Sweet Goodness Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Sweet Goodness Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

The picture of that watermelon in the graphic above is a pretty good hint about just what kind of “sweet goodies” make up the theme for this hop. Watermelon still feels like one of the signature treats of summer – even if we can get it all year round now at the grocery store. Eating it in the winter just doesn’t feel the same – not even down here in Atlanta where winter usually doesn’t get very wintery.

Watermelon is for eating outdoors in the hot sunshine while seeing just how far you can spit the seeds. But wait – they grow seedless watermelons now. That just doesn’t seem right.

There are so many sweet and wonderful fruits that come into season during the summer. And even though you can get most of the all year now, it’s just not the same. And there are still a few things that, while you can get them everywhere, still taste better nearer to their point of origin – like Rainier Cherries in Washington State. Yum!

What about you? What sweet treat says (or tastes like) summer to you? Answer in the rafflecopter for your choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository. (Giveaway open wherever the Book Depository ships!)

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For more sweet 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: Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn + Giveaway

Review: Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn + GiveawayRelative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Julia Kydd #1
Pages: 320
Published by Lake Union Publishing on August 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

In 1920s New York, the price of a woman’s independence can be exorbitant—even fatal.

In 1924 Manhattan, women’s suffrage is old news. For sophisticated booklover Julia Kydd, life’s too short for politics. With her cropped hair and penchant for independent living, Julia wants only to launch her own new private press. But as a woman, Julia must fight for what’s hers—including the inheritance her estranged half brother, Philip, has challenged, putting her aspirations in jeopardy.

When her friend’s sister, Naomi Rankin, dies suddenly of an apparent suicide, Julia is shocked at the wealthy family’s indifference toward the ardent suffragist’s death. Naomi chose poverty and hardship over a submissive marriage and a husband’s control of her money. Now, her death suggests the struggle was more than she could bear.

Julia, however, is skeptical. Doubtful of her suspicions, Philip proposes a glib wager: if Julia can prove Naomi was in fact murdered, he’ll drop his claims to her wealth. Julia soon discovers Naomi’s life was as turbulent and enigmatic as her death. And as she gets closer to the truth, Julia sees there’s much more at stake than her inheritance…

My Review:

The title of this one is certainly a play on the words “relative” and “fortunes” and just how they relate to each other – with a heaping helping of the corruption of the old saying about where there’s a will, there’s a way – not that that doesn’t also apply.

But in the case of this story, the version of that cliche that I’m thinking of is the one that goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a relative” or even a bunch of relatives, all with their hands out for a piece of the estate – no matter how small.

The beginning of this story involves two different wills in two different families involving two very much alive female legatees. At least until things go completely pear-shaped.

And if you are reading this while female, the number of times that the males in this story control their female siblings’ money and their very lives, supposedly for their own good, will make you grit your teeth and want to scream.

Which doesn’t change the fact that there’s a dead body, an absolutely disgusting coverup, and a desperate need for Julia Kydd to solve the mystery – so she can protect her friend, so that she can wrest some of her own money from her half-brother’s oh-so-protective hands, and so that she can stake out her own claim on independence.

If she can just get past all the men trying to pat her on the head, tell her not to worry her pretty little self and just marry someone already so that she can become some other man’s burden. When all she really wants to do is determine her own life for her own self.

And who can blame her?

Escape Rating B-: This is a story with a lot to unpack in it. Some of which drove me absolutely bonkers.

I was expecting a historical mystery, with the emphasis on the mystery part of that equation. What I got instead was historical fiction, with the emphasis on the history, during which a murder happens to occur and get solved by the heroine.

This is also the first book in a series, and has to carry the weight of the set up of the series, the characters, and all of the worldbuilding to put it properly within its frame – the Roaring 20s in New York City – and mostly among the glitterati.

In the end, although the murder actually takes place before the story opens, the race to solve it doesn’t really kick into gear until ¾ of the way through the book. Discovering that solution is a race to the finish, but the setup is a very slow burn – and I certainly burned right along with Julia.

Julia’s reasons for being in New York, as well as the reason for Naomi Rankin’s death, are very much wrapped up in all of the ways that men can and often do subjugate women, and all the ways that the system of the patriarchy is set up to not merely allow them to do it, but actively encourages them to do so. For the women’s own good, of course.

And that particular theme is a drumbeat over that first ¾ of the book. That things really were that way isn’t up for debate. They were, it was awful, and things aren’t as much better now as we like to think they are. But I got tired of being beaten about the head with those facts over and over and over. As, no doubt, the women subject to them did.

There would have been plenty of other ways to make those same points while still getting on with the mystery, which was itself completely wrapped up in women’s rights and women’s issues. The situation was bad, and the death of Naomi Rankin and the reasons for it offered plenty of opportunities for highlighting just how bad it was without hitting the reader over the head with it at every turn in that long setup.

Particularly as there was so much setup and exposition that the identity of the murderer and at least some of their motives (although not all) became obviously fairly early on.

Your mileage may vary, particularly as the historical detail is excellent. As a reader, I would have been happier with a bit less setup and a bit more mystery. But what I did get was interesting enough that I’ll be back for the next book in the series, Passing Fancies.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Relative Fortunes to one US/CAN commenter on this tour. And I’ll be extremely interested to discover what that reader thinks of the story!

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Review: Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Review: Lady in the Lake by Laura LippmanLady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, mystery, thriller
Pages: 340
Published by William Morrow on July 23, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The revered New York Times bestselling author returns with a novel set in 1960s Baltimore that combines modern psychological insights with elements of classic noir, about a middle-aged housewife turned aspiring reporter who pursues the murder of a forgotten young woman.

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know--everyone, that is, except Madeline "Maddie" Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she's bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl--assistance that leads to a job at the city's afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie--and the dead woman herself. Maddie's going to find the truth about Cleo's life and death. Cleo's ghost, privy to Maddie's poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie's investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life--a jewelery store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people--including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.

My Review:

The lady in that lake in Baltimore isn’t actually the lady that everybody thinks is under the lake. She also isn’t the central character of this story about the discovery of said lady, or about all the ripples that discovery causes through the lives of all the people involved.

In spite of the title, and in spite of her ghost commenting on events, this story is not about the lady IN the lake, Cleo Sherwood. Rather, the story focuses on the woman who found that lady in the lake, Maddie Schwartz. And that’s exactly the way that Maddie would want it. Because it’s really all about her. It’s always all about her.

It’s so much all about her that she never seems to have a thought for all the people she leaves damaged in her wake. Not even the lady in the lake who catapults her to fame.

Escape Rating B: The pipes for that fountain in that lake must have one heck of a lot of suction going on somewhere. Because I got sucked into this book almost in spite of myself. I kept thinking I’d put it away for the night, but then just one more chapter, just one more person, and then I was done.

I also got just a bit weirded out at one point. Maddie and my mother were born the same year. Wondering if my mom ever had any of the internal thoughts and feelings that Maddie did kind of gave me the heebie-jeebies. Ironically, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if my mom had some of the same career thoughts and aspirations – although hopefully not the rest.

(Two things no one likes to think about – their parents having sex and their children having sex. We all know it happens, but that doesn’t mean we want to dwell on it even for a nanosecond.)

The structure of this story is interesting – and more than a bit distancing. Although Maddie is the main point of view character, she’s not the only one. The first time she interacts with someone, the reader is then given that person’s perspective on the encounter in general and Maddie in particular.

Those perspectives are not kind. Usually pretty spot on, but not kind. Maddie is not a likable protagonist. She’s more like the eye of a hurricane. Everyone focuses on her, and that’s what she wants, while she ignores all the trouble that her storm creates. Like that hurricane, Maddie’s story sucks you in and spits you out – but it isn’t a comfortable journey. Interesting, but not comfortable.

At the same time, the story manages to say quite a bit about a lot of things through those various perspectives. Seeing life in the mid-1960s through that variety of perspectives, we hear about still-rampant Antisemitism, the universality of structural racism, the intractable misogyny of work life in general and newspaper journalism in particular. Through all those thoughts and feelings we get a slice of life in the 1960s, and it rings true.

The story kind of sits at the boundary between mystery and thriller. Except for one brief but telling escapade, Maddie herself is never in true danger. No one is stalking her – this isn’t that kind of story. She puts plenty of other people in danger or at least distress – usually inadvertently. She doesn’t believe she’s really doing anything wrong – even when she is. That her single-minded self-centered laser focus puts other people at risk is never her fault.

But the slow unraveling of the two intertwined mysteries that make Maddie’s career are thrilling. Maddie literally does not know what she is doing most of the time – just that she has a driving need to be the center of it all, again and again and again. And she has an instinct about what parts of a story – or which people – are hiding something that she desperately wants to uncover – and just how to uncover it, no matter what it takes. Or who.

So that’s what she does. But the greatest secret of all, the one that really makes her career, turns out to be not what she expected. And it contains a truth that she can never reveal. After everything we’ve learned about Maddie, it feels like it serves her right.

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

Review: A Conspiracy of Wolves by Candace Robb

Review: A Conspiracy of Wolves by Candace RobbA Conspiracy of Wolves (Owen Archer #11) by Candace Robb
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Owen Archer #11
Pages: 256
Published by Severn House Publishers on August 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

1374. When a member of one of York’s most prominent families is found dead in the woods, his throat torn out, rumours spread like wildfire that wolves are running loose throughout the city. Persuaded to investigate by the victim’s father, Owen Archer is convinced that a human killer is responsible. But before he can gather sufficient evidence to prove his case, a second body is discovered, stabbed to death. Is there a connection? What secrets are contained within the victim’s household? And what does apprentice healer Alisoun know that she’s not telling? Teaming up with Geoffrey Chaucer, who is in York on a secret mission on behalf of Prince Edward, Owen’s enquiries will draw him headlong into a deadly conspiracy.

My Review:

When I reviewed the previous book in the Owen Archer series, A Vigil of Spies, nearly four years ago, it read as an ending to the series. I wasn’t certain that it was the ending, but it felt very much like it was. Owen’s patron, mentor and employer, John Thoresby, the Archbishop of York, lies dying throughout the story, only to pass, as he did in history, late in the year 1373.

The story felt like it was closing down. Owen Archer seemed to have finished his metamorphosis from the slightly lost and somewhat resentful ex-soldier that he was at the very beginning of the series in The Apothecary Rose, becoming a trusted agent for Thoresby and protector of the city of York, as well as an experienced investigator and a loving and fulfilled family man.

But Owen is just into middle age, made comfortably well-off by Thoresby’s final bequests and actions, but not nearly ready to settle into a life of leisure – or even a life of merely managing his estates.

As A Conspiracy of Wolves opens, Owen in on his way back to York after a visit to those estates, and pondering his options. Options that seem to be in conflict, a conflict that is pointed out rather insistently when Owen is asked to investigate a murder that seems to have been caused by rampaging wolves.

It’s up to Owen to determine whether those wolves have four legs or two, before hysteria grips the entire city.

The case is murky, and so is Owen’s future. He has to figure out the motive for what becomes a series of murders and attempts at it before he can determine who is behind it all. While at every turn he feels caught between his duty to the city and the request, to be read as an order, that he has received from Court.

He wants to stay in York, but he also wants the access to information and authority that comes with serving the crown. But if he doesn’t solve these grisly murders, neither will want his service – nor could he live with himself.

Escape Rating B: The Owen Archer series is an absolutely terrific historical mystery series. Owen, and his wife Lucie the apothecary, change and grow over the course of their adventures, and the author does an excellent job of exploring the world of 14th century York and the swirl of politics that surrounds the capital of the North. This is certainly a series that deepens as it goes, and will reward readers who start at the beginning. After all, Owen comes to York in The Apothecary Rose  to investigate Lucie as a possible murderer. It’s fun to see how they go from mutual suspicion to domestic partnership!

But, as much as I loved this series, I had a difficult time getting into this particular entry. I was very happy to be back in York with these characters, but the beginning of the story felt as murky as Owen’s personal decision making-process.

At the beginning, Owen doesn’t know where he’s going, he doubts what he is doing, and so do we. That the case he’s working on is a confused mess doesn’t help either him or us.

In the 14th century that Owen operates in, forensic science is pretty much non-existent as we know it. He’s forced to rely on observations, his own and other people’s. And while Owen may see clearer than most in spite of the loss of one of his eyes before the series opened, he still only knows what is seen and heard. The body he investigates was meant to appear as though the victim had died from being mauled by a wolf, but he is willing to look deeper – and it doesn’t take much observation – as long as it is detached – to see that under the horrific teeth and claw marks there’s a long, clean gash – the kind made by a sharp knife. Wolves don’t carry knives.

So someone wants it to look like a wolf attacked and wants to get everyone stirred up and suspicious. But of whom – and for what? Owen begins the case with no clue of what and why, only a body.

It takes him a long time – relatively – to learn what this is really all about. Plenty of time and effort for him to doubt himself – even if others do not. And equally plenty of time for pressure to be applied from all sides – to solve the case, and to decide his own fate.

I think that part of my struggle with the story was that I missed the political angles – as does Owen. He misses the authority he used to have, not because he wants power over people, but because it cut through a whole lot of corners. He often feels stymied in his investigation by needing to find allies or seek permission – something he has long lost his taste for.

Once the pieces of the case come together – basically once enough people have died or been attacked that they all stop lying and prevaricating, the conclusion arrives in a flurry of action – and pages.

At the end, Owen does find a way to convince both of his potential masters that they are better off working together through him rather than fighting over his possible service. And his service to the Crown will put him into the thick of the machinations that surrounded the deaths of the Black Prince and Edward III, deaths that set up the decades-long succession fight yet to come. A fight that history has come to call the Wars of the Roses.

This will be grand. Also bloody and messy. But definitely grand.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-28-19

Sunday Post

Last week was one of those weeks when the schedule went WONK! Which means this week kind of went the same way. And I just figured out that I confused our arrival day with our departure day for Worldcon, so I have one less day than I thought to get everything done before we leave. So many books, so little time, so much to do, so little time to do it in! I foresee a LOT of caffeine in my immediate future!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Christmas in July Giveaway Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the All That Glitters is Gold Giveaway Hop
Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean

Winner Announcements:

The winner of When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal is Nancy P.

Blog Recap:

A- Review: The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory
A+ Review: Becoming Superman by J. Michael Straczynski
B+ Review: Sentinel by Anna Hackett
A Guest Review by Amy: Second Time Around by Nancy Herkness
B+ Review: Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (350)

Coming This Week:

A Conspiracy of Wolves by Candace Robb (review)
The Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman (blog tour review)
Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn (blog tour review)
Sweet Goodness Giveaway Hop
Forgotten Bones by Vivian Barz (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (350)

Stacking the Shelves

More than I thought – as usual! And one book that I’ve been really, really looking forward to. That would be Crush the King by Jennifer Estep. That series has been absolutely fantastic so far and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to see where it goes next – without having to wait until next March!

For Review:
The Bone Ships (Tide Child #1) by RJ Barker
Crush the King (Crown of Shards #3) by Jennifer Estep
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
The German House by Annette Hess
The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott
Lost You by Haylen Beck
A Lush and Seething Hell by John Hornor Jacobs
The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blalock
The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott
The Price of Grace (Black Ops Confidential #2) by Diana Muñoz Stewart
Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate Quinn, Sophie Perinot, Laura Kamoie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Heather Webb
St. Frances Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England Noblin
Taaqtumi by Aviaq Johnston, Richard Van Camp, Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley, Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, Anguti Johnston and Repo Kempt

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan #1) by Arkady Martine (audio)
The Orphans of Raspay (Penric and Desdemona #7) by Lois McMaster Bujold

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


Review: Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean + Giveaway

Review: Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean + GiveawayBrazen and the Beast (The Bareknuckle Bastards, #2) by Sarah MacLean
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Bareknuckle Bastards #2)
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on July 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Lady’s Plan

When Lady Henrietta Sedley declares her twenty-ninth year her own, she has plans to inherit her father’s business, to make her own fortune, and to live her own life. But first, she intends to experience a taste of the pleasure she’ll forgo as a confirmed spinster. Everything is going perfectly…until she discovers the most beautiful man she’s ever seen tied up in her carriage and threatening to ruin the Year of Hattie before it’s even begun.

The Bastard’s Proposal

When he wakes in a carriage at Hattie’s feet, Whit, a king of Covent Garden known to all the world as Beast, can’t help but wonder about the strange woman who frees him—especially when he discovers she’s headed for a night of pleasure . . . on his turf. He is more than happy to offer Hattie all she desires…for a price.

An Unexpected Passion

Soon, Hattie and Whit find themselves rivals in business and pleasure. She won’t give up her plans; he won’t give up his power . . . and neither of them sees that if they’re not careful, they’ll have no choice but to give up everything . . . including their hearts.

My Review:

I picked up Brazen and the Beast because I enjoyed the first book in the series, Wicked and the Wallflower, and wanted to see where the story went from there.

There is plenty to love in this series – and this story in that series. Particularly for readers of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series and/or Sophie Barnes’ Diamonds in the Rough series.

Because the story of the Bareknuckle Bastards is a story about the underbelly of the Regency and post-Regency periods, as are both of those series. The actual Bareknuckle Bastards themselves, Devil (hero of Wicked and the Wallflower) and his brother Beast here in Brazen and the Beast are the uncrowned kings of Covent Garden and the working-class districts that surround it.

The bastards control the area, and all the legal – and definitely all the illegal – trade that takes place therein. And their people love them for it, because the bastards provide good well-paying jobs, protection and economic security for their fiefdom.

A fiefdom that they have, and will, defend to the death.

And that’s where Hattie Sedley careens into the picture. She’s a “lady” but not a “Lady” – and she’d rather not be either. Her father is an Earl, but it’s a life peerage, so he can’t pass it on to her brother. And that’s a good thing, because Augie Sedley is a waste of space.

It’s Hattie who is her father’s true heir in every way that matters, but the man can’t see past the fact that she’s a woman.

She’s also 29, big and loud and brash and brazen, so society has put her very firmly on the shelf. A shelf that she is happy to occupy, as long as she gets to take care of her father’s shipping business. And that’s a possibility that she is determined to seize with both hands – and that her brother seems determined to ruin. Stealing from the Bareknuckle Bastards isn’t just stupid – it’s downright suicidal. But Augie doesn’t care that he’ll take the family with him.

It’s up to Hattie to “negotiate” with Beast to find her family a way out of Augie’s mess – and to figure out how she can win the business into the bargain.

But there are more wheels turning than even Hattie can see, and more consequences than she knows. She’s met her match in Beast. But he’s met his match in her just as much. Figuring out that he can love her, or he can protect her, but that he can’t manage both makes for a hot, sparky (sometimes literally) romance!

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot to love in Brazen and the Beast – in multiple ways. First, there’s just a lot of Hattie Sedley to love – and Beast loves her just the way she is – as do the readers.

Hattie manages to absolutely ooze body positivity while at the same showing just how vulnerable her differences have made her – and that those differences haven’t kept her from reaching for what she wants.

Hattie is big and tall and bold in a society that expects women to be tiny and demure, to be seen as little as possible and not heard at all. And she can’t be any of those things, so she does her best to be who and what she is. At the same time, she’s still very aware of how she’s seen – and it hurts her.

Society seeks a freak, but Beast sees a queen – and he makes Hattie not just see herself that way, but embrace that identity. All the parts of her that high society wants to quash are just the parts that the more realistic world around Covent Garden values.

What makes the romance between Hattie and Beast (his actual name is Whit), so fascinating is its central conflict. Not that there aren’t plenty of secondary and ancillary conflicts. The tension between Hattie and Whit over who will get the better of whom and Whit’s need to protect his people vs. Hattie’s need to protect hers sparks and sizzles on every page.

The romantic conflict is all about how they will define their relationship to each other, and how that ties into their essential selves. Whit is a protector. It’s who he is, it’s what he does, and he can’t seem to turn off that side of his nature. That his society in general believes that women should be protected at every turn just adds to his deep-rooted need to protect everyone he cares for.

But that is not what Hattie is built for. For her, protection is a cage. She has to be his partner – or she’ll be nothing to him at all. It’s a hard lesson for him to learn – and he only figures it out when he has no choice. But he does get it by the end – and that’s what gives this story its heart.

There are two very hard parts to this book. One is the opening. Until Hattie and Beast have their first real meeting in the high class female-serving (and not female-using) brothel, a lot of her self-talk revolves around just how hard it is to get her father to see that she’s the better fit to run the shipping business. Because she so obviously is, her brother is so obviously an idiot, and her father is just being ridiculously obtuse. It’s everything that women hate about the patriarchy, and is compounded because her father was awarded that life peerage for being an excellent businessman. His estate will not be entailed and he can bequeath whatever to whoever. The same man who built the business couldn’t be that big an idiot.

And then there’s the overarching story of this series. Devil, Beast, their half-brother Ewan and their adopted sister Grace all suffered – extremely – under the machinations of their father the Duke. Ewan “won” the competition to become the Duke’s heir, and in the process betrayed the rest of them. He’s been pursuing them ever since because he wants Grace. Ewan’s stalkerish pursuit/revenge has been dastardly from the very beginning, and his obsession with Grace is frankly a bit creepy. It’s clear from the teaser at the end of Brazen and the Beast that the next story, Daring and The Duke, will finally resolve that long-standing issue.

And do I ever wonder how that’s going to work out!

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

I’m giving away a copy of Brazen and the Beast to one very lucky US/Can commenter on this tour!

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Guest Review: Second Time Around by Nancy Herkness

Guest Review: Second Time Around by Nancy HerknessSecond Time Around (Second Glances, #1) by Nancy Herkness
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Second Glances #1
Pages: 332
Published by Montlake Romance on July 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

A former love makes a lasting impression in a warm and sexy romance from Nancy Herkness.

Kyra Dixon, a blue-collar girl from the boondocks, is dedicated to her job at a community center that matches underprivileged kids with rescue dogs. When she runs into Will Chase—Connecticut blue blood, billionaire CEO, and her old college crush—she’s surprised that he asks a favor from her: to be his date for his uptight family’s dreaded annual garden party. If his parents don’t approve, all the better.

Kyra’s not about to say no. It’ll give her a chance to be oh-so-close to her unrequited love. What begins as a little fling turns so mad hot, so fast, that Kyra finds herself falling all over again for a fantasy that won’t come true. How can it? She doesn’t belong in Will’s world. She doesn’t want to. But Will does want to belong in hers.

All he has to do now is prove it. Will is prepared to give up whatever is necessary to get what his heart most desires.

Guest Review by Amy:

Kyra is a Responsible Woman. Growing up, she couldn’t wait to get away from home to go to college, no matter what her family wanted. But after her father died, and her mother ran up credit card bills in Kyra’s name (and then died), Kyra never finished; she’s working two gigs, scratching away at that pyramid of debt. She doesn’t have time for any shenanigans from any man. Nope.  But she stops in for a wrap at one of her favorite chain restaurants, and…there he sits. Will.

It’s the guy who she drooled over in college, but never dated, of course.  And, of course, he owns the restaurant; he just happened to be on an inspection run of his locations. There’s some catching-up, good-to-see-you chitchat, and then he comes around to her night job at a ritzy bar, to ask her out, to a big family gathering his mother puts on every year. Oh, and yeah, the upper-crust parents won’t approve of this working-class girl, but he’s got a point to make.

Escape Rating: A: If, reading what I just wrote, you got the impression that Will is just using Kyra to make the point to his parents that they can’t just foist women on him – including his ex! – then you’ve read it right. That’s the impression I got, too, and I was a tiny bit sour on the character from the get-go as a result. But it emerges over time that Will’s had a problem with his parents for basically his whole life. His mother, in particular, is a stellar manipulator, and he’s finally busting out of the family mold. He was supposed to be a lawyer in the family firm, but he went out on his own, found funding, and started a chain of restaurants, with great success. This upsets Daddy and infuriates Mummy, but he just has to do things his way, and live his own life.

When Will and Kyra get to the Spring Fling (in his helicopter, natch!), Will has a bit of an epiphany. While he was dating the debutantes in college, and getting hurt over and over, Kyra was always right there. And he liked that (duh!), so maybe this more than just…well, whatever. You see where this is going, I’m sure. He falls for her (again), can’t live without her, and so it goes, a pretty-predictable rich-man/poor-woman story.

What makes this book stand out as more than just ordinary, for this reader, was the lovely complexity of the subplots that swirl around these two. Will’s ex-girlfriend is still around, and still pining for him, even though she doesn’t understand him at all, being one of those floofy debutantes that he has grown beyond. There’s the whole family drama with Will’s mother and father (and sister, who is an attorney in the family firm, and tense about it). There’s Kyra’s day job at an after-school care, where they also match families with rescue dogs, and her relationship with some of the kids and dogs there. There is a fair bit going on here, for what I thought was going to be a shallow, easy summer read. Easy, yes. Shallow, not so much. The convergence of all these threads gives us the key to better understanding for our protagonists.

Our leads, of course, have history that they’re both unwilling at first to talk about, mostly because of embarrassment, and their internal dialogues around those things give us a solid feel for what’s going on in their heads. There isn’t a whole lot of reason these two shouldn’t be together, and we know it well before they do, but they figure it out fairly shortly, and we’re given a sweet ending that sees the whole cast in a better, happier situation going forward. Exeunt omnes, complete with helicopters and yachts and fancy sandwiches and designer dog chow and smiles from kids.

What started out on a mildly sour note for me, turned into a sweet, well-crafted story I could sink my teeth into and enjoy. I hope you enjoy it, too.

 

 

Review: Sentinel by Anna Hackett

Review: Sentinel by Anna HackettSentinel (Galactic Gladiators: House Of Rone #1) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators: House Of Rone #1
Pages: 209
Published by Anna Hackett on July 21st 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Fighting for love, loyalty, and freedom on the galaxy’s lawless outer rim…

When Quinn Bennett’s exploration ship is attacked, the security chief finds herself abducted by alien slavers. Unable to save her crew, she is taken across the galaxy and sold to a desert scavenger on the lawless planet of Carthago. Driven by her guilt and failure, she’ll do anything to escape and save the other abductees from her ship. Chained and forced into servitude, she’s waiting for her chance to strike, when across a dusty trading post, she comes face to face with a big, cyborg gladiator.

Jaxer Rone’s loyalty is to his imperator—the man who saved him from a lethal cyborg military program. Jax works tirelessly for his gladiatorial house and would die for his fellow cyborgs. His emotional dampeners have never functioned well, but while he feels some emotion, he never lets it get in the way of his duty. Right now, his mission is to find the stolen humans from Earth. But when he rescues the fierce, relentless Quinn, he starts feeling a rush of emotion he’s never experienced before.

Quinn and Jax join forces to track down the aliens holding the other Earth women captive. Side by side, they venture into the desert and uncover a desire hotter than the desert suns. But the aliens who captured Quinn want her back. In order to protect Quinn, will Jax embrace his newfound feelings or shut them off to keep her safe?

My Review:

In my review of Cyborg, one of the last books in the Galactic Gladiators series – and the direct precursor to Sentinel – I opined that the series could continue indefinitely without feeling thing and stretched the way that the author’s Hell Squad series has begun to feel, at least for this reader.

And here we have that continuation, and it’s every bit as much fun as the series from which it sprang.

The premise of the Galactic Gladiators series was that a temporary wormhole opened up between far, far distant Carthago and Jupiter Station in our own solar system. The wormhole was exploited by the slave-trading Thraxians, who kidnapped a bunch of humans from Jupiter Station and dragged them back to Carthago before the wormhole closed.

By the end of the final book in the series, Imperator, all of the humans who had been rescued from the Station had found their HEA with the gladiators of the House of Galen and their allies. One of said allies is Magnus Rone, cyborg and Imperator of his own gladiatorial house.

In Alien Hunter, part of the novella duo Hunter that bridges between the Galactic Gladiators series and the new House of Rone series, our friends discover that Jupiter Station was not the only place in our solar system that the Thraxians raided. At least one ship on it way to Jupiter from Earth was also picked up on that raid – so there’s a whole new batch of Earth humans to find and rescue.

A journey that begins in Sentinel, the first book of the House of Rone.

The House of Rone, in general, offers a deeper dive into the science fictional world that the author has created. Galen’s house is primarily a gladiatorial house. That’s how they make their money, and that’s how they support all of the members of the house and its operations, including the underground mission of not just rescuing Earthan refugees, but of buying and freeing as many people as possible who have been enslaved in the less-savory gladiatorial houses.

All of the gladiators in Galen’s house are free. They fight willingly – and very successfully – in the Kor Magna Arena.

The House of Rone has a more multifaceted operation. Magnus Rone and his fellow cyborgs are not allowed to fight in the arena. They have an extremely unfair advantage because of their cybernetic enhancements. Which does not mean that the House of Rone doesn’t compete in the arena. Magnus has plenty of unenhanced but skillful and effective fighters who compete under his House’s banner.

He has also funded a highly sought after medical service that sells cybernetic limbs to the wealthy and provides replacement limbs free of charge to those who need them but can’t afford them. While the research into cybernetics is self-serving in that he and his inner circle all require those services themselves, using that same research to help others is very much not.

Magnus began his house by rescuing his fellow cyborgs, starting with Jaxer, the hero of Sentinel. Most of the cyborgs in the House of Rone have faulty programming – much like Magnus himself. They were supposed to be programmed not to feel, but underneath – or in one case outside of – the enhancements they are men and not machines.

When the faults in Jaxer’s programming became so obvious that he was about to be terminated, Magnus rescued them both and brought them to Kor Magna. All of the stories in the House of Rone series look like they will be about the cyborgs of Magnus’ inner circle discovering just how many messy emotions are hiding under their usually impassive exteriors.

Jax is the first. His programming has always been the flakiest, so he has both hero-worshipped his rescuer Magnus and feels duty-bound to help shoulder some of his rescuer’s burdens now that Magnus has found his own surprising HEA. Magnus promised Galen that he would continue the search and rescue of the Earthan refugees and Jax intends to take over as much of that effort as he possibly can.

And that’s what sends him into the path of Quinn Bennett, the former ship’s security chief and now slave on Carthago. In spite of her terrible circumstances, Quinn is beaten but not bowed. Her spirit is still alive and fighting, and when she sees the cyborgs, she does her best to help them, in spite of the beating that follows.

Jax sees her – and now he has a specific woman to rescue – not just the duty of rescuing faceless people he’s never met. Not that he won’t, and not that they don’t deserve rescue. But in spite of everything he tells himself, over and over, Jax wants to rescue Quinn for himself.

Even if he doesn’t think he deserves her. Especially because he doesn’t think he deserves her. But who is he to tell Quinn what she needs, wants or deserves?

Escape Rating B+: I realize that I’ve written a lot about the setup of this story. Consider that a sign that in spite of Sentinel being the first book of a new series, the majority of the worldbuilding for this series is in the previous series. In other words, Sentinel is probably not the best place to start. I’m not sure you’d have to read the entire Galactic Gladiators series to get into Sentinel, but at least the first one or two plus Cyborg and the novella Alien Hunter in Hunter.

Why not just begin at the beginning at binge? This series is a whole lot of fun from beginning to current end – and I expect the fun to continue in future entries.

One of the things that I continue to love about this series is that in spite of so many strikes against them, the refugees from Earth are not damsels in distress. They don’t need “rescue” in the traditional sense, they just need a little help rescuing themselves. And they are active participants in everything that happens from that initial intervention to adapting to their new world to finding their HEA and claiming it.

They are all kickass, but they are not all kickass in the same way. Some have been warriors, but they’ve also been engineers and computer geeks and doctors and pretty much everything else. There’s no one way to be a heroine in this series (or in any of this author’s work)

However, one thing about the Galactic Gladiators series as a whole, including the House of Rone spinoff, that’s starting to stretch my willing suspension of disbelief just a tiny bit – although certainly not enough to keep me from continuing to enjoy the series.

Jupiter Station, and any ships en route to or from it, would presumably have had crews consisting of all genders. But all of the books in the series, with the notable exception of Champion, have featured an Earthan female and a male from somewhere in the wider universe. Only in Champion is that reversed.

If there were extremely few men on Jupiter Station and the ships servicing it – why? If the Thraxians chose to only capture females – why? I find the second possibility more likely than the first, but there must be a reason. Especially since I’d love to see one of the books in this series feature a female warrior and a male who is not. There are certainly plenty of female gladiators to make this a possible scenario.

Consider the above comment my the first item on my “wish list” for this series. Because I do love it and want to see it go more places and do more things. It’s a big galaxy!

The House of Rone continues in Defender, coming in August. Oooh!, something for me to look forward to, to bring me out of my post-WorldCon blahs!

Review: Becoming Superman by J. Michael Straczynski

Review: Becoming Superman by J. Michael StraczynskiBecoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood by J. Michael Straczynski
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: autobiography, biography, science fiction
Pages: 460
Published by Harper Voyager on July 23, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

With an introduction by Neil Gaiman!

In this dazzling memoir, the acclaimed writer behind Babylon 5, Sense8, Clint Eastwood's Changeling and Marvel's Thor reveals how the power of creativity and imagination enabled him to overcome the horrors of his youth and a dysfunctional family haunted by madness, murder and a terrible secret.

For four decades, J. Michael Straczynski has been one of the most successful writers in Hollywood, one of the few to forge multiple careers in movies, television and comics. Yet there's one story he's never told before: his own.

Joe's early life nearly defies belief. Raised by damaged adults--a con-man grandfather and a manipulative grandmother, a violent, drunken father and a mother who was repeatedly institutionalized--Joe grew up in abject poverty, living in slums and projects when not on the road, crisscrossing the country in his father's desperate attempts to escape the consequences of his past.

To survive his abusive environment Joe found refuge in his beloved comics and his dreams, immersing himself in imaginary worlds populated by superheroes whose amazing powers allowed them to overcome any adversity. The deeper he read, the more he came to realize that he, too, had a superpower: the ability to tell stories and make everything come out the way he wanted it. But even as he found success, he could not escape a dark and shocking secret that hung over his family's past, a violent truth that he uncovered over the course of decades involving mass murder.

Straczynski's personal history has always been shrouded in mystery. Becoming Superman lays bare the facts of his life: a story of creation and darkness, hope and success, a larger-than-life villain and a little boy who became the hero of his own life. It is also a compelling behind-the-scenes look at some of the most successful TV series and movies recognized around the world.

My Review:

I jumped at the chance to read this book and be on this tour because, well, basically because Babylon 5. Which I’ve watched more than once, and have frequently cited in regards to its treatment of chaos vs. order in the Shadow War. Because that dichotomy rears its head, over and over, in SF, in Fantasy, in life.

It’s what makes Loki such a fascinating character, because he represents chaos. While the MCU may equate chaos with evil, it ain’t necessarily so. There’s a reason why seemingly every mythology has a chaos avatar – because chaos and the response to it pushes us forward.

It’s what makes Ben Franklin’s quote about sacrificing freedom to obtain security so powerful, as freedom is generally a bit chaotic, while security generally aligns with order. But too much of either, no matter how well intentioned, is always a bad thing.

The surprising thing about this autobiography is just how much chaos swirled around the author’s early life. And that his adult response seems to have been, not to fight against the chaos, but to embrace it. To grow stronger from the fight – no matter how much it hurt.

And it’s a fascinating journey from beginning to end – even if – or especially because – it (and the author) took a very long walk through some very dark places.

Reality Rating A+: I opened this book, fell completely into it, and didn’t emerge until I turned the last page. Sort of like the first time I watched Babylon 5, somewhere in Season 3, and got so deeply entranced – or entrenched – that I went back to the beginning to catch up then waited with the proverbial bated breath for each episode thereafter.

One of the fascinating things about the author’s life is the way that he knows and addresses the fact that he might not be the most reliable narrator of the early parts of it. Not because of lies or embellishments – or at least not because of his own lies or embellishments. Rather because the people whose memories he is forced to rely on for the parts that take place before his birth or during his early childhood were themselves far from reliable. His family’s story is a story of lies and coverups hiding multiple essential and nasty truths.

All families have secrets. All families centered around any kind of abuse have particular kinds of secrets designed to protect the abuser from the consequences of their actions. All of that is in this life story.

But the dark heart hidden underneath all of that is even more rotten than most people have to deal with in one lifetime. And it left the kind of damage that makes all too many people not merely dysfunctional, but sets them up for a lifetime of perpetuating their abuse.

What makes this story so special? For one, the book is compulsively readable. I started and absolutely couldn’t put it down until about 2:30 in the morning – and not just because I wanted to get to the good parts. I felt so compelled because the man is a consummate storyteller, no matter how painful the story is. I was hooked and I stayed that way for 5 hours of reading, just as I stayed that way for 5 years of B5.

The story begins as a shitshow of epic proportions, travels inexorably from endless defeats to seeming victories to yet more defeats, only to rise and fall again and again, until the end is, not so much a triumph as a paean of gratitude for all the chances that came, and for all of the million-to-one shots that surprisingly and delightfully paid off.

And it’s an absolutely marvelous read every step of the way. Even the hard parts. Especially the hard parts. Because the author spares no one, particularly not himself.

My one and only regret about this book is that I didn’t have time to listen to the audio, which is read by the actor who played the clown-turned-emperor Londo Mollari on Babylon 5. The only way that could have been better would be if G’Kar were still with us to participate. And now, I think it’s time for a rewatch.

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