Review: Witch, Please by Ann Aguirre

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the feeling is very, very mutual.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Cost of Honor by Diana Munoz Stewart + Giveaway

Review: The Cost of Honor by Diana Munoz Stewart + GiveawayThe Cost of Honor (Black Ops Confidential, #3) by Diana Munoz Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Black Ops Confidential #3
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on November 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He gave up everything to escape his family

The only male to be adopted into the notorious Parish family, Tony Parish always did right by his vigilante sisters. But when an attempt to protect one of them went horribly wrong, he had to fake his own death to escape his fanatical family. Tony set sail and ended up in Dominica―face to face with the woman of his dreams...

Now he must give up Honor to save her

After the death of her mother, Honor Silva moved to Dominica, where her family could help her heal and move on. But her activist mother left her more than money, she left her proof that could take down one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.

Tony gave up everything he thought he knew when he fled his family. But when a threat too dangerous for Tony and Honor to fight on their own closes in, he has no choice but to go to them for help. Problem is, they'll demand something in return―something that could cost Tony not just Honor, but also the love that changed him forever.

My Review:

Through a certain lens, all three of this week’s books are wrapped around the question about whether the ends justify the means – and who gets to make that decision.

The way that this is worked out in The Cost of Honor, and in the entire Black Ops Confidential series, makes this both a harder and a deeper story than the events on its surface. And a fitting conclusion to the story arc begun in the awesome I Am Justice. (The book is awesome and so is the character of Justice Parrish.)

While some readers have said that this book can be read as a standalone, I’m not totally sure that’s true. Because this story brings full circle the events of that first book, and also adds new layers to the question that was asked in the second book, The Price of Grace.

It’s the question of whether the Parrish family and its League of Warrior Women is just a tight-knit family of adoption – or if it’s actually more of a cult.

That’s an answer I’m not quite sure of by the end of the story. I actually think the question is even more wide open now than it was at the beginning.

The story in The Cost of Honor is the story of one of the few men adopted into that League of Warrior Women – Tony Parrish. A Tony Parrish who either betrayed the family or tried to protect it at the beginning of I Am Justice – and who let his family believe he was dead rather than face the music of that seeming betrayal.

By this point in Tony’s story, he’s been on the run for months. The family he left behind has finally discovered that he didn’t die after all – and they are pissed.

It’s not all about the lie. Well, it is about the lie about him being dead, and the depths of everyone’s grief. But it’s really about the schism that his departure has created in a family that has prided itself on its rock-solid unity for the past 40 years. A unity that has been protected by their ability to erase inconvenient memories and emotions – like the emotions that led to Tony’s disappearance and his memories of a family that acts as judge, jury and executioner on those who have avoided, evaded or co-opted the law.

Because Tony has been found just as he’s found someone worth keeping ALL his memories intact for. But Honor Silva in just the kind of trouble that his family is expert at fixing. Bringing them in will mean that they will “fix” him in return for their help.

The cost of Tony’s honor may be the loss of her. It’s a price that he may be willing to pay – but Honor definitely is NOT.

Escape Rating B: I leave this book, and this series, with a whole boatload of mixed feelings. About the size of the boat used in the “big finish” rescue that concludes the action of this story.

There were three parts to this story, the romance between Tony and Honor, Tony’s very real fears of being found by his family and having his memory erased, and the equally real danger that Honor finds herself in just as Tony enters her life.

The romance was sweet and very hot. Extremely hot. While the romantic element of romantic suspense like this series are often fast and adrenaline fueled, the hot-sex-into-love relationship between Tony and Honor feels almost too fast for their characters and has more than a whiff of insta-love to it.

The danger that Honor is in is very real, but felt at first like it came a bit out of the blue. And then the story digs into Honor’s past, and her mother’s past, and keeps on digging. Until it finds itself very near something like the Harvey Weinstein case, only even longer lasting and with even deadlier consequences. This got deeper and darker than I expected, and I mean that in the best way possible.

But then, on my third hand, there’s Tony’s story. He wants to help Honor. He needs to help Honor. And he needs to run from his family who mean well in the broadest sense but may not mean the best for him. In order to protect their secret operations, operations which really, really need to be protected, they’re going to fuck with Tony’s mind and memories.

I don’t know about you, but I’d run too. While the theory behind what they plan to do is something I’ve run across before, it still feels like something that no one should do, particularly in the name of “love” the way that it’s presented here. Even though this does manage to get to a happy ending I found that part extremely troublesome. Every organization needs people who ask hard questions. And we are the product of who we’ve been, both the good and the bad parts. That everything manages to work out in the end felt like someone got let off the hook in a way that sticks in my mind with very troublesome thoughts.

The Parrish family have decided that the end result of protecting their operations justifies the means of messing with their own people’s minds and memories. And I’m troubled by that being the happy ending. Your reading mileage may definitely vary.

This is one to read, and ponder. And keep right on pondering. I still am.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Cost of Honor to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Nothing to Fear by Juno Rushdan + Giveaway

Review: Nothing to Fear by Juno Rushdan + GiveawayNothing to Fear (Final Hour #2) by Juno Rushdan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Final Hour #2
Pages: 448
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on August 27, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The clock is ticking

Fearsome Gray Box operative Gideon Stone is devoted to his work and his team. He's never given reason to doubt his loyalty...until he's tasked with investigating Willow Harper, a beguiling cryptologist suspected of selling deadly bio-agents on the black market.

He knows she's innocent. He knows she's being framed. And he knows that without him, Willow will be dead before sunrise.

Thrust into the crossfire of an insidious international conspiracy, Gideon will do anything to keep Willow safe...even if that means waging war against his own. With time running out, an unlikely bond pushes limits―and forges loyalties. Every move they make counts. And the real traitor is always watching...

My Review:

The title of this nonstop romantic suspense thriller may be Nothing to Fear, but Gray Box hacker-agent-operative Willow Harper has PLENTY to fear – she just doesn’t know it as this story opens.

She’s being setup to take the fall for the murder, while in Gray Box custody, of an enemy intelligence agent code-named “The Ghost”. But he stopped being a ghost once Willow focused her hacker skills on ferreting him out.

Now the mole in the Gray Box has to eliminate the threat to the organization that they really work for, while keeping their hidden status in place. That’s where Willow came in, unfortunately – or so it seems – for her.

Willow may be a genius programmer, and she has mad skills when it comes to data security, but her everyday, run of the mill life skills security is not so hot.

At first she’s just one of many suspects, but the mole has set Willow up to take the fall for everything, complete with a multi-million dollar account in the Caymans. An account that Willow knows nothing about. It’s not that the account is fake – the money is all too real – but that whoever set up the account was definitely not Willow Harper.

When the evidence turns up, with the black operations of Gray Box already in the cross-hairs, the agency’s director has no choice but to take her into custody.

And Gideon Stone, the agent who is certain that Willow is innocent, feels as if he has no choice but to take Willow and go on the run – in the hopes that he can get to the bottom of the set up, find the mole AND protect Willow – before their enemies manage to take her out and complete the frame.

The forces that are after them are bigger and better organized than Gideon imagined, and the hurricane that crosses their path is just the beginning of the danger that they face.

But the biggest danger for both of them is the damage that they can do to each other. If they’re not carefully, they’ll shoot each other in the heart.

Escape Rating B+: Nothing to Fear is absolutely a thrill-a-minute ride from beginning to end. It has all the classic elements of a great romantic suspense story, with its tough hero, offbeat heroine, secret black ops agency and spies, moles and counterspies at every twist and turn.

Not to mention that desperate run through a hurricane – although what happens on the boat stays on the boat. Or at least it’s supposed to.

As a “black” operation of our very own government – and isn’t that a scary thought all the way around – Gray Box makes a fascinating backdrop for a series. Everyone is a spy, or an agent, or an operative, or all of the above. Everyone has secrets – and everyone has committed unspeakable acts on behalf of the country. And all of their actions can and will be disavowed if that country feels it is necessary.

That Gray Box absolutely HAS to find the traitor within its ranks to keep the entire agency from being “whitewashed” just adds to the tension of the whole story. They have to find the mole, they have to clean up the agency, and they have to help Gideon and Willow however they can in the hope that everyone comes out the other side – except the mole, of course.

At the same time, Gideon and Willow are running as fast as they can, trying to stay half a step ahead of their pursuers, while being all too aware that everyone they left behind is in terrible danger – and not just their colleagues at Gray Box. The enemy is going after their families and friends in an attempt to run them to earth or bring them to heel. It’s a deadly chase.

And at the heart of the story are Gideon and Willow. Neither of them feels worthy of being loved nor is either of them quite sure they are capable of feeling or returning the emotion. Gideon is certain that the deeds he has committed are too dark, that his past is too dirty and that he is too much a creature of violence for anyone to be safe around him. And Willow, while a genius with computers, is at a loss with the unpredictability of human behavior and human emotions.

Which doesn’t stop them from falling for each other. But it sure does stop them from trying to stay together once the danger is over. Or does it?

The suspense of Nothing to Fear will keep readers on the edge of their seats from the first page to the last. And the story of this couple who make each other strong in their broken places will warm the least romantic heart.

Nothing to Fear is the second book in the Final Hour series. I haven’t read the first book, Every Last Breath, and had absolutely no problem getting right into the action in this one. But as wrapped up as I was in Nothing to Fear, that first book has certainly climbed higher in my towering TBR pile. After all, I have to read it in time to get the third book in this series, Until the End, late next spring!

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

I’m giving away a copy of Nothing to Fear to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Price of Grace by Diana Munoz Stewart + Giveaway

Review: The Price of Grace by Diana Munoz Stewart + GiveawayThe Price of Grace (Black Ops Confidential, #2) by Diana Munoz Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Black Ops Confidential #2
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Who can you trustWhen family, truth, and love are all on the line?

Gracie Parish knows the true cost of trust. Rescued as a child by the infamous Parish family, she became a member of their covert sisterhood of vigilantes. Gracie saw her most precious relationships destroyed by secrecy. She learned long ago to protect her heart as well as her family's secrets.

Special Agent Leif "Dusty" McAllister will do anything to uncover the truth about the Parish family's covert operations. Dusty knows Gracie is his ticket in. He'll use everything he's got—fair, unfair, and just plain wrong—to break through her defenses. But the more he gets to know Gracie and her family's mission, the harder he starts to fall. Neither one is sure they'll get out of this with their lives—or their hearts—intact.

Black Ops Confidential series:I Am Justice (Book 1)The Price of Grace (Book 2)The Cost of Honor (Book 3)

My Review:

Sometimes there’s justice, and sometimes there’s “just us”. This series is about a family that has decided where that line gets drawn, to be that “just us” for women all over the world who desperately need some of that justice. No matter who, or what, gets in the way.

This particular entry in the series is all about the price that gets paid, on both sides of the equation. The Price of Grace is the second book in the Black Ops Confidential series, after last year’s terrific I Am Justice.

The series is very much romantic suspense, but it isn’t exactly like any other romantic suspense series. And that’s because of the Parish family. So often in romantic suspense, there’s a heroine in jeopardy being rescued by some lone wolf hero with a badge and a guarded heart of titanium.

That’s not the case here. The Parish family is a family of adoption rather than birth – and it’s a family of survivors, from its founding mother, Mukta Parish down to every cohort of her children. Survivors of brutality or abuse or trafficking or all of the above, every single one.

The Parish family is bound into a tribe – or a cult if you don’t like what they are doing – of nearly all women who have vowed to be that “just us” in countries all around the world where women’s and girls’ rights are trampled upon with legal impunity by governments and warlords alike.

In the United States, Mukta Parish uses her wealth and social standing to, let’s call it influence, legislation and politicians, all to further her agenda of making the world safer and fairer for women.

Of course, some people see her adopted children as brainwashed soldiers rather than clear-headed volunteers – or revolutionaries. And plenty of people at home and abroad want to keep on doing business as usual without her interference.

And, like any family, some children are less than willing to toe the family line, or just want to live an ordinary life rather than devote themselves to a cause, even a righteous one.

The Price of Grace is a story where those conflicting desires intersect in the person of Grace Parish, a woman who left a husband and child behind in order to keep them safe from her family’s retribution – or so she believes.

Grace’s need to carve out a bit of a life for herself conflicts with one FBI agent’s desire to rescue Grace and her siblings from what he perceives as their indoctrination into a cult of vigilantism. And it runs headlong into one woman’s insane need to preserve her position at the apex of privilege and self-indulgence – at any cost.

Escape Rating B+: In the first book in this series, whatever second thoughts Justice Parish may have had about deceiving Sandesh Ross about her mission – or her purpose on his mission – there are none about the mission itself, or her family’s determination to take on traffickers, slavers and abusers wherever they might be found.

But the location of that first story gives the Parish family’s vigilantism a bit of distance. Intellectually, we know that variations of the same crap that Justice Parish is fighting “over there” also happens right here at home, but the reader isn’t forced to confront the “outside the law” nature of the Parish’ activities in the same way.

(BTW I Am Justice is kickass awesome but it isn’t necessary to read it to get into The Price of Grace.)

All of the action in The Price of Grace – except for its explosive opening intro – takes place right here in the U.S. of A. In the light of Grace’s own desire to distance herself from her family’s field operations, and her semi-successful attempt to carve out a life of her that isn’t completely under her mother’s well-meaning but heavy-handed thumb, there’s a bit of uneasiness about the Parish family, not so much the mission itself but certainly the methodology.

And that’s reflected in the perspective of FBI Agent Dusty McAllister. His childhood was chock to the brim of first-hand experience with indoctrination into cult beliefs, and to his admittedly suspicious eyes, that’s exactly what it looks like Mukta Parrish is up to. Creating an army of child soldiers who are so indoctrinated into her way of thinking that they continue the dangerous and deadly mission into adulthood.

Dusty initially saw Grace’s attempts at independence as the weak link in the Parish family chain – he planned to use her to pry a way into the Parish family compound. But once he meets her he’s caught between his need to expose Mukta Parish and his need to explore every last inch of Grace Parish. A latter need  that is very much mutual.

But this story, partly through Dusty’s investigations and partly through the machinations of some very interested third parties gives the reader – and especially Grace – a view into some of the family’s operations that are not so savory as she, and the reader, have been led to believe. Giving the story some fascinating and slightly equivocal dimensions that add to the suspense as both Grace and the reader are forced to wonder just how much dirt is hiding under that righteous mission.

The reveal of who exactly is behind what, and why, gives this page-turner a surprising – and explosive, ending.

I think we’ll see more dimensions, and even more second thoughts, in the third book in this series, The Cost of Honor, later this year. And I’m all in for that!

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Price of Grace to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet

Review: Nightchaser by Amanda BouchetNightchaser (Endeavor, #1) by Amanda Bouchet
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Endeavor #1
Pages: 404
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on January 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A delicious new heart-pounding romantic adventure from USA Today bestseller Amanda Bouchet!

Captain Tess Bailey and her crew of Robin Hood-like thieves are desperate and on the run. Pursued by a vicious military general who wants them dead or alive, Tess has to decide if she can trust Shade Ganavan, a tall, dark and arrogant stranger with ambiguous motivations.

Shade Ganavan had oodles of arrogance, oodles of charm, and oodles of something that made me want to kick him in the nuts.

What Tess and Shade don’t know about each other might get them killed…unless they can set aside their differences and learn to trust each other—while ignoring their off-the-charts chemistry.

My Review:

Nightchaser reminds me of so many skiffy (science fictional) things that it’s hard to pick one. Or even two or three.

Particularly in the beginning, there’s a whole lot of Firefly. Not so much that you need to be familiar with the show to get the book, not at all. The characters and the setting of Nightchaser are most definitely capable of standing on their own.

However, if you do have fond memories of Firefly, the beginning of the story has a lot of similar elements. Or to put it another way, if Captain Mal Reynolds and River Tam were one slightly crazed and depressed person you’d end up with someone a lot like Tess Bailey. The big difference is that Tess’ highly sought-after anomalies are physical rather than mental. And not that Tess isn’t a bit mental, but in her case that’s the effect and not the cause of her troubles.

We meet Tess and the crew of her cargo ship Endeavor as they are on the run from the forces of the tyrannical and repressive Galactic Overlord, in the person of her uncle Bridgebane. He’s hunting Tess because her father, the aforementioned Galactic Overlord, wants her back so he can turn her back into a lab rat. There’s something “different” about Tess and he wants it studied, used and abused.

Tess has just stolen a secret lab filled with samples of her own blood, mutated into serum intended to create supersoldiers, along with one of the supersoldiers. Daddy Dearest wants the lab – and Tess – back.

Tess and her crew pilot their ship into a black hole, intending to escape or die trying.

The first happens immediately – to everyone’s surprise. The second, unfortunately, nearly happens later.

But first, the Endeavor has to hole up on a planet – any planet – to repair the damage the Overseer’s battlecruisers have done to her. And that’s where fate, or at least romance, in the person of Shade Ganavan steps in.

Shade is a parts dealer with a whole lot of secrets and an unexpected yen for Tess Bailey. A situation that gets a whole lot more complicated when his secret life as a government bounty hunter lets him know that Tess is a prize worth enough to solve all the problems he’s been working on for ten years.

He just has to give up the best thing that’s ever happened to him to cash in. And he can’t manage to decide which he wants more – to buy back his family’s lost legacy – or Tess.

His indecision lasts one little bit too long – forcing him into an unplanned reveal, an unintended betrayal, and the loss of everything he ever wanted.

Because if Tess recovers, she’s not going to want him back. Not even if he brings back her cat.

Escape Rating A-: Nightchaser does remind me of Firefly – and a whole lot of other marvelous SF and SFR adventures. If you’ve read Ann Aguirre’s Grimspace series, or Nina Croft’s Blood Hunter/Dark Desires series, or Linnea Sinclair’s Dock Five Universe, you’ll find pieces of all of them in Nightchaser. Along with a bit of the rebels vs. the evil empire that is such an integral part of Star Wars.

But those are all terrific antecedents, so anything that’s made of parts of them starts at a pretty awesome place.

A big part of this story is the setting up of the SFnal universe in which this series takes place. We kind of jump right into the action, with the crew of the Endeavor on the run, and then Tess making her dramatic speech and big reveal just before they leap to what seems like certain death – only to discover that it isn’t.

After that we get a slightly more leisurely introduction to this universe, as they dock at planet Albion 5 for repairs. Not only do we meet our hero Shade, but through Tess’ eyes we see how not just this planet but this universe actually works. We get onboard with the tyranny of the Overseer, and through Tess’ interactions with people other than Shade we learn just how awful things are, and not just why Tess is part of the rebellion but why there needs to be a rebellion in the first place.

Tess’ interactions with the bookstore owner make the problems both intimate and universal at the same time. Imagination is illegal, books are censored, and bookstores are fined and hassled at every turn. And yet, the woman can’t stop trying.

And she gives Tess a cat! Bonk provides many of the necessary bits of both sweet and comic relief – even as he takes off on an unexpected adventure of his own.

But this is also a romance between two very broken people. Tess and Shade are strong and brittle, broken in so many ways that run deeper than the way that the Overseer and his “Brownshirts” make sure that everyone is to too broken down to resist. Neither of them trusts easily, and when Shane betrays Tess’ trust our hearts break with her.

That they live to fight another day – even after all the secrets seem to be revealed and all the depths appear to be plumbed – is bittersweet. The cost to win this undeclared war is going to be very high – and Tess will be at the center of paying it.

 

Review: I Am Justice by Diana Munoz Stewart + Giveaway

Review: I Am Justice by Diana Munoz Stewart + GiveawayI Am Justice (Black Ops Confidential, #1) by Diana Munoz Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Black Ops Confidential #1
Pages: 384
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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This bad-ass band of sisters plays for keeps.


She's ready to start a warJustice Parish takes down bad guys. Rescued from the streets by the world-renowned Parish family, she joined their covert sisterhood of vigilante assassins. Her next target: a sex-trafficking ring in the war-torn Middle East. She just needs to get close enough to take them down...

He just wants peaceSandesh Ross left Special Forces to found a humanitarian group to aid war-torn countries. But saving the world isn't cheap. Enter Parish Industries and limitless funding, with one catch— their hot, prickly PR specialist', Justice Parish. Their chemistry is instant and off-the-charts. But when Justice is injured and her cover blown, Sandesh has to figure out if he can reconcile their missions. With danger dogging their every move, their white-hot passion can change the world— if it doesn't destroy them first.

My Review:

Think of this story as a big message about paying it forward – backed up with bullets. Or as a 21st century league-of-extraordinary-but-not-in-the-least-bit-gentle women. Or perhaps as the story of a group of contemporary Amazons who specialize in giving people who abuse women and girls every single thing that they deserve – with extreme prejudice.

The Parish family has a secret. Or is a secret. Actually it’s a little bit of both. On the surface it looks like Mukta Parish runs an elite boarding school for girls. She has also adopted a number of young girls from heartbreaking circumstances. And both of those things are true.

But it is also a front. The Parish family rescues girls and women being abused and trafficked, just as Mukta herself was once abused. The foundation she founded continues to rescue girls and women in those horrible circumstances, all over the world. And some of those girls she adopts into her family – and trains them to be covert operators and assassins, who go in and rescue women in countries and situations where official authorities won’t go – or don’t care to even try.

Justice Parish is one of her daughters. But someone in Justice’s family has betrayed her, so she’s sent, undercover, with a charitable organization that can get her where she needs to be without relying on her family’s resources.

In the process of exposing the traitor in her own home, Justice finds herself leaning on, or falling for, the ex-special forces soldier who thinks that she’s just a PR flack. When all of their plans go completely pear-shaped – they realize that the only person that each of them can really count on is the other.

And that so much of what they’ve always believed is a lie.

Escape Rating B+: As the saying goes, this story is not for the faint of heart. Justice was herself rescued from horrific circumstances – circumstances which still haunt her days and disrupt her nights. In turn, she spends her life rescuing others from hells that would be neverending if not for her family’s operations.

She has no doubt that she is a vigilante operating outside the law. And the same time, in most of the places where she operates, the law either turns a blind eye to the abuses or is corrupt to the point of being part of the problem.

But whatever her mission ostensibly is in Jordan, the truth is that she is out for revenge. The traffickers that she intends to kill are the same men who killed her sister Hope. And she wants to make them suffer. But she’ll settle for making them dead – no matter what it takes.

She hasn’t factored falling in love into her plans. Nor has she counted on questioning not just the loyalties of those who have betrayed her, but also her own. It’s a hard journey for Justice. It begins in a difficult place and mostly gets worse – as well as more torturous.

Justice reminds me of some of the more tortured and less busty versions of Lara Croft in that both are fighters and neither have pretty background stories. I like her loyalty to her family, and at the same time I like the way she finally wakes up and starts to question what she’s always believes. This story is a wake-up call for her. But it’s also a very gritty story, and lots of bad things happen to both good and bad people, described in graphic ways that do not make for easy bedtime reading.

Yes, this is a romance and her hero is both drool-worthy and worthy of her. Sandesh Ross is a man who will fight beside her, and never try to keep her safe – especially as they both know that safety is an illusion. They make a great team.

But it’s Justice Parish’ story all the way. And if you like your heroines very gritty and extremely kick-ass, it’s a damn good one.

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

I am giving away a copy of I Am Justice to one lucky US/CAN commenter.

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Review: Highland Dragon Master by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

Review: Highland Dragon Master by Isabel Cooper + GiveawayHighland Dragon Master (Dawn of the Highland Dragon, #3) by Isabel Cooper
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Dawn of the Highland Dragon #3
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Legend claimsWhen Scotland fell to English ruleThe Highland dragons took a vow:Freedom at any price.

The war for Scottish independence rages on, but it's only a matter of time before England is victorious. Exhausted and battle-weary, Highland dragon Erik MacAlasdair will face unknown seas to seek the Templar stronghold and claim a power so great it could free his beloved homeland forever.

If only that kind of power didn't come with such a terrible price.

Daughter of a mortal woman and an ancient dragon, Toinette has never forgotten the proud Scot who once stole her young heart—she'll gladly fight at his side. But when dark forces leave them stranded on a cursed island, it will take everything they have to defy their fate...and trust the passion that burns within the heart of every dragon.

My Review:

Every book in this series is different. The first book, Highland Dragon Warrior, was a slow-build, slow-burn, both on the romance front and on the action front. The heroine was an alchemist, and the story moved along at the pace of her experiments.

The second book, Highland Dragon Rebel, is a road story. The romance, the danger, the action, all move along as the protagonists travel from place to place.

The third book in the series, Highland Dragon Master, is pretty damn creepy at points. I don’t mean creepy as in pace, I mean creepy as in, let’s call it horror-adjacent. For a story that takes place centuries before the Gothic genre came into being, it has that Gothic atmosphere of creeping evil.

Also Templars and the Ark of the Covenant. Well, not exactly THAT ark, but an ark that wants to make a covenant, and turns out to be every bit as destructive as that famous scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The books in this series are not like each other, and they don’t depend on each other to build the story. There are minor references to the heroine in the first book, and lots of call backs to the place that all the dragons call home, but nothing in Highland Dragon Master that can’t be picked up from context.

The title, like all the titles of the series, is kind of a twist. Both Erik and Toinette are Highland Dragons, but neither of them is the master in this particular scenario, unless the reference is to Toinette as her ship’s master. Instead, they have run into something that wants to master both of them – and that’s what they must prevent at all costs.

The story begins as a sea voyage, and ends as a second chance at love. But the middle is just about as scary as any horror fan might desire. The story begins as a search for treasure, but turns into something that will keep readers biting their nails hoping for good to triumph over evil.

This is a story where nothing turns out to be quite as it seems. Except the love that Erik and Toinette rekindle in each other – a love that they may be forced to end in the ultimate sacrifice.

Escape Rating B+: Highland Dragon Master was a lot faster paced than Highland Dragon Warrior, but not nearly as much fun as Highland Dragon Rebel. If you are thinking of picking up this series, particularly if you loved the author’s earlier dragon series which begins with Legend of the Highland Dragon but is set centuries later than this series, you might want to start with Highland Dragon Rebel.

I’ll also admit that I’m not a horror fan, so the strong sense of creeping evil that permeates this book from the moment they wreck on the mysterious island had me on the edge of my seat. It was also more than creepy enough that I waited until morning to finish the book because I didn’t want to read this one in just the flickering light of my iPad.

One of the things that makes this series so enjoyable are the characters. Toinette is one of the best. Even in the 14th century, she has found a way to live the life she wants to live in spite of her gender. Toinette is a ship’s captain. Not the sexy caricature of female captains we so often see, but a woman who has found her authentic self and lives that self. She commands her men and their loyalty not through sex appeal, but by being a good and fair commander. They give her their loyalty and if necessary their lives because she gives hers in return.

It is a soul-searching moment for her when she and Erik must reveal that they are dragon-shifters if there is to be any hope of saving the ship and her crew. That she agonizes over the change in her relationship with her men, especially her second-in-command, is heartfelt and very, very human.

And it is utterly marvelous that her second-in-command, who respected her as his captain before he knew she was a dragon, is able to shift their relationship without breaking that respect. At the same time, it is terrific to see that their relationship has always been that of partners without any element of sexual attraction between them, even though Marcus seems to be as heterosexual as Toinette. That they can be friends and colleagues and both be content with that relationship is something that needs to happen more often, and not just in romance.

This is also a story where the ends don’t justify the means, and where Erik has to go through a certain amount of soul-searching to come to that conclusion. He came on this quest in search of treasure to add Scotland in their perpetual war with England. And he finds it. But, as has been discovered before in other times and other lands and even among the stars, some gifts come at just too high a price.

I have enjoyed both the Highland Dragons series and now this prequel series, Dawn of the Highland Dragon, very much indeed. This looks like it might be the end of this trilogy, but I sincerely hope that the author is not done with the Highland Dragons.

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

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Review: Heart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet + Giveaway

Review: Heart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet + GiveawayHeart on Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles, #3) by Amanda Bouchet
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Kingmaker Chronicles #3
Pages: 416
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on January 2nd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The riveting conclusion to the Kingmaker Chronicles, available January 2018!

Who is Catalia Fisa?With the help of pivotal figures from her past, Cat begins to understand the root of her exceptional magic, her fated union with Griffin Sinta, and Griffin's role in shaping her destiny.

Only Cat holds the key to unlocking her own power, and that means finally accepting herself, her past, and her future in order to protect her loved ones, confront her murderous mother, and taking a final, terrifying step--reuniting all three realms and taking her place as the Queen of Thalyria.

What doesn't kill her will only make her stronger...we hope.

My Review:

Heart on Fire is the stunning and searing (sometimes literally) conclusion to the Kingmaker Chronicles, begun in 2016 with the author’s intense debut novel, A Promise of Fire. About which I had some very mixed feelings.

There are no mixed feelings as I close the final chapter. The beginning of Cat and Griffin’s story needed to be what it was (mostly) in order to reach this remarkable finale in Heart on Fire.

If you’ve heard a friend rave about this series, and you probably have, you need to read it in order, from the promise of marvels in A Promise of Fire, to the flush of possibility in Breath of Fire to this wow of an ending here in Heart on Fire, because yours will be too.

The story of this series is a combination of heroine’s journey and romance, but with a whole lot of mythology mixed in. Particularly that of the Greek pantheon. It turns out that as much as Catalina Fisa is the daughter of her monstrous mother, she is also the child of the gods. Not just one or two, but in a metaphysical way, ALL of them.

And they all seem to have a vested interest in not just keeping Cat alive, but finding ways to make sure that she survives, thrives and comes into the vast heritage of magic they have invested her with. Not just so she can topple her mother from her throne, but so that Cat, in partnership with her husband Griffin, can end the corruption that rules all of their land, and start over.

Literally start over. Because Cat discovers that she is the embodiment of “Origin” and her purpose is to wipe the slate clean and create a fresh start for all the peoples of her world.

If she can just manage to get her head out of her own ass long enough to figure out how her magic works. So she can kill her mother.

Escape Rating A: This certainly ends the year (or begins it, as it won’t be published until next week) with a bang. And a few whimpers. Cat’s journey has been long, hard and frequently dark. The story of Heart on Fire is literally the story of Cat’s heart finally catching fire, so that the woman can forgive herself first.

She needs to learn an awful lot of hard lessons to find the balance that she needs in her life in order for her to access the magic that has been inside her all along. And Cat is pretty stubborn about believing the worst of herself and it takes a lot of effort on the part of all the gods as well as a lot of pain and anguish on Cat’s part for the lesson to finally sink in. This is often a hard story, and Cat’s journey travels to some dark and torturous places.

Sometimes good can only triumph over evil if good is very, very strong. Cat needs to learn about her own strength, so a lot of this story is about just how difficult it is for Cat to find her own place, her own balance, and get out of her own way. Although Cat has always believed that her mother is her worst enemy (and she’s awfully, awfully bad) Cat’s true worst enemy has always been herself, and her unwillingness to put her faith in herself.

So this story is the end of an epic and sometimes heartbreaking journey. It will bring to mind the old saying that “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad”, although in Cat’s case its more the madness of anger than insanity. That much meddling in one’s life by capricious and omnipotent beings would drive anyone crazy.

But Cat’s crazy has made for a fantastic journey. I’m sorry to see it end – but this was the time. And the way it ends is right and heartbreaking and triumphant all at once. As the series has been, and as it should be.

Reviewer’s Note: Heart on Fire particularly of the series is a story about mothers and daughters, and just how terribly wrong that relationship can go. As I was reading this book, my mother was admitted to hospice, and by the time this is posted she will probably be gone. It made the reading of this book particularly poignant, and also made it difficult as hell to review.

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

Sourcebooks is giving away a bundle of the first two books in this series, A Promise of Fire and Breath of Fire, to three lucky entrants on this tour.

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Review: Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

Review: Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper + GiveawayHighland Dragon Rebel (Dawn of the Highland Dragon, #2) by Isabel Cooper
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Dawn of the Highland Dragon #2
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Madoc of Avandos is on a journey to cement alliances. Targeted by an assassin, he needs a companion who can fight. When dragon shifter Moiread MacAlasdair returns from war, he knows she's the best woman for the job. Duty and political strength compel Moiread to agree, but when they cross into the otherworld and Madoc's life is threatened, Moiread jumps into protection mode-and will do whatever it takes to keep the man of her dreams alive.

Dawn of the Highland Dragon Series: Highland Dragon Warrior (Book 1)Highland Dragon Rebel (Book 2)Highland Dragon Unleashed (Book3)

My Review:

I have a t-shirt that says, “I’m done adulting, let’s be Dragons!”

Moiread MacAlasdair has been an adult for three centuries, but she still gets to be a dragon. Putting it another way, Moiread has lived three centuries because she’s a dragon. A dragon shifter, at least. And that’s a pretty awesome thing to be.

But being a dragon, and a member of the MacAlasdair clan of dragon-shifters, means that Moiread, along with the rest of her family, spends a lot of time away from home, fighting to keep her home, her clan, and her country safe from predators, both human and not-so-human.

In the early 14th century, when the Dawn of the Highland Dragon series takes place, those enemies, as was true so often in Scottish history, were the English. As this story opens, peace has just broken out between Scotland and England with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton at the close of the First War of Scottish Independence.

It’s a peace that no one expects to last. And it doesn’t. But the resumption of hostilities just a few short years after this story ends is not part of the action in this book – not that I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in a later entry in this series.

At the moment, Moiread is not technically a rebel. However, the man she is set to guard certainly is.

Diplomacy has been labeled as “war conducted by other means”. But Madoc of Avandos hasn’t traveled from his native Wales all the way to the remote MacAlasdair stronghold just to conduct a bit of peacetime diplomacy.

Instead, Madoc plans to conduct his bit of war through much more arcane means. Madoc is a sorcerer, and he has come to the MacAlasdairs to invoke the ancient alliance between their families. He has devised a rite that he needs to conduct in places of power, including one such place on the MacAlasdair lands. And he requires a bodyguard to protect him on his quest to raise the ancient powers of the lands, and equally ancient alliances with other magical families, in order to safeguard dangerous treasures of the Welsh people that he dares not let fall into English hands.

The Welsh subjugation by the conquering English is already inevitable. Wales as a separate kingdom ceased to exist two generations ago, and Madoc knows that his homeland may never be independent again – and that it will certain not happen within his lifetime. But, as a powerful sorcerer, there are things he can do and rites he can perform that will make the hand of the conquerors fall less heavily on his people.

His quest is to do what he can. Moiread’s charge is to keep him alive while he does so. While they are increasingly aware that they have a sorcerous enemy dogging their every step, the greatest threat to their mission turns out to be the secrets of their own hearts.

Escape Rating A-: Highland Dragon Rebel reminded me of just how much I loved the author’s first Highland Dragons series. Highland Dragon Rebel really re-captured the magic.

I also have to say that Highland Dragon Rebel, in spite of being the second book in this series, has a completely different pace and feel from the first book, Highland Dragon Warrior. Because the members of the MacAlasdair clan seldom spend a great deal of time together, there is very little crossover between Warrior and Rebel, to the point where it doesn’t feel as if it matters if you’ve read one before reading the other.

They are also very different kinds of books. Warrior is paced rather slowly, and that pace matches the way that the heroine’s alchemical experiments come together. Everything takes time.

Rebel, on the other hand, is a road story. Moread and Madoc’s relationship occurs completely within the context of his quest to visit all the sites of power across Scotland, England and Wales, perform the necessary rituals, dodge the persistent assassins, and then move on down the road.

Lots of stuff happens, it happens relatively quickly, and then they move on. While Madoc’s quest doesn’t have a time limit per se, he does need to move at a quick pace. Even being guarded by a very capable dragon shifter, he can’t dodge endless waves of assassins indefinitely. He has to succeed before they eventually do.

One of the things that I loved about Highland Dragon Rebel was the character of Moiread. She is just so imminently practical. She’s lived three centuries, she’s seen a lot of change, and she knows that she’s going to live long enough to see a lot more. She’s also very grounded in who she is and what she believes, and there’s a certain amount of emotional drama that she is just impervious to.

She’s also very, very aware that Madoc’s quest comes first and always, and whatever she feels for him, and whatever he feels for her, she firmly believes that duty comes before personal happiness. And she is also very cognizant of the fact that whatever they might have together, happily ever after is not an option. Not that they might not want it, and not that his magic does not give him a much longer lifespan than average, but, barring a epically catastrophic mishap, she will outlive him by centuries.

But even within those constraints, it is still clear that they love each other and want to try for whatever future they can manage, assuming they survive the present danger.

There are older and more fell things in Moiread and Madoc’s world than dragons, and there are dragons older and more powerful than the MacAlasdairs. It would not be a true quest, after all, if there wasn’t a real possibility that our hero and heroine had bitten off just a bit more than they can chew – even with dragon-sized jaws.

The third book in this series, Highland Dragon Master, is coming out next spring. I can’t wait to see where the Highland Dragons fly next.

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

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Review: Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

Review: Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel Cooper + GiveawayHighland Dragon Warrior (Dawn of the Highland Warrior, #1) by Isabel Cooper
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Dawn of the Highland Dragon #1
Pages: 320
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Legend claims
When Scotland fell to English rule
The Highland dragons took a vow:
Freedom at any price.

The war may be over, but so long as English magic controls the Highlands, not even a dragon laird can keep his clan safe. What Cathal MacAlasdair needs is a warrior fierce enough to risk everything, yet gifted enough to outwit an enemy more monster than man.
What he needs is Sophia.
Alchemist Sophia Metzger traveled to Loch Arach in search of knowledge. She never dreamed she'd learn to do battle, ride through the stars on the back of a dragon, or catch the eye of a Highland laird. But as her quest turns to sizzling chemistry and inescapable danger, she'll soon discover the thrill of being caught in a dragon's claws.

My Review:

I picked this up thinking that it was a followup to the author’s earlier Highland Dragons series, the one that starts wonderfully with Legend of the Highland Dragon, continues marvelously in The Highland Dragon’s Lady and comes to its awesome conclusion in Night of the Highland Dragon.

But Highland Dragon Warrior isn’t a followup. Instead, it’s the beginning of a prequel series. Instead of the very tail end of the 19th century, this story is set at the very beginning of the 14th century. The world is a very different place. Thinking about it, this series might be the story of that “legend” that Legend of the Highland Dragon barely touches on.

This feels like a bit of an alternate 14th century. Dragons aren’t the only otherworldly creatures that walk (or fly, in this case) the earth we know from history. Magic works as well, and there are both good and evil practitioners of it. And, possibly because this is the 14th century and mysticism of all sorts existed in real history, alchemy works too.

Our heroine is an alchemist. She is also a world traveler in an era when travel was very difficult at the best of times and women seldom traveled at all. But Sophia Metzger is an exception in a number of ways. She’s a woman, she’s a practicing alchemist, and she’s Jewish at a time when Jews were systematically being expelled from every country in Europe.

It is dangerous for her to travel, particularly through England, where the Jews were expelled only a century before. (This is real history, not fabricated for this story) Sophia hides who she is at every turn, because exposure will mean censure at best, and death at worst. But she has heard a rumor that the MacAlasdairs are dragons, and she wants to see if their scales can provide powerful catalysts for her alchemical potions.

When Sophia and her friend and chaperone Alice arrive at Loch Arrach, she comes at just the right time for Cathal MacAlasdair. He’s had an unfortunate encounter with an evil wizard, who has taken the spirit of his best friend hostage. All the mage wants in return is Cathal’s service. The service of a powerful dragon. Cathal knows that he can’t give in, and doesn’t want to. He recognizes evil when he sees it. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to save his best friend if he can do it without submitting to the wizard.

And that’s where Sophia comes in. He’ll give her a few of his scales for her experiments, if she promises to do her best to save his friend. He’s not even half as unreasonable as he could be. Cathal knows the odds are stacked against them. He only asks that she try, and that she be honest about those trials.

Sophia can’t resist the challenge. And when the wizard starts coming for her, she meets that challenge as well, with every ounce of skill and intelligence at her disposal.

But when Cathal comes for her heart, she resists at every turn. She knows it’s not possible for a laird’s son to marry a Jew, and she is, above all, an honorable woman. But neither of them can resist what’s meant to be, no matter what stands in their way.

Escape Rating B: Highland Dragon Warrior, in spite of its hard-charging title, is a slow-burn, slow-build kind of story on every front. The plot takes a long time to develop, and so does the romance.

The pacing resembles that of Sophia’s alchemical potion-making. Everything has to happen at the right time, in the right place, under the right influences. This isn’t Harry Potter, where potions seem to brew in minutes or at most hours. All of Sophia’s potions take days and even weeks to come to fruition, and the story moves at that pace.

So as much as I liked Highland Dragon Warrior, I can’t claim that it’s a page-turner, at least not until the final 15% of the story, where Sophia confronts the evil wizard.

But I really did like this story. I think one of the big reasons for that is the character of Sophia. We don’t see many Jewish characters in mainstream fiction, and we particularly don’t see many Jewish heroines in romance, neither contemporary nor historical. So one of the reasons that I really liked being inside Sophia’s head was that I could see myself in her in ways that don’t happen often.

As difficult as it was for a woman to be an intellectual, or to travel in her time, for Sophia there is always an added layer of danger because of her faith. And she is always aware that some people will always be prejudiced against her, for her gender, for her intellect, for her profession and for her Judaism. She tries to keep her faith hidden, as much as she can, while not betraying it. Her fears are real, and particularly real for me, in ways that may not resonate with other readers, but do for this one, especially now.

Another thing that made this book so interesting for me is that it is Sophia’s journey. She’s the real warrior in this story, and not the dragon-shifter (and very male) Cathal. She’s the only person with the knowledge and skill to take the fight to the wizard, and the only one who has a chance to prevail. Cathal (and his family) provide much needed support, but Sophia is the skilled warrior on this battlefield, and there is not one moment of doubt that she is the right person to fight this foe.

Cathal wants to protect her, but it always feels like it is in the sense that we all want to protect those we love, and not in the strong man protecting weaker woman sense. He doesn’t see her as weak except in the strictly physical sense, but then, this battle will not be fought by strictly physical, or even mostly physical, means. And while his attitude feels out of his time, it is not outside the way his family functions. Female dragons are every bit as powerful, if not a bit more so, than the males.

And I liked that the difficulties between them were not swept under the carpet in a wave of romantic fluff. Or even obscured by a cloud of lust. There are real issues, and those have to be dealt with in order to arrive at a happy ever after. They successfully compromise, but not in a way where she gives up everything for him. They meet in a negotiated middle, and it works.

I’m looking forward to the next story in this series, Highland Dragon Rebel, to see where those dragons fly next.

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

Sourcebooks is giving away 3 copies of Highland Dragon Warrior to lucky entrants on this tour.

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