Review: The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

Review: The Grey Bastards by Jonathan FrenchThe Grey Bastards (The Lot Lands, #1) by Jonathan French
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Lot Lands #1
Pages: 432
Published by Crown on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A raucous, bawdy, blood-soaked adventure fantasy debut that's The Lord of the Rings reimagined by way of Sons of Anarchy.

Jackal is proud to be a Grey Bastard, member of a sworn brotherhood of half-orcs. Unloved and unwanted in civilized society, the Bastards eke out a hard life in the desolate no-man's-land called the Lots, protecting frail and noble human civilization from invading bands of vicious full-blooded orcs.

But as Jackal is soon to learn, his pride may be misplaced. Because a dark secret lies at the heart of the Bastards' existence--one that reveals a horrifying truth behind humanity's tenuous peace with the orcs, and exposes a grave danger on the horizon. On the heels of the ultimate betrayal, Jackal must scramble to stop a devastating invasion--even as he wonders where his true loyalties lie.

My Review:

A hero’s journey is still a hero’s journey, even if the hero has tusks, and so does his hog.

In spite of the many comparisons to Sons of Anarchy, the hogs ridden by the Grey Bastards and their half-orc kin are real hogs. The kind that sometimes get turned into bacon – although certainly not in this case. These hogs are bred for riding into battle – and for loyalty to their riders.

The story in The Grey Bastards starts out small, and at the same time in just a bit of in media res. On the one hand, the focus is fairly tight on young Jackal and his band of brothers – even though one of them is actually a sister. Except when she’s not.

The story begins with Jackal’s perspective and Jackal’s point-of-view, in the world that he knows and is completely familiar with – although we don’t. It’s not our world and doesn’t seem to be an analog for any of the traditional mythological or fantasy worlds, in spite of its inclusion of humans, orcs, half-orcs, elves, halflings and centaurs – all under different, descriptive and occasionally vulgar names.

Those familiar casts of beings also have different functions and attributes in this world than in more traditional fantasy. But I hesitate to call these versions twisted because they aren’t that. They feel organic to this created world, just different from what we are used to.

Jackal also doesn’t explain the way that things in his worldview are different from ours, because for him that’s the way it’s always been and always will be – at least at the beginning.

But as the story continues, Jackal’s world expands as the expected patterns of his life begin fragmenting and eventually falling apart. He tries to fix the wrongs that he observes – and they are wrongs – by attempting a takeover of the established order.

However, he’s young and not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. He may be partly right, but he is also still partly wrong, and just a bit young and dumb. He gets outmaneuvered and is forced to learn about his world as it really is, and not just the way he’s always told that it has been.

It’s clear that the expansion of his worldview is going to be the making of him – if that world survives the chaos that is rapidly descending upon it.

Escape Rating A+: There are going to be people who want to label this one grimdark. Jackal’s world is certainly in a state of decay, and there are plenty of times when his situation seems pretty grim. But this world isn’t operating in the shades of grey that are the hallmark of grimdark, in spite of the title.

Jackal wants to make things better. That the situation is actually worse than he has any clue about when the story begins doesn’t change the fact that he is always trying to improve the situation for not just his own people but also anyone else that he comes across who seems to be innocent or downtrodden or just caught up in a bad mess that is not of their own making.

Not that he isn’t more than willing to kill anyone on the other side – particularly those who perpetrated some of the “wrong” situations he comes across. He’s not sweetness and light, he’s a warrior from a brutal and warlike people, but he is trying to leave his world better than he found it.

It’s just that he’s naive enough in the beginning not to see just how bad it is – and how much worse it’s going to get. But he does seem to have a very real chance of fixing at least some of the things – once he gets his head out of his own ass.

There are certainly things about The Grey Bastards that will perturb some readers. The book is incredibly profane. Nearly all of the characters in this book cuss as much as Kiva Lagos in The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi. These two books otherwise have nothing to do with one another, except that both are first books in series that look to be awesome. But Kiva’s constant stream of cussing is epic in scope. None of the individual characters in The Grey Bastards cuss as much as Kiva does alone, but the sum totals feel similar. And equally appropriate for the characters and the story.

There is also a thread of what could be considered misogyny throughout The Grey Bastards, and not just because the story opens in a brothel. The leader of Jackal’s settlement claims that females are only good for two things, and I quote, “fucking and fetching.” His attitude, that females are only capable of being whores, bedwarmers (whores with only one partner) or errand runners is one that seems to be commonly held among the half-orcs – or at least the old guard.

At the same time, the pivotal character in this story is Fetching, the only female member of the warband. And her importance to the story is not as a love interest, but as a formidable fighter and one who ultimately makes the crucial decisions and takes up the mantle of leadership.

Many of the other strong and/or important characters are also female, the elf female Starling who helps to create a critical partnership and Beryl, the adopted mother of virtually the entire half-orc clan. They are, in every way, the equal of any of the males – and their roles in the story are much more important than most.

It feels like a “do as I say, not as I do” dichotomy. The world seems to be male dominated, while at the same time the female characters are crucial and mostly not in traditional female or in only traditional female roles. And it does seem to be one of the things that Jackal finds repugnant at least some of the time.

On my third hand, there’s definitely an attitude that all the whores are happy and enjoy their work and don’t wish for anything different. And while that’s theoretically possible, it feels beyond unlikely.

Obviously I have divided feelings on this particular score.

While I am completely out of hands on this, one of the things that I found fascinating was the way that foundational myths were used for so many purposes. Jackal and his cohort are taught a version of their story that was designed to inspire pride and loyalty AND cover up ugly truths. When it becomes necessary for Jackal to learn more and BE more, he is forced into learning the REAL truth about the formation of the Lot Lands and their true purpose in the scheme of things. While that truth doesn’t exactly set him free, it does give him better perspective and even more reasons to fight – and it also changes the battlefield.

I absolutely do not have divided feelings on the book as a whole. It was a compelling read from its intimate beginning to its eye-popping and world-breaking end. It feels like the opening of a huge, sprawling, brawling, epic fantasy series.I want more, and I want it now. But I’ll have to wait just a bit. The True Bastards ride next July.

Review: The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang + Giveaway

Review: The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang + GiveawayThe Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Pages: 364
Published by Lake Union Publishing on September 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Two hearts. Twice as vulnerable.

Manhattan, 1850. Born out of wedlock to a wealthy socialite and a nameless immigrant, Cora Lee can mingle with the rich just as easily as she can slip unnoticed into the slums and graveyards of the city. As the only female resurrectionist in New York, she’s carved out a niche procuring bodies afflicted with the strangest of anomalies. Anatomists will pay exorbitant sums for such specimens—dissecting and displaying them for the eager public.

Cora’s specialty is not only profitable, it’s a means to keep a finger on the pulse of those searching for her. She’s the girl born with two hearts—a legend among grave robbers and anatomists—sought after as an endangered prize.

Now, as a series of murders unfolds closer and closer to Cora, she can no longer trust those she holds dear, including the young medical student she’s fallen for. Because someone has no intention of waiting for Cora to die a natural death.

My Review:

In the end, Cora Lee isn’t quite impossible – merely highly improbable. But those improbabilities lead her to a fascinating and dangerous life on the margins of mid-19th century New York City in a way that makes for marvelous fiction – especially because it’s the most improbable aspects of her life that are based in fact.

There really were resurrectionists, not merely in New York City, but certainly in other places where the supply of corpses for anatomical study was insufficient to the needs of doctors, surgeons and their trainees to learn as much as possible about the ins and outs (so to speak) of the human anatomy before going into practice on living bodies.

While the practice of haunting graveyards and digging up recent corpses seems unsavory at best and disgusting at worst, it was necessary – if a bit ghoulish. As distasteful as the concept of digging up bodies for medical study may seem, the idea that all those would-be doctors and surgeons learn anatomy from dead bodies before they start cutting up live ones seems prudent, at least in retrospect.

And for anyone who thinks the practice of opening up the gallery to the general public seems prurient at best and obscene at worst, we still have plenty of examples of more sanitary versions of the same practice, such as the Bodies exhibition currently touring the world. (it’s here in Atlanta at the moment and no, we have not attended and have no interest in doing so.)

Making arrangements for the bodies to become corpses in an untimely fashion, however, is still murder. And that’s where this story gets its mystery from. Resurrectionist Cora Lee just keeps a watch on people who will make interesting (and lucrative) corpses. Someday they will naturally come into her hands, so to speak. Well, at least they’ll die of natural causes. The process by which Cora obtains their fresh corpse is fairly unnatural, not to mention downright criminal.

But someone is anticipating nature and killing the people on Cora’s list. And she fears she’s next.

Cora’s body should prove just as unusual a specimen as any of the recent victims, because Cora has two hearts. Doctors have been interested in “ottomizing” her since the day of her birth. That someone might want to hasten her death in order to open her chest is a fear that she and her family have lived with since the day she was born.

It’s ironic that her business as a resurrectionist gives her a finger on the pulse (so to speak) of any trade in unusual specimens in New York City. It should give her some warning if someone starts looking for her.

But she never expects that her greatest danger lies so close to home – or that her biggest rival may be the instrument of her deliverance.

Escape Rating B+: The story of The Impossible Girl is fascinating and creepy in equal measure. The tone at times feels almost like one of the “penny dreadfuls” so popular at the time, or like that of one of the Gothic mysteries that became so popular.

The character of Cora is one of duality, and not merely as a result of her two hearts. Cora also lives two lives, by day the consummate “lady”, and by night the hard-bitten resurrectionist. In order to maintain that separate between her daily life and her business life she also has two faces. By day she is Cora, and by night she is Cora’s twin brother Jacob. While Cora is a lady, Jacob is no gentleman, being rough, a bit brutish, and ruling their gang with an iron fist while Cora holds the velvet glove.

Jacob is both Cora’s disguise and her protection – as well as her instrument of freedom. As a man, Jacob has the ability to go wherever he wants, do whatever he wants, see whatever he needs to see and punch out whoever needs to be punched.

Even without the need to conceal her anatomical aberrance, Cora, as a female in mid-19th century New York City, is never, ever free. She is constantly hedged around by the restrictions placed on women in her society, restrictions that Jacob allows her to escape whenever she needs to or she must.

While the central mystery of this story is creepy and chilling, it was unfortunately a little too easy for this reader to figure out. I’ll admit that I guessed what was going on, and who was perpetrating it, just a bit too early to give The Impossible Girl an A grade.

But the story is imminently readable. Cora’s character, intelligence and rather unique solution to her own multiple dilemmas is absolutely absorbing. And the portrait of mid-19th century New York City on the margins draws the reader into the center of its mass of contradictions from the very first page.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Impossible Girl to one very lucky US commenter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Review: A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayA Notorious Vow (The Four Hundred, #3) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Four Hundred #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Joanna Shupe returns to New York City’s Gilded Age, where fortunes and reputations are gained and lost with ease—and love can blossom from the most unlikely charade

With the fate of her disgraced family resting on her shoulders, Lady Christina Barclay has arrived in New York City from London to quickly secure a wealthy husband. But when her parents settle on an intolerable suitor, Christina turns to her reclusive neighbor, a darkly handsome and utterly compelling inventor, for help.

Oliver Hawkes reluctantly agrees to a platonic marriage . . . with his own condition: The marriage must end after one year. Not only does Oliver face challenges that are certain to make life as his wife difficult, but more importantly, he refuses to be distracted from his life’s work—the development of a revolutionary device that could transform thousands of lives, including his own.

Much to his surprise, his bride is more beguiling than he imagined. When temptation burns hot between them, they realize they must overcome their own secrets and doubts, and every effort to undermine their marriage, because one year can never be enough.

My Review:

While A Notorious Vow is the third book in the Four Hundred series, it is absolutely not necessary to have read the first two in order to get into this one – but for an unusual reason.

Although the stories all take place within the same place and time, and even though our protagonists do meet the Hatchers (the h/h of the first book, A Daring Arrangement) the previous couples and previous stories don’t really impinge on this one.

Because for very different reasons, both Oliver and Christina are pretty much recluses. Neither of them moves in society at all, because neither of them wants to. A decision that comes back to bite both of them during the course of this story.

And, in the best romantic tradition, neither of them initially believes it about the other.

Oliver Hawkes, a young, wealthy and brilliant inventor as well as reclusive investor, is deaf, and has been since a bout of scarlet fever in his early teens. He remembers being able to hear, but no longer can. Equally, he can no longer stand the terrible treatment he suffered at the hands of so-called “society” as everyone mocked not just the voice he could no longer hear, but also his ability to “speak” with his hands and his need to write down complex thoughts – and receive their replies, in a small notebook.

He is more than wealthy enough not to need a “day job” and quite capable of living mostly on his own. Within his own house, the staff have all learned enough sign language to communicate, and he lives quite well and is reasonably content. Until Christina quite literally falls into his lap.

Actually she falls in his garden, with the enthusiastic “help” of his dog Apollo, who knocks her down in his enthusiasm to greet a new person.

Christina’s desire to retreat from society is due to an extreme lack of confidence – a lack that has been instilled in her, and is constantly reinforced, by her greedy, grasping mother. Christina is always and forever a disappointment, and her lack of confidence allows the crueler elements of society to make fun of her at every turn.

The truth is that all of them are jealous of her in one way or another, including, most especially, her mother. But Christina has been programmed practically from birth not to be able to see it.

Christina and her parents are in New York out of the necessity of repairing the family fortunes. Christina’s father-the-earl is an inveterate gambler – and not a winner. Both of her parents have always lived well outside their means, even before he gambled away all the means.

They have fled England just barely ahead of their creditors – and those whom they outright swindled – in order to sponge off their New York relations and auction Christina off to the highest bidder.

That said highest bidder is the most disgusting and despicable person imaginable is also a standard of the romantic tradition – although this bastard manages to exceed expectations on all counts – as does the behavior of Christina’s parents. It is up to Oliver, who has no desire to be involved with society at all, to save Christina from not merely her parents but also a fate that is guaranteed to be worse than death – until it turns into actual death.

While at first it seems as if they will have their work cut out for them just trying to make a workable marriage out of what is still a rather nascent friendship, the situation becomes even more dire.

Just how corrupt is Tammany Hall, anyway?

Escape Rating B+: There were several elements that made A Notorious Vow interesting in unusual ways as well as a lot of fun to read. I got sucked right in and didn’t get out until I finished – more or less in one go.

We’ve seen plenty of wallflower heroines in historical romances, but very seldom a “wallflower” hero. Oliver’s exile from society seems mostly self-imposed. He has the money and the social standing to ignore the whispers that he can lip read quite well – but he chooses not to do so. His reasons for withdrawing are certainly valid, and not merely from his own perspective. But he could just as easily have gone the other way, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, and the doubters be damned. And as events later prove, it probably would have resulted in a better outcome after some initial discomfort.

Which is not to say that his discomfort isn’t very real. Like so many other handicaps, deafness was not much written about, talked about, or studied in the late 19th century. Oliver could not hear, but that did not mean that any of his other faculties were affected at all – which did not stop popular imagination from assuming that they had. A problem which is nearly his undoing.

But the crux of the romantic conflict between Oliver and Christina has little to do with his deafness, although that does make it more difficult – but far from impossible – for them to discuss the problem.

Oliver exhibits that unfortunate tendency of very intelligent people to assume that because they are so often the smartest person in any room that they inhabit, they are therefore always the most knowledgeable and always know best for everyone else. And the problem lies in that “always”. Few things are ever “always” true or “always” right. Because it seldom happens to him, Oliver is unable to recognize that it does occasionally happen even to him, and especially when it comes to his dealings with Christina. He doesn’t know what she wants or needs or thinks because he doesn’t ask her – he assumes he already knows. And of course he doesn’t.

This is a problem that would exist whether Oliver could hear a pin drop or can’t hear a thing – because it is an innate part of his personality. (And one that affects plenty of contemporary men as well!)

In addition to having an interesting and unusual hero and heroine, A Notorious Vow also has what can best be described as a surfeit of villains – especially when considering that the three villains are not working together. They are all separately and individually villainous, For the purposes of villainy, I’m counting Christina’s parents as a single villain. For all we see of the earl, they might as well be.

Her parents attempt to sell her to the highest bidder in order to get themselves out from under their debts and swindles. Her mother, in particular, is particularly vile. The highest bidder they attempt to sell her to is a disgusting old man who has probably murdered his three previous wives. When Oliver rescues Christina from their clutches, mommy dearest continues to clutch in the hopes of getting a better deal – even though her continued contact with Christina endangers the deal currently on the table. That there is a deal at all says everything that needs to be said about Christina’s parents.

When Oliver’s equally venal cousin bribes a judge and conspires to get him committed to an insane asylum, the disgusting old man bribes Tammany Hall to KEEP him imprisoned. Yet these individuals do not seem to be working together. I found the continued presence of Christina’s parents at this juncture to be one villain too many.

That does not take anything away from the horrific nature of Oliver’s imprisonment or the appalling stink of corruption that surrounds the entire case – and that unfortunately bears all too close a resemblance to real circumstances at the time.

Taken all together, A Notorious Vow turns out to be an engaging romance of surprised (and surprising) equals who have to overcome more difficulties than expected. And who discover at the end that their hard-won happy ever after is well worth the changes that they both have to make in their lives.

If this is the final book in the Four Hundred series, it is a fitting end. But I’ve enjoyed the whole series very much and would love to see it continue!

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


To celebrate the release of A NOTORIOUS VOW by Joanna Shupe, we’re giving away one paperback set of the entire Four Hundred series!

Link: http://bit.ly/2P4dd94

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 9/25/2018 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Leverage in Death by J D Robb

Review: Leverage in Death by J D RobbLeverage in Death (In Death, #47) by J.D. Robb
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: futuristic, mystery, romantic suspense
Series: In Death #47
Pages: 385
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lieutenant Eve Dallas puzzles over a bizarre suicide bombing in a Wall St. office building in the latest in the #1 New York Times bestselling series…

For the airline executives finalizing a merger that would make news in the business world, the nine a.m. meeting would be a major milestone. But after marketing VP Paul Rogan walked into the plush conference room, strapped with explosives, the headlines told of death and destruction instead. The NYPSD’s Eve Dallas confirms that Rogan was cruelly coerced by two masked men holding his family hostage. His motive was saving his wife and daughter―but what was the motive of the masked men?

Despite the chaos and bad publicity, blowing up one meeting isn’t going to put the brakes on the merger. All it’s accomplished is shattering a lot of innocent lives. Now, with the help of her billionaire husband Roarke, Eve must untangle the reason for an inexplicable act of terror, look at suspects inside and outside both corporations, and determine whether the root of this crime lies in simple sabotage, or something far more complex and twisted.

My Review:

At first, this one seemed like it was all about the money. A lot of crimes are all about the money, which is how the mystery solving cliches “follow the money” and the Latin “Cui bono?” (translated as “Who benefits”) came into being. But the way that money motivates in this story felt more like the version from the movie Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money”. Because while it is definitely about the money, it also ends up feeling like the money is as much about keeping score as it is about dollars and cents.

Not that there aren’t plenty of dollars and cents involved.

It all begins with a murder, as so many books in this series do. But not just a simple little murder. This is a big, well, more middle-sized kind of murder. It’s a bomb. It’s a crazy guy in a suicide vest blowing up a big meeting (literally) and taking out a bunch of corporate bigwigs.

Sounds like terrorism, doesn’t it? But if it were that simple, Lieutenant Eve Dallas wouldn’t need to spend an entire book solving it. Terrorism isn’t her beat – homicide is. Once her cops discover that the poor bomber was as much of a victim as all the others who were killed or injured in the explosion, the case becomes a whole lot more local, and a whole lot more complicated.

It’s all about the money. Specifically, as the title says, it’s about leverage. The bomb goes off in the middle of a big meeting to sign a merger between rival airlines. The bomb goes off, and both of their stock prices go way, way down. But both companies are solid, both have succession plans in place, and the merger is back on in less than a day. The stocks go back up, way, way up. Past the point they were before that bomb went off.

Anyone who knew in advance what was going to happen had the opportunity to buy very, very low and sell very, very high. And make a killing – pun very definitely intended. Which makes for a hell of a cold-blooded motive for murder.

But for the killers, the whole thing is so much of a rush that they do it again, this time manipulating the art market instead of the stock market.

It’s up to Dallas, with the help of her expert civilian consultant as well as the rest of her team, to discover whodunit and why, before they move on to play their games yet again – or before they disappear for good.

That it’s also a great excuse for Dallas to avoid the Oscar red carpet, where her friend Nadine Furst is up for multiple awards for her movie based on one of Eve’s more famous cases, is just icing on the Dallas and Roarke cake.

Escape Rating B: This series is comfort read for me. That may sound strange, as the books always begin with a murder. But good triumphs, evil always gets its just desserts,  and all the mysteries are wrapped up at the end in a neat bow. But this series is also a case (no pun intended this time) where it’s the cast and crew that I always love to see. The stories always make me laugh, not because the series is intentionally humorous, but because it’s just the kind of humor that I like, where it arises out of the situations and the characters and isn’t an attempt to BE funny, it just IS funny.

I’m particularly fond of Eve and Roarke’s cat Galahad, who is large and in charge and pretty much all cat, all the time. Galahad, bless his furry heart, does not solve crimes. He is, however, very good at the things that cats are very good at, particularly in knowing when his people need some purry affection, and knowing when the best time to interrupt in the hope of getting treats or attention will be. And the entire bed is his, which is completely normal. Possession is 9/10ths of the cat – even the fictional cat. Perhaps especially the fictional cat.

This is also not one of their regular trips to the angst factory – which is good because that wasn’t what I was in the mood for. Eve and Roarke both had hellacious childhoods, and they both have plenty of trauma that they are still dealing with well into adulthood. But there are occasions when someone either tied into one of their pasts or bearing too strong a resemblance to one of their bastard fathers shows up and drags in a whole baggage train of past crap. One of those every once in a while is more than enough. And that isn’t one of those – the occasional nightmare notwithstanding. Anyone who survived either of their childhoods would have the occasional, or more likely the regular, nightmare.

There are two threads to this particular story. One is the case itself, and the other is more personal for Dallas’ team, but also hearkens back to one of her earlier cases, which has proven to be a gift that keeps on giving – as the ending of this story proves.

The case is chilling enough – although it does seem to be operating at multiple removes. The killers aren’t doing their own dirty work. They create the setup, then send a pawn out to do the actual deed while making sure that they can get away scot free if it falls apart. The psychology of this one is all about fathers and children and sacrifice and turns out to have plenty of disgusting, oozing layers to work through.

The personal stuff works its way around and through this multiple murder case. I say personal, but it all goes back to the Icove case from Origin in Death , way back in the 22nd novel in this series. Eve’s friend, reporter Nadine Furst, wrote up the case in a best-selling true crime thriller, which was turned into a movie, which is now up for multiple Oscars – and which has left behind a trail of bodies at pretty much every step of the way. Eve would rather be dead than walk the red carpet, but it’s a dream come true for her partner Detective Delia Peabody. A dream that Eve and Roarke, in spite of the murders, manage to make happen.

It makes for a lovely ending for an enjoyable book in this long running series. Dallas and Roarke will be back in February in Connections in Death – and I’m looking forward to it. After all, I have to see just what Galadhad is up to next!

Review: Exile of the Seas by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Exile of the Seas by Jeffe KennedyExile of the Seas (The Chronicles of Dasnaria #2) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Chronicles of Dasnaria #2
Pages: 420
Published by Rebel Base Books on September 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Around the shifting borders of the Twelve Kingdoms, trade and conflict, danger and adventure put every traveler on guard . . . but some have everything to lose.

ESCAPEDOnce she was known as Jenna, Imperial Princess of Dasnaria, schooled in graceful dance and comely submission. Until the man her parents married her off to almost killed her with his brutality.

Now, all she knows is that the ship she’s boarded is bound away from her vicious homeland. The warrior woman aboard says Jenna’s skill in dancing might translate into a more lethal ability. Danu’s fighter priestesses will take her in, disguise her as one of their own—and allow her to keep her silence.

But it’s only a matter of time until Jenna’s monster of a husband hunts her down. Her best chance to stay hidden is to hire out as bodyguard to a caravan traveling to a far-off land, home to beasts and people so unfamiliar they seem like part of a fairy tale. But her supposed prowess in combat is a fraud. And sooner or later, Jenna’s flight will end in battle—or betrayal . . .

My Review:

Exile of the Seas is a middle book that absolutely does not have even a trace of middle-book syndrome. And that’s marvelous.

The Chronicles of Dasnaria are a prequel/sidequel to the author’s absolutely awesomesauce Twelve Kingdoms series. As a prequel it is not required to have read the Twelve Kingdoms before beginning this series As the Chronicles of Dasnaria have continued we have met some of the characters who will be major players in the Twelve Kingdoms, but it hasn’t happened yet, as they are all still children, or at least teenagers, at this point in their stories.

However, it is crucial – albeit heartrending, that one read the first book in the Chronicles of Dasnaria, Prisoner of the Crown, before essaying into Exile of the Seas. The Chronicles of Dasnaria, are the story of former Crown Princess Jenna of Dasnaria. In order to appreciate where she finds herself at the beginning of Exile of the Seas, and why she begins her transformation from Princess Jenna to Priestess Ivariel, it is necessary to see where she came from and why she fled. And definitely what she is fleeing from.

Her courage often feels of the one step forward, two steps back variety, but considering the events of Prisoner of the Crown, one is constantly amazed that she found that courage AT ALL, let alone enough of it to not merely leave but to defy every expectation that her society has of women in general or herself in particular.

Like Prisoner of the Crown, this feels like a story about becoming. In the first book, Jenna was mostly a victim, over and over and over. What saved the whole book from being merely a litany of despair and disaster was the ending, where Jenna escapes with the help of her brother Harlan.

But escape is not enough. The women of the seraglio are hothouse flowers, pets and playthings, with no tools or experience to allow them to live outside its walls. Jenna may be physically out, but mentally she has not yet begun to escape its confines. A free woman anywhere else in her world has many more options than she ever believed were possible. This is the story of her learning to grasp for at least some of those options.

The story begins with a fortuitous meeting. Or possibly a goddess-ordained one. Aboard the ship Robin, bound for anywhere away from Dasnaria, the frightened and ignorant Jenna crosses paths with Kaja, a priestess of Danu. In a bit of foreshadowing, Kaja is on her way to the court of the Twelve Kingdoms to guard the Queen and train her daughter Ursula in the way of the warrior. But Kaja feels that her goddess has led her to Jenna, to provide Jenna with aid in her quest to escape Dasnaria – or to at least be ready for it to return and attempt to reclaim her.

Under Kaja’s brief but extremely effective tutelage, Jenna becomes Ivariel, and takes the first steps on the road to becoming a warrior priestess of Danu. She takes vows of both silence and chastity – to cover both her accent and her complete unwillingness – or inability – to cope with anyone’s sexuality, including her own.

As Kaja makes her way to her destiny, Jenna, now Ivariel, lets the goddess guide her steps. Steps that take her far, far, away from Dasnaria, to a place where “seeing the elephant” is not just a metaphor.

But in keeping with that metaphor, Ivariel gains experience of her world at significant cost – but not only to herself.

Escape Rating A-: I didn’t pick up on that resonance, between seeing the elephants and “seeing the elephant” until just now. Jenna has always had a dream of seeing elephants – its a dream she was even punished for in the seraglio. Women in Dasnaria don’t get to see much of anything, and certainly not the elephants that live in far away places.

“Seeing the elephant” is a 19th century Americanism that refers to gaining experience at great cost, and was often used in conjunction with serving in the Mexican-American War or the Civil War, or heading west on one of the great stagecoach drives, or of participating in the Gold Rush.

All times and places where a lot of people got a whole lot of experience through a whole lot of hardship, peril and pain. As does Jenna/Ivariel in her own way.

For followers of the Twelve Kingdoms series, it is fascinating to see a completely different part of this world. But it IS a completely different place, so new readers get to see it for the first time along with the rest of us.

This is Jenna’s story as she transforms into Ivariel. We see her grow and stretch and reach out – and sometimes pull back. This is a story of her healing and becoming – even though some of that process is painful, bloody and violent. It feels necessary for her to get past what she lived, and the way that she accomplishes that feels right for her – if not for the faint of heart.

Because the arc of this book is on a constant rise, it does not have any of the feel of a middle book. This is overall a positive story, something that middle-books seldom are. She grows, she changes, she gets better, she takes a step backward and then she reaches forward again. She stumbles, she falls, she doubts, she gets up and tries again.

And after the pain she experienced in the first book, it is not merely good but downright cathartic to see her begin to come into her own.

I’m looking forward to the next book in this series, Warrior of the World, coming this winter. A trip to hot Nyambura should warm at least one chilly January night.

Review: Undetected by Anna Hackett

Review: Undetected by Anna HackettUndetected (Treasure Hunter Security #8) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #8
Pages: 222
Published by Anna Hackett on September 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Darcy Ward has sold her soul to the devil. Okay, not quite the devil, but she did agree to work with Agent Arrogant and Annoying—aka Special Agent Alastair Burke of the FBI’s Art Crime Team to lay a trap for infamous black-market antiquities ring, Silk Road.

Darcy loves shoes, computers, caffeine, and working at her family business, Treasure Hunter Security. The only thing missing is her dream of a once-in-a-lifetime love, like her parents share, and a man who’ll put her first. She’s not so crazy about Silk Road trying to kill her family and friends, nor is she fond of an order-giving FBI agent and his distracting cologne. Using a trio of cursed diamonds as bait, she’s working hard to set a trap for Silk Road in the Dashwood Museum, but as the black-market thieves escalate their attempts to stop Darcy, she finds herself swept into Alastair’s strong, protective arms.

Alastair Burke is driven by vengeance. He’s dedicated his life to taking down Silk Road and its mysterious leader, the Collector, and now he finally has his chance. He can’t allow anything to distract him—especially not a sassy, smart woman who tests every bit of his control. But as the opening gala of the cursed diamonds exhibit approaches, the thieves target him and Darcy with a series of deadly attacks…and Alastair realizes he’ll do anything to keep her safe.

With the FBI and the former SEALs of Treasure Hunter Security at their backs, Darcy and Alastair are caught up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, and their fierce attraction. But with lives on the line, Alastair will find himself caught between his desire for revenge and keeping the woman he’s falling for alive.

My Review:

Darcy Ward thinks of Alastair Burke as Agent AA – otherwise called Agent Arrogant and Annoying – with all the words capitalized. But as devoted readers of the Treasure Hunter Security series are well aware, those AA letters could also refer to the power in Darcy’s battery-operated-boyfriend, because whether she wants to admit it or not – and she definitely doesn’t – Burke gets her all hot and bothered. And not nearly enough of either the hot or the bothered has to do with the way he goes out of his way to piss her off at every turn.

Growing up with two ex-Navy SEAL brothers (brother Declan’s story is in Undiscovered and brother Callum’s in Uncharted) Darcy would either come to really, really detest Alpha males, or want one of her very own. She only thinks she detests the idea, as she discovers that Burke pushes all of her buttons, both the angry and the erotic.

What she really wants is a relationship just like the ones that her brothers have found, and the one that her parents have. The romance between archaeologist Oliver Ward and treasure hunter Persephone Blake is in The Emerald Tear, part of the Unidentified duology. They have the kind of romance that makes readers swoon, even if those same readers can also see that they are so absorbed in each other (still!) that their now-adult children would both envy them and feel a bit left out of their attention to each other.

While it isn’t necessary to have read the entire series to enjoy Undetected, it probably is. Yes, I contradicted myself. This author makes me do that – and tie myself up in knots waiting for her next book.

Undetected is the culmination of the entire Treasure Hunter Security series. Darcy and Burke’s relationship has been simmering since they first met, and by this eighth book in the series, it’s finally boiling over. At the same time, the scenario for the entire adventure from beginning to end was unknowingly kicked off by Oliver and Persephone in The Emerald Tear. So in addition to the smoking hot romance between Darcy and Burke, the adventure part of this action-adventure romance is payback for everything that has happened in the intervening decades as well as all the previous books in the series.

That’s a lot of plot threads to tie off. The book works a whole lot better if the reader has knowledge of those plot threads getting tied on in the first place. And this series is terrific. If you like action adventure mixed with romance and haven’t read THS, and/or if you have fond memories of the movie Romancing the Stone, this series is a real treat from beginning to end.

Escape Rating A-: But speaking of ends, Undetected is definitely it. In some ways, it reminds me a bit of Imperator, the highly anticipated final book in Hackett’s Galactic Gladiators series, in that the relationship in the book has been anticipated from early in the series, and the way that it brings the series as a whole to a successful conclusion.

As much as I loved the way that Undetected brings the entire series to an epic conclusion, it’s the romance between Darcy and Burke that really makes this story work.

By this point in the series, we know Darcy pretty well. She is the co-owner of THS with her brothers, and is also their resident computer hacker/genius extraordinaire. She has an important part to play in all of their “encounters” with the Silk Road gang. But laying this particular trap for the criminals has Darcy front and center. Not that they won’t need a whole lot of serious muscle to take down these bastards, but if the setup isn’t absolutely air-tight, said bastards will get away yet again.

It’s Darcy’s job to make sure the set-up is properly set-up from every conceivable angle. It’s Special Agent Alastair Burke’s job to make sure that Darcy is protected so that she can do that job.

But being constantly in Darcy’s orbit breaks Burke out of his self-imposed laser focus on taking down Silk Road. The more time they spend together, and admittedly the more times that Silk Road targets her, the more he is forced to realize just what she means to him. The humanization of the nearly robotic agent we first met is what makes this romance sing. Or gives it its zing. Or both.

For fans of the THS series, Undetected is a treat from beginning to end. And if you haven’t yet begun the series, start with Undiscovered and enjoy the ride!

Review: The Illegitimate Duke by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Illegitimate Duke by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Illegitimate Duke (Diamonds in the Rough, #3) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on August 28, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


United in a common cause...

Juliette Matthews longs to be much more than just another pretty ornament in society. But using her recently acquired fortune to do some good is more complicated than she anticipated. Young ladies are not expected to risk their safety in helping the less fortunate. And the one gentleman who could help in her mission is stubborn, infernally handsome--and far too honorable to act on their mutual attraction.


And in a desire impossible to deny...

Florian Lowell has suddenly been made heir to the Duke of Redding--a far cry from his status as a dedicated physician. Yet even with his new role as the country's most eligible bachelor, the beautiful, fearless Juliette is utterly beyond his reach. The scandalous circumstances of his birth would destroy both their reputations if they became known. But when a more urgent danger threatens Juliette's life, Florian must gamble everything...including the heart only one woman can tame.

My Review:

This is a fish out of water story. In fact, it’s part of a whole school of fish out of water stories. The fish currently uncertain about its welcome in the pond is Juliette, sister of the first two fishes.

Ok, I’ve probably baited that metaphor as far as it can go. In the first book in the Diamonds in the Rough series, St. Giles resident and bare-knuckle boxing champ Raphe Matthews learns that by a strange quirk of fate he has become the Duke of Huntley. And while he might not be willing on his own to return to the social classes that ejected himself and his sisters years ago – he desperately wants to do what’s best for them. It’s not even the wealth of being Huntley that attracts him, but the opportunities that it provides for comfortable and healthy living. His sisters will have much better chances once he takes the title. So he does, and the story of just how that works out for him is told in the first book in the series, A Most Unlikely Duke.

Next in line came his sister Amelia’s story in The Duke of Her Desire, which turned out to be a delightful romp from beginning to end.

The Illegitimate Duke is, of course, the third sister Juliette’s journey to her happily ever after.

(BTW, the whole series is pretty delightful. The Matthews’ make for slightly different historical romance protagonists in ways that really work and are fun to read. You don’t have to start at the beginning of this series, but if you like historical romance, these are a lot of fun!)

Back to Juliette. Like her sister Amelia, Juliette is not content to wrest on her laurels or just sit back and spend her new-found fortune shopping. While living in St. Giles had many, many difficulties, the one thing it did have was that women had to live lives of purpose – even if that purpose mostly consisted of helping to keep the wolf from the door.

In comparison, the life of a society miss feels dreadfully empty. Juliette has a mind that she wants to be able to use, along with access to a fortune that gives her the opportunity to assist her former neighbors in tangible ways – if she is willing to take the bull by the horns and stand up for herself.

It’s not just the figurative bull of what society expects of women of her new class, or even what the gossips expect of a woman with her origins. There’s also a literal bull, Dr. Florian Lowell, soon to become the Duke of Redding. Florian is the physician in charge of the charity hospital that serves St. Giles, and Juliet wants to not merely donate money to that hospital but also have a say in how that money is spent.

And that puts her squarely in Florian’s orbit – and very much vice versa.

They fascinate each other, and it is not just a matter of looks.

Juliette needs to be of use and not merely the ornament that society now expects her to be. She hates the falsity of the marriage mart but would be very happy to find a man who is willing to be her partner and accept her as she is – just as her brother and sister have found with their respective spouses.

Florian, although born to the upper crust, devotes his life to being a physician. While he will inherit a dukedom, he still plans to maintain his medical practice. I would say that he’s looking for a woman who will not merely accept, but actually understand his devotion to his practice and his interest in furthering medical science.

But he has no plans to marry and populate a nursery as his new position will require, because he carries a secret that he feels makes him unfit to court any woman who would be either worthy of his title, or more importantly, willing to be both friend and lover as well as wife.

That secret has come back to London to make all of his hopes, dreams and plans turn to smoke. If the incipient typhus epidemic doesn’t kill them first.

Escape Rating B: One of the terrific things about this series is the way that all of the women have been just a little something extra in ways that make them easier for 21st century readers to identify with while at the same time not stretching the bounds of plausibility too far. Or at least too far too far.

Juliette’s need to oversee the expenditure of her donation, and her willingness to serve on the hospital board, do seem possible, and even the acceptance of her presence by the titled men who are also on that board does not stretch things too far. Women did such things under the heading of doing good for the less fortunate – Juliette is perhaps a bit more active in that regard than most.

The horror of the potential typhus epidemic that hangs over the story, Florian’s attempts to contain it and the tragic results of his one failure in that regard were harrowing and all too real.

But as much as I enjoyed this fish out of water story, and as much as I certainly liked both Juliette and Florian, the difficulty that keeps them apart is all too similar to the secret that kept Amelia and Thomas apart in The Duke of Her Desire.

Like Thomas, Florian has a terrible secret, and it truly is terrible. He fears that society will not merely judge him harshly, but actually ostracize him if it comes out. And his fears are well founded. But what keeps Florian and Juliette apart is not the secret itself, but Florian’s belief that something that is manifestly not his fault is his responsibility and his punishment, when neither is the case, just as Thomas felt in the previous book.

The similarities between the two situations meant that The Illegitimate Duke did not sparkle as much for me as The Duke of Her Desire. The gravity of the external situation – that typhus epidemic – may also have had something to do with that lesser sparkle, because there was less to sparkle about.

But I did like the protagonists a great deal, and it was also lovely to see how Juliette’s sister and brother are getting on with their happily ever afters. The hints about the next book in the series, now that we have run out of Matthews siblings, looks intriguing.

I’ll certainly be back to discover what The Infamous Duchess is up to next spring!

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

To celebrate the release of THE ILLEGITIMATE DUKE by Sophie Barnes, we’re giving away a paperback bundle of The Most Unlikely Duke & The Duke of Her Desire!

CLICK HERE TO ENTER!

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback bundle of A Most Unlikely Duke and The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 9/7/2018 @ 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.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER!

Review: Under Control by Shannon Stacey + Giveaway

Review: Under Control by Shannon Stacey + GiveawayUnder Control (Boston Fire, #5) by Shannon Stacey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Boston Fire #5
Pages: 384
Published by Carina Press on August 28, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When faced with the opportunity to change shifts while staying in the same house, veteran firefighter Derek Gilman jumps at the chance. His new schedule means not working Saturdays, which means more time to spend with his two kids. His divorce may have been amicable, but being a firefighter and a single dad is a lot to juggle. And when fate brings a gorgeous, wealthy woman into his life, he’s pretty sure he can’t handle more than he already is.

Olivia McGovern loves plans. She planned to start her own business and planned its growth. It’s earning her seven figures now, but her personal life simply doesn’t exist. Getting trapped in a broken elevator figures in exactly nowhere, and freaking out in front of a sexy firefighter definitely isn’t on the agenda. Especially not one with two kids and an ex.

What would have been a random incident with an attractive stranger becomes something more when a charity event brings them back together. They’re from different sides of the tracks, literally—with friends, family and careers to consider. But as Derek and Olivia are discovering, chemistry doesn’t allow for plans, and love doesn’t bother with logistics.

My Review:

This was fun. And sometimes that’s just what a girl needs.

Not that Olivia doesn’t need a bit more – even if she doesn’t know it. And it’s both a surprise and not that she doesn’t – because Olivia is all about knowing what she’s doing, what she’s going to do, what she has to do and what she ought to do to keep her life on the track that she’s set it on.

In other words, Olivia is all about the thinking and planning, and not so much on the living. She’s too much in control of her life to actually enjoy it or even just live it.

Derek is not so much about control. Not at all. But it’s reasonable from where he sits. Or stands. Or runs towards the fire.

Derek is a firefighter, just like all of the heroes (and his friends, neighbors and buddies) in his ladder company and the Boston Fire series. He’s good at his job – very good – but his job is to deal with whatever happens when he’s on shift. As a firefighter he never knows what that will be from one day or even one hour to the next.

And while he believes he’s not very good at planning the other parts of his life, he actually is. Because he’s juggling divorced parenthood with his ex and handling volunteer efforts with a local charity that helps parents and siblings of critically ill children. He also has friends and family and a life that he lives to the fullest.

When Olivia and Derek get stuck in an elevator together, neither of them has any clue that the other is the missing puzzle piece in their life. Even their sizzling chemistry can’t completely disguise the fact that their lives just don’t seem to fit.

They live and work at least an hour apart – in good traffic, which Boston never has. They’re also from, not exactly different sides of the tracks, but different socioeconomic strata. Olivia is clearly somewhere at the upper end of upper middle class. She’s earned every penny of it with hard work on her own business, but she lives a completely different lifestyle from working class firefighter Derek and his friends.

She’s also the scarred survivor of her parents’ acrimonious divorce. Even years later she’s still stuck in the middle playing peacemaker between two people who just can’t seem to let go of the grudges that ended their marriage.

Derek is the very participatory father of his two children. He and his ex are not merely cordial, but actually good friends. His ex and her new husband are still part of the neighborhood and part of Derek’s life.

But Derek’s life is chaotic, both because of his work and because of the other people that he is determined to keep a part of it. Olivia’s life is ordered above all, because that’s her business and because that’s how she took care of herself during her parents marital wars.

Can they meet somewhere in the middle?

Escape Rating B: In a lot of ways, this is a quiet kind of a romance. While the initial meeting between Derek and Olivia qualifies as a “meet cute” and their second meeting feels like a bit of divine providence, most of what happens between them seems both quiet and cautious.

As it should be. They are both grown-ups. Not merely 20 somethings but mid-30-somethings – or perhaps a bit more. They have lives, careers, families and friends. Neither of them has been waiting for their life to happen.

What that means is that they both have a lot invested in their lives before they meet. And while they certainly fall in lust at first sight if not love at first sight, that doesn’t necessarily change the rest of their lives.

So what we see is Olivia and Derek negotiating the steps that could turn their intense chemistry into a whole lot more. But it is a negotiation, and that’s where they realistically almost fail.

We always want to see the hero and heroine, or at least one of them, give up everything for each other. And that’s even possible for people just starting out. But Olivia and Derek aren’t just starting out in life, and in order for any relationship between them to work they have to be able to fit into each other’s worlds.

Derek, on the one hand, has a lot of people. He rightfully wants to be there for his kids. His fire company is more of an extended family than a work crew. Olivia needs to be able to both fit in with those groups and find a way to handle the stress of his job – along with the danger that comes with it.

Olivia is a self-made woman. She seems to have started out in the middle class, but her own drive and determination have made her into a high-powered and highly paid business efficiency consultant. She’s the author of a best-selling book and is working on a second book. She has a plan for her life and that plan has brought her both success and wealth – and she shouldn’t be ashamed of either.

While Olivia needs to make adjustments in her plan and her life in order to fit anyone else in at all, Derek needs to adjust his attitude. He keeps thinking that Olivia is out of his league, without ever asking what she thinks in that regard. If he keeps listening to that voice, he’ll decide it’s right, and lose the second best thing that ever happened to him. (His kids are the first best thing, after all).

It is surprisingly interesting, as well as heartwarming, to watch them take two steps forward and one step back, figuring out how to blend their two very different lives together.

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

To celebrate the release of UNDER CONTROL by Shannon Stacey, we’re giving away a $25 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner!

LINK:   http://bit.ly/2LyyGp5

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to internationally. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Carina Press.  Giveaway ends 9/11/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per reader. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah

Review: The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie HannahThe Mystery of Three Quarters (The New Hercule Poirot Mystery #3) by Sophie Hannah
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Series: New Hercule Poirot #3
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on August 28, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The world's most beloved detective, Hercule Poirot--the legendary star of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express and most recently The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket--returns in a stylish, diabolically clever mystery set in the London of 1930.

Returning home from a luncheon, Hercule Poirot is met at his door by an imperious woman who introduces herself as Sylvia Rule. "How dare you? How dare you send me such a letter?" Ignoring his denials, Mrs. Rule insists that she received a missive claiming he had proof she murdered a man named Barnabas Pandy and advising her to confess her crime to the police. Threatening the perplexed Poirot with a lawsuit, she leaves in a huff.

Minutes later, a rather disheveled man named John McCrodden appears. "I got your letter accusing me of the murder of Barnabas Pandy." Calmly, Poirot again rebuts the charge. Each insisting they are victims of a conspiracy, Mrs. Rule and Mr. McCrodden deny knowing who Pandy is.

The next day, two more strangers proclaim their innocence and provide illuminating details. Miss Annabel Treadway tells Poirot that Barnabas Pandy was her grandfather. But he was not murdered; his death was an accident. Hugo Dockerill also knows of Pandy, and he heard the old man fell asleep in his bath and drowned.

Why did someone send letters in Poirot's name accusing people of murder? If Pandy's death was an accident, why charge foul play? It is precisely because he is the great Hercule Poirot that he would never knowingly accuse an innocent person of a crime. Someone is trying to make mischief, and the instigator wants Poirot involved.

Engaging the help of Edward Catchpool, his Scotland Yard policeman friend, Poirot begins to dig into the investigation, exerting his little grey cells to solve an elaborate puzzle involving a tangled web of relationships, scandalous secrets, and past misdeeds.

My Review:

This is now the third of Sophie Hannah’s New Hercule Poirot mysteries (after The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket), and there is one thing they all have in common. Actually there are several things they have in common, but the one that strikes this reader first is the sheer, compulsive readability of this series. Whether one considers them continuations of the original, homages to it, or a combination of the two, they are all absolutely brimming with can’t-put-it-down-ness. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. All day.

Another factor that is common to all three books is the new author’s invented “Watson” for Poirot, Inspector Edward Catchpool. Unlike poor Japp in the original series, Catchpool is a young detective, early in his career. While he sometimes (often!) chafes at being caught between his Super’s orders and Poirot’s “requests”, he is aware that he needs Poirot.

One of the gratifying parts of their relationship is the way that Poirot also seems to be aware that he needs Catchpool, and not just to provide official sanction. Poirot is always the lead partner, but there is a partnership developing.

The case in The Mystery of Three Quarters feels very Poirot in that it is convoluted in the extreme. Someone has sent letters, signed by Poirot, accusing the recipients of murder. The four recipients of those letters are various shades of indignant and perplexed. Poirot is incensed, because he did not send the letters – and their grammar and writing style is absolutely appalling. Instead he discovers that the supposed murder victim surely died by accident, and that his purported murderers don’t seem to have much relationship to each other – or even to the late, more-or-less lamented Barnabas Pandy.

It’s up to Poirot, with the able assistance of Inspector Catchpool, to figure out, not so much whodunit, but whydunit, before somebody else gets done.

Escape Rating B: It’s the must-keep-reading-ness aspect of this book that sticks with me. The case, as bizarre as it is (and Poirot’s cases were often a bit “out there”) pulls the reader along from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph and doesn’t let go until the end.

In other words, The Mystery of Three Quarters is a whole lot of fun to read.

Three books into this “new” series, I still feel as if it is more of a continuation of the TV portrayal of Poirot than the original books – or perhaps it’s just that Poirot’s extreme quirks feel even more quirky when one visualizes David Suchet’s performance than they must have when originally published. I always hear Suchet’s voice while reading this new series. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

One thing that stands out from The Mystery of Three Quarters is the utter wackiness of the entire case. As a device to get Poirot involved, the fraudulent letters are a stroke of both absurdity and genius. No one could resist getting to the bottom of the whole mess, and certainly Poirot is incapable of letting someone else take his name in vain. He can’t resist, which was the whole point.

Also the killer’s mistake, but of course that’s all part of the big reveal at the end.

One of the things that surprised me about the entire farrago was just how much of Poirot’s resolution turned out to be based on slightly far-fetched assumptions about motives and emotions. There’s not a whole lot of forensic evidence in this case until the very end. Instead it’s all about what people thought and how they felt and why they subsequently acted the way they did.

It all gallops along brilliantly as its going on, but looking back I’m not quite sure it all hangs together. But still, it was a terrific ride while it was happening, and I enjoyed every page of it.

I’m very happy that the author is continuing this “collaboration” with the late Dame Agatha Christie, and I look forward to more installments of Hercule Poirot’s “new” mysteries!

But I still like the UK covers better for this series. It’s Poirot. It’s the 1930s. Art deco is the right look and feel. Just run with it!

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

 

Review: Good Time Cowboy by Maisey Yates

Review: Good Time Cowboy by Maisey YatesGood Time Cowboy (Gold Valley, #3) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Gold Valley #3
Pages: 474
Published by Hqn on August 21, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Gold Valley, Oregon, forbidden desire just might turn into the love of a lifetime…

When Lindy Parker lost her cheating husband, she gained a vineyard. She’ll do anything for Grassroots Winery, including teaming up with the hottest devil she knows, rancher Wyatt Dodge. Wyatt is her ex’s friend and has an ego as big as the bulls he rides. But in spite of that, disciplined Lindy has always wanted him…

Lightning struck Wyatt Dodge the first time he saw Lindy Parker. But there were two problems with that: she was married to his friend, and Wyatt doesn’t do strings. But now Lindy is free, and the two of them can finally explore the heat that’s burned between them for so long. But can Lindy make this good time cowboy decide on forever?

My Review:

Maisey Yates is the cowgirl queen of the angsty western romance. What I love about her books is that the difficulties that get in the way of the happy ever afters between her characters always feel real and never contrived. There are no misunderstandammits, just interesting people with too much baggage who get in the way of their own happiness by being human but not by being stupid.

That’s been the story through the Gold Valley series and through the series it spun off from, Copper Ridge. The two small towns are neighbors in Oregon. Their fates are tied, and so are the people who live there. The individual books in each series do stand alone, but it is fun to read them all and get to know the entire gang.

The Gold Valley series has been featuring the Dodge family as they get their once-and-future destination ranch back into shape for a new generation of both Dodges and tourists. In this third book in the series, we finally get around to oldest brother Wyatt Dodge. I say finally because Wyatt is the prime mover and shaker behind this resurrection of the family ranch, so the story so far has circled around him even though he hasn’t been the featured player until now.

There’s angst in this romance on both sides of the equation. Wyatt is keeping a big secret from his sister and brothers. They are all (except local vet Bennett Dodge, see Untamed Cowboy) throwing not just their money but also their time, energy and hearts into getting Get Out of Dodge Ranch back into shape. They all think Wyatt owns the ranch, but he doesn’t. Their dad still owns the ranch, and if the ranch doesn’t succeed immediately after its grand re-opening, dad is going to sell it out from under all of them.

Wyatt is sure that dear old dad is punishing him for his long past sins, not that there weren’t plenty of them. But Wyatt is all in, he can’t resist a challenge and he isn’t willing to let his sister and his brothers down – no matter how willing he might be to tell their father to go to hell and not bother with the handcart.

Wyatt is so far in that he’s willing to partner with the one woman in town who has proven completely resistant to his charms. Lindy Parker is the one woman he has never managed to get out of his head, even if, or perhaps especially because, he’s never managed to get her into his bed.

Lindy, the current owner of Grassroots Winery, wants to make the winery a success to spite her ex-husband and ex-inlaws. She got the winery in her divorce from her cheating ex. As much as she doesn’t want to work with Wyatt – because he drives her crazy for reasons she can’t articulate even to herself, having the winery partner with the ranch makes good business sense even if it makes lousy personal sense.

Lindy’s been divorced for two years, which is just long enough for her to be able to start getting a much clearer picture in her own mind of the truth about not just her marriage but about her part of what went wrong. And about the twists and turns in her life that have brought her to the place she is now.

And that if she wants her own happy ever after, with or without any man in general or surprisingly Wyatt Dodge in particular, she needs to drop her own baggage, get her head out of her own ass and finally get out of her own way.

Even if Wyatt isn’t ready to get out of his.

Escape Rating B+: Unlike many of the previous books in this series (and Copper Ridge) this doesn’t feel like it really follows any of the familiar tropes. Wyatt and Lindy initially are far from friends. At the same time, they are not enemies, or even frenemies. While it becomes clear that they have both always been way more aware of each other than either of them was willing to let on, the relationship they actually have had doesn’t fit into any neat little boxes.

What it does remind me of is the French phrase that is usually translated as “love at first sight”. But love at first sight is not what they have. What happened to them at the very beginning, back when Lindy was still married to her cheating ex and Wyatt was still a champion bull rider on the rodeo circuit, feels more like the literal translation of that French phrase. Their first meeting was a “coup de foudre” or thunderbolt, that left scorched earth in its wake. And it’s the sudden intensity of that first meeting that neither of them has ever gotten past – no matter how much time they’ve both spent paddling that famous river, De Nial.

Their business partnership has forced Wyatt and Lindy into each other’s proximity on an uncomfortably frequent basis – and that original thunderbolt still has plenty of sparks left in it. There’s a big  problem, with sticking your finger in a light socket over and over – electricity hurts.

Both Wyatt and Lindy have become experts at keeping other people away from their true, core selves, and are very good and not letting themselves need other people, because both of their foundational experiences, although very different in their particulars, made them learn back when they were children that they had no one to rely on but themselves. Other people always let them down.

That’s a hard lesson for a child to learn, and it leaves scars that affect adult relationships. Wyatt feels like he has to shoulder the entire burden of their father’s demands alone, that he can’t let his siblings know their futures are riding on the grand opening.

Lindy feels like she can’t ever let her uber-calm, ultra professional ice princess ever falter, because she’s certain that people will judge her for upbringing and her choices. And while she’s right, they will judge, she needs to learn that it doesn’t have to matter. Not being her authentic self is her part of what broke her marriage, and her inability to be her real self keeps her from relationships, including one with her brother.

And both of them have things they need to forgive, both to forgive themselves, and to forgive others. Those are hard lessons to learn, and painful ones. But ultimately freeing.

Also totally real. And that’s what makes Maisey Yates’ angsty romances so terrific to read! Speaking of angst, the next book in the Gold Valley series is going to be chock-full of it. I can’t wait to read Grant Dodge’s story in A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas this fall.

 

Maisey Yates’ GOOD TIME COWBOY – Review & Excerpt Tour Schedule:

August 22nd

Always a happy ever after – Review

I Love HEA Romance Book Blog – Review

Melena’s Reviews – Review & Excerpt

August 23rd

Inside the mind of an avid reader – Review

Moonlight Rendezvous – Review & Excerpt

Sascha Darlington’s Microcosm Explored – Review & Excerpt

We Do What We Want Book Reviews & More – Review & Excerpt

August 24th

Lover of Big Books Cannot Lie – Review & Excerpt

Southern Vixens Book Obsessions – Review

TBR Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

August 25th

Ginreads – Review

Meme Chanell Book Corner – Review & Excerpt

Smut Book Junkie Book Reviews – Review

August 26th

Jax’s Book Magic – Excerpt

Kari’s Book Reviews and Revelations – Review & Excerpt

Renee Entress’s Blog – Review & Excerpt

August 27th

All Things Dark & Dirty – Excerpt

Reading Reality – Review

Sweet Red Reads – Review & Excerpt

August 28th

Adventures in Writing – Excerpt

Devilishly Delicious Book Reviews – Excerpt

Literary Misfit – Review & Excerpt

OMGReads – Review & Excerpt

August 29th

Aaly and The Books – Review & Excerpt

Booknerdingout – Review

Jen’s Reading Obsession – Excerpt

Read more sleep less – Review & Excerpt

August 30th

books are love – Review & Excerpt

It’s All About the Romance – Excerpt

Naturally Nerdy Books – Excerpt

Tfaulcbookreviews – Excerpt

August 31st

Reading Between the Wines Book Club – Excerpt

Vivi’s Messy Kitchen – Review

What Is That Book About – Excerpt

What’s Beyond Forks? – Review & Excerpt