Review: Hanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery by Sharon Ibbotson

Review: Hanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery by Sharon IbbotsonHanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery by Sharon Ibbotson
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, Hanukkah romance, holiday romance
Pages: 210
Published by Choc Lit on December 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A heart-warming Christmas romance with a lovely twist!

Hanukkah days, Christmas nights and strawberry ice cream …

Cohen Ford is a man who could do with a little bit of sweetening up. It’s no surprise that when he walks into The Great Greenwich Ice Creamery on a typically gloomy London day before Christmas, he insists on a black coffee rather than his childhood favourite – strawberry ice cream.

But then he meets River de Luca, the woman behind the flavours. After their first encounter, Cohen begins visiting the ice creamery every Tuesday, gradually learning more about the intriguing River. Could her influence encourage cynical Cohen to become the man who embraces Christmas, Hanukkah and even strawberry ice cream?

My Review:

I picked this book because it was a Hanukkah romance – and there are entirely too few of them. There a oodles of Xmas romances – and they are often quite lovely – but it’s always nice to see oneself and one’s own culture represented in stories.

There wasn’t quite as much Hanukkah as I was hoping for, but there were plenty of the mixed feelings associated with being Jewish in the midst of what feels like the entire universe celebrating an entirely different holiday.

And the romance that begins at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery is definitely a sweet and delicious scoop of love at first sight – with strawberry ice cream on top..

Cohen Ford comes to the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery not long before the holidays because, frankly, he’s been guilted into it by his mother. But he keeps coming back because he’s fallen in love with the daughter of the proprietor – and can’t keep away no matter how much her mother disapproves, both of him and of any possibility of a relationship between the disappointing son of one of her oldest and dearest friends and her daughter, who is deaf.

Men have taken advantage of River de Luca before, and her mother is determined to prevent it this time. Because she’s heard all about Cohen Ford from his mother and is just certain that her friend’s cold-hearted, self-centered, disappointment of a son is definitely the wrong man for her daughter. Not that she believes that any man is good enough for her daughter.

But Cohen and River fall in love the moment they meet – when she’s bandaging him up because he banged his head on their door. And even through their communication barrier – they manage to convey to each other that they are both on the exact same page – even if they’re both in the middle of scribbling on that page as fast as they can so they can learn everything they need to know about each other. Which is everything.

That Cohen is supposed to leave London in a few short weeks to return to his high-pressure job and empty life in New York is just one more obstacle that they have to overcome.

In the end, Cohen’s choice is easy – and River’s has already been made. Home is where the heart is – and his is with River.

Escape Rating A-: Hanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery turned out to be a holiday story with just the right mix of flavors. It’s sweet with just a bit of bitter and salt, like the best dark chocolate with sea salt sprinkles.

The sweet comes from the romance itself. The bitter comes from Cohen, and his memories of his childhood with his feuding and often absent parents. There are deep wounds there that he has to get over before he can move forward with River. The salt is from tears, tears of grief that Cohen never healed his relationship with his father, and tears of joy that he does finally set himself on the road to healing his strained relationship with his mother.

I do feel the need to say OMG – or perhaps oy vey – about the stereotype that is Cohen’s mother. And as much as I want to make negative comments about the stereotyping, she’s a bit too much like my own mother for me to make that claim. I want to and I just can’t. It made a bit of hard reading, but in the end it felt right – and made me wish for things that are no longer possible.

Returning to Cohen and River and their holiday romance. I’m not totally sure this needed to be a holiday romance. Usually the holiday trope is used to compress the time available for the story to move quickly from meeting to loving to HEA. But Cohen’s impending return to New York created that same tension. On the other hand, the Hanukkah season added poignancy to Cohen’s reconciliation with his mother.

In the end, this story has two wonderful threads running through it. One is the holiday romance, which was lovely every step of the way. The way that they reach towards each other and find ways to communicate and to get on the same page in spite of their very real communication issues was very well done.

But the other thread was all Cohen. He comes into the story as Scrooge, cutting himself off from all emotion and living for his well-paid but soul-destroying job. This story is his journey. He needs to grow up and learn what he really wants to be when he grows up. He needs to learn to live his own dream instead of somebody else’s. The spirits don’t do it all in one night. But they do manage it all the same.

Review: My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh + Giveaway

Review: My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh + GiveawayMy Fake Rake (Union of the Rakes, #1) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Union of the Rakes #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on November 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the first book in Eva Leigh's new Union of the Rakes series, a bluestocking hires a faux suitor to help her land an ideal husband only to be blindsided by real desire…

Lady Grace Wyatt is content as a wallflower, focusing on scientific pursuits rather than the complications of society matches. But when a handsome, celebrated naturalist returns from abroad, Grace wishes, for once, to be noticed. Her solution: to "build" the perfect man, who will court her publicly and help her catch his eye. Grace's colleague, anthropologist Sebastian Holloway, is just the blank slate she requires.

In exchange for funding his passage on an expedition leaving London in a few months, Sebastian allows Grace to transform him from a bespectacled, bookish academic into a dashing—albeit fake—rake. Between secret lessons on how to be a rogue and exaggerated public flirtations, Grace's feelings for Sebastian grow from friendship into undeniable, inconvenient, real attraction. If only she hadn't hired him to help her marry someone else...

Sebastian is in love with brilliant, beautiful Grace, but their bargain is complete, and she desires another. Yet when he's faced with losing her forever, Sebastian will do whatever it takes to tell her the truth, even if it means risking his own future—and his heart.

My Review:

In nature, it is often the male of the species who displays the bright plumage, while the female sports shades of beige and grey and is capable of hiding in the shadows. Just look at the difference between a peacock and a peahen for an obvious example.

Examples from the natural world feel like “natural” parallels for this story as both the hero and the heroine of this tale are natural scientists, as the term was in their time. Sebastian Holloway studies the behaviors of people – at least when he can get the funds, and Lady Grace Wyatt studies reptiles and amphibians – at least as long as her parents will let her.

The story in My Fake Rake tiptoes through several romantic tropes on its way to reaching its happy ending. But it begins in the past – or at least in Sebastian Holloway’s past. A time when, at Eton, the son of a rich manufacturer and not a son of the aristocracy like his schoolmates, the scientifically bent Sebastian found himself in all day detection for, of all things, defacing library books. Which I admit, should be a crime.

But he served that detention with some of those scions of the aristocracy who usually shunned him – and found himself in a lifelong friendship with his fellow sufferers. The Union of the Rakes that provides the title for this series reads a bit like a Regency version of The Breakfast Club!

Now Sebastian is an adult, as are his friends. And his penchant for arguing with the contents of his library books has turned into a lifelong love of science that his practical father refuses to support. He has to scrape pennies to fund his bookish habits and his anthropological expeditions.

It’s at his favorite scientific subscription library that Sebastian became friends with Lady Grace Wyatt, daughter of the Earl of Pembroke. Lady Grace, like Sebastian, is a scientist, but her specialty is herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles. So far, her family has supported her bluestocking tendencies, but her father’s sudden illness has made her parents rethink – not their support – but the need for someone to secure their daughter’s future.

They want her to marry. She wants to marry Mason Fredericks, a fellow scientist, a member of the aristocracy, and a man who seems to have no end of funds with which to pursue his many expeditions. Marrying Fredericks will allow her to continue her own scientific endeavors as his partner – where most men would tolerate her proclivities at best and forbid them at worst.

All she needs to do is to get Fredericks to notice her as a woman and not just as a fellow scientist. And for that, she needs the help of her good friend Sebastian. If Sebastian can pretend to be both interested in Grace and a man to be envied by other men – in other words – a confident rake – Fredericks will find her more “valuable” because another man values her.

It’s an idea that makes Grace a bit sick, but she knows it will work. If Sebastian is willing. And able to set aside his crippling shyness. And if both of them can manage to ignore anything they might feel for each other beyond friendship.

The shyness should be the most difficult thing for Sebastian to overcome. It isn’t. The heart wants what the heart wants, no matter what the head is telling it – or how loudly.

Escape Rating B: After that “Breakfast Club” opening, the pursuit of My Fake Rake, and the fake rake’s pursuit of his lady, runs through four different romantic tropes on its way to its happy ending – and does so with a certain amount of aplomb.

Some of that aplomb is supplied by Sebastian’s friend the Duke of Rotherby, who provides the money for Sebastian’s rakish wardrobe as well as the lessons needed for Sebastian to acquire a veneer of the confidence that a true rake wields without a moment’s thought.

But at its heart My Fake Rake is a friends into lovers story. Grace and Sebastian have known each other for four years when the story takes place. They share a love of scientific exploration and discovery and a shared bent for intelligent conversation and quiet reading. They like each other, they spend time together, and they enjoy each other’s company.

And they know each other well enough that Sebastian knows that Grace has a tendre for Fredericks and she doesn’t hesitate to ask him for what is really a rather huge favor.

That favor tips the story into the second and third tropes, the fake relationship combined with the extreme makeover/Pygmalion/My Fair Lady trope. One of the refreshing things about this story is that it’s really “My Fair Gentleman” as it’s Sebastian who needs to be made over in this scheme. Grace is just fine as she is. She’s hidden her beauty behind her mind, not a pair of spectacles – although Sebastian certainly hides his handsome face behind his.

When their scheme works, and a bit too well, they also separately discover that the parts they have played have become real – as so often happens in stories based on a fake relationship. The issue for Grace and Sebastian is that they then trip headlong into an epic misunderstandammit that takes him to Northumberland and nearly takes her to Greenland.

While it feels as if it’s more like societal expectations have pushed them into their costly and painful silence, I always find the angst involved in a misunderstandammit a bit hard to take. In this case it takes an epic rescue worthy of any rake reformed to get this romance back on track.

So even though they nearly lost each other when a simple honest conversation would have gotten them past their stumbling block, I did understand why they both felt like they weren’t in a position where they could have that conversation.

It takes the Duke of Rotherby, a romantically inclined yacht and a desperate climb up a wet, swaying rope to get our hero and heroine back where they belong.

A terrific time is finally had by all – except the Duke of Rotherby. Lucky for him, the next book in the series, Would I Lie to the Duke, will give him his own happy ever after. He’s certainly earned it by his efforts in this story!

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

To celebrate the release of My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh, we’re giving away three paperback copies of the book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. Three winners will each receive a paperback copy of My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 12/15/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly.

Review: Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones

Review: Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew JonesUpon the Flight of the Queen (The Ring-Sworn Trilogy, #2) by Howard Andrew Jones
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Ring-Sworn Trilogy #2
Pages: 432
Published by St. Martin's Press on November 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"A fast-paced adventure combined with an engrossing mystery, all set in a unique and original fantasy world. I can't wait to find out what happens next!" --Martha Wells, Hugo Award-winning author on For the Killing of Kings

In this sequel to For the Killing of Kings, Howard Andrew Jones returns to the ring-sworn champions of the Altenerai in Upon the Flight of the Queen to continue this thrilling, imaginative and immersive epic fantasy trilogy.

While the savage Naor clans prepare to march on the heart of the Allied Realms, Rylin infiltrates the highest of the enemy ranks to learn their secrets and free hundreds of doomed prisoners. His ailing mentor Varama leads the ever-dwindling Altenerai corps in a series of desperate strikes to cripple the Naor occupiers, hoping for a relief force that may not come in time to save what's left of the city and her charges.

Elenai, Kyrkenall, and the kobalin Ortok ride through the storm-wracked Shifting Lands to rekindle an alliance with the ko'aye, the only possible counter to the terrible Naor dragons. Even if they survive the hazardous trek deep through kobalin territory to find the winged lizards, though, the three are unlikely to get a warm reception, for the queen of the five realms refused to aid the ko'aye when their homelands were attacked, and the creatures have long memories.

While the Altenerai fight impossible odds to save the realms, their queen delves further and deeper into the magic of the mysterious hearthstones in a frantic attempt to unlock secrets that might just destroy them all.

Praised for his skills in drafting modern epic fantasy that engrosses and entertains, Howard Andrew Jones delivers a sequel that expands the amazing world, relationships, and adventure introduced in the first book of this series.

My Review:

It’s ironically fascinating that Upon the Flight of the Queen ends in exactly the same way that the first book in this series, For the Killing of Kings, did. Both stories end with our heroes saving another city from the hands, and hordes, of the marauding Naor. And in both cases that recovery comes within a knife edge of disaster, but neither represent the end of anything larger than the immediate battle. As each entry in the series closes, it is obvious to the reader that the endpoint is merely a pause between battles, and that more bloodshed and heartbreak are yet to come.

For the Killing of Kings felt like it began in medias res – translated as “into the middle of things” -, that the story had already begun at some point in the past and the reader was just dropped into the middle of it. As Elenai and Kyrkenall delve deeper into the secrets and lies that have set them on the run from their former compatriots, that situation becomes the real truth. They are already in the middle of the story – they just didn’t know it at first.

This second book begins in medias of the res that happened in the first book. Which means that you cannot start here. The story in Upon the Flight of the Queen only makes sense if you’ve read For the Killing of Kings. But if you love epic fantasy this is a story well worth diving into.

As this second story opens, Rylin and Varama, the ring-sworn warriors of the Altenerai Corps (and of the series title) have just saved one city of the Allied Realms from an army of savage Naor set on conquest, enslavement and destruction of their enemies – who just so happen to be the heroes of our story.

As this entry in the series progresses, the focus shifts among the Altenerai as this small band of warriors and mages tries to be everywhere at once, to defend as much as they can in as many places as they can from their would-be conquerors, while at the same time attempting to figure out why their order and their country has been betrayed from within – and just how much the Queen has to do with the rot at the heart of the kingdom.

At the end of this volume, the “band” has mostly gotten back together from their separate epic journeys, just in time to defeat the onrushing horde – while losing any hope of stopping the mad queen who has set these terrible events into motion.

The battle is won, but the war is not yet over. Our heroes pause as readers gasp in shock as they wait to see what will happen next.

Escape Rating A: While I had a whole dragonload of mixed feelings about the first book in this series, I have absolutely none about this second entry. I loved Upon the Flight of the Queen, in spite of some issues with the audio narration that I’ll get to in a minute.

I don’t know whether it was because this was just the right time for me to get into a meaty epic fantasy, whether I liked this one more because I had a better grasp of the characters and the world, or whether this second book was just better than the first – this was an awesome story and I loved every minute of it.

Unlike my listen to the first book, this time I felt compelled to see what happened next – what new fire our heroes jumped into after escaping their most recent frying pan. I found myself listening to the story when I had time in the car or on the treadmill and then switching to the ebook when I didn’t – because I couldn’t put this one down.

That being said, there were issues with the narration – and they were the same issues I noted in my review of the previous book. The reader conflated cavalry with Calvary – a common issue in everyday life but jarring in a professional reader. Early in the story the word “loll” was read as “lull” repeatedly, to the point where I was temporarily confused about what was happening. My personal “favorite” malaprop was the reading of “brazier” – a container for fire, as “brassiere” – the older word for a woman’s undergarment now known as a “bra”. Just the thought of mistaking the one for the other is, quite literally, painful to contemplate. Seriously, OUCH!

But the story is definitely not an ouch, although the characters in it certainly experience plenty of painful circumstances that generate a lot more than a mere “ouch”. This is a story with a very large cast of characters and a lot of conflicting motivations – something that got a bit bogged down in the first book as we had to learn who all these people were and what was pushing them forward – or pulling them back. That the characters we were following were in the midst of discovering that they had been betrayed and were themselves uncertain of anyone’s motives made that a bit more difficult.

By this point, however, we’ve got a handle on who is who – and our heroes know who is with them and who is against them. The tension however, is ramped up by the Naor incursions. The Queen’s inattention to the good of her realm has provided these long-time enemies with an opportunity to strike at their heart believing that no one can oppose them. And they are very nearly right.

At the same time, one of the tighter focuses in the story is on the guerrilla warfare being waged in one city that is ostensibly under Naor occupation. The plight of the tiny band of warriors led by Alten Varama, a group that watches as their numbers whittled down while their commander lays the groundwork for a rescue that may not come is heartbreakingly terrible and terribly heartbreaking.

Meanwhile, in other parts of this wide-ranging narrative, we watch a legendary commander literally rise from the dead – as he in turn watches a young man and woman from the Corps he led rise to meet the challenges of this new and terrible day.

The ending of Upon the Flight of the Queen is rife with those epic “Riders of Rohan” moments that are the hallmark of the best of epic fantasy – as this certainly is.

There was only one thing that marred my enjoyment of this epic tale. It ends, just as For the Killing of Kings ended, in the pause after an epic battle, a point where the characters and the reader have a chance to take a breath but know that there is more yet to come. When the first book ended, the publication date for this second book was already announced, and was actually imminent.

The title and publication date of the final book in the Ring-Sworn Trilogy have yet to be announced. I’m anxiously waiting for that horn call – and I’m certain that I’m far from alone in my impatience to discover which of our heroes will survive to win the day.

Review: An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow + Excerpt

Review: An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow + ExcerptAn Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Wild River #1
Pages: 379
Published by Hqn on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Alaska, it’s always a white Christmas—but the sparks flying between two reunited friends could turn it red-hot…

If there’s one gift Erika Sheraton does not want for Christmas, it’s a vacation. Ordered to take time off, the workaholic surgeon reluctantly trades in her scrubs for a ski suit and heads to Wild River, Alaska. Her friend Cassie owns a tour company that offers adventures to fit every visitor. But nothing compares to the adrenaline rush Erika feels on being reunited with Cassie’s brother, Reed Reynolds.

Gone is the buttoned-up girl Reed remembers. His sister’s best friend has blossomed into a strong, skilled, confident woman. She’s exactly what his search-and-rescue team needs—and everything he didn’t know he craved. The gulf between his life in Wild River and her big-city career is wide. But it’s no match for a desire powerful enough to melt two stubborn hearts…

My Review:

This holiday romance combines a frenemies into lovers romance with a bit of a second chance at love romance, and wraps it all up in a sparkly bow.

A bow that occasionally seems to be pulled in two directions (and tied in a strangled knot) by two strong-willed workaholics, neither of whom are good at stopping to smell the candy canes and hot cocoa. But then, both Ericka and Reed have spent years working all the hours available in order to keep them too busy to let any of their griefs and fears catch up to them even for a second.

Until Ericka is forced to take a two week vacation – and decides to spend it in Wild River where she grew up with her childhood best friend Cassie – and Cassie’s very hot but exceedingly annoying brother Reed. Ericka and Reed have always seen the worst – and brought out the worst – in each other at every turn. But the sudden sexual chemistry between them adds a new and frustrating aspect to their rocky relationship – in more ways than one.

What at first seems to Ericka as an interminable stretch of time to be away from her high-pressure life as a surgeon at one of Anchorage’s big hospitals turns out to be much, much too short as she and Reed manage to get past their stubborn animosity to explore their intense chemistry.

Only to have her two week vacation abruptly cut in half, just as they figure out that under all that heat – was a whole lot more heat along with an emotional connection that neither of them has found with anyone else – not that either of them left much time in their lives for looking.

But once Ericka is back at work – and under the constantly disapproving eye of her emotionally distant father – who also happens to be her boss – Ericka falls back into her old patterns and lets Reed go – no matter how much she misses him, the connection they share and the much more balanced life she discovered in Wild River.

It takes a crisis of epic proportions – and very nearly a re-enactment of that famous Christmas story The Gift of the Magi – to bring Ericka and Reed to their holiday happy ever after – with just a bit of an assist from her dad the Grinch.

Escape Rating B: I picked this book because I lived in Anchorage for three years, leaving me with a fount of Alaska stories that I’m still telling 15 years later and a love for books set in “The Last Frontier” that persists to this day. That love is at least partially fueled by an equally endless need to figure out what matches the Alaska I remember – and what feels as far off the unbeaten path as Cicely was in the TV series Northern Exposure. (There is no Cicely AK, but local collective wisdom decided that Cicely was meant to stand in for Tok.)

So, I have a few quibbles. There is no Alaska General Hospital in Anchorage or anywhere else. The three “general” hospitals in Anchorage are Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska Native Medical Center and Alaska Regional Hospital.

Only two rail lines run all winter and one only runs once a month – the other and more likely runs once a week, the Aurora Winter Train, beginning in Anchorage and stopping in Wasilla, Talkeetna, Hurricane Flagstop Area (Chase, Curry, Sherman, Gold Creek, Canyon, Twin Bridges, Chulitna, Hurricane, Denali), Healy, Nenana and Fairbanks. Based on the description of Wild River, it’s likely between Wasilla and Talkeetna – or would be if it existed..

Also, contrary to the blurb, Anchorage is no one’s definition of a big-city, except in Alaskan terms. The current population of Anchorage is 380,000. It’s actually one of the smallest cities I’ve ever lived in. It only seems large compared to places like Wild River because it is the largest relatively “big” place that’s closer than Seattle WA or Vancouver BC which are about 700 miles away – basically a 3.5 hour flight.

Setting all that aside – no matter how much it drove me crazy during the story – An Alaskan Christmas is a lovely holiday romance that has a bit more to it than just the romance.

The romance happens fairly quickly, as is often the case in holiday romances. But it doesn’t feel rushed this time around, as Ericka and Reed had known each other for years – although admittedly they didn’t seem to like each other very much. But they were tied together not just by growing up together, but by an important moment that they shared, and a special bond over their lost parents.

Ericka’s mother died at about the same time when Reed and Cassie’s father disappeared. Ericka’s dad retreated into his work and left 15-year-old Ericka to grieve alone with the help of her friends.

Something else they share is missing fathers. Reed and Cassie’s dad is still missing, and Reed is still searching for him. Ericka’s dad, even though he is her boss – or perhaps especially because he is her boss – is a distant and disapproving figure in her life. She runs herself ragged trying to both please and emulate him – and she fails at every turn. Not because she’s not capable – because she’s actually excellent and any parent would be proud to have her as a daughter – but because the man has become so emotionally disconnected that he’s incapable of approving of anything or anyone but especially his own daughter. It IS his way of coping with the loss of his wife but it’s left Ericka quite literally out in the emotional cold. Ericka’s journey in this holiday tale is to finally figure out what SHE wants out of her own life – before she finds herself trapped in her work just like her father. That part of her story was heartbreaking. Ericka deserved better for herself and a big part of her happy ending is that she finally reached out and grabbed that better with both hands.

And like the Grinch, her dad’s heart did seem to grow three sizes at the end – but he still has a long way to go. Ericka, with Reed’s help, has made it.

Excerpt from AN ALASKAN CHRISTMAS by Jennifer Snow

He tossed the blanket over her quickly and stood. “Okay, so you’re all good?”

She nodded, but her gaze was on his midsection. And her unblinking stare was full of unconcealed attraction. The same way she’d checked out his biceps in the bar.

He glanced down to see that his T-shirt had risen slightly on the right side, exposing his stomach.

Obviously his abs were to her liking.

“Erika.”

“Huh?” Still staring.

“It’s been a while, huh?”

She frowned, finally pulling her gaze back to his. “For what?

“Since you’ve had sex.”

Her mouth gaped.

“I mean, that’s why you’re staring at my stomach like I’m a piece of chocolate.”

“I was not,” she said, but her cheeks flushed. “And I’ll have you know, I have plenty of sex…all the time. Men beating down my door for it…” she mumbled.

That he wouldn’t doubt, except he knew from Cassie that she was a reclusive workaholic and he was willing to bet the only penises she saw were her naked patients.

“And anyway, even if that was the case, you’d be the last guy I’d want to break my dry spell.”

Okay, now he was intrigued. Especially since he’d made no motion to fix his shirt and her eyes were glued on his abs again, betraying her words. He crossed his arms, making sure to flex his biceps for her viewing pleasure, as well. She wasn’t going to get him, but all of a sudden, he wanted her to want him. “Oh yeah, why’s that?”

“Because I don’t think you’d be any good.”

What?

“Hot guys are rarely good in bed. They don’t think they need to be. They are selfish and rarely leave a woman satisfied.”

She’d obviously been with the wrong dudes. “In your expert opinion?”

She nodded. “As a doctor and woman. Yes.”

Damn, he’d like to kiss that smug expression right off her face, but the voice in his head told him to leave her drunk ass alone. “Okay, then. Good night.”

“What? Not even going to try to prove me wrong?”

In two strides, he’d reached her. Pulling back the blanket, he lifted her and, seating himself on the couch, he set her down on his lap. A leg on either side, she straddled him. “You sure you want to eat your words?”

Instead of answering, she gripped his face and kissed him. Hard. His surprise faded fast as his mouth suddenly craved hers. The taste of tequila mingled with her cherry lip gloss and he forgot he was the one teaching her a lesson. Her legs gripped his and she pressed her chest against him, the feel of her breasts beneath the soft cashmere making his heart pound against them.

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Review: Meet Me on Love Lane by Nina Bocci + Giveaway

Review: Meet Me on Love Lane by Nina Bocci + GiveawayMeet Me on Love Lane (Hopeless Romantics, #2) by Nina Bocci
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy, women's fiction
Series: Hopeless Romantics #2
Pages: 304
Published by Gallery Books on December 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the USA TODAY bestselling author of On the Corner of Love and Hate comes a romantic comedy about a woman who grudgingly returns home to small-town Pennsylvania, only to find herself falling in love—not only with the town, but with two of its citizens.

Charlotte Bishop is out of options in New York City. Fired, broke, and blacklisted by her former boss, she’s forced to return to her hometown of Hope Lake, PA to lick her wounds. Although she’s expecting to find a miserable place with nothing to do, she is pleasantly surprised to discover it is bustling and thriving.

She’s only supposed to be in Hope Lake temporarily until she can earn enough money to move back to New York. She’s not supposed to reconnect with her childhood friends or her beloved grandmother. She’s not supposed to find her dream job running the local florist shop. And she’s definitely not supposed to fall for not one but two of Hope Lake’s golden boys: one the beloved high school English teacher, the other the charming town doctor.

With a heart torn between two men and two cities, what’s a girl to do?

A perfect blend of humor and heart, Meet Me on Love Lane is the second in a new series from USA TODAY bestselling author Nina Bocci that is sure to charm fans of Josie Silver and Sally Thorne.

My Review:

There are two literary versions of home. One is the Robert Frost version, the one that says that “home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” There’s also the Thomas Wolfe version that says that , “You can’t go home again.”

There’s also the romantic version, the one that says that “home is where the heart is.”.

In a way, Meet Me on Love Lane is a story about crossroads. The story is firmly parked at the corner of contemporary romance and women’s fiction, as it’s partly about Charlotte Bishop’s choice between a romance with the new “Dr. Hotness” in town, and something sweeter but more elusive with someone from her past.

It’s also at the intersection of two of those versions of home. Charlotte has returned to Hope Lake because she needs a place to regroup and recharge, and that takes her back to her childhood home in Hope Lake with her father and grandmother. A home that her mother wrenched her away from when she was 10.

She’s returned to Hope Lake because she has no place else to go, and because she hopes that her family will take her back in – no matter that it has been 20 years since she was last there.

It turns out that the story is about Charlotte discovering that her home is where her heart is, and that, in spite of all the years gone by and all the memories that she’s deliberately suppressed, her heart and her home are in Hope Lake – along with all the love – of all kinds – that she left behind.

All she has to do is squelch the bitter voice of her mother that still rings in her head even years after the woman’s death – and let herself remember all the good things her mother wanted her to forget.

Because her heart has found its home – no matter what her head – and the voices from her past – have to say about the matter.

Escape Rating B+: In spite of the title, Meet Me on Love Lane feels like it’s more about Charlotte and all of her relationships – with her dad, her grandmother, her best girlfriend, her other childhood friends and everyone in her former/future hometown than it is about her romantic escapades.

Particularly poignant is Charlotte’s relationship with her grandmother Gigi – who is an absolute hoot. We all wish we had a grandmother like Gigi – while at the same time feeling for Charlotte and everything she’s missed.

She’s also not really in the “torn between two lovers” situation that the blurb implies. Every woman in town – of every age – seems to drool at least a bit over “Dr. Hotness”, but there’s never any spark there. Charlotte may want there to be, but there’s never even a hint of a need to make a decision on that front.

However, Charlotte is much more torn over the choice between returning to New York City and staying in Hope Lake. Some of that is because of her mother’s disparaging voice in her head, and some of that is just because these are very different kinds of places and they represent very different lives. There’s not a right or a wrong answer to that question, but the adjustments to her life will be profound no matter what she chooses – and it is a choice worth serious consideration.

The sweetness in the story comes from Charlotte’s rediscovery of Henry, the man who once upon a time was a 10 year old boy and her absolute best friend in the whole world. The boy who it hurt so much to leave behind that she made herself forget him. Completely.

The way that Charlotte works her way back to Henry, and reconnects with her own past, is her journey in this story. It lets her relearn just how much she loved this place and these people, and just how much of herself she cut off and left behind in order to survive life with her mother.

Exactly what was wrong with her mother is never completely resolved. No one actually knows. That there is no closure for Charlotte to explain so much that needs explaining leaves Charlotte bewildered but coping (and recommending therapy all around) and leaves the reader with a lack of resolution in that part of the story. While admittedly that’s real life – we don’t always get the explanations we need or want or are due – but in fiction most readers, myself included, expect a bit more satisfaction in our happy ever afters.

But Charlotte – and Henry – certainly earn theirs. With everyone in town cheering them on.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Meet Me on Love Lane to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Case of the Spellbound Child by Mercedes Lackey

Review: The Case of the Spellbound Child by Mercedes LackeyThe Case of the Spellbound Child (Elemental Masters, #14) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fantasy
Series: Elemental Masters #14
Pages: 320
Published by DAW Books on December 3, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The fourteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series continues the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate 20th-century England.

While Sherlock is still officially dead, John and Mary Watson and Nan Killian and Sarah Lyon-White are taking up some of his case-load--and some for Lord Alderscroft, the Wizard of London.

Lord Alderscroft asks them to go to Dartmoor to track down a rumor of evil magic brewing there. Not more than four hours later, a poor cottager, also from Dartmoor, arrives seeking their help. His wife, in a fit of rage over the children spilling and spoiling their only food for dinner that night, sent them out on the moors to forage for something to eat. This is not the first time she has done this, and the children are moor-wise and unlikely to get into difficulties. But this time they did not come back, and in fact, their tracks abruptly stopped "as if them Pharisees took'd 'em." The man begs them to come help.

They would have said no, but there's the assignment for Alderscroft. Why not kill two birds with one stone?

But the deadly bogs are not the only mires on Dartmoor.

My Review:

I actually read this a couple of weeks ago, while I was in the middle of listening to The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl followed by Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage. I was on a Sherlock Holmes kick and looking for stories that were at least Holmes-adjacent, as both Mesmerizing Girl and Spellbound Child turned out to be.

In other words, unlike Mycroft and Sherlock, which is definitely Holmesian all the way even if it is still focused more on the older brother than the younger, both the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club and the Elemental Masters are series that I got into for Holmes but stayed in for everybody else.

Which is a good thing, because Spellbound Child, like last month’s Mesmerizing Girl, is all about the everybody else and only tangentially about Holmes. At least in Spellbound Child Sherlock isn’t in need of rescue along with some of that everybody else.

This story is part of the author’s Elemental Masters series. In this series, the world is an alternate version of our own history, it’s just a version in which magic works but is mostly hidden and strictly controlled by its practitioners – especially those who are masters of their particular elements.

The series began with The Fire Rose back in 1995 – a story that I read at the time but have no recollection of beyond the concept. I kept up with the first few books in the series, but then dropped it for a long time, until A Scandal in Battersea caught my attention two years ago, not for its fantasy but for its screamingly obvious Sherlockian elements. And have continued with the series ever since, even stepping back one book to A Study in Sable, where the entire current cast of characters was introduced.

The above should give heart to any readers who have not read the whole series. I do think starting with A Study in Sable would be beneficial to becoming acquainted with the current cast and situation. And all Holmes pastiche series seem to start with a play on the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, as this one does.

However, Holmes is not an elemental master – at least not unless someone declares logic to be a form of elemental magic. He is, rather, a skeptic. In spite of his friend and biographer, Dr. John Watson, being an elemental master himself, as is Watson’s wife Mary. It is an interesting take on their long-term friendship and collaboration, as Holmes has his sphere in which he is an acknowledged expert, but Watson also has his. And there are times when logic must defer to magic, no matter how much Holmes may scoff. He does not believe, but he has seen. And there have been multiple occasions where magic is the only answer left after he has eliminated the impossible.

This story takes place during Holmes’ hiatus after Reichenbach Falls, so his presence is very much on the QT, as that saying goes. He’s part of the story but neither the integral or central part, and that’s as it should be.

Because this is a case that is intimately steeped in magic. And in a peculiar way, it hearkens back to the original premise of this series, that of retelling fairy tales in a new and magical world.

The child who is missing, and spellbound, turns out to be a surprisingly rational and logical version of Gretel. Making her also missing, also spellbound, but ot nearly as mature or rational or logical little brother Hansel. (This is a series where the females often get top billing and solve the case – and so it proves here.)

It is up to non-magical but highly practical Gretel, really Helen Byerly, to figure out just how the extremely wicked witch was ensorcelling ALL the children, and escape to find help. Help in the form of Dr. John Watson, his wife Mary, Spirit Master Sarah Lyon-White and psychic Nan Killian, along with their foster daughter Suki and their highly intelligent birds Grey and Neville, sent to the “wilds” of Dartmoor by the Wizard of London to determine why so many children have gone missing in recent years – and why so little is being done about it.

While this case doesn’t wind up at Baskerville Hall – as I fully admit I was more than half expecting – it has every bit as as many twists, turns and surprises as Holmes’ and Watson’s more famous visit to the moor.

Escape Rating B+: If you look carefully at the background image in the book cover, you’ll recognize the silhouette of the famous detective, complete with pipe and just the suggestion of a deerstalker cap. It does lead one to believe that there will be more of Holmes than actually occurs in this case. On the other hand, there’s plenty of Watson, or rather, Watsons in this one, as the Wizard of London has tasked the Watsons with a case that he finds more important than the locals seem to.

After all, it’s obvious to him fairly early on that someone is kidnapping children with magical talent. While all that the locals notice is that the missing children are “not their kind” meaning either poor or members of the Travelers, and are therefore beneath society’s notice.

Everyone involved, the Watsons, Nan and Sarah, as well as Holmes (and the reader) are fairly incensed by that attitude and determined to do what they can to get to the bottom of it.

I found the case to be an intriguing one, as the perspective switches from the imprisoned children to the search for them and back again. In spite of the magic involved, the search is actually fairly straightforward, even if some of the means and methods are otherworldly. What tugs at the heart in this story is the plight of those children, trapped by chains of both metal and fear to serve as magical “batteries” for a hedge wizard who would be a bully with or without magic.

The character who really shines in this story is the non-magical but eminently practical and oh-so-brave Helen Byerly. She’s trapped with the others, chained by magic she doesn’t understand, and yet she still finds a way to improve conditions for everyone she takes under her care – and reasons her way to an escape that has a chance of freeing them all. The story may focus on the Watsons and the other masters and magic users, but Helen is the real hero of the tale.

And I always love seeing a smart girl participate in her own rescue!

Review: Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

Review: Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anna WaterhouseMycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Mycroft Holmes and Sherlock #3
Pages: 336
Published by Titan Books on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The new novel by NBA All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, starring brothers Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes.

It is 1873, and as the economies of Europe threaten to crumble, Mycroft Holmes finds himself in service to the Crown once again. A distant relative of Queen Victoria has been slain by the Fire Four Eleven killer, a serial murderer who leaves no mark upon his victims, only a mysterious calling card. Meanwhile, Sherlock has already taken it upon himself to solve the case, as his interest in the criminal mind grows into an obsession.

Mycroft begrudgingly allows Sherlock to investigate, as Ai Lin—the woman he is still in love with—needs his aid. Her fiancé has been kidnapped, and the only man who might know his fate is a ruthless arms dealer with a reputation for killing those who cross him. Mycroft persuades his friend Cyrus Douglas to help find the young man, but Douglas himself is put in harm’s way.

As Sherlock travels the country on the hunt for the Fire Four Eleven murderer, both he and Mycroft will discover that the greed of others is at the root of the evil they are trying to unearth…

My Review:

In this third book in the Mycroft Holmes and Sherlock series – after the marvelous Mycroft Holmes and Mycroft and Sherlock – we have the portrait of the bureaucrat as a young and still surprisingly slender and exceedingly insufferable young man alongside the portrait of the detective as an even more insufferable young man. We also see their sibling rivalry at full flower – and it’s not a pretty sight.

Absolutely fascinating, but not pretty at all. Mycroft is enough years older than Sherlock that he expects to be respected and obeyed by his younger brother while Sherlock is both intelligent enough to know his own mind and already detached enough from his own emotions and any thought of social consequences to respect little and obey no one unless it serves his still developing ends.

And in their relationship in this story as well as the previous we see the seeds of what is known of that relationship in the canonical Holmes stories – two men, tied by blood but not affinity, of extreme intelligence but with few emotions, acknowledging their relationship and sometimes using it while having virtually no sympathy for each other.

We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. At the point in their lives when this story takes place, Mycroft is in his mid-20s and Sherlock is nearing 20 – and attempting to escape the confines of academia at Oxford.

As was true in Mycroft and Sherlock, there are two cases in this story. As it is Mycroft’s series rather than Sherlock’s, Mycroft’s case is both more important and takes up more of the story, while Sherlock’s, although important, doesn’t have quite the same consequences.

As fits the lives they are growing into, Mycroft’s case has international ramifications, while Sherlock’s is entirely local to England and fits more into his canon of detective stories. Sherlock is after a diabolically clever serial killer, a case that it not out of his later line but is currently stretching both Mycroft’s patience and Sherlock’s growing abilities.

Mycroft, on the other hand, is after an international arms dealer who is trying to start a war between China and Japan. The stakes are much higher for Mycroft, and not just because his beloved Britain will inevitably get dragged into any conflict on one side or the other if only to protect their power in India and the subcontinent.

But the part of the plot that twists Mycroft into knots is the danger to the woman he loves but cannot have. Her fiance is either a catspaw or conspirator in the plot. Mycroft thinks he’s caught on the horns or a dilemma between love and duty – only to find that the place he’s truly caught is between conflicting hells.

Escape Rating A-: Unlike the previous two books in the series, this is one that I listened to all the way through. I believe that the narrator, Damian Lynch, is intended to represent the older, calmer, and more dispassionate voice of Cyrus Douglas in his narration, and he does an excellent job representing Douglas as narrator and chronicler as well as voicing the considerably younger and more excitable Holmes’ Brothers.

Not that Douglas doesn’t have his own important part to play in this case – among his other duties he acts as Mycroft’s conscience. A conscience that Mycroft definitely needs but listens to less and less. Which is part of him becoming the man we know from his first appearance in the canon, The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter – at least in personality if not in physical aspect.

Sherlock’s case, while being as convoluted as any in the Conan Doyle stories, is a relatively straightforward case of investigation. The fascination in observing Sherlock in this story is in watching as he is in the process of developing the methods we are familiar with. He is young, he is still learning, and he is almost certainly making it up as he goes along. He’s already traveled a good way towards becoming the persona we’re familiar with, but he’s still in the process of creating the methodology that made him famous. He also still makes a lot more mistakes.

But the heart of this story, in more ways than one, is the case that Mycroft is pursuing. We see him on his way to becoming the spider at the heart of Britain’s web of intelligence and operation. His entree into this case is through the young Chinese woman Ai Lin, a woman that he loves but knows that he cannot marry – and vice versa. They would be cast out of both of their cultures in ways that neither is willing to risk.

So he is resolved to do his best for her, to find her fiance who has become embroiled in the arms trade and is being offered as a sacrifice so that his employer can continue to deal with both sides of the current Sino-Japanese conflict. Mycroft begins the case somewhat blinded by his affections, and gulled into believing in his own intellectual superiority – only to discover that he’s been mistaken about the later while deciding that he needs to ignore the former – if he can.

His conclusions in the end put him squarely in the midst of this week’s theme, whether or not the ends justify the means, and who gets to decide the answer to that question. Mycroft makes a decision that is arguably the best for the country that he loves and serves, knowing that the cost of that decision will be borne by others who had no part in making it. He believes he is doing the right thing, but there is no one to whom he is accountable.

And the cost is excruciatingly high, and will be paid in ways that Mycroft only becomes aware of as the story closes. Yet we know that he would not change his decisions.

In the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, this is the central core of Mary’s estrangement from Mycroft. That he believes he sees all, knows all, and makes the best decisions for all, but there are no checks and balances on his decisions and he never has to answer for his actions to anyone. Mycroft has maneuvered himself into a hidden position of absolute power, and everyone knows the saying about about absolute power and the inevitability of it corrupting absolutely.

At the end of Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage, Mycroft is left to deal with the painful consequences of his actions – consequences that I expect to ripple through future books in this series. Books that I eagerly await.

Review: Mission: Her Freedom by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Freedom by Anna HackettMission: Her Freedom (Team 52 #6) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Team 52 #6
Pages: 220
Published by Anna Hackett on November 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
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A badass combat medic will do anything to save her friend and teammate, but on the run from some very bad guys, she starts to look at her tattooed tech geek friend in a very different way…

Former Naval Intelligence officer Brooks Jameson might have lots of muscles and ink, but he’s a proud geek. He loves computers and his job—taking care of all things tech for his covert, black ops team of badasses—Team 52. But when he finds himself snatched off a Las Vegas street and in the hands of some very bad people who are after a powerful, dangerous artifact, he knows he’s in a fight for survival. Then his teammate Callie Kimura—gorgeous and way-out-of-his-league—strides through the door to rescue him…

Callie’s childhood and career in the Air Force taught her to never risk loving anyone, because losing them leaves you bleeding. She has everything she needs as the medic for Team 52, and when Brooks gets abducted, she’ll do anything to get her friend back. But when they end up on the run together, Callie starts to see the hunky geek in a very different light.

As Callie and Brooks battle to stop a deadly artifact being used in an evil plan, they ignite a scorching desire that shocks them both. But some scars—and the demons that made them—run deep, and Brooks knows he’ll need all his intelligence, patience, and love to convince the beautiful combat medic to let her heart be free.

My Review:

This is a very different take on whether the ends justify the means than yesterday’s book. Although there are other similarities.

Both are in the romantic suspense/action adventure vein, so in both stories the romance is fast and adrenaline fueled from the very beginning.

But Brooks Jameson and Callie Kimura’s romance, while it happens fast and furious, doesn’t come out of complete left field. Well, it does to them, but not to the reader. Because these two people know each other, maybe not intimately as the story opens, but certainly well, as both are members of the elite covert black ops Team 52.

So this is a friends-into-lovers story, and very much so. Team 52 is a very tight-knit group of mostly former elite military operatives and by this point in the series its clear that they’ve been working together very successfully for quite a while.

It’s just that Brooks and Callie have rather different roles in the team, roles that mean that they don’t interact as much as Shaw and Claudia do in Hell Squad, for example. Brooks and Callie are not both operatives at the pointy end of the Team 52 spear.

Instead, Brooks is their tech guru and Callie is the team medic. She goes out with the team while Brooks stays back at the bunker and coordinates the ops. Not that he’s not just as ripped as the rest of the guys, but he’s not really trained to take down baddies with a gun – only with a keyboard.

So when Brooks gets kidnapped, Callie is the one who rides to his rescue. When they both end up captured, they each discover new and interesting facets of a person that they thought they knew and already liked. Being forced to depend on each other and only each other changes their relationship in ways that neither expected – and neither is completely sure is a good idea.

But the case that Team 52, and especially Brooks, have been dragged into is one that they can’t ignore – since it keeps reaching out to get them. Whether Brooks and Callie will have a chance to explore the spark between them has to take second place to a crazy woman with an artifact that can draw not just sparks, but thunder and lightning out of the sky on command.

Lightning that she’s aiming straight at Team 52.

Escape Rating B: There were parts of this one that I really liked, and parts that didn’t work quite as well. Overall, I had a good reading time. I just have quibbles. I often have quibbles.

I love a good friends-into-lovers romance, and Mission: Her Freedom is definitely that. (I can’t figure out how this has anything to do with Callie’s freedom exactly but then I generally find the titles in this particular series a bit cheesy.)

I think that where this one drove me a bit batty was in the early stages. That some baddies go after Brooks so that he can hack into his own security to retrieve an artifact makes sense. The baddies in this series are usually very bad so this is a very plausible opening. That the team needs to rescue him because there are just so damn many of them also works.

But when Callie manages to locate where Brooks is being kept, she goes in alone to rescue him. If she’s as good an operative as the Team usually is, that shouldn’t happen unless there’s an imminent threat to Brooks’ life – which there isn’t. All she does is spook the baddies into taking them both away to someplace that the team doesn’t have a bead on – making the rescue take longer and giving those baddies something to threaten Brooks with – and vice versa. She made the situation more dangerous by going in half-arsed and should have been dressed down for it – but wasn’t.

So this one went off the rails for me a bit at that point even though everything that came after worked really well. Your reading mileage may vary.

One of the differences between the Treasure Hunter Security series that spawned Team 52 and Team 52 itself is that the THS baddies were all about the money. Not that there wasn’t plenty of crazy, but money was at the heart. After all, the love of money is the root of all evil and those evildoers had plenty of roots.

This particular entry in Team 52 isn’t about the money at all. It’s about the crazy, which goes back to my comment at the beginning about the ends justifying the means. There’s always an artifact on the loose at the center of a Team 52 story. In this case, the artifact is the wind jewel that can call storms – deadly storms.

It’s the reason – for really, really loose definitions of the word “reason” – that brings the crazy into this particular entry into the series. Because the person who is conjuring storms in the worst possible places is doing it to “cleanse” the world of what she thinks of as unworthy people – so that the rest can live in what she thinks of as utopia. But will undoubtedly be anything but.

She’s convinced that her “ends”, her goal of making the world a “better” place filled with only the “best” people, justifies her means, by which I mean mass murder on a global scale. It could be said that she means well, at least if one squints (a LOT) but she certainly doesn’t do well. Making this a much simpler question about ends and means than yesterday’s book.

She’s crazy, she has to be taken down – and the wind jewel locked away – and there’s no question about it being the right thing for Team 52 to get the job done!

Review: The Cost of Honor by Diana Munoz Stewart + Giveaway

Review: The Cost of Honor by Diana Munoz Stewart + GiveawayThe Cost of Honor (Black Ops Confidential, #3) by Diana Munoz Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Black Ops Confidential #3
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on November 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He gave up everything to escape his family

The only male to be adopted into the notorious Parish family, Tony Parish always did right by his vigilante sisters. But when an attempt to protect one of them went horribly wrong, he had to fake his own death to escape his fanatical family. Tony set sail and ended up in Dominica―face to face with the woman of his dreams...

Now he must give up Honor to save her

After the death of her mother, Honor Silva moved to Dominica, where her family could help her heal and move on. But her activist mother left her more than money, she left her proof that could take down one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.

Tony gave up everything he thought he knew when he fled his family. But when a threat too dangerous for Tony and Honor to fight on their own closes in, he has no choice but to go to them for help. Problem is, they'll demand something in return―something that could cost Tony not just Honor, but also the love that changed him forever.

My Review:

Through a certain lens, all three of this week’s books are wrapped around the question about whether the ends justify the means – and who gets to make that decision.

The way that this is worked out in The Cost of Honor, and in the entire Black Ops Confidential series, makes this both a harder and a deeper story than the events on its surface. And a fitting conclusion to the story arc begun in the awesome I Am Justice. (The book is awesome and so is the character of Justice Parrish.)

While some readers have said that this book can be read as a standalone, I’m not totally sure that’s true. Because this story brings full circle the events of that first book, and also adds new layers to the question that was asked in the second book, The Price of Grace.

It’s the question of whether the Parrish family and its League of Warrior Women is just a tight-knit family of adoption – or if it’s actually more of a cult.

That’s an answer I’m not quite sure of by the end of the story. I actually think the question is even more wide open now than it was at the beginning.

The story in The Cost of Honor is the story of one of the few men adopted into that League of Warrior Women – Tony Parrish. A Tony Parrish who either betrayed the family or tried to protect it at the beginning of I Am Justice – and who let his family believe he was dead rather than face the music of that seeming betrayal.

By this point in Tony’s story, he’s been on the run for months. The family he left behind has finally discovered that he didn’t die after all – and they are pissed.

It’s not all about the lie. Well, it is about the lie about him being dead, and the depths of everyone’s grief. But it’s really about the schism that his departure has created in a family that has prided itself on its rock-solid unity for the past 40 years. A unity that has been protected by their ability to erase inconvenient memories and emotions – like the emotions that led to Tony’s disappearance and his memories of a family that acts as judge, jury and executioner on those who have avoided, evaded or co-opted the law.

Because Tony has been found just as he’s found someone worth keeping ALL his memories intact for. But Honor Silva in just the kind of trouble that his family is expert at fixing. Bringing them in will mean that they will “fix” him in return for their help.

The cost of Tony’s honor may be the loss of her. It’s a price that he may be willing to pay – but Honor definitely is NOT.

Escape Rating B: I leave this book, and this series, with a whole boatload of mixed feelings. About the size of the boat used in the “big finish” rescue that concludes the action of this story.

There were three parts to this story, the romance between Tony and Honor, Tony’s very real fears of being found by his family and having his memory erased, and the equally real danger that Honor finds herself in just as Tony enters her life.

The romance was sweet and very hot. Extremely hot. While the romantic element of romantic suspense like this series are often fast and adrenaline fueled, the hot-sex-into-love relationship between Tony and Honor feels almost too fast for their characters and has more than a whiff of insta-love to it.

The danger that Honor is in is very real, but felt at first like it came a bit out of the blue. And then the story digs into Honor’s past, and her mother’s past, and keeps on digging. Until it finds itself very near something like the Harvey Weinstein case, only even longer lasting and with even deadlier consequences. This got deeper and darker than I expected, and I mean that in the best way possible.

But then, on my third hand, there’s Tony’s story. He wants to help Honor. He needs to help Honor. And he needs to run from his family who mean well in the broadest sense but may not mean the best for him. In order to protect their secret operations, operations which really, really need to be protected, they’re going to fuck with Tony’s mind and memories.

I don’t know about you, but I’d run too. While the theory behind what they plan to do is something I’ve run across before, it still feels like something that no one should do, particularly in the name of “love” the way that it’s presented here. Even though this does manage to get to a happy ending I found that part extremely troublesome. Every organization needs people who ask hard questions. And we are the product of who we’ve been, both the good and the bad parts. That everything manages to work out in the end felt like someone got let off the hook in a way that sticks in my mind with very troublesome thoughts.

The Parrish family have decided that the end result of protecting their operations justifies the means of messing with their own people’s minds and memories. And I’m troubled by that being the happy ending. Your reading mileage may definitely vary.

This is one to read, and ponder. And keep right on pondering. I still am.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Cost of Honor to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Drone by M.L. Buchman

Review: Drone by M.L. BuchmanDrone Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #1
Pages: 422
Published by Buchman Bookworks on November 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

China’s newest stealth J-31 jet fighter goes missing. A C-130 Hercules transport plane lies shattered in the heart of America’s Top Secret military airbase — Groom Lake in the Nevada Test and Training Range.

A supersonic drone flies Black Ops missions from the most secure hangar in the nation.

The CIA, the military, and the National Reconnaissance Office are all locked in a power struggle.
One woman is trapped in the middle. Miranda Chase, lead crash investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, becomes a pawn in a very dangerous game. Burdened with a new team, she must connect the pieces to stay alive. And she must do it before the wreckage of her past crashes down upon her.

My Review:

Drone was nothing like I expected – and that turned out to be an excellent thing. (I’m also thinking that there’s a pun in here somewhere, as a drone was nothing that anyone in the story expected – excellent or otherwise.)

Instead of the military romance or romantic suspense that this author is well-known for – and deservedly so – Drone is much more like a spy thriller. And it feels a whole lot closer to Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games than M.L. Buchman’s The Night is Mine. Or it would if Jack Ryan were more than a bit like Temperance Brennan in Bones.

I’m not mixing metaphors, I promise. And I’ll explain in a bit.

The main story in Drone, the part that leads to the spy thriller aspects, mixes the seemingly mundane with the possibly outre – as exemplified by the location, Groom Lake Nevada, otherwise known as Area 51 – at least in part.

There’s been a plane crash. When there’s a civilian plane crash, the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) is called in to determine the reason for the crash. While there the potential element of searching for who to blame, the true purpose is to discover if the crash was preventable and make necessary changes so that it doesn’t happen again – at least not in the same way. But this isn’t a civilian crash.

This particular crash is just weird, as it seems like this military helicopter has crashed in the midst of a secure installation it had no business being in. Jurisdiction has the potential to get very confused – and it does. Along with the usual fighting over turf.

NTSB agent Miranda Chase finds herself diverted from her trip home in order to take charge of the investigation, along with a new team of agents that she has never even met before. Only to find herself facing the business end of a military revolver as the commander of the base does not want her, the NTSB, or anyone else poking around his base.

He has good reason. Figuring out just what that reason is becomes the heart of this book. And it nearly rips out the heart of the investigator, as well as the brains of more than a few pilots along the way.

And it’s the start of what looks to be a fascinating series.

Escape Rating A-: I’ll admit that at first I wasn’t too sure what direction this story was going to take. I mean that in the sense that all of the previous books by this author that I have read (and there have been LOTS) all have a romantic element. So I was expecting that and when it didn’t manifest I wondered whether I was in the right place – so to speak. Once I realized that this was all suspense and no romance, it flew me away at supersonic speeds.

The story rests on the character of Miranda Chase, and she’s certainly an interesting choice for point of view. At the top, I likened Chase to Temperance Brennan (as portrayed in the TV series Bones and not the Kathy Reichs’ books) Like Brennan, Miranda Chase is extremely intelligent, laser-focused, detail-oriented and generally not cognizant of human dynamics in any way. To the point where both women seem to be neuro-atypical, although in what way is never defined. But it makes Miranda an unconventional heroine – and I liked her a lot.

As the first book in the series, Drone also has a strong element of putting the team together. Miranda can’t do it alone – and even if she could, she shouldn’t. At the same time, she has a difficult time bonding with people – or even figuring out why people would want to bond. So the team that coalesces around her, who begin as strangers to her and to each other, need time to gel and find their places. That’s a process that has definitely begun by the end of Drone but still has a long way to go and should provide interesting viewpoints as the series progresses.

But the case that Miranda and her team find themselves in the middle of felt to me as if it came straight out of some of Tom Clancy’s less convoluted – and less long-winded – Jack Ryan stories.

When Miranda and her team arrive at Groom Lake, it’s already clear that something isn’t quite kosher about the crash. Not because it doesn’t look right – although that’s certainly true – but because the base commander is behaving strangely and the military version of NTSB is not investigating the crash site. It’s obvious that there’s a whole lot being hidden, but Miranda only sees the anomalies in the crash itself – which are plenty anomalous. Along with the fact that neither she nor her team have any idea who got them called into investigating this mess – or why.

Even when she figures out how the plane crashed – she still doesn‘t know what made the plane crash. Then she goes to DC to consult with a friend and mentor. And discovers that whatever physically made the plane crash it looks a whole lot like politics was the real cause.

That and the CIA left hand making sure that the Joint Chiefs of Staff right hand did not know what the CIA was doing with military assets and military personnel. This isn’t just a turf war – it’s a turf war with a coverup on top. A coverup that the CIA wants to bury Miranda Chase under – literally if necessary.

That the wheels within wheels turn out to include some truly epic spy games is just icing on a very tasty cake. And does a fantastic job of whetting the reader’s appetite for more books in this series.

I’m very glad that the second book of Miranda Chase’s adventures, Thunderbolt, is coming next month!