Review: Bayside Heat by Melissa Foster / Sweet Heat at Bayside by Addison Cole

Bayside Heat (Bayside Summers #3) by Melissa Foster
Format read: eARC
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Bayside Summers #3
Length: 342
Publisher: World Literary Press
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Sweet Heat at Bayside (Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summers #3) by Addison Cole
Format read: eARC
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summer #3)
Length: 324
Publisher: World Literary Press
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Fall in love at Bayside, where sandy beaches, good friends, and true love come together in the sweet small towns of Cape Cod. Bayside Summers is a series of standalone steamy romance novels featuring alpha male heroes and sexy, empowered women. They’re fun, flirty, flawed, deeply emotional, always passionate, and easy to relate to.

Drake Savage has always done the right thing, especially where beautiful and fiercely determined Serena Mallery is concerned-even when it means keeping his feelings for her to himself. Serena has always wanted more than what their small town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts has to offer, and Drake’s roots are so deeply entrenched in the Cape, it’s all he can do to watch her pack up her life and move away.

Serena has always had big dreams. As a teenager she dreamed of becoming an interior designer and marrying smart, musically inclined, sexy-as-sin Drake Savage. Now she’s finally landed a killer job with a top interior design firm, but though she has spent the last four years working side by side with Drake, he’s never made a move. Four years is long enough for her to accept reality, and her new job in Boston is the perfect way to move on.

A weak moment leads to sizzling, sensual kisses, opening a door through which they’ve both been aching to walk. But Serena’s determined not to give up her shot at the career she’s always dreamed of, and Drake has loved her for too many years to stand in her way. With true love at their fingertips and a world of unstoppable passion igniting between them, can the two star-crossed lovers find their way to their happily ever after?

My Review:

This is going to be a bit different – which is kind of ironic because I’m going to be talking about two books that are pretty much the same – but are different in some crucial ways.

Sweet Heat at Bayside by Addison Cole and Bayside Heat by Melissa Foster are the same book. Except when they’re not.

Let me explain…

Sweet Heat at Bayside, and the entire Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summers series, is the “sweet and clean” version of the story. Bayside Heat, and the entire Bayside Summers series, are the steamier and naughtier versions of the very same stories.

So first the story…

This is a really good take on the classic “friends to lovers” trope. Drake and Serena grew up together (along with all of their friends and siblings!) in the tiny town of Bayside on Cape Cod.

But not only was Drake Serena’s first crush, it seems like she never really got over it. Drake is about three years older than Serena, a gap that looms large in grade school and even high school, but now that they are in their late 20s/early 30s it no longer matters.

What does matter is that Serena has always dreamed of taking her interior design talents from tiny Bayside to the big city, meaning Boston. But when Drake started opening his chain of music shops four years ago, Serena came to help out. She’s not only designed the look and feel of all the stories, but helped Drake run both his whole operation as well as the inn that his family owns in Bayside.

She was clear from the very beginning that her work in Bayside was only temporary. And now its time for her to move on. Partly because the stores, the inn and even the local design firm that she’s been working at have all reached a point where the trail has been blazed and now it’s all just keeping on keeping on. But it’s also because as much as she wishes it were otherwise, her relationship with Drake has never moved out of the dreaded “friend zone”.

But Drake is so protective of her that even when she does date in order to try to get over her crush he doesn’t really let any other man get close. It’s obvious to Serena that in order to move on with her life on every front, she really needs to move away.

No matter how much she’s going to miss her friends, her sister, and especially Drake.

But the idea of Serena moving away finally hits Drake with the clue by four. Or another way of putting it is that now that she’s leaving, now that each dinner and each meeting is nearly the last, he discovers that he’s no longer able to hide his feelings for Serena.

No matter how “noble” he’s trying to be, and he thinks he is, he’s always loved her. He’s just never let himself show it.

At first it was because of their age gap. When he was a senior in high school, she was just a freshman. That gap is huge. When she was a senior in high school, he was in college – and away. Also a gap. The timing wasn’t right. When she came back to Bayside to work with him, they were both adults and both in the same place at the same time.

But her declaration that it was only temporary held him back. He didn’t want to get between her and her dreams. What he didn’t know was something important that Serena’s mother told her, that “what you wish for today may not be what you truly want tomorrow.”

So he never asks if she still wants that big city career more than anything else. And he never tells her how he feels. So when they finally begin breaking down the barriers between the friendship they have and the romance they both want, there’s more than a bit of confusion and anger on Serena’s side. It does feel like he’s messing with her.

But she’s committed to Boston and her new job. Over time both she and Drake become committed to figuring out how to make a long-distance relationship work. And then a miracle occurs, and they find a way to move forward so that they both get not just what they want, but what they need – and each other.

Escape Rating for Sweet Heat at Bayside: B-
Escape Rating for Bayside Heat: B+

Even though the story is the same, I think it does matter which version you read. And the steamier version just reads better. It’s not just about the sex. Actually, it’s not about the sex, per se, at all.

The series is about a group of 20- and 30- something who have mostly known each other forever, some of whom are siblings, who have met and/or recognized the love of their lives and have found their happy ever afters. Most of the ones who have paired off by the third book in the series are still newlyweds. They are all adults and there’s a fair amount of sexy talk and sexual teasing among the entire group. Both about who is and isn’t getting any, and how little anyone’s brother or sister wants to hear any details about their sibling’s sex life. It’s frequently funny and often a bit dirty and it all loses something in the translation when it has to all be toned down.

Also, one of the characters just has a potty mouth. Every time she means to drop an “f-bomb” and it’s changed to “frick” it drops me out of the story.

Part of Drake and Serena’s mutual seduction uses a lot of hot, steamy, dirty talk as foreplay. It’s as intelligent and as much fun as the eventual sex. At the point they are in their relationship, convincing themselves as well as each other that they are all in for whatever their relationship might become, seduction by words is every bit as hot as when they finally touch. It needs to be suggestive and naughty and dirty and the need to keep it sweet lets too much of the steam out of the room.

There is also one sexual encounter early in their relationship that is very sexy but does not include actual sex. It’s a scene where exactly what they did, and exactly what they didn’t, is a part of the emotional confusion between the two of them. Because the clean version can’t detail what happened, the entire scene is reduced to a single sentence – one that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until you go back and read the steamy version.

As a friends into lovers story, Drake and Serena’s romance is a whole lot of fun to read. While they do have a lot of baggage that makes the arc of their relationship finally make sense, it’s not so heavy that it can’t be lifted with a little help from their friends. The gang as a whole has really great chemistry, so even though this is Drake and Serena’s story and we don’t see how everyone else got together, they are still a fun bunch to be with and we do get a good view of how our hero and heroine for this story fit into the whole.

And even though I haven’t read either version of the previous books in the series, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything – except that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with these folks myself. We’d all like to have a circle of friends this tight.

In summary (I know I can’t say “in short” at this point) it feels like Bayside Heat is the better and more authentic version of the story. But for those who feel like they have already read enough “f-bombs” for their lifetime the sweet version does a credible job of telling this “friends to lovers” tale with plenty of love but a bit less lust.

For this reader, the next time I’m faced with this particular dilemma, I know I’ll choose the “full Monty” version for my reading…pleasure.

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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 8-5-18

Sunday Post

The dust is starting to settle at the new house. It’s going to settling for a while, but it is starting, at least. One of the better side effects of the move is that Freddie and Lucifer seem to be banding together more. They slink down the stairs together at night to explore the brave new world, as well as seek out fresh kibble. As soon as we get a new door installed on the back porch, they’ll be able to boldly go where no cat has gone before – at least as far as we know.

The built in shelves in my office now contain my ALA committee books and our fiction collection up to the beginning of the letter G. More shelves are upstairs, just waiting to be loaded with the rest of our library.

It’s definitely an adventure!

Current Giveaways:

Hardcover set of The Wildes of Ludlow Castle series by Eloisa James
(1) $50 Amazon Gift card and (5) $10 Amazon Gift Cards from Suzanne Johnson

Winner Announcements:

The winner of Shattered Silence by Marta Perry is Becky
The winner of the $10 Amazon Gift Card in the Scoop of Luck Giveaway Hop is Lisa

Blog Recap:

B+ Review: Born to Be Wilde by Eloisa James + Giveaway
A Review: Frenchman Street by Suzanne Johnson + Giveaway
B+ Review: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal
B Review: Hard in Hightown by Varric Tethras with Mary Kirby
A Review: The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen Brooks
Stacking the Shelves (299)

Coming Next Week:

Entropy by Jess Anastasi (blog tour review)
Wedding from Hell: The Reception by J.R. Ward (blog tour review)
Gift of Griffins by V.M. Escalada (review)
Southernmost by Silas House (review)
Meet Me at the Museum by Ann Youngson (review)

Stacking the Shelves (299)

Stacking the Shelves

The grid picture is my stack for this week. The picture below features the built-in bookshelves in my office in the new house. Aren’t they gorgeous? For anyone wondering, the shelves in my office contain our fiction collection up to the G’s, plus review books for my ALA committee. The rest of the alphabet, plus the nonfiction, will be housed upstairs in the spare room, the guest room and finish in Galen’s office. The frightening thing is that this is about half of what we moved to and from Alaska.

Notice that I am carefully not showing the other side of the room. That’s still box city. Someday we’ll be unpacked. Someday.

For Review:
The Alchemist’s Illusion (Accidental Alchemist #4) by Gigi Pandian
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
Consumed (Firefighters #1) by J.R. Ward
For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger
Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
A Spy in Exile by Jonathan de Shalit
The Verdun Affair by Nick Dybek

My new office bookshelves!

Review: The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen Brooks

Review: The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen BrooksThe Locksmith's Daughter by Karen Brooks
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 576
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From acclaimed author Karen Brooks comes this intriguing novel rich in historical detail and drama as it tells the unforgettable story of Queen Elizabeth's daring, ruthless spymaster and his female protégée.

In Queen Elizabeth's England, where no one can be trusted and secrets are currency, one woman stands without fear.

Mallory Bright is the only daughter of London's most ingenious locksmith. She has apprenticed with her father since childhood, and there is no lock too elaborate for her to crack. After scandal destroys her reputation, Mallory has returned to her father's home and lives almost as a recluse, ignoring the whispers and gossip of their neighbors. But Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's spymaster and a frequent client of Mallory's father, draws her into his world of danger and deception. For the locksmith's daughter is not only good at cracking locks, she also has a talent for codes, spycraft, and intrigue. With Mallory by Sir Francis’s side, no scheme in England or abroad is safe from discovery.

But Mallory's loyalty wavers when she witnesses the brutal and bloody public execution of three Jesuit priests and realizes the human cost of her espionage. And later, when she discovers the identity of a Catholic spy and a conspiracy that threatens the kingdom, she is forced to choose between her country and her heart.

Once Sir Francis's greatest asset, Mallory is fast becoming his worst threat—and there is only one way the Queen’s master spy deals with his enemies…

 

My Review:

If you like utterly absorbing, densely plotted historical fiction, then The Locksmith’s Daughter is going to open a key into your reading heart.

This story is set at a time of intense political and religious ferment. It’s also a time we think we know, the Elizabethan period of English history. In fact, a particular piece of that period, the 1580s, the time when religious persecution of Catholics was at its height, right alongside, and considerably as a result of, Catholic plots to overthrow Elizabeth and bestow the crown on some supposedly worthier Catholic monarch. (I’m not making a religious comment here, but I am doubtful that any ruler of any religious stripe could have done a better job for their country in that particular place and time than Elizabeth did for England.)

That decade includes the execution of Elizabeth’s most prominent Catholic rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as the debacle of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Well, it was certainly a debacle from the Spanish perspective. The English perspective, the one we tend to adopt here in the U.S., was that it was a resounding success for England.

History is always written by the victors.

But Elizabeth’s reign in general, and this period in particular, was also a period of political and social upheaval. And whenever there are societal changes, there are plenty of people on both sides of every issue working as hard as they can to ensure that their side is the one that comes out on top.

In other words, politics. Lots and lots of politics. And wherever there are politics, there are plenty of people manipulating events behind the scenes, both by fair means and foul.

Espionage may not be the oldest profession, but it is certainly one of the oldest. One of its foremost practitioners was either a hero or villain of this period. Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster.

Our peek into the skullduggery and machinations at the heart of Elizabeth’s reign is Mallory Bright, the titular locksmith’s daughter. This story of underhanded dealings at the centers of power – or on its shadowy fringes, is told from Mallory’s first person perspective.

For her time and place, Mallory is singular. She’s not merely the daughter of a respected locksmith, but also his unofficial apprentice, better at picking locks than even the master himself. She is also an educated woman at a time when that was not the norm. And as the story opens, she has returned to her parents’ household after her own disgraceful actions ruined her reputation and her prospects.

Mallory needs a future. Her father’s surprising friendship with Walsingham provides her with a means to make her own. With her education in languages and mathematics as well as her skill in lock-picking, Mallory is the perfect candidate to learn the art of spycraft.

At first, it is a game at which she excels. She enjoys the learning of it, and she relishes the challenge. But when the ciphers and secrets turn deadly, she discovers that her challenges come at too high a price. A price that is initially paid by others, but could all too easily be wrenched from her own heart, soul and body.

Escape Rating A: The Locksmith’s Daughter is a LOT of book. An absolutely absorbing lot, but definitely one to tackle when you either have plenty of time on your hands or are willing to forego a certain amount of sleep. Or both.

That being said, Mallory’s first-person perspective sucks the reader right in. Even though we initially know little about her circumstances, we see it all through her eyes and hear her thoughts and feel right there with her. There are two things that make Mallory an excellent first-person narrator. She’s intelligent, so she’s very thoughtful about everything that passes through her head. And she’s lonely. She has very few people to talk to, and no one to confide in. She both keeps her thoughts to herself and works them over in her own mind on a regular basis. Some first-person narrators are either not introspective or are so censorious of their own self-talk that even the view from inside their heads is limiting. Mallory is not that way. She thinks, she ponders, she considers – and we get to see it all.

It’s not just that Mallory is an easy character to empathize with, but also that what she experiences is absolutely fascinating. There are lots of stories where a big part of the story is the training of the character from apprenticeship to master. This is one where that process is done well. It’s doubly interesting to see her master the tradecraft of espionage in a way that shows just how little has changed from the 16th century to the 21st, as well as how much.

If you want to be transported back in time to Elizabethan England, The Locksmith’s Daughter is a fabulous time machine.

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

Review: Hard in Hightown by Varric Tethras with Mary Kirby

Review: Hard in Hightown by Varric Tethras with Mary KirbyHard in Hightown by Varric Tethras, Mary Kirby, Stefano Martino, Álvaro Sarraseca, Andrés Ponce, Ricardo German Ponce Torres, E.M. Gist
Format: hardcover
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: fantasy, graphic novel, mystery
Pages: 96
Published by Dark Horse Books on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Prolific dwarven author and heroic companion of the Dragon Age games, Varric Tethras brings us the collected edition of his breakthrough crime-noir drama, Hard in Hightown (with help from his trusted human confidante, Mary Kirby)! This volume is beautifully illustrated by Stefano Martino, Alvaro Sarraseca, Andres Ponce, and Ricardo German Ponce Torres, with a painted cover by E.M. Gist!

Twenty years of patrols have chiseled each and every stone of the Kirkwall streets into city guardsmen Donnen Brennokovic. Weary and weathered, Donnen is paired with a recruit so green he might as well have leaves growing out of his armor. When the mismatched pair discover a dead magistrate bleeding out on the flagstones, they're caught up in a clash between a shadowy organization known only as the Executors and a secretive group of Chantry agents--all over some ancient artifact.

This is a prose novel featuring 24 black and white full page images.

My Review:

This book seems like it’s kind of a joke. Admittedly an in-joke for people who love the Dragon Age games, of which I am certainly one.

But it also sorta/kinda isn’t a joke. Like many stories that are part of long-running series, it’s also a visit with old friends. Both of the slightly disguised and not-so-slightly disguised variety. After having a book epically fail this week, I needed something that was sort of a joke and definitely a visit with some old and dear friends.

That this was the first thing I ordered sent to the new house that has arrived so far was kind of icing on the cake. It was meant to be.

On the one hand, this story is pretty much steeped in the Dragon Age universe. Varric Tethras, the “author” of the book, has quite the reputation as an author within the series. When asked about his writing, his response rings true for the real world as well as his fictional world, “There’s power in stories, though. That’s all history is: the best tales. The ones that last. Might as well be mine.”

Hard in Hightown is one of his most popular. It’s also a lot of fun, mixing fairly standard genre tropes into what feels like a fully realized fantasy setting. It’s the story of a guardsman nearing retirement who falls headfirst into one last big case. A man with a reputation for breaking the rules in order to get things done, Donnen doggedly follows the sparse clues from person to person, place to place and ambush to ambush.

The path takes him through punishment, betrayal and ultimately a reward that is better than money. Or at least he hopes it will be.

And it’s the kind of tale that would easily fit into one of the old shared world series like Thieves’ World or Liavek. It also sounds like the kind of case, and in the kind of place, that Sam Vimes used to tackle in Ankh-Morpork before he married into the nobility.

In other words, Hard in Hightown is a mystery set in a fantasy universe. Reading it brought back a lot of fond memories, both of the game and of the fantasy mysteries it strongly resembles.

And it was a load of fun from beginning to end, at least for this fan. I’m not sure it would work for anyone who did not have at least a passing familiarity with Dragon Age, particularly Dragon Age II. Admittedly, I’m not sure why anyone who wasn’t already a fan would pick this up in the first place, except as a joke.

But Varric was every bit as much fun a storyteller as he is as a character. Reading this made me nostalgic. I think another playthrough of the series is on my horizon – at least as soon as we dig out from the worst of the moving debris.

Escape Rating B: I was looking for a palate-cleanser of a book, something to wash the taste of a complete failure out of my mouth. So I switched from a book that managed to make what should have been an exciting story into a dull recitation, and turned to a writer I knew could make falling down the stairs into an epic tale. And I’m glad I did. If you’re a fan, you’ll love it.

Review: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal

Review: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’NealThe Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 364
Published by Lake Union Publishing on July 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

When Olivia Shaw’s mother dies, the sophisticated food editor is astonished to learn she’s inherited a centuries-old English estate—and a title to go with it. Raw with grief and reeling from the knowledge that her reserved mother hid something so momentous, Olivia leaves San Francisco and crosses the pond to unravel the mystery of a lifetime.

One glance at the breathtaking Rosemere Priory and Olivia understands why the manor, magnificent even in disrepair, was the subject of her mother’s exquisite paintings. What she doesn’t understand is why her mother never mentioned it to her. As Olivia begins digging into her mother’s past, she discovers that the peeling wallpaper, debris-laden halls, and ceiling-high Elizabethan windows covered in lush green vines hide unimaginable secrets.

Although personal problems and her life back home beckon, Olivia finds herself falling for the charming English village and its residents. But before she can decide what Rosemere’s and her own future hold, Olivia must first untangle the secrets of her past.

My Review:

The story opens with American Olivia Shaw discovering that she is the long-lost heir to a title and an estate in England. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it?

But just as every cloud is supposed to have a silver lining, every silver lining definitely has its own cloud. Olivia has just made this momentous discovery because she found paperwork regarding the estate among her late mother’s things. Her mother has only been gone a few weeks, and Olivia is still devastated by her death as well as completely overwhelmed by the whole horde of secrets which have suddenly come to light.

Or at least come to less dark. Olivia had no idea that her mother was the Countess of Rosemere, or that the title came with an estate. A profitable estate that includes gardens and farmland and a crumbling (and possibly haunted!) Elizabethan country house. And secrets. Mountains and molehills and acres of secrets.

Her mother was a well-known artist and illustrator of children’s books. Olivia always assumed that the enchanted forest that appeared in so much of her mother’s work was a creation of her imagination. But in truth her mother painted Rosemere over and over and over for her entire life.

One of the questions is why? Another is why did her mother leave the place to rot? And an even bigger question, why did her mother never tell her anything about Rosemere, her inheritance, her legacy, her background or her past?

Olivia’s mother loved treasure hunts. And she has left her daughter one final doozy of a hunt – to discover the secrets and the truths that lie hidden at Rosemere. So those secrets can finally be brought to light, and so that Olivia can finally find her own way.

Escape Rating B+: There is a lot to love in this book, and just a couple of things that didn’t quite work, or at least didn’t work for me.

The story is a gem, combining Olivia’s hunt for her mother’s last secrets with Olivia’s own romance with both novelist-turned-thatcher Samir Malakar and with Rosemere itself. Herself.

Olivia arrives at Rosemere at a personal crossroads. Not just that her beloved mother is dead and left this gigantic mystery, but also that Olivia is still recovering from a terrible automobile accident that left her with a still-healing injury and caused the death of her beloved dog. The injury caused her to take a six weeks and counting leave of absence from her job as editor of a prestigious food and gourmet magazine. To top all of that off, her relationship with the man she’s been living with for the past eight years is falling apart. Or has already fallen.

Olivia comes to Rosemere to pull herself together in the present as much as she does to unearth the mysteries of the past.

In the process, Olivia falls in love with both a person and a place. The more she looks into the secrets of Rosemere, and the more that she explores the tumbledown wreck of the house, the more questions she has. It’s obvious that something truly terrible happened all those years ago to force her mother to leave it all behind and completely reinvent herself.

It’s also equally obvious that she discovers that she feels tied, not so much to the land as to the people that inhabit and surround it. She becomes involved with village life, even as many elements of that society either reject her or her choices. It’s clear that there are multiple agendas revolving around the old estate.

That society also looks down on her choices for friendship and companionship. Her first and closest friends in the village are the Anglo-Indian Malakar family. Olivia’s grandmother came home to England from India with Samir and Pavi’s grandmother Nandini, and the two families have been close ever since. Olivia’s burgeoning relationship with Samir echoes that closeness much more nearly than they believe. But they do not fool themselves that the local squirearchy will not and does not approve of the new Countess’ relationship with someone who is not ‘one of them’, let alone someone of Samir’s heritage.

Olivia’s journey, her search, is absolutely fascinating. She’s our point of view into the story, and she is easy to empathize with and interesting to follow. She’s got a lot on her plate at the beginning, not just her own recovery from both injury and grief, but the gigantic number of decisions she has to face at a time when she is at a very low ebb.

It’s easy to see how Rosemere winds its way into her heart. And her fresh perspective on whatever secrets are hidden there give her both the imperative to discover the truths and just enough distance not to fear whatever may be revealed.

There were a couple of things that niggled me about this story, just enough to keep me from raising it into the A’s. Olivia has plenty of problems to tackle between her mother’s secrets, Rosemere’s secrets, her attempt to rehabilitate the crumbling house and her relationship with Samir. That’s more than enough drama for one life and one book without tacking on either the swindling caretakers or the douchecanoe ex-lover. Throwing both into the soup brings the book a bit too close to melodrama, and definitely went over-the-top in the number of drama llamas.

As much as I loved the way that the relationship developed between Olivia and Samir, a part of it didn’t quite ring true. Again, they had plenty to contend with, as no one seems to have approved for all kinds of reasons. But Olivia made a gigantic deal out of being 7 years older than Samir. She’s 39 and he’s 32, which makes both of them well into adulthood – certainly more than far enough into adulthood for a seven year gap not to be all that big of a deal, and absolutely more than adult enough for Samir to be aware of his own mind and heart. I am 20 years older than my husband, and while I certainly did a fair amount of soul-searching at the beginning of our relationship, I didn’t agonize nearly this much over a gap that is considerably greater. Because of my own experience, some of Olivia’s reactions in this regard didn’t quite ring true for me.

But quibbles and niggles aside, I enjoyed The Art of Inheriting Secrets a great deal. This was the book I was reading as the movers packed up all of our stuff and moved it out of the old house and into the new house. Reading Olivia’s trials and tribulations with beautiful old Rosemere certainly put my moving into perspective!

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

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: Born to Be Wilde by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: Born to Be Wilde by Eloisa James + GiveawayBorn to Be Wilde (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #3) by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Wildes of Lindow Castle #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The richest bachelor in England plays matchmaker…for an heiress he wants for himself!

For beautiful, witty Lavinia Gray, there's only one thing worse than having to ask the appalling Parth Sterling to marry her: being turned down by him.

Now the richest bachelor in England, Parth is not about to marry a woman as reckless and fashion-obsessed as Lavinia; he's chosen a far more suitable bride.

But when he learns of Lavinia's desperate circumstances, he offers to find her a husband. Even better, he'll find her a prince.

As usual, there's no problem Parth can't fix. But the more time he spends with the beguiling Lavinia, the more he finds himself wondering…

Why does the woman who's completely wrong feel so right in his arms?

My Review:

While Born to be Wilde certainly has elements of the Shakespearean farce referred to be one of the characters, there are also some interesting and surprisingly serious notes in this glorious romp of a historical romance.

At first this seems like a frenemies into lovers story. We’ve met both Lavinia Gray and Parth Sterling in the previous books in this series. Lavinia, Willa (the heroine of Wilde in Love) and Diana (heroine of Too Wilde to Wed), are best friends. Willa and Lavinia were raised together. In fact, Lavinia had set her cap for the Wilde that Willa eventually married. Lavinia’s mother tried to set Lavinia’s cap for the Wilde that Diana finally married.

Parth Sterling was raised with the Wilde brothers from the age of five. Parth is Anglo-Indian, and his parents sent him from India to be raised by his father’s friend, the Duke of Lindow. When his parents died, Parth became part of the Wilde family – and was every bit as wild a boy as any of his adopted brothers.

But Parth has a serious side. He’s become the richest bachelor in England by profitably owning and operating several factories and even his own bank. He’s a man who works hard and gets things done.

He seems to see Lavinia as merely a fribble. A lighthearted and light-minded woman who fritters away her time and her fortune on gowns, bonnets and gloves. That upper-class women are all supposed to be fribbles doesn’t keep him from seeming to look down upon her at every turn.

And she, in turn, seems to look down upon him. In her presence he always seems to be prim and proper and gloomy and doomy. In his presence she acts almost like a halfwit.

Of course, nothing is as it seems – except that they drive each other completely crazy. It’s exactly what kind of crazy that’s hiding underneath all of their cutting remarks towards each other.

It’s only when Lavinia finds herself in desperate needs of Parth’s undeniable ability to get things done that they discover that there’s more hiding behind both of their surface personas than either of them ever imagined.

But neither of them imagines how difficult it will be to let go of years of preconceived notions about each other – or about themselves. Or how much damage all those accumulated cutting remarks have already caused.

Escape Rating B+: For a story that certainly has its serious side, it is also a tremendous amount of fun, livened up by oodles of witty banter. That the heroine is far, far deeper than the shallow puddle that the hero initially claims her to be just makes the story that much more delicious.

At the same time, the story deals with some fairly serious topics. A big part of the story, introduced very early on, is that Lavinia’s mother is addicted to laudanum, otherwise known as tincture of opium. While laudanum was dispensed quite legally in many forms until the 1860s, the effects of addiction were also known – if usually swept under the rug and secreted within the family.

Lavinia begins this story where Too Wilde to Wed ends. She has discovered that her mother has squandered not just their own money but also all of Willa’s as well. And she’s sold all of her own jewelry, Lavinia’s, and Willa’s and replaced them with copies. And stolen Diana’s jewelry as well, causing the rift between Diana and her family and forcing her into the circumstances she finds herself in at the start of Too Wilde to Wed.

Lavinia needs to marry a rich man, not just to make good on everything that her mother stole, but also because she needs a husband with enough power and influence to keep her mother out of jail and to make sure the scandal doesn’t erupt.

While marrying Parth or one of the wealthy men he introduces her to would solve her problems, Lavinia also has a tremendous amount of pride, as well as one marketable talent. She hasn’t been buying all those bonnets because she’s frivolous – well, at least not just because she’s frivolous.

She’s been studying them. Lavinia has the talent, the taste and the style to become a fashion designer, or what her world calls a modiste. Diana’s upcoming wedding provides her with the opportunity to not merely arrange but actually create Diana’s incredible trousseau – and to receive commissions from all of her suppliers for the materials that are purchased for the wedding party. And from there to build a business that can pay back what her mother stole, fund her mother’s long-term care, replace her own dowry and even live independently.

In other words, more than enough commission to make a serious dent in the financial hole her mother has left them in. And that would be just the start.

But the misunderstandammit in the story is that Lavinia doesn’t want Parth to know that she’s working to pay off that debt. So the more she accomplishes, the more he sees her as still frittering away her time playing with expensive fashion. Even as they finally admit that all of their name calling and backbiting has been hiding their true feelings for each other – they aren’t quite able to let go of the hurt on both sides it has caused.

In the end, Parth has to give really good grovel, not just in begging for forgiveness, but in demonstrating that he finally understands just what a gem and an artist Lavinia truly is, for them to win through.

Lavinia, in some ways, has the harder task. She has to let go, not just of those old hurts, but the even older ones – that still small voice inside her head that sounds remarkably like her mother, that says she’s frivolous and stupid and shallow and insipid and that no one will ever pay any attention to anything she says or does.

Accepting that the voice is wrong is the hardest lesson of all.

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

To celebrate the release of BORN TO BE WILDE by Eloisa James, we’re giving away one hardcover set of THE WILDES OF LINDOW CASTLE series!

LINK: https://www.subscribepage.com/BornToBeWilde

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a hardcover set of The Wildes of Lindow Castle series by Eloisa James. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 8/10/2018 @ 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.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-29-18

Sunday Post

I was right about last week’s prediction of this week’s schedule. It did turn out to be a bit more aspirational than realistic. And I think this week’s might have some of the same issues. The packers are coming today, and the movers are coming tomorrow. I’m hoping to get stuff scheduled at least through Monday if not Tuesday by the point I collapse on Saturday evening. I’m prepping this post a bit early in furtherance of that goal.

We are a bit at sixes and sevens, as they say, at this point in the moving process. We haven’t cleaned up as ruthlessly as we have in the past, on the other hand our stuff doesn’t have to move across country, and we don’t have to worry about what we do and don’t need for two, three or even six weeks. All we have to do is get everything there and start unpacking. We try to unpack the bedroom the first evening, so we don’t wake up in the morning to a sea of boxes. It helps cut down on the whelm.

Freddie and Lucifer have no idea what’s about to happen. It’s going to be an adventure!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the A Scoop of Luck Giveaway Hop (ends TUESDAY!)
Shattered Silence by Marta Perry

Blog Recap:

B Review: Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillan
B+ Review: Shattered Silence by Marta Perry + Giveaway
B Review: Day of the Dead by Nicci French
A- Review: Untamed Cowboy by Maisey Yates
C+ Review: Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
Stacking the Shelves (298)

Coming Next Week:

Born to be Wilde by Eloisa James (blog tour review)
Frenchman Street by Suzanne Johnson (blog tour review)
The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal (blog tour review)
Hunting the Truth by Beate and Serge Klarsfeld (review)
The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen Brooks (blog tour review)