Review: Impostor’s Lure by Carla Neggers

Review: Impostor’s Lure by Carla NeggersImpostor's Lure (Sharpe & Donovan #8) by Carla Neggers
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense
Series: Sharpe & Donovan #8
Pages: 320
Published by Mira Books on August 21, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Master of suspense and
New York Times
bestselling author Carla Neggers delivers an exhilarating page-turner where the disappearance of a federal prosecutor launches the latest high-stakes case for FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan.Newlyweds Emma and Colin are suspicious when prosecutor Tamara McDermott is a no-show at a Boston dinner party. Matt Yankowski, head of HIT, Emma and Colin's small, elite Boston-based team, is a friend of Tamara's, and he needs them to find her.In London, a woman who was supposed to meet Emma's art-detective grandfather to talk about forgeries is discovered near death. Her husband, who stayed behind in Boston, has vanished. The couple's connection to Tamara adds to the puzzle.As the search for Tamara intensifies, a seemingly unrelated murder leads Emma, Colin and HIT deep into a maze of misdirection created by a clever, lethal criminal who stays one step ahead of them.As Emma draws on her expertise in art crimes and Colin on his experience as a deep-cover agent, the investigation takes a devastating turn that tests the strengths of their families and friendships as well as their FBI colleagues as never before.
Impostor's Lure
is full of clever twists that will keep readers guessing right to the stunning conclusion!

My Review:

The Sharpe & Donovan series is somewhere in that borderland between romantic suspense and mystery. Sorta/kinda like a contemporary version of In Death, but in a different place on the romantic suspense/mystery divide than the futuristic series.

At the beginning, Sharpe & Donovan hewed a bit closer to romantic suspense side, as FBI Agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan meet in the middle of an investigation near their hometowns on the coast of Maine. Colin is undercover, and Emma is in the middle of a case that is already much too personal.

Impostor’s Lure takes place a year (and 7 books) after that first meeting in Saint’s Gate. Emma and Colin are now married, and wondering just how long they will be able to continue working art crimes together before Colin gets tasked with yet another long-term undercover mission – his dangerous specialty. And now that their romance has reached its HEA, the story is more about the mystery and less about the romance. However, like many long-running mystery series, there is a “gang” of friends and family that surrounds Emma and Colin – and they have a big part to play in this particular story.

While they are worried about that medium-term problem, something happens much closer to home that puts them in the thick of a case that touches all of their friends and family both in Maine and Ireland.

On the other side of the pond, Emma’s grandfather Wendell, founder of the family art detective firm, discovers the comatose body of a woman who wanted to consult him about forgeries. The case looks like a drug overdose, but Wendell is shaken enough to worry both friends and family.

Over here, Emma and Colin as well as their boss Matt find themselves both shaken and alarmed when a friend who is also a federal prosecutor stands them up for dinner. While the woman could just have decided to start her long-overdue vacation a bit early, she’s also standing up her daughter on the young woman’s one-and-only 21st birthday.

This doesn’t seem right to anyone involved, especially once it turns out that Tamara might have been looking into some very alarming things that her daughter told her about her recent trip to Ireland – a trip that included both a murder and a developing friendship with the woman that Wendell found comatose.

Something is definitely not right. Actually lots of things aren’t right – on both sides of the Atlantic. As the bodies start piling up – and occasionally spilling over – it’s up to Emma and Colin to unravel the mystery and light the darkness at its center before it is too late.

Or at least before it’s more “too late” than it already is.

Escape Rating B: I finished this in one sitting. This is literally true as I was on a flight from California to Atlanta while I read it! This was a good, absorbing mystery to while away about half the flight.

This is definitely not the place to start this series. While, as with all the books in the series, the mystery is solved within this volume, an awful lot of the background revolves around the circle of friends and family that Emma and Colin are very much in the middle of. By the time this story ends, pretty much every one of their friends and most of their family have at least had a walk on part in the solution – and there’s a piece of that solution that only has resonance if you’ve at least read some of the previous books. I don’t think you need to have read them all to enjoy Impostor’s Lure, but at least the first one and one from the middle. Harbor Island and Liar’s Key are a couple of my favorites from the midpoint in the series.

The mystery in Impostor’s Lure is definitely a convoluted one. The perpetrator is certainly a sociopath, which makes that person both very organized and totally without scruples or conscience. They’ve been pulling off a lot of stuff for a very long time, and really only get caught because events have caught up with them and they are forced to act without their usual level of planning.

As a reader, I did not guess the perpetrator until very near the end – and then only because there were too many characters who simply could not be “it” because of their close relationship to Emma and/or Colin.

That being said, I really like the circle of friends and family that Emma and Colin have gathered around them/been gathered into. The group of is very interesting mix of family-of-birth and family-of-choice on both sides of the Atlantic and in both of their hearts. And just like any family, it has a few black sheep, and some members that one of them likes or tolerates more than the other. It’s also a hoot that one member of their family is a former art thief.

It’s always good to visit with this gang, even when some of the visit is bittersweet, as it is in Impostor’s Lure. I’ll be back.

 

Carla Neggers’ IMPOSTOR’S LURE – Review & Excerpt Tour Schedule:

August 20th

It’s All About the Romance – Excerpt

Nerdy Dirty and Flirty – Excerpt

Ripe For Reader – Excerpt

August 21st

Bobo’s Book Bank – Excerpt

Literary misfit – Excerpt

OMGReads – Excerpt

Sip Read Love – Excerpt

August 22nd

Bookstanista – Excerpt

Hearts & Scribbles – Excerpt

What Is That Book About – Excerpt

August 23rd

A Book Nerd, a Bookseller and a Bibliophile – Review & Excerpt

Reading Reality – Review

Words We Love By –Review & Excerpt

August 24th

Cinta Garcia de la Rosa – Excerpt

Wickedcoolflight – Review & Excerpt

August 25th

Bookishly Yours – Review & Excerpt

Catty Jane Book Lovers – Review & Excerpt

Reading Between the Wines Book Club – Excerpt

August 26th

Book Addict – Review & Excerpt

Novel Addiction – Excerpt

Tfaulcbookreviews – Review & Excerpt

August 27th

A Lovely Book Affair – Review

Cali Book Reviews – Review & Excerpt

TBR Book Blog – Excerpt

August 28th

Adventures in Writing – Excerpt

Lisa Book Blog – Excerpt

August 29th

BTH Reviews – Review & Excerpt

Evermore Books – Excerpt

Lynn’s Romance Enthusiasm – Excerpt

August 30th

All about reading – Review & Excerpt

Fire and Ice Book Reviews – Excerpt

GhostPepperBabes/ Pimpers’ Dungeon – Excerpt

August 31st

Becky on Books – Review & Excerpt

Cathy Reads Books – Review

Devilishly Delicious Book Reviews – Excerpt

September 1st

Books are love – Review & Excerpt

Brittany’s Book Blog – Excerpt

NightWolf Book Blog – Excerpt

September 2nd

Blushing babes are up all night – Review & Excerpt

Em Jay Reads – Review & Excerpt

Jax’s Book Magic – Excerpt

Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Family Gathering (Sullivan's Crossing, #3) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #3
Pages: 288
Published by Mira Books on April 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An exceptional storyteller, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr beautifully captures the emotionally charged, complex dynamics that come with being part of any family. Readers will laugh and shed a few tears as they discover what it means to be loved, supported and accepted by the people who mean the most.

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads in his life. With his elder brother and youngest sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. But, like every visitor to the Crossing, he’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.

Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention at first, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he also gets to know himself and what he truly wants.

When all the Jones siblings gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together for the first time in a way they never were as children. As they struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. But all of them come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.

My Review:

The title of this book turns out to have multiple meanings. The family gathers together, and the family gathers more people into itself. This happens to multiple families during the course of this entry in the Sullivan’s Crossing series. And it’s lovely all the way around.

The main story of this book focuses on Dakota Jones, just as the previous books in the series have focused first on his older brother Cal (What We Find) and then his younger sister Sierra (Any Day Now). And while you probably don’t have to read the first two books to enjoy this one, Sullivan’s Crossing is a marvelous place, the members of the family have an interesting set of dysfunctions, and the books are relatively quick reads that end with smile-on-your-face happy endings.

These are all nice people, and it’s great to see them get their acts together. Because they all sure need the help.

Dakota comes to Sullivan’s Crossing because he’s unexpectedly out of the military after 17 years, and is at a bit of a loose end. After years of staying as far away from his family as he can get, now that he doesn’t know what to do with himself he realizes that he wants to see how they are. Or at least how his brother and younger sister are. His parents still drive him crazy (with very good reason) and his older sister is a bossy control-freak that he can’t stand to be around.

Sullivan’s Crossing pulls him right in, just as it has Cal and Sierra. Part of that pull turns out to be Sid, the beautiful bartender at the local watering hole, just as Maggie changed Cal’s life and Connie did Sierra’s. Dakota doesn’t have any other place to be, no ties anywhere else that he wants to get closer to, and his brother and sister are both happy. Their newfound friends and family are extremely welcoming, and they have babies he can spoil without having to change their diapers.

Dakota may be drifting into life in Sullivan’s Crossing, but he is actively pursuing the extremely gunshy Sid. It’s only when not one but two of the local single women go out of their way to chase Dakota down with painfully obvious sexual intent that he eventually gets the clue that he’s after much more with Sid than just a quick fling. And that’s a good thing, because it’s going to require not just a lot of patience but also a sincere friendship for Sid to let any man other than her brother close enough to see if she might be willing to let her guard down again. Ever.

Escape Rating B+: The Family Gathering, and the entire Sullivan’s Crossing series, is simply a lovely, good time with a really quirky family. The quote that opens the book sums it all up very nicely – “In our family, we don’t hide crazy…we put it on the porch and give it a cocktail.”

The Jones siblings have all been a fairly nice brand of crazy. It’s in this entry that we see some of the darker sides of what has driven all of them to end up in Sullivan’s Crossing.

Their father is a non-functional schizophrenic who self-medicates with marijuana to keep the voices toned down. He’s not violent, in fact he’s rather sweet, but his inability to function in society made for a chaotic childhood for the four kids. Their mother was too busy enabling her husband to make sure that their children had any responsible parenting, but the kids mostly turned out okay with the help and guidance of their grandparents.

While Cal seems to have ended up the most functional, Sierra’s response was to self-medicate her fears of ending up like their father with alcohol, and Dakota ran away to the military at 17 and took a vat of resentment with him. Dakota’s older sister Sedona, the bossy control freak, has anxiety and OCD issues to the point where her family has to stage an intervention. Dealing with Sedona’s crisis is a big part of the story, and an important factor in the gathering of this family back together.

The other issue holding this book together, is the stalking of Dakota. Not that Dakota is stalking anyone, but that he is being stalked by a woman who entered the series in Any Day Now seeming slightly unhinged, but with Dakota entering the picture has escalated into full-scale criminal behavior – and she’s ramping up the violence along with the crazy.

It was marvelous to see this particular shoe on the other foot. I’ve read the trope where a woman is endangered by a crazed sexual stalker so many times that they all read alike, and usually read as an excuse to put the heroine in jeopardy so the hero can save her, often with some rape-porn on the side. Ugh!

This was different, but it was fresh and it also felt realistic. Dakota wants to dismiss it all. He doesn’t want to make trouble, he doesn’t want to seem like trouble to Sid, and he really doesn’t want to get his stalker in trouble for incidents that seems merely misguided – at least at first. It’s the police chief who convinces Dakota that even though the individual incidents don’t seem like much, that there is something going on that needs to be monitored. And that just because Dakota is a soldier doesn’t mean that he can’t be misled, misguided or be a victim of something awful just because the perpetrator is a woman and not another man.

There is also a romance in The Family Gathering, and even though the developing relationship between Sid and Dakota is the tentpole of the plot, it’s really the way that Dakota falls in love with the town, his life there, and his growing relationship with the rest of his family that carries the story.

And it is a lovely read.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Family Gathering to one lucky US commenter!

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Review: The River House by Carla Neggers

Review: The River House by Carla NeggersThe River House by Carla Neggers
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Swift River Valley #8
Pages: 352
Published by Mira Books on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this charming novel about the search for love, home and family, New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers takes readers on a journey to an irresistible town they’ll want to return to over and over again

Felicity MacGregor loves organizing social events for others but her own personal life is a different story. After a brief but failed attempt at a career as a financial analyst, she returned to Knights Bridge where she enjoys running a thriving party-planning business.

Then Felicity’s life gets a shake-up when her childhood friend Gabriel Flanagan returns unexpectedly to their tiny hometown. Now a high-flying businessman, Gabe always vowed to get out of Knights Bridge, but he is back for the local entrepreneurial boot camp Felicity’s been hired to organize. Together again, they’ll finally have to face each other—and their complicated past.

Gabe and Felicity soon realize their reunion is stirring up long-buried emotions. While Gabe has big plans for his future, Felicity is discovering that hers doesn’t depend on fate—she must choose what’s right for her. But if they can find a bridge between their diverging paths, they may just discover that their enduring connection is what matters most.

My Review:

Knights Bridge Massachusetts is not just a nice place to visit, it also seems like a really nice place to live – except for those New England winters.

In this story, for both Felicity MacGregor and Gabe Flanagan, it is also home in the Robert Frost sense, the one about “home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Felicity went back about three years before the story begins, opened up her own events planning business, and has been finally getting her life on track after a decade of doing what she was expected to do instead of what she wanted to do. Where she failed, repeatedly and over and over again, as the financial analyst her family expected her to be, she’s independent and successful in the career she found by accident.

Gabe Flanagan, on the other hand, has been a successful entrepreneur from the day he dropped out of college, or so it seems. He’s just sold his latest venture for “gazillions” of dollars, as Felicity put it, and he’s at loose ends.

Just in time to come home to Knights Bridge to speak at his brother’s one-day boot camp for budding entrepreneurs.

And to see if he can finally mend fences with the woman who used to be his best friend, Felicity.

They grew up together. They’ve been friends since nursery school. And once, just before they went their separate ways for college – they were lovers. They remained besties even through their first jobs, his ups and down with various start-ups and all her downs as she struggled through one financial analyst job after another.

Their breakup came when Gabe’s very tough love shoved at Felicity’s need for comfort and a place to land. She was broke again, having been fired from yet another position, and couch-surfing at Gabe’s apartment. He was in the midst of what turned out to be his first big success. And in his very blunt and possibly tactless fashion, he told Felicity the bald truth that she had been avoiding for a decade – that whatever she was meant to be and do, it was clear that being a financial analyst made her utterly miserable to the point of failure, and that she needed to get her act together – at something else.

He was right. His delivery sucked, but he was right. And she was gone.

Now she’s living in Knights Bridge, the proud owner of the house that Gabe and his brother built on the site of their grandfather’s old campgrounds. The site where Felicity and Gabe’s friendship morphed into something more, for that one night. The place where Gabe was Felicity’s first lover.

They say you never forget your first. Felicity certainly can’t forget Gabe – he’s wrapped into all her memories of her childhood and adolescence in Knights Bridge. But when he comes back to town, the question is whether she ever got over him – and whether she ever wants to.

Escape Rating B: It feels like The River House is more of a women’s fiction story than a romance. While the relationship between Felicity and Gabe is front and center throughout the book, most of that story is about them rebuilding their solid and life-sustaining friendship. There is sexual tension under the surface, but for most of the story it feels like the focus is on whether they can be besties again, rather than either of them actively looking for more.

Not that more doesn’t eventually find them.

Because they were besties for over two decades, they have a lot of backstory together. And Gabe’s return to Knights Bridge brings up all the events since he left. That means there’s a lot of the past that gets uncovered and turned over. While longtime readers of the series may find the backstory repetitive, for those of us who have read few (one in my case) or none of the previous entries will probably see the backstory as a way of catching up to the cast of characters – which is fairly large and very interconnected.

I really liked the people of Knights Bridge and felt a great deal of empathy for both Felicity and Gabe. Like Gabe, I have also been accused, and rightly so, of being much too blunt. Like Felicity, my dad didn’t figure out what he wanted to do when he grew up until he was also about 30, and fell into the job that became his career with a similar lack of planning. I understood where they both were coming from.

This was the kind of story I happened to be looking for when I picked it up, and I fell right into it.

As much as I enjoyed the setting and the characters, there was one person in the mix whose involvement pushed the book down to a B, and that’s the intrusion of Nadia. She starts by trying to inveigle her way into the entrepreneur boot camp and never lets up until the very end. She comes off as “crazy stalker ex”, but she is not Gabe’s ex. Instead, she’s a former colleague and the ex of the douchebag who bought Gabe’s company for those gazillions of dollars and then left her without a job as well as a husband – not that he was any great loss.

But Nadia becomes a constant, niggling annoyance throughout the entire story. Her lies, her constant interference and her continued unwanted intrusions and overall shadowy presence cast a pall over a whole lot of the events. It feels as if she is being built up to be a villain – and then her plot line kind of fizzles. I’m not sure what she brought to the table and I wish she weren’t there at all. She’s a Chekhov’s gun that misfires with a whimper.

However, I really enjoyed the rest of the story and will happily look for an excuse to go back to Knights Bridge at some point, especially if I get to jonesing for something in the author’s romantic suspense series, Sharpe & Donovan.

 

THE RIVER HOUSE Review & Excerpt Tour Schedule:

March 19th

Nerdy Dirty and Flirty – Excerpt

Reading Keeps Me Sane – Excerpt

Reads All the Books – Excerpt

March 20th

Always a happy ever after – Excerpt

It’s All About the Romance – Excerpt

Ramblings From This Chick – Excerpt

March 21st

Devilishly Delicious Book Reviews – Excerpt

Nose Stuck in a Book – Excerpt

Novel Addiction – Excerpt

March 22nd

Hearts & Scribbles – Excerpt

LETSHAVEAKYA – Excerpt

Reading Between the Wines Book Club – Excerpt

What Is That Book About – Excerpt

March 23rd

Books n Wine – Excerpt

Cathy Reads Books – Review & Excerpt

Ficwishes – Excerpt

Reading Reality – Review

White Hot Reads – Review & Excerpt

March 24th

Nicole’s Book Musings – Excerpt

Shannon’s Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

Smut Book Junkie Book Reviews – Excerpt

Tfaulcbookreviews – Excerpt

March 25th

Book Magic – Under a spell with every page – Review & Excerpt

Evermore Books – Excerpt

Ripe For Reader – Excerpt

TBR Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

March 26th

A Literary Perusal – Review & Excerpt

Have Words Will Scribble – Review & Excerpt

Nice Ladies, Naughty Books – Excerpt

The Ghost Pepper Babes – Excerpt

March 27th

Book Nook Nuts – Excerpt

Kick Back & Review – Excerpt

Literary Misfit – Excerpt

The Bookish Sisters – Review & Excerpt

March 28th

JordansBookReviews – Excerpt

Read more sleep less – Excerpt

Read-Love-Blog – Review & Excerpt

Two Book Pushers – Excerpt

March 29th

Blushing babes are up all night – Review & Excerpt

Sip Read Love – Review

Thoughts of a Blonde – Excerpt

Words We Love By – Review & Excerpt

March 30th

Bobo’s Book Bank – Excerpt

Jax’s Book Magic – Excerpt

Kindle Friends Forever – Review & Excerpt

Scandalous Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

March 31st

Books are love – Review & Excerpt

G & T’s Indie Café – Excerpt

Inside The Mind of an Avid Reader – Review

The Fairest of All Book Reviews – Excerpt

Review: A Dangerous Game by Heather Graham

Review: A Dangerous Game by Heather GrahamA Dangerous Game (New York Confidential #3) by Heather Graham
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: New York Confidential #3
Pages: 336
Published by Mira Books on March 13th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The third novel in the New York Confidential series by long-established NYT bestselling romantic suspense author Heather Graham. This is the author's romantic-suspense stream, in addition to her successful ongoing mass market paperback paranormal romantic suspense series.

Psychologist Kieran Finnegan is thrust into the middle of an investigation into human trafficking when a desperate woman shoves an infant into her arms and then flees...only to be murdered minutes later on a busy Manhattan street. Despite the fact that it isn't an FBI case, Special Agent Craig Frasier starts poking around, because Kieran can't stop thinking about the child and the victim. Their one lead comes through the pub, Finnegan's on Broadway. One of the waitresses also volunteers at a church outreach center, and had been in contact with a distraught young pregnant woman, whom she recommended Kieran to as someone who might be able to help her. When Kieran goes to the outreach center to do some off-the-books investigating of her own, she is approached by two women who are worried for their missing friend, and who reveal that they were part of a human trafficking ring that did business in babies. As Craig and Kieran delve deeper into the underbelly of NYC trying to find out more, the dangerous elements of the ring come to the surface, hoping to silence Kieran before she exposes them.

My Review:

A Dangerous Game is romantic suspense of the “established couples” variety of romantic suspense. FBI Special Agent Craig Frasier and therapist/pub owner Kieran Finnegan met and fell in love in the first book in the series, Flawless, while Craig was undercover. By the time this third book in the series takes place, after last year’s A Perfect Obsession, the two of them are very much in love and are at the stage of living together without actually deciding to live together. In other words, they spend their nights together, but still have two apartments.

They have been together more than long enough to know each other all too well, including each other’s bad habits and the tells they each exhibit when one or the other is covering something up. What they are covering up is usually a case, because Craig’s FBI work seems to run into either Kieran’s patients or her pub with well-beyond-coincidental frequency.

Kieran is a trouble magnet, and that is what begins this story.

A woman comes to Kieran’s office, calls her by name, and hands her a baby. Then the woman rushes out the door and is murdered within steps after she gets outside. It’s obvious that there is way more going on here than meets the eye, and there is plenty going on from that beginning.

The baby and the woman, both Jane Does, lead the police and the FBI to the seamy underground world of human trafficking and baby harvesting. And their investigation links to an all too similar five year old cold case.

Equally coincidentally, Kieran’s soon-to-be-sister-in-law, an Irish immigrant herself, is contacted by two young women, one of them also Irish, who are on the run from a human trafficking organization controlled by an unnamed but ruthless “King” and “Queen”.

As Craig, the FBI, the NYPD, Homeland Security AND the U.S. Marshalls’ office all investigate the various aspects of what seems to be an extremely well organized criminal enterprise that has eyes and ears virtually everywhere, Kieran strikes out on her own, putting herself in danger over and over again.

Not that Craig is ever exactly safe, but he is, at least trained for this. Kieran just can’t seem to resist putting herself in harm’s way, repeatedly and perhaps just a little too often.

In the end, they manage to cut off the head of this particular snake. And they decide to get married. All in a day’s work.

Escape Rating B: I have not read the previous books in this series, but I did read Law and Disorder, which seems to be part of a side-series to New York Confidential. It gave me enough background to be able to slide right into Kieran’s and Craig’s “adventures”, and into the terrific atmosphere of Finnegan’s Pub.
But I think a reader could come into A Dangerous Game without having read any of the previous books. Events from those earlier stories are certainly referred to, but don’t actually impact current events, except in the sense that they provide a pattern. It’s pretty clear that both Finnegan’s Pub and Kieran Finnegan herself attract trouble the way that certain lights attract bugs, as in they don’t exactly go looking for trouble, but they can’t resist it once they find it, and they willing dash themselves against it no matter how much damage it does to themselves or others.

The case that they have become involved in has a “ripped from the headlines” feel to it. In spite of our problems, the United States is still a country that many people in terrible situations want to come to. And the situations they are often fleeing are so terrible that they believe that any circumstance here, no matter how awful, must be better than the place they are so desperate to leave. The more the screws tighten on legal immigration, the more desperate people become, and the easier it is for the desperate to become prey to monsters in human form.

The human traffickers in this particular story have eyes and ears everywhere, and tentacles in every organization that can help them find more victims and cover up their crimes. Early on in the story, Craig is aware that someone close to the investigation, if not multiple someones, must be in the pay of the criminals. Figuring out who those person or persons might be takes place over a good chunk of the story. In the end, readers will find that the characters they have suspected all along are actually the guilty parties.

In spite of the frenetic beginning, the case as a whole takes a while to ramp up to speed. I found the first third of the book a bit slow going, but once past that point, events occur at breakneck speed and the reader gets caught up in the chase. In spite of the predictable elements to some parts of the ending, the story does keep you glued to your seat from that point forward. In the end, a good time is had by all, including the reader, and evil does get its just desserts. As it should be.

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

Review: Cast in Deception by Michelle Sagara

Review: Cast in Deception by Michelle SagaraCast in Deception (Chronicles of Elantra, #13) by Michelle Sagara
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Chronicles of Elantra #13
Pages: 512
Published by Mira Books on January 23rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES?

Private Kaylin Neya thought her home couldn’t possibly get more crowded. But when one of her housemates, Annarion, decides to undertake the Barrani Test of Name, his friends refuse to let him face his task alone—and Kaylin’s sentient home, Helen, is the only structure capable of shielding the rest of Elantra from the magnitude of their power.

Annarion and Mandoran almost caused the destruction of the High Halls once already. Add nine of their closest friends, and the danger is astronomically higher—especially since these guests are at the heart of a political firestorm. Imprisoned almost a millennium ago, their recent freedom threatens the rulership of several prominent Barrani families, and the machinations of those Lords make it almost impossible to tell friend from foe.

As political tensions ramp up, the shadows beneath the High Halls are seeking a freedom that has never been possible before. Kaylin must find a way to keep those shadows from escaping, or that freedom will destroy her city, the empire and everything she holds dear.

My Review:

I originally said that the Chronicles of Elantra series was urban fantasy in a high or epic fantasy setting. Our point of view character is Private Kaylin Neya, a member of the Hawks, meaning law enforcement, in the city of Elantra.

Elantra is populated not just by humans, but also by Leontines, Aerians, Thallani and Barrani (read elves, sort of) and ruled by Dragons. While only the Barrani and the Dragons are immortal, even the non-immortals make the reader think more of epic fantasy than urban.

At the same time, Kaylin’s very lowly position among the local equivalent of the police did put her in the way of solving crimes and mysteries in her city. But even though that’s where she started, that’s not where she is now.

Instead, Kaylin has become a wild card among the political movers and shakers of Elantra. Not because she wants power, but because they began by seeing her as too ephemeral to cause any problems, only to discover that it’s her mortality that makes her so interesting.

One of the problems with being immortal is that everything gets boring after a while. Being around Kaylin is never, ever boring. Often dangerous, frequently chaotic, occasionally life threatening, but never dull, not even for a second. Kaylin is such a chaos magnet that she actually makes boring look desirable in comparison.

The story in Cast in Deception, like all of the stories in the Chronicles of Elantra, is about Kaylin dealing with the unexpected consequences of her previous actions – hopefully before someone gets killed, war breaks out, or both.

cast in shadow by michelle sagaraBut as the events of this story are the results of so many that came before it, this is a series where it is probably impossible to get in at this point. Events, and people, in this series layer upon each other, well past the point where the only way into Elantra is from the very beginning, with Cast in Shadow. Kaylin’s life and her world, or at least her perspective of it, were much simpler back then.

It is also possible to start with the prequel novella, Cast in Moonlight, which tells the story of how Kaylin became a Hawk – which was not what she intended. Kaylin’s actions often result in things which she did not intend, frequently to the dismay of anyone else even tangentially involved.

The scope of events of the series have become epic, but it is epic in a way where the author does not seem to be leading toward some ultimate battle between good and evil. Not that there are not evil forces, but rather that those evil forces don’t seem to be personified, or at least not yet. In some ways, it seems as if the evil force they are resisting is entropy, the winding down of the universe, rather than true evil. This may be resolved later in the series.

The story in Cast in Deception relates directly to events in Cast in Peril where Kaylin rescued a group of young Barrani from centuries of an imprisonment designed to increase the power of their families. It was a ceremony that backfired spectacularly, and Kaylin rescued the much changed young people who emerge.

But that cohort of people have become threats to the High Halls of the Barrani, and there are forces both within and without that are attempting to keep them from claiming their birthrights. Some of those forces are embodied in people that Kaylin thinks of as friends, and others may be part of the dreaded Shadow.

But all of it is politics as usual among the extremely political, immortal Barrani. And if there’s one thing Kaylin hates more than anything else, it’s politics. Which doesn’t stop her (as nothing ever does) from rushing in where angels fear to tread to pull her friends out of grave danger, even if that merely puts her in danger with them.

As usual.

Escape Rating A-: I absolutely adore this series, and wait eagerly for each installment. At the same time, this is a world creation that has become very, very dense, with lots of characters and epic amounts of backstory, and it always takes me a little ways (and a bit longer each time) to get into the book to feel myself catching up. Then, of course, it takes me an equally long time to emerge from the book hangover. Elantra is difficult to get into, and equally difficult to leave.

As much as I love this series, and this particular entry in it, this particular story feels like it doesn’t take up a lot of “world time” and it feels like not much gets resolved by the end. At the beginning, the cohort of formerly lost Barrani were lost again on their way to take up their birthrights. By the end of the story, they have managed to make their very dangerous and nearly deadly way to Elantra, but the political challenges are all still yet to come. But as always, I was happy to travel along on Kaylin’s journey.

Hopefully in the next book, hopefully next year. And now the countdown begins!

Review: Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery

Review: Sisters Like Us by Susan MallerySisters Like Us (Mischief Bay, #4) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Mischief Bay #4
Pages: 432
Published by Mira Books on January 23rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The grass is always greener on your sister’s side of the fence…

Divorce left Harper Szymanski with a name no one can spell, a house she can’t afford and a teenage daughter who’s pulling away. With her fledgeling virtual-assistant business, she’s scrambling to maintain her overbearing mother’s ridiculous Susie Homemaker standards and still pay the bills, thanks to clients like Lucas, the annoying playboy cop who claims he hangs around for Harper’s fresh-baked cookies.

Spending half her life in school hasn’t prepared Dr. Stacey Bloom for her most daunting challenge—motherhood. She didn’t inherit the nurturing gene like Harper and is in deep denial that a baby is coming. Worse, her mother will be horrified to learn that Stacey’s husband plans to be a stay-at-home dad…assuming Stacey can first find the courage to tell Mom she’s already six months pregnant.

Separately they may be a mess, but together Harper and Stacey can survive anything—their indomitable mother, overwhelming maternity stores and ex’s weddings. Sisters Like Us is a delightful look at sisters, mothers and daughters in today’s fast-paced world, told with Susan Mallery’s trademark warmth and humor.

My Review:

This story is quintessentially women’s fiction. The story revolves around the women of the Bloom family; sisters Harper and Stacey, Harper’s daughter Becca, Stacey’s soon-to-be-born daughter Joule, and their mother Bunny. Definitely their mother Bunny. OMG Bunny.

The men in this story revolve around the women. One of the men definitely believes that he’s a planetary body in his own right, and that some of the Bloom women are his satellites, but he is so, so wrong.

This one is all about the relationships between the women, especially the relationship between the sisters in the title, Harper and Stacey.

Harper and Stacey are in their late-30s, and they are certainly opposites. But then, they always have been. Harper became the perfect Ms. Susie Homemaker, just as their mother Bunny wanted. But Harper can’t please her hypercritical mother, no matter how much she overdoes.

And it’s overdoing that she no longer has time for. Harper’s marriage failed, leaving her to raise her daughter Becca mostly alone. With no training for any regular job, Harper has turned her super-organized, super-crafty, super-creative energies into her own Virtual Assistant company – but it isn’t quite working. She needs a not-so-virtual assistant of her own to manage her over-scheduled time and keep her from undercutting her own worth.

She already has her mother for that.

Stacey, on the other hand, is happily married, six months pregnant, and scared to death to tell her mother. If Bunny has been hypercritical of Harper’s perfect Ms. Susie Homemaker personality, she has been even more censorious of Stacey’s success as a molecular biologist. As far as Bunny is concerned, there is something wrong with Stacey and her laser-focus on her career. Actually, as far as Bunny is concerned, Stacey is just not normal and she’s not shy about letting Stacey know that at every opportunity.

But Stacey and Harper have always supported each other, possibly as a result of being united against the common enemy – their mother.

As this story unfolds, they both need all the help they can get. Stacey, faces her impending motherhood absolutely certain that she will be unable to bond with her child. Harper faces Becca’s junior year in high school feeling that she’s lost touch with her daughter, and feeling that she is a failure in her business, her life, and her relationship with her daughter.

Standing together, just like they always have, helps them both find a way forward. With just a little help from their friends.

Escape Rating B: I absolutely adored Stacey. I completely understood her focus on her career, her fascination with her work, and her extreme social awkwardness. She was a character I could really relate to.

At the same time, while Harper’s Ms. Susie Homemaker shtick would drive me crazy, her courage at starting her own business and the way that the desire to please that had been ingrained in her (by her mother) kept holding her back, also felt very familiar.

And I totally envied Stacey her close relationship with her grandfather the astronaut, and how that relationship didn’t just change but absolutely made her life. (I have a thing about the space program)

Even Becca’s trials and tribulations felt real and familiar, even though it has been a very long time since I was a teenager.

This is, of course, leading up to a great big BUT. I hated Bunny. She set up both of her daughters for failure, and continued to reinforce those feelings of failure at every turn. Whenever she appeared in the story I wanted to cringe. The terrible mother seems to be a stock character in women’s fiction, and it’s not a stock character I ever enjoy seeing.

(Yes, Bunny reminds me of my own mother, and right now I have enough unresolved feelings in that direction to fill my own book. Seeing those feelings reflected in fiction was a bit cathartic, but also quite annoying the longer it went on. Your reading mileage may vary.)

Harper and Stacey’s stories, while complicated by Bunny, also do a marvelous job of showing a range of women’s choices and how they can go both right and wrong. But mostly right. Stacey’s husband Kit in particular is a real gem of a husband and a great character. As is Harper’s business partner Dean.

Harper’s ex-husband is more than a bit of a tool, not surprising. But so is Lucas, the man she finally falls for. The difference is that Lucas gets better – even if he doesn’t grovel nearly enough. Still I liked the way that their romance does not become the focus of the story, and that Lucas forges a friendship with Becca separate from whatever relationship he does or does not have with Harper.

In the end, a good time was had by all, and I liked both Harper and Stacey and really enjoyed seeing them both figure out their lives.

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Spotlight + Excerpt: Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: Sisters Like Us by Susan MallerySisters Like Us (Mischief Bay, #4) by Susan Mallery
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Mischief Bay #4
Pages: 432
Published by Mira Books on January 23rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery will be available Feb 20, 2018. Preorder your copy today!

The grass is always greener on your sister’s side of the fence…

Divorce left Harper Szymanski with a name no one can spell, a house she can’t afford and a teenage daughter who’s pulling away. With her fledgeling virtual-assistant business, she’s scrambling to maintain her overbearing mother’s ridiculous Susie Homemaker standards and still pay the bills, thanks to clients like Lucas, the annoying playboy cop who claims he hangs around for Harper’s fresh-baked cookies.

Spending half her life in school hasn’t prepared Dr. Stacey Bloom for her most daunting challenge—motherhood. She didn’t inherit the nurturing gene like Harper and is in deep denial that a baby is coming. Worse, her mother will be horrified to learn that Stacey’s husband plans to be a stay-at-home dad…assuming Stacey can first find the courage to tell Mom she’s already six months pregnant.

Separately they may be a mess, but together Harper and Stacey can survive anything—their indomitable mother, overwhelming maternity stores and ex’s weddings. Sisters Like Us is a delightful look at sisters, mothers and daughters in today’s fast-paced world, told with Susan Mallery’s trademark warmth and humor.

I don’t normally do spotlight posts, but I was happy to make an exception in this case because I love Susan Mallery’s books, and I’m also part of the review tour for Sisters Like Us later this month. So I will be reviewing this book in a couple of weeks, and I’m very much looking forward to it! So, while we all wait to sink our reading teeth into this story, here’s a bit of a teaser…

Excerpt from Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery

She finished sprinkling on a layer of grated cheese, then glanced at the clock. It was nearly three. She figured she could risk leaving the lasagna out on the counter until she popped it in the oven at four-fifteen. She’d made the bread days ago and had defrosted a loaf already. The garlic spread was done and the salad was in the refrigerator. She only had to pour on dressing and that was good to go. There was still the table to set. She returned her attention to Lucas.

“Are you bringing someone?”

One corner of his mouth turned up. “Persimmon.”

Harper wiped her hands on a towel. “You have got to be kidding. That’s her real name?”

“It’s on her driver’s license.”

“Which you saw because you check their ID before you date them?”

“I like to be sure.”

“That they’re not underage or that they’re not too old?”

“Sometimes both.”

“I get the biology,” she said, studying him across the kitchen island. “The young, healthy female should produce the best offspring. But we’re not living in caves anymore. You drive a Mercedes. If you’ve evolved enough to handle freeway driving, why can’t you date someone remotely close to your own age? I’m not suggesting an old lady, but maybe a woman in her thirties.” She walked to the pantry and got the small box of cookies she’d set aside for him.

“Never mind,” she told him as she handed him the decorated box. “You don’t have an answer and I have no right to question your personal life. I just work for you.”

“And give me cookies.” He studied the ribbon and appliques. “It’s beautiful, but I would have been happy with plastic wrap.”

“That’s not how we do things around here.”

“Which is part of your problem.”

“I know that. Unfortunately, knowing and doing something about it are two different things. Go wash your hands, then you can help me set the table.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He did as she requested, then met her in the formal dining room. Harper remembered when she and Terence had been looking for a house in the area. They’d passed on several because the dining room wasn’t big enough. When he’d pointed out their family wasn’t that large, she’d reminded him that she had a huge table, a giant hutch and massive buffet to find room for. He’d grumbled about her having too many dishes—every now and then she thought maybe he was right. After the divorce she’d sold two full sets and still had more stock than the average department store.

Her basic set of dishes were white, allowing her to use them as a base for any holiday or event. Now she studied her tablecloths and napkins, then thought about the bunny fest that would be tomorrow’s table.

“Becca likes pink,” Lucas offered. “Isn’t pink a spring color?”

“It is, and that would work. Thanks.”

She pulled out a pale rose tablecloth with matching napkins. She would use gold as the accent color, along with a little dark green. The dinner would be attended by Bunny, Becca, Lucas, fruit date, Kit and Stacey, and Harper, so seven.

She handed Lucas the tablecloth before digging out seven dark green place mats. The rest was easy: seven gold chargers, seven sets of gold flatware, her favorite crystal glasses, white plates. She had a collection of salad plates in different patterns, including eight that were edged in gold. She would make custom napkin rings by dressing up plain ones with clusters of silk flowers. She had three hurricane lamps with gold bases.

She left him to put the linens on the table, then hurried into her craft room to double-check supplies. Honestly, she should have planned her table a couple of days ago, in case she needed to go to the craft store. Now she was going to have to wing it.

She plugged in her glue gun, then dug through a large bag of silk flower pieces and found several tiny pink blossoms, along with some greens. She had glass beads, of course, and plenty of ribbon. Ten minutes later, she had secured the last of the flowers to the clear plastic napkin rings she bought in bulk. She picked up bags of colored glass beads and the ribbon, then turned and nearly ran into Lucas.

“What are you doing?” he asked, sounding more amused than concerned.

“Decorating the table. Can you get those hurricane lamps, please?”

“There’s something wrong with you,” he told her as he picked up the lamps and followed her back into the dining room. “Your crafts don’t make you a penny, yet you have that huge room for them. At the same time, you cram your office into that tiny bedroom in back.”

“Sometimes I have to use my craft room for work,” she said, trying not to sound defensive. “When I work for my party planner, I do.”

“Yeah, sell it somewhere else. Harper, no one’s going to take you seriously until you take yourself seriously.”

Author Info:

Susan Mallery is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of books about the relationships that define women’s lives—romance, friendship, family. With compassion and humor, Susan keenly observes how people think and feel, in stories that take readers on an emotional journey. Sometimes heartbreaking, often funny, and always uplifting, Susan’s books have spent more than 200 weeks on the USA Today bestsellers list, thanks to her ever growing legions of fans.

Critics, too, have heaped praise on “the new queen of romantic fiction.” (Walmart) Booklist says, “Romance novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert blend of emotional nuance, humor, and superb storytelling,” and RT Book Reviews puts her “in a class by herself!”

Although Susan majored in Accounting, she never worked as an accountant because she was published straight out of college with two books the same month, January of 1992. Sixteen prolific years and seventy-four books later, she hit the New York Times bestsellers list for the first time with Accidentally Yours in 2008. She made many appearances in the Top 10 before (finally) hitting #1 in 2015 with Thrill Me, the twentieth book in her most popular series, the Fool’s Gold romances, and the fourth of five books released that year.

Susan lives in Seattle with her husband, two ragdoll cats, and a tattletale toy poodle. Her heart for animals has led Susan to become an active supporter of the Seattle Humane Society. Animals play a big role in her books, as well, as she believes they’re an integral component to a happy life.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Review: Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods

Review: Lilac Lane by Sherryl WoodsLilac Lane (Chesapeake Shores #14) by Sherryl Woods
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance, women's fiction
Series: Chesapeake Shores #14
Pages: 352
Published by Mira Books on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

No one writes about friends, family and home better than Sherryl Woods. Told with warmth and humor, Lilac Lane is a brand-new story in her beloved Chesapeake Shores series, one readers all over the world have waited two years to read!

At the heart of Lilac Lane is Keira Malone, who raised her three children alone after her first marriage broke apart, and who, after years of guarding her heart, finally finds love again. But that love is short-lived when her fiancé suffers a fatal heart attack. Grieving and unsure of what’s next, Keira agrees to move from Dublin to Chesapeake Shores, Maryland, to spend time with her daughter, Moira, and her new granddaughter, Kate, as well as to help her son-in-law, Luke, with his Irish pub, O’Briens

Not wanting to live underfoot, she rents a charming cottage on Lilac Lane, replete with views of the ocean and her neighbor’s thriving garden—not to mention views of the neighbor himself. The neighbor is none other than Bryan Laramie, the brusque and moody chef at the pub, with whom Keira is constantly butting heads. But things get real when Bryan’s long-lost daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since she was a baby, shows up out of the blue. As Bryan and Keira each delve into their pasts, reopening wounds, the rest of the town is gearing up for the Fall Festival Irish Stew cook-off, and making no bones about whose side they’re on. It’s Kitchen Wars meets This is Your Life—a recipe for disaster…or a new take on love?

You won’t want to miss this epic return to Chesapeake Shores, a place we’re betting you’ll want to stay forever.

My Review:

Chesapeake Shores sounds like an absolutely magical little town, at least if you don’t mind a whole town full of nosy and interfering neighbors. Not that the collective O’Brien clan doesn’t mean terribly well, and not that they don’t seem to generally do well in their meddling, but Keira Malone is used to being the boss of her own life, thankyouverymuch.

Which doesn’t mean that her life doesn’t get a much needed makeover when she arrives from Dublin to visit her father, her daughter, and her new grandbaby. The ostensible reason for her visit is to help take care of her new (and only) grandchild, and to “consult” for her son-in-law about the authentic “Irishness” of the traditional Irish pub he’s opened in Chesapeake Shores.

Keira has spent her entire adult life working in and managing Irish pubs in Ireland, so she certainly has the right experience for the job. But it’s a made-up job. Her daughter and her father, both now living in Chesapeake Shores, fear that Keira will turn in on herself after the death of her fiance.

After all, that’s exactly what Keira did after the breakup of her marriage. She turned inward and pretty much stayed inward – and exhausted, raising three children on her own with zero help from her drunken ex-husband. And just when she finally let herself open up – boom, another disaster.

So the family, not just Keira’s daughter Moira and Keira’s father Dillon, but the entire O’Brien clan that they have both married into, plots and schemes to get Keira to Chesapeake Shores. And once she’s there, and they all observe the sparks that fly between Keira and the pub’s resident chef Bryan Laramie, they all keep right on scheming, with an eye towards matchmaking between the chef and the “consultant” who seems to question his every move. Or at least he feels that way.

Bryan is just as alone as Keira, and the whole town seems to be more than willing to conspire to get these two together – from manipulating Keira into renting the cottage next door to Bryan’s house to cooking up a cooking contest to finish off the local Fall Festival – a cooking contest that pits Keira’s authentic Irish Stew recipe against Bryan’s hand-me-down version.

The winner of their contest will take all, not just the prize, but also the other’s heart. If they can both figure out what it really, truly means to “win”.

Escape Rating B+: Lilac Lane is a sweet and savory mix of contemporary romance, women’s fiction and small town magic.

Not magic as in Harry Potter, but just the magic that seems to permeate so many small town romances. Chesapeake Shores is just a lovely little town where good things happen to good people – and where there don’t seem to be any bad people – if maybe a few misguided ones – who do not appear in this story. Chesapeake Shores is just a great place to live.

Keira Malone and Bryan Laramie are an interesting and slightly different protagonists for a romance. Both are a bit older – while it’s not specified precisely, both have adult children and seem to be on either side of 50 – with Keira a few years older than Bryan.

They are both people who have been seriously wounded by life and love, and in ways that are similar underneath some rather startling surface similarities. Keira left her husband because he was an alcoholic, Bryan’s wife left him because he was ambitious, self-absorbed and absent. But Keira kept in touch with her ex – not directly, but enough that he could have visited his children anytime he wished – if he wished. Bryan’s wife, on the other hand, just disappeared with their daughter. She vanished. He’s spent years, and countless thousands of dollars, trying to locate them both. It’s not that he wants the marriage back – and who would, but he wants to regain contact with the daughter he still loves.

Neither of them is good at letting people in. Keira because her two attempts at romance have ended in disaster, and Bryan because he’s never bothered to divorce his missing ex.

Both of them need resolution in their lives – and there’s something about the way that they spark each other that makes them both reach for it.

The romance is of the squeaky-clean variety (the hero and heroine have only a few kisses between them when he proposes) but it works for this story and setting. Both Keira and Bryan are tentative about love, and that hesitation is expressed wee in their non-courtship, two-steps-forward-one-step-back relationship.

Although, speaking of two-steps-forward-one-step-back relationships, Keira’s relationship with her daughter Moira, and Moira’s relationship with her husband in specific and with the universe in general feels just a bit “off”. As a reader, I couldn’t figure out why Moira acted the way she did, and in real life I’d feel more than a bit sorry for her husband and her mentor.

Chesapeake Shores does seem like an absolutely marvelous place. The large O’Brien clan is deeply interwoven into the fabric of the town, which seems to have been created by one of them as a tourist destination – and it has flourished.

O’Briens seem to be everywhere. Keira’s father has remarried into the family, as has her daughter. The other women of the O’Brien family both meddle in Keira’s life with abandon and become the circle of sisterhood that she never had – and dearly appreciates now.

Lilac Lane is the 14th book in the Chesapeake Shores series. I’ve not read the earlier books, but was able to get into the story easily. Enough of the family’s previous connections and romances were explained in a way that meant I didn’t feel left out. It probably helped that Keira herself comes in as an outsider, so things have to be explained a bit to her – and we get the benefit of that.

But I certainly enjoyed Lilac Lane more than enough that I’ll be happy to visit Chesapeake Shores again soon!

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Review: Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers + Giveaway

Review: Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers + GiveawayThief's Mark (Sharpe & Donovan #7) by Carla Neggers
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense
Series: Sharpe & Donovan #7
Pages: 336
Published by Mira Books on August 29th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


A murder in a quiet English village, long-buried secrets and a man's search for answers about his traumatic past entangle FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan in the latest edge-of-your-seat Sharpe & Donovan novel

As a young boy, Oliver York witnessed the murder of his wealthy parents in their London apartment. The killers kidnapped him and held him in an isolated Scottish ruin, but he escaped, thwarting their plans for ransom. Now, after thirty years on the run, one of the two men Oliver identified as his tormentors may have surfaced.

Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are enjoying the final day of their Irish honeymoon when a break-in at the home of Emma's grandfather, private art detective Wendell Sharpe, points to Oliver. The Sharpes have a complicated relationship with the likable, reclusive Englishman, an expert in Celtic mythology and international art thief who taunted Wendell for years. Emma and Colin postpone meetings in London with their elite FBI team and head straight to Oliver. But when they arrive at York's country home, a man is dead and Oliver has vanished.

As the danger mounts, new questions arise about Oliver's account of his boyhood trauma. Do Emma and Colin dare trust him? With the trail leading beyond Oliver's small village to Ireland, Scotland and their own turf in the US, the stakes are high, and Emma and Colin must unravel the decades-old tangle of secrets and lies before a killer strikes again.

New York Times
bestselling author Carla Neggers delivers the gripping, suspense-filled tale readers have been waiting for.

My Review:

Thief’s Mark is the seventh book in the Sharpe and Donovan series. I’ve read the entire series and have enjoyed every single one. The series has been a combination of mystery with just a touch of romantic suspense. In the first book in the series Saint’s Gate, undercover FBI agent Colin Donovan runs into art expert, ex-nun and current non-undercover FBI agent Emma Sharpe on an art crimes case that involves their hometowns in Maine.

It’s the start of a beautiful relationship, one that finally results in their wedding at the end of Liar’s Key. Thief’s Mark takes place at the end of their honeymoon. At the end of my review of Liar’s Key, I speculated that it was highly unlikely that Emma and Colin would manage to have an uninterrupted honeymoon, and I’m pleased to say that I was right.

But this case isn’t really about them. Like so many long-running mystery series, part of what keeps readers coming back for more is whether or not they enjoy the adventures of not just the heroes, but whether they like the surrounding cast of characters who inevitably become involved in those adventures over time.

Whether it’s the residents of the small town in a cozy, or the other cops in the shop of a police procedural, if we don’t like the supporting cast, the series eventually loses its charm. At least for this reader.

So, while Thief’s Mark is definitely a part of the series, the mystery that has to be solved is not one of the art crimes that the FBI usually has Emma tackle. Instead, the mystery is that of the long-ago tragedy that set their friend and sometime frenemy Oliver York on the road that led to his becoming a high-class art thief and eventually an MI5 agent specializing in blood antiquities.

When Oliver was 8 years old he witnessed the murder of his parents in their London flat. He was kidnapped by the killers, dragged to Scotland, and escaped while his captors argued about his ransom. The tragedy altered the course of his life.

As this story begins, one of the killers is found dying on the front steps of Oliver’s Cotswolds farm. And Oliver bolts from the scene, leaving his friends behind to await the police and worry about what’s happened to him.

What’s happened is that his entire life has just unraveled, and a few words from a dying man have made him question everything he thought he remembered about that awful night so long ago.

Emma and Colin, dragged to Cotswolds at the end of their trip, find themselves in the midst of an investigation that spans the local police, and MI5, as well as opening up on surprising fronts in Dublin and back home in the U.S.

Thirty years of lies are about to become unraveled. So many assumptions are about to come unglued. Many long ago wrongs finally have a chance at being made right. But at what cost?

Escape Rating B+: I have enjoyed every book in this series, and Thief’s Mark was certainly no exception.

One of the interesting threads in this book was the pivot. The relationship between Emma and Colin, and whether they could manage to get together and stay together, in spite of two meddling families, undercover assignments on his part and a family of interfering detectives on her part who mess with and occasionally mess up their cases. Now that they finally managed to get married at the end of Liar’s Key, some of that tension has to shift somewhere else in the story.

In Thief’s Mark, it shifts to Oliver York. In many ways, Thief’s Mark is really Oliver York’s book, and to a significant extent Emma and Colin are side characters in his story. They are operating in England on the sufferance of MI5, they have no jurisdiction, and Oliver has been a bit too involved in some of their previous cases for them to be considered neutral observers. And Emma’s famous grandfather and Oliver are friends enough that Wendell Sharpe helps him when he’s on the run.

Things are a mess, but it’s definitely Oliver’s mess. Emma and Colin are mostly onlookers. And that’s more than okay. The originating event was Oliver’s tragedy, and the person who needs resolution out of all the current issues is Oliver. And he’s been an interesting character throughout the whole series, from his initial introduction as a mythology expert to his unmasking as the thief who bedeviled Wendell Sharpe to his current incarnation as MI5 consultant. He’s had a rough life and it’s time for his world to get straightened out a bit.

What made this particular mystery so fascinating was just how big it eventually became, and how much it unraveled by the time all the loose ends were tied up. Oliver was not the only person affected by that tragedy, even though he was the one affected the most. He also wasn’t the only one with questions that needed to be answered, and it was good to see that all those dangling messes (along with the red herrings) got cleaned up by the end.

As the story unfolds, Oliver finds himself to be both the thief and the mark.

That the story and the case focused on Oliver rather than Emma and Colin also made for a bit of fresh air blown into this long running series. There are plenty of other interesting characters among Emma and Colin’s band of usual suspects, and I’m terribly curious to see which long-standing mysteries in whose life get untangled next.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Thief’s Mark to one very lucky US or Canadian commenter.

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Review: The Summer that Made Us by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Summer that Made Us by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Summer That Made Us by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Mira Books on September 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Mothers and daughters, sisters and cousins, they lived for summers at the lake house until a tragic accident changed everything. The Summer That Made Us is an unforgettable story about a family learning to accept the past, to forgive and to love each other again.

That was then…

For the Hempsteads, summers were idyllic. Two sisters who married two brothers and had three daughters each, the women would escape the city the moment school was out to gather at the family house on Lake Waseka. The lake was a magical place, a haven where they were happy and carefree. All of their problems drifted away as the days passed in sun-dappled contentment. Until the summer that changed everything.

This is now…

After an accidental drowning turned the lake house into a site of tragedy and grief, it was closed up. For good. Torn apart, none of the Hempstead women speak of what happened that summer, and relationships between them are uneasy at best, hurtful at worst. But in the face of new challenges, one woman is determined to draw her family together again, and the only way that can happen is to return to the lake and face the truth.

Robyn Carr has crafted a beautifully woven story about the complexities of family dynamics and the value of strong female relationships.

My Review:

This is a story that will get you right in the feels. It certainly did me. And it will probably make you feel all the feels as well, as the story runs from tragedy to hope, if not to triumph, and hits every emotional stop along the journey.

Most of all, it’s a story about one particular extremely dysfunctional family, and their attempt to get to the heart of at least some of their dysfunctions and heal, before it’s too late.

And it’s about one final gift that one member of that family gives to herself, and to everyone that she has to leave behind.

The story begins with Charley and Megan, who seem more like sisters than cousins – possibly because they sorta/kinda are. Once upon a time, a young mother began bringing her two daughters to Lake Waseka, one of the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota, every summer. The two Hempstead girls, Louisa and Jo Anne, had the time of their lives. When those girls grew up, they continued the family tradition, bringing their daughters to the lake, until the summer when it all went smash.

Lou and Jo married Chet and Ray, two sisters marrying two brothers. Continuing to outwardly mirror each other’s lives, they each had three daughters, alternating years, so that the six girls looked more like stair-step sisters than cousins. Even double-cousins.

But their lives weren’t as similar as they seemed. And neither were they. Lou’s husband was boring but responsible and respectable, while Jo’s was every woman’s bad-boy dream, in more ways than one. Ray was an alcoholic and a conman, and every woman’s bicycle – not that he would have thought of it quite that way. Lou was strong and decisive, while Jo was soft and often needed direction. Apart, they drifted into the extremes of their natures, with Lou turning sharp and angry, and Jo being the world’s doormat.

Those summers kept them grounded, and they helped each other stay strong in their broken places. Until they shattered, one summer night, when Lou’s youngest daughter, 12 year old Bunny, drowned on the lake in a tragic accident.

Twenty-seven years later, the cottage is still closed up, Lou and Jo are still estranged, and every single one of the remaining girls, their now grown up daughters with children of their own, are, in one way or another lost or dysfunctional.

Megan decides to spend her very last summer trying to patch the broken places in her family. With her waning energy, she gets everyone back to the lake for one last summer, in the hopes that if they can go back to where it all went wrong, they’ll have one last chance to patch things back together.

To be each other’s strength in all their broken places once more.

Escape Rating A-: As much as I deride the term, The Summer That Made Us is a stellar work of women’s fiction. The story is all about this group of women, their feisty grandmother, their battling mothers, the troupe of sister-cousins, and even their own daughters, and all the myriad ways that those relationships have played out over time, both good and bad.

The men in this story are merely supporting characters, and spend most of the story off-stage, whether in another city or a cemetery. There’s plenty of trauma that relates all the way back to the Judge, Grandma Berkey’s husband who was Lou and Jo’s father. He’s certainly dead, and thank goodness for that!

While there is a romance in this story, the romance itself is a sub-sub-sub-plot. But it is important both as part of one sister’s healing, and as part of clearing up one of the mysteries of Charley’s last time at the lake.

At the beginning of the story, ironically, the one thing that seems marginally hopeful is Megan’s final, experimental cancer treatment, and the one thing that seems beyond all possibility of healing is Charley’s contentious relationship with her mother Lou. In that regard, nothing is as it seems.

But at that beginning, all the relationships seem to be going to hell in a handcart, and it’s a bit of a hard read to get through. Nothing seems to be looking up, and some of the interactions are downright painful.

As things begin, every single member of the family is damaged in one way or another. And all in ways that seem to trace their origins back to Bunny’s death and the abandonment of those idyllic summers at the lake. But the girls were all girls at the time, ranging up from Bunny to somewhere in their teens. They all saw those lake summers as perfect, and were not necessarily aware of all the tensions running underneath, especially the roiling tensions between Lou and Jo.

Bunny’s death was not the only thing that went wrong that summer. But after it, nothing went right. And unfortunately for everyone, one of the underlying dysfunctions of the entire family was that no one ever talked about what was really wrong.

One of the things that is so terrific about this story is that even though it all went wrong and the same time and in the same place, for each one of the women that wrongness burst out into entirely different directions. All of the women, even in the end Lou, appear as ultimately sympathetic and surprisingly unique characters. They never seem alike, they are not cookie-cutters of each other. Each one is distinct, both in their voice and in their manifestation of the family dysfunction.

And that’s the biggest problem they have to work with. Or against. Until they can finally share all the separate pieces of that broken story, none of them will be able to heal.

At the beginning of The Summer That Made Us, it feels like this one, last summer on the lake is Charley’s gift to Megan. But in the end, this summer turns out to be one final gift that Megan gives to Charley, and everyone in her family.

And it’s beautiful.

(Bring tissues)

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

I’m very pleased to be able to give away a copy of The Summer That Made Us to one lucky US or Canadian commenter. I hope that the winner enjoys the story as much as I did.

a Rafflecopter giveaway