Review: The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Review: The Library Book by Susan OrleanThe Library Book by Susan Orlean
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: books and reading, history, libraries, true crime
Pages: 336
Published by Simon & Schuster on October 16, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Susan Orlean, hailed as a “national treasure” by The Washington Post and the acclaimed bestselling author of Rin Tin Tin and The Orchid Thief, reopens the unsolved mystery of the most catastrophic library fire in American history, and delivers a dazzling love letter to a beloved institution—our libraries.

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual false alarm. As one fireman recounted later, “Once that first stack got going, it was Goodbye, Charlie.” The fire was disastrous: It reached 2,000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 more. Investigators descended on the scene, but over thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her life-long love of books and reading with the fascinating history of libraries and the sometimes-eccentric characters who run them, award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean presents a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling story as only she can. With her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, she investigates the legendary Los Angeles Public Library fire to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives. To truly understand what happens behind the stacks, Orlean visits the different departments of the LAPL, encountering an engaging cast of employees and patrons and experiencing alongside them the victories and struggles they face in today’s climate. She also delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from a metropolitan charitable initiative to a cornerstone of national identity. She reflects on her childhood experiences in libraries; studies arson and the long history of library fires; attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; and she re-examines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the library over thirty years ago. Along the way, she reveals how these buildings provide much more than just books—and that they are needed now more than ever.

Filled with heart, passion, and unforgettable characters, The Library Book is classic Susan Orlean, and an homage to a beloved institution that remains a vital part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country and culture.

My Review:

This is Banned Books Week. As part of my own personal Banned Books Week celebration I read and review at least one book about libraries, or books, or a book that has been banned. Or Fahrenheit 451 which kind of hits the trifecta.

The Library Book is not about book banning. Instead, it’s about book burning. Not the kind of book burning that occurs in Fahrenheit 451, but something less political but unfortunately just as deliberate.

It’s about a real-life case that definitely involved the perfect temperature, and conditions, for burning books. An awful lot of books.

But that’s not the only thing in The Library Book. A big part of the story revolves around that calamitous fire, the ultimately inconclusive investigation into its cause, and the massive amount of effort required in its aftermath for the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library to open for business once more.

In the process of investigating the fire, the author also took a deep dive into the current operations of LAPL. In the end, this book serves as a love letter to one of the great public libraries in the United States, and ultimately to all public libraries.

The process of looking at and into LAPL as it is today, the way that its mission has changed and adapted, and all of the many ways that it continues to serve its rich and varied community, showcases the vital work that libraries perform in the 21st century. And makes the case, yet again, that libraries are not dusty repositories of books.

That the author also rediscovered her own love of libraries, and the sweetness of the childhood memories she had wrapped around them, was the icing on the cake.

Reality Rating A: When I first picked this up I was expecting more than a bit of “insider baseball” – but I’m happy to report that is not the case. The author is looking at the library’s operation from the point of view of an interested bystander, a user of libraries, and not someone on the inside.

That being said, the operations she described will be familiar to anyone who has ever worked in a library, particularly those of us who have worked in some of the large urban libraries. While the Los Angeles community served by LAPL is different from Chicago, many of the internal workings of a large urban library seem to be the same.

The story of the fire is fascinating and heartbreaking. Like the author, I wondered why I did not remember the events when they occurred. I was a working librarian at the time. But the fire, as big as it was (and it was HUGE) could not eclipse the news of the Chernobyl disaster. Not much can compete with the potential end of the world as we know it.

Readers will find the investigation frustrating, as did investigators at the time. The story has all the elements of a true crime thriller – but with no definitive ending. Somebody set this fire, but we’ll never know who. This part of the story lacks closure but is true to life. There was a strong suspect with a weak alibi, but ultimately it’s a mystery.

What emerges from The Library Book, along with smoke that can still be sniffed between the pages of those books that survived the fire, is a portrait of libraries as community institutions, and just how vital they can be when they reach out and serve.

In the end, the story in some ways reminds me of the recent events in Brazil and the fire that consumed the National History Museum in Rio de Janeiro. Both fires were the largest of their kind. Both took place in buildings that were known to be firetraps – places where maintenance and prevention had been neglected for years. And both were conflagrations that caused incalculable losses of knowledge and history.

LAPL rose from its ashes, with a lot of blood, sweat, tears and above all, effort. Perhaps someday the National History Museum of Brazil will as well.

Review: A Tall Dark Cowboy Christmas by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: A Tall Dark Cowboy Christmas by Maisey Yates + GiveawayA Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas (Gold Valley, #4) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Gold Valley #4
Pages: 496
Published by Hqn on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s Christmas in Gold Valley, and this wounded widower is about to get another shot at love…

Grant Dodge didn’t expect to find a woman sleeping in an abandoned cabin on his family ranch. Or to find her so intriguing. Unlike every other woman in town, McKenna Tate doesn’t know Grant’s a widower. There’s no pity in the looks she gives him. McKenna wants him, and Grant has forgotten what it’s like to feel like a man. A no-strings fling for Christmas might be the kind of holiday cheer Grant needs…

With only a suitcase to her name, McKenna came to Gold Valley to confront her birth father. She didn’t plan to work at the Dodge ranch or fall for the gorgeous cowboy who keeps his heart roped off. But there’s no denying the way their broken pieces fit together. Hope brought her to Gold Valley—but will it be the gift that could finally heal Grant, and McKenna’s own wounded heart?

Also includes a bonus Gold Valley novella, Snowed in with the Cowboy!

My Review:

It’s hard to believe that anyone would actually WANT to win a gold medal in the “Life Sucks” Marathon, but when Grant Dodge and McKenna Tate meet they are both serious contenders for that “grand” prize.

Possibly it’s a grand prize in the joke sense that first prize is one week in Hell and second prize is two weeks – although the way they both have been chasing this particular goal, that might actually be the other way around.

We’ve met Grant Dodge in the previous books in the Gold Valley series as his brothers have discovered their own happy ever afters. But Grant is a special case. He already found his happy, and knew perfectly well at the time that there was no “ever after” attached. Grant is semi-famous for having married his high school sweetheart knowing that she had terminal cancer, and caring for her for the eight years she managed to survive.

But he’s also been a widower for eight years, and is more than tired of all the pitying looks he gets from everyone in town and everyone he meets. His tragedy was so touching that it became fodder for one of the morning quasi-news shows, so no one ever lets him forget.

He’s wrapped his misery around him like a well-worn but scratchy blanket and doesn’t let anyone get close – not even his family – even though they are all working on the ranch together.

While Grant should be the first place finisher in that misery marathon, McKenna Tate is still in the running. He finds McKenna camped out in one of the ranch’s few remaining dilapidated (unheated and uninsulated) remote cabins. In December. In Oregon.

He claims he doesn’t want to be bothered, but he still takes her into the ranch house, where his brother and sister-in-law promptly offer McKenna a job and a cabin. She doesn’t want to take the charity, but she NEEDS it. She’s broke and homeless and out of options.

And she needs to be in Gold Valley. Her mother gave up her parental rights back when McKenna was only two, so she was raised in, or survived, foster care. Now she’s 24 and has come to Gold Valley to discover if the man listed on her birth certificate as her father is willing to give her a hand up.

She’s afraid to acknowledge, even to herself, that what she really wants is to belong. To someone. To be part of something. To finally have a place.

But while she tries to figure out how to approach her possible father, who turns out to be “rodeo royalty”, she becomes part of the mixed family of birth and choice that centers around the Get Out of Dodge Ranch.

And just maybe, she and Grant might manage to stop racing towards that first place in the misery marathon and reach for each other instead.

Escape Rating B+: In my review of Good Time Cowboy I called Maisey Yates the cowgirl queen of angsty western romance. The story in A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas certainly adds more sparkle to that crown.

Both Grant and McKenna begin the story in a serious bad way. But the bad way they’ve found themselves in, and the equally bad ways that they feel about it, feel like exactly the way a person would feel under their individual circumstances. It’s not manufactured angst or self-inflicted angst. They’ve had terrible things happen to them and they feel terrible because of those things.

Grant, in particular, has been living so much on the periphery of life at the ranch that it is more than possibly to read this book without having read the other books in the series first – not that they aren’t terrific reads. But Grant has done his best to not let other people in, to the point where he only plays a very minor role in his brothers’ lives – and is only willing to let them a tiny way into his.

McKenna has certainly had a lifetime of hard knocks that led her to Gold Valley. But she also has one attribute that draws Grant in like a magnet – she doesn’t know anything about his history. She doesn’t pity him or feel sorry for him. And she doesn’t want either of those things from him. She just thinks he’s hot. And she gets him hot and bothered in a way that he’s never allowed himself to feel.

The begin what becomes their relationship by finally giving into their amazing chemistry. They both think that’s all they have. But as much as Grant tries to stick to a rule of “no talking”, they can’t. McKenna can’t stop herself from talking under any circumstances, and Grant has spent so many years locked inside his own head that once he opens up at all he can’t make himself stop.

There is so much heartbreak in this story. Both Grant and McKenna begin the story as very broken people, and it’s tough reading their emotional turmoil. Watching them slowly heal each other is lovely, especially with their acknowledgement that it’s the hurts that they’ve each suffered that has made them the people they need to be for each other.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas to one lucky US/CAN commenter!

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Review: The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

Review: The Hollow of Fear by Sherry ThomasThe Hollow of Fear (Lady Sherlock, #3) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #3
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 2, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, returns in the Victorian-set mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of A Conspiracy in Belgravia and A Study in Scarlet Women, an NPR Best Book of 2016.

Under the cover of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don’t.

Moriarty’s shadow looms large. First, Charlotte’s half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte’s close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram—and a number of malevolent forces…

My Review:

This was the book I wanted to read, so in spite of being a couple of weeks early, I did. And in the end, I’m glad I did. Even if I found this entry in the series every bit as frustrating – as well as every bit as captivating – as the first two books, A Study in Scarlet Women and A Conspiracy in Belgravia.

And yes, that’s a hint. This is a series where you really need to read them in order. Holmes’ situation in this series is so singular that the reader really needs to start from the beginning for it to make the sense that is required. Particularly as the case in The Hollow of Fear is directly related to events that took place in A Conspiracy in Belgravia – even more of those events than at first appears.

By this point in the series, we are well acquainted with Charlotte Holmes and her lucrative masquerade as her invalid “brother” Sherlock. Charlotte has found a rather unique solution to the restrictions placed on genteel Victorian womanhood by arranging to have her virginity rather publicly taken by a married man, making her a scarlet woman and removing herself from her parents’ household and restrictions.

She’d rather be disowned than respected. Which does not mean that she does not still care for her family, or at least for her two sisters, Livia and Bernadine. Bernadine, the oldest sister, has been kept away from society since she was a little girl. Based on the descriptions of her behavior, it seems as if Bernadine has a severe form of autism – but of course that was not recognized at the time.

To their unloving and extremely profligate parents, Bernadine is an embarrassment and an expense they would rather dispose of.

Charlotte, as we have learned to know her better, quite possibly has Asperger’s Syndrome. She certainly has some of the hallmarks of the syndrome, notably the high intelligence, the hyper focus on one particular topic, and a considerable amount of difficulty with social skills.

Livia is the closest to what their society classes as “normal”, but she also has no desire to rescue her parents’ terrible financial situation by marrying someone who will stifle her creativity. It is Livia in this Sherlock Holmes pastiche who is the author of the stories.

The case in The Hollow of Fear is a complex one – and it is a case that both strikes close to home and reaches towards the halls of power. In A Conspiracy in Belgravia, Holmes discovered that her friend Lord Ingram’s estranged wife was not merely a mercenary bitch, which was already well known, but was also an agent of Moriarty (of course there’s a Moriarty) and therefore a traitor to the Crown for which Lord Ingram is an agent.

At the end of that story, Lady Ingram supposedly flees to the Continent, but at the beginning of this story her corpse is found on Lord Ingram’s estate, stuffed rather unceremoniously into the icehouse.

Of course Lord Ingram is the prime suspect in his wife’s murder. Not just because police always look at the spouse first, but because Lord Ingram has so very many motives to want his wife permanently out of the picture.

Including the exceedingly well known fact that Lord Ingram is in love with Charlotte Holmes.

But it will be up to Sherlock Holmes, with the assistance of a host of both real and imaginary relatives, to unravel the trap that Lord Ingram has so obviously been placed in. Without revealing either her own identity or the secret workings that caused this mess in the first place.

Escape Rating B+: I always have mixed feelings about the books in this series. The author has done an excellent job of conveying just how restricted women’s activities were at this particular period, and how much difficulty Charlotte has in working her way around those restrictions.

The advent of “Sherrinford” Holmes in this story was a fascinating way of working around the conundrum this time – as well as the creation of quite the character in his own right.

It takes a bit of time for the “case” to truly begin in this one, and those opening chapters don’t move at nearly a fast enough pace. At the same time, they are absolutely crucial for setting up the scenario and getting all the clues in place for the main event – which is a doozy.

This is a case where, in the end, nothing is quite as it seemed. The switch between the events as they appeared from the outside and the reveal at the end felt a bit abrupt, but once the story switches from what everyone “sees” to what is happening under the surface it all falls into place quite satisfactorily.

But while it is all going on, the author does a good job of ramping up the tension. The situation, particularly for Lord Ingram, seems bleak. We expect that “Sherlock” is going to save the day, but not even Charlotte herself is willing to promise that all will be well. Like the characters in the story, particularly Livia Holmes, we find ourselves hoping without any certainty that all will be well.

That there is so much that cannot be revealed because it will unmask governmental secrets just adds to the tension. We know Ingram is innocent, but we don’t know whether it will be possible to prove his innocence when there is so much that absolutely cannot be told.

The reveal of the villain at the end is a surprise to the reader and many of the characters as well. And it does a beautiful job of setting up the possibilities for the next story in the series. There are at least two more books coming, and as much as the descriptions of just how much Charlotte has to work around and how appalling difficult many women’s situations are, I can’t wait!

Review: Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawaySeason of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Haven Point #9
Pages: 320
Published by Hqn on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He’s giving her children a season of wonder…

Dani Capelli seized a chance to start over in a small town with her daughters. Now, facing her first Christmas in Haven Point, she wonders if leaving New York was a mistake. Dani loves working alongside veterinarian Dr. Morales, but her two children aren’t adjusting to small-town life. And then there’s Dr. Morales’s son, Ruben—Dani’s next-door neighbor. Gorgeous, muscled and dependable, the deputy sheriff is everything she secretly craves and can’t bear to risk loving…and losing.

Ruben never pictured himself falling for a big-city woman like Dani. But beneath her prickly facade, she’s caring and softhearted and she needs all the love and protection he can give. When Dani’s teenage daughter starts acting out, Ruben draws on family traditions to show the girls just how magical a Haven Point Christmas can be. But can he convince Dani that she’s found a home for the holidays—and forever—in his arms?

My Review:

It still feels too early to be reading holiday books, but here we are. And as much as I shivered at the reminders about snow and cold, Season of Wonder is a lovely little story.

It also feels like Haven Point is just down the road from Robyn Carr’s Thunder Point – even though Thunder Point is on the coast of Oregon and Haven Point is in Idaho within a couple of hours of Boise.

Let’s call them sister cities. Or at least sister villages.

Both are small towns where most of the folks are friendly and welcoming of newcomers – and where a family in need of a fresh start has an excellent chance of finding one.

Also, although both series are billed as contemporary romances, and the books in them certainly do include a romance along with its requisite HEA, the real stories often seem to be more in the line of small-town feel good cozy stories. The romance feels like the cherry on the top of the sundae, with that sundae being the newcomers making a place for themselves in a welcoming community in spite of whatever heavy baggage brought them in the first place.

And that’s the story in Season of Wonder, which is a cute holiday story and also feels like a pretty good place to begin your visit to Haven Point if you aren’t already a fan of the series.

Dani Capelli is the new vet in town. She’s got a freshly minted vet degree from Boston, a gigantic pile of student loans and two young daughters. She’s come to Haven Point in the hopes that she can start over, and that her year of interning with retiring vet Frank Morales will enable her to buy his practice when her internship is up.

Both of them want to make this work. Dr. Morales has given her a small house, rent-free, during her internship. He really wants this to work and his wife really wants him to retire. If Dani and her little family like living in Haven Point and the residents of Haven Point end up liking her and thinking she’s a good vet, it could all work for everyone.

But Dani has a past that she wants to bury, along with her late ex-husband. Tommy DeLuca died in a hail of gunfire, robbing a bank and killing two cops, back in Dani’s hometown of Queens. She divorced Tommy years ago, and hadn’t heard from him in all that time.

Which doesn’t mean that when everyone in Haven Point finds out that her ex was a criminal and a cop killer that some people won’t tar her and her daughters with the brush of his crimes. After all, she married him and she had two children with him.

People will speculate that apples don’t fall too far from their parent trees. So when her 13-year-old daughter Silver is caught spray painting her next door neighbor’s boat, she fears that her secret will come out.

After all, her neighbor is a trained investigator – he’s a member of the Haven Point County police. And he’s the son of her boss – who is the one person in town who does know the truth.

When Ruben Morales is more than willing to let Silver clean up all THREE places she tagged in return for not putting her through the system, it gives Dani and Ruben a chance to get to know each other – and to see if the chemistry between them is worth exploring.

Even though Dani is dead certain that a criminal’s ex-wife is no fit partner for a cop. She’s sure he’ll agree, just as soon as he figures out the truth.

Escape Rating B: Season of Wonder is a short and sweet holiday story, just the perfect length to kick off the holiday romance season. (Even if it feels too early to talk about Xmas yet)

But speaking of feels, it feels like the parts of this story that get the most pages are the parts about Dani and her daughters adapting to living in Haven Point – with a bit too big of a heaping helping of Dani’s generally negative self-talk.

The girls, Silver and Mia, are 13 and 6 respectively. They are also day-and-night opposites. Some of that opposition is the age difference. Silver is entering her teenage years, she has all the moody defiance that marks that period of life AND she’s been taken away from her friends and familiar surroundings and stuck in what feels like the middle of nowhere after living in Queens and Boston. That she acts out is not a big surprise – but it is a big disappointment to her stressed-out mother.

Mia is 6 and still believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. She’s sweet, light and funny in equal turns. She still sees the best in everyone, and in spite of her initial shyness, is generally a joyful little girl.

It’s Silver who provides most of the drama in the story, as she’s first caught tagging, and is later accused of theft. And it’s the trail of trouble that follows her, not all of it her fault, that both pushes Dani and Ruben together AND pulls them apart.

I’ll admit that I didn’t completely buy the romance. It may be that the book is too short, and there just wasn’t enough time to really make the reader feel the tension between them. A lot went on in a relatively short number of pages. (The blurbs claim 320 but this was only 2800 kindle locs, which is way less than that.)

Dani’s self-talk is very negative, and that’s what causes much of the dramatic tension between her and Ruben. She’s sure she’s a screw-up and a failure, when she most definitely is not. (And not that we don’t all talk to ourselves like that sometimes.) She’s also dead certain that her ex-husband’s terrible crimes are going to follow her and her daughters for the rest of their lives – and there is at least one douchebag in town who espouses that view. But Ruben is also correct that most people, and anyone she might possibly want to associate with AT ALL, will recognize that anything that the jerk did six years after she left him is in no way her fault.

In conclusion, Haven Point is an absolutely lovely little town, especially during the holiday season, and always willing to take a stranger into their hearts. I enjoyed the story of Dani finding her way and her HEA in her new home, and I look forward to many future visits to Haven Point.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Season of Wonder to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh

Review: Rebel Hard by Nalini SinghRebel Hard (Hard Play, #2) by Nalini Singh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Hard Play #2
Pages: 409
Published by TKA Distribution on September 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh continues her Hard Play series with a sweet, sexy romance featuring big, fat, OTT weddings, a meddling grandma, and a too-serious hero who needs to be unbuttoned…

Nayna Sharma agreed to an arranged marriage in the hope it would heal the fractures in her beloved family… only to realize too late that a traditional marriage is her personal nightmare. Panicked, she throws caution to the winds, puts on the tiniest dress she can find, and ends up in the arms of a tall, rough-edged hunk of a man who has abs of steel—and who she manages to mortally insult between one kiss and the next.

Abandoned as a child, then adopted into a loving family, Raj Sen believes in tradition, in continuity. Some might call him stiff and old-fashioned, but he knows what he wants—and it’s a life defined by rules… yet he can’t stop thinking about the infuriating and sexy woman who kissed him in the moonlight then disappeared. When his parents spring an introduction on him, the last woman he expects is her. Beautiful. Maddening. A rulebreaker in the making.

He’s all wrong for her. She’s all wrong for him. And love is about to make rebels of them both.

My Review:

The Hard Play series is a prequel to the author’s Rock Kiss series, linked by my and the rest of the Book Pushers favorite alpha male, Gabriel Bishop, better known as T-Rex. But you certainly don’t have to read Rock Kiss or even Gabriel’s book, Rock Hard to get right into Rebel Hard.

As I said, this series is a prequel, so those events haven’t happened yet. However, the series is absolutely marvelous!

Rebel Hard is the second book in the Hard Play series, after last year’s Cherish Hard. Again, absolutely awesome. But you really don’t need to read Cherish Hard to get into Rebel Hard, because these two stories are happening in parallel.

Isa, the heroine of Cherish Hard and Nayna, the heroine of Rebel Hard, are besties. Really, really solid besties and have been forever. Both stories begin at the same time and place, the party where Isa meets Sailor, and where Nayna meets Raj. And it both cases it’s at least lust at first sight, if not something more.

In Cherish Hard, we saw what transpired between Isa and Sailor after this fateful party. Now it’s Nayna’s turn. And while her story, both before and after the party is completely different, both do end in the same place.

Rebel Hard isn’t really a story about rebellion, at least not in a big way. But it is about the kind of small rebellions that happen in everyday lives. And that’s true even though the chapter headings of Rebel Hard reflect the way that Nayna’s life seems to be taking a turn straight into a Bollywood melodrama.

This is, in the end, the story of Nayna’s rebellion. She begins the story as her parents’ “perfect” and perfectly reliable daughter. Nayna has suppressed her own desires, and had them suppressed for her, in the wake of her older sister’s very big rebellion – where she married someone completely unsuitable, ran away from home, and eventually got divorced.

In their fairly traditional Indian family, Maddie went pretty far off the rails – and it seems that Nayna is the one that was punished for it, with her movements and teenage life claustrophobically restricted by their frightened parents. Now Maddie is back, and she and Nayna are both adults, but Nayna is still letting her parents control her life while Maddie seems to get away with everything.

Nayna feels resentful and taken for granted – and she feels the walls of her world closing in. She had agreed to let her parents arrange a marriage for her, but now that the process is underway Nayna feels like her cage door is closing. That the candidates she meets turn out to be self-absorbed douchebags probably isn’t helping.

So she and Isa break out one night, and go to what to them seems like a fairly wild party – not that it actually is. But they are among strangers, and for one night they can be whoever and whatever they want to be. They are free from the different but equally restrictive expectations they live with.

And Nayna, intending to take a little bitty walk on the wild side, meets Raj, and discovers a part of her that wants to be wild – but only with him.

Of course he turns out to be the next candidate her parents introduce her to. Because that’s the way these stories always work. Just as she’s finally figured out that as much as she loves her parents, and as much as they love her, she has to experience life on her own terms before she gets married. And that she wants to marry someone who sees the real her, whoever that turns out to be – even though her parents don’t.

The story here is the tug of war, both within and between Nayna and Raj, and with all of the conflicting sets of expectations set up by not merely the two of them, but between both of their close, loving and hyper-involved families.

Everyone wants what’s best for everyone else. But in the end only Nayna and Raj can make that decision – no matter how much pressure is put on them, from each and every side.

Escape Rating A-: It took me a long time to get into this one – longer than usual for one of Nalini Singh’s books. In retrospect, I don’t think it was the fault of the book. I just wasn’t in the mood for a romance for several days.

Once I got into it, it turned out to be a breathlessly fast read, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Part of what made this story so interesting was that it is steeped in the Indian expat culture as it is lived in New Zealand – the setting from which the author herself springs. The families are very close-knit, as is the entire community. The interconnectedness of family and community is something that used to be a lot more common. People used to rely on not just their marital family but also their birth family and their extended family all their lives, and that’s something that doesn’t happen in the wider Western society as much anymore.

Nayna is a great character through which to portray both how lovely that can be and equally how smothering it can be. At the same time, the recognition that she has caught herself in her own trap is familiar no matter what culture one comes from. She has become the “good” daughter because her sister was the “bad” daughter, so she feels that she will only be loved if she is perfect. And she is afraid of what will happen if she isn’t.

Her relationship with Raj is fraught, not because there is anything wrong with him, but because she doesn’t want it to seem like she has given into expectations, and she is afraid that she will give into his. Not that she doesn’t fall for him, and very much vice versa, but he has always claimed that he wants a traditional wife, and Nayna doesn’t want to be that. Not that she doesn’t want to be a wife, she just doesn’t want to be that kind of wife. They have to work hard, both with and against all the various family pressures, to figure out a way to be together that satisfies what they both want and need – not just during the first flush of love, but for always.

Their sometimes desperate realism about what will and won’t work for each of them is what makes this story sing. And dance. Definitely dance.

Review: The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang + Giveaway

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

Two hearts. Twice as vulnerable.

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Exile of the Seas by Jeffe Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Under Control by Shannon Stacey + Giveaway

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can they meet somewhere in the middle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINK:   http://bit.ly/2LyyGp5

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

Review: Good Time Cowboy by Maisey Yates

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

August 22nd

Always a happy ever after – Review

I Love HEA Romance Book Blog – Review

Melena’s Reviews – Review & Excerpt

August 23rd

Inside the mind of an avid reader – Review

Moonlight Rendezvous – Review & Excerpt

Sascha Darlington’s Microcosm Explored – Review & Excerpt

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

August 24th

Lover of Big Books Cannot Lie – Review & Excerpt

Southern Vixens Book Obsessions – Review

TBR Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

August 25th

Ginreads – Review

Meme Chanell Book Corner – Review & Excerpt

Smut Book Junkie Book Reviews – Review

August 26th

Jax’s Book Magic – Excerpt

Kari’s Book Reviews and Revelations – Review & Excerpt

Renee Entress’s Blog – Review & Excerpt

August 27th

All Things Dark & Dirty – Excerpt

Reading Reality – Review

Sweet Red Reads – Review & Excerpt

August 28th

Adventures in Writing – Excerpt

Devilishly Delicious Book Reviews – Excerpt

Literary Misfit – Review & Excerpt

OMGReads – Review & Excerpt

August 29th

Aaly and The Books – Review & Excerpt

Booknerdingout – Review

Jen’s Reading Obsession – Excerpt

Read more sleep less – Review & Excerpt

August 30th

books are love – Review & Excerpt

It’s All About the Romance – Excerpt

Naturally Nerdy Books – Excerpt

Tfaulcbookreviews – Excerpt

August 31st

Reading Between the Wines Book Club – Excerpt

Vivi’s Messy Kitchen – Review

What Is That Book About – Excerpt

What’s Beyond Forks? – Review & Excerpt

Review: Gift of Griffins by V.M. Escalada

Review: Gift of Griffins by V.M. EscaladaGift of Griffins by V.M. Escalada
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Faraman Prophecy #2
Pages: 352
Published by DAW Books on August 7, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The second book in the Faraman Prophecy epic fantasy series returns to a world of military might and magical Talents as Kerida Nast continues the quest to save her nation.

Kerida Nast and her companions have succeeded in finding Jerek Brightwing, the new Luqs of Farama, and uniting him with a part of his Battle Wings, but not all their problems have been solved. Farama is still in the hands of the Halian invaders and their Shekayrin, and it's going to take magical as well as military strength to overcome them.

Unexpected help comes from Bakura, the Princess Imperial of the Halians, whose Gifts have been suppressed. As the Voice of her brother the Sky Emperor she has some political power over the Halian military, and she will use it to aid the Faramans, if Kerida can free her from what she sees as a prison. But whether Kerida can help the princess remains to be seen. If she succeeds, Bakura may prove their salvation. But should Kerida fail, all may be lost....

My Review:

Gift of Griffins is the direct followup to last year’s terrific Halls of Law. The action in Gift picks up right where Halls leaves off, and the two books as a whole feel like one single story that was just too long to fit into a single volume. So the author committed duology.

Gift makes no sense whatsoever without Halls. Consider yourself warned.

The story told in the two, however, is a lot of fun. This is epic fantasy that plays with some of the standard tropes in neat twisty ways.

Our point of view character is Kerida Nast. Ker was planning to be a soldier, like pretty much all of the women and men in her family before her. Two of her older sisters have risen to high rank in the Faraman military, and Ker expects to follow in their bootsteps.

So from the very beginning, the story feels like a heroine’s journey rather than a hero’s journey. One of the truly neat things about the story is the way that it turns out that Ker Nast is not the heroine whose journey fulfills the epic prophesy and saves the day.

Ker is only a piece, admittedly a big piece, of the prophecy that kicks the invaders out of the Faraman Peninsula and brings the mythic griffins back to their long abandoned home.

As we discover in Gift of Griffins, all of the various magics used by the human population of this world were literally gifted to them by the griffins centuries if no millennia ago. But humans being human, pretty much the first thing those magic users did was band into tribes based on exactly which kinds of magic they used in exactly what way. Then they bickered amongst themselves until, humans being human again, wars broke out, different groups gained ascendancy, and then ruthlessly tried to wipe out whichever faction was sucking hind tit.

Humans do kind of suck sometimes. The griffins, taking the very (very, very) long view, are none too happy with the way that their gift is being abused.

So when Ker finds their stronghold, courtesy of her friend Wiemark – a very, very young griffin that she found and “woke” in the griffins old ancestral home – the griffins tell her to solve her own problems and refuse to let Wiemark go back with her to help her.

Ker has a lot of problems to solve. Her homeland has been invaded by the forces of the Sky Emperor of Halia across the ocean, along with their mages. The Halians believe that women are chattel, and therefore maraud through Faraman killing every woman they see who does not immediately obey their every command – as well as all the women in the military because of course women bearing arms is absolute anathema.

They also kill every single Faraman mage (called Talents) that they find. Because Faraman magic is also utterly corrupt – because they believe it is used by women to deceive and enslave men.

(Any commentary on any contemporary groups, issues or problems feels intentional to this reader. Your mileage may vary.)

Ker, along with the friends and allies that she has gathered along her journey, has to figure out a way to defeat a force of magic users who specialize in mind control – and are all too proficient at it.

But she has an unexpected ally – in the middle of the enemy stronghold. If she can be rescued. If they can join forces. If Faraman can be saved. If the prophecy can be brought to fruition.

The odds are long, the stakes are high – and not everything is quite the way it seems.

Great fun.

Escape Rating B+: On the one hand, it is very nice indeed to have an epic fantasy that seems to be complete in merely two books – and only a year apart at that. On the other hand, the ending felt a bit rushed. It seemed like Ker was still getting her allies lined up when the villains essentially delivered themselves into her waiting (and fully armored) arms.

Not that I wasn’t perfectly happy to see more-or-less good triumph and for definitely evil to get its just desserts – but it felt like 1.9 books of build up and only .1 books of resolution. It felt like the ending happened awfully fast. I wasn’t ready and it didn’t feel like they were, either.

Again, not that they are supposed to be so fully ready that the final battle turns out to be a cakewalk – but they didn’t feel quite ready enough.

On my third hand (so, I’m an alien – or Kali the Destroyer. Sue me if you dare! BWAHAHAHAHA) and not that Ker and her allies couldn’t have used Kali’s power, one of the things I really liked about Gift of Griffins was the discover that while Ker is part of the prophecy, she is not the usual “prophesied one” or “chosen one” who is supposed to save the day. And that the “chosen one” in this story was also a woman and not the boy king – a character who does exist in this story and does help but is also just part of the prophecy and not its culmination.

The characters, well, the ones on the side of the angels at least, are all interesting and Ker in particular is a lot of fun to follow. One of the things that also makes this story work, at least for me, is that Ker’s side, while it is manifestly better than the villains, is never claimed to be perfect. Ker’s people have certainly done their share of murder and suppression, just not on the grand and horrific scale that the Halians are engaging in.

That the Halians turn out to not be the cookie-cutter villains they first appear to be makes the story just that much more involving.

That Ker is working to restore a system that may very well separate her from the man she loves, because it is a better system overall for everyone else, is a big and interesting part of her internal conflict – and we like her because of it. We want her to both help save the day and find a way to keep her own personal happiness.

She’s earned it.