Review: Tough Justice by Tee O’Fallon

Review: Tough Justice by Tee O’FallonTough Justice (K-9 Special Ops #1) by Tee O'Fallon
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: K-9 Special Ops #1
Pages: 368
Published by Entangled: Amara on March 29, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

It should have been a routine investigation. Instead, DEA K-9 agent Adam “Deck” Decker watches in horror as one Denver hospital seems to be Ground Zero for overdoses of a new drug. Now Deck can only hope a certain icy, green-eyed ER doctor will help him and his canine partner track down the deadly source.

Dr. Tori Sampson has her reasons for not trusting federal agents, especially ones working for the DEA. But the rash of overdoses―including a heartbreaking case involving a teen―is alarmingly high. And the new opioid is not only extremely dangerous, it defies all the usual medical treatments. So Tori has a choice: work with the big, brawny, and annoyingly hot DEA agent…or watch more innocent people die.

Tori’s the only person who can help Deck break the case, and they’ll need to trust each other, no matter how high the tension and attraction sizzling between them runs. But with every question answered, they realize there’s something more behind these typical teen overdoses. There’s a pattern here, and a pattern can only suggest one thing. There’s a killer on the loose.

My Review:

First, and most important to a whole lot of people in my reading circle, the dog is fine at the end of the story. Actually Thor is more than fine. He seems to be the only person in this romantic suspense thriller who survives this case pretty much unscathed. Quite a few of the central humans in this story are a bit worse for wear by the time they reach their HEA.

But the dog is just fine. So rest easy and hang on for this wild ride of a case.

There’s a temptation to call Tough Justice an enemies to lovers romance, but that just doesn’t feel right. Enemies to lovers implies that the protagonists have met before and rubbed each other the wrong way, and that’s just not the case here.

When Deck (along with Thor) and Tori first collide in the story, it’s the first time they’ve ever met. The baggage they pretty much immediately start flinging at each other is not about either of them personally. It’s about what they – or rather their professions – represent.

Deck distrusts doctors – in the extreme – because his younger sister died of a drug overdose. She got hooked on opioids after an accident, when a doctor – either overworked, irresponsible, or both – prescribed pain-killers for her very real pain and injuries but didn’t pay attention to her growing dependence on the drugs.

Tori has no love for the DEA or its agents, because they used her father to make a case against a much bigger fish. But what put her pharmacist dad in their sights in the first place were corners that he shaved and mistakes that he made – both in giving away meds without prescriptions to people who needed them but couldn’t afford them – and for helping in assisted suicides before it was legal in Colorado.

Tori blames the DEA for promising her dad to help him if he testified – but they hung him out to dry when their case was made and he lost the family savings, his pharmacist’s license and spent several months in jail. Tori attributes her mother’s death to the stress of the situation.

That Deck and Tori meet in a face-off over the care of Deck’s partner agent who has OD’d on a new super-heroin through incidental contact as part of a takedown has Deck on edge. While Tori just needed to get the behemoth out of her ER so she can save his friend’s life without literally bumping into him every time she turns around in the small, frantic treatment room.

You would not think that opening scene, especially when coupled with their past history and mutual distrust, would turn into anything positive at all – let alone a romance.

But Tori has seen too many people, especially kids, die as a result of this new heroin compound. She NEEDS to do something proactive and not just reactive to help stem this tide. Deck needs Tori’s skills, first as a doctor who knows how to treat this new and deadly epidemic, and second for her contacts with patients.

He doesn’t want to violate the laws about patient privacy, but anyone who manages to survive – already a much too small percentage – and who is willing to talk to the DEA about where they bought the drug and who they got it from will get them one step closer to figuring out who is creating and dealing this particular form of death.

That they are both looking for an excuse to see each other again isn’t something that either of them is able to admit. At least not until it is very nearly too late for more than they’d ever thought they’d want.

Escape Rating B+: Tough Justice manages to combine a downright combustible romance with a deadly twisted thriller that feels so close to real you can practically feel the heat of the literally explosive climax right through your fingers as you’re holding the book.

(Even if you’re reading an ebook, which is actually kinda dangerous!)

So, on that one hand, we have a romance between two people who start out not really knowing each other and almost hating what they do know. On the other hand, once they let each other in, just a little bit, they realize that they are more alike than would first appear.

Because they’re both scared of risking their hearts, and they both cover that fear with by letting their work consume their entire lives so they don’t have to think about what might be missing. That both of them have jobs that both require intense focus AND are all about saving people just adds to the constant pressure to be the best, do the best, and forget about anything that might distract from those goals.

Like romance. Or hobbies. Or even taking the occasional vacation that isn’t mandated one way or another.

And on the other side of the equation, there’s this big, huge, deadly case that turns out to be a mission for both of them. Someone is selling a new, “improved”, even more addictive and more deadly formula of heroin called “Gray Death” because that’s what it looks like and that’s what it delivers.

As the story begins, Tori is treating the victims and Deck is hunting the perpetrator. Then they join forces and suddenly it seems like someone is after them. Only because someone IS after them. And that’s where the case ramps up and goes just a bit over the top.

I did figure out who the villain was long before Deck and Tori – although it didn’t make sense at first. (This is one of this times when I paged to the end to see if I was right because it was driving me nuts! Also, the villain was nuts!)

The casework was painstaking in just the way I like. Linking one clue to another with a bit of luck but not too much. But once they got there, I have to say that the villain and his villainy read as more than a bit “out there”. YMMV. I expected him to be awful – after all, he is the villain. I just didn’t expect him to be “bwahaha” insane on top.

On the whole, I loved the romantic heat between Deck and Tori and the come-here-go-away progress of their romance. I found the case they were investigating to be absolutely riveting along the way, and the ending was an edge-of-the-seat thrill ride, albeit with a villain who flew off that thrill-ride and went over the top.

Still, this was a fun, absorbing read from beginning to end, and I absolutely could not put it down. It was made even better because the dog was the only character to emerge from the story without even a scratch on him – even though he helped save the day in the absolute nick of time!

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

Review: The Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison Michaels

Review: The Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison MichaelsThe Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison Michaels
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Secrets, Scandals, and Spies #2
Pages: 457
Published by Entangled: Amara on February 14, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He wants justice
Underestimating Marcus Black is the last thing his enemies ever do. After all, the respected Earl of Westwood is a deadly threat… when her Majesty needs him to be. And his only goal is to avenge his brother’s murder. Which would be much easier if the viciously-skilled Lady Kaitlyn Montrose wouldn’t swoop in, knee him in the bollocks, and then run off with his only lead…
She wants revenge
Kat is determined to avenge her beloved uncle’s murder and nothing will stop her. Especially not the devastatingly handsome, and equally lethal Marcus Black. The fact that he’s after the same target is a complication she hadn’t planned on. And as much as she enjoys taunting him, she has a job to do—one that doesn’t include sparring with the infuriating man at every turn. Except Kat has a new plan… one that Marcus will just hate.
Now they’ll have to work together… if they don’t kill each other first
Individually, Marcus and Kat are deadly. If they worked together, they could be unstoppable. But when attraction gets in the way of vengeance, it’s more than hearts on the line. And only one person can win...

My Review:

There are three threads to this story. The part of that braid that we are introduced to first is the revenge story, as Kat Montrose watches her guardian and beloved uncle die on the street after an attack by a foreign agent known only as “The Chameleon”. The second strand of that braid is the instant attraction between Kat and Marcus Black – an attraction that is as inconvenient and inappropriate as it is irresistible.

Last but not least, the central thing that ties those two pieces together is the “Great Game” of power, politics and general one-upmanship that was conducted between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in places and with proxies all around the world, but most especially in Central and South Asia.

It’s the playing of this game of lives, fortunes and futures that eventually resulted in World War I. But at the point of this story in 1884-85, it’s mostly a spy game. A spy game in which Kat, Marcus, Kat’s late uncle AND the Chameleon have all played their parts.

Kat, formally Lady Kaitlyn Montrose, is a spy, a member of Her Majesty’s War Office. So is Marcus Black, the Earl of Westwood. Both were trained by her late uncle in the work. When he was killed, Kat began her search for the Chameleon, intending on taking “an eye for an eye”, the Chameleon’s life for her uncle’s.

But the Chameleon has been avoiding people like Kat for years, all too successfully. No one has ever been able to discover the identity of the elusive assassin. Kat needs a bit of assistance in tracking the Chameleon down. Assistance that she expects to garner in the form of the Earl of Westwood, who should want to avenge her uncle – his mentor – as much as she does.

Westwood has been hunting the Chameleon for far longer than Kat has been looking, and Victor’s death only adds to the reasons for his pursuit. He doesn’t want Kat getting in his way – or honestly working the case at all. Nor does he have any hope of stopping her.

Which doesn’t keep him from trying for entirely too long.

But the Chameleon is working through a hit list of the highest echelons of the War Office. Kat and Marcus will have to work together to stop the decimation of Britain’s intelligence services while war looms on the horizon.

Too bad they’re spending so much time fighting a war with each other to find the source of the threat before it’s nearly too late.

Escape Rating B: I loved the opening of this. The whole idea of a female spy in Victorian England had the potential to be so much fun! And the first scenes, with Kat burgling some papers then decimating the thugs who try to stop her  – was fantastic. That Kat has a burning line of snark for such circumstances was icing on the cake.

But the cake turned out to be more of a cupcake.

Kat is still an utterly fascinating character, and she does continue to kick ass and take names throughout this story. I especially loved her friendship with Livie (heroine of the first book in the series, The Bachelor Bargain) and Etta, and their joint publishing venture to take down the unrepentant asshole noblemen who abused women and didn’t think they’d have to pay for their perfidy. That was excellent. (I haven’t read the first book – yet – but didn’t feel like I’d missed anything essential. Just that I might have missed a good reading time!)

And I can’t say that I didn’t like her budding relationship with Westwood, because that certainly had oodles of passionate potential, which it mostly fulfilled. What fulfilled less, at least for me, was the degree to which he just plain refused to accept that Kat was NEVER going to submit to his protection and was not under any circumstances going to hold herself back from the investigation. Marcus wants Kat to be safe, and takes much too long to acknowledge that safety was about the last thing that Kat was built for.

If he hadn’t been aware of how she was raised and trained – and intimately aware at that because he was trained by the same person – it would have made more sense. His behavior would have been the expected thing for that time and place. But he went into this mess knowing that Kat was absolutely NOT the expected thing so treating her as if she was was going to get him nowhere but an argument. The repetition went on too long, and Kat in particular was a bit too angsty about her developing feelings. She was portrayed as a person of action at every turn and the moody angst just didn’t “feel right”.

On the other hand, the case was a cracking good one – and the solution was nothing like I expected at all. The Chameleon was both clever and totally unexpected, adding a frisson of danger and temptation to the scenario that made the whole thing that much more diabolical and entertaining.

In other words, mixed feelings. The way the romance worked didn’t quite fit the characters of Kat and Marcus as they were drawn, but I was certainly sold on them being meant for each other. I certainly liked this more than enough to consider picking up the previous book in the series, The Bachelor Bargain, the next time I’m in the mood for a romantic spy story.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. For more reviews and features follow the tour!

Features:

Monday, February 14th:  @nerdy_book_lover_1987
Tuesday, February 15th: @readinginfairyland
Wednesday, February 16th: @nsiabblog
Thursday, February 17th: @angelareadsbooks
Friday, February 18th: @barr_bookworm
Saturday, February 19th: @a_bookish_dream
Sunday, February 20th: @everlasting.charm

Reviews:

Monday, February 21st: @1bookmore
Monday, February 21st: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, February 23rd: @bookworm.struggles
Thursday, February 24th: Reading Reality
Monday, February 28th: @kingarthurof_cat_onsville
Wednesday, March 2nd: @reading.with.rylanne
Thursday, March 3rd: What is That Book About – spotlight
Friday, March 4th: @temmathomas
Monday, March 7th: @andkellyreads
Wednesday, March 9th: @aparanormalromance
Friday, March 11th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Sunday, March 13th: Subakka.bookstuff Blog
Monday, March 14th: The Romance Dish – spotlight
Monday, March 14th: @lowkey.bookish
Wednesday, March 16th: @plottrysts
Friday, March 18th: @loveofmuse
Sunday, March 20th: @shopcoffeekids

Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva Devon

Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva DevonThe Wedding Wager by Eva Devon
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 317
Published by Entangled: Amara on October 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

All Lady Victoria Kirby wants is to dig in the dirt, take notations, and record history, thank you very much. Bumbling through ballrooms and getting disdained by the ton for her less than ideal looks, on the other hand, is the last thing she wants. But her reckless father has a different idea for her future when he puts up the ultimate ante—her hand in marriage—and loses. Over her dead body.
The Duke of Chase cannot bear to see a woman misused. After all, he saw that often enough as a child. So when he’s witness to a marquess gambling away his daughter to a lecher of a man, he has no choice but to step in and rescue her. Lady Victoria has a reputation for being as tart as a lemon and as bitter as one, too. So, he may have just found the perfect wife to keep a promise he made to himself long ago--to never have an heir. With her, surely, he'll never be tempted to take her to bed and break that promise.
But when he meets the wild, witty intelligent young lady he’s bound to marry, he knows trouble is headed his way... And everything he ever swore to uphold may very well come undone, especially his heart.

My Review:

Once we get to know the Duke of Chase, it seems as if he’s a bit too good to be true. Even if at the beginning he seems a bit too bad to be trustworthy.

However, I loved Victoria from her very first appearance – as did Chase although he was much less willing to admit that even to himself.

But Chase is absolutely right about Victoria’s father. He is utterly irredeemable. There are no such thing as best intentions when one is wagering one’s daughter’s hand in marriage on a roll of the dice – even if it’s best two out of three and the dice are rigged.

That’s where we meet our hero, and our villain. Not that Victoria’s father turns out to be all that effective – or energetic – in that particular endeavor. The Marquess of Halford is determined to find his bluestocking daughter a husband before she’s permanently on the shelf – even though that’s exactly where his older daughter wants to be.

Victoria is a dedicated archaeologist, who has served as her father’s lead assistant ever since she was a child. She enjoys her work, and indeed pretty much any intellectual pursuits. She also hates the ton and the feeling is very, very mutual. She thought her father understood that, and he certainly encouraged her work.

Until the night he wagers her future, allowing her hand to be won by the scandalous rakehell otherwise known as Derek Kent, the Duke of Chase. A man whose reputation is hard-earned, hard-won, and utterly false.

Chase seems to have more than a bit of “white knight” syndrome, and Victoria is the latest in a long line of damsels he has rescued – generally by helping the world to think that they are not damsels at all.

Victoria doesn’t want the usual lot of high born women, marriage, motherhood and never allowed a thought in her head about anything serious, important or intellectual. Chase is caught on the horns of a dilemma, he needs a wife to keep the predatory mamas of the ton at bay, but he gave his word that he would never father an heir to the dukedom. Marrying Victoria, with her reputation as a plain-faced shrew should solve all of both their problems. He’ll give her the respectability of being his duchess, and the freedom to do whatever she likes. He’ll never desire her enough to bed her, so there will be no danger of an heir.

All’s fair in love and war, and the best laid plans of mice and men often go very far astray. While it’s true that Victoria’s caustic wit and sharp tongue are quite capable of disemboweling a man with a single phrase, she is beautiful. The ton’s narrow definition of beauty simply can’t encompass a woman who is meant to stride through the world like a goddess.

But by the time they’re each past admitting, at least to themselves if not each other, that they both want a marriage in full and not merely a platonic friendship, they’re both so deep in lies and misconceptions that they may not be able to wade across the chasm that they’ve dug between them.

Escape Rating B: The Wedding Wager is deliciously frothy and a quick and utterly lovely read. I liked Victoria so very much as a character, and I loved Chase’s response to her. He does think she’s beautiful, but the attraction between them is as much about her intellect as it is about her appearance. Nor does the story dwell on every detail of her appearance, and I really liked that. It felt like we got way more of the female gaze, Victoria’s appreciation of Chase’s charms, than we did the other way around.

And yet we still got that sense that she is beautiful and that the ton’s rules have become so narrow that they just can’t see it. Victoria doesn’t have to change anything about her physicality to become a “success” with the ton, she just has to own her authentic self.

One of the parts of this story that really sings is Victoria’s forthright nature and her unabashed cultivation and use of her own intellect. She’s smart, she’s thoughtful, she finds the restrictions of the ton unbearably frustrating, finds the entire thing a stupid but stupidly painful farce and does her best to ignore it as much as possible. I particularly enjoyed the scene at the theater where the older woman, Lady Gannet, enjoys Victoria and matches her in intelligence and agreed that the girls of the ton were generally forced to be stupid. Yes, Lady Gannet believed that Victoria’s prime duties as duchess were to take care of her husband and provide him with children, but she also used her brain and missed a time when other women did as well and wasn’t in the least bit shy about saying so.

I loved Victoria and Chase’s intelligent banter, although he seemed a bit too good to be true in his appreciation and support of her goals and ambitions. I wanted him to be, it makes the romance work, but at the same time it felt a bit too easy.

Speaking of easy, Chase’s secrets were too easy to figure out, so I’m glad that he revealed them to Victoria relatively early on. In the end, the conflict between them wasn’t about the secrets, it was about his clinging to the past that created those secrets.

And he gives very good grovel when he finally figures it out.

One final note. Something about the way the story was set up gave me the niggling feeling that this was part of a series. I think it was in the depth of Chase’s friendship with Brookhaven. It felt like there was prior history that was known but not present in this book. That might be true, but this is not – at least so far – part of a series. Howsomever, if it turned out to be, particularly if the next book were about Brookhaven himself, I’d be EXTREMELY interested!

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

Review: Insurrection by Nina Croft

Review: Insurrection by Nina CroftInsurrection by Nina Croft
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera, vampires
Series: Dark Desires Origins #3
Pages: 384
Published by Entangled: Amara on October 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Malpheas is one of the most powerful demons from Earth, but when he wakes up from cryo on the other side of the galaxy, he notices something is wrong—he’s human. Oh, hell no. In order to get his powers back, he must remove the sigil on his arm by carrying out three good deeds. But acts of kindness aren’t exactly his strong suit. Working undercover as a security officer investigating a suspicious death, he’s assigned to work with Hope, the most softhearted woman he’s ever met. If she can’t teach him how to be good, no one can.
Hope is in a pot of trouble, and if anyone finds out what she did, that pot would quickly boil over. She just needs to lay low until she can figure out a way to fix this mess. But when she’s ordered to show Mal the ropes and introduce him to everyone, sorting out her problems becomes impossible. Mal is sexy as sin, broody as hell, and believes she can help him change his bad-boy ways. Fine. If that keeps him from discovering her ties to the rebellion, she’ll teach him how to be a perfect angel.
As they work together, though, it becomes clear that Hope isn’t the only one with a hidden agenda, and their irresistible attraction to each other just adds fuel to the fire. When secrets are exposed, they must make the impossible choice between doing what’s right and doing what’s necessary.
Light meets dark, good meets evil…and love can hurt like Hell.

My Review:

At the end of Insurrection, it feels a bit like the circle just got squared. Or it feels like the series has either come to a conclusion or is headed for one. It kind of depends on whether you boarded the ship on the way to the Trakis system at the beginning of the Dark Desires Origins series in Malfunction, or whether you’ve been aboard for the whole wild ride starting at the very beginning in Break Out.

Because at the end of Insurrection, while we aren’t exactly where we were at the opening of Break Out, we can certainly see that beginning from here. The pieces that we picked up then are just about in place now, which makes a certain kind of sense as the Dark Desires Origins series, which began with Malfunction and was followed by Deception, seems to be heading towards its conclusion here in Insurrection.

Break Out, the first book of the Dark Desires series, takes place several centuries after the events in Insurrection. Events that are so far back in the rearview mirror that they’ve taken on the patina of myths and legends – even though Rico Sanchez lived through it all, as we’ve seen in this prequel series.

But then Rico has lived through a LOT of human history – even though he is no longer exactly human himself, and hasn’t been since the Spanish Inquisition. While no one expects the Spanish Inquisition in the first place, even less do they expect to meet a vampire who began hunting the night at that same time.

The premise behind the entire Dark Desires and Dark Desires Origins series is that Earth was well on its way to becoming uninhabitable, so a fleet of sleeper ships left the dying planet for what would hopefully be greener pastures.

Or at least pastures less fucked up by humans. At least not yet.

In the series that seems to conclude with Insurrection (I could be wrong about this being the conclusion but it feels close) we watched the maneuvering and the finagling, the bribery and the theft, as the places that should have been assigned by lottery were instead filled with the rich and the powerful. While Rico Sanchez bought, bribed or murdered his way into filling half of one ship with his own people. Not just vampires, but also shapeshifters and other things that go bump in the night, including one warlock (his story is in Deception) and one of the seven lords of the Abyss, more colloquially called Hell.

The demon Malpheas just so happens to be the warlock’s father. True to his demonic nature, Malpheas is used to getting his own way, reigning from the top of the heap, and killing anyone who gets in his way. In other words, he’s an entitled alphahole with the power to back it up.

Power he has been cut off from by the time Rico wakes him from cryosleep at the beginning of Insurrection. Malpheas has to commit three “good deeds”, definition rather nebulous, before he’ll have access to all his powers again. The curse he has to labor under is one last “present” from his old frenemy Lucifer.

All Mal has to do is figure out what “good” means, keep the humans on the other ships from discovering just what Rico has been hiding aboard his own ship, and plot and scheme to take over everything once he’s managed to beat the curse.

Unless Mal learns the lesson that his curse is trying to teach him, first.

Escape Rating A-: Now that I’ve finished Insurrection I have the strongest urge to go back and reread the expanded version of Break Out again. It feels so much like this story puts all the pieces in place for that one, and I want to check just how well it did.

This also feels like a great place to end the Dark Desires Origins prequel series, as we’ve seen in detail just how much the humans of the Trakis expedition brought humanity with them, very much warts and all. Readers who began this journey with Malfunction will leave Insurrection primed and ready to see where things have ended up by the time of Break Out, while readers who boarded this flight there will be sorely tempted to see how well the ends meet.

I’m not sure that readers who start here will be completely satisfied. On the other hand, their appetites may be whetted well enough to tempt them to read the entire series from start to finish!

In addition to all of the historical and human – or human-ish – pieces being put in place for the story to continue in that already explored future, one of the reasons that this story read like so much a part of the original book was that both deal explicitly with the problems not of mortality but of immortality.

The process that is discovered on Trakis Seven makes people practically immortal, just as Rico’s vampirism does. People who have gone through the process CAN be killed – decapitation is always an option – but don’t die from disease or accidents or even extreme old age.

The problem with immortality is that the human lifespan is meant to be finite. Psychologically, we need purpose and surprise and a whole bunch of other things that stop being important if one knows one literally has all the time in the universe. Time enough to have been there and done that for every possible thing one could be or do. It gets boring.

In Break Out, Rico may be a bit bored, but the people who have gone through the Trakis immortality treatment are getting really, really bored. And jaded. Just as the immortal demon, Malpheas has gotten bored and jaded with his already extremely long life.

So the romance in this story is wrapped around Malpheas experiencing the old curse of “may you live in interesting times.” As an immortal demon with all his powers, he can make whatever and whoever he wants happen. Nothing is interesting. With his powers locked away, he’s just human. A big, strong, and very sexy human, but human nonetheless. Everything is frustrating. Everything is weird. Everything is fascinating. His times are suddenly very interesting indeed in a way that he hasn’t experienced for a very long time. For Malpheas, the curse has become a blessing.

And the biggest part of the blessing is Hope Featherstone. Not just because she’s nice and she’s pretty, but because she’s real and so are all her emotions. She may want the big, sexy beast, but she doesn’t actually like him all that much. She also finds him surprisingly resistible, and that’s something Mal has never experienced in his life. He has to become a better person to have a chance with her.

That he discovers that she’s not nearly as good as she appears makes them perfect for each other. Now they just have to survive the mess that both their secrets have gotten them into. And get themselves as far away as possible from the brave new world being established – because it’s already every bit as FUBAR’d as the old world they left behind.

Because of the situation on Trakis Four at the end of this book, this feels like the end of the Dark Desires Origins series. But it may not actually be the end. It was great fun to go back to the beginning, to see how the situation we saw in Break Out came to be, with paranormal beings from Earth flying spaceships in a far-flung corner of the galaxy. I never expected to read about vampires in space but I’m certainly glad I did.

This was a fitting sendoff for the whole thing, as not only do we see how things got to be the way they were, but the ending puts a fair amount of focus back on the character most of us fell for at the beginning, vampire and captain Rico Sanchez. It’s been an exciting ride from beginning to end, and I’m glad I took the trip.

If the author ever chooses to return to this universe I’ll be right there.

Review: The Rakehell of Roth by Amalie Howard + Giveaway

Review: The Rakehell of Roth by Amalie Howard + GiveawayThe Rakehell of Roth (Regency Rogues, #2) by Amalie Howard
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Regency Rogues #2
Pages: 400
Published by Entangled: Amara on February 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this game of seduction, the rules don't apply...
As owner of the most scandalous club in London, the last thing the notorious Marquess of Roth wants is a wife. Keeping up his false reputation as a rake brings in the clients with the deepest pockets—money he needs to fund a noble cause. Even though everything inside tells him not to leave his beautiful, innocent wife behind at his country estate...he must.
But three years later, tired of her scoundrel of a husband headlining the gossip rags, Lady Isobel Vance decides enough is enough. She is no longer a fragile kitten, but as the anonymous author of a women’s sexual advice column, she’s now a roaring tigress...and she can use her claws.
Isobel decides to go to him in London, channeling her powers of seduction to make him beg to take her back. But she didn’t expect her marauding marquess to be equally hard to resist. Now the game is on to see who will give in to the other first, with both sides determined like hell to win.

My Review:

There are marriages of convenience. And there are convenient marriages, which is more the case of the marriage between Winter Vance, Marquess of Roth, and his wife Lady Isobel.

But after  Roth conveniently weds her and beds her and leaves her at his father’s country estate in Chelmsford so he can return to London to run his gaming hell, the girl he leaves behind is most emphatically NOT the woman his father escorts to London three years later.

The little mouse in desperate rescue has grown up into a hell-cat bent on sinking her claws into her wayward husband – one way or another. Although she certainly knows which way she’d prefer she’ll take a win any way she can get one.

Almost any way.

What she wants is a husband and a real marriage, with the possibility of children – even if she has a hard time admitting that her young and innocent heart fell in love with her handsome husband – and that his subsequent dastardly behavior has not killed that love.

What he wants is to be left alone. Not just by Isobel, but also by the rest of his estranged family; his uptight father and his jealous younger brother. Winter’s heart is frozen in the past, with the sister he couldn’t protect and the mother who was betrayed and abandoned by her husband. Both women are dead, and Winter believes that if he couldn’t protect them, he shouldn’t let anyone else get close out of fear that he won’t be able to protect them either.

Winter is pretty much a complete mess. A successful businessman, but emotionally and psychologically more than a bit of a wreck – albeit a VERY well built one.

Isobel comes to London believing that she’s there to get revenge on her wayward husband for the disrespect he’s shown her. And that she’ll be able to return to the country – after he’s groveled at her feet, of course – with her heart intact.

Winter believes that all he has to do is keep pushing Isobel away until she finally gets the message that she’s better off as far away from him as possible. Back in the country at his father’s estate.

Of course, they’re both wrong, wrong, wrong. But watching them figure that out is a whole lot of sexy and scandalous fun!

Escape Rating B+: For all the people who are shying about from this book because the blurb reads as if he cheats – he really doesn’t – and that’s obvious early on so not a spoiler. This book is a fun romp and I’d hate for people who are interested to miss it because of something that doesn’t happen after all.

I have to say that the first chapter is very hard reading. Isobel is so naïve that her attitudes and internal dialog are sweet to the point of tooth decay, while Winter is a cold, jaded bastard – except in the bedroom – where he burns hot enough to immolate them both – only to abandon Isobel as soon as he’s spent. Calling him an ass is an insult to asses everywhere.

Fortunately, in fact very fortunately for the entire story, Isobel’s cloying innocent phase doesn’t last long at all. After Winter leaves immediately upon consummating their marriage (and I do mean IMMEDIATELY and not the next morning), the story picks up 3 years later and Isobel has changed a LOT and for the better.

This is where the story gets to be fun!

It’s not just that Isobel has grown up and gotten righteously angry at her situation, it’s the WAY she’s gotten angry. She and her best friend Clarissa have not just been rusticating at Chelmsford.

Together, they’ve become the early 18th century version of Dr. Ruth, writing and publishing a scandalous sex education column for women under the penname Lady Darcy. Under the guise of research, they’ve acquired a LOT of book knowledge about love, sex, what men want and more importantly, what women want and especially what women need to know. Not about pleasing men or capturing men, but about pleasing themselves. Possibly by capturing, or at least captivating, men.

But it’s sex writing and sex education centered on women. It’s marvelous. It’s scandalous. And it gives them both an independent income. It also gives Isobel the inner fortitude to go to London and confront – and possibly captivate – the husband who has just been featured in the gossip rags for fighting a duel over another woman!

The romance in this one is all about the push and pull between Isobel and Winter. Not just that they burn up the pages like fire, but that the burn has all of the sex positivity in it that The Rakess tried to have and just didn’t, or at least it didn’t for me. The romance between Isobel and Winter is all about the way that they explore every facet of what they have together, including more than a bit of totally consensual kink. And it’s wonderful.

On the other hand, after all of the asshattery that Winter has committed, he doesn’t grovel nearly enough when he finally does figure out that he is both capable of loving and that he really does love Isobel in spite of his protestations.

And that the scene where they save each other from thieves, kidnappers and murderers and then screw each other senseless was the only point where I missed having read the first book in the series, The Beast of Beswick. Because everything to do with their being in danger in the first place circled back to events from that book. Their mutual ravishment in a back alley did, however, make the scene end with a resounding climax even if I didn’t get all of the underlying causes of the fight.

There’s one thing keeping this from being a “Grade A” read for me. The hero who believes his unworthy of love is a tried and true trope that I enjoy when it’s done well. A lot of the reasons that Winter believes he’s unworthy make sense, that he couldn’t protect his mother and sister and has never been able to measure up to his father’s high expectations. But he’s also unwilling to love anyone because his mother was destroyed by her love for his father and his father’s lack of ability to return that love. He’s learned that love is a destoyer and he has no interest in being that vulnerable to anyone. Period.

Even before we discover the truth of that past, this part of Winter’s motivations didn’t quite work for me. Men had so many more options for, well, everything, in the early 19th century than women. Winter proves to be not nearly stupid enough or oblivious enough to NOT be aware of that fact, as some of his later actions prove. I just didn’t buy that part of his story.

But overall, The Rakehell of Roth is a terrific froth of a Regency romp with just enough serious bits to really keep the reader engaged – if occasionally also enraged at the hero along with the heroine. If this kind of story sounds like your cup of tea, it reminded me a lot of The Wildes of Lindow Castle series by Eloisa James and any of Eva Leigh’s three series, The Union of the Rakes, The London Underground and especially The Wicked Quills of London. The heroines of all of those series would find plenty of common cause with Isobel and her BFF Clarissa. So if you find yourself cheering Isobel on and want more like her then those ladies will fill your TBR pile nicely indeed.

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

I’m giving a copy of The Rakehell of Roth to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

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: Pirate’s Persuasion by Lisa Kessler + Giveaway

Review: Pirate’s Persuasion by Lisa Kessler + GiveawayPirate's Persuasion (Sentinels of Savannah #4) by Lisa Kessler
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #4
Pages: 280
Published by Entangled: Amara on June 22, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Immortal pirate Drake Cole has a reputation in Savannah for his custom woodworking and historical restorations, but his work has grown into an obsession. He's become a stranger to his crew since the Sea Dog sank in 1795. None of them know his painful secret. A young stowaway went down with the ship, one that Drake swore a blood oath to protect.
The ghost of a young boy, lost at sea over two hundred years ago, leads local medium, Heather Storrey right to Drake’s door. He saved her life before, and now she has a chance to return the favor, but how can she protect him from a curse that no one can see?
A dark coven possesses the figurehead from the Flying Dutchman, and if Heather and the immortal Sea Dog crew don't locate the relic soon, Drake may be lost to them forever. Heather has seen the passionate man behind the veil of guilt, and she's determined to free him from his self-imposed prison, and persuade this pirate to love again.

My Review:

Pirate’s Persuasion is the 4th book in the Sentinels of Savannah series, which began with Magnolia Mystic. And that’s probably where you should start if you haven’t already met the crew of the Sea Dog. (You don’t really HAVE to, but you probably should read at least the first one first!)

You would think a story about pirates would be historical romance, but this isn’t. And you would think that a series about immortals still living in a haunted city would be about vampires, but that’s not what’s happening here either.

Instead, the crew of the Sea Dog managed to miss their scheduled trip to Davy Jones’ Locker back in 1795 by having drunk from the Holy Grail not long before their ship went down off the coast of Savannah.

Yes, that Grail. It’s been around. And it still is, as the events of this series have shown.

Over the centuries immortality has turned out to be as much of a curse as blessing, although not so much of a curse that any of them are willing to give it up – at least not without a greater blessing to counterbalance the effects of mortality.

As this book opens, three of the members of the Sea Dog’s crew have found their happily ever after with women tangentially connected to the paranormal and supernatural community of Savannah. Some of the couples have chosen immortality together, while others have chosen mortality together.

The together part being the entire point.

Ship’s carpenter Drake Cole has found immortality more of a burden than the others, but still chose not to give it up when faced with the choice in Pirate’s Passion. But Drake left too much behind in 1795 to live easily in the 21st century, and both come back to haunt him, literally and figuratively, in the course of this story.

The old Sea Dog had a stowaway back in 1795, Drake’s nephew Thomas. When the ship went down, Drake believed that they would die together, only for Drake to wash up on shore with the rest of the crew, and for the boy to meet Davy Jones alone. Drake has never gotten past his guilt for bringing the child aboard – and for not dying with him.

He also left the woman he loved behind in England when the Sea Dog set sail, and he’s never gotten over that loss.

His past catches up with him and tries to drag him under when a beautiful woman who talks to the dead tells him that his nephew asked her to pass on the message that his uncle was in danger, here and now, from someone very much alive.

Someone with seriously nefarious plans to ruin both Drake and the woman who has always held his heart – life after life after life.

Unless death manages to come for them both.

Escape Rating B: The premise behind this series is still an absolute hoot. On the one hand we have those immortal pirates. And who doesn’t love a good pirate romance? On the other hand, we have, well, the 21st century in which they are still living. On my third hand (call me an octopus for this one) we have not just the Holy Grail that gave the crew their immortality, but also other ancient and extremely powerful artifacts, like Pandora’s Box featured in Pirate’s Pleasure, and the figurehead of Davy Jones’ ship, The Flying Dutchman, in this story.

And on my fourth hand, we have Agent David Bale of Department 13, the government agency that deals with the paranormal, the legendary, the supernatural, and all of the other dangerous objects that need to be locked up in Warehouse 13 or Area 51. Last, but not least, we have the Digi Robins, a group of sometimes white hat but mostly black hat hackers who comb the dark web looking for priceless objects to steal – so that they can use the proceeds to help people with expensive medical problems who are all out of options.

Five points make a pentagram, which is pretty apt for this story, as it mixes the immortals with a beautiful medium who can talk to the dead and a coven of witches who plans to use the figurehead of Davy Jones’ ship to control the spirits of the dead. And at the center, a witch who will use any means available to get her revenge on everyone she thinks owes her – especially her sister and the pirate she loves.

Like the previous entries in this series, there’s a lot going on between all of the various elements. But the center of this one is medium Heather Storrey. She thinks she’s just taking a warning from a ghost to the family he left behind, only to eventually figure out that she’s been at the center of a dastardly plot all along.

I have to admit that while I love this series and it’s blend of the historical, the contemporary and the supernatural, Heather’s part in this story gave me a bit of a fit. I liked her as a person, I loved her relationship with Drake, and I’ve always enjoyed the camaraderie of the Sea Dog’s crew, but it felt obvious at least to this reader that her sister was the evil witch (literally) at the heart of the whole plot, that she had been after Heather all along, and that Heather was way too naive about their entire relationship. It may have been a case of hope over experience, but I really wanted to hit Heather with a clue-by-four a little too early on. And that spoiled the suspense aspects of the plot for me.

So, while I did enjoy the story, and I liked the way it moved the entire arc of the Sea Dog’s crew forwards, Heather is not my favorite of the heroines so far. That doesn’t mean I won’t be back, waiting on the dock for the next time the Sea Dog comes to port – because I definitely will.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Malfunction by Nina Croft

Review: Malfunction by Nina CroftMalfunction by Nina Croft
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, paranormal, science fiction romance
Series: Dark Desires Origins #1
Pages: 320
Published by Entangled: Amara on January 20, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Investigator, Sergeant Logan Farrell, has never been convinced the human race deserves saving. But it looks like he’s got the job anyway.

It’s been five hundred years since we fled the remnants of a dying Earth in search of a new home. Twenty-four ships, each carrying ten thousand Chosen Ones. All sleeping peacefully...until people start dying in cryo.

Malfunction or murder? Hopefully, the former—a serial killer in the fleet would be drastic for morale. But Logan is determined to find the truth. Unfortunately, he’s got a new partner—and he works best alone.

Katia Mendoza, hot-shot homicide detective, has been woken from cryo to assist with the investigation. But is she really interested in solving the case, or does she have her own agenda?

Before he can answer that question, though, they become targets themselves.

Nothing like a few near misses with death to bring a couple together, and Logan finds himself falling for the alluring detective. But he doesn’t know that Katia is hiding a secret.

It’s not only humans who fled the dying Earth.

My Review:

Once upon a time there was a book called Break Out. It takes place in a far distant future – 3050 – in a galaxy far, far away. It’s kind of a heist story, and the first paranormal SFR I ever read. It’s SFR because, well, obviously, 3050 and humanity has managed to get itself off this rock. It’s paranormal because one of the lead characters, the captain of the spacefaring band of mercenaries that the series follows, is Ricardo Sanchez.

Rico was born on Earth in 1452. He became a vampire – yes, you read that right, vampire – during the Spanish Inquisition. A vampire, whether from the Spanish Inquisition or otherwise, is not what you expect to discover on a spaceship.

And yet, when humanity fled Earth, Rico managed to beg, borrow, bribe or steal – mostly bribing and stealing – his way onto one of the sleeper ships heading away from the disaster. And he brought 5,000 or so of his fellow paranormals along with him. Vampires, werewolves, werecats, demons, etc.

Through a bit of timey-wimey time travel bits, we got a few glimpses of Rico’s life before he went space traveling in Break Out and the books that followed. However, while he and his friends talked about their journey to get to the far-flung future, we didn’t get to actually see it.

Now we do. Malfunction is the first projected book in a prequel series to Break Out and its series, which is either titled Blood Hunter or Dark Desires. And if you’re wondering why I’m going through all this background information for a prequel, it’s because my love of Break Out (I gave it an SFR Galaxy Award in 2013.

I was interested in this book because I loved that one. Whether a reader new to the series will have that same reaction is anyone’s guess. I’m not sure.

Because this is not actually Rico’s story – not that I didn’t love seeing him again. Instead, this prequel is an SFR murder mystery – not that there aren’t plenty of paranormal elements in the mix.

This story takes place aboard the good ships of the Trakis expedition – and they are all falling apart. But those malfunctions are mostly what you’d expect after 500 years of continuous operation with no resupply and no hope or home in sight.

The Captain of the Trakis One and Rico on the Trakis Two have each woken an investigator from cryosleep because a recent audit of ships’ systems has turned up a malfunction that is not merely not random. It’s not even likely.

Someone has been running from ship to ship sabotaging cryosleep chambers – including each and every failsafe built in to those chambers to prevent the dozens of deaths by asphyxiation that have occurred.

Trakis One wants their investigator, Sergeant Logan Farrell, to declare the whole thing an unfortunate series of accidental but coincidental malfunctions. He’s not buying what they’re selling, but he’s a good enough soldier to pretend he does.

Rico Sanchez, on Trakis Two, wants his own investigator, Detective Katia Mendoza, to make sure the investigation stays away from the Trakis Two and doesn’t poke its nose into the many, many illegal things that Rico did to get his people onto the ship instead of the people who were supposed to be there.

As Katia is also one of Rico’s illicit people – and a werecat – she’s more than willing to keep the fleet out of their business. But her detective instincts are aroused by the crimes, which are definitely real and definitely crimes and not accidents or malfunctions at all.

That her baser instincts, as well as her emotions, are equally aroused by Sergeant Logan is something that she’ll have to either ignore or let Rico deal with – permanently. One way – or another.

Escape Rating B: I loved the early books in the original series, so I was all in for Malfunction. That being said, Malfunction didn’t feel like it hung together nearly as well as the early books in that series. I enjoyed Malfunction for its look back at the origins of a story I really liked, but I’m not sure that I’d have liked it nearly as much without having already seen the future of this universe and at least one of its characters.

Although the reviews seem to be saying that I’m a bit off-base, and readers new to this world are still loving this book. Your warp speed may vary, of course.

For this reader, it felt like the story existed on three levels. One is the “nostalgia” factor, that I already knew where this universe ended up, so it was fun to see where it began.

The second, and the primary plot of this particular story, is the spacefaring murder mystery. In a strange way, it reminded me of Medusa Uploaded, probably the bit about the mysterious deaths being investigated as well as the class system that has been not just preserved but enshrined in the way that people where chosen for this journey. It also has a bit of Veronica Scott’s Star Cruise/Sectors SF series to it, as that spacefaring SFR series often deals with crime aboard a spaceship. But the tone in Malfunction is dark in the way that Medusa Uploaded is dark.

Third, of course, is the romance between Logan and Katia. They have instant chemistry together, and they both resist it for equally good reasons. Sometimes for the same reason – neither of them has ever fit in and they are afraid to trust themselves emotionally. Of course Katia has another reason for resisting the attraction. She’s not sure how Logan will react once he knows her secret and she’s not sure about becoming emotionally involved with someone that she will probably outlive by centuries.

Unless, of course, the course of this investigation sends them both to “kingdom come” in a ball of fire. After all, someone is committing the crimes that they are investigating, and it becomes almost instantly clear that whoever that someone is they are willing to murder not just dozens but literally thousands of people to cover their crimes.

Or to fuel their need for vengeance. After facing near-death at every turn and always – so far at least – managing to survive together, it’s not any wonder that Katia and Logan decide to grab whatever joy they can in the now – because tomorrow really might never come for either of them.

I, however, certainly hope that there will be more books in the Dark Desires Origins series. It was fun to see Rico and company at an earlier stage of their journey – and the trials and tribulations of watching a new human colony being created while hiding in more-or-less plain sight should be fascinating.

Review: Pirate’s Passion by Lisa Kessler + Giveaway

Review: Pirate’s Passion by Lisa Kessler + GiveawayPirate's Passion by Lisa Kessler
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #2
Pages: 311
Published by Entangled: Amara on November 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Samuel Keegan used to man the wheel of the Sea Dog over 200 years ago, but these days he’s the front man of a southern rock band. Rum and women are plentiful, but his world is changing rapidly now that his crew is back together searching for the Holy Grail to break their curse. But the quest leads him to a historian with raven hair and a wicked smile. She holds all the answers, but she could also spell death for them all.

Dr. Charlotte Sinclair works for the Maritime Museum in Savannah, an expert on ancient pirate wrecks. When a government agent requests her help in a top-secret investigation, she discovers not only is the Holy Grail real, but the lead singer of her favorite band is actually the immortal pilot of the Sea Dog crew.

The search for the Grail opens some dark secrets better left hidden, and Charlotte's life might depend on one Pirate's Passion...

Each book in the Sentinels of Savannah series is STANDALONE:* Magnolia Mystic* Pirate's Passion

My Review:

While the title of this series is reminiscent of the Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans, the story keeps giving me vibes that it’s related to Alyssa Day’s Warriors of Poseidon – along with a touch of a vampire romance series that I read a long time ago and now can’t recall the title of. And that’s going to drive me bananas until I figure out what it was.

Along with just a hint of the X-Files.

Only the beginnings of this mix were hinted at in the first book in this series, Magnolia Mystic. In that first story, readers were introduced to the immortal crew of the privateer Sea Dog, alive and mostly well over two centuries after their ship sank in the waters near Savannah.

Nearly, well, because their immortality seems to be wearing off.

The last treasure they took was the Holy Grail – and they all took a drink from the cup of immortality. But suddenly they aren’t healing as fast or as well as they used to. They decide to retrieve it from its hiding place and take another sip, only to discover that the cup is missing.

And that they aren’t the only ones after it. That’s where the X-Files come in, or at least Department 13, in the person of Agent David Bale.

That’s where we pick up the story in Pirate’s Passion. While Bale has already enlisted the help of the Sea Dog crew to retrieve the cup, they all need help figuring out who might have stolen it and why.

That’s where Dr. Charlotte Sinclair and the Savannah Maritime Museum come it. Charlotte is an expert on 19th century privateering in the Savannah area in general, and on the Sea Dog and its crew in particular.

She’s even written a book on the subject.

So it’s not much of a stretch to think that she might be able to help – once Bale reveals at least some of the truths to Dr. Sinclair. The big truth that “the truth really is out there” and that there are all sorts of legendary creatures that are not quite as legendary as she might have thought.

And that the crew of the Sea Dog, including the local rock singer she nearly went to bed with the night before, is alive and well and has been spending their eternity in Savannah. She’s not certain whether to be embarrassed about her previous encounter with Samuel Keegan, or to just go with the chemistry between them.

Her friends have all been telling her that she seriously needs to get a life – even if getting an immortal one isn’t quite what they had in mind.

Escape Rating B+: There is a LOT going on in this story. While Magnolia Mystic introduces the series, that was a novella. And now it kind of feels like a teaser. We met the crew and discovered their situation, but the wider (and sometimes wilder) world is mostly in the background. Which makes it a very nice introduction to the series but not critical to getting into this story.

Pirate’s Passion is where all the big guns and full-size cutlasses come out of their holsters and sheaths, and we learn just how different the world really is. While there is a romance in this story, and it looks like there will be in the rest of the series, the overarching story is urban fantasy.

This is our world, it just has a whole lot more…dimensions… than we are aware of. Many of those extra added attractions are interesting, some are very cool, and more than a few are quite deadly. As our heroine discovers, even if our hero isn’t certain whether that deadliness is something that he has to worry about – or not – or not yet.

The romance between Keegan and Char burns hot and heavy, but is often laced with tears. One of the dilemmas that ALWAYS has to be solved, resolved, or at least glossed over is what happens when one of the lovers is immortal. As far as they know, Keegan could live for centuries yet, where Char is mortal. If things go the way they have gone, his choices are to leave before his heart is too deeply engaged or watch her eventually grow old and die – if the dangers of their world don’t kill her first.

That this conundrum is resolved differently from the choices made in Magnolia Mystic gives the story some heft. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. (Also, one-size-fits-all is one of the ten biggest lies, right up there with “the check’s in the mail”, and “this will only hurt for a little while”)

This is also a series where, like Stargate and Anna Hackett’s Team 52 series, there is a government department tasked with dealing with the weird, that has a storage facility of dangerous artifacts. A department that employs agents who not only believe in the supernatural, but may also be a part of it.

Including Agent Bale, who has been fighting the bad guys longer than anyone expects. And where Char’s supposedly dead father has been hiding out from everyone who seems to be out to get him – on both sides.

So this is the book in the series where we learn just how big and bad the big bad is going to be. After all, if there are good guys on the side of the light, there must also be bad guys hiding in the dark. That there are multiple organizations out there who want to steal whatever artifacts Department 13 turns up for more-or-less nefarious reasons of their own makes sense in this context.

The world that the crew of the Sea Dog is a part of gets much bigger and much deadlier in this entry in the series. While I love the complexity of the world building, this is one of those times where it might have been better if it didn’t whack into the reader all at once – especially with Char’s own personal connections to the weird along with the crew of the Sea Dog finding out just how much is out there besides themselves.

Your mileage may vary.

That being said, I certainly enjoyed my second outing with the crew of the Sea Dog, if not quite as much as my first trip in Magnolia Mystic. I’m definitely looking forward to another voyage with this crew of pirates in Pirate’s Pleasure, sometime next year. Hopefully early next year!

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

To celebrate the release of PIRATE’S PASSION by Lisa Kessler, we’re giving away for a $25 Amazon gift card!

LINK: http://bit.ly/2y1fdsw

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open internationally. One winner will be chosen to receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing.  Giveaway ends 11/16/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Entangled Publishing will send one winning prize, Pure Textuality PR will deliver the other. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: Magnolia Mystic by Lisa Kessler

Review: Magnolia Mystic by Lisa KesslerMagnolia Mystic by Lisa Kessler
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #1
Pages: 103
Published by Entangled: Amara on July 23, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Two words: Immortal Pirates. It doesn't get better than that! Sexy, spicy, and so much fun--I can't wait for the next one! - Alyssa Day, NY Times bestselling author

Skye Olson is a psychic like her mother, and her grandmother before her, but a bad break up with the man she thought was her soulmate has left her confidence in her abilities shaken. While she's in crisis, a real estate tycoon from Atlanta swoops in with his eyes on her shop.

Colton Hayes spent his mortal life plundering royal ships with his pirate crew, but one holy relic changed everything. Now he and the rest of the crew protect the port of Savannah from their captain who traded his cutlass for a fountain pen.

When Colton discovers the captain wants to build a hotel in the heart of historic Savannah, he sets out to stop him, but nothing could prepare him for the sexy smile and violet eyes of the Magnolia Mystic.

Magnolia Mystic was previously a part of the Magnolias & Moonshine collection.

Each book in the Sentinels of Savannah series is STANDALONE:* Magnolia Mystic* Pirate's Passion

My Review:

I’m in the middle of a big, deep, slightly heavy book, and found myself looking for something a bit lighter and fluffier to balance it out. Not that I’m not loving the other book, because I am, but there’s so much going on that I need to take it in smaller bites.

Why I thought undead pirates was going to be lighter, I’m not sure. But Magnolia Mystic is certainly lighter and even a bit fluffier than the other book.

Also, the pirates are not undead, they’re more like undying. The crew of the Sea Dog are 250-plus years young, after drinking from the Holy Grail. Yes, that Grail, the one that the Knights of the Round Table were chasing after in the King Arthur stories.

The pirate crew of the Sea Dog actually found the thing. They were raiding a Spanish treasure ship that was supposed to be carrying a fortune in gold doubloons. Instead, there was just one battered chest, containing a cup that refilled itself.

But that was two and a half centuries ago, and a pirate, even an undying one, still has to make a living. Colton Hayes is making his by taking tourists out of the Port of Savannah in his replica Sea Dog.

And that’s where he meets Skye Olson, the woman he’s been fated to meet for all those years. She’s fated either to be his salvation or his doom, and from the first it’s a bit hard to tell which.

She’s in recovery from a really bad breakup – and swears that she’s swearing off men when she meets Colton. He’s literally gobsmacked by seeing that old prophecy fulfilled – the one that said that meeting the violet-eyed woman would bring about both his life and his death.

Because after meeting Skye, the curse or blessing of the Grail (depending on perspective) stops working. Not completely, but pretty darn obviously. One of Colton’s crewmates is in a devastating car wreck. And while the man doesn’t die like anyone else would, he also doesn’t instantly heal the way that the Sea Dog crew always have.

Their immunity seems to be coming to an end – just at the point where Colton has discovered a woman that he loves enough to want to be able to grow old with.

But not every member of the crew is so willing to give up on immortality. And that’s when they discover that the Grail, the cup they’ve been successfully hiding for over two centuries, has gone missing.

And that Uncle Sam wants them to steal it back.

Escape Rating B: This was just lots of fun. It’s also lots of introduction as this is the first book in the series. In fact, I found this one by seeing a promo for the next one, which is due out in November.

I liked Skye as a character and found her easy to identify with. Not the whole seeress gig, not that it doesn’t make sense in the context of the story. And I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point we discover that it was Skye’s great-great-great-grandmother who made the original prophecy.

But her situation otherwise is one that is easy to be sympathetic to. She’s a smart woman who usually takes care of herself but made a mistake in trusting the wrong man and now doubts her ability to pick the right one – or at least a good one.

However, it’s the situation that Colton and his crewmates are in that really grabbed my attention and kept it. Instead of the undead curse that struck the pirates in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, we have something that might either be curse or blessing. Not undeath, but seemingly everlasting life.

What do you do with all those centuries? How do you keep from falling into depression, ennui, or outright evil? Not that one member of the crew hasn’t become, if not true evil, at least the 21st century version of everyday evil – a ruthless property developer.

That Colton realized that he had to let Skye in on the secret if they were to have a chance – and how he went about it, worked very well. Especially when it wasn’t Colton that she believed, but another one of his crewmates who had been her lifelong friend. That the story went down easier from someone she already trusted made sense.

The ending was where the series takes off and leads to parts unknown. Who knew that the U.S. government had an agency devoted to ferreting out the supernatural? And why wouldn’t they? But the it takes a thief to catch a thief twist at the end is the one that will keep this series going – and I liked it – a lot.

I’m looking forward to continuing my voyage on the Sea Dog with the Sentinels of Savannah next month in Pirate’s Passion.