MLK Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the MLK Giveaway Hop hosted by Caffeinated Reviewer &  Mocha Girls Read !

In honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, observed on the third Monday of January each year – that’s today although his actual birthday is tomorrow, January 19 – Caffeinated Reviewer and Mocha Girls Read have created this giveaway hop of books celebrating Black authors. As book reviewers and book bloggers, we are celebrating diverse reading and drawing attention, we hope, to the richness of a more diverse reading experience.

To that end, this week I’ll be reviewing books by Black authors, no matter what their genre. And we’re all giving away books that express that diversity and/or gift cards so that our winners can read what’s available for themselves.

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For more terrific recommendations and more chances to win, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


Review: The Secrets of Colchester Hall by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Secrets of Colchester Hall by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Secrets Of Colchester Hall by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: Gothic, historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 148
Published by Sophie Barnes on January 12, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

As one of six possible candidates vying for Viscount Sterling's hand, Lady Angelica has been invited to stay at his grand manor for a week-long house party. But an unpleasant feeling lurks within Colchester Hall. It's almost as if someone's watching Angelica just beyond the edge of her vision. And while she tries to explain the chill creeping up behind her as merely a draft, she can't shake the feeling that something disturbing might be at play.
When Sterling decides she's the woman he wants, can Angelica accept her new home and the sinister secrets she fears it might hold, or will she give up on true love because of what could prove to be nothing more than her own imagination?
NOTE: This novella was previously included in the anthology, Wicked Liaison

My Review:

It’s not illogical that the result of a man discovering that his late wife was unfaithful would be for him to ensure that his next wife wouldn’t be tempted. Or in the case of Viscount Randolph Sterling’s search for a new bride, wouldn’t be tempting to others.

The problem is that his next viscountess really does need to be tempting to him.

It’s a conundrum that he intends to solve by inviting six women who are “on the shelf” to his home, with their chaperones, in the hopes that one will strike his fancy – even if it seems that the entire ton has labelled them as unmarriageable for one reason or another.

Three are shy to the point of paralysis, which explains their lack of previous offers. One is a bit shy, but is mostly disqualified because she’s already in love with someone else, who of course doesn’t seem to notice that she exists. (I really liked Lucy and wouldn’t mind seeing her story!)

One of the eligible ladies has the personality of a narcissistic velociraptor. And I might have just insulted velociraptors. It’s clear upon first meeting that the reason no one has offered marriage to Lady Seraphina is because she’s a vicious bitch. And again, that’s an insult to both vicious people and bitches. She’s a piece of work.

That leaves our heroine, Lady Angelica. She’s not shy. In fact, many might say that her lack of shyness, certainly her lack of what was considered decorum and proper behavior for ladies, was the reason that no one – at least so far – had wanted to marry her. Angelica speaks her mind, to the point where she is considered to be blunt to a fault.

Angelica is exactly what Randolph Sterling has been looking for. Over the course of a week where he “interviews” all of his prospective brides, he already knows that he has made his choice.

If Angelica will agree. And if the malign spirit that seems to haunt Colchester Hall will let her live long enough to reach the altar.

Escape Rating B+: For a surprisingly short book, The Secrets of Colchester Hall manages to encompass some seriously creepy Gothic chills while solving the mystery of those titular secrets and leading to a satisfactory – and heated – romantic happy ever after.

Of course, the protagonists need the heat of that HEA to get over the chills induced by those terrible secrets.

The Secrets of Colchester Hall is billed as a gothic romance, and was originally published as part of an anthology of gothics. Gothic romances are a subgenre that isn’t as popular as it was once upon a time, so it was fascinating to read one that invoked some of the classics of the genre.

There are hints of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, to the point where that story is deliberately lampshaded in the bookstore when the hero recommends the book to the heroine. A heroine who is a fan of such gothic romances, as is the heroine of Northanger Abbey herself.

But it feels like the real inspiration for this foray into those secrets at Colchester Hall is Dame Daphne du Maurier’s classic creeper Rebecca. The story has several similar elements, enough to let a reader predict at least some of the outcome. But it stands more than well enough on its own to keep the reader shivering and turning pages to the very last.

What makes this one stand out is the character of Angelica. Her bluntness and plain-speaking make her easy for contemporary readers to identify with, and her willingness to say what she really thinks, no matter the social cost, provides the story with many of its best and most lighthearted moments – as well as providing Sterling with all the reasons he could ever want to ask Angelica for her hand.

Like most gothic romances, there is more than a bit of willing suspension of disbelief involved. The actual villain of the piece is flesh-and-blood and certainly among the living, and that person’s machinations are plausible. Sinister, murderous, manipulative, but still plausible. But there’s an element of paranormal woo-woo involved in most gothics and this one was no exception. Angelica is receiving messages from the beyond and those messages are getting her attention – as well as the attention of the villain. That the story requires her to believe those messages and for the hero to believe her and not have her committed, is a bit of a stretch.

A stretch that works, and chills the reader right to the bone.

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

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New Year New You Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the New Year, New You Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

Now that we’ve all, metaphorically at least, stabbed 2020 in the heart just to make damn sure it’s really dead, it’s time to think about 2021 and what we’re hoping for from this brand new year.

For many folks, that thought leads directly to those New Year’s Resolutions. Which we all know we’re going to give up by March at the absolute latest.

Alternatively, there’s some rather sage advice about making your New Year’s resolutions at the end of the year, writing down things you’ve already done, backdating it to the beginning and then joyfully crossing everything off.

New Year’s resolutions are what you make them. If you make them.

I resolve to give the winner of the New Year, New You Giveaway Hop their choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a book, up to $10 in value, from the Book Depository. Now it’s up to you to resolve to fill out the rafflecopter below for your chance at winning the prize!

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For more terrific 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.

Dashing Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Dashing Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh
O’er the fields we go
Laughing all the way
Bells on bobtails ring
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight

It’s time for Jingle Bells, and every other holiday song ever sung. Admittedly, the only bells we hear jingling around here are the ones that are attached to the cats’ toys. Especially when they bring them to bed with us. Although the original Jingle Bells song seems to have way more verses than I thought. That first verse, quoted above, is the one that most everyone remembers.

And did you know that it wasn’t intended as an Xmas song? It was originally supposed to refer to Thanksgiving! But all that snow just makes it seem like it refers to a time a bit later in the year.

Just to jingle some bells for you, I’m giving away my usual prize in this giveaway hop; the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a book up to $10 in value from the Book Depository. So fill out the rafflecopter for a chance at making a few bells jingle of your very own!

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For more fabulous and possibly even jingling 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: Cash in Hand by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Cash in Hand by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayCash in Hand by T.A. Moore
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Pages: 202
Published by Dreamspinner Press on December 15, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The last monster died a hundred years ago. At least, that’s what the monsters want you to think.
Half-monster Cash just wants to keep his head down and raise his daughter, Ellie, to be an upstanding member of monstrous society. Even if she’d rather spend the summer with her human friends than learn the art of man traps at Camp Dark Hollow.
So the last person Cash wants to see is her uncle Arkady Abascal, who’s also Cash’s ex-boyfriend.
Arkady has more than Ellie’s summer plans on his mind. He’s there to enlist Cash to find out who’s been selling monster secrets. Cash hasn’t gotten any better at telling Arkady no, but it’s not just his weakness for Arkady that makes him agree. The Prodigium thinks an Abascal exposed them to humans, and now the whole family is at risk—including Ellie.
Recruited to help Arkady identify the culprit—or frame a scapegoat—Cash finds the machinations of monstrous power easier to navigate than his feelings for Arkady. At least, at first. But when things get bloody, he wishes romantic disasters were all he had to worry about….

My Review:

The monsters hanging out at the Abascal Hotel and Spa make the creatures in that old Halloween staple, Monster Mash, look like the population of the proverbial Sunday School picnic.

Most of us wouldn’t want to meet any of these folks in a dark alley – or even at the Summer Camp dropoff for their children. Monsters’ children, who are off to camp to make the friends and especially the enemies they’ll have for all of their lives. To learn how to be successful predators – or evasive prey, as the case might be.

No one in this story is completely human. But we root for them anyway.

Especially Cash, his little girl Ellie, and his on again/off again flirtation with Arkady Abascal. Arkady, who just so happens to be Ellie’s uncle, a member of the family at the top of the local monster society – and the love of Cash’ life whether he wants to admit it or not.

Usually not. Definitely not.

Which makes Arkady’s bargain with Cash, that Cash will pose as Arkady’s boyfriend for a weekend wedding at the family mansion in return for more protection for Ellie, a dangerous proposition all the way around.

It’s not just Cash’ heart that is at stake, but also what’s left of his human soul – as well as his half-human life. And Ellie’s. Definitely Ellie’s.

Because there’s someone out to get Ellie’s grandmother. And if Donna Abascal, the queen of the immortal monsters, goes down, she’ll take the entire family with her. Including Arkady. Including Ellie.

Whether she’s guilty – this time – or not.

Escape Rating B: It’s pretty clear from the outset – even without the author’s acknowledgement below – that this was originally supposed to have been TA Moore’s entry in the Bad, Dad and Dangerous anthology. But the story grew too many tentacles and other extra limbs to fit inside that particular skin, rather like the monsters and their too tight and wrong-shaped human guises.

(Consider that a monster-sized hint that if you like this story you’ll enjoy Bad, Dad and Dangerous and very much vice-versa. All the stories in that collection as well as this one are just a terrific mix of urban fantasy, paranormal romance and that extra touch of shivery monstrousness that make for a great read!)

This is a bit different from the usual worlds of urban fantasy or paranormal romance in that this is a world where, rather than magic being real – although it sort of is – it’s the monsters that we believe are myths and legends that are real.

Monsters who have their own society and their own laws – especially their own version of the Statute of Secrecy – as well as their own enforcers of those laws. At the same time, these are monsters. They are apex predators, and they hate having to bow to any authority – even one of their own making – even if it gives them things they want in return.

Like willing victims. And good wi-fi.

So the worldbuilding in this story is really neat and just a bit different. I wish we’d gotten a bit more of it, because there are a lot of politics in this story and figuring out who’s doing who and how their rank matters was occasionally just a bit confusing. (The short story that is serialized over the course of this blog tour should help with that, but I wish I’d had it before I read the book. It would have helped!)

As much as some of the politics and relationships confounded a bit, the relationships at the heart of this story are very clear and extremely easy to grasp – and to occasionally gasp at as we figure out just what’s at stake.

In the end, that’s what takes your breath away. The depth of Cash’ love for his daughter Ellie, in spite of everything he knows about both her origins and his own. The love that Cash and Arkady have never been able to get over for each other, no matter how much both of their monster sides tell them it makes them devastatingly vulnerable. Because that’s what love does.

And just how deep and how high the machinations go, to protect what needs protecting, to save who needs saving, and to deceive whoever and whatever needs deceiving to hold on to the most important things in life. Or death. Or undeath.

Whatever the case might be.

And now a word from TA Moore:

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Cash in Hand by TA Moore. Any of you who read Bad, Dad, and Dangerous very nearly got to read this in there. Cash in Hand was the first story I wrote for the anthology, the only problem with it was that it was…a bit long. It was a novel. So I was told to write another novella immediately, and Cash in Hand became a thing in itself! Which I hope you guys check out and enjoy!

For the blog tour I’ve written a short story set in the Prodigium world. I hope you enjoy!

 

Chapter Four

The damask puddled on the ground in front of Grandmother as she worked, peacock green with darker blue patterns woven into the fabric. She clicked her tongue.

“The Left Hand of the Prodigium,” she mused. “In our designs.”

“He’s been in the shop once.”

She waved one leg at him, a gesture that simultaneously dismissed his protest and told him to hush.

“We could put a sign over the door,” she said. “By charter from the Prodigium.”

“He was on his own.”

She gave him a hard look out of one beady, black eye. “You sound like your father.”

Dim pulled a face. He supposed he did. It had been the one thing he’d always swore he’d never do, back when he was Van’s age, but the older you got the more you realised that pessimism was just optimists called reality.

“If we tell people Kohary shops here,” he said. “We’ll lose business. People won’t darken our door for fear they’ll run into him in his underwear.”

For a moment Grandmother stopped work and cocked her head to the side. “Do you think he wears underwear?” she asked. “I would have assumed he was….what’s the word Van uses…commando?”

That was the last thing that Dim wanted to think about. He was going to now, probably for a few restless, sticky hours tonight, but that wasn’t the point. The naked (almost) Kohary in his head — hotter with black briefs that clung to his thighs and outlined his cock? Or without? A question for later — gave him a look that said he knew what he was doing.

Fuck. He might, for all Dim knew. No one really knew what Kohary’s monster was or what it could do. Well, no one knew for long. It was kind of ‘just before you horribly die’ information.

“That’s not the point,” Dim said. “What am I meant to do? I already have a dozen commissions for the end of the month, now I’m meant to come up with an outfit that’s fit for a banquet and an insult?”

Grandmother reached out and patted him on the shoulder. “Is it beyond you?”

Shit. Dim clenched his jaw on the unnatural compulsion that pushed on the bones of his skull. “Grandmother, don’t.”

She tilted her head to look at him with amusement. The curse had left her enough of her face to see the human she’d been, her nose and cheeks and the soft curve of her jaw. It had taken her eyes, though, and replaced them with the black, seed-jewel eyes of a spider. Black mandibles distorbed her mouth, the pink flesh stretched tight and peeled back in places. The black, mitten-fuzzed paw on his shoulder squeezed.

“Can you not do it?” she asked.

Dim clenched his jaw from sheer stubbornness. It didn’t matter. His monster crawled up his throat and wrestled control of his tongue off him.

“I can do it,” he said, through his teeth. Arrogance that wasn’t his–and wouldn’t have to understand the fucking consquences when they got here–filled him. “Just watch me.”

Grandmother swung forward on her line and kissed his cheek. Her mandibles were rough, like a brillo pad that was almost worn out.

“Go and make me proud,” she said. “Grandmother is hungry.”

Gloves hid his bloody fingers. They didn’t help with the restless jitter of his knees and tight shoulders as his monster plucked at his nerves like they were puppet strings.

Stitch. Sew. Buttons. Get it done, prove you can.

He ignored the rant with the ease of long practice and dumped more sugar in his coffee.

“When you imagine going to the Abascal wedding,” he asked idly. “How does it end badly?”

Astrid adjust the fingers on the hand of glory she had in front of her and turned it so the long-dead murderer gave him the bony finger.

“What makes you assume it goes wrong?” she sniffed. “And do you think these need to be tinted a shade more grey? Remember, the banquet will be in the caves?”

Dim cocked his head to the side.

“Remember they’re going to be lit,” he said. “You don’t want them to look alive. And it wouldn’t be an anxiety dream if everything went right.”

Astrid sighed and wiped her waxy hands on her apron. She picked up a shaved off ring of wrist bone and chewed thoughtfully on it as she considered the question. 

“I’m dancing with Belladonna,” she said, her eyes dreamy.It lasted a second and then she sighed as she went on. “She compliments me on what an amazing spread I’ve done, then she apologizes for stepping on my toes. People laugh. I realise I’m naked.”

“Could be a power move.” Dim pointed out.

Astrid sucked the marrow out of the centre of the wrist bone and sighed. “Naked except for my period pants,” she finished.

They both grimaced at that thought.

“Why?” she asked.

Dim shrugged. The scratch in his brain had settled when it realised he was still at work. “Just a thought,” he said. “I see the police are worried about gang violence up in Chesapeake? Anything to do with you?”

She mugged modestly for a moment. “Just a quick test, to see if executing them myself works.”

“And?”

Astrid held her hand out and wobbled it back and forth. “Burns without being consumed and opens a few locks. Good enough for the lunch, and I’ll save the real ones for the big event. I’ve got feelers out ”

“Just be careful,” Dim said. She frowned at him and he shrugged. “The great and the not-so-good are in town, cross them and they’ll sell you out to the Prodigium in a second.”

She rolled her eyes. “Some of us are willing to take risks to get ahead,” she said. “We can’t depend on our family to back us up.”

Dim shrugged. The warning that Kohary was in town stuck in his throat. He liked Astrid, but not enough to cross Kohary. If he wanted a terrible death that left no corpse, he’d go and kick some of his less good-natured relatives awake.

Black Demetrius, his namesake, had slaughtered a dozen hunters and made half of the Prespes his lair. Until Grandmother had tracked him down and tucked him in to sleep so she could get the Prodigium’s permission to come to the New World. 

He’d probably put Dim out of his misery quick enough.

“I should get back to work,” Dim said as he got up. “Thank you for the coffee.”

She grinned at him, her broken, yellow fangs and Gila Monster thick spit on display. “Thank you for the goodie bags,” she said and clapped her hands girlishly. “It’s just the right touch for the fancies.”

For the rest of the story, check out the other stops on this tour!

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

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Review: An Unexpected Temptation by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: An Unexpected Temptation by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayAn Unexpected Temptation by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Townsbridges #5
Pages: 146
Published by Sophie Barnes on December 8, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads


No other woman compares...

Six years ago, Athena Townsbridge broke up a wedding. This worked out well for her brother and the lady he loved, but Athena has never forgiven herself for what it did to Robert Carlisle. No one has seen him since he fled the church in humiliation, so when she learns of his estate's proximity to the property she is staying at during a family visit, she sets out, determined to make amends.
When Robert, Marquess of Darlington, is reunited with Athena, she's no longer the troublesome girl he remembers, but rather a fully grown woman. Trapped with her when a blizzard sets in, he rediscovers her playful side, the laughter and joy she can bring to his life. But it is her willful nature that tempts him, both with the need to tame her and with the dream of making her his.

My Review:

At the very beginning of The Townsbridges story, all the way back in When Love Leads to Scandal, there were Robert and Athena. And now, at the end of the saga, tying everything together along with, eventually, the proverbial knot, are Robert and Athena.

But where they began is a far and unpredictable cry from where they ended.

When they began, Athena was only 14 and Robert was a grown man of 24 as well as being her older brother Charles’ best friend. There was no hint of a romance there – and there shouldn’t have been.

Athena was much too young, and Robert was engaged to someone else. In fact, Robert was engaged to the woman who eventually married his best friend, Athena’s brother Charles. An event that could, nearly in its entirety, be laid at Athena’s door.

After all, Athena was that rare person who, when faced with the preacher asking if anyone could show just cause why those two, in this case Robert and his fiancé-on-the-absolute-verge-of-becoming-his-wife Bethany, should not be joined in holy matrimony, Athena spoke up and brought the entire house of polite cards down with a thud. Athena said out loud the thing that everyone else was too polite – or too afraid of starting a scandal – or too worried about hurting Robert’s feelings – to say. That her brother Charles and Bethany had fallen in love with each other.

Six years later Robert is a bit of a recluse. After all, his engagement to Bethany was the second time the man got left at the altar. Six years later Athena is 20 and about to be paraded around the “marriage mart” herself. But both of them are still paying, at least in the social sense, for Athena’s breach of etiquette and manners at the wedding that did not happen.

Everyone thinks that Athena is headstrong and in need of taming, but no one believes that they are up for the job. Certainly not her own family, as much as they love her.

Athena wants someone to love her for herself, personality warts and all, and fears that she will never find such a person. As she hasn’t exactly found that kind of acceptance in the bosom of her own family, her fears are quite real and have done a bit of a number on her self-confidence. Her family would say not nearly enough of a number, which says a lot about that relationship.

So Athena concocts a scheme to repair both her and Robert’s slightly tarnished reputations. She takes herself off to his country house, in secret, to beg his forgiveness for her behavior all those years ago. Not that she thinks she did anything wrong in revealing the truth, but at least conscious that the way she went about it had severe repercussions all around.

Like so many of Athena’s clever schemes, the best laid plans of mice and in this case women very much “gang aft a-gley.”

She gets snowbound with Robert. Who does not want to forgive her or even see her or speak with her, but cannot resist the pull between them. No matter where, or how deep into the surrounding snowdrifts, it might lead them both.

Escape Rating B: The Townsbridges are both a lovely family and a delightful collection of Regency romance novellas. This final entry in the series is a fitting conclusion to every single unconventional romance that has made up the series – and the family.

The Townsbridges marry for love. That was true for Margaret and George (their story is in Once Upon a Townsbridge Story) and it has been true for every single one of their children. But Athena is beginning to suspect it’s not going to happen for her as this conclusion to the series opens.

This is, particularly, Athena’s journey, and with her having opened the series in her unconventional way, it’s possible to see the whole thing as Athena’s journey – just that her brothers and sisters managed to find their own HEAs along the way of Athena growing up and growing into herself.

The hard part of this particular entry in the series is the relationship between Athena and her family, and between Athena and Robert, and the way those two things feed into each other. Because in order for Athena to grow up she has to learn where the lines are. And in order for her to be happy she has to find someone who will help her figure out that terrible lesson without suppressing the core spark of her personality.

And at first we wonder if Robert is remotely up for that job. Athena’s family seems to have abdicated all responsibility in the matter. So on the one hand we have a family that loves her, but from their perspective very much in spite of herself, and on the other hand a man who seems to want to control her or at least manage her – because of course he knows best.

It’s only as the story goes on a bit that the reader, or at least this reader, gets past the uncomfortable bits where Robert talks about Athena needing a “firm hand” – and didn’t that make me squirm – to the point where he’s expressing that he loves her exactly as she is, that her spirit is a big part of what he admires in her, and that what she needs to learn is how to move in society so that she doesn’t either offend or run roughshod over pretty much everyone pretty much all of the time. It’s a bit more subtle than how he sounded at the beginning.

That switch is the making of this story and a fitting end for a lovely series.

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

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Review: Bound by Rhys Ford + Guest Post + Giveaway

Review: Bound by Rhys Ford + Guest Post + GiveawayBound (Chinatown Demons #1) by Rhys Ford
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, urban fantasy
Series: Chinatown Demons #1
Pages: 105
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on November 30th 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Chinatown, San Francisco.

A different place — another time— and where the city’s streets keep secrets, shadowy mysteries SFPD Inspector Spencer Ricci needs to dig through after he finds himself on a case involving a dismembered, mummified man in a restaurant’s locked storage room.

Spencer drags around a lot of baggage, including an ongoing battle with the bottle and a long career as an LAPD detective he’d set fire to in a blaze of booze-soaked mistakes. San Francisco is supposed to be a new start but his old ghosts haunt him, beckoning him back into his self-destructive bad habits. Bad habits that include contemplating doing dirty things with the wrong kind of guy and this time, it’s a sleek, cold-tempered medical examiner named Xian Carter with a complicated reputation.

For a century-old demon, Xian Carter is content with his secretive life. Hiding his nature from the mundane world, he blends in with the city’s inhabitants as best he can but even the best of predators make mistakes. Delving into the mysteries of the dead provide a welcome distraction from endless nights and hiding in plain sight amuses him, until something supernaturally wicked comes knocking on his door with an extremely hot, broody Inspector close behind.

Murder makes for strange bedfellows and this one is no exception. The twists and turns of the case leaves Xian and Spencer on a wild goose chase after clues but Xian can only hope there’s a human at the end of the trail—because the last thing San Francisco needs is another predator.

My Review:

I feel teased. Intrigued, slightly exasperated, and definitely, definitely teased.

I was expecting Bound to be a bit like Dim Sum Asylum, and it kind of is. Bound, like that previous marvelous story, takes place in a slightly off-kilter version of San Francisco. A version of our world where magic definitely exists, although the acceptance of that magic is less in-your-face and more under-the-table in this version of that storied city.

Detective Spencer Ricci certainly starts out this adventure as garden-variety human. Albeit the kind of garden variety that includes a lot of scars, a lot of baggage, a history of alcoholism and a need to make something out of his one last chance at being a cop.

Dr. Xian Carter, on the other hand, is absolutely not original recipe human – or at least not any longer. He might have been, once.

But that once was a century and a half ago. Another continent. Another lifetime. Considering how much has changed since the mid-19th century, another world.

Dr. Xian Carter is a medical examiner for the San Francisco Police Department. He’s the one who gets all the weird and wacky cases. And the case that brings Spencer and Xian together is way past weird and wacky and over the line into downright bizarre.

Somebody found a mummy. Not an honest-to-Bast Egyptian mummy, but a contemporary murder victim. Mummified. It’s Spencer Ricci’s job to figure out who wanted the victim dead. And for that matter, the identity of the desiccated corpse.

It’s up to Xian Carter to learn how, and why and whether this mess means that someone is invading his territory. Because Xian Carter is a demon, and San Francisco belongs to him.

And possibly, so does Spencer Ricci.

Escape Rating A-: Damn, this was good. And DAMN, this was short. As I said at the outset, I feel teased. The case is fascinating, the setup is wild, the chemistry between Spencer and Xian is explosive, and I want more of this world and this story pretty much yesterday.

I wanted to scream “NO!” when this story ended. Because it does end, and it does feel like this piece is complete – but it’s such a tiny piece of such an obviously greater (and great) world. Rhys hints at so much more to discover in this San Francisco, so much tension, so much angst, and SO MUCH MAGIC!

Also magical cats. Not that all cats aren’t at least a bit magical. But seriously, magical cats for the win!

An Alternate San Francisco, Just A Step To The Left Of Our Own Glittering City — (a word from our author, Rhys Ford)

When I began to write Bound, I knew I wanted to have a bit of fantastical combined with a dash of Asian horror. Sort of. The monsters in Asian mythology are usually a bit odd and driven by fierce emotions, usually revenge. There were bits and pieces I wanted to pull together as well as give a shout out to inspirations along the way. Since I’m going to be writing this as a serialized saga, it allows me to tease out bits and pieces of the world as I go, which is a lot of fun.

There’s a long argument of the pros and cons of having a paranormal world that’s hidden or out in the open. I’ve done both, most notably in Ink and Shadows for hidden and blurring the lines of hidden and open in the Hellsinger series. For the Chinatown Demons serializations, I wanted to do a hidden world where only the very wise could see the dangers but people knew something was off about the supernatural. Kind of a step away from the world we live in now.

So with all that being said, let’s talk about world building and what the underlying layers of the Chinatown Demons’ worlds hold.

OH BUT FIRST… A GIVEAWAY! RED ENVELOPE MONEY!

At each stop, enter to win a $20 gift certificate to the online retailer of your choice! Be sure to enter at every stop!


One of the major personality quirks of Xian’s that I’ll explore is his fondness for gambling. Well, his innate love of playing hanafuda, which is a flower card game. I grew up playing hanafuda in Hawai’i and while there are a few variations of the game, it’s the simplest one to master. I’ve even taught Greg Tremblay, the narrator of Bound, how to play it. It’s addicting and challenges the player depending on the level you want to play at. A child could play it and then with the addition of yaku, the playing level becomes harder. It’s a game of patience and calculation or simply matching the cards. Really, it all depends on the level of play.

Which brings me to Xian and his love of the game.

I’m going to include a website link here for the game just so you have a reference. There are very complicated yaku and the link shows some of the basic ones. Only some of these are played in the Hawai’i but it gives you a good idea of how they are constructed. Also, the Hawai’i game does not have the plain cards as 1 pt. For us, they are rubbish and discarded.

Link to basic hanafuda rules: https://www.hanafuda.fr/en/

Hawai’i rules: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawaiian-style_Koi-Koi

In a lot of ways, hanafuda play marks the passage of time. Each suit represents a month as is depicted by a seasonal plant associated with that month. Since the play can vary, there’s a lot of intrigue while laying down your cards and that’s something that would greatly appeal to Xian. See, he truly is by nature a cat and this is one way he plays with humans. His brother, Jiro, has his own ways and those are best left for another time.

The thing with hanafuda and playing in Chinatown gambling halls is not just an exchange of money because trust me, fortunes have been won and lost betting on the appearance of the yakuza card at the wrong moment but there also is the very good chance that a favour or two will be won. Oftentimes, that’s a greater coin than actual cash. Xian is a dealer of secrets and he hoards them, tucking them away until he needs them later on. Remember, for him, this is a long game. Someone might not realize a secret shared over whiskey and cigarettes twenty years ago will come back to haunt him but it will and Xian will probably be the one to reap the rewards.

Gambling is a very serious business and hanafuda games are a great place to do business. Or even simply overhear business. While it’s technically a “Japanese” game, it’s flowed over into other types of dens, including mahjongg parlors but tile play is sometimes too chancy. Xian likes a game he can manipulate and guide.

Which is kind of why Spencer intrigues him so much. Inspector Ricci is not one to be led by the nose and Xian is very much aware of that. In a lot of ways, he is as enigmatic as the hanafuda deck, changeable and with varying levels of emotional power.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 


Rhys Ford is an award-winning author with several long-running LGBT+ mystery, thriller, paranormal, and urban fantasy series and is a two-time LAMBDA finalist with her Murder and Mayhem novels. She is also a 2017 Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Florida Authors and Publishers President’s Book Awards for her novels Ink and Shadows and Hanging the Stars. She is published by Dreamspinner Press and DSP Publications.

She’s also quite skeptical about bios without a dash of something personal and really, who doesn’t mention their cats, dog and cars in a bio? She shares the house with Harley, a grey tuxedo with a flower on her face, Badger, a disgruntled alley cat who isn’t sure living inside is a step up the social ladder as well as a ginger cairn terrorist named Gus. Rhys is also enslaved to the upkeep a 1979 Pontiac Firebird and enjoys murdering make-believe people.

Rhys can be found at the following locations:

Blog: www.rhysford.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/rhys.ford.author

Facebook Group: Coffee, Cats, and Murder: https://www.facebook.com/groups/635660536617002/

Rhys is giving away a $20 Gift Card to the online retailer of the winner’s choice at every stop on this tour. Fill out the rafflecopter for your chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop, hosted by  The Mommy Island & The Kids Did It!

The theme for this year’s hop images from The Mommy Island & The Kids Did It has been cats. Every single one of them has been adorable, and so many have reminded me of cats that have passed through my life and on to the Rainbow Bridge. This particular image is very like Erasmus, the dumbest, sweetest cat who ever lived. Also the most bewildered, as this picture will attest.

But speaking of orange cats, George is experiencing his very first winter, as he was born in the spring of 2020. He seems to think that that falling leaves have to watched every single moment. If we get snow this winter I expect him to be utterly fascinated. And we’ll be fascinated watching him.

In addition to watching the cats watch any snow that falls, winter is also an excellent time to curl up with a cup of hot tea and a good book. Or two or three of both. To facilitate your opportunities to do just that this winter, I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in book(s) from the Book Depository. This giveaway is open to the U.S. AND anywhere the Book Depository ships.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Holly Jolly Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Holly Jolly Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

If the phrase “Holly Jolly” or “Holly Jolly Christmas” is ringing in your head like an earworm, that’s because it is one. “A Holly Jolly Christmas” is a song that was written in 1964 and featured in a holiday animated special, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer that was a feature of my childhood holidays – and probably still is. Christmas songs and carols seem to last forever – even if for only one month or so out of the year.

This year’s holidays may not exactly be the holly-est or the jolliest, but it’s still the holidays and time to sing along with a few seasonal songs.

And if you’re looking to pick up a few old or new favorite holiday songs or holiday books or even holiday books of songs, I’m giving away the winner’s choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository. Just fill out the rafflecopter for your chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more holly jolly 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.

Black Friday Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Black Friday Giveaway Hop, hosted by yours truly, Reading Reality, and the Caffeinated Reviewer!

This may not be the usual Black Friday – and it certainly may not have it’s usual salutary effect on retail business and its profit margins. Once upon a time – last year – the day after Thanksgiving marked the traditional opening of the holiday shopping season. As such, it was usually the day when retail stores tipped from the red – owing more money over the year than they made – to black – finally operating at a profit for the year.

While Black Friday this year won’t be what it normally is – or was – Cyber Monday is a thing that got really big very quickly but whose impact has faded more than a bit.

Once upon a time, most folks didn’t have high-speed internet in their homes but a LOT more people had it where they worked. Also, a fair number of people either had Black Friday off, or were working retail or were too busy over the holiday weekend whether visiting family or putting up decorations or whatever that they weren’t at work on Black Friday. But everybody who went back to the office on Monday spent at least some time sharing stories about how their Turkey Day went AND taking a bit of personal time at work – officially or otherwise – to shop for online bargains over their place of work’s high-speed internet.

So Cyber Monday got to be a thing. It’s not as big of a thing as it used to be.

Black Friday is also a bit of an odd day for blogging or pretty much anything normal – particularly for those still in a turkey coma or trying to figure out how to deal with all the leftovers from the day before. And so this hop was born.

We’re also going to do just a bit to help some retail businesses – here at Reading Reality at least some of the bookish ones. I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $15(US) gift card to either Amazon or the local bookstore of your choice, or $15(US) in books from the Book Depository. In order to do this there are just a couple of restrictions. For US entrants, the bookstore you choose needs to have an easy method for me to purchase your gift certificate online and get it sent to you. If you are outside the US, you need to be in a location that the Book Depository ships to (they don’t do Gift Certificates – maybe someday.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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