Review: This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman + Giveaway

Review: This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman + GiveawayThis Earl of Mine (Bow Street Bachelors, #1) by Kate Bateman, K.C. Bateman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Bow Street Bachelors #1
Pages: 336
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on October 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The first book in a new Regency romance series, an heiress and a rogue accidentally end up in a secret marriage of convenience.

In a desperate bid to keep her fortune out of her cousin's hands, shipping heiress Georgiana Caversteed marries a condemned criminal in Newgate prison. The scoundrel's first kiss is shockingly heated, but Georgie never expects to see her husband again. Until she spots him across a crowded ballroom. Notorious rogue Benedict Wylde never expected a wife. He was in Newgate undercover, working for Bow Street. To keep their marriage of convenience a secret, Wylde courts Georgie in public, but the more time they spend together, the more their attraction sparks. Could an heiress with the world at her feet find happiness with a penniless rake? Kate Bateman's This Earl of Mine is a delightful start to the Bow Street Bachelors series, with witty banter, dynamic characters, and swoon-worthy romance.

My Review:

The way that this story opens reminded me of something I’ve always wondered about. Considering the incredible lengths that Regency heroines seem to have had to go to in order to protect themselves from predatory family members and their machinations, just how vanishingly small was the percentage of even slightly functional families among the upper classes?

I understand completely why Georgie goes to the lengths she does to keep her (OMG) cousin Josiah from compromising her so that she is forced to marry him, so that he can drain her extensive fortune to the dregs. He’s a complete wastrel, addicted to gambling, alcohol and opium – and he’s also complete slime. I can totally empathize with her desire not to marry him under any circumstances and don’t blame her a bit for the ruse she intends to enact.

I only question why there doesn’t seem to be anyone getting this bastard off her back – before he puts her on hers against her will. I’ve read this trope before, and it is infuriating. We empathize with her immediately, but as level-headed as Georgie is I can’t help but think there should be someone effective on her side.

Rant ends.

But I love Georgie as a protagonist. She is smart, she’s a successful businesswoman, she knows her own mind and skills and is both willing and able to act on her own behalf. She is not waiting for anyone to rescue her – and I’m happy that she isn’t. She neither needs nor wants someone to stand in front of her and fight her battles for her. She needs someone to stand beside her, support her in her own struggles and assist her when she decides she needs assistance.

That she finds that person in Newgate Prison is a surprise to everyone involved. Herself – and himself – included.

She goes into Newgate intending to marry a condemned prisoner who will be conveniently (for Georgie, anyway) hung the next morning. She ends up married to Ben Wylde, a covert agent of the crown masquerading as a convicted smuggler and working for Bow Street (hence the title of the series).

Ben is the brother of the impoverished Earl of Morcott. He’s also a veteran of the recently and hopefully finally completed Napoleonic Wars. Most important for the story, he’s a known rake on the fringes of the ton, those sticklers of high society. A high society that Georgie’s ambitious mother wants to ascend to, by way of Georgie’s beautiful but clumsy younger sister.

Which means that Georgie and Ben are fated to meet as soon as he bribes his way out of Newgate – not that he was in there as his real self in any case. It was all part of his current case for Bow Street. But their marriage is valid, which leaves Georgie and Ben on the horns of a rather dicey dilemma. (Horns is also punnily appropriate for Ben’s condition every time they are within sight of each other!)

Georgie needs to be married to fend off Cousin Josiah. Ben has neither the need nor the desire for a wife – whatever he feels for, or in the presence of, Georgie. Particularly as it is well known that Ben and his brother John (the Earl) are in dire need of a rather large fortune to redeem their late father’s many, many (many) gambling debts. While Georgie, who possess that large fortune from the successful shipping business that she inherited and has expanded (all by her ownsome, thankyouverymuch), is naturally wary of men who want to marry her for access to her fortune.

But they are stuck with each other. Or are they? Georgie very nearly gamed the system before in order to protect what she holds dear. Can she do it again – with Ben’s able assistance?

And can they manage to do it for keeps?

Escape Rating B+: I certainly enjoyed This Earl is Mine, and that’s because of the characters. Georgie is an absolute gem. Her independence of thought, and her willingness to act on that thought, make her a character that 21st century readers can easily identify with – and root for.

At the same time, the strictures wrapped around her life also firmly ground her in her time and place – or at least do so enough to not make her attitudes anachronistic. She knows what she’s good at, and she knows what she’s worth – and not just in the financial sense. At the same time her life is hemmed in by the restrictions placed on women of her time. She colors outside the lines but not too much and is always aware that there are lines and that she – and her family – will pay a price if she steps too far outside those lines and is caught.

She also knows what she wants in a man and a husband, and isn’t willing to settle for less. She just doesn’t believe that she can have what she wants – a man who will stand beside her and not in front of her. The way that she and Ben find out just how good they are together, while filled with plenty of heat, isn’t based solely on their explosive sexual chemistry. They become friends first – in spite of how difficult that seems. And what they share that matters the most is their love of adventure in a way that bonds them so closely that when they finally realize they love each other they are both shocked, because neither of them expected it – or the other – at all.

That Ben’s pride almost gets in the way of their happiness feels real – and that they overcome it due to her good sense and forthright nature seems right.

On my other hand, Cousin Josiah reads like a bit of a paper tiger. He’s terrible and awful but as soon as Georgie has someone effective in her corner his fate is inevitable. And that whole situation felt a bit contrived from beginning to sticky end.

I will say that this book drove me a bit crazy, because I kept having the feeling that I’d read something a lot like it before. And I’ve been looking for what that was for days now.

In the end, This Earl of Mine feels like a combination of The Duke’s Den series by Christy Carlyle, the Bareknuckle Bastards by Sarah MacLean and the Bastion Club by Stephanie Laurens – all the best parts of each, of course. It also bears a strong but slightly twisted resemblance to the Sebastian St. Cyr series by C.S. Harris. I say twisted in that last instance because the author took a character who should have been the hero of a romance and turned him into a tormented solver of mysteries for Bow Street. Ben Wylde and his friends feel like the other side of that coin, a war veteran like St. Cyr who solve crimes for Bow Street while staying on the romantic hero side of the equation.

If you like any of those series, you will also love This Earl of Mine, and vice-versa. But the Bow Street Bachelors are far from finished. The series will return with To Catch an Earl next summer, when the focus moves from Ben and Georgie to Ben’s friend and fellow agent, Alex. And I’m looking forward to the season AND definitely the book!

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

Thanks to the publisher, I am giving away a paperback copy of This Earl of Mine to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayLady Abigail's Perfect Match (The Townsbridges #2) by Sophie Barnes
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Townsbridges #2
Pages: 99
Published by Sophie Barnes on October 29th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A kiss can cure any ailment…

Lady Abigail has been infatuated with Mr. James Townsbridge for three years. But when she is finally introduced to him, she finds him arrogant and rude. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop her heart from racing or her stomach from flip-flopping while in his presence. In fact, being near him makes her feel somewhat ill. Which complicates matters when they are suddenly forced to marry.

James doesn’t like the aloof young lady to whom he has recently been introduced. And since he has a blistering headache, he doesn’t have the patience for someone who clearly doesn’t want to be in his company. But when she lands in his lap and he accidentally rips her gown, his duty is clear. Now James must try to get along with his awful fiancée, or risk living unhappily ever after. But is that possible?

My Review:

This story was a surprise. Oooh was it ever! And I meant that in a very good way.

At the beginning, it seemed like it was going to be the misunderstandammit to end all misunderstandammits. Admittedly, at the beginning, the hero and heroine don’t know each other AT ALL, so the way that they begin by misunderstanding each other and keep on doing it at every turn is a direct result of them being barely acquainted in the first place.

That their first meeting is far from auspicious doesn’t help matters. He’s really, seriously hungover, and she’s shy and tongue-tied in that way that comes off as standoffish and disapproving when it’s really all about wanting to disappear.

Then they each disappear from the party that neither of them wants to be at, in order to find a dark, quiet room where they can just breathe and give in to their equal but opposite desires to be anywhere else.

Until she sits on him in the dark – literally – and their quiet room is invaded by everybody and his brother – as well as both of theirs – discovering them in a position that looks extremely compromising.

This is a Regency romance, which means that they have to marry to preserve her reputation. Even if it seems as if he quite literally makes her sick to her stomach.

At this point I kind of wondered where the story could possibly go from here, because it seemed as if every time they were in the same room together they managed to make the whole situation worse.

Until they began writing notes to each other, and discovered that they have the same somewhat morbid and slightly offbeat sense of humor. They begin to find a way, and it starts to look like their impending marriage is going to be glorious and not doomed.

Of course there’s one more crisis that nearly drives them apart – again. But in their forced walk through some very dark places, they manage to find their way into the light. Happily. And together.

Escape Rating B+: I picked this book because I really enjoyed the first book in the series, When Love Leads to Scandal, and wanted to see where the story led next. (There’s no NEED to read the first to like the second, the one is not dependent on the other. But the first book is VERY short and a quite delightful romp all by itself.)

At first, I’ll admit that I totally wondered where Lady Abigail was headed (both the book and the character!) The misunderstandammit is one of my least favorite tropes, but in the first half of the story it seemed as if the whole thing was one giant misunderstanding and not much else. I’ll also confess that the reason Lady Abigail was so tongue-tied it made her sick – that James Townsbridge is just too handsome for words – felt a bit silly. But then, the whole misunderstandammit trope is pretty silly.

Once Lady Abigail put on her metaphorical big girl panties by talking to James through the shrubbery(!), their relationship began to sing. Or at least giggle and chortle quite a bit. It was certainly working.

When the crisis came and everything nearly fell to bits, things got very dark. And I’m trying not to spoil it, because the way they eventually recovered and learned to get past it was extremely well done.

So this one isn’t nearly as light and fluffy as that blurb might lead you to believe. And it’s all the better for it.

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

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Review: Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

Review: Royal Holiday by Jasmine GuilloryRoyal Holiday (The Wedding Date, #4) by Jasmine Guillory
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Wedding Date #4
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on October 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory makes her hardcover debut with a heartwarming Christmas romance.

Vivian Forest has been out of the country a grand total of one time, so when she gets the chance to tag along on her daughter Maddie's work trip to England to style a royal family member, she can't refuse. She's excited to spend the holidays taking in the magnificent British sights, but what she doesn't expect is to become instantly attracted to a certain Private Secretary and his charming accent and unyielding formality.

Malcolm Hudson has been the Queen's Private Secretary for years and has never given a personal, private tour...until now. He is intrigued by Vivian the moment he meets her and finds himself making excuses just to spend time with her. When flirtatious banter turns into a kiss under the mistletoe, things snowball into a full-on fling.

Despite a ticking timer on their holiday romance, they are completely fine with ending their short, steamy fling come New Year's Day...or are they?

My Review:

I picked up Royal Holiday because I absolutely fell in love with the first book in this series, The Wedding Date (also the title of the series) and have been following along ever since, hoping that the subsequent books in the series would recapture the magic of that first book.

While I enjoyed both The Proposal and The Wedding Party, they didn’t quite recapture the magic of The Wedding Date. But Royal Holiday, the fourth book in the series, definitely did.

And it did it by being different from the others. The previous books in the series have all been wrapped around the wedding of Alexa and Drew, the couple of who meet, court and spark in that marvelous first book.

But now that they are married, and their best friends have found their own HEAs – sometimes with each other – the story has gone into a fascinating new direction.

Maddie has found her HEA with Theo (in The Wedding Party), but they haven’t tied the knot themselves yet. Meanwhile,Maddie, a freelance fashion consultant, has just received the contract of a lifetime. Her friend and mentor is the fashion consultant for one of the young British Royals.

While the princess in question is never named, it is fairly obvious who it is. In any case, that person’s identity isn’t really important. What is important is that her regular consultant is in the midst of a high-risk pregnancy and confined to bed rest over the holidays. And that Maddie is going to pinch-hit for her. In England. Over Christmas. Dressing the princess.

And she gets to bring someone with her for her working holiday, spending the days leading up to Xmas and Boxing Day at Sandringham House (the private residence of the Queen), and then having a few days of true vacation in London – all details arranged and all expenses paid by the House of Windsor.

Maddie convinces her mother to come with her to England. Vivian Forest is a respected social worker back home in California. She’s also been a working single-mother who scrimped and saved to help her daughter achieve her dreams. Vivian is about to take a promotion at work that will increase her pay, her hours and her responsibilities rather drastically, cutting her free time in equal if not greater amount. This is the last chance she’ll have for a while to take a really long, slightly indulgent vacation.

And probably the last opportunity she’ll have for some bonding time alone with her daughter, who will herself be married in a few short months. Life as they know it is about to change, mostly in a good way. But neither of their lives will be the same. So, in spite of some reservations about her family obligations back home, Viv gets on that plane for what she believes will be a wonderful but brief getaway with her daughter.

Only to embark on a surprising holiday fling that turns into much, much more.

Escape Rating A+: This is one of those books that gave me an earworm, as they sometimes do. In this case, the earworm goes like this, “Fairy tales can come true. It can happen to you, if you’re young at heart.” This classic from the “Great American Song Book” was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1953. And it’s the perfect song to accompany Vivian Forest’s romance with Malcolm Hudson.

Both Viv and Malcolm are in their 50s, and it was incredibly refreshing to read a romance that featured two people who were not 20-somethings. Life doesn’t end at 50, and neither do love or romance. Watching them court and spark was every bit as marvelous as Drew and Alexa back in The Wedding Date. And just as lovely.

While on the one hand the banter between Viv and Malcolm makes this story in the same way as that first book, part of what makes it so special is the way that their romance was every bit as sexy and romantic as the earlier books in the series, while still dealing with the issues that are the result of them being at a much different place in their lives than the earlier couples.

Because they are older, they have more baggage trailing behind them – and they both understand that. They have careers that they are in the middle of – and starting to think about retiring from in a future that is not so distant. It is much easier to pick up stakes and move and change your whole life at the beginning than it is in the middle. There are more consequences – and more hesitations about those consequences.

At the same time, the questions of the heart are still the same. They have to balance what makes them each happy against how happy they can be together. That Viv is also wrestling with the question of what she wants the rest of her career to be vs. what everyone expects the rest of her career to be makes some of those decisions both more immediate and more poignant.

In the end, I loved Royal Holiday every bit as much as I did The Wedding Date not quite two years ago. It was so lovely that it even managed to reverse the romance reading slump I’ve been in for a while, because it felt incredible to read a romance that featured a woman closer to my own age that I could identify with so completely.

I’m completely hooked on this author and can’t wait to see where she takes me next!

Review: Centurion by Anna Hackett

Review: Centurion by Anna HackettCenturion (Galactic Gladiators: House Of Rone #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #3
Published by Anna Hackett on October 20th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Rescued from her alien captors, the only person who makes her feel safe is a cold, emotionless cyborg.

Abducted from her exploration ship, paramedic Sage McAlister has spent months locked in cells and labs belonging to the Edull. Rescued by the cool, powerful cyborgs of the House of Rone, she finds herself among fellow human survivors on the desert world of Carthago. But despite being free, Sage feels cold inside and is struggling to cope. The only person she feels safe with—who she doesn’t feel the need to pretend with—is a deadly cyborg who feels nothing.

Forced into a military cyborg program as a teen, all Acton Vonn remembers of his past are violent missions and the cybernetic enhancements forced on him before he broke free. His emotions have been dampened to nothing for decades and he’s fine with that. It makes him an efficient member of the House of Rone. Yet the more time he spends with the copper-haired woman he helped rescue from the Edull, the more unfamiliar, strange, and perplexing things he starts to feel.

When a tip reveals that more humans are being held captive at a mysterious desert lake, Sage will stop at nothing to help rescue her crewmates. As she is drawn closer to Acton, she worries about risking her heart. Being with Sage breaks down barriers inside Acton and he struggles with the emotions he doesn’t want to feel. But deep in Carthago’s dangerous deserts, with the Edull hunting them, Sage and Acton will have to risk it all: their lives, their hearts, their souls.

My Review:

I read Centurion in bits and pieces, which was kind of surprising for a book that checks in at just under 250 pages and is written by an author I love in a series that I have enjoyed very much.

Nevertheless, I picked it up and liked what I read but just didn’t feel compelled to finish. But I had a relatively short airplane ride and no internet and there you go, book done.

Which leads me to write about why I didn’t feel compelled, why I finished it anyway, what I liked and what didn’t quite grab me.

So here we are.

The House of Rone series is a sequel series to the author’s Galactic Gladiators series, which I loved and didn’t really want to see end. So I was really glad when it didn’t.

The premise for the whole thing is that a temporary wormhole opened up between our solar system, specifically near Jupiter Station which sets this story in a future that is not-too-distant, and the very far distant indeed other end of the galaxy in the vicinity of a planet called Carthago.

(Carthago is a play on Carthage, and all resemblances to anything vaguely reminiscent of what we think of as the “blood and sandals” school of Greco-Roman history definitely apply. Only with lots of futuristic tech built in.)

And, in true SF fashion, that wormhole was exploited by the scum of this and every other galaxy – slave traders. Said scum scoop up everyone they can before the wormhole closes. So far, we know they grabbed everyone they could from both Jupiter Station and at least one ship in the area before they hightailed it back home.

The stories in both the Galactic Gladiators series and the House of Rone spin-off revolve around the rescue, one by one, of all of the Terran refugees, who then manage to make new lives for themselves by falling in love, usually with one of the gladiators from the Kor Magna Arena – hence the original series title.

While patterns did emerge during the first series, there were plenty of variations on the theme. Including one where the refugee was male and the gladiator was female – and there need to be a few more like that. The refugees all had, found or adopted a variety of professions upon their recovery. And not all of the locals were completely human, nor were all of the locals gladiators – although one was a cyborg, the Imperator of the House of Rone. They all came into the story with slightly different origin stories and original traumas.

So there was an overall pattern but plenty of variation within that pattern.

The difference so far within the House of Rone series is that all of those local heroes (and so far it’s all been heroes) are all cyborgs – because that is what the House of Rone specializes in. And so far, all of them are coming from a very similar headspace – that they are too much machine to make enough emotional connections to fall in love – and that most of them were, until the advent of those Terran refugees, happy (well, content, anyway, because these guys didn’t actually DO happy) to remain that way.

The women have come from different emotional places. Sage, the heroine of Centurion, was interesting because before and during her captivity she projected an air of total optimism. She was everyone’s ray of sunshine. Now that she’s free, she feels frozen. She’s having problems accessing her own emotions, but feels the need to fake it for the other women from Earth. She initially becomes friends with the cyborg Acton because he doesn’t show or seemingly have emotion and she doesn’t have to pretend for him.

The way that Sage comes back to life, and back to herself, felt genuine, where Acton’s emotional flowering felt contrived and much too quick.

To put it another way, I liked her but didn’t warm up to him – even as he warmed up.

I’m also having a more difficult time with the villains of this series, the Edull, than I did with the Thraxian slavers – and doesn’t THAT sound wrong.

But the Thraxians, as awful as they were, were just mercenaries. I don’t agree with their actions, but their motivation is pretty simple. They’re in it for the money. As long as they have buyers, they’ll be selling.

On my other hand – probably a cyborg one at that – the Edull don’t make a lot of sense, or at least not yet.

They are tinkers. They take scrap metal and parts and (rather ingeniously) turn them into robots. At first they were just using slaves, including the human slaves, to perform backbreaking labor. Which was awful and terrible enough. Now they’re using the slaves for parts for the robots. They’ve slipped from being horrible to being extra-super-crazy evil. There is a mercenary element to this, of course. They do sell the robots. But it seems like there’s more and I’m not getting it.

And it may just be that we haven’t had a chance to see into their heads yet – as disgusting as that’s likely to be. But for a villain – particularly an entire villainous race – the reader needs to understand why they’re villainous – not just that they ARE villainous. In the author’s Hell Squad series we’re not supposed to like the evil Gizzida, but we do KNOW why they do what they do. In its way, it makes them even more frightening.

I’m just not there yet for the Edull. They feel like they are getting more evil for evil’s sake, and it’s not enough.

Escape Rating B: As I said, I liked Sage a lot. I’m still enjoying the setting and setup of this series, and will definitely continue to follow it. But it’s starting to need something more for me to really love it. Hopefully next time we’re back on Carthago I’ll get some of my answers.

Guest Review: Clone Hunter by Victor Methos

Guest Review: Clone Hunter by Victor MethosClone Hunter by Victor Methos
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Clone Rebellion Chronicles #1
Pages: 366
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on August 19, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteBook Depository
Goodreads

Born in a laboratory for war or pleasure, they live as slaves, unable to fight those that oppress them . . . all, except one.

A single clone is no longer willing to live in slavery and has declared war on those that would subjugate her.

Hunted by the most powerful men in existence and a threat to the social order, if she wants her freedom she must fight her way through bounty hunters, war machines, and the deadliest enemy of all: her own kind . . .

Guest Review by Amy:

Clones were created quite some time back, to be super-soldiers. But what do you do with your super-soldiers when the war is over? It’s a theme that’s been explored again and again, and in this case, the clones become — servants. Slaves. It’s a problem that won’t last forever, you see, because they can’t breed.

Except, at least one can. The Powers That Be want her dead, and trying to gun her down with a human assassin just won’t work, so they program and send one of her own. And there’s a clone rebellion brewing, to top it off.

Escape Rating C: We have here a sci-fi action/adventure, with a premise that fans of the genre have seen more than once, I’m sure. And to tell the truth, I was looking forward to seeing how this variation got handled.

There’s action a-plenty, with enough plot twists to keep me reading through a three-hour flight, and the cast of characters are all pretty interesting people in their own right. It’s a bit unclear who the heroes and villains are at the outset, and to my mind, it’s never entirely certain who the “good guys” are, or if they’ll save the day. The clones are fighting a one-world-government for their freedom, and apparently there are more than a few who could breed, given the opportunity, and there’s a big-time planetbuster bomb hidden away somewhere…

I wanted to say I enjoyed this book, and indeed, it has all the ingredients for a tasty, straightforward sci-fi read. But it has some rather-massive mechanical problems, in my mind. First off, we see the world from no less than five different viewpoints during the book. Yes, each chapter was titled with the name of the person whose head we’re inhabiting, but after a while, it got a little tiring, with all the switchee-swapee. Additionally, since we frequently cover the same event from two (or more!) viewpoints, it comes off as repetitive and tiring, especially since those events are often the most-violent in the book.

If we’d seen snippets of things that interlaced and came together for one big finale, as in John M. Ford’s How Much for Just the Planet? I’d have been a lot happier with this interaction. (Editor’sNote: John M. Ford was a genius who didn’t write nearly enough and was taken much too soon.) While that story was a multiple point-of-view comedy-of-errors (in the Star Trek universe!) that led us to a hilarious conclusion, this one was just an error, without any comedy, and with a whole lot of seriously savage killing and violence replayed for us, over and over. Methos’ habit of multiple first-person views result in an awful lot of sentences starting with “I,” and frankly, it makes the multiple point-of-view construction of the book come off as cheap and poorly written.

There are apparently more books set in this world, but I won’t be hunting them down for a read. This book and the series from which it comes might be your cup of tea, but it wasn’t mine, regrettably.

 

Review: Meant to be Yours by Susan Mallery

Review: Meant to be Yours by Susan MalleryMeant to Be Yours by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Happily Inc #5
Pages: 464
Published by Hqn on October 22, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Happily Inc, love means never having to say “I do”…

Wedding coordinator Renee Grothen isn’t meant for marriage. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, plan. But she never could have planned on gorgeous, talented thriller writer Jasper Dembenski proposing—a fling, that is. Fun without a future. And the attraction between them is too strong for Renee to resist. Now she can have her no-wedding cake…and eat it, too.

After years in the military, Jasper is convinced he’s too damaged for relationships. So a flirtation—and more—with fiery, determined Renee is way too good to pass up…until his flame becomes his muse.

Renee is an expert at averting every crisis. But is she finally ready to leap into the one thing that can never be controlled: love?

My Review:

There’s a theory that dogs come into our lives because we need them, but cats come into our lives because they need us, can’t admit it, and the entire universe is rigged to do their bidding anyway. I digress, just a bit.

But this story begins with a dog. In fact, poor Koda is the first person who comes into Jasper Dembenski’s life because they are meant to be his. And helps Jasper to heal enough – or to acknowledge the progress he’s made in his own healing enough – to allow Jasper to let Renee Grothen into his heart – by way of his bed. Or hers.

Because they’re meant to be each other’s – even if it takes them both a while to figure that out.

After all, Jasper believes that the things he experienced during his military service, and the PTSD the service left him with, have left him too damaged to deal with any relationship more complicated than friends-with-benefits, with as much emphasis on the benefits and as little on the actual friendship as his partners in those “relationships” are willing to tolerate.

Renee is one of the wedding planners at Weddings Out of the Box, the themed wedding service venue owned and operated by Pallas Saunders Mitchell, the heroine of the series opener You Say it First (which, BTW was lovely and fun and charming and got me hooked on this series.)

When it comes to weddings, Renee believes that those who can, do. And those who can’t become wedding planners. Her love life has been fairly disastrous, and she’s not interested in trying again.

But a woman has needs. Needs that Jasper is more than willing to help her with. After all, men have needs too. In Jasper’s case, while he’s all in on the benefits of the friends with benefits relationship they enter into, Jasper also needs something else from Renee.

Jasper is the best selling author of a long-running detective series. And that particular series needs to wrap up. Both Jasper and his editor are sure that what his loner of a detective (art imitates life) needs is to fall in love and find his HEA – or at least some purpose to his life besides catching serial killers.

However, Jasper can’t figure out how to write a female character who is not either a serial killer herself or the victim of one. He needs to learn out how women think. So he turns to his friend Renee for help and advice.

Thus the confirmed bachelor ends up shadowing the wedding planner to discover what makes women tick by observing them as they plan their weddings. And Jasper and Renee end up spending a lot of time together, fully dressed, in scenarios where they have to talk with each other in complete sentences.

Not that they don’t still nearly screw everything up.

But with the help of nearly every person in Happily Inc, Jasper’s dog Koda, Renee’s cats Fred and Lucille – and Renee’s mother Verity who understands what ALL the animals in town are thinking – they finally manage not to mess up their own HEA.

Even if there are more than a few times when it feels like the entire situation is going to the dogs. Complete with pooper scooper.

Escape Rating B+: Koda does come into Jasper’s life because Jasper needs him. Don’t get me wrong, the dog gets PLENTY out of the arrangement, but Koda does an especially good job of helping Jasper. Meanwhile, Fred and Lucille come into Renee’s life because they need her to help them get back together.

And in spite of how many times Renee’s mother Verity’s gift for understanding what animals are thinking has caused Renee all kinds of grief, it’s Verity’s gift that allows Koda, Fred and Lucille to get their messages across.

Obviously I fell into this particular book for the pets, and they are an important part of this story. Also, the giant dog wedding is a hoot!

But as much fun as all of the animal interactions are, it’s the humans in this one who are involved in the romance. Even if that’s not what either of them thinks is happening at first. Especially if that’s not what either of them wants to happen, or thinks is even possible TO happen.

The romance of this one is watching Jasper and Renee take two steps forward and sometimes three steps back on their road to a real relationship. At the beginning they are both certain that they are too broken for love or marriage – but having a regular sex partner is terrific.

They become friends. Slowly and hesitatingly. And their friendship eventually manages to work because Renee calls Jasper on his shit and doesn’t back down until he both understands what he did wrong AND apologizes for it.

His laser focus on his work and his tunnel vision in pursuing his vision of it does get him into trouble. Watching him work his way out of that trouble is fascinating. At the same time, one of the things that really worked for me in their relationship is the way that Renee accepts his need to completely concentrate on the work when it’s flowing. She doesn’t expect him to change who he is. He just needs to learn to not step on anyone else in his drive to get the story “right”.

As much as I love the town of Happily Inc and this series, it was the portrayal of Renee that dropped the story from an A- to a B+. Let’s just say that I empathize with how hard Jasper found it to get inside her head because I had the same difficulty.

I liked so much about her, but her fear of a relationship didn’t feel quite right, at least not based on the examples of where her previous relationships went wrong. The action and reaction didn’t feel quite proportionate – but YMMV.

I did like the way their relationship built slowly, and by fits and starts. And I certainly loved seeing Jasper grovel when he needed to – and there were plenty of times when he needed to.

But for this reader the animals stole the show and happily trotted away with it!

Review: The Painted Castle by Kristy Cambron

Review: The Painted Castle by Kristy CambronThe Painted Castle (Lost Castle #3) by Kristy Cambron
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Series: Lost Castle #3
Pages: 400
Published by Thomas Nelson on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Bestselling author Kristy Cambron concludes the Lost Castle novels with this sweeping tale of art and secrets long buried in England.

It was supposed to be a one-week job: survey an art find, collect a hefty fee, and use that to settle historian Kiera Foley’s life back into balance. But from the moment she sets foot in the East Suffolk countryside, the mysteries surrounding the old English manor and the enigmatic art thief who’s employed her stir more questions than answers. Then, Kiera finds the existence of a portrait captivating enough to upend all of her expectations. This one could be a twin—a painting so close in composition to a known masterpiece, it may be rendered priceless if it truly captured the likeness of a young Queen named Victoria.

Set in three time periods—the rapid change of Victorian England, the tumultuous skies over England’s eastern shores in WWII, and modern day—The Painted Castle unfolds a legacy of faith, family, and stories that are generations in the making.

My Review:

The Painted Castle is a charming and entrancing time slip story – and this reader was so completely entranced that I finished it on one single rainy afternoon.

Like the previous books in this series, The Lost Castle and Castle on the Rise, the story is set in three distinct time periods. In this particular castle, the 1840s, the 1940s and the present. What links the three time periods in this story is a portrait. And a secret. And a secret about the portrait.

In the present day, disgraced art expert Keira Foley is back in Dublin working in the family pub, after her disaster-at-love derailed her career. And it’s there that suspected art thief Emory Scott tracks her down. Scott has a project that he believes is right up her alley – and will provide her with professional vindication as well.

He’s in charge of the restoration of Parham Hill Estate in Suffolk, and he has a portrait that he needs Keira to identify and authenticate. It’s a portrait of Queen Victoria, and it looks like a companion piece to the famous “secret picture” painted by famed portrait artist Franz Xavier Winterhalter in the 1840s. The portrait shows a young, newly married Victoria, with her hair down, looking as if she is thinking rather wicked thoughts about her new husband.

Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Signed and dated 1843

Speculation about the existence of such a picture formed a piece of what crashed Keira’s professional career. The personal crash was something else altogether. But determining whether this portrait is what it appears to be is an inducement guaranteed to bring Keira to Parham Hill – where the long-shuttered estate casts its own spell on both Keira and Emory – whatever their initial thoughts on the matter – or each other.

As they research the history of the estate, the past they discover comes alive through chapters revolving around the actual painting of that portrait – and the circumstances that brought Winterhalter’s surprising apprentice to the notice of the Queen.

Alongside the chapters in the 1840s, the portrait of the artist as a young woman, readers are also treated to a later and much more recent chapter in the estate’s – and the portrait’s – history. In the 1940s, during WWII and the repeated German bombings of London and the English countryside, the young widow of the last owner of the Estate is doing her level best to keep body and soul together, not just for herself and the estate, but for a host of children sent to the country for safety – and two German-Jewish orphans smuggled out of their homeland after Kristallnacht.

When the nearby U.S. Airbase requisitions the use of Parham HIll for quarters for excess officers, Parham HIll and its lady, Amelia Wood, open their doors and their hearts. Particularly to one American officer who captures her heart – in spite of how deeply, painfully inadvisable it is to build even friendships that can be taken away in the blink of an eye – or the drop of a bomb.

It is in the 1840s that the portrait is painted, in the 1940s that it is hidden, and in the here and now that it is brought to light. Churning up secrets and lives every step of the way.

Escape Rating A-: I picked up The Painted Castle because I really enjoyed The Lost Castle – and was surprised by how much I did enjoy it. I was expecting more of the same with The Painted Castle and I was definitely NOT disappointed. At all.

That being said, I don’t think one absolutely HAS to read the first two books in order to get into the third. There are links, but they are all in the present and add depth without having the story dependent on having read the previous. Particularly as the link in the present is between Keira and her two brothers, while the important storyline in each book is the link between the women in the three separate time periods.

What makes the interlinked stories so interesting is that all the stories are impacted, in one way or another, by great change. In the 1840s it was the Industrial Revolution – which does impact that part of the story, although not in the way that the reader, or the heroine of that period, initially believes.

The upheaval of the World War II era is obvious, even on the home front.

And then there’s the now, where both Keira’s and Emory’s lives are more than a bit of a mess – as is the neglected estate they are investigating and renovating. And change always stirs up plenty of the elements that make a great story. In this particular case, not one but three.

I think it’s the World War II story that had the greatest depth – or at least it’s the one that pulled at my heartstrings the strongest. But all three have their tragedies – and their triumphs.

My rainy afternoon in The Painted Castle was VERY well spent. So well spent that the middle book in this series, Castle on the Rise, which I have not read – YET – has moved up a whole bunch of slots in the towering TBR piles. The first book in this trilogy, The Lost Castle, was lovely, and so is this entry in the series. I expect great things from that second book and am looking forward to the reading treat some rainy afternoon – soon.

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Review: Nothing to Fear by Juno Rushdan + Giveaway

Review: Nothing to Fear by Juno Rushdan + GiveawayNothing to Fear (Final Hour #2) by Juno Rushdan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Final Hour #2
Pages: 448
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on August 27, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The clock is ticking

Fearsome Gray Box operative Gideon Stone is devoted to his work and his team. He's never given reason to doubt his loyalty...until he's tasked with investigating Willow Harper, a beguiling cryptologist suspected of selling deadly bio-agents on the black market.

He knows she's innocent. He knows she's being framed. And he knows that without him, Willow will be dead before sunrise.

Thrust into the crossfire of an insidious international conspiracy, Gideon will do anything to keep Willow safe...even if that means waging war against his own. With time running out, an unlikely bond pushes limits―and forges loyalties. Every move they make counts. And the real traitor is always watching...

My Review:

The title of this nonstop romantic suspense thriller may be Nothing to Fear, but Gray Box hacker-agent-operative Willow Harper has PLENTY to fear – she just doesn’t know it as this story opens.

She’s being setup to take the fall for the murder, while in Gray Box custody, of an enemy intelligence agent code-named “The Ghost”. But he stopped being a ghost once Willow focused her hacker skills on ferreting him out.

Now the mole in the Gray Box has to eliminate the threat to the organization that they really work for, while keeping their hidden status in place. That’s where Willow came in, unfortunately – or so it seems – for her.

Willow may be a genius programmer, and she has mad skills when it comes to data security, but her everyday, run of the mill life skills security is not so hot.

At first she’s just one of many suspects, but the mole has set Willow up to take the fall for everything, complete with a multi-million dollar account in the Caymans. An account that Willow knows nothing about. It’s not that the account is fake – the money is all too real – but that whoever set up the account was definitely not Willow Harper.

When the evidence turns up, with the black operations of Gray Box already in the cross-hairs, the agency’s director has no choice but to take her into custody.

And Gideon Stone, the agent who is certain that Willow is innocent, feels as if he has no choice but to take Willow and go on the run – in the hopes that he can get to the bottom of the set up, find the mole AND protect Willow – before their enemies manage to take her out and complete the frame.

The forces that are after them are bigger and better organized than Gideon imagined, and the hurricane that crosses their path is just the beginning of the danger that they face.

But the biggest danger for both of them is the damage that they can do to each other. If they’re not carefully, they’ll shoot each other in the heart.

Escape Rating B+: Nothing to Fear is absolutely a thrill-a-minute ride from beginning to end. It has all the classic elements of a great romantic suspense story, with its tough hero, offbeat heroine, secret black ops agency and spies, moles and counterspies at every twist and turn.

Not to mention that desperate run through a hurricane – although what happens on the boat stays on the boat. Or at least it’s supposed to.

As a “black” operation of our very own government – and isn’t that a scary thought all the way around – Gray Box makes a fascinating backdrop for a series. Everyone is a spy, or an agent, or an operative, or all of the above. Everyone has secrets – and everyone has committed unspeakable acts on behalf of the country. And all of their actions can and will be disavowed if that country feels it is necessary.

That Gray Box absolutely HAS to find the traitor within its ranks to keep the entire agency from being “whitewashed” just adds to the tension of the whole story. They have to find the mole, they have to clean up the agency, and they have to help Gideon and Willow however they can in the hope that everyone comes out the other side – except the mole, of course.

At the same time, Gideon and Willow are running as fast as they can, trying to stay half a step ahead of their pursuers, while being all too aware that everyone they left behind is in terrible danger – and not just their colleagues at Gray Box. The enemy is going after their families and friends in an attempt to run them to earth or bring them to heel. It’s a deadly chase.

And at the heart of the story are Gideon and Willow. Neither of them feels worthy of being loved nor is either of them quite sure they are capable of feeling or returning the emotion. Gideon is certain that the deeds he has committed are too dark, that his past is too dirty and that he is too much a creature of violence for anyone to be safe around him. And Willow, while a genius with computers, is at a loss with the unpredictability of human behavior and human emotions.

Which doesn’t stop them from falling for each other. But it sure does stop them from trying to stay together once the danger is over. Or does it?

The suspense of Nothing to Fear will keep readers on the edge of their seats from the first page to the last. And the story of this couple who make each other strong in their broken places will warm the least romantic heart.

Nothing to Fear is the second book in the Final Hour series. I haven’t read the first book, Every Last Breath, and had absolutely no problem getting right into the action in this one. But as wrapped up as I was in Nothing to Fear, that first book has certainly climbed higher in my towering TBR pile. After all, I have to read it in time to get the third book in this series, Until the End, late next spring!

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

I’m giving away a copy of Nothing to Fear to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette KowalThe Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, science fiction
Series: Lady Astronaut #1
Pages: 431
Published by Tor Books on July 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.

Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.

My Review:

This was one of those times when I had to put off writing my review for a few days after finishing the book so that I could tone down the squeeing and be halfway coherent. And I’m still not sure I’m going to manage it.

The Calculating Stars is enthralling, exhilarating and infuriating, sometimes in equal measure. And those are three things that are just not meant to go together. But this time they absolutely do.

There are three, let’s call them prongs, to this story. Or themes. Or threads. They happen simultaneously and are completely interwoven, but there are three of them just the same.

The first is the very big bang that sets off the entire story. It’s 1952 and Drs. Nathaniel and Elma York are vacationing in the Poconos when they witness, from a barely safe enough distance, a meteor crashing into the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. Somewhere near DC.

It turns out to be the Chesapeake Bay, or thereabouts. And thereby lies the crux of the matter. Because the meteor strikes water and not land. Which initially is thought to be better – for extremely select definitions of better – but is actually much, much worse than a land strike.

As Elma York flies herself and her husband inland to someplace where there might still be “civilization” or at least safety, she begins the calculations. That’s what she does, she’s a mathematics genius who can do most of the work in her head.

And the results, eventually confirmed by climatologists and meteorologists around the world, is chilling in its results. That water strike was an extinction-level event. Like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Except that human beings are capable of figuring out what is coming. The question, throughout the book, is whether they are capable of mustering the political will to do something about it, before it is too late.

And that is the heart of this marvelous book – and where human beings show both the best and worst sides of themselves – often at the same time.

Nathaniel York is an engineer. He and Elma were both employed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA. Nathaniel is the leading survivor of NACA’s engineering team, and finds himself the lead engineer for everything that comes next.

Elma is a computer. In the 1950s, computers were women and not machines, as has been detailed in several recent nonfiction books about the period, notably Hidden Figures and The Rise of the Rocket Girls.

But it’s the 1950s, and Elma’s mathematical genius, wartime pilot experience as a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot) and not just one but two Ph.Ds, is initially completely ignored by the men running the show. Even though it was her calculations that determined the scope of the disaster.

The response to the disaster is the second prong of this story. Earth is going to go through a brief but survivable mini-ice age and then the temperatures are going to start rising. The water thrown up by the meteor strike is going to kick off a runaway greenhouse effect. In a century or so, the seas are going to boil away.

The only way out is off. Human beings need to find another basket in which to put our eggs. We have to get off this rock before it’s too late. The second prong of the story is the development of the space program a decade before it happened in our history, and under much more desperate conditions.

The third prong of the story relates to the way that Elma’s contributions are ignored, because it comes back to the fact that the general population in the 1950s had terribly misogynistic views about women, and terribly racist views about anyone who wasn’t white. And that’s combined with the usual human problems of not being willing to think in the long term when current conditions seem pretty good for their individual perspective – think of current reactions to climate change to see how that part works.

The story is told from Elma’s educated, intelligent, informed perspective as she is forced to deal with a whole bunch of men who either hate her for her achievements, disbelieve her because she is female, or both, and will do anything to keep her down and out because her existence and perseverance upsets their worldview.

We are with her every step of the way as she is forced to cajole, accommodate, hope, fear, pray and scream as she pushes or sidles her way into the halls of power – and into the stars.

Escape Rating A+: In my head, I’ve labeled those three plot threads as “the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” – complete with theme music. Do not mistake me, that rating is for real, this book is utterly awesome from beginning to end. And the audio is fantastic and amazing and read by the author. Which is even more amazing. The only author I’ve ever listened to who is half this good as a narrator is Neil Gaiman.

But those prongs of the story, they definitely fit the theme. The initial meteor strike is the Bad. Very, very bad. There really isn’t a way to think of an extinction-level event as good, after all. The sheer number of people who are wiped out in that instant should defy imagination – and it does. At the same time, the author does a fantastic job of personalizing all of the attendant grief through Elma’s reactions. Her family, her parents and grandparents, and pretty much everyone she knew or worked with, is gone in an instant. Her grief is heart-felt and utterly heartbreaking.

The space program is the Good part of the equation. Not that some of the details of how that sausage gets made don’t dive into the Ugly, but the concept and overall progression of the space program were very good. So good that it made me cry when we see all the emotions in Elma’s head and heart when she attends a launch with her great-aunt. (In the end Elma does discover that she has two surviving family members besides her husband. And her commingled joy and grief at those discoveries is beautiful.)

But there’s plenty of ugliness in this story, and it’s that ugliness that makes the reader want to scream. Or at least this reader.

This story takes place in an alternate 1950s. Sexism and racism were at a high-water mark during that decade, which resulted in the cultural upheavals of the 1960s in real history. In this story, it’s all on display, and it’s ugly right down to the bone. Not just in the way that Blacks are treated when they are present in the narrative – and they definitely are – but also the way that political forces try to use the terrible circumstances to literally remove them from that narrative. And the ways that they fight back. That part of the story sent chills up my spine both in its verisimilitude and its portrayal of an entire society’s callous disregard for millions of people due to the color of their skin.

And, because the story is told through Elma’s perspective, we feel every time she is ignored or set aside or deliberately blocked from achieving her dreams as a body blow. I wanted to reach through the book and knock some sense into many, many of the male characters. Most of them deserve a good swift kick where it would hurt the most.

Elma’s husband Nathaniel, however, is a complete mensch. Mensch is a Yiddish term of high compliment, implying just how truly good that person is.

It also signifies something that is a kind of underlying thread through this entire story. Elma and Nathaniel are Jewish. And it matters. To others it may not be that big of a deal, but for me it mattered so much. In Elma’s use of occasional Yiddish, the way that she sat Shiva and mourned for all of the family that she had lost, her desire to be a bit more observant in the wake of both the Holocaust and the ongoing tragedy, I more than felt for her. I felt part of her. I felt heard and represented at a very deep level.

The way that I was drawn into her story because she represented me in a way that most characters do not gave me a new appreciation for the power of representation in literature and the arts. It made me appreciate the Cuban heritage of Eva Innocente in Chilling Effect because I knew that if Elma made me feel represented in The Calculating Stars, then Eva gave those exact same feels to the LatinX women that she represents while telling her own marvelous story.

But the story of the Lady Astronaut has barely begun when The Calculating Stars ends. The Fated Sky continues Elma’s journey and is already out. A parallel story, The Relentless Moon, will be released next summer. I can’t wait to see just how far Elma goes, and how she manages to get there.

There’s a reason that The Calculating Stars won the Hugo Award for Best Novel this year. Take flight with the Lady Astronaut and see for yourself.

Guest Review: Dearly Beloved by Peggy Yeager

Guest Review: Dearly Beloved by Peggy YeagerDearly Beloved (A Match Made in Heaven Book 1) by Peggy Jaeger
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Match Made in Heaven #1
Pages: 430
Published by The Wild Rose Press on November 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Colleen O'Dowd manages a thriving bridal business with her sisters in Heaven, New Hampshire. After fleeing Manhattan and her cheating ex-fiancé, Colleen still believes in happily ever afters. But with a demanding business to run, her sisters to look after, and their 93-year-old grandmother to keep out of trouble, she's worried she'll never find Mr. Right.

Playboy Slade Harrington doesn't believe in marriage. His father's six weddings have taught him life is better as an unencumbered single guy. But Slade loves his little sister. He'll do anything for her, including footing the bill for her dream wedding. He doesn't plan on losing his heart to a smart-mouthed, gorgeous wedding planner, though.

When her ex-fiancé comes back into the picture, Colleen must choose between Mr. Right and Mr. Right Now.

Guest Review by Amy:

Given what Colleen had been through, we shouldn’t be surprised if she’s burnt out on the whole idea of marriage. Which she is – for herself. She’s enjoying running her own wedding-planning business, with collaboration from her sisters, in the small town from whence she came. And she’s apparently good at it: wealthy socialites from all over retain her to plan their nuptials, and she’s happy to deliver.

Isabella Harrington and her beau are her latest happy couple, with the wedding coming up soon. And things are ticking along swimmingly, until Colleen meets Izzy’s brother Slade Harrington. He loves his sis, and he’s the checkbook behind this wonderful wedding. He’s not sparing the shekels, it’s true – but he may be the most frustratingly handsome man in existence.

Escape Rating: A: Small-business owner lady, wealthy playboy – it’s a common trope, and author Peggy Yeager has given us a pleasant if predictable spin on the story. This book isn’t going to challenge your thinking about world-shaking things, but it does deliver a briskly-moving, sweet story of two people from very different worlds falling for each other. Along the way, we have a nice collection of interesting side characters: Isabella, Isabella’s mother (Slade’s stepmother), Isabella and Slade’s father, a famously exotic supermodel who’s seen with Slade way too often for Colleen’s taste, Colleen’s sisters and grandmother, and even the local chief of police round out an interesting and diverse cast of characters who add a wonderful flavor.

Slade, for his part, has always lived the part of playboy, although his own life experience has him soured on the idea of a long-term relationship. He’s a serious cynic about it, and not at all interested in the long game. Except, well, that wedding planner lady is really…really…ahem.  Nope, not gonna do it.  Back and forth he goes with Colleen, playing get-away-closer for quite a big chunk of the book. Colleen, for her part, is enjoying all the attention, but she’s not really interested in someone from a world too like that of her ex (who, of course, must turn up a couple of times in the story, just to stir the pot a little).  Back and forth she goes…and so it goes, until right after the wedding, and Colleen finds out that he did something that – in her mind – was Really Bad. A violation of her trust! An end run around something she’d already laid down the law on! What a dastard!

Being a stereotypical Irish redheaded lass, she lets him have it with both barrels, and walks away from their budding relationship, just as it was starting to get pretty interesting. But of course, neither of them is happy with this, and it takes something pretty serious happening to convince each of them to bend.

One of the things I liked the most about this tale is that we spend a the whole book firmly in Colleen’s point of view. The tale is told first-person, and we’re given a rich look at her own internal dialogue, even as she (and we) see things going on around her. Her moments of self-deprecation reminded me rather a lot of my own. There but for the grace of…well, whatever. I could really identify with some of her more-flustered moments, and that really got me engaged with this story.

If you’re looking for a great lazy-day read, here’s a good one for your list. It’s a feel-good story without too much complexity, well-crafted and easy to get into. Enjoy.