Review: The Summer Country by Lauren Willig

Review: The Summer Country by Lauren WilligThe Summer Country by Lauren Willig
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 480
Published by William Morrow on June 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The New York Times bestselling historical novelist delivers her biggest, boldest, and most ambitious novel yet—a sweeping, dramatic Victorian epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.

1854. From Bristol to Barbados. . . .

Emily Dawson has always been the poor cousin in a prosperous merchant clan—merely a vicar’s daughter, and a reform-minded vicar’s daughter, at that. Everyone knows that the family’s lucrative shipping business will go to her cousin, Adam, one day. But when her grandfather dies, Emily receives an unexpected inheiritance: Peverills, a sugar plantation in Barbados—a plantation her grandfather never told anyone he owned.

When Emily accompanies her cousin and his new wife to Barbados, she finds Peverills a burnt-out shell, reduced to ruins in 1816, when a rising of enslaved people sent the island up in flames. Rumors swirl around the derelict plantation; people whisper of ghosts.

Why would her practical-minded grandfather leave her a property in ruins? Why are the neighboring plantation owners, the Davenants, so eager to acquire Peverills—so eager that they invite Emily and her cousins to stay with them indefinitely? Emily finds herself bewitched by the beauty of the island even as she’s drawn into the personalities and politics of forty years before: a tangled history of clandestine love, heartbreaking betrayal, and a bold bid for freedom.

When family secrets begin to unravel and the harsh truth of history becomes more and more plain, Emily must challenge everything she thought she knew about her family, their legacy . . . and herself.

My Review:

The first book by Lauren Willig that I read was The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, probably 15 years ago. It got me hooked on her lush historical books, and I dip into one whenever I have a bit of time.

And so we come to The Summer Country, another lush and sumptuous historical by Lauren Willig. Unlike her well-known Pink Carnation series, this story takes place not in late 18th century France, but in mid-19th century Barbados.

However, they are both time slip stories. But the time that is slipped in The Summer Country encompasses considerably fewer centuries. The Pink Carnation series tells its historical story through a 21st century frame. But The Summer Country interweaves the past of Barbados at two periods only a couple of generations apart. Its “past” is in the early 1810s, and its “present” in the mid 1850s.

In other words, more than close enough together that the events of the past directly shape events in the story’s present – whether the protagonists are aware of that shaping or not. Mostly not. The time periods are also more than close enough together that it is within living memory for many people who still have secrets they desperately feel the need to keep.

At any cost. At all the times.

Escape Rating A-: The Summer Country is an example of the kind of epic family saga that they don’t publish much anymore. Because it’s a marvelous example of that kind of sweeping story, it does make the reader wonder why not. It’s lovely and captivating and pulls the reader into its world, much as its Barbados setting pulls in the characters who find themselves navigating the exotic and unfamiliar colony in the wake of their grandfather’s death.

A death that sets the whole story in motion.

This is a story about secrets, the cost of keeping them, and the fear of letting them go. It’s also a story that unspools as lazily as a day in the colonial heat – complete with an overarching sense of menace that coats the skin like sweat – and bites like the local mosquitoes.

It’s not a book to rush through. It begins with Emily Dawson, doing her level best to make her own way in this new world, trying to unravel the mystery that her grandfather has left her with his bequest of the ruined Peverill plantation. We see Emily buck the tide of ALL the men in her life and her orbit who are just certain that a woman couldn’t possibly know her own mind.

And we see the past, when her grandfather was a young man at Peverills, not as the owner, but as the poor bookkeeper. And we see all the people who stood in both their ways – some of whom still do.

It’s enthralling, it’s delicious, it’s decadent and at times it’s downright chilling. This is a book to wallow in – and you’ll be glad you did.

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Review: Summer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross + Giveaway

Review: Summer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross + GiveawaySummer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Honeymoon Harbor #3
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Summertime is the best time to lose yourself in the romance of Honeymoon Harbor…

When he lands in the emergency room after collapsing at the funeral of a colleague and friend, Wall Street hotshot Gabriel Mannion initially rejects the diagnosis of an anxiety attack. But when warned that if he doesn’t change his adrenaline-fueled, workaholic lifestyle he could end up like his friend, Gabe reluctantly returns to his hometown of Honeymoon Harbor to regroup.

As he adjusts to the sight of mountains instead of skyscrapers, Gabe discovers advantages to this small Pacific Northwest town he once couldn’t wait to escape. But it’s irresistible librarian Chelsea Prescott who, along with the two foster children she’s taken under her wing, makes slowing down seem like the best prescription ever.

Over the course of their summer romance, Gabe gets a taste of the life he might have had if he’d taken a different path. But with his return to New York City looming on the horizon, he’ll have to choose between the success he’s worked tirelessly for and a ready-made family who offers a very different, richly rewarding future…if he’ll only take the risk.

My Review:

When is a fling not a fling? Possibly when it comes with two children and a boat. But definitely when it begins with thinking you’re having a heart attack. While serving as a pallbearer at the funeral of someone you looked upon as a mentor.

For Gabe Mannion, wanting to be just like his mentor Carter Kensington has taken on a whole new meaning. The man is dead at 46, his heart a victim of the adrenaline rush that is high-level high-stakes trading on Wall Street.

Gabe’s panic-attack-that-feels-like-a-heart-attack is a giant wake up call. As one of his brothers later informs him, if your job gives you panic attacks, you’re doing it wrong. The problem for Gabe is that he doesn’t know how to stop doing it.

So he goes home. In that sense that home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in. Gabe needs to take the summer off and get away from his high-stakes, high-stress, all work and no life life-style, so he takes himself back home to Honeymoon Harbor, the tiny little beach town in the Pacific Northwest that he left for the fast track more than a decade ago.

He’s achieved the wealth that he dreamed of, not because he was greedy, but because money is a way of keeping score. He’s just never figured out when enough is enough, and adrenaline is just as addictive as any other drug.

He thinks he’ll be home for the summer, find a bit of zen, whatever that might mean, or at least ease off on the stress, and then return to the high-pressure world of dollars and cents – and more and more dollars.

Instead, librarian Chelsea Prescott rows over to the beach log mansion (it really is) he’s staying in for the summer, and invades his life, his house, the boat he’s building, and even, just possibly, his heart.

But their summer fling is supposed to have a limited shelf life. Her life, her home, and her life’s work is in Honeymoon Harbor, and he’s going back to New York after Labor Day. Or is he?

Escape Rating B+: This is a sweet little feel-good story about two people who have seen a few too many of life’s bumps and hard knocks, but have come out all the stronger for it.

I’m not actually talking about Chelsea and Gabe. I’m talking about Chelsea and Hannah, the young girl that Chelsea first takes an interest in when she notices that Hannah and her little sister Hailey are spending every afternoon in Chelsea’s library. Once upon a time, Chelsea spent her after school afternoons in that very same library, when her family and her home life was falling completely apart.

Chelsea sees herself in Hannah, using the library as a refuge and taking the very best care she can of her little sister. In Chelsea’s time, the librarian took her under her wing, giving her a refuge, a mentor, and eventually a career that she loves. Now it’s Chelsea’s turn to pay that gift forward.

But the package gets bigger when Hannah and Hailey’s foster mother goes AWOL and the girls need a place to stay. Chelsea steps up, and Gabe, steps up with her. Their fling has just barely begun, and suddenly they are all in together, making a home for two girls who need more than a temporary safe landing. They need a forever home, and Chelsea plans to give it to them.

With or without Gabe. But better with. If he can get his head out of his ass to figure where his heart is. Because Chelsea has already found hers.

Chelsea and Gabe’s relationship is fun to watch, but it’s Chelsea’s burgeoning relationship with the girls that really drives the book. There’s something very right about the family that they build together, a family that they all want Gabe to be a part of if he is willing to take a good hard look at the life he had in New York, the life he has in Honeymoon Harbor, and who the heck he wants to be when he finally grows up. Because when the story begins, he surely hasn’t.

Chelsea, on the other hand, begins the story grown up but closed off. Her childhood trauma has left her with the same need to guard her heart that she sees in Hannah. The way that the woman and the girl grow towards each other, and open their hearts in the process, is lovely to watch.

They are going to get the family they deserve, together, whether Gabe sticks around or not. That he does finally figure it out makes for delicious icing on a very yummy story.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Summer on Mirror Lake to one lucky US or Canadian commenter on this tour!

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Review: The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair

Review: The Right Sort of Man by Allison MontclairThe Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Right Sort Marriage Bureau #1
Pages: 336
Published by Minotaur Books on June 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"A delightful immersion in the period and personalities, with that touch of depth that transforms a good series to a great one." --Laurie R. King


First comes love, then comes murder.


In a London slowly recovering from World War II, two very different women join forces to launch a business venture in the heart of Mayfair--The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. Miss Iris Sparks, quick-witted and impulsive, and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge, practical and widowed with a young son, are determined to achieve some independence and do some good in a rapidly changing world.

But the promising start to their marriage bureau is threatened when their newest client, Tillie La Salle, is found murdered and the man arrested for the crime is the prospective husband they matched her with. While the police are convinced they have their man, Miss Sparks and Mrs. Bainbridge are not. To clear his name--and to rescue their fledging operation's reputation--Sparks and Bainbridge decide to investigate on their own, using the skills and contacts they've each acquired through life and their individual adventures during the recent war.

Little do they know that this will put their very lives at risk.

My Review:

It’s ironic that the protagonists in The Right Sort of Man are absolutely not looking for the right sort, or even the wrong sort of man for themselves. Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge operate a marriage bureau, and they are in the barely profitable business of finding the right sort of man for other women – as well as the other way around.

And that’s where things hit a snag for our intrepid entrepreneurs. One of their clients has just been murdered – and the one and only suspect that the police are interested in pursuing is the person that the Right Sort Marriage Bureau believed was the right sort for the dead woman.

Obviously, if the police are right, Gwen and Iris were very, very wrong. But they don’t think they are. That’s a conclusion that feels right even at the beginning. It feels like the police have come to the easy solution instead of looking for the correct one – but their case makes very little sense. It ties up all too neatly – but makes no sense whatsoever.

That’s where Gwen and Iris step in. Or perhaps I should say barge in. If Dickie Trower didn’t murder Tillie La Salle, then someone else certainly did. If they can find the real killer, they can save an innocent man from the gallows – and save their fledgling business into the bargain.

So they set out to catch a killer, armed with Gwen keen intuition about people, and Iris’ many mysterious skills gathered during her top secret career in one of Britain’s ultra secret war departments.

It’s too bad she can’t tell Gwen what she did – because the hints she drops are beyond frustrating.

Even without knowing exactly what Iris did, it’s clear that Iris is up for this unpaid job they’ve taken on. The surprise to Gwen is that she is every bit as capable in her own way as Iris. They both survived their war deeply damaged – but survive they did.

Now it’s time to live – if they can just get poor Mr. Trower out of jail first.

Escape Rating A: This was a terrific read and a great blend of historical fiction and historical mystery. The war is over, and it’s not, both at the same time. Particularly in Britain, where rationing was still very much in effect. Rationing didn’t end in Britain until 1954! (It ended in the US in 1945 for everything except sugar and that rationing ended in 1947)

So this story is an excellent portrait of two women who become friends and business partners, who begin with a whole lot of necessary secrets between them, but end up as close as sisters. They bond over their amateur detecting, even though Iris isn’t really an amateur at all.

Both women are left scarred and broken in their own ways by their war experience, and their work together, both in the marriage bureau and in their foray into sleuthing, is part of their healing.

The case itself delves into some of the dark places of post-war life. In their hunt for a murderer, they find themselves in the midst of a counterfeiting case – as well as working both with and against one of the gangs involved with the black market.

What makes their relationship so much fun to watch is that they come from completely different backgrounds and have totally different approaches to their circumstances. Gwen is the child of privilege, where Iris’ background seems to have been middle-class at best. Both are escaping from trauma that they have not dealt with properly, although their escapes methods, while being totally different, are equally unhealthy.

This investigation sees them take their first steps into a brighter future. And it’s terrific to watch. I also think that readers of the Maisie Dobbs series are going to love Iris and Gwen.

In the end, neither Iris nor Gwen finds exactly the right sort of man, but this is absolutely, positively the right sort of book if you’re looking for a terrific story of women’s friendship bonded by solving mysteries together!

Review: The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence + Giveaway

Review: The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence + GiveawayThe Alchemist of Lost Souls (Bianca Goddard Mysteries, #4) by Mary Lawrence
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Bianca Goddard #4
Pages: 320
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A dangerous element discovered by Bianca Goddard's father falls into the wrong hands . . . leading to a chain of murders. Spring 1544 Now that she is with child, Bianca is more determined than ever to distance herself from her unstable father. Desperate to win back the favor of King Henry VIII, disgraced alchemist Albern Goddard plans to reveal a powerful new element he's discovered--one with deadly potential. But when the substance is stolen, he implores his daughter to help.

Soon after, a woman's body is found behind the Dim Dragon Inn, an eerie green vapor rising from her mouth. Bianca has reason to suspect her own mother may be involved in the theft and the murder. When her husband John is conscripted into King Henry's army to subdue Scottish resistance, finding the stone becomes a matter of life and death. Bianca must unravel the interests of alchemists, apothecaries, chandlers, and scoundrels--to find out who among them is willing to kill to possess the element known as lapis mortem, the stone of death . . .

Praise for The Alchemist of Lost Souls "Atmospheric...Fans of Tudor historicals will eagerly await the next installment."--Publishers Weekly

Praise for Death at St. Vedast "Full of period details, Lawrence's latest series outing captures Tudor London in all its colorful splendor. A solid choice for devotees of Elizabethan mysteries."--Library Journal

Praise for Death of an Alchemist "A must read!" --RT Reviews

"Colorful alchemical lore and vividly imagined..." --Publishers Weekly

Praise for The Alchemist's Daughter A Night Owls Reviews Top Pick Suspense Magazine Best Historical Mystery 2015

"A complex plot and likeable cast of characters" --Historical Novel Society

My Review:

This is the fourth book in the Bianca Goddard series, and I picked it up because I read and enjoyed the recreation of Tudor England in the first two books in the series, The Alchemist’s Daughter and Death of an Alchemist. How and why I managed to miss the third book, Death at St. Vedast, I have no idea, but it’s an omission I certainly plan to rectify!

Although this series takes place among people who are living at the bottom of the economic pile, the actions of those at the top still affect the lives of Bianca, her husband John, and her father Albern in ways that never work to their benefit.

Once upon a time Albern Goddard was a respected alchemist in the employ of the king. The respectability of alchemy, while not laughable as it is today, was more than a bit dubious even in the mid 16th century when this story is set.

Albern’s fame and fortunes have considerably dwindled – not that his attitudes towards his wife, his daughter, or the people he lives among have come down even in the slightest. He thinks he’s better and smarter than everyone else looking down his nose at everyone around him, including his family.

And certainly his fellow practitioners of the so-called noble art.

His daughter Bianca, on the other hand, is both a decent brewer of medicinals and a decent judge of human beings. Including her parents. That she lives in an unsavory part of London and practices among those even poorer than herself provides further fuel for her father’s contempt. And that’s in spite of the fact that Bianca has pulled his nuts, literally and figuratively, out of the fire more than once.

Which doesn’t stop either Albern Goddard nor the local sheriff from enlisting her aid. Albern when a precious compound is stolen, and the sheriff when the woman who ended up with it in her possession is murdered.

But the parallel investigations into the theft from her father and the murder that seems to have been its result are not the only problems plaguing Bianca.

Because it is 1544 and Henry VIII plans on one final campaign against England’s perennial enemy, the French. He intends it to be a glorious victory. All that Bianca knows is that her husband has been caught up in the conscription for a war that seems more foolhardy than glorious. Whether he will return in time to see the child she carries – even whether he will return at all – is in the hands, or whims, of a capricious fate.

Escape Rating B+: This is a historical series where the reader kicks the offal, smells the smells, and feels more than a hint of the brutality of life on society’s lowest rungs of the ladder. In that, it resembles the Crispin Guest series by Jeri Westerson, the Thieftaker Chronicles by D.B. Jackson and the Kate Clifford series by Candace Robb.

This is not a pretty view of Tudor England, but one that is biting and raw. Bianca’s circumstances force her to make her living in an area known for its poverty, crime and lawlessness. It’s a world where her father has not only the right but the duty to beat her, in spite of her being an adult living away from his household, and where she is grateful that her husband does not do his duty to beat her as well.

And it is also a period where what we would now label superstition is accepted as fact, and where the worlds of magic and spiritualism lie much closer to everyday life. Which explains the common beliefs in alchemy, as well as nearly everything about the title character of this story, the being known as the Rat Man, who has spent centuries plying the waterways of the Thames and looking for the alchemical element he once created in an attempt to grant eternal life. An element that seems to have only granted him eternal damnation.

He is watching Bianca, in the hopes that she can somehow lead him to the final end that he longs for. And that she will not pay for his death with her own.

But the Rat Man is a shadowy figure, existing mostly on the fringes of this story. It is Bianca that we focus on, and it is her search for the truth, even the truths that she does not want to face, that moves us. While her circumstances may be removed in place and time, the intelligence, deductive reasoning and sheer stubbornness that she uses to achieve her aims are traits that 21st century readers can certainly empathize with – and follow.

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

The author is giving away signed paperback copies of The Alchemist of Lost Souls to two lucky participants in this tour!

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Review: The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayThe Rogue of Fifth Avenue (Uptown Girls, #1) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, eboook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Uptown Girls #1
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on June 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Silver-tongued lawyer.Keeper of secrets.Breaker of hearts.

He can solve any problem…

In serving the wealthy power brokers of New York society, Frank Tripp has finally gained the respectability and security his own upbringing lacked. There’s no issue he cannot fix…except for one: the beautiful and reckless daughter of an important client who doesn’t seem to understand the word danger.

She’s not looking for a hero…

Excitement lay just below Forty-Second Street and Mamie Greene is determined to explore all of it—while playing a modern-day Robin Hood along the way. What she doesn’t need is her father’s lawyer dogging her every step and threatening her efforts to help struggling families in the tenements.

However, she doesn’t count on Frank’s persistence…or the sparks that fly between them. When fate upends all her plans, Mamie must decide if she’s willing to risk it all on a rogue…

My Review:

The Rogue of Fifth Avenue is the first book in the Uptown Girls series, a followup to the author’s Four Hundred series. Both take place among the elite “Knickerbocker” society of New York City in the Gilded Age.

I have to admit, though, that the possibility that this series is named for the Billy Joel song Uptown Girl just makes me smile. It also gives me a rather pleasant earworm. And the lyrics actually work, come to think of it.

The romance in this one is between Mamie Greene, who’s a bit of a “poor little rich girl” and Frank Tripp, who is very definitely a rich little poor boy. Frank is a rich and successful uptown attorney who counts Mamie’s rich and influential father, Duncan Greene as one of his biggest clients.

(There are a LOT of rich people in this story – but in the end the story is surprisingly NOT about their wealth.)

Frank has been following Mamie and her sisters to rather an alarming number of dives and gambling dens. He thinks he’s keeping her out of trouble. Of course, he has no idea what he’s actually gotten himself into.

He thinks he’s saving Mamie. What really happening is that they get along like kerosene and matches – combustible at every encounter. Neither of them can afford to acknowledge the attraction between them. Mamie’s father will never allow her to marry his lawyer, no matter how successful Frank might be. And Mamie is promised to another man.

Frank thinks he’s saving Mamie FROM herself. He’s not willing to acknowledge that he’s really saving her FOR himself. Or that he’s the one who really needs saving.

Escape Rating B-: Although the Uptown Girls series is a spinoff from the Four Hundred series, it is not necessary to read the Four Hundred to get right into the thick of things in The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. There are occasional mentions and appearances by a few of the characters from the previous series, but nothing to interrupt the flow of this story for those who have not read those.

That being said, I really, really liked all three books in the Four Hundred series, and liked them more than I did The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. Or rather, I liked the actual “Rogue”, Frank Tripp, just fine, but I didn’t enjoy Mamie’s character nearly as much as I did the heroines of the previous series.

On my other hand, this one really is the story of Frank’s journey and Frank’s redemption. Mamie feels more like the instrument of said redemption. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Both Frank and Mamie have secrets. Mamie’s secret is that she is literally robbing the rich, picking the pockets of the swells who frequent the elite gambling halls, to provide funds for poor women and their children who quite seriously need the help. And that she is keeping her thievery and her visits to Five Points from her parents.

I found myself applauding her desire to help people while decrying her methods. Not just in the “two wrongs don’t make a right” sense, but in the sense that Mamie has money and could pay out of her pocket as well as fund raise among her rich friends. If her parents had forbidden her activities the secrecy would make more sense, but she hasn’t asked, she’s just assumed. Possibly a correct assumption, but still…considering her parent’s personalities, it would have had a fair chance of working.

Frank, on the other hand, is hiding that he began as a poor boy in Five Points, the child of a drunken wife beater and the poor wife he beat. He got lucky and received a hand up from a local business owner who helped into law school. Everything Frank got from there was on his own merits and hard work, as well as a silver tongue that convinced the upper crust swells that he was one of them.

The story here is that Frank’s old life collides with Mamie’s hidden life, as one of the women she has been helping is arrested for killing her husband. Which she, in fact, did. Not in self-defense, but in defense of their five-year-old daughter. The deck is stacked high against the woman, and Mamie wants Frank to use that silver tongue of his to get the woman off – no matter how much the corrupt police department wants to sweep the case under the rug.

In the process of defending the case, Frank finds himself confronting the family he left behind, and the facade he has created in order to maintain his life cracks under the strain. Whether Mamie is able to forgive him for his necessary deception provides the romantic tension at the end of the story, but this is one of the few times where I really wanted the heroine to forgive the erring hero a lot quicker and more easily than she did.

That being said, the way that this one works out, both in the romantic sense and especially in the courtroom, made for one heck of a slam-bang (also a wham-bam!) ending.

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

To celebrate the release of THE ROGUE OF FIFTH AVENUE by Joanna Shupe, we’re giving away one paperback set of the entire Four Hundred series!

Link: http://bit.ly/2WQzECI

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books. Giveaway ends 6/10/2019 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly.

Review: Rebel by Beverly Jenkins + Giveaway

Review: Rebel by Beverly Jenkins + GiveawayRebel (Women Who Dare, #1) by Beverly Jenkins
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Women Who Dare #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The first novel in USA Today Bestselling Author Beverly Jenkins' compelling new series follows a Northern woman south in the chaotic aftermath of the Civil War...

Valinda Lacey's mission in the steamy heart of New Orleans is to help the newly emancipated community survive and flourish. But soon she discovers that here, freedom can also mean danger. When thugs destroy the school she has set up and then target her, Valinda runs for her life—and straight into the arms of Captain Drake LeVeq.

As an architect from an old New Orleans family, Drake has a deeply personal interest in rebuilding the city. Raised by strong women, he recognizes Valinda's determination. And he can't stop admiring—or wanting—her. But when Valinda's father demands she return home to marry a man she doesn't love, her daring rebellion draws Drake into an irresistible intrigue.

My Review:

Considering that a big part of the romance in this book is all about Drake LeVeq persuading Valinda Lacey to let her inner hellion out of the straight-jacket her father has tried to wrap it in, this book would have been better titled Hellion than Rebel.

And that’s about the only quibble I have with this book. It is simply marvelous from beginning to end. Sometimes heartbreaking, but marvelous every step of the way.

(Don’t let that bit about heartbreaking worry you, there is an HEA for our hero and heroine. But some of what they have to go through to get there, and what the Black community of post-Civil War New Orleans – and in the rest of the country –  had to experience both before and after Freedom, that is frequently heartbreaking, all the more so because it doesn’t feel over.)

Rebel is a story on two levels, and it works excellently on both of them.

On one level, it’s a romance. On the other, complementary level, its historical fiction about the Black experience in Reconstruction era New Orleans in specific, and in U.S. in general during that period.

In the end, figuring out that they love each other is the easy part of their story. Working their way through and/or around the forces arrayed against them is the hard part. The combination of the two is what makes Rebel terrific – and terrifically readable – all the way around.

Escape Rating A+: Yes, I know I’m squeeing. This was a book that I just loved, even though I often have difficulties with historical romance these days. Those difficulties occur because historical romance heroines have a high tightrope to walk, in that they both have to be women who have enough agency for me to identify with and be women who can at least plausibly fit into the time and place where their story is set.

Valinda succeeds because she has a tremendous amount of agency that springs directly out of her time, place and circumstances. While her disgusting father does his best/worst to clip the wings of her spirit, that he expects her to be meek and submissive is plausible for the time period.

That, as a Black woman in the late 19th century she feels both duty-bound and able to support herself and make her own living and give of her best for the betterment of her people feels equally plausible and downright likely. The world is not going to be handed to her, and she’s seen the results of submitting meekly to her father’s will in the lives of her mother and older sister. It’s all too easy for 21st century women to see themselves in her pride in her work and her ambitions.

That growing up in her family circumstances has left her with no belief in love makes perfect sense and fits her right into the company of many romantic heroines who learned early that their marriages would be business deals and not love matches. That the marriage her father wants for her is more vile than that puts him in the bad company of many fathers of romantic heroines. Valinda spends the book rightfully dreading his appearance in New Orleans, and he lives down to all of her fears.

But her hopes by that point have been placed in Drake LaVeg, a man who has grown up in a family filled with love, led by his strong, determined and successful mother. It’s Drake and his family who coax the real Valinda out from the restrictions her father placed around her.

At the same time, this book does its best to portray the circumstances under which Drake’s and Valinda’s community was forced to endure. The freedom granted by the Union victory in the Civil War was precious – and it was under attack by all sides at all times. Those attacks were often legal, governmental and bureaucratic. Even the illegal attacks were sanctioned by the government and the powers-that-be.

So much of the circumstances that surround and intrude upon the romance feel viscerally wrong and historically accurate at the same time. And should make readers reflect that not nearly as much has changed as we like to believe.

In the end, Rebel is a romance that provides a historically accurate setting that we don’t read about often enough, featuring a dashing hero, a heroine with intense agency, and a promise of more to come.

I can’t wait to meet the rest of the Women Who Dare!

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

To celebrate the release of REBEL by Beverly Jenkins, we’re giving away a paperback copy of Tempest by Beverly Jenkins to one lucky winner!

LINK: http://bit.ly/2Hr1RLq

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Tempest by Beverly Jenkins. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 6/10/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.

Review: Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank

Review: Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton FrankQueen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, women's fiction
Series: Lowcountry Tales #12
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times-bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank returns to the American South in this latest novel about friendship and love that is full of heart, humor, and rich description.

A woman wounded by her past comes to Sullivan's Island, South Carolina to find new meaning in life and to find herself. As she takes up a new hobby of beekeeping, she begins to come into her own and rebuild her life. When a new friend comes in and she finally allows for something more than just "friendship", everyone will realize that life could use a little taste of sweetness.

In what is sure to be another classic, Dorothea Benton Frank weaves a fun tale of self-discovery, love, and friendship with her signature charming wit, indelible poignancy, and hallmark themes.

My Review:

This book is a fun read and a hot mess at the same time. I would have thought those two things would be mutually exclusive, but after reading Queen Bee, they definitely are not.

Let me explain…

But first, I’d like to perform a bit of public service. The blurb for this book bears virtually no resemblance to the actual book. The book the blurb represents might be a very good book, but it certainly isn’t this book. At all.

To begin with, Holly Jensen doesn’t come to Sullivan’s Island, she already lives there. In fact, she grew up there and hasn’t left except for college. Nor does just just “take up” beekeeping. She IS a beekeeper and she has been one for several years. In fact, she’s an established beekeeper who has well-maintained hives full of happy bees who give her plenty of honey to sell – as well as giving her a sympathetic ear – or a thousand ears – when life starts closing in..

That new friend isn’t new, either. They went to school together. They just seem to have lost touch with each other over the years. As happens, even in small towns.

It happens especially easily in this case because Holly has found herself shackled to Sullivan’s Island, taking care of her cantankerous mother, the actual Queen Bee of the title. That “friend” of hers is in the nearby town, a member of the local police.

The person who does come back to town, because she’s been wounded by her present, not her past, is Holly’s sister Leslie. Leslie married Charlie, a man Holly refers to as “the wallet”, and blithely moved to Charleston. It seemed like Leslie’s marriage was perfect – at least self-absorbed Leslie made it seem that way.

Then again, everything Leslie does is perfect, at least in the eyes of the Queen Bee. Holly resents her sister’s freedom, resents being stuck on Sullivan’s Island taking care of their mother, and resents her mother’s resentment that Holly isn’t “perfect” Leslie. Because it seems to Holly that Leslie can do no wrong and she, Holly, can do no right.

When Leslie comes home, the three lives of the three women get forcibly kicked out of the ruts they’ve all been stagnating in – in more ways than one.

Leslie’s back because her husband, Charlie the wallet, wants to make a new identity for himself as a female impersonator, and is off to a contest in Atlantic City to see if he has a chance. He expects Leslie to be enthusiastically supportive of his decision, even as Charlie begins changing their entire lives to live as Charlene rather than Charlie.

(And that’s the last time I’ll refer to Charlie as either Charlie or as “him”, because from this point forward a gender-neutral pronoun is required.)

Leslie is more than a bit confused by the changes, and both she and the Queen Bee are at the “not just no but hell no” stage of, let’s call it, non-acceptance.

Then things change. A lot. Charlene wins a prize in the contest, and decides to stretch their wings by moving to Las Vegas to participate in even more contests. Charlene want to make a career out of this, and really, seriously want to become a star.

Leslie, hesitatingly, reluctantly, moves from “hell no” to being more open-minded, and ultimately more supportive. Holly, completely open-minded about Charlene, is just plain grateful that Charlene’s need for a support team and especially a costume designer gets the Queen Bee out of the depressive, self-destructive funk she’s been living in for years and temporarily moves her from Sullivan’s Island to Vegas to help Charlene take the first steps into this new world.

Meanwhile, back home, Holly is on her own and feeling relieved and miserable at the same time. On the one hand, she has the freedom to do what she wants when she wants without her mother’s constant negativity and harping.

On that other hand, what Holly wants is to finally get close to the widower next door. She’s been helping him out with his two young sons ever since his wife died, and she’s hoping there might be something more there. She fancies herself in love with him.

He fancies himself using her as an unpaid babysitting service while he marries a woman who makes the Wicked Witch of the West seem like a saint. That the original Wicked Witch is killed by a house falling on her head makes this resemblance surprisingly more relevant.

The bees fix everything for their queen. It’s up to Holly to take it from there.

Escape Rating B+: I have mixed feelings about this one. Lots of them. All of them.

First things first, this is a terrifically fast and fun read. It goes really quick, at least in part because there’s so much happening – and because so much of it is unexpectedly off the wall. And not in a bad way, either.

I will say that Holly is a doormat for way too long. She doesn’t grow a spine until 2/3rds of the way through the book, and listening to her internal dialog about Arch-next-door gets really old, really fast.

Admittedly, from the way that Holly’s mother treats her at the beginning, Holly’s spine has been pretty much surgically removed every single day of her life. It’s a bit of a miracle that she manages to grow one at all. But doormats do not compelling protagonists make – at least not for moi.

However, this is really a three-pronged story. Holly has a third, Leslie has a third and the Queen Bee has a third. And that’s where things get interesting. And also completely off the script of that blurb.

Leslie’s story moves from negativity to acceptance and resolution. It’s a reasonable progression and also a positive one. In the end, Leslie supports Char and the changes in their life while coming to the conclusion that as much as she loves the person, she is no longer sexually attracted to them as a spouse.

The resolution of Leslie and Char’s story takes as much “book time” as Holly’s, and is more interesting to follow.

Then there’s the Queen Bee’s story. The QB gets a new lease on life by going to Vegas. She also finds love with the genderqueer Suzanne Velour, an older female impersonator who has taken Char under their rather capacious wing.

That romance is sweet and surprising for all concerned, including the QB and Suz themselves. Unfortunately for the story, that romance feels a bit “shot out of a cannon” and proceeds too quickly. What we see of it is terrific, but it just happens too damn fast.

There’s a bit of “woo-woo” type magic between Holly and her bees – not enough to tip this into paranormal, but enough to make it feel like things happen on Sullivan’s Island, and in the Lowcountry, that just don’t happen anywhere else.

In the end, I liked the book, and had a good time reading it. I’ll admit to some serious questions about why two thirds of the story, featuring two genderqueer characters, were completely erased from the blurb. Anyone picking this book up based on the blurb is going to be surprised. Hopefully as pleasantly as I was, but surprised nonetheless.

Holly is the one who sums up this story, and all the relationships, best, when she says that “love comes in every color, shape, and size”, and that every life needs a little bit of sweetness. And she’s right.

TLC
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Guest Review: Finding Kat by Kimberley O’Malley

Guest Review: Finding Kat by Kimberley O’MalleyFinding Kat by Kimberley O'Malley
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Windsor Falls #5
Pages: 314
Published by Carolina Blue Publishing on December 5th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Kat De Luca loves her family, and working in their bakery, but wants something more, something different. Sebastian Walker, local Cardiologist, grew up in the ultimate dysfunctional family. He can’t imagine why Kat wants to change anything about her life. Can she make him understand? Will he accept what she wants? Will their sizzling attraction be enough to overcome their differences?

Guest Review by Amy:

Kat De Luca grew up in a small town, with an Italian family rich in history and tradition. She’s part of the fourth generation of her family to operate the best (only?) bakery in Windsor Falls. Her father, the current patriarch, is…  well, that’s complicated. We’ll get to him in a minute. And one early morning, Kat’s making bread and treats, and in walks – him.  Sebastian Walker, she’ll come to find out, who is a cardiologist and the best friend of the person who is marrying Kat’s best friend.  Katie’s been trying to set them up, but they both are decidedly single, and not overly inclined to change that. But wow, this guy is hot. He comes around again a few days later, when Papa is there, and things get crazy in a big, big hurry.

Escape Rating: A: Overall, I liked this story. I grew up in small-town America, and understand some of the pressures that come with it – everyone knows pretty much everyone, and there is often only one provider for any given service in town, so if you need that service, it is helpful to stay on good terms with that provider. Kat’s reluctance to admit the hots she has for the handsome Sebastian is, to my mind, quite sensible: doctors can’t always be there for you, as patients’ needs can get in the way, and, well, he’s her father’s cardiologist, after all, and is the best friend of the man who is marrying her best friend. If either relationship fails, drama a-plenty would be afoot, and that’s all best avoided. Isn’t it?

For his part, formerly confirmed-bachelor Sebastian just isn’t really all that interested in commitment, or hasn’t been in the past, anyway. But Kat is just different, somehow, and it takes our handsome hero a bit to figure it out. Sebastian and Kat join Katie and her beau Flynn when the couple-to-be decides to elope. Flynn’s family’s got big money, so off they go in a private jet for a few days in the Caribbean, and a hasty wedding. And the sparks start for our pair, of course. Nothing like sand and sea and no day-to-day worries to get the…erm…juices flowing, so to speak.  Ahem. This section of the story provides some lovely steam, explicit but not at all tawdry. The encounters are unfortunately brief, but quite intense for all their brevity.

I had some concern for a bit about Kat’s career path, and how that would influence things in her relationships with both her father and Sebastian; indeed, her father’s intransigence is a major driver of this story, as he’s just not having her innovate the way she wants, “betraying” him by baking something that’s not in the family tradition. Now, before you jump on me, I’m not knocking tradition. There’s always room for tradition, and if the little family bakery near my home ever stopped making their jalapeño, sausage, and cheese kolaches the way they’ve always done, I would cry. A lot. But Kat’s not asking to stop baking the traditional goods. After all, they’re still wildly popular! She’s wanting to add to the business by trying new things, in addition. But dear old Papa just isn’t having it. I found him to be a frustrating figure, and the closest thing this story has to an antagonist.

I’ve seen a lot of romances that involve the breathtakingly wealthy, and a lot where it’s regular, everyday folks, but this one gives us a healthy shot of the best of both. I hope you’ll find it an enjoyable, easy read, as I have.

 

Review: Mission: Her Safety by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Safety by Anna HackettMission: Her Safety (Team 52) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance
Series: Team 52 #5
Pages: 212
Published by Anna Hackett on May 20th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

A sexy, grumpy black ops scientist will do anything to track down the mysterious woman who broke into his lab.

After Dr. Ty Sampson catches a mysterious female intruder in his home and lab, he’s obsessed with finding out who she is and what she wants. He’s a man who trusts very few people and hates anyone in his space. His role as Team 52’s lead scientist brings him into contact with a host of powerful, ancient artifacts, so he knows the woman must be after something dangerous and he refuses to let her succeed.

River Elliott-Hall is good at finding things and prides herself on always getting the job done. When a very valuable painting by a master is stolen from a famous museum, it is her job to get it back. The trail leads her to the bright lights of Las Vegas and she’s heard rumors of the covert, black ops Team 52. But as she investigates if they know anything about the painting, she finds herself drawn into a battle of wits with a big, bad-tempered, and far-too-handsome genius.

Life has taught River and Ty to guard their hearts, so as these two circle each other, they warily agree to work together. Because it soon becomes clear that the painting is more than just a painting, and someone with a dangerous plan is working behind the scenes. Fighting their intense chemistry, Ty and River—along with Team 52—will risk everything to save the day, and both find themselves battling the unfamiliar needs to claim, protect, and keep each other safe.

My Review:

I find the title of this entry in the Team 52 series particularly ironic, as River Elliott-Hall doesn’t really need anyone to make her safety their mission – and she’d be downright insulted at the thought.

Which makes her a perfect heroine for this – or any other – of Anna Hackett’s action adventure romance series, whether they are even slightly science fictional – or not. The Team 52 series is mostly one of the “or nots”, so if you like a romance where there’s plenty of action and adventure both between and outside of the sheets, Team 52 or the Treasure Hunter Security series that it spun off of, might be just the ticket.

Team 52 is based just next door to Area 51. And yes, that slight joke is intentional. Because Team 52 deals with just the sort of artifacts that Area 51 is supposed to be housing. Consider it hiding in plain sight. Or plausible deniability.

Just like some of the more “out of this world” artifacts that used to get found on Earth in the Stargate series, Team 52’s job is to protect most of us from unscrupulous people taking advantage of some really cool, and very powerful gizmos that have been hidden and/or buried on this planet for more millennia than we think this planet has actually had intelligent life.

This particular adventure starts out relatively down to earth – the earth as we know it. Until the mystery gets a whole lot bigger.

River Elliott-Hall is former MI6. She currently freelances as, let’s call it, a retrieval artist. She gets hired when something really big and important gets stolen – and the original owners are willing to pay some serious money to get it back.

She’s after a painting by Leonardo da Vinci titled Salvator Mundi, stolen from the Abu Dhabi Louvre. As an original by the Renaissance genius, it’s worth not a small but actually quite a large fortune.

As a map to the location of the elixir that gave da Vinci his genius, it is beyond price. And also well within the purview of Team 52.

When River rifles her way through the homes of all of the members of Team 52, she puts herself and her job squarely in their sights. The museum can have the picture, as long as Team 52 gets to put the elixir out of the reach of anyone who might want to use and/or abuse it.

Banding together to accomplish both of their aims puts River Elliott-Hall squarely in the arms of Team 52’s resident real genius, Ty Sampson. And in spite of neither of them believing in either love or trust, they can’t manage to stay away from each other.

Not even under orders to “play it safe”.

Escape Rating B: I’m still finding the titles of this series to be more than a bit on the cheesy side for some reason. And I’m also starting to get a bit tired of the headless bod covers. Not that the bods aren’t bodacious and all that, but heads, please – as long as it’s not all the same head because that would be weird.

Irreverence aside, Mission: Her Safety was a fairly typical entry in the Team 52 series. By that I mean that the non-romantic action is non-stop, the romantic action is just a bit quick on the trigger, and that the macguffin they are chasing after is suitably dangerous and dangerously well-protected.

And that both the hero and the heroine have plenty of personal demons to exorcise before they can reach their own personal happy ever after – after the artifact and their enemies are suitably contained – one way or another.

(Pine boxes being a fine method of containment under the correct circumstances – the kind of circumstances that often occur during Team 52’s adventures.)

I liked Ty and River, and thought that in the end they made a great team, both professionally and romantically. It also worked really well that they had, let’s say not dissimilar family baggage to deal with – and that they initially weren’t dealing with it terribly well but in the same way.

One of the things that I liked very much was that the former partner and mentor that River was somewhat avenging was just that, a working partner and mentor without having ever been a romantic interest or a member of her birth family. Love takes many forms, and the need to find justice for a fallen loved one is not confined to those for whom we feel romantic love or to those who are part of our birth families.

In the end, I enjoyed Ty and River’s story, but it wasn’t a special entry in the series for me. My favorites are still Mission: Her Protection (book 1 in the series and highly recommended) and Mission: Her Defense (book 4).

Review: No Saving Throw by Kristin McFarland

Review: No Saving Throw by Kristin McFarlandNo Saving Throw by Kristin McFarland
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Ten Again #1
Pages: 272
Published by Diversion Books on May 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A supremely geeky murder mystery perfect for Whovians, gamers, and Muggles alike.

Autumn has everything she could possibly want: Loving friends, a successful business, and a gaggle of nerds in her store every day.

Welcome to Ten Again, a tabletop gaming store that attracts nerds of every kind and fosters a community Autumn’s pretty proud of—a community that also keeps business afloat. And now that Autumn's in the running for a grant, Ten Again’s future is looking bright.

That is, until one of Autumn’s gamers is mysteriously murdered. With everyone in the mall as a suspect and accusations flying, Autumn is going to have to do some sleuthing of her own to save her shop. And to save her gamers from what seems to be an increasingly more dangerous fate

My Review:

You may be wondering exactly what a “saving throw” is, why Autumn Sinclair doesn’t have one – and why she needs one so very badly.

If you are familiar with role-playing-games like Dungeons and Dragons, you are already familiar with the concept of a saving throw. In those games, characters often stroll, walk, skulk or stride into danger – all of it controlled by rolls of multi-sided dice.

(All dice have multiple sides, the standard die you’re probably thinking of is a d6 – a six sided die.)

But if the person controlling the game so decides, the player may have the opportunity to roll a separate die to see whether or not their game-character, well, dies. That’s a saving throw.

Come to think of it, real life might be a bit easier if we all had a few chances to make a saving throw. Although loving this book is probably a bit easier if you didn’t need the above explanation.

Autumn is a business owner in her small community. The business she owns is Ten Again, an actually fairly successful gaming store. She’s just opened her doors this evening for what is supposed to be a multi-day, popular and profitable tournament for her store

Instead, tragedy strikes. One of her gamers, one of the members of her community, is killed in her building while the gaming event is going on. Pretty quickly, it looks like two of the other gamers are responsible for his death. And that a whole deck of really bad publicity is going to fall on the gaming community in general and Autumn in particular.

She’s completely right about the terrible publicity, the threats to her store, her community and herself. And while a bit far off about who really done it, she’s on the money about who didn’t, even if she has no clue about the whys and wherefores – at least not yet.

It’s up to Autumn and her friends to level-up their skills in detection and investigation before their game is over. Permanently.

Escape Rating B: No Saving Throw, the book, doesn’t need a difficult saving throw of its own. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a very twisty-turny little small town mystery. While it is extra special fun for those of us who have spent a lot of time on the geeky-nerdy side of the force, at its heart it’s basically a cozy mystery where everybody knows everybody else and where the long-standing relationships in the community provide a lot of the heart as well as a lot of misdirection on the path to solving the murder.

More than a bit of that misdirection is provided by the enmity between Autumn and Meghan. Autumn and Meghan are long-standing rivals, and have been since high school. Now in their early 30s, that rivalry has just added more depth as the years have gone by, moving from fighting over a cheating boyfriend to fighting over a potential renovation grant for the struggling mall that both of their retail shops occupy – at opposite ends, of course.

In the end, they’ll have to get over each other, and everything that has happened between them, to figure out who is using their feud to threaten both of them.

Part of the fun of this one was that I thought I knew whodunnit – only to discover that I was completely off base. And that successful misdirection makes the a-bit-too-neat typing up of all the little mysteries definitely worth playing – or reading – toward.

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