Review: Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian + Giveaway

Review: Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian + GiveawayUnmasked by the Marquess (Regency Imposters, #1) by Cat Sebastian
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: regency romance
Series: Regency Impostors #1
Pages: 320
Published by Avon Impulse on April 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The one you love…

Robert Selby is determined to see his sister make an advantageous match. But he has two problems: the Selbys have no connections or money and Robert is really a housemaid named Charity Church. She’s enjoyed every minute of her masquerade over the past six years, but she knows her pretense is nearing an end. Charity needs to see her beloved friend married well and then Robert Selby will disappear…forever.

May not be who you think…

Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, has spent years repairing the estate ruined by his wastrel father, and nothing is more important than protecting his fortune and name. He shouldn’t be so beguiled by the charming young man who shows up on his doorstep asking for favors. And he certainly shouldn’t be thinking of all the disreputable things he’d like to do to the impertinent scamp.

But is who you need…

When Charity’s true nature is revealed, Alistair knows he can’t marry a scandalous woman in breeches, and Charity isn’t about to lace herself into a corset and play a respectable miss. Can these stubborn souls learn to sacrifice what they’ve always wanted for a love that is more than they could have imagined?

My Review:

This is my first book from the author who claims on her twitter profile to write “Marxist tracts with boning,” but it certainly won’t be my last. I’ll admit that when I read the quote, I expected “boning” to be more of a double entendre, not just referring to sex but also to the boning in ladies’ corsets during the Regency period.

But there are no boned corsets here, at least not ever on the person of the heroine. And that’s a huge part of the point of the story.

The Marquess of the title, Alistair, is unapologetically bisexual. He may have a giant stick up his fundament about his role and his place in society and proper behavior, or at least proper public behavior, for that place, but he doesn’t whinge, whine or feel the least bit guilty about his bisexuality. And that’s refreshing and different, particularly for a character who begins as the epitome of the stock Regency hero of the aristocratic type.

It seems to be the one part of himself that he accepts unconditionally, because most of the rest of the time he’s putting on an act. Multiple acts. In his heart of hearts, he’s not nearly as buttoned up as he plays – but that stick is fairly firmly lodged and it takes Robin and that “champagne pop of laughter” to slowly begin to dislodge the damned thing.

Robin, however,  is nothing like he appears to be. And that is an epic understatement.

Once upon a time, Robin was Charity Church, a foundling who was literally discovered in a church, and raised there for several years. Let’s just the late clergyman who raised her was way better at teaching her to read, write and figure than he was imaginative when it came to names. Charity went from being a foundling at the vicarage to a servant at the Selbys, taking care of old Mr. Selby along with his two children, Robert and Louisa. Robert and Charity were the same age, and Laura just six years younger.

They became friends, and co-conspirators, and eventually family-of-choice. So when it came time for Robert to go off to Cambridge, and he really, really didn’t want to go, Charity went in his place. Literally in his place. As far as her fellow students knew, Charity Church WAS Robert Selby.

As Robert Selby, Charity had the life of the mind she always dreamed of, and the freedom, if not the pockets, to indulge it. The real Robert was an indifferent student at best, but Charity-as-Robert took a double first. She absolutely had the time of her life, and wished it would never end. But she didn’t expect it to continue quite like this.

Charity doesn’t see herself as playing a part. Except for having to pretend to be Robert Selby in particular, as opposed to just being a man and not a woman, she feels like she has found her true self. Being Robert becomes the real person, while being Charity becomes the pretense.

At least until Robert dies, and Charity feels compelled to pretend to be Robert full-time, at least long enough to see Louisa happily and safely married.

And that’s when “Robert” and Louisa come to London for the only Season they can manage to afford, in the hopes that Louisa’s extremely beautiful face will indeed prove to be her fortune. And that’s where “Robert” inserts himself into the outer social circle of Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, and finds all the stratagems that were devised to take care of Louisa have made an absolute mess out of “Robert” and any chances he might find happiness.

Or have they?

Escape Rating A: As a Regency romance, this still has its occasional farcical aspects, but overall this story is an absolute delight from beginning to end, while skewering pretty much every single trope of the genre along its merry way.

Alistair, on the surface at least, seems like the typical, overbearing and often priggish Regency hero who just needs a good woman to help him become less stuffy and less priggish (even if not less overbearing) so that he can find his happy ever after with a woman who will grace his life and give him the heirs his title requires.

Instead, Alistair gets the person he eventually nicknames Robin, and all the qualities, as well as all the flaws, that make Robin Robin are what Alistair really needs – even if he takes a long time and rather a lot of heartache to finally let go of everything holding him back. Because as much as he loves Robin as he is, once he learns that Robin is also Charity he spends a long but not incomprehensible time both loving him as he is and trying to mold Charity into what she isn’t in a way that is as much stubborn as it is stupid.

Even so, part of what makes this story so much fun is its intelligence. Robin and Alistair find their way towards each other with witty dialog and shared interests. Their scenes together are a joy to read and laugh along with.

One of the problems of historical romance, at least for this reader, is the necessity for the author to walk the tightrope between making sure that the heroine has enough agency to actually BE a heroine, without making her so anachronistic that she does not at least plausibly fit into her time and place.

As a solution to that particular dilemma, Charity/Robert/Robin is utterly marvelous. And also marvelously subversive. Robin is who Charity really is, on the inside. She doesn’t seem to want to actually BE a man, but she certainly does want to have the freedom and agency that men have, and she is not merely unwilling but absolutely unable to give it up. But she’s also not just a woman in men’s clothing – that clothing represents her real self. But that real self is neither male nor female as her society defines those terms.

Society may not be able to make heads nor tails of Robin’s gender identity, but Robin knows what works for her. And what I loved about this story is that in the end she doesn’t give up who she is to be who the hero thinks he needs her to be. Instead, Alistair finally realizes that she is, as she is, exactly what he needed all along.

And that’s something that doesn’t happen in historical romance nearly enough.

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

LINK:  https://goo.gl/qQovFr

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 4/22/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: Hot Response by Shannon Stacey + Giveaway

Review: Hot Response by Shannon Stacey + GiveawayHot Response (Boston Fire, #4) by Shannon Stacey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Boston Fire #4
Pages: 288
Published by Carina Press on April 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The men of Boston Fire are back and hotter than ever! Don’t miss this brand-new novel from New York Times bestselling author Shannon Stacey.

Gavin Boudreau lives for the job, but he also believes in “work hard, play harder.” As the youngest guy in Ladder 37, he figures he’s got plenty of time before settling down becomes a priority. Soft, pretty women who aren’t looking for promises are exactly his type, and he’s comfortable with that. Working with a gorgeous EMT isn’t going to change who he is.

The last thing Cait Tasker needs in her personal life is a firefighter whose challenges on-scene have been a thorn in her side from minute one. Her plate’s too full for a man anyway. Back in her childhood home to help her family cope with an unexpected tragedy, she’s got enough to handle without throwing a hot, testosterone-laden fireman into the mix.

As long days on the job lead to long nights together, Gavin and Cait will discover how far temptation can take them—and what happens when the one you thought was all wrong for you turns out to be the person you can’t live without.

My Review:

Hot Response is the fourth book in the Boston Fire series. I read the first book, Heat Exchange and was not nearly as impressed as I expected to be. But I’m happy to say that Hot Response reminded me of all the reasons that I loved this author’s earlier series. Multiples of them. To the point where I’m thinking about going back and seeing where I left off.

The Boston Fire series, unsurprisingly considering the title, is centered around the men and women who make up one shift at one particular firehouse in Boston, as well as the people who are part of their lives, usually in multiple ways, between the firehouse and their regular bar, Kincaid’s. After all, Kincaid’s is owned by a retired member of their company and the owner’s son is a member of their team. There are a lot of ties, including family ones.

The tension that makes this particular romance so fraught and so realistic at the same time is also about family ties. Particularly about the difference between the ties that bind and the ties that strangle.

Our hero, Gavin Boudreau, is a member of Ladder 37. He grew up in the neighborhood and is regularly on call for his parents and his nearby siblings. But for Gavin, it’s a two-way street. Sometimes they need him, and sometimes he needs them, and what goes around definitely comes around, all of it good.

Cait Tasker, on the other hand, seems to be on a one-way street with her family. She gives, and they take, and take, and take. The reasons for it make complete sense, but the result isn’t actually working for anyone, and particularly not for Cait. Her stepfather died suddenly, her mother couldn’t get herself out of the well of depression after losing a husband to early death for the second time, and Cait’s 16-year-old half brother is rightfully frightened but not able to keep his mother going on his own. And he has his own grief to process along with all the normal teenage angst and hormones and attitudes. Cait came home to help out, and she’s still helping. But she’s also helping to keep her mom and her brother from learning to stand on their own two feet. Or their own four feet together. Meanwhile, Cait’s older sister is far away and wants absolutely nothing to do with this mess until it’s fixed. And I can’t blame her. In this scenario, I’d probably BE her.

The last thing Cait needs in her life is a relationship. But it’s also the thing she needs most. Getting involved with Gavin is the first time since she came home that she’s done anything besides work, mediate between her mom and her brother, and crash. Especially since as an EMT she really can’t afford to crash.

The deeper Cait and Gavin get into their relationship, the happier they both are. At least until Gavin delivers some home truths that Cait just isn’t ready to hear. He may not want to make her choose between her family and their relationship, but he’s right that she needs to make some choices of her own. Is she propping up her family because they need her to keep doing it, or is she propping up her family because she’s afraid of what will happen if she lets go?

And is Gavin willing to wait for her to figure it out?

Escape Rating B+: First of all, I liked Hot Response a whole lot more than I did the first book in the series, Heat Exchange, a few weeks ago. You could say I had a much hotter response to this one, especially considering that my feelings about Heat Exchange were lukewarm at best.

One of the things I always loved about this author’s earlier series, something that was missing in Heat Exchange, was the way that the dramatic tension in her romances felt real and not contrived, and that was also true in Hot Response.

Cait and Gavin have chemistry together from the very beginning, even if Cait is trying to pretend it isn’t there.

But as strong as their pull towards each other are the forces that are keeping them apart – even when they’re together. It’s unfortunately all too realistic that the issue between them isn’t really between them so much as it is between Cait and her family and Gavin’s eventual loss of patience with the way things are. And not because anyone is a terrible person or because of anything evil, but just because Cait as well as her mother and brother, are just plain too scared to let go of each other – even when they should.

Both Gavin and Cait are interesting characters with high-pressure and occasionally dangerous jobs who are fun to watch and certainly deserve their fair share of happiness. I think it’s fair to say that they are likeable people who would be fun to hang out with, and we want to see them get their HEA. The things standing between them and that HEA feel all too real, situations that could happen in anyone’s life no matter how much they might wish differently.

Cait’s fear for her mother is understandable, as is Gavin’s decreasing level of patience in the way that Cait deals with that fear. This is one of those stories where the real-life answer is probably counseling for everyone, but that can’t happen until the “everyone” in question is ready for it. And Gavin is correct that they all seem to be holding each other back from reaching for the future by holding on too tightly.

In short, I really liked the hero and heroine, I “bought into” both their relationship and the reasons they had problems in their relationship, and was happy for their HEA. I’ll be looking forward after all to the next book in this series, Under Control, because I bet the situation will be far from under anyone’s control. That always makes for great reading!

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

LINK:   https://goo.gl/tm4d11

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open internationally. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR.  Giveaway ends 4/30/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per person. Duplicates will be deleted.

Full Bloom Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Full Bloom Giveaway Hop, hosted by MamatheFox!

Spring should be sprung by now. Shouldn’t it?

Some days we have the air conditioner on, and some days we have to switch back to the furnace. The whole gray and gloomy thing is getting really, really old around here.

But it could be worse – it could be snow. It could still be snow. It’s time for Spring. It’s time for the flowers to bloom. Isn’t it?

While these damp, chilly days are marvelous for curling up with a good book and a sleepy cat, the gloominess has long outworn its welcome. We’ve had the April Showers, now it’s time for the Spring Flowers!!!!!

But while we’re waiting for Spring, I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository, just to tide you over until Spring finally springs into action wherever you are.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more fantastic prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Family Gathering (Sullivan's Crossing, #3) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #3
Pages: 288
Published by Mira Books on April 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An exceptional storyteller, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr beautifully captures the emotionally charged, complex dynamics that come with being part of any family. Readers will laugh and shed a few tears as they discover what it means to be loved, supported and accepted by the people who mean the most.

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads in his life. With his elder brother and youngest sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. But, like every visitor to the Crossing, he’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.

Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention at first, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he also gets to know himself and what he truly wants.

When all the Jones siblings gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together for the first time in a way they never were as children. As they struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. But all of them come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.

My Review:

The title of this book turns out to have multiple meanings. The family gathers together, and the family gathers more people into itself. This happens to multiple families during the course of this entry in the Sullivan’s Crossing series. And it’s lovely all the way around.

The main story of this book focuses on Dakota Jones, just as the previous books in the series have focused first on his older brother Cal (What We Find) and then his younger sister Sierra (Any Day Now). And while you probably don’t have to read the first two books to enjoy this one, Sullivan’s Crossing is a marvelous place, the members of the family have an interesting set of dysfunctions, and the books are relatively quick reads that end with smile-on-your-face happy endings.

These are all nice people, and it’s great to see them get their acts together. Because they all sure need the help.

Dakota comes to Sullivan’s Crossing because he’s unexpectedly out of the military after 17 years, and is at a bit of a loose end. After years of staying as far away from his family as he can get, now that he doesn’t know what to do with himself he realizes that he wants to see how they are. Or at least how his brother and younger sister are. His parents still drive him crazy (with very good reason) and his older sister is a bossy control-freak that he can’t stand to be around.

Sullivan’s Crossing pulls him right in, just as it has Cal and Sierra. Part of that pull turns out to be Sid, the beautiful bartender at the local watering hole, just as Maggie changed Cal’s life and Connie did Sierra’s. Dakota doesn’t have any other place to be, no ties anywhere else that he wants to get closer to, and his brother and sister are both happy. Their newfound friends and family are extremely welcoming, and they have babies he can spoil without having to change their diapers.

Dakota may be drifting into life in Sullivan’s Crossing, but he is actively pursuing the extremely gunshy Sid. It’s only when not one but two of the local single women go out of their way to chase Dakota down with painfully obvious sexual intent that he eventually gets the clue that he’s after much more with Sid than just a quick fling. And that’s a good thing, because it’s going to require not just a lot of patience but also a sincere friendship for Sid to let any man other than her brother close enough to see if she might be willing to let her guard down again. Ever.

Escape Rating B+: The Family Gathering, and the entire Sullivan’s Crossing series, is simply a lovely, good time with a really quirky family. The quote that opens the book sums it all up very nicely – “In our family, we don’t hide crazy…we put it on the porch and give it a cocktail.”

The Jones siblings have all been a fairly nice brand of crazy. It’s in this entry that we see some of the darker sides of what has driven all of them to end up in Sullivan’s Crossing.

Their father is a non-functional schizophrenic who self-medicates with marijuana to keep the voices toned down. He’s not violent, in fact he’s rather sweet, but his inability to function in society made for a chaotic childhood for the four kids. Their mother was too busy enabling her husband to make sure that their children had any responsible parenting, but the kids mostly turned out okay with the help and guidance of their grandparents.

While Cal seems to have ended up the most functional, Sierra’s response was to self-medicate her fears of ending up like their father with alcohol, and Dakota ran away to the military at 17 and took a vat of resentment with him. Dakota’s older sister Sedona, the bossy control freak, has anxiety and OCD issues to the point where her family has to stage an intervention. Dealing with Sedona’s crisis is a big part of the story, and an important factor in the gathering of this family back together.

The other issue holding this book together, is the stalking of Dakota. Not that Dakota is stalking anyone, but that he is being stalked by a woman who entered the series in Any Day Now seeming slightly unhinged, but with Dakota entering the picture has escalated into full-scale criminal behavior – and she’s ramping up the violence along with the crazy.

It was marvelous to see this particular shoe on the other foot. I’ve read the trope where a woman is endangered by a crazed sexual stalker so many times that they all read alike, and usually read as an excuse to put the heroine in jeopardy so the hero can save her, often with some rape-porn on the side. Ugh!

This was different, but it was fresh and it also felt realistic. Dakota wants to dismiss it all. He doesn’t want to make trouble, he doesn’t want to seem like trouble to Sid, and he really doesn’t want to get his stalker in trouble for incidents that seems merely misguided – at least at first. It’s the police chief who convinces Dakota that even though the individual incidents don’t seem like much, that there is something going on that needs to be monitored. And that just because Dakota is a soldier doesn’t mean that he can’t be misled, misguided or be a victim of something awful just because the perpetrator is a woman and not another man.

There is also a romance in The Family Gathering, and even though the developing relationship between Sid and Dakota is the tentpole of the plot, it’s really the way that Dakota falls in love with the town, his life there, and his growing relationship with the rest of his family that carries the story.

And it is a lovely read.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Family Gathering to one lucky US commenter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rain Rain Go Away! Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the 3rd Annual Rain Rain Go Away! Giveaway Hop, hosted by The Kids Did It and The Mommy Island

When I was a little girl, my grandmother taught me the rhyme, “Rain, rain go away! Come back another day.” I’m still kind of expecting the rain to answer back, “But I did. I did!” I’ve often looked for a cartoon that did this, but I haven’t found one. At least not yet.

There’s also a riddle about rain that I’m a little bit too fond of.

“If April Showers bring May Flowers, then what do May Flowers bring?”

The answer, of course, is pilgrims. I can’t believe I actually managed to catch someone with this the other day. Everything old is new again. Except the rain. Even when we need it, days and days of rain just plain get old.

What never gets old is the opportunity to win your choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository, just by entering the rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And for more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop. This one is HUGE!

Review: Head On by John Scalzi + Giveaway

Review: Head On by John Scalzi + GiveawayHead On (Lock In, #2) by John Scalzi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Lock In #2
Pages: 336
Published by Tor Books on April 17th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

John Scalzi returns with Head On, the standalone follow-up to the New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed Lock In. Chilling near-future SF with the thrills of a gritty cop procedural, Head On brings Scalzi's trademark snappy dialogue and technological speculation to the future world of sports.

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI Agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth―and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

My Review:

Head On is the sequel to 2014’s utterly marvelous Lock In, and is part of the near-future post-Hadens world that is first introduced in the the novella Unlocked. And that’s a hint that if you are interested in Head On you really need to start with Unlocked, which introduces the worldbuilding and then read Lock In which introduces the main characters of Head On and the scenario in which they find themselves.

It’s also more than a hint that while this review of Head On will attempt to be spoiler-free for Head On, there will certainly be spoilers for Lock In.

It has been said that science fiction is a kind of universal recipient when it comes to genres, and that mystery is a universal donor. In the sense that SF is a setting that can contain any genre, while mystery as the “donor” can be injected into any setting.

That’s certainly the case here. Head On is not merely a mystery, but bears a significant resemblance to a specific kind of mystery, the police procedural. Our protagonists in this series, veteran Leslie Vann and her junior partner Chris Sloane are FBI agents investigating a series of deaths that at first appear to be mostly coincidental, but in are all fairly quickly discovered to be murders.

What makes Head On (and its predecessor Lock In) science fiction is the setting. These stories take place in a near-future, near enough that it is recognizable from here. But it is a near-future that is 25 years after the world-wide Hadens pandemic. Hadens Syndrome manifested mostly like a cross between the flu and meningitis. Nasty and serious, but generally not lethal. However, 1% of the world’s population developed a long-term side effect known as “lock in”, where their brains were still very much alive and reacting to stimuli, but had absolutely no way to communicate with the bodies that they were now locked into.

While 1% of the world’s population sounds small, using today’s population numbers (7.6 billion) that would mean that 76 million people were locked in. For a comparison, that’s more than the populations of California and Texas combined. In other words, it’s a LOT of people.

And that’s a lot of people to provide services for, which means there’s a lot of money involved. And a lot of government grants and tax breaks, and a lot of businesses that have grown up around providing for those needs and taking advantage of those government grants. There are lots and lots of lots and LOTS.

So while Head On is a murder mystery, it takes place in a world that could only exist in science fiction, the near-future post-Hadens world.

Chris and Leslie find themselves investigating a crime that could also only exist in this world. A player of the new “Hadens-only” sport, Hilketa, dies during an exhibition match that Chris is attending. It’s the very first player death in Hilketa, but initially it seems not dissimilar to player injuries and player deaths in any contact sport – even though in Hilketa the only contact is between the players’ threeps and not the players’ actual bodies. Still, the adrenaline spikes and emotional tolls of playing a big-money spectator sport are experienced by Hadens players, so it’s not completely surprising that one might suffer a stroke or a seizure while playing.

But the league’s actions after the death move the incident from tragic to highly suspicious in the beat of a heart. And that’s where Chris, and eventually Chris’ partner Leslie, step in. Pulling all the data on the dead player while the match is going on is highly questionable. When the league official who ordered that data pulled commits suicide immediately afterwards, it’s pretty obvious that something is up, even if Chris and Leslie don’t yet know what.

The rules of investigation in the near-future are surprisingly similar to those of the present-day. Or even the historic past. When all else fails – FOLLOW THE MONEY.

Escape Rating A: I read this on a plane ride from DC to Atlanta. And I read it early relative to its publication date, because I just couldn’t resist the treat any longer. No pun intended, it made the trip absolutely fly by. I’m just sorry that I can’t read it again for the first time – it was just that good.

Because Chris is a Haden, and his physical presence in the world is represented by a threep (really any threep as Chris borrows and wrecks several) his gender is actually indeterminate. Although he has a physical body, whether that body is male or female doesn’t really matter. What matters is how Chris sees himself and how he presents himself to the world, and not his threep, but his mental presence in the Hadens online universe, the Agora.

And I keep saying “him” and “his” even though Chris never does and it is deliberately kept ambiguous in the story. To the point where there were two audio recordings of Lock In and there will be two of Head On, one read by a female narrator, and one by a male narrator.

I finally figured out that my mental image of Chris is male because he/she/they does not have to think about or deal with any of the baggage that someone physically presenting in the meat-space world as female has to deal with. That Chris does not have all that baggage that women can’t help but pick him made Chris a “him” to me, even if Chris isn’t. (Chris is also mixed race, and as a Haden Chris doesn’t have to deal with any of THAT baggage either.)

The baggage that Chris does have to deal with are the prejudices that people have against threeps. Because they generally see them as robots or droids, and not as presentations for actual human beings. And it does cause problems, but a different set of problems than living/working while either black, female or both.

Part of what makes these books so good is that while this is recognizably a future and not the present, it is also recognizable as human space and human beings and human reactions. Whether meat or threeps, people are still people, for all the good and bad definitions of “people”. Human nature does not change based on the carrier it’s in. As a species we still clearly have a lot of work to do.

The case that Chris and Leslie have to solve could only happen in this SFnal universe. At the same time, it very much follows the pattern of a police procedural mystery, even if some of those procedures have necessarily been altered.

The mystery is relatively easy to solve for the reader. It is considerably more difficult for Chris and Leslie to prove, but the villain is fairly obvious pretty early on. Which does not make the story one scintilla less fascinating to follow.

I had an absolute blast. If you like science fiction, or mysteries, or John Scalzi’s writing, or especially all of the above, you will too.

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

As the final act in my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week, I’m doing the same thing I did last year – taking this opportunity to share one of my favorite authors with one lucky commenter. The winner of this giveaway will receive a copy of any book by John Scalzi, up to $20 in value, anywhere that the Book Depository ships. This will allow the winner to choose the hardcover of Head On if that’s what they want – the book comes out on 4/17, so the giveaway closes just in time to get a pre-order in. But the winner can choose ANY title they want, from his first book, the marvelous Old Man’s War, to the hilarious (and Hugo-Award-winning) Redshirts or anything between then and now. If the winner wants an ebook, and can get ebooks from Amazon (or audiobooks from Audible) that’s OK too.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Cyborg by Anna Hackett + Giveaway

Review: Cyborg by Anna Hackett + GiveawayCyborg (Galactic Gladiators #10) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #10
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on April 1st 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Scientist Ever Haynes was shocked when she was abducted by alien slavers...but the last thing she expected was to find herself pregnant with a cyborg's baby.

Ever has been fighting for her life since her abduction, and the only good thing to happen to her was one heated night with a mysterious prisoner--a connection, a flash of light in the darkness. But then he was rescued and she was left behind. Now, weeks later, she's been saved by the House of Galen gladiators...and by the man she shared the hottest night of her life with. But cool, emotionless cyborg Magnus Rone has no memory of their night together and finding out that she's expecting his baby is a shock to everyone.

Created in a military program, Magnus is genetically and cybernetically enhanced--emotionless, ruthless, focused. He vows to protect Ever and the baby she carries, and despite his lack of memory, everything about tough, levelheaded Ever draws him in. All his life, his emotional dampeners and training have limited his ability to feel emotions...but one small Earth woman cuts through all that and leaves him feeling.

As they work together to hunt down the deadly desert arena of Zaabha and the final human woman trapped there, Ever and Magnus find a stunning passion neither can resist or ignore. But in the dangerous desert sands of Carthago, with the House of Galen gladiators by their sides, deadly enemies are closing in. Ever and Magnus will be dragged back into the darkness, and Magnus will do anything and sacrifice everything to keep her safe.

My Review:

As has been clear for many months, actually years at this point, I love Anna Hackett’s work, and have ever since she took me on her first journey with the Phoenix Brothers, back At Star’s End.

She’s also marvelously prolific, meaning that I get something new from her about every other month, and a good time is always had by all. Some books are a better time than others, but she always manages to sweep me somewhere fascinating and dangerous.

The Galactic Gladiators are currently my favorite series of hers. As always, she has taken a tried and true premise and turned it into something different and special.

This series feels like a take-off of the “Mars Needs Women” trope mixed with a sun-and-sandals gladiator story. In this science fiction romance series, a band of nasty, disgusting, evil slave traders (yes, I know that’s kind of redundant) took advantage of a temporary wormhole to raid Jupiter Station of its personnel and jump back to the far reaches of the galaxy before the wormhole closed.

All those Earthans that they captured are now stuck on the planet Carthago, far, far from home. Without another wormhole, it’s just plain too far to go back in one human life span – or even several.

But it isn’t too late for all those stranded Earthans to make a new life for themselves where they are right now – providing someone rescues them from slavery – or they rescue themselves.

And that’s what happens in the series. One by one, those humans are rescued by the heroes, the gladiators from the House of Galen as well as some of their allies. And each time one of those Earthans is rescued, they manage to fall in love with one of the gladiators, and very much vice versa.

Part of what makes this series so special is that it feels like the gladiators are the women’s reward and not the usual other way around – not even in the one book where the gladiator is female and the Earthan refugee is male. I love it when the women are the equal of the men, and even better when that equality is represented in different ways between each couple and in each relationship.

The story in Cyborg revolves around the relationship between, obviously, a cyborg and one of those rescued Earthan women. In this case, the cyborg is Magnus Rone, the Imperator of a gladiatorial House allied to the House of Galen. As a cyborg created and trained to be a soldier and only a soldier, even though Magnus left his people long ago he still believes that his training holds, that he’s better off without emotion and that relationships only cloud his focus.

But when he was briefly captured, the human woman Ever Haynes somehow got under his skin. It may have helped that the events of his capture managed to knock out a chunk of his programming, but whatever the cause is – Ever makes him feel. And he’s not sure what to do about it.

Or about the baby that he and Ever managed to make during his brief captivity – in spite of the fact that his programming is supposed to have rendered him sterile. This is clearly yet another lie that he was told.

Magnus feels duty-bound to protect Ever and their baby at all costs – costs which become incredibly high when Ever is captured by the slavers yet again. But amidst all the chaos, Magnus discovers a universal truth – love doesn’t make you weak – it makes you strong.

Escape Rating A-: One of the things I love about this series is the way that it turns all the old tropes on their pointy little heads and spins them around. Not just that it feels like the women are the ones getting rewarded for their trials and suffering instead of (really in addition to) the men, but also that part of what these women fight tooth and nail for is to be part of a relationship of equals. There are no damsels in distress in this series – only strong women who sometimes need a little help from their friends.

I also like that this series doesn’t feel “thin and stretched” to me, the way that the Hell Squad series does. That one is pointing towards an inevitable ending, and I’d like it to get there already.

The Galactic Gladiators series doesn’t have to end. It probably will, and I think it’s heading there, but it doesn’t have to. Jupiter Station had to have had dozens of personnel, if not hundreds. Endless possibilities!

One of the things that this author does well is to point the end of each book in the direction of the next one, without giving the game away of how the next couple can possibly get out of whatever fix they are in to achieve their HEA.

It is clear from the ending of Cyborg that the next book will finally be Galen’s, and I can hardly wait. I always love seeing the leader fall – and this time will be especially fun. My husband’s name is also Galen, and I don’t often read his name as the hero a romance – except of course our own.

This will be grand!

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

Today is my birthday. And as a birthday present to me, Anna is letting me give away some marvelous prizes. The lucky winner(s) will receive a signed paperback from her Galactic Gladiators series, a signed paperback from the Hell Squad, and a pack of Hell Squad Trading Cards, pictured below. This is a real treat!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Blogo-Birthday Giveaway

Today, April 4, is the seventh anniversary of the first post on Reading Reality. Tomorrow, April 5, is my 61st birthday. And I’m not sure which I find more astonishing.

The banner above was the original header for Reading Reality, back when it was called “Escape Reality, Read Fiction”, a line I got from a t-shirt. I found the original bear the other day, and he’s sitting on my desk right now. He’s still a good luck mascot – and Freddie has not yet found him and played with him to death. Give him time. Freddie, I mean, not the bear. There’s a reason we call him the Fredinator.

In those intervening years, Reading Reality has published 2,902 posts, most of them mine. It’s gone from a 3 or 4 day a week blog to a daily blog – even if I occasionally find myself scrambling to get a post ready on time. Believe it or not, there have been over 22,000 comments made during those seven years. That’s a lot of conversation.

And it has been, and continues to be, an absolute blast to do. It surprised me to realize that this is the second-longest I’ve ever held a single job. My record is 9 years, and that’s coming up fast.

What makes it all worthwhile are the contacts. I may not respond as much as I should, but I love hearing from readers that they have enjoyed the blog and my reviews, whether through comments here or comments on my Goodreads reviews. And I very much appreciate the way that my reach has expanded over the years, so that I get to read even more great books – as well as the occasional clunker.

This week is my opportunity to give back to all of you who have given so much to me over the past seven years, and I hope many more to come. For Reading Reality as well as myself, this is a Hobbit birthday, where I give presents instead of receiving them. I’m giving away something every day this week, whether through a blog tour, due to the generosity of some of my favorite authors, or out of Reading Reality’s pocket.

As the actual anniversary, today’s giveaways are special. I’m giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card AND a book from the Book Depository up to $25 in value, shipped anywhere that the Book Depository ships, which is a tremendous number of places.

It’s my way of saying thanks to all of you. I’m looking forward to spending many more years together, talking about even more books!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt + Giveaway

Review: The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt + GiveawayThe World Awakening by Dan Koboldt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, portal fantasy
Series: Gateways to Alissia #3
Pages: 448
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on April 3rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Quinn Bradley has learned to use the magic of another world.

And that world is in danger.

Having decided to betray CASE Global, he can finally reveal his origins to the Enclave and warn them about the company’s imminent invasion. Even if it means alienating Jillaine . . . and allying with someone he’s always considered his adversary. 

But war makes for strange bedfellows, and uniting Alissians against such a powerful enemy will require ancient enmities—as well as more recent antagonisms—to be set aside. The future of their pristine world depends on it.

As Quinn searches for a way to turn the tide, his former CASE Global squadmates face difficult decisions of their own. For some, it’s a matter of what they’re willing to do to get home. For others, it’s deciding whether they want to go home at all.Continuing the exciting adventures from The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception, The World Awakening is the spellbinding conclusion to the Gateways to Alissia fantasy series from Dan Koboldt.

My Review:

Now that we are at the third book of the trilogy, I still see the Gateways to Alissia as a blend of S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador with L.E. Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio. And as far as I’m concerned, those are marvelous places to start. I probably read Conquistador at least ten years ago, and it still sticks in my memory, while the Imager Portfolio is one of my favorite epic fantasy series and I’m happy to say that it is still ongoing and still fantastic.

Both Gateways to Alissia and Conquistador are a particular type of epic fantasy – the portal fantasy. In both cases, there is a literal portal that connects our world to the fantasy world, in this case, Alissia. And for those who are currently watching the TV series The Magicians, based on Lev Grossman’s book of the same title, let’s just say there’s more than a bit of a resemblance between Fillory and Alissia, even if there is no magical college on our side of the gate.

The two mega-corporations on Earth that are aware of the portal both see Alissia as an unspoiled and undeveloped world just waiting to be plundered by the oh-so-beneficent technocrats on Earth. And it might happen. It’s certainly in danger of happening.

But the story in The World Awakening is the story of Alissia fighting back – with more than a bit of help from a surprising number of people from our Earth who are not willing to stand idly by while Alissia gets raped and plundered. No matter what it takes to stop CASE Global and Raptor Tech from conquering Alissia with what they are certain are superior armaments.

But like all conquerors since time immemorial – the further the supply lines are stretched, the easier it is to break them.

And Alissia isn’t nearly as outmatched as they thought – with a little help from its friends – no matter what they might think of each other.

Escape Rating A-: The World Awakening is a marvelous conclusion to this trilogy, and as the concluding volume it is very much the wrong place to start. If you like portal fantasy, or stories of people from our Earth finding themselves in places where magic works, or even just want a rollicking good story, start with the first book, The Rogue Retrieval, where you can be introduced to our trouble-magnet anti-hero, the stage magician Quinn Bradley, as he comes to Alissia to discover that magic is real after all, and that he can perform it – and not merely perform.

By this point in the story, we have seen the team that Quinn originally trained with flung to the four corners of Alissia, and we have watched their perspectives change and their allegiances shift, particularly in the case of Quinn himself.

He’s come a long way from the reluctantly recruited stage magician. I’m still not totally sure he’s grown up, but his horizons have certainly expanded, as has is view of both Alissia and Earth. His transformation is a big chunk of what drives the story, and his expanding viewpoint pulls the reader along with him.

But Gateways to Alissia is a big story with a lot of players and a lot going on. I envy those of you who will begin the story now, when it is complete. It has been a year since I read the second book in the saga, The Island Deception, and it takes a bit for the reader to get back up to speed. It’s certainly well worth that effort. The World Awakening is a terrific story, and it brings the saga of Alissia to a fantastic, resounding and satisfying conclusion. And I enjoyed every step of the journey – although I’m happy not to have had to trudge through the snow myself!

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

In honor of my Blogo-Birthday celebration, and because I’ve enjoyed this series so very much, the author, Dan Koboldt is sponsoring today’s giveaway. Three winners will receive a paperback copy of their choice of book in the Gateways to Alissia trilogy. Newcomers should choose The Rogue Retrieval, but if you have already begun your journey, please pick up where you left off, with either The Island Deception or this final volume, The World Awakening.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh + Giveaway

Review: Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh + GiveawayCounting on a Countess (The London Underground, #2) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: London Underground #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For a shameless libertine and a wily smuggler in the London Underground, marriage is more than convenience—it’s strategy...

Christopher “Kit” Ellingsworth, war veteran and newly minted Earl of Blakemere, buries his demons under every sort of pleasure and vice. His scandalous ways have all but emptied his coffers . . . until a wealthy mentor leaves him a sizeable fortune. The only stipulation? He must marry within one month to inherit the money. Kit needs a bride and the bold, mysterious Miss Tamsyn Pearce seems perfect.

Husband hunting isn’t Tamsyn’s top priority—she’s in London to sell her new shipment of illicit goods—but she’s desperate for funds to keep her smuggling operation afloat. When a handsome earl offers to wed her and send her back to Cornwall with a hefty allowance, Tamsyn agrees. After all, her secrets could land her in prison and an attentive, love-struck spouse could destroy everything.

But when an unexpected proviso in the will grants Tamsyn control of the inheritance, their arrangement becomes anything but convenient. Now, Kit’s counting on his countess to make his wildest dreams a reality and he plans to convince her, one pleasurable seduction at a time.

My Review:

This is a marriage of convenience story that lives up to the old saw that goes “marry in haste, repent at leisure” because that’s definitely what happens to Kit and Tamsyn. Not that the repentance turns out to be leisurely per se, as they are both awfully, awfully busy while they are repenting.

Kit needs a wife, and Tamsyn needs a husband, and not for any of the usual reasons. Kit can claim a fortune if he marries within 30 days. He may be an earl, but the estate is broke. And Kit wants the money for a completely different reason – he plans to open a pleasure garden to rival Vauxhall as a way of laying his own wartime demons to rest.

If Kit’s reasons weren’t unusual enough, there’s Tamsyn. She needs a husband to give her enough money to buy her uncle’s rundown country house in Cornwall, so that she can continue to lead the smuggling operation that is keeping her village almost literally afloat.

The fishing is down, the taxes are up, and without the money from bringing in brandy and lace from France and far away from the Customs and Excise, the folks of tiny Newcombe would be starving. As they were before then 16-year-old Tamsyn became their de facto leader.

Both Kit and Tamsyn go into their marriage of convenience with what they believe are eyes wide open. Kit plans to purchase the land for his pleasure garden as soon as the ink on their marriage lines is dry. He also plans to continue his life as one of London’s most celebrated rakehells – and has no plans to be faithful to his wife, nor cares if she is faithful to him once she has presented him with the requisite heir – a spare is not even required.

Tamsyn plans to beg her husband to buy the neglected pile in Cornwall so she can continue the smuggling operation.

Neither plans to tell each other anything of much significance, or even spend more than the minimum amount of time necessary together.

But the best laid plans often go astray. The will that gives Kit his fortune has an unusual clause in it – in order to inherit the money Kit has to give control of it to Tamsyn. So instead of her begging him for the funds to buy the estate in Cornwall, he has to beg her for the funds to start his pleasure garden.

There’s only enough money for one – or the other.

Kit isn’t honest about his reasons for seducing Tamsyn, but neither is she honest about why she married Kit. They are caught in a web of lies, and bound together not just by the bonds of matrimony, but by a sexual chemistry that gives neither of them any peace.

It might even be love. But not even the strongest love can survive as much dishonesty as exists between Kit and Tamsyn. Or can it?

Escape Rating B: I picked up Counting on a Countess because I really enjoyed the first book in this series, From Duke Till Dawn, and because I love the action/adventure romances that this author writes under her other name, Zoe Archer.

One of the things that this author does well are her unconventional heroines, and Tamsyn is certainly no exception. She’s a smuggler. She’s even good at it. At the same time, the illegal operation is not romanticized, she’s not a pirate heroine – although she could be. Tamsyn turns to smuggling as the best way to play out a truly awful hand. Her parents are dead, her aunt and uncle are despicable, and the village desperately needs a way to keep the roof over its head and food in its bellies. In a choice between smuggling and starving, most people would pick smuggling every time.

But part of that repenting in leisure is that Tamsyn and KIt barely know each other for less than a week when they marry. Kit isn’t aware that Tamsyn’s frugality is ingrained in her by hard choices – she is used to squeezing every shilling until it screams in agony because those shillings are hard to come by, while Kit has been spending the years after he returned from Waterloo spending money he doesn’t have and not worrying about when the bills will come due.

Tamsyn, for her part, while she is aware that Kit is a former soldier, is not aware that his service has made him a principled defender of his country and its laws. To his mind, smuggling French goods into England without paying taxes is flouting the law he fought to uphold and robbing his country at the expense of its enemies.

She doesn’t see the value in a pleasure garden, and she can’t reveal her part in the smuggling. They are at an impasse.

This story had all the earmarks of a potential misunderstandammit, but it doesn’t feel that way. They are keeping secrets from each other, but those secrets feel necessary and not gratuitous or ridiculous.

However, a big chunk of the story revolves around Kit and Tamsyn moving tentatively and hesitantly towards a relationship, in spite of the vast gulf of lies between them. The one-step-forward, two-steps-back nature of their physical relationship takes up a lot of pages, to the point where it slows down the narrative. While I appreciated the celebration of consent, particularly in a marital relationship, I did find myself wishing they’d just get on with it already.

But the way that they finally manage to come together, not just in the sexual sense but as a working partnership, was marvelous. They find a compromise that allows both of them to get what they need from the relationship, and it works beautifully.

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

LINK: https://goo.gl/kSHsTN

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. Three winners will each receive a paperback copy of From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 4/6/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.