local bookstore, which of course makes her my heroine. But the other thing I really like about her character is the way that she makes her own happy. She’s always loved Roman, but has no expectations that it will ever work out. That she’s come to the realization that she has to move on because he won’t make a move on her makes her brave, even if some of her efforts involve more drama llamas than the possibility of actual romance.

But she’s not pining. She keeps moving forward. And that’s what eventually makes her dreams come true.

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

I am giving away a copy of Branded as Trouble to one lucky US/Canadian commenter:

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Guest Review: Sovereign by April Daniels

Guest Review: Sovereign by April DanielsSovereign (Nemesis, #2) by April Daniels
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction, young adult
Series: Nemesis #2
Pages: 350
Published by Diversion Publishing on July 25th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Only nine months after her debut as the fourth superhero to fight under the name Dreadnought, Danny Tozer is already a scarred veteran. Protecting a city the size of New Port is a team-sized job and she's doing it alone. Between her newfound celebrity and her demanding cape duties, Dreadnought is stretched thin, and it's only going to get worse.
When she crosses a newly discovered supervillain, Dreadnought comes under attack from all quarters. From her troubled family life to her disintegrating friendship with Calamity, there's no trick too dirty and no lever too cruel for this villain to use against her.
She might be hard to kill, but there's more than one way to destroy a hero. Before the war is over, Dreadnought will be forced to confront parts of herself she never wanted to acknowledge.
And behind it all, an old enemy waits in the wings to unleash a plot that will scar the world forever.

I seem to be developing a pattern here; books that involve LGBTQ+ characters, somehow keep magically appearing in my inbox. I’m not complaining. [Editor’s note: I’ll take that as a sign to keep ’em coming. OK?]

Guest review by Amy:

A few months ago, Marlene sent me Dreadnought, the first work in this series, and I was impressed by author April Daniels’ debut book. Sovereign picks up at some time not-to-far in the future from the end of Dreadnought: our heroine Danielle is still a minor, and still wrestling in court with her parents for her emancipation. Meanwhile, the “cape” community of metahuman superheroes has begun to accept her, as she’s pulled off some pretty heroic saves for her community of New Port, with some help from the android Doctor Impossible, and her friend Calamity. But there is a looming threat out there in space, headed for Earth, which threatens to upset the normal order of things, and if someone tries to harness that threat, think of the damage they could do…

Escape Rating A: April Daniels continues to develop her chops as a writer, and her deeper exploration of Danielle and her friends is a strong point for her. In my review of Dreadnought, I called it a “rollicking adventure,” and this tale continues the tradition–there are a lot of subplots going on here, and keeping track can be a bit of a challenge if you’re not paying attention.

One of the high spots for me was Danielle’s relationship with Calamity. Our heroine has had the hots for her for a while, which was hinted at in the prior work, but Danielle was quite certain her feelings weren’t reciprocated, and as a result, she missed some useful clues. The ah-hah moment for her–and what follows–is really beautiful and tastefully done.

Another strong spot, in my mind, is in our cast of villains. There’s a stretch of time where it’s kind of unclear who or what our story’s antagonist is; the problem isn’t, of course, quite what it seems to be at first glance, and it’s only as things begin to unravel toward the end of the story, that you realize what’s really going on. The chief villains are appropriately nasty and fanatical, and when given the opportunity, treat Danielle with enough savagery that there’s no chance whatever they’ll be redeemable to the reader. As a mostly-invulnerable “tank,” Dreadnought is hard to harm, physically, at least in a permanent sense. Instead, they find a way to attack her that prods at the core of who she is. Reading that section of the story was particularly stress-inducing for me, as they were pushing a button that affects me, as well. I was pleased to see how Dreadnought escaped the villain’s clutches!

In the end, we have a “Chekhov’s Gun” situation:  That thing this villain said, while they were doing this and that? It’s important, and when you put all the pieces together near the end, that’s when you realize just how important. This level of foreshadowing is a step up for author April Daniels, as I didn’t notice that in the last book. In a book 70-ish pages longer than the last one, she’s managed to fit in a lot more story, and it’s wrapped up nice and neat at the end, with no leftover story to tell.

I’ll be watching for more great stories from April Daniels, either in Dreadnought’s world, or whatever new worlds she may choose to create for us.  Sovereign is a fantastic second effort from her, well worth a read.

Review: The Branson Beauty by Claire Booth

Review: The Branson Beauty by Claire BoothThe Branson Beauty (Sheriff Hank Worth, #1) by Claire Booth
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery
Series: Sheriff Hank Worth #1
Pages: 310
Published by Minotaur Books on July 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Branson Beauty, an old showboat, has crashed in the waters of an Ozark mountain lake just outside the popular tourist destination of Branson, Missouri. More than one hundred people are trapped aboard. Hank Worth is still settling into his new role as county sheriff, and when he responds to the emergency call, he knows he’s in for a long winter day of helping elderly people into rafts and bringing them ashore. He realizes that he’ll face anxiety, arguments, and extra costs for emergency equipment that will stretch the county’s already thin budget to the breaking point.
But he is absolutely not expecting to discover high school track star Mandy Bryson’s body locked inside the Captain’s private dining room. Suddenly, Hank finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation, with the county commissioner breathing down his neck and the threat of an election year ahead of him. And as he wades deeper into the investigation, Hank starts to realize he’s up against a web of small town secrets much darker and more tangled than he could have ever imagined.
In her captivating debut novel, Claire Booth has created a broad cast of wonderfully compelling characters, and she perfectly blends humor with the emotional drama and heartache of a murder investigation.

My Review:

The Branson Beauty is an old paddle-wheel showboat, and the book about the events of her last cruise will stick the reader as fast between its pages as the poor old boat is stuck to the shoal its grounded on.

It really was supposed to be a “three-hour tour”, so when the Branson Beauty runs aground, and her passengers find themselves stranded aboard for much, much longer, the number of rescue workers who end up humming the Gilligan’s Island theme seem inevitable. Also hilarious.

But Sheriff Hank Worth stops finding any humor in the situation when he discovers the ship’s captain comatose and locked inside his piloting cabin. The situation turns downright grim when the Sheriff discovers the dead body of a local track star locked inside the captain’s private dining room.

Mandy Bryson was supposed to be away at college in Norman Oklahoma, running track and studying English at Oklahoma University, not dead on an aging cruise ship with finger-shaped bruises clearly circling her throat.

Worth is literally the new sheriff in town. When the previous sheriff moved up to the state legislature, his term as sheriff needed to be filled. Hank, an experienced officer from Kansas City, thought he was ready for a management role. He was certainly ready to move from KC to Branson, where his father-in-law was available to serve as a live-in babysitter for Hank and his wife Maggie’s children. Maggie is on constant call as a surgeon in the local hospital, and Hank’s hours as sheriff are far from predictable at the best of times. Her father needs a bit of their help, and they need heaping helpings of his.

Between the grounding of a local institution, and the murder of a home-town heroine, Hank has his hands overfull. This is his first homicide in Branson, and the first local homicide in a long time that wasn’t a screamingly easy case to solve of drug deals gone wrong or domestic battery gone deadly.

This case is a puzzle from beginning to end, not because the victim had no enemies, but because there are too many competing means, motives and even crimes for Hank to zero in on what parts thwarted young love, stalking, affluenza and insurance fraud played in Mandy’s death.

Or perhaps all of them did.

Escape Rating A-: This one grabbed me from the first undertone hum of “a three-hour tour” and didn’t let me go until I turned the final page. The mystery at the heart of this story kept me turning pages every spare minute all day long.

And that mystery is convoluted as it unfolds, but makes complete sense once it is all revealed. It kept me guessing from beginning to end. The red herrings are all delicious, and all the more convincing for often being partially correct while not necessarily contributing to the solution of the whole.

The author also does an excellent job of conveying the depths of the grief and sadness that consumes not just the family but the whole small community when a young and promising life is cut short so senselessly.

But The Branson Beauty, in addition to being a crackerjack mystery, is also the first book in a new series, and has to introduce its setting and its characters, preparing readers for the stories yet to come. We need to learn who these people are, and why we should care about what happens to them.

In that regard, The Branson Beauty is off to a good start, but there is plenty of work yet to do. This case is overwhelming, and Hank Worth is often overwhelmed by it as well as the responsibilities he has taken on as the sheriff of Branson. He’s still adjusting to his new job and to the small town politics he now must contend with. When his appointment is up in a few short months, Hank will need to run for re-election. To do that he not only has to please his constituents, but has to learn to play with the politicians who are both his peers and his rivals, and in some cases even his bosses. The county commissioners, after all, set his budget.

So while there’s a murder to be solved, that’s not the only crime that Hank uncovers, nor is it the only trail he has to follow. Some of those trails lead him into the murky undergrowth of political corruption and influence peddling, and the reality that the county’s biggest employer has too many ways of influencing people and institutions to look the other way as he bends and even breaks the law. Hank has a tough road ahead of him, and he’s only taken the first steps – possibly even the wrong ones.

The one place where The Branson Beauty needs a little work is in the development of the characters who inhabit Hank’s world. Only one member of his police force stands out, and only because she seems to be the lone female in the ranks, even if she is Hank’s second-in-command. Likewise, it took me quite a ways into the book to figure out whether the female at home Hank referred to was his wife or his daughter, and what she did and where she fit. (It’s his wife and she’s as overworked as he is) I left the story still not certain what the precipitating event was that sent Hank and Maggie to Branson, but I know there was one. I’m looking forward to discovering the answers to all these questions and more in future books. The next book in the series, Another Man’s Ground, is already on my reading schedule this month.

While the boat may have run aground, the story never does. It chugs along quickly and compellingly from its comic opera beginnings to its inevitably sad but ultimately satisfying resolution. I can’t wait to see what mystery Hank has to solve next.

Review: Illumination by Susannah Sandlin + Giveaway

Review: Illumination by Susannah Sandlin + GiveawayIllumination (Penton Legacy #5) by Susannah Sandlin
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal romance, vampires
Series: Penton Legacy #5
Pages: 364
Published by Suzanne Johnson on July 4th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

He came to Penton seeking peace. Nik Dimitrou joined the Army to escape his family legacy, only to have his psychic abilities exploited as a weapon. Now, as a civilian, he turns to the bottle to veil the images that haunt his mind whenever he touches anyone—except vampires. With them, he has finally found a place. But as Penton moves into open warfare with the Vampire Tribunal, Nik finds himself a linchpin in the deepening conflict, not to mention a transformation in his own body more frightening than anything he’s faced.

She wanted to change the world. Shay Underwood watched her Peace Corps parents move from one third world country to another—until both died following an outbreak of fever. Driven to her own career in tropical medicine, Shay works to cure the disease that killed her parents—until a careless weekend outing draws her into a world far more dangerous than the diseases she studies: a vampire society engaged in human trafficking.

Two cities, two strangers, one world. With Penton rebellion leader Aidan Murphy making risky choices and chief vampire lieutenant Mirren Kincaid forced to take a leadership role for which he is unsuited, it will fall to two outsiders, Nik and Shay, to find a way for Penton—and themselves—to survive in this much-anticipated conclusion to the award-winning Penton Legacy series.

My Review:

Redemption by Susannah SandlinIn my review of the first book in this series, Redemption, I called this series “vampire toffee”. Once you sink your teeth into it, you can’t unstuck. And that was just as true in Illumination as it was in the previous books in the series. I’ve been waiting for THREE years to find out how the mess that we were introduced to in Redemption finally got resolved.

And now I know.

One of the things that seems to be a hallmark of most vampire fiction is vampire politics. It does make a certain amount of sense that people who live for centuries if not millennia would end up spending entirely too much time jockeying for power. And as the ultimate apex predators, vampires often end up in that quandary where power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And when that absolute power is challenged, any and all horrific means can be justified to serve their ends – those ends being to get back in power and eliminate all threats – even the threats that have the potential to save their lives.

The background to this series is one that has been used before, but with a twist. Vampires have always existed among us. They can ensnare people they need, feeding a vampire produces an addictive high, and they can wipe out inconvenient memories of those who have seen or heard to much. Or just kill them, as we are not really people to most of them, merely food.

However, the world has changed, and not in a good way – at least not for the vampires. I don’t mean technology, although that plays into it a bit. But in this near-future scenario, a worldwide pandemic was averted through the development of a preventive vaccine. As the pandemic was widespread (that’s what pandemic means, after all) most of the world’s population got inoculated against it. Something in the vaccine makes the blood of the vaccinated humans poisonous to vampires. It’s an unintended consequence the humans are completely unaware of.

But the vampires are starving. The population of unvaccinated humans is tiny.

The conflict that runs through the entire Penton Legacy series revolves around the best method for dealing with the vampire food shortage. The Vampire Tribunal, the, let’s call it the traditional viewpoint, wants to capture and enslave unvaccinated humans by any means necessary, and will kill anyone, human, vampire or shifter (yes, this world has shifters, too) who gets in their way.

The scheme they hatch in Illumination is possibly their most disgusting yet. They must be stopped.

The forces on the side of stopping them begin Illumination very much on the ropes after the horrific events that end Allegiance. Aiden Murphy, the leader of the Penton vampire scathe, has come up with a different way for vampires to survive. Instead of coercing, co-opting and controlling humans, Penton only accepts volunteers who are willing to live in cooperation with humans and shifters. It’s an alliance of equals, and the Tribunal sees it as a threat to their way of life.

Penton fights back with everything and everyone they have. They might just lose it all, but if they do, they’ll go down fighting every step of the way.

Escape Rating B: Before I talk about what I thought of Illumination, there are a few PSAs (public service announcements) that I need to get out of the way.

First, Illumination is the end of a story that begins in Redemption, continues through Absolution, Omega, Storm Force and Allegiance before it comes to its epic conclusion in Illumination. In order for the conflict between the vampire factions to make sense, for the created world to hold together, and for the reader to care about all the characters, it really is necessary to read the whole series in order.

Second, that really isn’t a problem because the whole thing is vampire romance crack. You’ll be hooked, and you’ll feel compelled to see what happens next.

Third, even though Storm Force was not labelled as part of the Penton series, it really is. It comes between Omega and Allegiance and begins the second arc of the Penton saga.

And now back to my review of the actual book in hand, Illumination.

Allegiance ended on a terrible cliffhanger. Not that book was terrible, because the books in this series have all been tons of fun, but terrible in the “things are always darkest just before they turn completely black” sense. It ends on a serious downer, the situation looks bleak, and the reader isn’t sure if the Pentonites can recover.

And that was back in 2014. It’s been a damn long time. It took me awhile to get back up to speed on what was and wasn’t happening, who it was happening with/to, and figure out what was what.

Also, because of the events in Allegiance, Illumination gets off to a slow start. The heroine is literally trapped, the hero is unconscious, and Aiden Murphy, the prime mover and shaker of everything Penton, has completely lost his grip. It takes the first third of the book for Aiden to begin to get back into fighting shape. Once he comes back to life, the book does too.

While Illumination does contain a romance, as all the books in this series do, the romance in this one takes a back seat to the resolution of the vampire civil war. And it needs to. Without a solution to the dwindling food source problem, there can’t be a lasting solution to much of anything. Nobody gets a happy ever after if there is no ever after.

As with the first book, Redemption, the romance in this entry has a bit of a Stockholm Syndrome problem. There’s an attempt to gloss it over because the hero and heroine were also high school sweethearts, but it’s still definitely there. It doesn’t keep the romance from working, but it’s a presence.

On my other hand, one of the great things about this entry in the series is the way that everyone works together, and that everyone’s skills are needed to win this fight. This is not a series where the alpha male vampires rescue and protect the weak human females. Everyone has a stake in this war, and everyone, vampire, human, shifter, male and female has skills that are required to win it.

And bringing the dinosaurs back to life, even temporarily, was just plain cool.

In the end, I really got a kick out of this series. I’m a bit sorry to see it end, but happy that all those poor people hanging from cliffs at the end of Allegiance finally got let off the hook. And while my trip to Penton is over, I have more books from this author to look forward to. Susannah Sandlin also writes as Suzanne Johnson, and she’s awesome under both names!

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

Susannah is giving away 2 $25 Amazon gift cards (or equivalent order from Book Depository for entrants outside the U.S.) to lucky participants on this tour

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Review: Betrayal at Iga by Susan Spann + Giveaway

Review: Betrayal at Iga by Susan Spann + GiveawayBetrayal at Iga (Shinobi Mystery #5) by Susan Spann
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Shinobi Mysteries #5
Pages: 256
Published by Seventh Street Books on July 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Autumn, 1565: After fleeing Kyoto, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo take refuge with Hiro s ninja clan in the mountains of Iga province. But when an ambassador from the rival Koga clan is murdered during peace negotiations, Hiro and Father Mateo must find the killer in time to prevent a war between the ninja clans. With every suspect a trained assassin, and the evidence incriminating not only Hiro s commander, the infamous ninja Hattori Hanzo, but also Hiro s mother and his former lover, the detectives must struggle to find the truth in a village where deceit is a cultivated art. As tensions rise, the killer strikes again, and Hiro finds himself forced to choose between his family and his honor."

My Review:

From the very beginning of this series, all the way back in the marvelous Claws of the Cat, I have been itching for the story of the first meeting between Hiro Hattori and Father Mateo. And while I didn’t get it in Betrayal at Iga, the story does get a lot closer to the source of their partnership, that old contract between Mateo’s secret (presumably) benefactor and Hiro’s shinobi (read as ninja) clan.

Someone, somewhere, still unknown, was willing to pay a lot of money to contract with one of the two greatest shinobi clans to keep the Portuguese missionary alive. That contract has saved Mateo’s life over and over again, even as it has endangered Hiro’s, generally at the same time. In Betrayal at Iga, Hiro has been forced to bring Mateo to the seat of his clan’s power, in order to keep him alive after the tumultuous events of The Ninja’s Daughter.

(If you are getting the hint that this series is best read in order, that is one of the correct things to glean from the above. Also, the whole series is just damn excellent, so if you like historical mysteries, the whole thing is well worth reading. Period. Exclamation Point.)

The stakes are higher than ever in this fifth book in the series. Hiro and Father Mateo have arrived at Hiro’s home just in time for negotiations of an alliance between Hiro’s clan and the rival Koga clan. The clans are not currently at war, but not exactly at peace, either. Rivals seldom are.

Both feel as if peace is being forced on them from outside. Shinobi are always outsiders, samurai who are not acknowledged as samurai, trained in the shadow arts of espionage and assassination. Most shoguns hire them at need and otherwise leave them alone. But in the current political upheaval, both clans are all too aware that the new shogun, brought to power in a bloodbath, seeks to control all not currently under his sway. The shinobi clans’ independence is at stake, as is their livelihood and their very lives. Only by banding together will they be strong enough to resist the shogun’s iron fist.

But the negotiations are threatened from within. In the opening moments of the welcome feast, just as Hiro and Mateo arrive at Hiro’s childhood home, one of the rival negotiators dies of obvious poison in front of the entire assembled clan. In a household consisting entirely of assassins and practiced poisoners, every single person in attendance knows the result of poisoning when they see it spew in front of them.

In order for the negotiations to continue, someone must pay for the all-too-obvious crime. If the real killer is not found, the person who pays with their life will be the one who prepared the feast, even though the poison could not possibly have been contained within. That person is Hiro’s mother Midori, and Hiro can’t let her die, no matter how willing she might be to sacrifice herself to save the family’s honor.

It is up to Hiro and Father Mateo to find the real murderer, and the true motive for the murder, before his mother is forced to ritually kill herself. And before someone gets away with murder. But in a household of assassins, everyone is more than capable of the crime. Hiro has many too many suspects, and time is running out.

Escape Rating A: The best detectives are often outsiders. And in all of their previous cases, Hiro and Mateo have definitely been outsiders, Mateo by culture and Hiro by profession. But every once in awhile, it can be illuminating for the detective in a series to find himself all too much on the inside of a crime that he is investigating, where he already knows all the players and has previously formed opinions of the possible suspects. That is certainly the case in Betrayal at Iga, where Hiro is back at home, and the most likely suspects seem to be his mother, his grandmother, his cousin and his former lover. He comes home and into the middle of the mess with preconceived notions about all of them, and not all of those notions are to either his or the potential suspect’s benefit.

At the same time, the crime has to make some kind of sense, and it just doesn’t. Or at least not for any of the members of the Iga Ryu (clan). His cousin Hanzo wants this alliance – and killing the members of the Koga delegation guarantees it will fail. Hiro’s mother, grandmother and former lover are all capable of the crime, but none of them would commit it without Hanzo’s orders as clan head. Which it made no sense for him to give. One of the women could be a traitor, but even Hiro’s jaundiced opinion of his ex makes that extremely unlikely.

None of the obvious suspects benefits – so who does? And therein lies the key to solving the mystery, in spite of all of Hiro’s many distractions.

This peek inside the closed world of the shinobi provides fascinating insights into Hiro’s history and character, as well as an absorbing mystery that seems perfectly set in its time and place. If you enjoy historical mysteries or historical fiction that provide windows into times and places that might not be familiar, this series is a treat from beginning to end. Start your trip back in time with Claws of the Cat.

I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next stage of Hiro and Mateo’s journey, hopefully next summer.

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

I love this series, so I am very happy to be able to give away a copy of Betrayal at Iga to one lucky US or Canadian commenter:

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Review: Dark Saturday by Nicci French

Review: Dark Saturday by Nicci FrenchDark Saturday (Frieda Klein, #6) by Nicci French
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: thriller
Series: Frieda Klein #6
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on July 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Thirteen years ago eighteen year old Hannah Docherty was arrested for the brutal murder of her family. It was an open and shut case and Hannah's been incarcerated in a secure hospital ever since.
When psychotherapist Frieda Klein is asked to meet Hannah and give her assessment of her she reluctantly agrees. What she finds horrifies her. Hannah has become a tragic figure, old before her time. And Frieda is haunted by the thought that Hannah might be as much of a victim as her family; that something wasn't right all those years ago.
And as Hannah's case takes hold of her, Frieda soon begins to realise that she's up against someone who'll go to any lengths to protect themselves . . .

My Review:

Dark Saturday is a chilling and compelling psychological thriller. So chilling, in fact, that I don’t recommend staying up until the wee small hours to finish it in the dark. So compelling, that I know the above fact because I got so caught up in it that I stayed up until after 2 am to finish it – then couldn’t fall asleep for another hour. You have been warned!

This is a story about the miscarriage of justice, and the lengths that people will go to in order to make sure that justice stays miscarried. It is also, and just as many of the chills come from this direction, a story about the excesses that a person can be carried to in the throes of obsession.

Dark Saturday is really two stories. One is the story of Hannah Docherty, and that story is complete within Dark Saturday. The other story, which in its way is even more chilling than Hannah’s, centers around Frieda Klein herself.

Hannah’s story is brutal. Thirteen years ago, Hannah, then not yet 20, was convicted of killing her mother, father and little brother, leaving the kind of blood-soaked murder scene that still fuels the nightmares of the cops who saw it, even after all these years. Hannah was sentenced to a brutal psychiatric hospital, where both the staff and her fellow patients, utterly certain of her guilt, punish her every single day.

But the lead detective on Hannah’s case is now under a cloud of suspicion. It has been discovered that he certainly cut corners on some of his cases, and now all of his cases are under that cloud. They might all be righteous, but once a cop bends the law, everything he’s done comes into question.

That’s where Frieda comes in. She’s a psychotherapist, and Hannah Docherty is now certifiably insane, whatever she was all those years ago. Frieda is asked to look into the case, to make sure that if there were any irregularities, Hannah isn’t going to blow the whistle on them. Nobody wants a mass murderer back out on the streets.

Of course, Frieda doesn’t see things quite that way. She goes in with an open mind, and discovers both that there were irregularities by the bucketload in the original investigation – and that the entire hospital is failing to meet even minimum standards of care for Hannah. Even beyond that, the guards and nurses look the other way while the inmates regularly beat Hannah – then refuse to take care of the damage that has been caused.

If, as Frieda begins to suspect, Hannah is not guilty of the crime she was convicted of, then there are a whole lot of people who will need to examine their consciences to discover who the real monster in this situation is. And some of them are more monstrous than others.

But waiting in the shadows lurks a bigger monster than anyone involved in Hannah’s case. Frieda believes that someone is stalking her, just waiting to kill again. Everyone believes he’s dead, and that Frieda just can’t let go.

It’s true that somebody can’t let go, but it isn’t Frieda.

Escape Rating A: I read this in a single day. At bedtime, I was just so into it, I couldn’t stop reading, so I didn’t. Just after 2 in the morning, I turned the last page and was completely blown away. Also chilled to the bone. Hannah’s case is disturbing enough, but the ending, and what it portends for the next book, Sunday Silence, gave me creeps that still haven’t gone away.

I read the first book in this series, Blue Monday, back in 2012 and absolutely loved it. I was looking forward to the next books in the series, all of which I have, but it fell into the “so many books, so little time” vortex and I never got back to them. I need to go back, when I get over the shakes.

The story in Dark Saturday (titled Saturday Requiem on its original release in the UK) is and is not complete in and of itself. Hannah Docherty’s case begins and ends in this book. But, and it felt like a pretty big but, the overall story of Frieda’s personal monster seems to haunt every single book in the series. And it felt like there were a lot of events in the previous books, especially Friday on My Mind, that impacted events in Dark Saturday.

I was still completely absorbed in Dark Saturday, but I think there were details that probably didn’t creep me out enough because I hadn’t read the earlier books. And I’ll admit that’s a rather scary thought. I didn’t need to be creeped out anymore than I already was – but it still feels like I missed a whole lot of nuances.

One of the reasons this one haunts is because it both is and is not what I expected halfway through. It’s fairly obvious early on that Frieda believes that Hannah is innocent of the original crime. And that Frieda is probably right, partly because she knows what she’s doing, and partly because, well, this is her series and the protagonist is usually right in the end. And in mysteries in general, the murderer is never the obvious person. At the time the original crime occurred, Hannah was the obvious person, so it must not have been her. But the way the case resolved did surprise me, and added to the sense of miscarriage of justice that permeates this story.

Just as I said in my review of Blue Monday five years ago – read this one on a sunny day. You’ll need the warmth – and the light.

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