Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle

Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne CastleSweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, futuristic, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, science fiction romance
Series: Harmony #15
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on September 20, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Welcome to the world of Harmony, where--despite its name, things are anything but--danger lurks just beneath the surface in this new novel by New York Times bestselling author, Jayne Castle.
If there's something Ravenna Chastain knows, it's when to end things. And after she almost winds up the victim of a cult that believes she's a witch, it's easy to walk away from her dead-end career, ready for a new start. But where to find a job that would allow her to use her very specialized skill set? The answer is clear: she becomes a matchmaker.
But even a successful matchmaker can't find someone for everyone, and Ravenna considers Ethan Sweetwater her first professional failure. After nine failed dates, Ravenna knows it's time to cut Ethan loose. But Ethan refuses to be fired as a client--he needs one final date to a business function. Since Ravenna needs a date herself to a family event, they agree to a deal: she will be his (business) date if he will be her (fake) date to her grandparents' anniversary celebration.
What Ethan fails to mention is that attending the business function is a cover for some industrial espionage that he's doing as a favor to the new Illusion Town Guild boss. Ravenna is happy to help, but their relationship gets even more complicated when things heat up--the chemistry between them is explosive, as explosive as the danger that's stalking Ravenna. Lucky for her, Ethan isn't just an engineer--he's also a Sweetwater, and Sweetwaters are known for hunting down monsters...

My Review:

When I originally saw the title of this latest entry in the Harmony series, at first I thought it was going to be a Western – or at least a Weird West – kind of story. (The rhythm of the words in the title keeps taking me back to the movie McCabe & Mrs .Miller which was a sort of Western. I digress. Again. I know.) Harmony is absolutely wild enough and definitely weird enough to resemble the Weird West, but it’s a far-future lost colony world that presented some unique challenges to the first settlers and still does to their descendants even two centuries later.

The planet of Harmony – which doesn’t generally exhibit all that much harmony or we wouldn’t have this marvelous series – was settled by a group of human colonists that included members of the Arcane Society and their allies back on Earth. Who were people with psi powers as portrayed in the Victorian and contemporary set Arcane Society series and its offshoots, which were published under the author’s Amanda Quick and Jayne Ann Krentz pen names.

(If the setup sounds a bit familiar, it’s also the setup for the Celta series by Robin D. Owens, so if you like one you’ll like the other.)

By the time in Harmony’s history when this story takes place, Harmony has lost all contact with Earth, and the upheavals of that loss have settled back into a history that is still well-remembered but no longer as influential as it once was. Not that there aren’t some people looking to recreate the past glories of their ancestors. Even if those so-called glories are only in the minds of past – and present – psychopaths.

Which is what this entry in the series turns out to be about. Two people who think they can do their criminal predecessors one better, and two people who stand in their way. And eventually stand together to do it.

Escape Rating A-: What makes this entry in the series so much fun is the witty banter and slowly building romance between Ethan Sweetwater and Ravenna Chastain. She’s a police profiler turned matchmaker, and he’s the client she’s supposed to find a match for but it’s not working. At all. Which he refuses to acknowledge or let the project go for reasons that Ravenna doesn’t see but the reader probably does.

It’s only when Ethan helps her take out the trash – by which I mean the comatose body of her first stalker – that Ravenna gets the idea that there’s more to Ethan than initially appeared. Which is, of course, more than true.

He presented himself as a mild-mannered, kind of dorky engineer. And he is. But underneath that unassuming persona lurks a man who knows just who to call and how to dispose of a not-quite dead body. Ravenna is worried that he might be connected to the mob.

Ethan, on the other hand, knows that she’s his match. Lucky for him – in a twisted sort of way – the deadly adventures that keep finding them give them plenty of chances to bond into a relationship where they both know they’ll have each other’s backs through thick, thin, nightmares and flame-throwers.

All they have to do is convince each other it’s for keeps. And keep fighting to make sure that they will be a “keeps” to have.

That this turns out to be a delightful romance to go with the deadly danger has to do with the personalities of the three protagonists; Ethan, Ravenna, and Ravenna’s dust bunny Harriet. They make one hell of a team where each has a crucial part to play in taking down the villains and having a bit of fun along the way.

Dust bunnies excel at finding the fun in EVERYTHING!

One final note; there is obviously a long and storied history to Harmony but each book stands pretty much on its own. The necessary parts of the background history are always explained, while the occasional mention of a particular person or incident is more in the form of an “Easter Egg” that brings a smile if you know but lack of that knowledge does not detract from enjoyment of the book in hand. The romances are always self-contained to the individual book. That being said, the books in the series are a bit like potato chips in that you won’t want to read just one.

And I guarantee you’ll wish you had your own dust bunny to chortle at your side as you read!

Review: Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck

Review: Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel BeckSmall Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Witchlore #1
Pages: 416
Published by Graydon House on August 23, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

For fans of THE EX HEX and PAYBACK'S A WITCH, a fun, witchy rom-com in which a bookstore owner who is fighting to revitalize a small midwestern town clashes with her rival, the mayor, and uncovers not only a clandestine group that wields a dark magic to control the idyllic river hamlet, but hidden powers she never knew she possessed.

Witches aren't real. Right?

No one has civic pride quite like Emerson Wilde. As a local indie bookstore owner and youngest-ever Chamber of Commerce president, she’d do anything for her hometown of St. Cyprian, Missouri. After all, Midwest is best! She may be descended from a witch who was hanged in 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials, but there’s no sorcery in doing your best for the town you love.Or is there?
As she preps Main Street for an annual festival, Emerson notices strange things happening around St. Cyprian. Strange things that culminate in a showdown with her lifelong arch-rival, Mayor Skip Simon. He seems to have sent impossible, paranormal creatures after her. Creatures that Emerson dispatches with ease, though she has no idea how she’s done it. Is Skip Simon…a witch? Is Emerson?
It turns out witches are real, and Emerson is one of them. She failed a coming-of-age test at age eighteen—the only test she’s ever failed!—and now, as an adult, her powers have come roaring back.
But she has little time to explore those powers, or her blossoming relationship with her childhood friend, cranky-yet-gorgeous local farmer Jacob North: an ancient evil has awakened in St. Cyprian, and it’s up to Emerson and her friends—maybe even Emerson herself—to save everything she loves.

My Review:

Once upon a time (mostly in the 1980s and 1990s) there were a whole lot of books telling stories about people (usually young women) who discovered that the mundane world all around them hid secret places and even more secretive people filled with magic – and danger. And that the protagonist of those stories either belonged in those magical places or discovered them or had to save them.

Or all of the above.

Emerson Wilde used to read all of those books, tucked inside the safe and comforting shelves of her beloved grandmother’s bookstore, Confluence Books. But her grandmother has passed, and left the store, her quirky Victorian house, and her legacy to Emerson.

Even if Emerson doesn’t remember the full extent of that legacy or her family’s place in St. Cyprian Missouri, a beautiful little town that sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

Emerson thinks of St. Cyprian as a magical little town, one she’s proud to be a part of as a small business owner and president of its Chamber of Commerce. She doesn’t know the half of it.

But she’s about to find out.

Escape Rating B: Just like Emerson, I read all those books too, which meant that I sorta/kinda knew how this one was going to go. If you took a selection of those books and threw them in a blender with A Marvelous Light by Freya Marske, Witch Please by Ann Aguirre, Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson and just a bit of Manipulative Dumbledore-style Harry Potter fanfiction you’d get something a lot like Small Town, Big Magic.

Not that that’s a bad thing, as each of those antecedents has plenty to recommend it. And if you like any of them you’ll probably like at least some parts of this first book in the Witchlore series.

But as much as I loved the premise – or most of the premises – that make up this story, there were a few things that drove me utterly bananas.

Many of those original urban fantasy-type stories focus on a relatively young protagonist who has their world view overturned when they learn that magic is real, all around them, and that they have at least some of it.

Emerson’s “unbusheling” as it’s called in A Marvelous Light isn’t like that at all. Because she did know about magic until she was 18 – and that’s where the Harry Potter fanfiction reference comes in. Emerson’s memory of magic was wiped because she failed a test of power – and that whole scenario is suspicious in a way that does not get resolved at the end of this first book in the series.

Second, she is an adult when her memories come back after an attack by a magical creature. The tragedy of this story is that her closest friends have all stayed with her, stayed her besties, for the decade or so that her memory has been gone. And they’ve all retained their magic, their complete memories, and have kept the secret. The thought of that compromise is kind of hellish, that they all loved her enough to stick by her – and that they all feared the witchy powers-that-be enough to keep her utterly in the dark about the truth of their world.

So when Emerson’s powers start coming back, her friends are equal parts scared and thrilled. Thrilled they can finally be their full selves around her. Scared that the powerful witch council will learn that she’s broken the memory block and that they’ve all told her all the things they promised not to tell under threat of their own memory wipes – or worse.

And they are collectively even more frightened because Emerson’s powers must have returned for a reason. A reason that is likely to be even bigger and more threatening than whatever that council will do to them.

What kept making me crazy was that in the midst of all this her friends were just as over-protective and condescending as any of the adults assisting a young first-time magic user are in any of those stories from the 80s and 90s. The situation frustrated the hell out of Emerson, and I was right there with her.

I also think it made her learning curve drag out a bit more than the story needed.

But there’s something else, and it looms even larger now that I’ve finished the book. There are two antagonists in this story. The first, and the largest by nature, is, quite literally, nature. An evil menace is filtering into the confluence of the rivers that sustain the magic of not just St. Cyprian, but the entire magical world. Emerson’s powers have emerged because it is her task to lead the coven that can stop it – even if she has to sacrifice herself in the stopping.

Howsomever, the focus through the entire story is on the other big bad – that leader of the local council who memory-wiped Emerson, exiled her sister Rebekah, drove her parents out of St. Cyprian and has generally been manipulating the entire town through her coven/council for some reason that has not yet been revealed.

And isn’t revealed by the end of the story. So everything ends on a ginormous freaking cliffhanger. The evil menace in the waters seems to have been dealt with – at least for now. But the council has just arrived to deliver what their leader believes is a well-deserved smackdown for saving everyone’s asses.

Literally just arrived as the book doesn’t so much end as come to a temporary and frustrating halt in mid-looming threat.

And we still don’t know what the root cause of that conflict even is. The ending isn’t satisfying. I need to know why the leader seems to have had it in for Emerson and her entire family long before the events of this book. The evil in the water, as much as it needed to be eliminated, wasn’t personal – at least as far as we know. It needed to be resolved but it’s difficult to get invested in. I’m invested in seeing that manipulative witch get exactly what’s coming to her. And I didn’t even get a hint.

Hopefully the answers – or at least some of them – will be revealed in the second book in the series, Big Little Spells. Because I’m salivating for some just desserts to be served.

Review: Boss Witch by Ann Aguirre

Review: Boss Witch by Ann AguirreBoss Witch (Fix-It Witches #2) by Ann Aguirre
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, paranormal romance
Series: Fit-It Witches #2
Pages: 368
Published by Sourcecbooks Casablanca on April 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

The second in an adorable witchy rom-com series by New York Times bestselling author Ann Aguirre, perfect for fans of:
Ride-or-die female friendshipsA bisexual heroine who stubbornly refuses to accept helpA hero with an incredibly pesky moral conscienceA mouse named Benson who may or may not have all the answers to life, magic, and love (Spoiler: he does!)
Clementine Waterhouse is a perfectly logical witch. She doesn't tumble headlong into love. Rather she weighs the pros and cons and decides if a relationship is worth pursuing. At least that's always been her modus operandi before. Clem prefers being the one in charge, always the first to walk away when the time is right. Attraction has never struck her like lightning.
Until the witch hunter comes to town.
Gavin Rhys hates being a witch hunter, but his family honor is on the line, and he needs to prove he's nothing like his grandfather, a traitor who let everyone down. But things in St. Claire aren't what they seem, and Gavin is distracted from the job immediately by a bewitching brunette with a sexy smile and haunting secrets in her eyes.
Can the bossiest witch in town find a happy ending with the last person she should ever love?

My Review:

I often begin the review of a second book in a series by speaking about how it picked up where the story left off, but that’s not even accurate here.

Boss Witch picks up in the middle of Witch, Please, showing the reader the events of the second half of that first book from a different perspective in the first half of this one.

So, on the one hand, new readers won’t feel like they’ve missed much by starting here. Howsomever, readers of the previous book may start out wondering WTF is going on and whether we’re going to learn anything new about this charming (in multiple senses of the word) little Midwestern town and the witches who live there, hiding in plain sight among the mundanes.

The switch in perspective from Danica to Clementine Waterhouse, cousins and sisters-of-the-heart, as they deal with the crisis that cropped up in Witch, Please in their very separate ways.

Danica’s magic spiked out of control in that first book, spiking high enough to draw the attention of one of the dreaded – and dreadful – witch hunters. But Clementine has a plan to deal with Witch Hunter Gavin Rhys. (Clementine ALWAYS has a plan, that’s part of her function in the excruciatingly dysfunctional Waterhouse family.)

While Danica is off ‘billing and cooing’ with the love of her life, her magically mundane ‘Cinnaman’, Clementine will do what she’s done all of their lives and clean up her cousin’s mess.

But Clem is tired of being the person who gets ALL the jobs done ALL the time in their family. It’s not about work, the ‘Fix-It Witches’ shop that the cousins share. Well, it isn’t ALL about the work. It’s about Clem being the fixer-upper in their family who has taken charge and gotten the shit that needs doing done since her mother started dumping too many of her adult emotions and woes on her then-teenaged daughter.

As I said, this family is not functional, and they have never put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional in any way, shape or form. Clem is tired, and stressed, and tired of batting clean-up all the time and then getting blamed for ‘hurting’ someone by mentioning that she’s tired of cleaning up after them. She’s a bit blunt and abrasive but she’s earned it. But she sucks it up to keep the peace – and to keep her family from having a meltdown which she will, again, have to soothe and fix.

I feel her pain. (I like Clem. Her family, on the other hand, drives me up a wall.)

So, when Clem volunteers to distract Gavin Rhys from hunting for all the witches in town, starting with her cousin Danica, it starts out as just another thing she has to take care of for everyone else.

When Clem distracting Gavin turns into Clem and Gavin distracting each other, in bed and out, Clem realizes that however it started, her relationship that shouldn’t be has become something that she’s doing just for herself – and just for him. At least until all the secrets start coming out of the woodwork to take down Clem, her coven sisters – and Gavin.

Escape Rating C+: I really need to start picking books this week where I like the characters a whole lot more than I did yesterday and today.

The Waterhouse family of witches absolutely does not put the fun in dysfunctional. The real problem at the core of the family is that Gram is more toxic than the Wicked Witch of the West, and unfortunately a big chunk of the story that repeats between Witch, Please and Boss Witch is the revelation of just how toxic and manipulative Gram really is, and just how much and how often she reaches out to damage and demean every other woman in the family – meaning her daughters and her granddaughters. She’s honestly a greater force for evil than the witch hunters – and is that EVER saying something!

One of the problems I had with Witch, Please is that even after Gram’s lies and manipulations are uncovered, she doesn’t get the comeuppance she deserves. So the story has to deal with it all again in this book, and she still doesn’t take delivery of the message. That left this reader unsatisfied with that part of the story. Again.

OTOH, the witch hunter saga does manage to get surprisingly neatly tied up with a big bow in a way that gives Gavin’s crisis of both conscience and the heart a lot of emotional weight. The way that Gavin’s situation is resolved, both as a witch hunter AND with his own uber-toxic father, was wonderfully cathartic. (If only Gavin’s dad and Clem’s Gram could share a prison cell for a while…)

But on my third hand – the one belonging to my familiar, perhaps – resolving the witch hunter danger at the end of this book, does make the thought of the third book in the series, Extra Witchy, feel more than a bit anticlimactic (no matter how many climaxes the characters manage to experience) – particularly as it looks like the first half of that story runs parallel to the second half of this one.

So, color me curious about how this all works out into HEAs all around. We’ll see when Extra Witchy drops in October.

Review: Guild Boss by Jayne Castle

Review: Guild Boss by Jayne CastleGuild Boss (Harmony, #14) by Jayne Castle
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, futuristic, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, science fiction romance
Series: Harmony #14, Ghost Hunters #14
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on November 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Welcome to Illusion Town on the colony world of Harmony—like Las Vegas on Earth, but way more weird.
Living in this new, alien world doesn’t stop the settlers from trying to re-create what they’ve left behind. Case in point—weddings are still the highlight of any social calendar. But it’s the after-party that turns disastrous for Lucy Bell. Kidnapped and drugged as she leaves the party, she manages to escape—only to find herself lost in the mysterious, alien underground maze of glowing green tunnels beneath Illusion Town. She’s been surviving on determination and cold pizza, scavenged for her by a special dust bunny, when help finally shows up.
Gabriel Jones is the Guild Hunter sent to rescue her, but escaping the underground ruins isn’t the end of her troubles—it’s only the beginning. With no rational reason for her abduction, and her sole witness gone on another assignment for the Guild, whispers start circulating that Lucy made it all up. Soon her life unravels until she has nothing left but her pride. The last thing she expects is for Gabriel Jones to come back to town for her.
The Lucy that Gabriel finds is not the same woman he rescued, the one who looked at him as if he were her hero. This Lucy is sharp, angry, and more than a little cynical—instead of awe, she treats him with extreme caution. But a killer is still hunting her, and there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to heroes. Despite her wariness, Gabriel is also the one person who believes Lucy—after all, he was there. He’s determined to help clear her reputation, no matter what it takes. And as the new Guild Boss, his word is law, even in the lawlessness of Illusion Town.

My Review:

This entry in the Harmony series has one of the best opening lines in pretty much ever, “The Lord of the Underworld showed up with the dust bunny and a pizza.” Not that Gabriel Jones is actually Hades – even if he does go along with the somewhat macabre joke.

The pizza is a small cheese and olive from Ollie’s House of Pizza. The dust bunny’s name is Otis, and a small is all he can manage to carry. He gets a slice and Persephone, otherwise known as Lucy Bell, gets dinner in the underground chamber she’s been trapped in for the past several, hazily counted days.

Gabriel Jones is there to rescue her – with the help of the dust bunny. After all, Otis has been helping Lucy all along, and Gabriel is just carrying out yet another mission for the sometimes famous, sometimes infamous Ghost Hunters’ Guild.

Welcome to Harmony, a planet in the human diaspora that lost contact with the homeworld a couple of centuries back, and has been not just surviving but thriving ever since. With the help of the dust bunnies and the boost in psychic power that comes from living on this planet with a murky alien past and a wealth of finely tuned resonating amber.

No one knows why the aliens left, only that they left their ruins behind both above and below ground. And that the colonists from Earth discovered that their psychic powers were enhanced by the amber – and that they needed to hone those enhancements to survive on this planet where so much of the weather and everything else could be deadly to those without protection from the psychic phenomena that permeate the place.

But the colonists were part of Earth’s Arcane Society, so they had what it took to make a go of Harmony when their Earth tech began failing after they were cut off.

Two centuries later, everyone on Harmony has at least a bit of talent. Guild members have a lot as they handle security in the most ghost-ridden and psychic phenomena rich areas – and are both celebrated and envied as a result. And occasionally good guild members, like good cops, go bad or get seduced to the dark side by the power and adulation.

But Lucy Bell isn’t a guild member – she’s a weather channeler. She’s able to direct and redirect the deadly power-storms that Harmony regularly throws up. When this story begins, she’s trapped underground among the storms and the phenomena without her amber while recovering from Harmony’s equivalent of a “Mickey Finn”. Even when he locates her, Gabriel doesn’t believe she was drugged by ‘person or persons unknown’. He’s sure, just as everyone else seems to be, that she got herself drunk, took the drugs voluntarily and got herself lost in a blackout. That she’s unstable and damaged.

Even her parents believe it.

That her rescue results in another forced round of hallucinogenic injections only makes her situation worse – but by that time Gabriel Jones is off on his next mission leaving Lucy to suffer the fallout.

He expects her to fall straight into his arms when he returns to Illusion Town as the new Guild Boss. She just wants to give him a piece of her mind over the downturn her life has taken since he carried her out of the Underground and left her in the hands of the men she saw as demons.

It’s only when they combine forces, he looking for a lost Old Earth artifact with still deadly powers and she attempting to revive her reputation and her business by assisting him, that they discover that her kidnapping and his hunt are all part of the same deadly game.

Just because you’re paranoid does not preclude someone being out to get you – and there’s definitely someone, or perhaps more than one – out to get them both.

Escape Rating B: All of the Arcane Society’s chickens have come to roost on Harmony to lay some VERY bad eggs. Some, but not all, are Easter Eggs in this book for anyone who has ever read any of the author’s interconnected series, her historical Arcane Society (written as Amanda Quick), her contemporary Arcane Society (written as Jayne Ann Krentz) and her futuristic Harmony (sometimes referred to as Ghost Hunters) books, of which Guild Boss is the 14th, written as Jayne Castle. (The author referred to it as the “Jayneverse” although I personally prefer “Arcaneverse” as a collective title).

I actually read this back in May when I first picked up the eARC. I have to admit that it didn’t grab me at the time the way that this author’s books usually do, no matter what pen name they are written under. And because I didn’t get into it the way I usually do, I didn’t write it up.

Having reread it over the holiday weekend, I’m not sure what happened the first time that it didn’t work for me, because it certainly did this time. Whether it was the right book at the right time now when it wasn’t then, or I’m just in the mood for an action/adventure type romance, I don’t know. But I did like Guild Boss the second time around quite a lot so I’m glad I went back to it.

One of my favorite things about the Harmony series are the dust bunnies. Every single one of them has a personality that is just so huge compared to their size. And they are, every last one of them, inveterate scene stealers. Otis is no exception. In fact, he loves to be in front of the camera. Any camera. All the cameras. For a dust bunny he’s kind of a ham.

The mystery in this one is big and convoluted and it’s a bit easy to get lost in it. There are a lot of moving pieces and it doesn’t quite all tie up neatly. Likewise, the romance is hot and electric, but a bit on the instalove side of that equation.

I think I felt like a couple of issues were a bit unresolved or got swept under the carpet. When Gabriel comes back to Illusion Town, Lucy, well, I want to say she didn’t make him grovel enough but her situation wasn’t his fault. At the same time, it’s understandable that she blamed him for it. That internal conflict, and it is mostly internal, got wrapped up a bit too easily, especially considering how often she chided him throughout the book about her being just another mission to him and how focused he was on climbing the Guild ladder.

It also seemed like her conflict with her parents was left hanging. Not that life’s conflicts generally get wrapped up with a tidy bow, but their disappointment and disapproval was a bit Chekhov’s Gun, even if the only possible resolution would be inside her head.

All of that being said, my re-read of Ghost Boss was much more fun than my original read, so I’m very glad I took the trip back to Harmony. While it looks like it’s going to be awhile before the author returns to Harmony, I still have two books with her signature blend of romance, adventure and psychic phenomena to look forward to this year, Lightning In a Mirror next month and When She Dreams in May. I expect them both to be marvelous reading treats, just as Guild Boss turned out to be!

Review: Witch, Please by Ann Aguirre

Review: Witch, Please by Ann AguirreWitch Please (Fix-It Witches, #1) by Ann Aguirre
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, paranormal romance
Series: Fix-It Witches #1
Pages: 363
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Practical Magic meets Gilmore Girls in this adorable witchy rom-com with:
• A bisexual virgin baker with a curse• A witch looking to avoid romantic entanglements• And a chemistry between them that causes literal sparks

Danica Waterhouse is a fully modern witch—daughter, granddaughter, cousin, and co-owner of the Fix-It Witches, a magical tech repair shop. After a messy breakup that included way too much family “feedback,” Danica made a pact with her cousin: they’ll keep their hearts protected and have fun, without involving any of the overly opinionated Waterhouse matriarchs. Danica is more than a little exhausted navigating a long-standing family feud where Gram thinks the only good mundane is a dead one and Danica’s mother weaves floral crowns for anyone who crosses her path.
Three blocks down from the Fix-It Witches, Titus Winnaker, owner of Sugar Daddy’s bakery, has family trouble of his own. After a tragic loss, all he’s got left is his sister, the bakery, and a lifetime of terrible luck in love. Sure, business is sweet, but he can’t seem to shake the romantic curse that’s left him past thirty and still a virgin. He’s decided he’s doomed to be forever alone.
Until he meets Danica Waterhouse. The sparks are instant, their attraction irresistible. For him, she’s the one. To her, he’s a firebomb thrown in the middle of a family war. Can a modern witch find love with an old-fashioned mundane who refuses to settle for anything less than forever?

My Review:

Happy families may be all alike, and every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, but there should be an exception for intrusive families, which are more alike in their unhappiness than the paraphrase from Tolstoy would lead one to expect.

Certainly Danica Waterhouse’s family of witches has plenty of intrusiveness to go around, between her cousin Clementine who is determined that both Danica and Clementine will remain single and unattached forever, her mother Minerva who married a mundane and lost her powers, and her beloved Gram who is determined that Danica will marry someone with an impeccable witch lineage and pass on the Waterhouse legacy.

Minerva wants her daughter to follow her heart. Gram doesn’t care about Danica’s heart as long as her ovaries are dedicated to making pure witch babies, while Danica just wants a chance to live her own life on her own terms. Something that seems impossible as long as she’s the chew toy in the family squabble between her laid back mother and her bulldozer grandmother.

A grandmother who is an expert at wielding guilt like a knife and isn’t either ashamed or afraid to use that knife and any other weapon that comes to hand in order to keep her granddaughter on what she perceives as the straight and narrow.

Danica lets herself be stuck in permanent peacemaker mode, caught between those opposing viewpoints, until she’s broken out of her paralysis by the smell of sinful cinnamon rolls wafting through her life.

Danica and her cousin Clem are the owners of Fix-It Witches repair shop, because that’s literally what they are and what they do. Their witch talent lies in coaxing machinery that is broken into a state of repair. And one of the ovens at Sugar Daddy’s bakery is in desperate need of repair.

Which leads the Sugar Daddy himself, Titus Wannaker, the baker-in-chief, to stop at Fix-It Witches to ask if they can come over and repair his recalcitrant oven before he starts losing business.

But when Titus opens the door at Fix-It Witches, Danica loses control of her magic, her blender sprays a pineapple smoothie everywhere, and Titus loses his heart to the sweet, snarky, sexy witch who looks like she bathed in pineapple chunks.

And the feeling is very, very mutual.

There’s only one hitch in Titus’ instantaneous plan to get as close to Danica as possible for as long as possible – at least once she gets the pineapple chunks out of the way.

Danica is a witch, Titus is a mundane, there’s a Statute of Secrecy that makes the one in the Potterverse look like a mildly worded suggestion – and there’s Danica’s Gram lurking around town, determined to keep Danica on the only path that Gram will EVER approve of.

A future that does not include delectable interludes with a mundane – not even the Cinnaman of Danica’s dreams.

Escape Rating B-: I am of two minds on this book in so many ways!

First, foremost, and most important, the romance between Danica and Titus is lovely, sweet, sexy, delicious and every kind of wonderful. I loved them together so much and wanted Danica to find a solution to her family and witchy dilemmas so badly so that they could have a chance. The author did a great job of conveying that this was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of love and that they belonged together in spite of everything.

I stuck with the book because I wanted to see them get their HEA so much.

At the same time, at the literal halfway point I switched from the audio to the ebook in spite of how much I was enjoying the narrator because Danica’s intrusive family, her almost pathological need to keep everyone happy – except herself – combined with the need to keep witches and witchcraft secret on pain of death or at least an extreme memory wipe were downright painful and I wanted to get through them as quickly as possible. By judicious skimming if necessary.

Not that Titus’ family doesn’t have problems of its own, but the crap he was dealing with all made sense.

Danica, on the one hand, was being a doormat in the face of her family’s conflicting expectations and demands. On the other hand, her relationship with Titus, their ever-increasing chemistry and every time they managed to find a tiny slice of time together were utterly adorable. And on the third hand – hey, witchcraft, why not three hands (or more) in a pinch? – there was too much about this world’s version of witchcraft that wasn’t explained as well as it could have been.

Because there’s a terrific story of sisterhood and found family hidden within the dynamics of Danica’s coven. While a bit too much of the coven’s business in this opening entry in the series was focused on the way that Danica’s powers were spiking out of control because of her relationship with Titus that she didn’t feel free to actually have, there was still a lot there to unpack and revel in about the way that this group of multiple generations of women got together, supported each other both personally and professionally, gave each other space to vent and room to grow, and occasionally discussed books in between major magical workings.

I was also fairly convinced early on that Gram was pretty much the Wicked Witch of the (Mid)West, so I wasn’t exactly surprised to discover that my conviction was close to the actual mark and not just my own feelings about just how toxic her manipulations really were. And I’ll admit that I really needed to see an epic takedown of Gram over this and did not get the catharsis I was looking for.

So there’s a thread in this story about Danica being forced to learn that her hero has feet of clay up to the knees and it felt like that reveal and its effects were minimized. It’s entirely possible that we’ll get to see the fallout of that situation in the next book in the series, Boss Witch, in April 2022. I need to make sure that Danica and her Cinnaman are still living their sweetly happy ever after.

Review: Pirate’s Promise by Lisa Kessler

Review: Pirate’s Promise by Lisa KesslerPirate's Promise (Sentinels of Savannah #5) by Lisa Kessler
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, paranormal romance
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #5
Pages: 270
Published by Entangled Publishing: Amara on July 26th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Greyson Till never found a weapon he didn’t like. As the immortal Master Gunner of a pirate ship, he’s grown his collection for over two hundred years. So when a legendary cursed blade that can cut through any material goes missing from the government’s paranormal artifact vault, he’s eager to retrieve it. Working with the secret division Department 13 has always come with its set of challenges, but this one is the worst yet.

Along with the mission comes fiery, no-nonsense paranormal weapons expert Aura Henderson, who couldn't be less thrilled about this pairing. The last time they saw each other, Greyson accidentally blew her cover, almost killing them both. Worst of all, to get the sword, she has to pose as Greyson's wife. The last thing she needs is to get involved with a sexy grumbly pirate, whether in reality or just pretend.

When they locate the relic, the gilded blade thirsts for blood and things aren’t what they seem. Greyson isn’t sure who to trust anymore, and he’s not about to let death come between them...

My Review:

Once upon a time, in the 1700s, the pirate crew of the Sea Dog found an unexpected treasure. They found the Grail. That Grail. King Arthur’s Grail. And drank from it. They expected, honestly, nothing at all. What they got was a form of immortality. They heal. From everything. Even old age.

Actually, they just never age. Something that has become a big more difficult to cover up in the 21st century with its CCTV, social media everywhere all the time, and just the sheer amount of documentation that’s required to make a living.

Even immortal pirates have to make a living. Keeping their replica Sea Dog not just afloat but seaworthy requires licenses, paperwork and yet more paperwork, and, of course, money.

After all, the pirates may heal, but their ship most definitely does not. And operating the Sea Dog as a tourist attraction is more a labor of love than profit. And it requires a cargo hold of licenses and permits of its very own.

That’s where Department 13 of the U.S. Government comes in. It’s not a surprise that there’s a department tasked with monitoring the weird, the wacky, and the things that go bump in the night. It’s even less of a surprise that the department in question would know ALL about the immortal pirates.

So when a dangerous relic is stolen from Department 13’s super-secret and super-secure warehouse, only to turn up in Scotland, the Department is a)embarrassed as hell and b)worried about causing an international incident with their British counterparts, who are, of course, MI13.

But there’s not a lot of trust between the pirates and the government. Not surprising considering their respective histories. But the Department needs to get that relic back, and the Sea Dog is the right crew for the job. With one addition, Department 13 Agent Aura Henderson.

It’s a simple job. Sail to Scotland aboard the Sea Dog. Pose as a couple of well-heeled collectors, buy the relic and sail back with the prize so it can be locked up again. Hopefully more permanently this time.

NOTHING about this job is as easy as it should be back in the planning stages in Savannah.

Aura doesn’t believe the pirates will have her back. The Department fears that the pirates will, well, act like pirates and sell the relic to the highest bidder. The current owner of the relic is Aura’s former NYPD partner and the entire operation is a trap. For her.

Oh, and Aura’s former partner – he’s a demon. And that relic of his – it’s out for blood. Specifically, Aura’s blood. It wants to cut her open in order to take it.

Escape Rating B+: I got started in this series in Magnolia Mystic because I was looking for something a bit lighter and fluffier than the dense tome I was reading at the time. Between the immortal pirates, the evil property owner, and the seeress promising gloom and doom, I was surprised to get what I came for. There is a bit of lightness in this series, even though there’s generally something dark and evil coming their way in every story.

Considering their long lives, the pirates of the Sea Dog have more than a few demons of the psychological type in their mental baggage. They all have serious trust issues with outsiders for obvious reasons, and when the story began they’d all loved and lost a few too many times and all seemed to be more or less resolved not to get emotionally involved again.

But this time there’s an actual demon, although not so much a demon from hell as a demon from a hellish dimension. The demon has stolen a mythical sword that can cut through any material. It’s already cut through Agent Aura Henderson’s trust in herself. This “thing” was her police partner for several years and she never noticed that it was anything other than a cop she shared pizza and a love of B movies with. Until he revealed his demonic nature, she thought he was one of the good guys and was she ever wrong.

What’s making this whole thing work for me is that the setup reads as if Stargate and Anna Hackett’s Treasure Hunter Security series had a book baby and this series is it. From Stargate we get the idea of other planets and dimensions who have left stuff lying around and from THS comes the idea that government agencies and private contractors are tasked with hunting this stuff down and putting it away where it can’t do any harm. That Treasure Hunter Security is an action/adventure/suspense type romance makes it a very strong read alike for the Sentinels of Savannah. (Start with Undiscovered and be prepared for a book binge to tide you over until the next immortal pirate falls.)

So Pirate’s Promise and the entire Sentinels of Savannah series is just a big ball of elements that I love. There’s a touch of the paranormal, supernatural or otherworldly, there’s the idea that history is bigger and much different from what we imagine, there’s action, there’s adventure, and there’s a hot romance between two people who are perfect for each other and fighting it every step of the way.

That the pirates have baggage as well as booty and that the heroines have all walked through dark places and kept both their dukes and their guards up just adds to the fun. This entry in the series, featuring the romance between the ship’s master gunner and an agent who really, really loves to make things explode definitely made for a fun and explosive reading time for this reader.

Review: The Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert

Review: The Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. ReichertThe Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on April 20, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"A charming rom-com with a supernatural twist...Filled with a strong sense of place, mouthwatering descriptions of food, and a sweet love story (or two), Reichert's latest will surely delight readers." Booklist Starred Review
Named a Must Read for spring by Buzzfeed * Bustle * Booktrib * PopSugar * BookRiot * Midwest Living

Jobless and forced home to Wisconsin, journalist Sabrina Monroe can tolerate reunions with frenemies and kisses from old boyfriends, but not the literal ghosts that greet her in this heartwarming tale of the power of love and connection from acclaimed author Amy E. Reichert.
For Sabrina Monroe, moving back home to the Wisconsin Dells–the self-described Waterpark Capital of the World–means returning to the Monroe family curse: the women in her family can see spirits who come to them for help with unfinished business. But Sabrina’s always redirected the needy spirits to her mom, who’s much better suited for the job. The one exception has always been Molly, a bubbly rom-com loving ghost, who stuck by Sabrina’s side all through her lonely childhood.
Her personal life starts looking up when Ray, the new local restaurateur, invites Sabrina to his supper club, where he flirts with her over his famous Brandy Old-Fashioneds. He’s charming and handsome, but Sabrina tells herself she doesn’t have time for romance–she needs to focus on finding a job. Except the longer she’s in the Dells, the harder it is to resist her feelings for Ray. Who can turn down a cute guy with a fondness for rescue dogs and an obsession with perfecting his fried cheese curds recipe?
When the Dells starts to feel like home for the first time and with Ray in her corner, Sabrina begins to realize that she can make a difference and help others wherever she is.

My Review:

The saying goes that “home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Sabrina Monroe, unemployed and in student loan debt hell way over her head, has to go there – no matter how much she really, really doesn’t want to.

Her parents are more than willing to take her in. The rest of the town, not so much. Or, at least not so much in the person of her lifelong arch-nemesis, who is happy to have Sabrina back in the Dells just so that she can continue her literally lifelong torture of the one girl in school who never begged to be part of her inner circle of bitches.

I have to say that part of the story was not my favorite.

What was lovely, however, was the relationship that Sabrina reluctantly develops, one-step-forward and two-steps-back, with Ray Harper, the new owner of The Otter Club, a restaurant and supper club that has been in his family – and in the Dells – so long that both are institutions.

A relationship that is pushed and pulled and connived at and encouraged, not just by Sabrina’s mother who wants her oldest daughter to come home, but by the Monroe family’s resident ghost, Molly.

The Monroe women see dead people. It’s their duty to help the recently deceased with unfinished business finish that business so they can actually rest in peace. Or in the light. Or wherever they go when they shuffle off this mortal coil and all the worries and responsibilities that go along with it.

Molly, dead since Prohibition, is an exception. Whatever unfinished business she has can’t seem to be resolved, so she sticks around and helps the Monroes do the work that only they can do.

So far, at least, it hasn’t been a terrible afterlife. Molly loves movies – especially romantic comedies. She wants her friend Sabrina to get her own happy ending – no matter how much baggage Sabrina has piled in the way. Little do either Sabrina or Molly know that helping Sabrina get out of her own way with Ray Harper will lead Molly to her own, long delayed but seemingly literal, happy ever after.

Escape Rating B: This is one of those books that drove me absolutely crazy, both in a good way AND in a bad way at the same time.

The good way took me on a bit of a search, because as I read I kept having that “I’ve read this before” kind of deja vu. The trip down reading memory lane was a whole lot of fun, as I managed to latch onto what this reminded me of so strongly.

For most of this story, Molly reads very much like Colleen, the genius loci of Stella Maris Island in Susan M. Boyer’s cozy mystery series that begins with Lowcountry Boil. Both Molly and Colleen are ghosts that protect their respective families, have limited ability to act in the real world, and do one heck of a lot of spying for their favorite people. Both also died young with unfinished business.

But the heart of the ghostly interactions in The Kindred Spirits Supper Club echoes the way that the paranormal talent that Clare Cermak the protagonist of Robin D. Owens’ Ghost Seer series finds herself inheriting a family gift for interacting with the spirit world and helping the recently and not-so-recently dead finish their unfinished business and “go towards the light”. Clare and Sabrina would have a lot to talk about, especially about the negative impact that “seeing dead people’ has on their social life, professional reputation, and opportunities for romance.

In the not so good way of driving me bonkers, while I know that Erika is supposed to serve as the villain of the piece, her behavior, especially the way it continued to the present day, read as much too far over the top. The amount of humiliation that she has put Sabrina through since grade school – and continues into adulthood – made for an uncomfortable read. As did the way that Ray’s parents treated him over his desire to stay in the Dells and continue to operate his late uncle’s supper club. The way that relationship resolved worked out for the best, but it middled in a way that was pretty damn nasty.

And it still made more sense than Erika’s crazy. I detested Erika’s crazy and it colored my feelings about the entire book, which is a real shame because I wanted to love this book and expected to love this book but the Erika plotline made that impossible.

Your reading mileage may vary.

Even though I guessed the resolution of Molly’s story fairly early on, I still liked that part of the story and Molly as a character. I also enjoyed the strong sense of place that imbues this book – another similarity to the Lowcountry Boil series, BTW. In spite of living in Chicago for 20 years, I never visited the Dells as so many Chicagoans do. This story both made me wish I had and made me feel like I almost but not quite did.

I also felt for Sabrina, her love of her family combined with her conflicting desires both to be with them and to be as far away from the Dells as possible. Her retreats into herself, her panic attacks and her anxieties made her feel real and I liked her a lot. I wanted to see her happy as much as Molly did.

In the end, while there was one character/situation to hate, there was a LOT to love about The Kindred Spirits Supper Club.

Review: Cash in Hand by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Cash in Hand by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayCash in Hand by T.A. Moore
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Pages: 202
Published by Dreamspinner Press on December 15, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The last monster died a hundred years ago. At least, that’s what the monsters want you to think.
Half-monster Cash just wants to keep his head down and raise his daughter, Ellie, to be an upstanding member of monstrous society. Even if she’d rather spend the summer with her human friends than learn the art of man traps at Camp Dark Hollow.
So the last person Cash wants to see is her uncle Arkady Abascal, who’s also Cash’s ex-boyfriend.
Arkady has more than Ellie’s summer plans on his mind. He’s there to enlist Cash to find out who’s been selling monster secrets. Cash hasn’t gotten any better at telling Arkady no, but it’s not just his weakness for Arkady that makes him agree. The Prodigium thinks an Abascal exposed them to humans, and now the whole family is at risk—including Ellie.
Recruited to help Arkady identify the culprit—or frame a scapegoat—Cash finds the machinations of monstrous power easier to navigate than his feelings for Arkady. At least, at first. But when things get bloody, he wishes romantic disasters were all he had to worry about….

My Review:

The monsters hanging out at the Abascal Hotel and Spa make the creatures in that old Halloween staple, Monster Mash, look like the population of the proverbial Sunday School picnic.

Most of us wouldn’t want to meet any of these folks in a dark alley – or even at the Summer Camp dropoff for their children. Monsters’ children, who are off to camp to make the friends and especially the enemies they’ll have for all of their lives. To learn how to be successful predators – or evasive prey, as the case might be.

No one in this story is completely human. But we root for them anyway.

Especially Cash, his little girl Ellie, and his on again/off again flirtation with Arkady Abascal. Arkady, who just so happens to be Ellie’s uncle, a member of the family at the top of the local monster society – and the love of Cash’ life whether he wants to admit it or not.

Usually not. Definitely not.

Which makes Arkady’s bargain with Cash, that Cash will pose as Arkady’s boyfriend for a weekend wedding at the family mansion in return for more protection for Ellie, a dangerous proposition all the way around.

It’s not just Cash’ heart that is at stake, but also what’s left of his human soul – as well as his half-human life. And Ellie’s. Definitely Ellie’s.

Because there’s someone out to get Ellie’s grandmother. And if Donna Abascal, the queen of the immortal monsters, goes down, she’ll take the entire family with her. Including Arkady. Including Ellie.

Whether she’s guilty – this time – or not.

Escape Rating B: It’s pretty clear from the outset – even without the author’s acknowledgement below – that this was originally supposed to have been TA Moore’s entry in the Bad, Dad and Dangerous anthology. But the story grew too many tentacles and other extra limbs to fit inside that particular skin, rather like the monsters and their too tight and wrong-shaped human guises.

(Consider that a monster-sized hint that if you like this story you’ll enjoy Bad, Dad and Dangerous and very much vice-versa. All the stories in that collection as well as this one are just a terrific mix of urban fantasy, paranormal romance and that extra touch of shivery monstrousness that make for a great read!)

This is a bit different from the usual worlds of urban fantasy or paranormal romance in that this is a world where, rather than magic being real – although it sort of is – it’s the monsters that we believe are myths and legends that are real.

Monsters who have their own society and their own laws – especially their own version of the Statute of Secrecy – as well as their own enforcers of those laws. At the same time, these are monsters. They are apex predators, and they hate having to bow to any authority – even one of their own making – even if it gives them things they want in return.

Like willing victims. And good wi-fi.

So the worldbuilding in this story is really neat and just a bit different. I wish we’d gotten a bit more of it, because there are a lot of politics in this story and figuring out who’s doing who and how their rank matters was occasionally just a bit confusing. (The short story that is serialized over the course of this blog tour should help with that, but I wish I’d had it before I read the book. It would have helped!)

As much as some of the politics and relationships confounded a bit, the relationships at the heart of this story are very clear and extremely easy to grasp – and to occasionally gasp at as we figure out just what’s at stake.

In the end, that’s what takes your breath away. The depth of Cash’ love for his daughter Ellie, in spite of everything he knows about both her origins and his own. The love that Cash and Arkady have never been able to get over for each other, no matter how much both of their monster sides tell them it makes them devastatingly vulnerable. Because that’s what love does.

And just how deep and how high the machinations go, to protect what needs protecting, to save who needs saving, and to deceive whoever and whatever needs deceiving to hold on to the most important things in life. Or death. Or undeath.

Whatever the case might be.

And now a word from TA Moore:

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Cash in Hand by TA Moore. Any of you who read Bad, Dad, and Dangerous very nearly got to read this in there. Cash in Hand was the first story I wrote for the anthology, the only problem with it was that it was…a bit long. It was a novel. So I was told to write another novella immediately, and Cash in Hand became a thing in itself! Which I hope you guys check out and enjoy!

For the blog tour I’ve written a short story set in the Prodigium world. I hope you enjoy!

 

Chapter Four

The damask puddled on the ground in front of Grandmother as she worked, peacock green with darker blue patterns woven into the fabric. She clicked her tongue.

“The Left Hand of the Prodigium,” she mused. “In our designs.”

“He’s been in the shop once.”

She waved one leg at him, a gesture that simultaneously dismissed his protest and told him to hush.

“We could put a sign over the door,” she said. “By charter from the Prodigium.”

“He was on his own.”

She gave him a hard look out of one beady, black eye. “You sound like your father.”

Dim pulled a face. He supposed he did. It had been the one thing he’d always swore he’d never do, back when he was Van’s age, but the older you got the more you realised that pessimism was just optimists called reality.

“If we tell people Kohary shops here,” he said. “We’ll lose business. People won’t darken our door for fear they’ll run into him in his underwear.”

For a moment Grandmother stopped work and cocked her head to the side. “Do you think he wears underwear?” she asked. “I would have assumed he was….what’s the word Van uses…commando?”

That was the last thing that Dim wanted to think about. He was going to now, probably for a few restless, sticky hours tonight, but that wasn’t the point. The naked (almost) Kohary in his head — hotter with black briefs that clung to his thighs and outlined his cock? Or without? A question for later — gave him a look that said he knew what he was doing.

Fuck. He might, for all Dim knew. No one really knew what Kohary’s monster was or what it could do. Well, no one knew for long. It was kind of ‘just before you horribly die’ information.

“That’s not the point,” Dim said. “What am I meant to do? I already have a dozen commissions for the end of the month, now I’m meant to come up with an outfit that’s fit for a banquet and an insult?”

Grandmother reached out and patted him on the shoulder. “Is it beyond you?”

Shit. Dim clenched his jaw on the unnatural compulsion that pushed on the bones of his skull. “Grandmother, don’t.”

She tilted her head to look at him with amusement. The curse had left her enough of her face to see the human she’d been, her nose and cheeks and the soft curve of her jaw. It had taken her eyes, though, and replaced them with the black, seed-jewel eyes of a spider. Black mandibles distorbed her mouth, the pink flesh stretched tight and peeled back in places. The black, mitten-fuzzed paw on his shoulder squeezed.

“Can you not do it?” she asked.

Dim clenched his jaw from sheer stubbornness. It didn’t matter. His monster crawled up his throat and wrestled control of his tongue off him.

“I can do it,” he said, through his teeth. Arrogance that wasn’t his–and wouldn’t have to understand the fucking consquences when they got here–filled him. “Just watch me.”

Grandmother swung forward on her line and kissed his cheek. Her mandibles were rough, like a brillo pad that was almost worn out.

“Go and make me proud,” she said. “Grandmother is hungry.”

Gloves hid his bloody fingers. They didn’t help with the restless jitter of his knees and tight shoulders as his monster plucked at his nerves like they were puppet strings.

Stitch. Sew. Buttons. Get it done, prove you can.

He ignored the rant with the ease of long practice and dumped more sugar in his coffee.

“When you imagine going to the Abascal wedding,” he asked idly. “How does it end badly?”

Astrid adjust the fingers on the hand of glory she had in front of her and turned it so the long-dead murderer gave him the bony finger.

“What makes you assume it goes wrong?” she sniffed. “And do you think these need to be tinted a shade more grey? Remember, the banquet will be in the caves?”

Dim cocked his head to the side.

“Remember they’re going to be lit,” he said. “You don’t want them to look alive. And it wouldn’t be an anxiety dream if everything went right.”

Astrid sighed and wiped her waxy hands on her apron. She picked up a shaved off ring of wrist bone and chewed thoughtfully on it as she considered the question. 

“I’m dancing with Belladonna,” she said, her eyes dreamy.It lasted a second and then she sighed as she went on. “She compliments me on what an amazing spread I’ve done, then she apologizes for stepping on my toes. People laugh. I realise I’m naked.”

“Could be a power move.” Dim pointed out.

Astrid sucked the marrow out of the centre of the wrist bone and sighed. “Naked except for my period pants,” she finished.

They both grimaced at that thought.

“Why?” she asked.

Dim shrugged. The scratch in his brain had settled when it realised he was still at work. “Just a thought,” he said. “I see the police are worried about gang violence up in Chesapeake? Anything to do with you?”

She mugged modestly for a moment. “Just a quick test, to see if executing them myself works.”

“And?”

Astrid held her hand out and wobbled it back and forth. “Burns without being consumed and opens a few locks. Good enough for the lunch, and I’ll save the real ones for the big event. I’ve got feelers out ”

“Just be careful,” Dim said. She frowned at him and he shrugged. “The great and the not-so-good are in town, cross them and they’ll sell you out to the Prodigium in a second.”

She rolled her eyes. “Some of us are willing to take risks to get ahead,” she said. “We can’t depend on our family to back us up.”

Dim shrugged. The warning that Kohary was in town stuck in his throat. He liked Astrid, but not enough to cross Kohary. If he wanted a terrible death that left no corpse, he’d go and kick some of his less good-natured relatives awake.

Black Demetrius, his namesake, had slaughtered a dozen hunters and made half of the Prespes his lair. Until Grandmother had tracked him down and tucked him in to sleep so she could get the Prodigium’s permission to come to the New World. 

He’d probably put Dim out of his misery quick enough.

“I should get back to work,” Dim said as he got up. “Thank you for the coffee.”

She grinned at him, her broken, yellow fangs and Gila Monster thick spit on display. “Thank you for the goodie bags,” she said and clapped her hands girlishly. “It’s just the right touch for the fancies.”

For the rest of the story, check out the other stops on this tour!

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Deception by Nina Croft + Giveaway

Review: Deception by Nina Croft + GiveawayDeception by Nina Croft
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal romance, science fiction romance
Pages: 400
Published by Entangled: Amara on November 23, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Brave new world or the same old crap?
Warlock Milo Velazquez has always dreamed of a day when “monsters” like him don’t have to hide in the shadows. Now, on a planet far from Earth, he’s hoping the old prejudices have been left behind. Though from what he’s seen so far—not a chance.
Their new leader could make life a living hell for Milo and the other immortals illegally transported across the galaxy. Under cover, he scopes out the threat, but he never expected to find a beautiful woman locked in a cell underground. He should ignore her and focus on his mission, but instead he sets her free.
Milo has met all kinds, paranormal creatures and humans, in his centuries of life, but Destiny is like nothing he’s ever encountered before. She’s flawless, and strangely naïve, though she can spout off facts like a walking encyclopedia. He isn’t sure who—or what—she is, or why someone so innocent would be a prisoner.
All he knows is Destiny is different...and finding out why could be their only hope for survival.
Each book in the Dark Desires Origins series is STANDALONE:* Malfunction* Deception

My Review:

It is just so damn good to see Rico Sanchez again. He was my introduction to the original series, all the way back in the original and entirely too short version of Break Out in 2011. I liked that book the first time I read it, absolutely loved it in the expanded edition in 2013, and have followed the series ever since just to follow the misadventures of this vampire in space.

Along with marveling at the whole concept of vampires in space, and wondering why I hadn’t seen this before – but definitely wanted to again!

At the time of Break Out and the entire Dark Desires series, this part of the galaxy had been settled by refugees from Earth for several centuries. The empire they founded on the cornerstones of a universal church and an authoritarian regime has become settled if not stable. The Terran origins of the humans in the Trakis system has receded back into history, to the point of myth and legend.

Except for Rico Sanchez, who lived through ALL of it from the Spanish Inquisition to the time period of the original story in 3058. We’ve seen hints of what happened in between, but didn’t have the full story.

At least not until the Dark Desires Origins series began earlier this year with Malfunction.

While in the first book in this new series it’s the ship that seems to be malfunctioning, the premise of the series as a whole is that the entire Earth was malfunctioning, in a way that we can kind of see from here. The consequence of that malfunction was an expedition to a galaxy far, far away where humans could re-establish themselves as a species – and probably mess up an entire new galaxy as well.

Certainly the “migration” was a clusterfuck in all sorts of very human ways. The best and the brightest were supposed to be “Chosen Ones’, but instead all the places on the 24 ships were taken up but the “rich and powerful” who purchased their places through bribery and kickbacks.

And one ship, just one ship, where Rico Sanchez replaced half of the originally intended passengers with people more-or-less like himself. Vampires, werewolves and other shifters. And at least one warlock.

Not a wizard like Harry Potter – although comparisons could be, and frequently are made. Rather, Milo Velazquez is the immortal “child” (he was over 500 years old before the migration) of a power-hungry witch and a demon. Not just any demon, either, but one of the lords of the seven Hells.

He’s also Rico’s nephew – sorta/kinda – so Rico doesn’t take no for an answer when Milo says he’d rather take his chances on Earth. Milo wakes up aboard Rico’s ship after 500 years of cryo-sleep in a place he swore he’d never go doing the one thing he swore he’d never do again.

Falling in love.

Escape Rating B: I’m enjoying this series so far because its an origin series for something I already loved. Based on reviews, readers new to the series are finding Malfunction and now Deception a great way to get into something marvelous, so don’t feel like you have to go all the way to Break Out to get into this one.

The setup to this series reminds me, in a peculiar way, of the way that Amanda Quick’s Arcane Society series took to the stars to become Jayne Castle’s Harmony series. People with psi powers on Earth first banded together to protect themselves, and then took themselves to the stars where they could fully develop their powers.

(Quick and Castle are the same person, Jayne Ann Krentz, and all of her books are wonderful.)

Robin D. Owen’s Celta series has a similar origin to Harmony. But both are based on the premise that there are people with psi powers here on Earth now who are forced to hide their powers and that they leave Earth not necessarily because the planet as a whole is FUBAR’d but because their particular situation is.

In the Dark Desires world, it’s the paranormal beings who are forced to lead a hidden existence, and who take advantage of a situation to get off Earth along with everyone else.

While most of the people on Rico’s ship are the traditional population of paranormal romance, Milo is a bit different. While it’s impossible not to see the influence of Harry Potter on his presence in this series, Milo explicitly isn’t quite like Harry even if he can do many of the same things.

One of the things that he and Rico have in common is that the “Church”, whatever its current incarnation, has always seen both of them as infernal creatures, eternally damned, who can be persecuted, crucified or burned at the stake – occasionally all of the above – anytime they need a scapegoat to keep the downtrodden masses occupied.

Neither of them is human and they only pretend to be when it suits them. Their views on humanity in general and the Church in specific are often quite scathing while being at the same time completely understandable.

All of which makes Milo’s attraction to the strangely innocent Destiny that much more fascinating. Destiny is naïve in a way that Milo hasn’t been for centuries. She’s not stupid, she’s just sheltered. And the more she breaks out of that shelter the deeper Milo falls – as much as he doesn’t want to.

The reasons behind Destiny’s sheltering turn out to be the heart of everything wrong with the new colony on Trakis Two. Discovering who and what she really is drives her journey and the dramatic tension of the entire story that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat from the minute she awakens to the second she breaks out of her mental cell for good, forever, and especially for Milo.

I am definitely looking forward to more of this prequel series. Hopefully in the not too distant future!

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

To celebrate the release of DECEPTION by Nina Croft, we’re giving away a paperback copy of Malfunction, the first standalone novel in the Dark Desires Origins series!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Malfunction by Nina Croft. This giveaway is administered by BookMojo on behalf of Entangled Publishing. Giveaway ends 12/31/2020 @ 11:59pm EST.

Review: Bad, Dad and Dangerous by Rhys Ford, Jenn Moffatt, TA Moore and Bru Baker + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Bad, Dad and Dangerous by Rhys Ford, Jenn Moffatt, TA Moore and Bru Baker + Excerpt + GiveawayBad, Dad, and Dangerous by Bru Baker, Jenn Moffatt, T.A. Moore, Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Pages: 424
Published by Dreamspinner Press on October 6, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When the kids are away, the monsters will play.
School's out for summer, and these dads are ready to ship their kids off to camp. Not just because their kids are monsters--whose aren't?--but because they're ready for some alone time to let their hair down and their fangs out. You see, not only are the kids monsters--their dads are too.
Even the most dangerous of creatures has a soft spot. These bad, dangerous dads love their kids to death, but they need romance.
Every year, for a few short weeks, these hot men with a little extra in their blood get to be who they truly are. And this year, life has a surprise for them. Whether they be mage, shifter, vampire, or changeling, these heartbreakingly handsome dads might be looking to tear up the town... but they'll end up falling in love. All it takes is the right man to bring them to their knees.

My Review:

What a great collection to really sink your reading teeth into!

Or possibly your real teeth, if you’re anything like any of the dads, and their equally supernatural kids, featured in this fantastic collection of novellas.

I have to say that these stories did a great job of reminding me just what it is I read urban fantasy FOR, that lick of the supernatural that takes the world just one or two steps to the Other, where there is magic, and danger, and danger because of that magic.

These are also worlds that interact with or are nestled inside the everyday human world that we know and love and loathe, and that people are people, with or without extra powers – and that sometimes humans are awful. Power and/or other-worldliness doesn’t make them better, it just makes them different.

And there are entirely too many people who hate those who are different, whether that difference is natural or supernatural.

What’s fascinating about this collection is that the kiss of the other comes in so many different flavors – all marvelous – and all feel just on the edge of possible that sends a shiver up the spine. At the same time, each of the protagonists is also a single-parent, and no matter how otherworldly their kids might be, they are all still kids and still challenging parental authority in age-old ways.

Even if they also grow fur. Or fangs. Or flowers.

Every single one of these stories had something in it that I fell in love with, whether it was Nation the undead cat in Jenn Moffatt’s Kismet & Cadavers, the vampire dad running a call center for an insurance company and slurping up the excess negative emotions from his staff to keep them a bit less unhappy (Monster Hall Pass by Bru Baker), or the grandson of a witch who falls for a werewolf peacekeeper whose son has just be given a pomeranian cut in Rhys Ford’s Wolf at First Sight.

But my favorite story was Elf Shot by TA Moore. It just gave me the most marvelous case of the creeps with the way that it blended all of the stories about “tricksy” fae and fae courts with the purely human evil of a young man who was infected with hate and the young woman who was smart enough to escape his clutches. This is one where the supernatural elements should be the most frightening, but it’s the human evil that really creeps the reader out.

And every single one of these single parent dads manages to find the one man who can make his life just that little bit completer – by accepting the person he really is under the fur or fangs that generally put mundanes right off.

Escape Rating A-: Every single story in this collection is a win-win-win. I just wish they were ALL a bit longer, because I’d like to have spent more time in these worlds with these people. Even if they are not always two-legged people. Or perhaps especially because.

Guest Post from Rhys + Part 2 of Hunting for Salvation

Thanks so much for having me here! Since I revisited the world of Once Upon a Wolf for this anthology, I thought I’d drop back in on some familiar characters from that story for this blog tour. I hope you enjoy meeting them, again or for the first time!

Hunting For Salvation – Part 2 (Part 1 is part of yesterday’s tour stop at Boy Meets Boy)

Dean’s eyes stared back at him from a pretty face innocent of war and blood and all of the monsters crawling through Ellis’s brain whenever he closed his eyes. The soft green hazel gaze held him tightly in place, more so than the shotgun Cassandra Kelly held steadily aimed at the centre of his chest. 

Other than her wide, bright eyes, Dean’s younger half-sister shared none of his rough-hewn features. Dean’s familiar sharp angles and hard, high cheekbones were instead soft gentle curves and plump, sun-kissed cheeks, her mouth a full pout rather than the straight, disapproving line of reproach Dean’s lips were often pressed into whenever he dealt with Ellis. She was about a foot and a few inches shorter than Dean, barely coming up to the top of Ellis’s shoulders but with a shotgun, size didn’t really matter. If he knew one thing about the Kelly clan, it was they knew how to handle weapons, cars, and trespassers and Ellis racked up two out of three on that list.

He’d found her on a hillside ranch deep in California’s valleys, raising alpaca of all things. The fluffy overgrown sheep on steroids were milling about in a paddock behind Cassie, bleating and screaming their displeasure at Ellis’s arrival. Cassie might not know what Ellis was, what monstrous horror ran in his blood but the animals knew. They could scent a predator nearby and nothing she’d said to them could still their anxiety.

Cassie caught him glancing over her shoulder at the herd and cocked her head, keeping the shotgun firmly on him. “We’ve had coyote sniffing around. Lucky for me, I’ve got this here to make them mind their manners. Never would have thought it would come in handy in keeping Dean’s trash from piling up on my driveway.”

Ellis regarded the shotgun, noting its worn stock and well-burnished barrel. It was an old weapon, probably had a couple of generations of Kellys handling it. Clearing his throat, he nodded at the herd, “Not a coyote.”

“Just as bad,” she countered with a hard sniff. “Now give me one good reason I shouldn’t blow a hole right through you? Seeing as you left my brother deep down in a hole he’s not crawled out of yet.”

“Because I’m looking for him.” Ellis shoved his hands into the pockets of a pair of jeans he’d nicked from his brother’s dresser before he left Big Bear behind. “We’ve got… things to work out.”

“Only thing he needs to work out is whatever shit you left him holding,” Cassie spat back. “My brother came back nothing like he left and from what I gathered, you were the one who scooped out everything good from inside of him and ground it down into dust. What the fucking hell do you think you can say to him that’s going to change that.”

Ellis considered his options. The road to Cassie’s place was a long, dusty maze of dead ends and slammed doors. She was his only hope in finding Dean and if anyone was going to put him on the man’s trail, it would be his sister. He didn’t find any fault in her fierce defense of her brother or the reasons she wanted to keep him hidden but he wasn’t going to give up. Not after fighting so hard to break loose of the wolf he’d wrapped around himself and especially not after digging into every wound he had to find the man who’d brought him home.

“One reason, Keller,” Cassie repeated. “Else you’re going to be breathing through a hole in your guts.”

“Because I’m in love with him,” Ellis murmured, meeting her glare with as much honesty as he could muster. “And I’m not going to find peace until he knows that.”

    Join us tomorrow at Blogger Girls to hear about ‘Unicorn Snot’ from Jenn Moffatt.

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

The authors are giving away a $10 Gift Certificate to the etailer of the winner’s choice at every stop on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway