Lazy Days of Summer Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Lazy Days of Summer Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bookhounds!

It’s the middle of August, and while it may feel like it’s been hot forever and it’s going to be hot forever, the summer is really almost over. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. Cats like to lie in the sunshine, and humans like to laze around in these hot summer months.

The theme of this particular blog hop made me think of a classic summer song, Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer by Nat King Cole. I’m not quite sure whether I actually remember it being played when I was a child, although the timing is right, or whether I just remember hearing bits of it as part of ads for all those compilation albums that used to be on TV, seemingly all the time.

So, as the summer of 2018 sinks slowly and hazily below the horizon, take your chance on an Amazon Gift Card or a Book from the Book Depository to help while away those cold winter nights looming ahead in just a few short months.

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

Review: Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose + Giveaway

Review: Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose + GiveawayTiffany Blues by M.J. Rose
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Atria Books on August 7, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York, 1924. Twenty‑four‑year‑old Jenny Bell is one of a dozen burgeoning artists invited to Louis Comfort Tiffany’s prestigious artists’ colony. Gifted and determined, Jenny vows to avoid distractions and romantic entanglements and take full advantage of the many wonders to be found at Laurelton Hall.

But Jenny’s past has followed her to Long Island. Images of her beloved mother, her hard-hearted stepfather, waterfalls, and murder, and the dank hallways of Canada’s notorious Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women overwhelm Jenny’s thoughts, even as she is inextricably drawn to Oliver, Tiffany’s charismatic grandson.

As the summer shimmers on, and the competition between the artists grows fierce as they vie for a spot at Tiffany’s New York gallery, a series of suspicious and disturbing occurrences suggest someone knows enough about Jenny’s childhood trauma to expose her.

Supported by her closest friend Minx Deering, a seemingly carefree socialite yet dedicated sculptor, and Oliver, Jenny pushes her demons aside. Between stolen kisses and stolen jewels, the champagne flows and the jazz plays on until one moonless night when Jenny’s past and present are thrown together in a desperate moment, that will threaten her promising future, her love, her friendships, and her very life.

My Review:

This is a story about finding beauty in what is broken. It is also a story about creeping menace among the beauty. And it’s a love story. Not just about romantic love, but also the love of family, the love of making beauty – and love gone very, very wrong.

As the story begins, Jenny Bell is standing in the charred ruins of Laurelton Hall, looking back at her past. Or at least one particular summer of her past, the summer of 1924, how she got there, why she left, and finally, what brought her to come back, and look back, on the events that transformed her life – both the dark side and the light.

Laurelton Hall circa 1924

Laurelton Hall was the real-life home of a school for artists run by the famous artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. Yes, that Tiffany, of the gorgeous stained glass windows and the little signature blue boxes. (At least, the only Tiffany boxes I’ve ever received have been very, very small.)

Tiffany’s Foundation sponsored summer artists’ retreat for several years. (This is real, not fictional.) Jenny Bell and most of the events of the summer of 1924, however, are mostly fictional – with the possible exception of the visit by Thomas A. Edison.

Jenny is an artist, a painter, who is exploring the creation and perception of light through her paintings. But she has washed all the colors out of her work after a terrible tragedy, accompanied by an equally terrible miscarriage of justice. And even though Jenny was not to blame for the events that have cast a shadow over her life – she is the only one left who knows the truth of the day that her stepfather died. Not just why and how his death occurred, but why the events that came afterwards seemed necessary at the time.

But Jenny put that horrible day, and the years that followed it, behind her. Or so she thinks. At least until her past follows her to Laurelton, and takes away her brightest future.

Unless it is not too late to pick up the threads she left behind.

Escape Rating A-: There are so many marvelous things to unpack about this story. All of them fascinating and all of them guaranteed to both keep the reader on the edge of their seat and draw them deeply into the world of Laurelton and the Jazz Age.

Jenny is a great character to follow. She is both very, very strong and completely broken all at the same time. As are the people who become closest to her, her best friend Minx Deering and her lover Oliver Tiffany. But then, all of the artists who come to Laurelton are broken in one way or another. World War I feels just barely over, and even those who did not serve lived in its terrible shadow.

And the frenetic gaiety that followed has caused its own damage.

Jenny tries to be an enigma to those around her, but inside her own head she is all too aware of what happened and what she did. But also what she didn’t. And she’s paid a very high price for protecting her mother and her unborn brother – a price that in its aftermath may not have been worth it after all.

Even though she has tried to bury her past, there is someone at Laurelton who seems to know at least the public version of events, and either wants to reveal her secrets, punish her more directly, or just break her all over again – for reasons that Jenny does not know.

All she knows is that something is very, very wrong, and both she and her friend Minx are in terrible, but terribly different, kinds of danger. The portrait of a woman who knows that there is something wrong, who fears that she knows at least part of what that is, but is too afraid to ask for help and for a long time too willing to disbelieve her own fears is both compelling and all too familiar.

The air of creeping menace is palpable, and permeates the whole story. It casts a shadow over the beauty of the place, much in the way that the contrast between shadow and light creates both beauty and perspective in art.

In the end, the resolution is both cathartic and bitter. Jenny pays a great price, yet again, for a crime that she did not commit. But then there is the sweet, and the ending shows that there is beauty in the breakdown, and even in the shards of our lives.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Tiffany Blues to one very lucky US or Canadian commenter!

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Review: Entropy by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Entropy by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayEntropy (Atrophy, #4) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Atrophy #4
Pages: 387
Published by Entangled Publishing on August 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Captain Qaelan Forster is used to trouble. He lives on the wrong side of the law and he’s on the most-wanted lists. He’s mixed up in his cousin's mess who has problems on a cosmic level—like shape-shifting aliens who want them dead. But Qaelan’s not prepared for the cheeky kind of trouble called Camille Blackstone, whose infamous father has any man interested in his daughter executed.

After Camille drags Qaelan into an impulsive act of rebellion, she finds herself trying to defend the sexy captain from her overprotective father's wrath, even if she has to handcuff herself to the captain to keep him alive. However, it soon becomes apparent there are much more dangerous things lurking in the dark corners of the universe than a vengeful pirate lord. And she's just landed in the middle of it.

My Review:

Initially Entropy has more of the feel of the Blood Hunter/Dark Desires series by Nina Croft (which are awesome BTW), or this author’s own Valiant Knox series than it does the earlier books in the Atrophy series. Then a significant part of the focus switches from Captain Qaelan Forster to his cousin Captain Rian Sherron, and we’re back at Firefly – or at least a version of Firefly where Captain Mal Reynolds and River Tam are combined into one crazy person with Mal’s dark moods and unsavory enemies along with River’s insane powers and even more insane nightmares.

And where it turns out that this universe’s version of Inara Serra has more than a bit of River Tam in her, too.

If you’re not still mourning Firefly, or if the resonances just don’t work for you, it doesn’t matter. The Atrophy series is not a clone of Firefly by any means. But if you still have a Serenity-shaped hole in your heart, it does come more than close enough to staunch that wound.

What we do have is a band of misfits and rebels out to save the galaxy from itself. Because this crew of rebels and misfits has found itself in the midst of a galaxy gone terribly, terribly wrong. We’ve been invaded, not by the usual bug-eyed monsters, but monsters nevertheless.

The Reidar are shapeshifting aliens from another galaxy who think that homo sapiens is so far from sapient that they’re using us as lab rats while impersonating key members of every planetary government in the system.

Only Rian Sherron and the crews of the Imojenna and the Ebony Winter know the threat. And Rian Sherron is out to eliminate that threat any way he can – even if that means allying with pirates and taking the Reidar out one at a time.

But Rian’s lost his ship, and his crew has been laying low in the Barbary Belt, a notorious pirate haven run by an even more notorious pirate. And that’s where the trouble begins. It’s not even Rian’s fault – at least not this time. At least it’s not all Rian’s fault.

His cousin Qaelan Forster makes the mistake of getting involved with the pirate’s daughter. Cami Blackstone. Her father has killed plenty of men for a whole lot less. Instead, he sends Qae on a wild goose chase that might get him killed – or might pay off what the pirate sees as Qae’s debt to him. Mostly the pirate sends him on a dangerous and possibly suicidal mission just to protect his own street cred. The man is, after all, a notorious pirate.

Cami has other plans. Her plans, her father’s plans, Qae’s plan to pay her daddy back, and Rian Sherron’s plans to get his ship back all collide in one big ball of wrong that might just have a chance or turning out right.

But has a much higher chance of getting them all killed. All in a day’s work for the crew of the Imojenna – even when the Imojenna herself is nowhere to be found.

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot going on in this entry in the Atrophy series, and all of it turns out to be a rip-roaring good time. But be warned, while Atrophy is not so much like Firefly that you won’t get it if you don’t remember the show, it is very much like unto itself. This is a series where the action and the overall story build from one book to the next. So if this sounds like your kind of trip into the black, start with the first book in the series, Atrophy. (If you love SFR you’ll understand why this series has won multiple SFR Galaxy Awards.)

The relationship between Qae and Cami is a big part of this story, but not by any means all of it. They are an interesting couple. Qae is openly flirtations with anyone of any gender. Think of Captain Jack Harkess in Doctor Who and Torchwood, or the character of Reyes Vidal in the video game Mass Effect Andromeda. Qae has plenty of charisma, no humility whatsoever, and a trail of previous lovers from one end of the galaxy to the other. He doesn’t lead anyone on, but he also doesn’t leave anyone with even a chance at a piece of his heart.

Cami, on the other hand, is buttoned up tight, and with good reason. Her daddy, the pirate Rene Blackstone, has “disappeared” any guy she’s ever looked at twice. She doesn’t know whether those guys are dead or just far, far away – and she’s way too scared to find out. She’s caught in the middle, working for her father, living at home, treated like a teenager when she’s well into her 20s, and too scared to go out on her own. She’s both afraid of her father and afraid of the kind of people who will go after her in order to get at her father – and she’s right to be afraid.

Literally chaining herself to Qae is her chance, not only at rebellion, but at putting her demons to rest and making a life for herself out from underneath her father’s heavy thumb. That Qae, Rian and their crew are strong enough to stand up to her father is a big part of her reasoning.

In addition to the romance, there is also a big piece of this book that moves the overarching story forward. Rian goes after his missing ship after a year dirtside. His need to get his ship back lines up very well with the older Blackstone’s need to get back at his deadliest rival – AND – gives Cami a chance to take her life back from the bastard who stole her confidence and her innocence years ago. It’s going to take a big, bold plan with a lot of moving pieces to make good on all of the competing and conflicting agendas in play. There are so many ways it can go pear-shaped – and so many times it very nearly does.

This story feels like a turning point in Sherron’s one-man crusade against the Reidar. He finally finds a way to take the fight to them, and it’s clear that things are going to heat up – and get a whole lot bloodier, from here.

And I’m all in with his crew. I can’t wait to see what crazy twists and turns this series goes through next, as well as which crew member finds that one person in the galaxy who makes them whole – and fills an empty spot on the ship’s roster!.

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

Jess is giving away a $15 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: Frenchman Street by Suzanne Johnson + Giveaway

Review: Frenchman Street by Suzanne Johnson + GiveawayFrenchman Street (Sentinels of New Orleans #6) by Suzanne Johnson
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #6
Pages: 374
Published by Suzanne Johnson on July 24th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

The uneasy truce between the preternatural species of New Orleans has shattered, with wizards and elves, shifters and vampires—not to mention the historical undead—struggling for ultimate control of the city, including the humans who still think they’re atop the food chain.<

They aren’t, however—and the Summer Prince of Faerie wants them to know it.

Stuck in the middle? One unemployed wizard sentinel. For DJ Jaco, war makes for strange bedfellows as she finally embraces her wizard-elven heritage and strikes a deal with the devil so she and her ragtag band of allies can return to defend her hometown. After all, when the undead French pirate Jean Lafitte has been hired by the mayor as a consultant, things could go horribly wrong.

War is coming to New Orleans just in time for Mardi Gras, with the elves and wizards lined up on opposite sides, the shifters without a leader, the vampires promising loyalty to the highest bidder, and the soul of the Crescent City resting on the outcome of the civil war going on in Faerie between the rival princes of summer and winter.

Mardi Gras Day is approaching fast, the much-anticipated new Krewe of Enyo is not what it seems, and the line between friends and enemies grows thin as DJ tries to stave off open warfare between faeries on the St. Charles Avenue parade route.

Laissez les bons temps rouler…but be careful, or the good times might roll too close for comfort.

My Review:

When it comes to the life of DJ Jaco, the phrase “out of the frying pan and into the fire” doesn’t begin to cover the level of trouble DJ usually finds herself in. A better description might be out of the conflagration and into the inferno. Or something about jumping from one hot circle of hell into an even hotter one.

Royal Street by Suzanne JohnsonDJ hasn’t gotten a moment’s rest since Hurricane Katrina brought down the wards between New Orleans and the various realms of the Beyond – events that are detailed in the opening book in the Sentinels of New Orleans, Royal Street.

(BTW, if you are looking for urban fantasy that deals with Hurricane Katrina well and really describes the feel of the city both before and after, I highly recommend both Royal Street and The Map of Moments by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon. But I digress…)

Frenchman Street is the culmination of the series. All the chips are down, all the old alliances are in tatters, and all the old (and new) enemies have chosen New Orleans as their battleground.

DJ has been forced by circumstances as well as inclinations from what was originally a very junior position as a magical enforcer to the center of a substantial power nexus. She certainly did not start this fight, but she arrives in Frenchman Street determined to finish it, or die trying.

Not that death has necessarily stopped all of either DJ’s allies or her enemies. Ever since Katrina, the various preternatural factions have been lining up for a showdown. The only group firmly on DJ’s side are the Historical Undead led by the pirate Jean Lafitte. Jean will live as long as people remember him, and people in New Orleans will remember Lafitte for a long, long time. After their rocky beginning in Royal Street, Lafitte is the only powerful person on DJ’s side.

Elysian Fields by Suzanne JohnsonThe elves are mostly backing DJ, but out of a kind of twisted self-interest after the events in Elysian Fields.

The Wizards’ Congress has declared DJ an outlaw to be killed on sight. Not because she did anything wrong, but because she embarrassed their leader more than his tiny “ego” could tolerate.

Most of the shifter population has either lined up behind the wizards or stayed scrupulously neutral. Except for DJ’s best friend, the merman Rene Delachaise. Meanwhile, the fae courts of Winter and Summer have chosen to battle it out for the supremacy of both the fae and human worlds – with New Orleans in the midst of Mardi Gras.

If the above sounds confusing, that’s because this is the final round in a six-book series, and all of the tension has been building from the very beginning back in Royal Street. If you’ve been following the series, Frenchman Street is every bit as satisfying a conclusion as beignets at the Cafe du Monde at the end of a fantastic night.

Escape Rating A: The Sentinels of New Orleans has been an utterly marvelous urban fantasy series from its beginning in Royal Street to its ending here on Frenchman Street. If you love urban fantasy and have not started this series, pick up Royal Street and settle in for a fantastic binge read.

Obviously, this is not the place to start the series. Some series are loose enough to be picked up in the middle, but this isn’t one of them. Now that the story is over, it is easy to look back and see that it has been one continuous story from beginning to end.

Part of what makes this so good is the worldbuilding. There is no place else like New Orleans. There are plenty of cities that are older, but there are few if any that have both the history and the gumbo of cultures that make New Orleans what it is. And it’s that melange that makes it a great setting. Many urban fantasy series use both vampires and shapeshifters. There are some that include the elves and/or the fae, sometimes as separate creatures and sometimes as the same species. The Sookie Stackhouse series certainly used all of these species.

But the Historical Undead in the Sentinels of New Orleans are something special. And New Orleans is one place that has the kind of long, crazy, colorful history that makes the concept work. The addition of Jean Lafitte as DJ’s frenemy turned flirtatious ally is a delight from beginning to end.

The other thing that makes this series so good are the characters. Not just Lafitte, or not even especially him, because he is not the point of view character. The person we identify with, with all of her faults and virtues and flaws and weaknesses and strengths is DJ Jaco. She begins as someone pretty low on the magical pecking order, but is forced to step up and become something very major. She’s the eye of the storm. And sometimes she’s the storm itself.

I personally enjoyed the way that, while DJ has a love life that frequently sputters, this isn’t a romance, at all. She tries, she fails, she trusts the wrong people, and she loves unwisely and not too well into the bargain. And she never gives up her essential self, no matter who or what tries to take it from her.

DJ’s adventures have been a wild, crazy, hair-raising, teeth-gnashing ride.

I’m going to miss her.

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

1 Grand Prize: $50 Amazon gift card

5 $10 Amazon gift cards

Open internationally. For international winners, equivalent order from Book Depository will be substituted if desired.

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Review: Shattered Silence by Marta Perry + Giveaway

Review: Shattered Silence by Marta Perry + GiveawayShattered Silence by Marta Perry
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Echo Falls #3
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A woman on the run seeks sanctuary in a peaceful Pennsylvania Dutch community--and finds a protector in the most unlikely of men...One moment Rachel Hartline is secure in her career and community. The next, she's in the wrong place at the wrong time--watching her ex-husband commit a crime that puts her in unfathomable danger. Fear and hurt send her home to an Amish farm and the family she's always trusted. But a private investigator is close behind--and he may be a threat to her in more ways than one...Cold, calculating Clint Mordan isn't convinced Rachel is as innocent in her ex-husband's schemes as she claims, but when her ex's enemies target Rachel, Clint is driven to keep her safe. Maybe the terror in her beautiful eyes and the target on her back aren't an act. But as his feelings toward her deepen, Clint realizes he's the only one who can keep Rachel alive in a game where only the killer knows the stakes.

My Review:

This story opens with Rachel Hartline trying to get her ex-husband to sign off on the documents to put the house they still jointly own on the market. He’s promised to sign off, but he’s made plenty of promises throughout their marriage, and seems to have kept very few of them.

But then, as Rachel tells herself frequently throughout the story, addicts lie. And her husband is addicted to gambling. He’s also always expected her to believe him and cover for him, so when she finds him in his boss’ office copying files from his boss’ computer, he expects her to believe him and cover for him one more time.

And he still doesn’t sign the damn papers. But he does leave her holding the bag, so to speak, when his theft is discovered and everyone wants to retrieve the documents he copied – especially his ex-friend and extremely antisocial boss.

That’s where Clint Mordan comes in. Said boss has hired his private investigations firm to discover the stolen documents – and Rachel is the first and best suspect. If not for the theft itself, then certainly for helping out her ex. She seems strangely protective of the man – more than seems logical to the initially skeptical private investigator. Most ex-wives wouldn’t piss on their ex-husbands if the men were on fire, so Rachel’s reluctance to cooperate seems suspicious.

At least until her house is broken into and she’s attacked. Whatever is going on, someone seems determined to get something out of Rachel that she doesn’t have – and not just Clint.

But in the process of following Rachel from Philadelphia to her grandparents’ home in the tiny Amish community of Echo Falls, Clint figures out that whatever loyalty Rachel might still feel, it doesn’t including lying or covering up for her ex-husband.

And while Clint may indeed be paranoid, there is certainly someone out to get Rachel. And it isn’t her ex.

The longer the case goes on, the more that Clint and his partner realize that their client is keeping them in the dark. And the more protective of Rachel Clint becomes. And the more she trusts him, in spite of her fairly awful track record with trusting men.

But can either of them trust the feelings that have arisen in the midst of so much terror?

Escape Rating B+: I seem fated to read the final book in one of Marta Perry’s trilogies without having read the first books first. And to those books turning out to be the right book at the right time each time.

I was interested in Shattered Silence because of its ties to the Pennsylvania Dutch community without being fully set in that world. My husband grew up English in and around Lancaster Pennsylvania, so the Amish background always piques my interest. This story felt like it did a particularly good job of opening a window into that world without pretending to tell a story that is part of it. The times that I’ve read Amish-set books out loud to him he usually finds the descriptions pretty laughable, but that wasn’t the case here.

Just as I read and enjoyed How Secrets Die without having read the first two books in the House of Secrets trilogy, I read and enjoyed Shattered Silence without having read the first two books in the Echo Falls trilogy. In this case, the series seems rather loosely connected, sharing Echo Falls as a location without sharing other elements of the stories.

Shattered Silence turned out to be great romantic suspense. The danger reaches out and grabs the reader from the very beginning, with an exasperated Rachel discovering her ex in the middle of something highly questionable, and moving on from there as Rachel is forced to jump out of the frying pan into the fire.

I also liked the way that while she ended up in trouble over and over, she did not come off as too stupid to live as is so often in the case in “heroine in jeopardy” type romantic suspense. The mess is not her doing, and the mistakes she makes seem realistic. She lets her guard down repeatedly, but only when she thinks she’s in a safe place or that the danger seems over.

The interlude at grandparents’ farm provided a marvelous break in the tension while showing more interesting facets of all the characters. That she and Clint turn to each other in the midst of all of the drama, but also feel reluctant to trust and worried that the heightened tension of the situation is causing them to act out of characters felt right.

The resolution to the mystery felt right, as did their earning of their HEA. And while Rachel bore part of the responsibility for ending up in that final confrontation, she was equally responsible for helping to rescue herself. And that’s the kind of HEA I always love!

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

I am giving away a paperback copy of Shattered Silence to one lucky US/Canadian commenter on this tour!

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A Scoop of Luck Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the A Scoop of Luck Giveaway Hop, hosted by MamatheFox!

First, I’m going to ask that you all wish me a little luck. I’m having some minor surgery today, so all wishes for a speedy recovery are very much appreciated!

The theme for this bloghop is all about luck. It makes me think of the song from My Fair Lady, the one that goes, “With a little bit of luck…) We can always use a little bit of luck. Or a little scoop of ice cream to make us feel lucky! At least lucky that someone invented ice cream to have on a hot summer’s day.

Speaking of ice cream, if there’s a Creamistry near you and you haven’t tried it, pick a hot day and go! They don’t just put in your mix ins before your eyes, they actually freeze your ice cream with liquid nitrogen right there while you wait. It’s awesome stuff, and a neat concept all rolled into one.

But speaking of luck, you might get lucky here in this giveaway. I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 US Amazon Gift Card or a book from the Book Depository up to $10 US in value. This giveaway is open to anyone living anywhere that the Book Depository ships.

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And for more fabulous 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: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + GiveawayWhen We Found Home by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by Hqn on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Life is meant to be savored, but that's not easy with no family, limited prospects and a past you'd rather not talk about. Still, Callie Smith doesn't know how to feel when she discovers she has a brother and a sister--Malcolm, who grew up with affection, wealth and privilege, and Keira, a streetwise twelve-year-old.

Callie doesn't love being alone, but at least it's safe. Despite her trepidation, she moves into the grand family home with her siblings and grandfather on the shores of Lake Washington, hoping just maybe this will be the start of a whole new life.

But starting over can be messy. Callie and Keira fit in with each other, but not with their posh new lifestyle, leaving Malcolm feeling like the odd man out in his own home. He was clever enough to turn a sleepy Seattle mail-order food catalog into an online gourmet powerhouse, yet he can't figure out how to help his new sisters feel secure. Becoming a family will take patience, humor, a little bit of wine and a whole lot of love.

But love isn't Malcolm's strong suit... until a beautiful barista teaches him that an open heart, like the family table, can always make room for more.

In this emotional, funny and heartfelt story, Susan Mallery masterfully explores the definition of a modern family--blended by surprise, not by choice--and how those complicated relationships can add unexpected richness to life.

My Review:

When We Found Home is an absolutely lovely story. In the same way that this author’s Daughters of the Bride was also a very lovely story. The two are not connected, but if you liked the one you’ll like the other and vice-versa.

When We Found Home is a story about family. The family in this book is a bit unusual, as they discover that they are family rather late into each of their lives.

To put it bluntly, the late Jerry Carlesso was a man-whore. He clearly could not keep it in his pants under any circumstances whatsoever. The only saving grace to the man was that he never married, so at least he wasn’t cheating on a wife while he traveled the country and left children behind in his wake.

Three of them, to be precise. And Jerry’s father, Alberto is determined to find them all and make them family.

Malcolm’s mother found them Alberto first, back when Malcolm was 12. Now he’s 34 and the heir to Alberto’s successful high-end mail-order Italian food empire, Alberto’s Alfresco. Alberto’s private detective found little Kiera a couple of months before the story opens. She’s 12 and her own mother is dead. Kiera was discovered in foster care.

Kiera’s adjustment from being lost in the foster system to being very nearly a fairy tale princess is not going well. She’s the only child in a houseful of adults, her world has shifted completely off its axis, and her big brother is keeping her at arm’s length because he doesn’t know what to do with this sudden influx of 12-year-old sister. And he doesn’t believe he’s any good at relationships.

The story begins with the introduction of the last sibling, 26-year-old Callie. Callie made a terrible mistake as a teenager, and took the fall for a very skanky boyfriend who committed armed robbery. Callie spent 5 years incarcerated, but in the three years since her release she has done her best to start a new life. A life that is sorta/kinda working when Alberto’s lawyer finally tracks her down in Houston.

It’s a very rough journey for this family-lost-at-birth to become a family-of-choice. While Keira and Callie bond fairly quickly, it takes a bit of work for Malcolm to work out his issues with their shared parent, get the stick out of his ass, and upgrade his original status from “asshole brother” to “jerky brother” to just “big brother”.

And they all need a little help along the way. Help that they manage to get, and eventually accept, from the second best thing that ever happens to any of them.

Becoming a real family is the first best thing.

Escape Rating A-: Just like when I read Daughters of the Bride a couple of years ago, When We Found Home was absolutely the right book at the right time. While yesterday’s book was just about perfect, it did turn out to be a bit angstier (and meatier) than I was expecting. When We Found Home had just the right amount of fun and froth while having a bit of meat on its bonesand plenty of heart.

There are two romances in this story, but the romances are not the point of the story. Rather it’s the other way around. The healing that becoming a family brings to the lives of both Malcolm and Callie allows them to accept and cherish the romantic love that enters both of their lives.

All of the adults in this story have plenty of baggage that they need to work through before any of them are ready to become a family or reach anything close to an HEA.

Callie’s past seems the most difficult. She made a huge mistake – and she paid for it. But even though she has theoretically paid her debt to society, that same society makes her keep paying for that mistake over and over and over. As much as she needs the helping hand of her family and her grandfather, she’s afraid to trust it will last – because she doesn’t feel like she deserves it.

Kiera and Callie bond because they have some of the same fears. Not that 12-year-old Kiera is a convicted felon, but that she’s been abandoned before and is afraid that all this good fortune can’t possibly last.

Malcolm seems like he has it all, but he is still recovering from a heartbreaking betrayal by those he trusted. It’s difficult for him to reach out to anyone, and he nearly loses his sisters because of it.

It’s not so much that they all grow up, as that their hearts all grow three sizes in the course of the story. They do a lot of self-examination, they lift each other up, and they figure out that they are a family after all.

And that’s how they earn their happily ever after.

For a taste of When We Found Home, please check out this excerpt!

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

Susan is still giving away a Taste of Seattle Gift Bag. The bag includes:
An “I [Heart] Happy Books” tote bag, Starbucks Pike’s Place ground coffee, Seattle Chocolates gift set (3 truffle jars), Cucina Fresca marinara sauce, Sahale Snacks (6 packs), Maury Island Farms jam (2 jars)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Review: Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann + Giveaway

Review: Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann + GiveawayTrial on Mount Koya (Shinobi Mystery #6) by Susan Spann
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Shinobi Mysteries #6
Pages: 256
Published by Seventh Street Books on July 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Master ninja Hiro Hattori and Jesuit Father Mateo head up to Mount Koya, only to find themselves embroiled in yet another mystery, this time in a Shingon Buddhist temple atop one of Japan's most sacred peaks.

November, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo travel to a Buddhist temple at the summit of Mount Koya, carrying a secret message for an Iga spy posing as a priest on the sacred mountain. When a snowstorm strikes the peak, a killer begins murdering the temple's priests and posing them as Buddhist judges of the afterlife--the Kings of Hell. Hiro and Father Mateo must unravel the mystery before the remaining priests--including Father Mateo--become unwilling members of the killer's grisly council of the dead.

My Review:

One of the factors that makes historical mysteries so interesting is that the investigator, whoever they might be, is forced to rely on instinct and intelligence, as forensics as we know them today do not yet exist. At the same time, the investigator can’t let their instincts get too much in the way. To quote Will Rogers, who won’t be born for more than three centuries after Trial on Mount Koya takes place, “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

Shinobi (read ninja) Hiro Hattori is usually an excellent investigator. In his own society, mid-16th century Japan, he is an outsider on multiple levels. First he’s a master assassin. Second he’s the bodyguard and now friend of a Portuguese Jesuit priest. And third he is masquerading as a ronin, a masterless samurai. He’s normally on the outside looking in, even while appearing to be part of everything.

But in this particular case, while he is an outsider in this group of isolated people, he is unable to muster his usual clear-sighted lack of emotional involvement. He is still grieving the events of the the previous book, Betrayal at Iga, and his judgment is clouded because his friend is as threatened as everyone else in this remote killing ground.

And having just lost his lover in a murder that he believes he should have prevented, he is afraid of losing his closest friend as well. As a consequence he is jumping at shadows, unable to see or admit that his clouded judgment is causing him to miss vital clues and suspect people who he should have eliminated from suspicion – if he were operating as his usual, rational self.

Normally, between the Jesuit Father Mateo and the shinobi Hiro Hattori, Hiro is the level-headed one while Mateo rushes in where his religion’s angels would certainly fear to tread. And while Mateo still serves as our “Watson” in this outing, being the outsider to whom Hiro must explain the ins and outs of their purpose and location, in this particular story he is much more clear-sighted than his friend.

This story is also a variation on one of the classic mystery tropes. A relatively small group of people is isolated by a blizzard in a remote location. No one can get in, and no one can get out. There is a murderer amongst them who turns out to be a serial killer. And he must be one of them, because he can’t escape and no one could be hiding on the mountainside in the fierce and freezing storm.

It is up to Hiro, with the assistance of Mateo, to first get his head out of his own ass, and then to figure out whodunit. The setting is a remote monastery, where someone is methodically murdering the monks. As Hiro puts it, the usual methods for murder are love, money and power. They are in a monastery, a Buddhist monastery. It seems as if those motives could not possibly apply.

But of course one of them does. It is up to Hiro to figure out how and why before his best friend becomes the next victim.

Escape Rating B: This series is absolutely fascinating, both for its characters and for this recreation of a marvelous world that seems both incredibly exotic and extremely familiar. Exotic because I have little knowledge of the place and period it covers. Familiar because in the end, the characters are so very human, in all their muck and glory.

Human beings are, at heart, the same all over. While what constitutes money and power may vary from one society to another, the lengths that humans will go to in order to achieve or steal them are all too similar.

And, as always, that love is all there is is all we know of love. But what Hiro to his surprise grasps on the one hand, he loses track of on the other. Eros is not the only form of love. A strong enough version of any form of love could be a motive for murder.

Or the killer could simply be barking mad. Or both.

In its remote setting and isolated group of religious observers, Trial on Mount Koya reminds me just a bit of The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny. With one major difference. At the end of The Beautiful Mystery, while I certainly felt for the victims, I also understood why the particular events, the murders, happened. When completed, the story felt finished and I felt satisfied that all had been resolved, good had, if not triumphed in that particular case, at least lived to fight another day.

As much as I enjoyed Trial on Mount Koya, the deep dive back into Hiro and Mateo’s world, and the progress of the investigation, as well as learning more about 16th century Japan and its culture, the revelation of the killer and his reasons felt unsatisfactory. This is possibly because the killer was both utterly insane and completely organized at the same time. It may have been because his logic and his motives were so far outside my own perspectives that I just couldn’t understand them enough.

And it could be that there is more yet to discover, not about this killer in particular but about the outside events that set Hiro and Mateo on this particular journey in the first place. I’ve enjoyed every one of their adventures from the series’ beginning in Claws of the Cat, and if you love historical mysteries I highly recommend starting this series at the beginning.

I’ll be back to follow them on their journey. They are intending to take the road to Edo. I’m sure they’ll have more fascinating adventures along the way. And probably turn up a dead body, or two, or six.

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

I am very happy to be giving away a copy of Trial on Mount Koya to one lucky US or Canadian commenter.

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

Seas the Day Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Seas the Day Giveaway Hop, hosted by MamatheFox!

One can take the name of this blog hop as a play on the Latin phrase carpe diem, meaning seize the day. Or one could translate “seas the day” into Latin, making it maria diem and not a sentence at all. And of course I’m being just a bit silly.

I took four years of Latin in high school – occasionally I have to trot it out just for giggles.

But it’s summer, meaning that there are plenty of long, hot days to seize – just perfect for melting into a good book. Also just plain melting.

About that good book, as my part of this blog hop I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository. This prize is open to anywhere that the Book Depository ships, which is a lot of ships, boats, planes, and almost but not quite everywhere.

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


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

Spotlight + Excerpt: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Spotlight + Excerpt: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + GiveawayWhen We Found Home by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by HQN Books on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Life is meant to be savored, but that's not easy with no family, limited prospects and a past you'd rather not talk about. Still, Callie Smith doesn't know how to feel when she discovers she has a brother and a sister--Malcolm, who grew up with affection, wealth and privilege, and Keira, a streetwise twelve-year-old.

Callie doesn't love being alone, but at least it's safe. Despite her trepidation, she moves into the grand family home with her siblings and grandfather on the shores of Lake Washington, hoping just maybe this will be the start of a whole new life.

But starting over can be messy. Callie and Keira fit in with each other, but not with their posh new lifestyle, leaving Malcolm feeling like the odd man out in his own home. He was clever enough to turn a sleepy Seattle mail-order food catalog into an online gourmet powerhouse, yet he can't figure out how to help his new sisters feel secure. Becoming a family will take patience, humor, a little bit of wine and a whole lot of love.

But love isn't Malcolm's strong suit... until a beautiful barista teaches him that an open heart, like the family table, can always make room for more.

In this emotional, funny and heartfelt story, Susan Mallery masterfully explores the definition of a modern family--blended by surprise, not by choice--and how those complicated relationships can add unexpected richness to life.

As I’ve said before, I don’t normally do posts without a review, whether they are spotlight or excerpt posts or whatever. But I’m always happy to make an exception for one of Susan Mallery’s books because I always love them. And because I’m always going to review the book sooner or later – in this case, sooner, as I’m part of the review tour, scheduled for mid-July. So while we all wait to sink our reading teeth into this story when it comes out on July 10, here’s a bit of a teaser to whet our appetites…

Excerpt from When We Found Home by Susan Mallery

Blowing ten grand on a five-year-old’s birthday party was beyond the definition of insane, Callie Smith thought as she positioned the car-shaped cookie cutter over the sandwich and pressed down as evenly as she could. When she carefully peeled away the excess bread, she was left with a perfect car-shaped PB&J sandwich—sans crust, of course.

The menu for the event was fairly simple, and all based on the Disney movie Cars. Small cups contained carrot, celery and cucumber sticks—aka dipsticks. Two kinds of organic punch along with organic apple juice were at the refueling station. The catering firm’s famous mac and cheese had been remade with pasta in the shape of wheels, and there were car-inspired mini hot dogs ready to go. Callie had already put half a cherry tomato and slice of cucumber to simulate wheels onto one hundred toothpicks, ready to be shoved into place when the mini hot dogs were heated and put in the buns.

The cake was an incredible work of art—a stylized twelve-inch-high modified layer cake shaped to look like a mountain with a road circling up to the top where a small car sat, along with a banner reading Happy Birthday Jonathan.

The previous afternoon Callie had filled the loot bags with Cars-related toys, and had carefully rolled all twenty-five Pit Crew T-shirts with the names facing up. Yes, each boy would get a personalized T-shirt to wear for the party and then take home with him.

Janice, her boss and the owner of the catering company, hurried into the kitchen. “I already have a knot in my stomach. The rest of the staff has a pool going on how long it takes the first kid to throw up, but I’m hoping we can get through this one without any disasters. How are you doing?”

Callie pointed to the tray with the PB&J sandwiches. “All ready. I’ll cover them with plastic wrap to keep them fresh. The hot dog wheels are done. Just have someone stick them on before putting in the hot dogs. Veggies are finished, the cake is in place and I’ve put out the loot bags. Oh, and the T-shirts are by the front door to be handed out as the guests arrive. Just so you know, there are three Brandons.”

Janice groaned. “Of course there are.” She looked around their client’s massive kitchen. “You’ve done it again, Callie. You took this idea and ran with it. I would still be trying to figure out how to pull it all together.”

Callie did her best to offer a sincere smile—one without a hint of bitterness. What was going to happen next wasn’t Janice’s fault. Instead, the blame lay squarely on Callie’s shoulders. She could whine and stomp her feet all she wanted. She could point to her ex-boyfriend, but in the end, the decision had been hers and so were the consequences.

Rather than make Janice say it, Callie untied her apron. “I need to get going. The first guests will be arriving and I shouldn’t be here.”

Janice’s mouth twisted as guilt flashed in her eyes. “I’m sorry. I just can’t risk it.”

Callie nodded. “Do you want me back at the shop to help with cleanup later?”

“Why don’t you take the rest of the day off? We have to prep for the Gilman wedding Tuesday morning. I’ll see you then.”

Callie nodded, doing her best not to calculate how much she would have made if she’d been able to stay and work the party. Being an hourly employee meant every penny mattered, but there was no way. She got that…sort of.

“Have fun today.”

Janice gave a strangled laugh. “With twenty-five little boys? I don’t think so.”

Callie got her backpack from the utility room closet, then walked out the back door. She dug out her phone, opened her Uber app and requested a car.

Normally she would just take the bus back home but this part of River Oaks didn’t have a whole lot of public transportation—especially not on a Sunday morning. So she would splurge.

Ten minutes later she was in the silver Ford Focus and heading for her more modest neighborhood. It wasn’t close to work, but it was inexpensive and safe—two priorities for her.

She had the Uber driver drop her off at the H-E-B grocery store so she could get a few things. Only what she could carry home and consume in the next couple of days. The room she rented came with kitchen privileges, but Callie preferred to use the small refrigerator and microwave she kept in her room. She’d learned that storing anything in the main kitchen was a risky proposition. House rules were clear—don’t take food belonging to someone else. Unfortunately enforcement was haphazard and Callie didn’t want to chance someone taking her food.

She heated soup—the dented can had been 50 percent off!—then got out a four-month-old copy of Vogue that she’d fished out of a recycling bin to read while she ate. Janice only took day jobs on Sundays and the caterer was closed on Monday, giving Callie almost thirty-four hours off. At ten on Monday night she would start her other job, cleaning offices in the financial district.

She finished her lunch, then loaded her biggest tote with clothes, sheets and towels before heading to the local Laundromat. The afternoon had warmed up and gotten more humid—fairly typical for Houston in early spring, or any time of year.

The temperature inside the Laundromat had to be in the upper nineties. The crowded, noisy space was filled with families completing chores before the grind of the new week began again.

Callie found two free washers together, loaded her belongings and inserted a ridiculous number of quarters. She was lucky—she had to take care of only herself. Her bed was a twin, so the sheets were small. She could get away with two loads every two weeks, but how did people with kids make ends meet when it was three dollars to wash a load of clothes?

 

Author Info:

Susan Mallery is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of books about the relationships that define women’s lives—romance, friendship, family. With compassion and humor, Susan keenly observes how people think and feel, in stories that take readers on an emotional journey. Sometimes heartbreaking, often funny, and always uplifting, Susan’s books have spent more than 200 weeks on the USA Today bestsellers list, thanks to her ever growing legions of fans.

Critics, too, have heaped praise on “the new queen of romantic fiction.” (Walmart) Booklist says, “Romance novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert blend of emotional nuance, humor, and superb storytelling,” and RT Book Reviews puts her “in a class by herself!”

Although Susan majored in Accounting, she never worked as an accountant because she was published straight out of college with two books the same month, January of 1992. Sixteen prolific years and seventy-four books later, she hit the New York Times bestsellers list for the first time with Accidentally Yours in 2008. She made many appearances in the Top 10 before (finally) hitting #1 in 2015 with Thrill Me, the twentieth book in her most popular series, the Fool’s Gold romances, and the fourth of five books released that year.

Susan lives in Seattle with her husband, two ragdoll cats, and a tattletale toy poodle. Her heart for animals has led Susan to become an active supporter of the Seattle Humane Society. Animals play a big role in her books, as well, as she believes they’re an integral component to a happy life.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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

Susan is giving away a Taste of Seattle Gift Bag. The bag includes:
An “I [Heart] Happy Books” tote bag, Starbucks Pike’s Place ground coffee, Seattle Chocolates gift set (3 truffle jars), Cucina Fresca marinara sauce, Sahale Snacks (6 packs), Maury Island Farms jam (2 jars)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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