Splash into Summer Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Splash into Summer Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bookhounds!

We’re between the unofficial start of Summer (Memorial Day) and the official meteorological start of Summer, the Summer solstice on June 21. To be really, really technical about it, 6:07 AM on 6/21/18. Not that I’ll be awake to see it.

And it doesn’t matter, because the Summer solstice will be the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Well, not really. All days are 24 hours, after all. But the day with the longest amount of daylight. Here in Atlanta, the sun will rise at 6:26 AM and not set until 8:49 PM. This is the time of year when I miss living in Anchorage, where the sun doesn’t really set on the solstice – it just sort of dips below the horizon for a couple of hours. Or at least that’s the way it seemed.

It will also be warm on the solstice. That’s one way of putting it. In Atlanta it will be probably be hotter than Hades, and muggy to boot. A good day to stay where its air conditioned and curl up with a good book and a sleepy kitty.

To help you curl up with a good book, or sunbathe with a good book, I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository. This giveaway is open to anyone within reach of the wonderful world-spanning folks at the Book Depository.

Have a fantastic summer!

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And for more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

Review: Echo Moon by Laura Spinella + Giveaway

Review: Echo Moon by Laura Spinella + GiveawayEcho Moon by Laura Spinella
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: Ghost Gifts #3
Pages: 428
Published by Montlake Romance on May 22, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

A past life, a past war, and a past love. Peter St John can’t foresee a future until he confronts his past sins.

When photojournalist Peter St John returns home after a two-year absence, the life he’s been running from catches up. For years his mother’s presence, coupled with Pete’s own psychic gift, has triggered visits to 1917. There, he relives battles of the Great War, captures the heyday of Coney Island on canvas, and falls in love with an enchanting and enigmatic songstress named Esme. Present-day Pete still pines for Esme, and his love endures…but so does his vivid memory of killing her.

When he discovers family heirlooms that serve as proof of his crimes, Pete will have to finally confront his former life. He also meets a young woman—who is more than what she seems—with a curious connection to his family. As century-old secrets unravel, can Pete reconcile a murder from his past before it destroys his future?

My Review:

Echo Moon is a haunting story about the way that the past can quite literally haunt the present. Or at least Peter St. John’s present. And fair warning, I’m going to use the word “haunting” a lot in this review, because it’s the only one that really fits.

Pete has a gift, or a curse depending on one’s perspective, of being able to speak to the dead. He receives messages, and his receipt is beyond his control. As this story opens, Pete himself is running out the edges of his control.

While his mother Aubrey receives what they call “ghost gifts” from the past, Pete remembers his entire previous life – or at least his previous life up to the point where he murdered the woman he loved.

He can’t escape his visions of that past, and he can’t manage to escape his love for the beautiful, talented and ultimately doomed Esme Moon. Esme was a singer and medium in World War I era New York City, and Pete vividly remembers both loving her and killing her.

When his mother inherits a New Jersey beach shack from his grandmother, who worked the traveling carnivals in her own youth, Pete’s past and his present collide. In the uncertainty of whether he’s losing control or losing his mind, Pete finally lets himself explore the history that he has refused to acknowledge, no matter where it leads.

They say the truth will set you free. Pete needs the truth to make him whole – in one century or another.

Escape Rating B+: Although this is not strictly a time-travel story, the atmosphere in Echo Moon reminds me an awful lot of that classic, lyrical work of time travel, Time and Again by Jack Finney. It’s not the time period, but both stories have that strong bittersweet sense of the past haunting and looming over the present. Richard Matheson’s equally classic Bid Time Return (filmed as Somewhere in Time) also has that same bittersweet romantic feel.

But more than the time travel, Echo Moon reminds me of Robin D. Owens’ Ghost Seer series, which begins (naturally enough) with Ghost Seer. Clare Cermak’s gifts are very similar to Pete St. John’s, without the overwhelming sense of guilt that haunts Pete. After all, while Clare can lay the ghosts of her assigned era to rest, she isn’t responsible for turning them into ghosts in the first place.

Echo Moon is the third book in the Ghost Gifts series, although those first two books (Ghost Gifts and Foretold) feature Pete’s mother Aubrey and not Pete himself. Not having read those first two books, it took me a while to get into this one. It’s not that the action doesn’t pick up easily, or that what happens to Pete is truly reliant on what happened to his mother – or at least not exactly and certainly not at the beginning.

But not having already been immersed in the family’s history, the events here didn’t have quite the resonance they otherwise might have. We know that Pete is running from himself, but the reasons why aren’t as deep as they eventually become once the reader becomes invested in Pete’s story and especially Pete’s trauma.

Having PTSD because of events one experienced in a previous life is not the way that textbook definitions of PTSD usually go – and that makes it all the more difficult to treat or resolve.

In the end, the story does suck even the newbie reader into its web of romance, intrigue and mysticism. Once that happens, the story moves fast, as neither Pete nor the reader are ever quite sure whether the past is merely influencing the present or actively impinging on it or whether Pete has just finally lost it altogether.

When he finds it, and himself, it makes for a lovely ending.

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

I am giving away a signed copy of Echo Moon to one lucky US/Canadian commenter on this tour!

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Girl Who Stepped Into The Past by Sophie Barnes
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: time travel romance
Pages: 256
Published by Sophie Barnes on June 5, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

She was looking for inspiration…

When historical romance author Jane Edwards goes to England on a research trip, she doesn’t expect to travel two hundred years into the past. She also doesn’t expect to be accused of murdering the Earl of Camden’s sister. Presented with few choices, Jane decides the best course of action is to help Camden find the real killer. But the more time she spends in his company, the more she falls for the dashing earl, and the more she hopes for a life with him by her side.

And found love in the most impossible place.

James Sullivan, Earl of Camden, is convinced Jane had something to do with his sister’s murder. Until he learns she lacked the ability to accomplish the feat. Still, her explanation about stopping by his home in the middle of a rainstorm to seek employment, doesn’t add up. And yet, when he offers her the position she supposedly seeks, he discovers the smart resourceful woman she is. Which makes him wonder if marrying his new maid, might be worth the risk of scandal.

My Review:

It’s a tale as old as time – or at least as old as the concept of time travel. The premise will sound familiar to anyone who has read any time travel romances. The details change a bit. In this particular version of this old tale, a woman who is looking for a fresh start after the end of a relationship falls in love with a man in a portrait. When the thunder booms and the lightning cracks, she finds herself back at the period of that portrait, face to face with the man of her dreams.

When the trope is as tried and true as this one, whether a particular variation of it stands out from the crowd lies with the execution – because we know how it’s going to end. Somehow there’s going to be an HEA, whether in the past or the present. Or it’s going to be a tragedy, but romance writers generally don’t go there. Readers love their HEAs after all.

Although the beginning of this one reminded me particularly of Timeless Desire by Gwyn Cready, in the end it mostly recalled The Geek Girl and the Scandalous Earl by Gina Lamm. Both of those stories were a lot of fun, and The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past is as well.

Jane Edwards doesn’t merely find herself in the Regency period that she has studied long and hard as part of her research for her own series of historical romance novels, she finds herself standing over a dead body in the middle of a unsolved murder. A murder that was never solved, so she does not have any future knowledge about who done it.

In an era where circumstantial evidence ruled, her position is rather damning. The Earl of Camden, the man that Jane has fallen for via his portrait, is certain that Jane must have just killed his sister. Jane has her work cut out for her, not only proving her innocence but also explaining her sudden presence in the middle of the English countryside.

Jane turns out to be more than up to the task. But involving herself in the life and household of James Sullivan, Earl of Camden, causes her no end of problems, as one might expect. The two bond over their investigation into his sister’s death, in spite of Jane’s rather unconventional appearance and manners.

Jane begins to realize that James is the man she has been looking for all of her life. But falling in love has its own risks. Will he believe her strange story? Is he willing to be shunned by society to marry a woman who at best seems to be an American adventuress? And is Jane willing to give up the safety, convenience, freedom and loneliness of the 21st century for life with the man she loves in a world that will otherwise never accept her?

And will solving the murder change history too much to make any of their wishes even remotely possible?

Escape Rating B: This is a fun little story. I enjoyed reading it but it doesn’t rise above some of the truly great time travel stories like Outlander and The Jane Austen Project. And there are plenty of nods to Jane Austen herself in this story.

Jane Edwards, our heroine, is a lucky woman. By the time she tells him, James manages to believe her story, as outlandish as it seems. He believes, perhaps, just a bit too easily. I considered it all part of the handwavium of time travel and didn’t let it bother me too much.

Jane does have an awfully easy time figuring out who killed James’ sister. To the point where the reader may be surprised that she was a Regency romance author and not a mystery author! But it is all in good fun, at least fun for anyone not the victim or the perpetrator.

The heart of the story is the romance between Jane and James. While they fall in love rather quickly, the dilemma they face is the one that tears at the heart. She might be able to go back. It will be difficult for a 21st century woman to live with the restrictions imposed on women in the 19th century. If she stays so they can marry, James will be shunned by his peers for the rest of his life, and that shunning may also fall on any children they have. They have to be willing to give up a great deal in order to be together. What we feel for, in the end, is the internal conflict they each have to resolve and their ultimate willingness to be all to each other, and to hell with what the rest of the world thinks.

And that’s a hard thing to do under any circumstances, time travel or no time travel. By the time they reach that ultimate decision, we are right there with them.

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

Sophie is giving away a signed print copy of The Girl Who Stepped Into The Past + a $10 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner on this tour.

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Beach Reads Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Beach Reads Giveaway Hop, hosted by Stuck in Books.

This is my second hop in a row featuring beach reads – a term that still requires some definition. It seems that anything light and fluffy and usually paperback can be defined as a beach read if it comes out in the summer. I think the paperback idea got added in the definition because paperbacks fit in one’s beach bag and one doesn’t usually mind getting sand on or in them. They’re kind of disposable.

Of course, if I were reading on a beach I’d probably just wrap my iPad in a Ziploc bag. I do mind if it gets sand on or in it – and I certainly mind it if gets wet!

But while you’re reading at the beach, I’ll probably be over here, in the coolth (the opposite of warmth) of my air conditioner – absorbed in a good book.

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For more fabulous bookish prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop!

Review: I Am Justice by Diana Munoz Stewart + Giveaway

Review: I Am Justice by Diana Munoz Stewart + GiveawayI Am Justice (Band of Sisters, #1) by Diana Munoz Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Band of Sisters #1
Pages: 384
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This bad-ass band of sisters plays for keeps.


She's ready to start a warJustice Parish takes down bad guys. Rescued from the streets by the world-renowned Parish family, she joined their covert sisterhood of vigilante assassins. Her next target: a sex-trafficking ring in the war-torn Middle East. She just needs to get close enough to take them down...

He just wants peaceSandesh Ross left Special Forces to found a humanitarian group to aid war-torn countries. But saving the world isn't cheap. Enter Parish Industries and limitless funding, with one catch— their hot, prickly PR specialist', Justice Parish. Their chemistry is instant and off-the-charts. But when Justice is injured and her cover blown, Sandesh has to figure out if he can reconcile their missions. With danger dogging their every move, their white-hot passion can change the world— if it doesn't destroy them first.

My Review:

Think of this story as a big message about paying it forward – backed up with bullets. Or as a 21st century league-of-extraordinary-but-not-in-the-least-bit-gentle women. Or perhaps as the story of a group of contemporary Amazons who specialize in giving people who abuse women and girls every single thing that they deserve – with extreme prejudice.

The Parish family has a secret. Or is a secret. Actually it’s a little bit of both. On the surface it looks like Mukta Parish runs an elite boarding school for girls. She has also adopted a number of young girls from heartbreaking circumstances. And both of those things are true.

But it is also a front. The Parish family rescues girls and women being abused and trafficked, just as Mukta herself was once abused. The foundation she founded continues to rescue girls and women in those horrible circumstances, all over the world. And some of those girls she adopts into her family – and trains them to be covert operators and assassins, who go in and rescue women in countries and situations where official authorities won’t go – or don’t care to even try.

Justice Parish is one of her daughters. But someone in Justice’s family has betrayed her, so she’s sent, undercover, with a charitable organization that can get her where she needs to be without relying on her family’s resources.

In the process of exposing the traitor in her own home, Justice finds herself leaning on, or falling for, the ex-special forces soldier who thinks that she’s just a PR flack. When all of their plans go completely pear-shaped – they realize that the only person that each of them can really count on is the other.

And that so much of what they’ve always believed is a lie.

Escape Rating B+: As the saying goes, this story is not for the faint of heart. Justice was herself rescued from horrific circumstances – circumstances which still haunt her days and disrupt her nights. In turn, she spends her life rescuing others from hells that would be neverending if not for her family’s operations.

She has no doubt that she is a vigilante operating outside the law. And the same time, in most of the places where she operates, the law either turns a blind eye to the abuses or is corrupt to the point of being part of the problem.

But whatever her mission ostensibly is in Jordan, the truth is that she is out for revenge. The traffickers that she intends to kill are the same men who killed her sister Hope. And she wants to make them suffer. But she’ll settle for making them dead – no matter what it takes.

She hasn’t factored falling in love into her plans. Nor has she counted on questioning not just the loyalties of those who have betrayed her, but also her own. It’s a hard journey for Justice. It begins in a difficult place and mostly gets worse – as well as more torturous.

Justice reminds me of some of the more tortured and less busty versions of Lara Croft in that both are fighters and neither have pretty background stories. I like her loyalty to her family, and at the same time I like the way she finally wakes up and starts to question what she’s always believes. This story is a wake-up call for her. But it’s also a very gritty story, and lots of bad things happen to both good and bad people, described in graphic ways that do not make for easy bedtime reading.

Yes, this is a romance and her hero is both drool-worthy and worthy of her. Sandesh Ross is a man who will fight beside her, and never try to keep her safe – especially as they both know that safety is an illusion. They make a great team.

But it’s Justice Parish’ story all the way. And if you like your heroines very gritty and extremely kick-ass, it’s a damn good one.

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

I am giving away a copy of I Am Justice to one lucky US/CAN commenter.

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the third annual Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop, hosted by The Kids Did It and The Mommy Island.

it is now time for that great summer question – what on earth is a beach read? And how many of them can I cram into my summer?

Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes a good beach read. Based on the annual lists of “best beach reads” and the places one finds such lists, one might believe that there’s a lot of light fluffy reading involved. While you’re baking in the sun, a heavy book just doesn’t seem like the thing.

Although something that puts a chill up your spine on a steamy hot day might be just the ticket. Whatever floats your boat – especially if you are actually floating in a boat!

So here’s your chance to win either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository – so that you can get started on your own beach reads, no matter where you actually plan to read them.

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And for more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop!

May I Suggest Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the May I Suggest… Giveaway Hop, hosted by Stuck in Books.

The theme of this hop is suggesting books to people. Specific people, as in, those of you who are reading this post and participating in the giveaway.

I participated in this hop last year, and came up with a set of books I’d still highly recommend, depending on what kind of book floats your boat. I’d add a few things, but then, there’s been a whole year’s worth of books since then. If you’re interested in romance, particularly angsty romance, I’d recommend Alisha Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series, starting with Hate to Want You. And if you want some good, snarky urban fantasy, I don’t think you can go wrong with the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne, starting with Hounded. The audio of the Iron Druid Chronicles is particularly good.

What about you? If someone asked you to suggest a book or two, what titles could you not resist shoving into their hands. Fill out the rafflecopter with your answer for your chance at a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository.

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And for more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!



Review: A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayA Scandalous Deal (The Four Hundred, #2) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Four Hundred #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on April 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Joanna Shupe returns with another unforgettable novel set in the glittering world of New York City’s Gilded Age…

They call her Lady Unlucky…

With three dead fiancés, Lady Eva Hyde has positively no luck when it comes to love. She sets sail for New York City, determined that nothing will deter her dream of becoming an architect, certainly not an unexpected passionate shipboard encounter with a mysterious stranger. But Eva’s misfortune strikes once more when she discovers the stranger who swept her off her feet is none other than her new employer.

Or is it Lady Irresistible?

Phillip Mansfield reluctantly agrees to let the fiery Lady Eva oversee his luxury hotel project while vowing to keep their relationship strictly professional. Yet Eva is more capable—and more alluring—than Phillip first thought, and he cannot keep from drawing up a plan of his own to seduce her.

When a series of onsite “accidents” makes it clear someone wants Lady Unlucky to earn her nickname, Phillip discovers he’s willing to do anything to protect her—even if it requires A SCANDALOUS DEAL.

My Review:

The business deal between Eva Hyde and Phillip Mansfield may be scandalous, but the story about it is delightful.

And the reason that it is so delightful is that the hero and heroine, especially the heroine, are so different from what is expected, particularly what is expected for their time and place, New York City in 1890.

Phillip Mansfield is a scion of the “Four Hundred”, the extreme upper-crust of New York society. But he’s also a hard man who exorcises the demons in his soul by boxing. He’s serious about the sport, but not a professional. Not that he isn’t good at taking on all comers. He’s very serious about it – also seriously ripped.

And that’s what Lady Eva Hyde notices under his bespoke suit and pristine white shirt – that the body underneath is deliciously well-muscled. Not that she has much experience in that regard. She’s been betrothed three times, but never married. All of her erstwhile fiances have died – and not only not at her hand but far from wherever she happened to be at the moment. But even though she’s completely blameless, three dead fiances does give a girl a nickname, and in her case it’s Lady Unlucky.

Eva doesn’t really care about the name, and she didn’t care a whole lot about the men, either. Not that she wished them dead. But her father arranged her betrothals for business purposes of his own, and she wasn’t sorry to see any of the betrothals end, even if she felt any grief at the reason for the endings.

But her father is now well past arranging anything. Lady Eva’s father, the celebrated architect E.M. Hyde, has gone senile. Today we’d recognize his condition as Alzheimer’s Disease, but in Eva’s day all that is understood is that her father is incapable of working, no longer recognizes her, and is sliding downhill fast.

And that while he may have been an absolute genius of an architect, he was consistently an idiot when it came to his personal finances. He should be wealthy, but instead he is nearly penniless.

To keep them financially afloat, Eva has been pretending to be her father, at least as far as architecture and design is concerned. She has taken commissions in his name, done all the design and drawings herself, and supervised the work, multiple times, pretending that her father is merely ill and will get better.

He won’t, but she will. While the lies gall her, Eva is every bit as great an architect as her father ever was, if not more so. But no one will recognize it, not just because she is forced into this masquerade, but purely because in 1890 no one believed that a woman could be an architect at all, great or otherwise.

One night aboard ship on her way from England to New York to take up the commission that she and her father both need to pay their bills and finance his medial care, Eva lets herself be herself for just one night with a perfect stranger.

Only to discover that her “perfect stranger” is the man she needs to convince that she can oversee his legacy hotel in place of her ailing father. He’s already seen her at her least polished and most vulnerable, and now she has to convince him that she is not merely capable, but twice as capable as any man he might hire in her place.

It’s much easier to sell Phillip Mansfield on her architectural talents than it is to pretend that what happened on board ship can never happen again. And as much as she eventually succeeds at the first, she completely fails at the second.

And it’s the best thing that ever happened to either of them – even if neither of them is willing to recognize it.

Escape Rating A-: The first book in the Four Hundred series, A Daring Arrangement, was certainly a treat, and A Scandalous Deal is even better. It’s also a bit less predictable, which for this reader is always a good thing.

What makes A Scandalous Deal so delicious is the character of Lady Eva Hyde, because she is nothing like the expected heroine for this time or place, nor is she anything like the hero or anyone she deals with thinks she ought to be. But her differences are what make her such a wonderful heroine for 21st century readers.

Lady Eva is an architect. While this seems anachronistic, it turns out that it’s only by a hair. The architect of Hearst Castle in California, begun in 1919, was also a woman. It’s easy to imagine Eva as a role model for Julia Morgan.

But the difficulties that Eva faces feel very real. No one believes she can possibly be an architect, not even once the truth is revealed and it becomes obvious that she IS an architect. She is also very career minded, and is unwilling to marry because marriage in the 1890s (and considerably thereafter) subsumed the woman’s identity under her husband’s. She needed her work to be HER work, and to receive commissions based on her efforts and not who her husband might be – and she didn’t want to put anyone in a position where they could force her to stop.

While the sexual tension between Eva and Phillip is palpable, the dramatic tension in the story revolves around Eva’s insistence on being treated as an equal, and Phillip’s inability to understand that even his protectiveness is ultimately condescending – no matter how right and proper he thinks it is.

So while the romance is the central core of this story, it is Eva, her work and her need to do that work at any price that give it both its heart and its stand up and cheer resolution. Especially when Phillip performs a very good and very, very necessary grovel.

After this terrific story, which I read in a single day because I just couldn’t put it down, I’m really looking forward to the next book in this series, A Notorious Vow.

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

 

Link: https://goo.gl/5V8ncm

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of A DARING ARRANGEMENT by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 11/14/2017 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Total Bravery by Piper J Drake + Giveaway

Review: Total Bravery by Piper J Drake + GiveawayTotal Bravery by Piper J. Drake
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: True Heroes #4
Pages: 304
Published by Forever on April 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

True heroes will do anything to protect the women they love...

As the newest recruit at Search and Protect, Raul has a lot to prove. Luckily, he's got the best friend and partner a man could ask for: a highly trained, fiercely loyal German Shepherd Dog named Taz. Together, Raul and Taz make an unbeatable team. But their first mission in Hawaii really puts them to the test when an international kidnapping ring sets its sights on the bravest woman Raul's ever met . . .

Mali knows her latest job has put one hell of a target on her back. And on this small island paradise, there's nowhere to hide. With a service dog like Taz, Mali feels safe. Sharing close quarters with a smoldering muscle-for-hire like Raul, she feels something else - an unexpected wave of desire. Raul feels it too. But when the kidnappers make their move, he's got to turn that slow-burning passion into hard-hitting action - and save the life of the woman he loves.

My Review:

Although I read the previous book in this series, Absolute Trust, this book does not feel like it followed from that one. At all.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a good time with the people and dogs of Total Bravery, but it does mean that if you want to get into this series and haven’t read the previous books – no problem at all. They are equally good (more on that later) but don’t seem to connect up.

There is one way in which Total Bravery is very much like the previous book in this series. In both cases, while the heroine is in jeopardy and needs the hero’s help to stay safe and alive, said heroine is not the victim of a stalker, or a evil ex (evilex™) or any man with a sexual agenda directed at her. Nor were either of them in danger merely because they are women.

In both cases, the suspense part of the plot revolves around what the heroine does, specifically what she does for a living. It’s her agency that gets her into trouble, and it’s her agency that helps get her out. Nor in either case is the heroine TSTL (that’s Too Stupid To Live) so that she puts herself in unnecessary trouble.

Mali in particular is smart and savvy and knows just what to do when her research partners are suddenly swept off the streets of Hawaii by overheated men in tailored suits. No one wears dark suits in Paradise – unless they are up to something no good and are willing to advertise that fact.

While Mali follows the safety protocols set up by her research team, but she also has an ace in the hole – her sister Arin is part of Search and Protect, a private security and investigation firm that does just what the name implies – and is located in Hawaii.

So Mali doesn’t just hide out – she calls for help from people she knows can definitely help her. In fact, they are experts at it. But with her sister Arin off the island, Mali’s rescue falls to the company’s newest recruits, Raul Sai and his German Shepherd Dog Taz. Once Raul and Taz meet Mali, the three of them form an almost instant team – even in the face of big sister Arin’s confused disapproval.

Arin still sees Mali as the little girl she once protected from bullies, while Mali still sees Arin as the scary big sister who took care of her by displaying her dark side to anyone who threatened little Mali.

Mali may still be a lot smaller than her big sis – but she’s a grown up now with a job that takes her into places as dark and dangerous in their own way as her sister’s military service. Mali and her team are researching human trafficking on the streets of Hawaii, and they’ve gotten into someone’s way.

It’s up to Search and Protect to find her missing team and rescue them, and protect Mali from bad people who want to kill or kidnap her, without trying to shove her into a tight little box the way that her sister wants.

And while Raul and Mali do their best to alternately ignore and explore the explosive chemistry between them – before they have to go their separate ways.

Escape Rating B+: I really, really like the fact that Mali never loses her agency in this story. It’s refreshing, because so often in romantic suspense the heroine gives up her ability to act for herself in order to get rescued, and Mali never does.

I also loved the way that Raul and Taz, along with the other teams in Search and Protect, are so obviously a team. It is a joy to read the way that the two of them work together and are growing towards each other in a true partnership – and that both of them, in obviously different ways, see Mali as a part of their “pack”. Taz is possibly even more protective of Mali than Raul is, but then again, Taz has considerably less emotional baggage to deal with.

In spite of the obvious physical differences, one of the things that is emphasized in this romance is that Raul and Mali, if they pursue a relationship, can hurt each other. All too often it’s all about the woman getting hurt, and about her giving up essential pieces of herself to stay with the man. That doesn’t happen here.

And it’s both that Mali will have to deal with Raul’s focused and deadly military side, as well as the things he has to do and the acts that he has committed to stay alive, and that Raul will have to deal with the fact that Mali will put herself in danger for her work. It’s also that they live as far apart in the U.S. as possible (Boston vs. Hawaii) and that they will have to compromise to be together, but without giving up anything essential to either of them. The author makes it work.

Another thing that worked for me in this story is that Raul never minimizes or discounts anything that Mali says. Not only does that happen too often in fiction, it happens entirely too damn often in real life, where women’s words, intelligence, warnings and gut instincts are ignored or discounted because they are women. He takes her seriously every step of the way, and by example makes sure that the rest of the team does too.

The romance in this story takes a bit of a back burner to finding and rescuing Mali’s teammates, and that’s as it should be. That both sides of the story do resolve happily is what made this one so much fun.

As much as I am a cat person in real life, I love this trend of smart, protective dogs as characters in military romance and romantic suspense. Bring on the puppies!

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

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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.