Review: Warrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy + Giveaway

Review: Warrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy + GiveawayWarrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Chronicles of Dasnaria #3
Pages: 166
Published by Rebel Base Books on January 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Just beyond the reach of the Twelve Kingdoms, avarice, violence, strategy, and revenge clash around a survivor who could upset the balance of power all across the map . . .  Once Ivariel thought elephants were fairy tales to amuse children. But her ice-encased childhood in Dasnaria’s imperial seraglio was lacking in freedom and justice.. With a new name and an assumed identity as a warrior priestess of Danu, the woman once called Princess Jenna is now a fraud and a fugitive. But as she learns the ways of the beasts and hones new uses for her dancer’s strength, she moves one day further from the memory of her brutal husband. Safe in hot, healing Nyambura, Ivariel holds a good man at arm’s length and trains for the day she’ll be hunted again.   She knows it’s coming. She’s not truly safe, not when her mind clouds with killing rage at unpredictable moments. Not when patient Ochieng’s dreams of a family frighten her to her bones. But it still comes as a shock to Ivariel when long-peaceful Nyambura comes under attack. Until her new people look to their warrior priestess and her elephants to lead them . . .  

My Review:

Early in the Chronicles of Dasnaria series, and recalled at the beginning of Warrior of the World, Ivariel/Jenna has a vision of three lionesses. Those lionesses are clearly the princesses of the Twelve, now Thirteen, Kingdoms, Ursula, Andi and Ami, Their stories are told at the very beginning of this awesome, interlinked epic fantasy series. If you love strong heroines and enjoy epic fantasy with a touch (or more) of romance, begin with The Mark of the Tala and just enjoy the marvelous ride.

Based on events in the most recent book on that side of the continent – and the series – Jenna’s story will eventually link up to the Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series. After all, her younger brother Harlan is now the consort of High Queen Ursula. I’ll confess that I was hoping to see that link here, but it hasn’t happened by the end of Warrior of the World. But the story finally reaches the beginning of that end.

While I’m a bit disappointed not to see the ENTIRE gang finally get together, on the other hand I’m very happy to know that there are further adventures yet to follow in this world and this series. Not merely happy, make that downright ecstatic.

But while I’m waiting for the happy conclusion to the interconnected series, I still have Warrior of the World.

This book, and the Chronicles of Dasnaria subseries of which it is a part, needs to come with trigger warnings. Lots of trigger warnings. ALL the trigger warnings. And you do need to read at least the Chronicles of Dasnaria series from its beginning in Prisoner of the Crown in order to get the full significance of the conclusion of Ivariel/Jenna’s journey here in Warrior of the World.

Because the story of the series is about a young woman who is groomed to be a subservient sexual slave, who is forced to submit to repeated rapes, degradation, physical and sexual abuse by her husband/master, and who eventually breaks free with the help of her younger brother, who loses his rank and status for helping her to get away from the man and the society that brutalized her at every turn.

By this point in Ivariel/Jenna’s story, she is still healing from her trauma. That she murdered her “husband” in a fit of berserker rage is both part of her healing and part of her current trauma. She’s afraid that there’s a monster inside her that will eventually break free and kill those she has come to love while she is in the depths of her unthinking rage.

The story in Warrior of the World is the story of Ivariel learning to embrace ALL that she, both the light and the dark, and finding her path to coming into her own at last.

And learning to share that path with others who will be needed for the final push to victory – and redemption.

Escape Rating A-: As I said, ALL the trigger warnings. Ivariel/Jenna’s life at the Dasnarian Imperial court is simply horrendously awful. Reading about her deliberate grooming for the role her society forces her to play makes for very hard reading – but worth it in order to truly appreciate just how far she has come by the time we get to Warrior of the World.

This story is interesting both as the culmination of the Chronicles of Dasnaria subseries and because of its premise. This is a story about beginning as you mean to go on, about doing the things that signify who you are and not who your enemies – or even your friends – intend for you to be or think you ought to be. At the same time, it isn’t as action-packed as other entries in the combined series. It goes just a tinge slow at some points because healing is a slow process, so Ivariel needs time and process to, well, process.

Ivariel’s life before she found herself among the elephant herders of D’tiembo was a life of reaction. She didn’t act, she wasn’t in control. Even her liberation was a product of someone else’s actions and not her own. She begins the story not knowing how to hope her own hopes or dream her own dreams, and she has to learn those skills. She also has to learn to ask for what she wants and then live with the consequences of that “ask”.

Her healing in this story is about her learning to act and not react. Part of that “acting” is the way that she takes up the mantle of her Priestess of Danu persona in order to wage, not war, but peace. The enemies of the D’tiembo try to bring war to the peaceful tribe, and many want to react with war and vengeance. It’s Ivariel, learning to live with her rage, who points the way towards “waging peace” through bribery, subversion, and absorbing and utilizing the lessons taught to her by the necessary cruelty of her mother. It’s a hard lesson, but it buys time to set up the eventual peace and prosperity of the D’tiembo, so that when the magic finally returns, both Ivariel/Jenna and the D’tiembo are ready to go out and meet the wider world and the fates that await them.

If you don’t finish this story wanting your own elephant-friend, you haven’t been paying attention. The elephants, especially Violet, Capo and Efe, provide some of the most uplifting and heartwarming parts of the entire story.

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

Jeffe and Silver Dagger Tours are giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!

 

 

Review: Untouchable by Jayne Ann Krentz

Review: Untouchable by Jayne Ann KrentzUntouchable (Cutler, Sutter & Salinas, #3) by Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Cutler Sutter & Salinas #3
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on January 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A man's quest to find answers for those who are haunted by the past leads him deeper into the shadows in this electrifying novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Promise Not to Tell.

Quinton Zane is back.

Jack Lancaster, consultant to the FBI, has always been drawn to the coldest of cold cases, the kind that law enforcement either considers unsolvable or else has chalked up to accidents or suicides. As a survivor of a fire, he finds himself uniquely compelled by arson cases. His almost preternatural ability to get inside the killer's head has garnered him a reputation in some circles--and complicated his personal life. The more cases Jack solves, the closer he slips into the darkness. His only solace is Winter Meadows, a meditation therapist. After particularly grisly cases, Winter can lead Jack back to peace.

But as long as Quinton Zane is alive, Jack will not be at peace for long. Having solidified his position as the power behind the throne of his biological family's hedge fund, Zane sets out to get rid of Anson Salinas's foster sons, starting with Jack.

My Review:

“They say you can buy anything online these days.” In this case, the “they” in question are the two protagonists in Untouchable. Certainly one of the “anything” you can buy is a good book.

Unfortunately, while Untouchable isn’t a bad read at all, it just doesn’t quite live up to the thrill-a-minute pace of its predecessors, When All the Girls Have Gone and Promise Not to Tell. But anyone who has read the first two really needs to read this one as well. Because Untouchable is where we finally get the closure that we’ve (along with Max Cutler, Caleb Sutter and Anson Salinas) have been waiting for.

Jack Lancaster is the “fourth Musketeer” of the private investigations firm of Cutler, Sutter and Salinas. He’s one of the children that retired police officer Anson Salinas rescued from the fire that was intended to tie up all of the loose ends at Quinton Zane’s cult headquarters. It almost worked. The fire covered Zane’s tracks and killed all the adults in the compound, including the mothers of all three boys.

And it left those boys, along with their foster father, with a burning desire to bring Quinton Zane to justice – no matter how many times Zane managed to fake his own death, or how long it might take.

The cases that Max Cutler (When All the Girls Have Gone) and Caleb Sutter (Promise Not to Tell) have solved have led the team to the conclusion that Quinton Zane isn’t just alive, but that he’s back in the U.S. after years abroad.

Now it’s Jack’s turn to do what he does best – put all the nebulous pieces together and solve the ice cold case that began in so much fire.

Escape Rating B-: I’m putting the rating in early in the review so that I can talk about the story in a bit more detail.

I’m in a bit of a quandary, because the closure provided by this story is really necessary after the first two books in the series. But in the end, it just doesn’t live up to them. I’m not sure that’s a big problem, because it also can’t be read as a standalone. So much of the tension in this story revolves around Jack’s (and his foster father and brothers’) lifelong obsession with Quinton Zane. If you weren’t there for the first books you’re not going be interested in this one.

This book also has a feel that reminds me a lot more of the author’s Arcane Society books. Jack’s talent for lucid dreaming, and the way that it is expressed, reads a lot like the way that Arcane talents manifest in the Dreamlight trilogy, and Jack himself reads a lot like one of the hunters from Harmony.

Winter Meadows’ master of hypnotism also fits right into the Arcane Society. As does the conspiracy theorist Arizona Snow. Both Snow and the little town of Eclipse Bay feature in Running Hot, a story in the Arcane Society series. There’s also a nod to Burning Cove – the location of her currently in-progress historical romantic suspense series under her Amanda Quick pen name.

So this story contains a lot of nods to other places and scenarios that this author has created. Not enough to pull readers unfamiliar out of this story, but certainly enough to put a smile of recognition on the face of those who ARE familiar.

As romantic suspense, Untouchable needs both a mystery/thriller plot and a romantic element. The mystery is provided by the cat and mouse game between Jack and Quinton Zane. The romance is provided by the relationship that springs up between Jack and Winter Meadows.

And while their love scenes are plenty hot, there’s not enough emotional build-up to “sell” the romance. Not that we don’t want them to find their HEA, but we don’t feel with them enough. Or at least I didn’t. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

In the end the wrap up of the series was satisfactory, but the individual entry in it was not. I usually love this author and wish that I’d liked this book better. I’m now very curious to see how her next book, Tightrope, third in the Burning Cove series written as Amanda Quick, works for me – and everyone else.

Review: The Best of Us by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Best of Us by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Best of Us (Sullivan's Crossing, #4) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #4
Pages: 336
Published by Mira on January 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Sullivan’s Crossing, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr has created a place where good people, powerful emotions, great humor and a healthy dose of common sense are the key ingredients to a happy life. Sullivan’s Crossing brings out the best in people. It’s a place you’ll want to visit again and again.

Dr. Leigh Culver loves practicing medicine in Timberlake, Colorado. It is a much-needed change of pace from her stressful life in Chicago. The only drawback is she misses her aunt Helen, the woman who raised her. But it’s time that Leigh has her independence, and she hopes the beauty of the Colorado wilderness will entice her aunt to visit often.

Helen Culver is an independent woman who lovingly raised her sister’s orphaned child. Now, with Leigh grown, it’s time for her to live life for herself. The retired teacher has become a successful mystery writer who loves to travel and intends to never experience winter again.

When Helen visits Leigh, she is surprised to find her niece still needs her, especially when it comes to sorting out her love life. But the biggest surprise comes when Leigh takes Helen out to Sullivan’s Crossing and Helen finds herself falling for the place and one special person. Helen and Leigh will each have to decide if they can open themselves up to love neither expected to find and seize the opportunity to live their best lives.

My Review:

The Best of Us has a lot of themes that echo back to the first book in this series, What We Find. Not that you have to have read that to enjoy this. More that the stories hit some similar beats, and that the issues that led to the situation Maggie finds herself in at the beginning of What We Find have parallels with rather different outcomes in The Best Of Us.

Also that Maggie’s father Sully, who all of the residents of the Crossing and the nearby town of Timberlake love, finally gets his own romance in addition to the central love story between the 30somethings that this series has featured so far.

Unlike the Jones siblings featured in the first three books of this series, Leigh Culver comes to Timberlake with a purpose. She has come to take over the urgent-care clinic in town. Well, that’s her job. Her personal purpose is to finally live on her own after spending the first 34 years of her life living with her Aunt Helen, the woman who raised her.

As part of that living on her own, Leigh is also in Timberlake to actually get a life – not that she would see it that way. She went through high school intending to marry the boy next door, and when he left her at the altar she threw herself into her studies, not just college but also medical school, an internship, a residency and ultimately a practice as both an ER doctor in a major Chicago hospital and a private family practice.

She’s been part of the rat race for too long, and as much as she loves her work, it hasn’t left her time for a life outside of it. So she comes to Timberlake, where she has a practice that keeps her busy but not insanely so, makes friends and has time to look around her and see what she wants to do next.

What she sees is her neighbor Rob Shanahan, a single father of two nearly grown up boys. One of whom lands in her clinic after slicing his hand open at Rob’s pub. In the process of treating Finn’s cut and Rob’s fainting spell, he manages to ask her out. She thinks he’s delirious – and he kind of was – but he’s serious about the date.

And once they’ve finally figured out that what they have is more than a fainting spell and some truly amazing chemistry, they can’t keep their hands off each other. No matter how difficult it is to find some private time between his boys and her Aunt Helen coming to Timberlake for a long visit.

Not that Helen doesn’t find plenty of ways to keep herself busy. She’s a very successful mystery writer, and the Crossing turns out to be the perfect place to write away an afternoon. That she finds herself amused and entranced by Sully is definitely a surprising but lovely added benefit.

It all seems too good to be true, until things start to go pear-shaped, at least for Rob and Leigh. Neither of them has wanted to talk about love. Rob’s wife died when the boys were babies, and he hasn’t been looking for love since then – he hasn’t had time either. Leigh has resigned herself to being alone like her Aunt. She may have gotten over loving that boy next door who abandoned her, but she’s never recovered from the betrayal.

When Leigh discovers that the birth control implant she thought still had a couple of years to run had in fact expired a couple of years before, there are suddenly a lot of decisions to make, and a lot of acknowledgements to figure out – before that hot spark gets smothered.

Escape Rating B: There were three things I really, really loved about this story, and one that personally drove me bananas – although I realize that this is one of my quirks and other people will love it.

First, I love this place. The Crossing and Timberlake have turned out to be yet another of this author’s lovely, friendly, liveable communities, filled with marvelous scenery and absolutely terrific people. I’ve sincerely enjoyed every single visit, and hope there are lots more. It’s a place that I think anyone would love to live in.

Second, I really got into the romance between Leigh and Rob. They are terrific people, and it was fun to get to know them and their families. I enjoyed the way that, while Leigh had been in town for several months, there hadn’t been a reason for them to really get to know each other until his son’s accident. And that they both discover themselves unexpectedly “all in” to a relationship that neither expected.

Their difficulties in managing to get time alone were priceless.

Third, I very much enjoyed Sully and Helen’s relationship. Falling in love, including a sexual relationship, is not a need that gets turned off at some age. These are two really interesting people who actually don’t have much in common but their joy in life. But they also have perspective and experience and each gives the other something that they lack. And they make each other laugh. The way that they tentatively reach towards romance and their clear happiness when it is reciprocated is marvelous.

That Leigh is completely thrown for a loop that her Aunt and Sully have fallen in love with each other was well done. I’ve always said that the two things that no one wants to think about are their parents having sex and their children having sex. We all know that it happens, but our minds don’t want to go there. Leigh’s reactions when forced to go there were very real, as is Helen’s joy and happiness.

However, the part of the story I wish hadn’t happened was Leigh’s unplanned pregnancy. Early in their relationship, Rob and Leigh had agreed that neither of them wanted children – or in Rob’s case more children. While the tension of how to resolve the situation once the choice had been taken from them provided realistic conflict in the story – it’s just not a plot device I personally care for.

That does not mean it wasn’t well done in this instance, because like all of the stories in this series so far, it certainly was. But that plot thread just isn’t my cup of tea.

Which does not mean that I didn’t love the rest of the story, because I certainly did. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t be thrilled to return to Sullivan’s Crossing at the next available opportunity – because I most definitely will!

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

I’m giving away a hardcover copy of The Best of Us to one lucky US commenter on this post!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet

Review: Nightchaser by Amanda BouchetNightchaser (Endeavor, #1) by Amanda Bouchet
Format: eARC
Source: 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: Not Quite Over You by Susan Mallery

Review: Not Quite Over You by Susan MalleryNot Quite Over You (Happily Inc., #4) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Happily Inc #4
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on October 23, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Susan Mallery, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fool’s Gold romances, proves there’s nowhere better than Happily Inc to rekindle first love.

Silver Tesdal has a head for business and a mouth made for kissing, and banker Drew Lovato has his eye on both. But ever since he was dumb enough to let her go, she’s kept him at a distance. When the bank turns her down for a loan, Drew sees a double opportunity—he can finance her brilliant, unique idea to rock Happily Inc’s wedding industry and win back her trust.

Despite her reputation, Silver’s not as tough as she seems. Losing Drew nearly destroyed her. Still, his kisses are as tempting as his offer to invest in her business. If she can’t quite get over him, maybe she should get under him and knock him out of her system once and for all.

But her best laid plans begin to unravel as Silver finds herself falling even harder than when they were high school sweethearts. Which means that she’ll have to come clean about the secret she’s been hiding from him for years—and risk losing him forever.

My Review:

This isn’t exactly a second chance at love romance. It’s more like an “unfinished business” romance. Well, it’s also a second chance at love romance, it’s just that it feels more like they picked up where they left off because they just never got it out of their systems the first time. As the title implies, Silver and Drew never got over each other.

All the way back in high school, Silver and Drew were head over heels for each other. For three whole months. One glorious summer. The summer before Drew left for college. And when he left town, Silver let him go.

I don’t mean let him go to college, her permission was not required. I mean let him go as in broke up with him. She knew that time and distance was going to do that anyway, and that it was better to make a clean break.

When she discovered she was pregnant, that option almost went off the table. But again, Silver made the mature decision. She did go to tell him about the baby, and when his reaction was to offer to marry her, but seemingly not out of love, she handed him the paperwork for her to give the baby up for adoption. And he signed.

Twelve years later Silver is still in Happily and Drew has been back for almost a decade, an officer in his family’s bank. A bank that has just turned Silver down for a business loan to expand her AlcoHaul business.

The town of Happily is a destination wedding town, and Silver’s burgeoning business creates signature drinks for the many (many, many) themed weddings and brings her customized trailer filled with drinks and a full bar to venues all over town. Hence the catch name, AlcoHaul. Because that’s what she does, haul alcohol all over Happily.

Silver is also part of the “brain trust” that helps Pallas design and put together her “Weddings Out of the Box”. The details of how that came about are in the first book in this series, You Say It First.

Drew has seen Silver’s business plan, and he wants to help. Yes, he does have hopes of getting back together, but he’s also a savvy businessman with a heart. First, her plan is solid, and so is her business. She’s a good investment. Second, he believes the bank should be using its resources to help the town, and one way to do that is to help local businesses. He’s not a bleeding heart, he just wants the local bank to invest in the town that supports it for the betterment of both.

His family, or at least his aunt Libby, currently has a hate-on for Silver, for no reason that is ever made clear, and makes sure Silver’s loan application is turned down. It’s fairly obvious that Libby just wanted to watch Silver jump through the hoops so she could shoot her down at the end.

So Drew offers to buy a minority share of Silver’s business so that she can expand. But their unfinished business with each other makes her wary of accepting his help. It takes a few days for her to come to the conclusion that it is good business for both of them, whatever else happens.

What happens, of course, is that working together leads them right back to where they were all those years ago – but with a bit more maturity and a lot more baggage. The spark is certainly still there, and blazes back into life all too easily.

But all the factors that pushed them apart in the past are still unresolved in the present. They may be older and a bit wiser, but Silver is still from the wrong side of the tracks and Drew is the scion of one of Happily’s most prominent families. A family that has plans for him that definitely don’t include a woman who owns a bar. Or even three bars.

The first time around, Silver and Drew were too young to fight for each other. It would be easy to give up again. Neither of them has any experience fighting for what they want when it comes to matters of the heart.

They’ll have to learn this time – and fast.

Escape Rating B-: On the one hand, I liked the relationship between Silver and Drew, because they were both really neat people. Silver was right back in high school. They did need to break up – not because they didn’t love each other, but because they weren’t mature enough to deal with a long-distance relationship. Silver knew that she wanted to stay in Happily, and Drew needed to leave – at least long enough to appreciate what he’d left behind.

It was also great that they weren’t angsty about both living in town. They didn’t interact, but they didn’t seem to go out of their way to avoid each other. They’d had what they’d had, and it was over. At least it was mostly over.

Drew wants to try again – even if he isn’t quite ready to admit that to himself at the beginning – but Silver is afraid to trust him. She’s also afraid to trust herself, which is much more the crux of her journey in this story. She’s so afraid of being like her mother that she almost succeeds in turning herself off completely – and gets a bit too over the top angst when she finally realizes that Drew is already back inside her defenses. She’s afraid to fall in love again, only to eventually figure out that she never fell out of love with Drew in the first place – and to have several panic attacks about it.

The difficult part of this story for me, and the reason why it’s only a B- story, is the involvement of Drew’s family – or at least the involvement of two particular members of it. The two villains of this piece, and they definitely are villains, are Drew’s Aunt Libby and his mother Irene. The rest of his family is pretty terrific, especially his Grandpa Frank, but his mother and her sister are a pair of Cruella de Villes.

And we’re never sure why.

Libby was also the villain in the first book, You Say It First. She’s Pallas’ mother, and the woman never, ever, ever has a decent thing to say about her daughter. She spends that entire book cutting Pallas down at every single turn, and Pallas just takes it for entirely too much of the story.

Libby continues her evil ways in Not Quite Over You, blocking Silver’s loan application, undermining Drew at the bank, and generally attempting to score off against her sister Irene at every turn using Drew as a proxy.

Drew’s mother Irene is just as bad, in her own way. Irene, along with Drew’s father, left Happily to open a high-powered lobbying firm in Washington DC. She has determined what Drew’s life course will be and simply doesn’t listen to anything he says about what he wants. He wants to stay in Happily and eventually run the bank. He does not want to come to DC and join the family firm. Her inability to accept that Drew has plans of his own for his life – after all, he’s pushing 30 and his plans are quite good plans – gets to the point where she is not merely manipulative to the max, but also lying to Drew’s father and everyone else as well as using Drew’s phone to get Silver into places where she can lie to her and cut her down as well.

It’s not well-meaning parenting gone astray, it’s vicious and cruel and needs to be both explained and then resolved. She’s so evil that she, along with her sister Libby, need to get some just desserts delivered and it doesn’t happen, which left me feeling like the story isn’t done. Call it a bit of unfinished business. Hopefully both Libby and Irene get what’s coming to them in a future book in the series.

Review: The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

Review: The Proposal by Jasmine GuilloryThe Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Wedding Date #2
Pages: 327
Published by Berkley Books on October 30, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The author of The Wedding Date serves up a novel about what happens when a public proposal doesn't turn into a happy ending, thanks to a woman who knows exactly how to make one on her own...

When someone asks you to spend your life with him, it shouldn't come as a surprise--or happen in front of 45,000 people.

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn't the hard part--they've only been dating for five months, and he can't even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans...

At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik's rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He's even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik's social media blows up--in a bad way. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can't be looking for anything serious, so she embarks on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes...

My Review:

Like the couple in the previous book in this series, the absolutely awesome The Wedding Date, this one begins with a meet-cute, although in this case the meet starts out definitely not so cute.

Consider the opening of this story as a public service announcement. If you have never even discussed whether or not your “significant” other actually is significant, and if so how much, do not propose on the JumboTron at a major sporting event. Particularly when you can’t be bothered to get your prospective spouse’s name spelled right. Also don’t do this if you know so little about the other person that you don’t even know whether or not they’ll want to be the center of this much attention, even if the answer to your proposal might otherwise be yes.

In this case, Nikole’s about-to-be-ex is completely clueless on all counts. Or so completely self-centered that he’s only thinking about how good it looks for him (he’s an actor after all) to be on the JumboTron looking so handsome and being so romantic. When she rightfully says “No” he storms off in a temper tantrum with all of his buddies, leaving her to face the hungry sharks of the press all alone.

And that’s where Carlos Ibarra and his sister Angie step in. They’re sitting right behind the drama, and they heard it all. They also saw the paparazzi closing in on the still shell-shocked Nikole. So they elbow the press out of the way and pretend to be long-lost besties, sweeping Nikole up and getting her the hell out of Dodge. Or at least out of Dodger Stadium.

Neither Nikole nor Carlos are looking for a relationship. They’re both invested in their careers, they both have active social lives with friends, family and/or family-of-choice. But that doesn’t mean that they can manage to stop thinking about each other. And they get along so well that they are both on exactly the same page.

They both want a casual relationship with lots of laughs (and lots of great sex!) but no commitment. They both have bad experiences with commitment, and aren’t looking to repeat any of them.

But as the occasional date turns into two or three nights every week and texting all day long, it begins to look more and more like a real relationship to everyone except the two participants. Until Carlos finally figures out that love has snuck up on him after all.

Except that Nikole is having none of it, and in the ensuing fight decides that she’s having none of him anymore, either, especially after he storms out of his own house in his own temper tantrum, after saying a whole bunch of things that should have been left not just unsaid, but absolutely unthought.

The course of true love never does run smooth, but this time it’s going to take an epic breakthrough in the sour cream aisle to get the relationship back on track!

Escape Rating B: I liked The Proposal, but it just doesn’t have the sheer compulsive devourability of The Wedding Date, in spite of the epic number of scenes in Nik’s friend’s cupcakery.

In short, The Wedding Date was awesome, while The Proposal is merely good. After the first book, I was just expecting more.

Admittedly, this one does start out with quite the bang. That blindsiding JumboTron proposal scene should be a classic on multiple levels – all of them in a class on how and why not to pull such a stunt unless you are damn sure both that he or she will say yes and that they won’t change their minds about you after you make them the center of all that attention. Some people love that kind of thing, but others don’t even like to let restaurants know it’s their birthday so no one makes a fuss.

Carlos’ revelation that he loves Nik – or at least the way he went about it – should probably also be considered a PSA. If you are a morning person, do not spring this kind of surprise on your hopefully significant other the moment they wake up – especially if they are absolutely NOT a morning person. This was bound to go wrong, the only question was how badly wrong.

At the same time, one of the things that made The Wedding Date such a treat, and that also works well here, is that the problems that do arise between Nik and Carlos are not a misunderstandammit. This isn’t something that a simple conversation could have fixed. In fact, they had the simple conversation and both agreed that they were not on this page at all. Then Carlos suddenly changed the rules and Nik started floundering. She has commitment issues from prior relationships that she really needs to get over, but they had both agreed that this wasn’t going to be a relationship – until it suddenly was.

I liked both Nik and Carlos a lot, along with all of their friends and family. (Carlos is the best friend and soon-to-be best man at Drew and Alexa’s wedding, the couple from The Wedding Date). Nik’s two besties, just like Alexa’s friends in the first book are both wonderfully supportive and refreshingly blunt as required. We all need friends like them in our lives.

I think the reason why this book wasn’t as compelling a read as the first one is that except for the definitely resolved sexual tension between Carlos and Nik, there wasn’t a lot of other kinds of tension. Their road to a relationship is surprisingly smooth – at least until they figure out that they are in the relationship they both said they didn’t want. So the story doesn’t have as much drive to it as the previous book.

In the end, a sweet love story between two people who are interesting to be around and really deserve their HEA. And I am still more than curious enough to see the actual wedding between Drew and Alexa that I’m still looking forward to the final book in this trilogy, The Wedding Party. I loved The Wedding Date so much that I really want to see this series stick the dismount.

Review: Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt

Review: Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth HoytNot the Duke’s Darling (Greycourt, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Greycourt #1
Pages: 496
Published by Forever on December 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt brings us the first book in her sexy and sensual Greycourt Series!

Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe, the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family, appears at the country house party she's attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: she starts planning her revenge.

Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognizes Freya, masquerading amongst the party revelers, and realizes his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins—sins he'd much rather forget. But she's also fiery, bold, and sensuous—a temptation he can't resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he'll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, Harlowe will have to earn Freya's trust-by whatever means necessary.

Features a bonus novella from New York Times bestselling author Grace Burrowes!

My Review:

This is going to be a mixed feelings review. I’m all over the map about this one – and I didn’t expect to be. While I haven’t read ALL of the author’s Maiden Lane series, I’ve generally liked the ones I have read quite a bit.

But this one, well, yes and no.

On the one hand, it starts out with a bang, with Freya helping a desperate woman and her child escape from the man who wants to abuse them both. This particular escape isn’t about sex, it’s about money. The child is the rightful earl, her husband is dead, and his cousin plans to basically imprison the little boy and ransack the estate during his minority while keeping the boy’s mother away from him so she can’t support or protect him.

Women and young children were chattel, this chilling scenario was entirely possible – and legal. Freya has rescued both the mother and child, and is spiriting them away to a ship bound for America. But her pursuers are relentless, so she jumps into a nobleman’s carriage – only to discover that the nobleman in question is someone she knows – and loathes.

It should have been the start of a wild adventure, but the tension kind of fizzles out. Or at least it did for me.

While we do eventually find out why Freya hates the Duke of Harlowe so much (and those issues do reach resolution) what we really don’t get nearly enough information about is why Freya is participating in the rescue in the first place.

Not that the woman and her baby don’t need rescue, and not that someone shouldn’t do it. But how Freya got involved in the situation is murky. She’s a “Wise Woman”, a member of an order of independent women that has existed since the Roman occupation, if not before. She’s the “Macha” of the Wise Women, a title that seems to mean covert agent and spy as the situation requires.

But the Wise Women, while potentially interesting, never seem to get enough explanatory background, or at least not for this reader. What it felt like was simply a quick and dirty way of providing the 19th century heroine with the education, attitudes and perspectives that would appeal to 21st century readers. She’s so close to us that she feels anachronistic for her time.

That also seems to make her perfect for Christopher Renshaw, the aforementioned Duke of Harlowe, if they can get past the gigantic amount of baggage that stands between them.

Because the real backstory of this series seems to be the long-ago Greycourt scandal. Fifteen years ago, Harlowe, Freya’s brother Ranulf, and Julian Greycourt were the best of friends. Until one night when Julian’s sister tried to run off with Ranulf de Moray, and somehow she got herself killed and Ran got the blame. As well as a beating that cost him his dominant hand and his family’s place in society.

Freya has blamed Harlowe all these years, but as he eventually explains to her, he never believed that her brother was guilty of murder. And all three of the young men were, in fact, very, very young, only 18, and none of them had the position or the maturity to prevent the ensuing mess. Now he does, but the damage has already been done.

Personally, I believe that the overarching story in this series will be the eventual discovery of what happened that night, and that the individual books in the series are going to focus on all of the people who were affected by the scandal. Not just Harlowe and Freya, but eventually Julian Greycourt, the Greycourt sisters who were Freya’s friends once upon a time, Freya’s brother Ranulf, and whoever the hell the guilty party or parties turn out to be.

But we are not there yet. Much of this particular entry instead focuses on Freya’s activities with the Wise Women and their foes the Dunkelders, who believe that the Wise Women are witches who should be burned at the stake. They aren’t witches, but then, the great majority of those who were the victims of the witch hunts weren’t either.

Along with yet another rescue of another woman who desperately needs it.

The problems I have with the story all come back to the Wise Women. We don’t know enough for that piece of the story to really work. The Greycourt scandal grabbed my interest, as did the eventual romance between Harlowe and Freya, but it always felt like there was a hole in the back of the story – like a tooth cavity that you can’t stop sticking your tongue into – even though it hurts every time.

Escape Rating B-: I keep harping on the problem with the Wise Women, or rather the lack of enough information about the Wise Women. That’s because Freya’s participation in the group provides her with too many 21st century attitudes for too little data. One of the issues with historical romance is the difficulty of giving readers a heroine who has enough agency that we can identify with her while still having her fit into her time and place. And Freya doesn’t manage to walk that tightrope, at least not for this reader.

Your mileage may vary, or your version of the tightrope may be a bit wider than mine.

Review: Want Me Cowboy by Maisey Yates

Review: Want Me Cowboy by Maisey YatesWant Me, Cowboy (Copper Ridge: Desire, #5) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Copper Ridge: Desire #5
Pages: 217
Published by Harlequin Desire on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Her rancher boss is looking for the perfect wife...and she wants the job!

Poppy Sinclair kept her feelings for Isaiah Grayson secret for a decade. When her infuriatingly gorgeous Stetson-wearing boss enlists her help in finding him a convenient wife, she threatens to quit. Until Isaiah counters with an interesting proposal: Why doesn't she marry him? Can she say yes to sharing his life and his bed, but not his heart?

My Review:

As much as I usually love this author, this particular book reminded me why I generally leave the category romance reviews in the hands of my friend and (not nearly frequent enough) guest reviewer Amy Daltry. (She loved Hold Me, Cowboy, a previous book in this very series)

Because as much as I usually love this author, this particular book made me want to throw it against the wall. I don’t have this reaction often because my iPad is just too damn expensive to treat that way.

Let’s just say that Want Me Cowboy is not exactly a contemporary romance for the #MeToo era.

And that’s just for starters.

Except that, for starters, I really liked the setup of the story. I like a good friends to lovers romance. I also like a good lusting after the boss romance. And the opening of the story was hilarious – it reminded me of all those fake ads for a wife or a husband where the previous candidate had an impossible condition – or at least impossible for most respondents. You know the kind, the ones that usually end with the woman keeping her cats or the man keeping his cabin. Or in the case of this particular ad, Isaiah Grayson starts out by saying he’s keeping his beard.

And telling the assistant who has been in love with him for a decade that she’s the one who will be interviewing any prospective candidates. The possibilities for humor are endless. And I wish the story had gone there. Or pretty much anywhere else instead of where it actually went.

Not that I didn’t hope that they would get together, because I initially did. Until I didn’t.

Let me explain…

The first thing to understand about Isaiah Grayson is that he seems to be somewhere on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Not that it has ever been officially diagnosed, but both he and his family are more than aware that Isaiah has never had any skills in processing what other people are thinking or feeling. And he uses that lack of awareness as an excuse to be an asshole.

He’s usually not mean, or at least not mean per se. But he has decided that he is usually right, and when someone tells him something that he doesn’t want to hear or that he thinks is wrong, he overrides everything they say and everything they do, leaving them no choice but to either go along or walk away – and he makes it incredibly difficult to walk away.

As he finally realizes late (too late) in the story, he did give Poppy a choice. However, he has the financial power to restrict that choice to the point where the least bad option is the one that he wants. It’s not necessarily that she wants what he has decided is best, just that all of the other choices are so horrible that it might as well be no choice at all.

Things in this story begin going pear-shaped when Poppy Sinclair finally snaps back at Isaiah about giving her the job of interviewing his wife candidates. She’s fed up with his hunt for a convenient wife who will be the equivalent of her, just at home. And with sex. Otherwise, he IS looking for her clone.

He gets the bright idea that he can have his cake and eat it too by just marrying Poppy. This could have been a great story, but the problem is the way that Isaiah goes about it. Once he’s kissed her and discovered that they have AMAZING chemistry together, he decides that no one else by Poppy will do, takes over her life and NEVER listens to any of her objections or concerns.

Including the concern she never gets a chance to raise. Their sexual relationship has the definite aura of him pushing her boundaries until she “realizes” that she really didn’t want to say no in the first place. The way this feeds into the whole narrative of “no means yes” that men fall back on when consent is forced or withdrawn made me grit my teeth.

That he, in spite of his own internal dialog about his sexual experiences, can’t be bothered to use a condom is just plain wrong. She’s a virgin, so the idea that she wasn’t remotely prepared to have sex with anyone isn’t surprising. That he doesn’t seem to even think about protecting her from either pregnancy or any consequences of his past is selfish and thoughtless, to say the least..

That she becomes pregnant from her first sexual experience is part of the story. Because it becomes yet another way that he takes her choices away from her.

You’re thinking that she can raise the child alone, that in the 21st century pregnancy does not equal a choice between marriage and eternal shame and damnation. And you’re right.

But, and in this case it is a huge gigantic butt, he has decided that marriage between them is the right thing to do. Because for him, it provides him with the perfect, stable family that he has decided that he needs.

So when Poppy tries to back out of the engagement he has pretty much coerced her into, he informs her that if she doesn’t marry him he will fight her for full custody, and that with his money and his resources, he will win. And he’s right about that. So when she won’t do what he wants, he makes all her other choices so horrible that she has no real choice.

For me the whole story was like that. He has decided what he wants, so he takes over her life. She has doubts and tries to back away, or at least to slow things down. He rides roughshod over her. Over and over again.

Her answer to his behavior is to just love him more. And to give him more. His mother convinces her that a successful marriage is one where she gives everything and eventually he will see what’s right in front of him. This sounds like the kind of advice that abused spouses receive.

Ironically, it is not the kind of marriage his parents actually have, so there’s an element of “do as I say and not as I do” involved along with the guilt trip.

He does eventually figure out just how big an asshole he’s been, and he does seem to learn just a bit of his lesson. But I’m not nearly convinced that he’s learned enough of a lesson, or grovelled nearly enough, to get past the “if you don’t marry me I’ll take your child away” threat.

Escape Rating D+: It’s been a long time since I’ve dragged out the D+ rating, and this book wasn’t nearly as much fun as the last time I did. But I did finish the damn thing, and that’s what puts it into this category. There was the germ of a good story in here, but it just derailed for me into questionably consenting assholishness.

I could go on (and on and ON) but I’ve ranted long enough.

I still love this author, and will pick up her next book that is NOT a category romance. (In fact, I already have an ARC) But if there are any future books in the Copper Ridge: Desire category series, I’ll leave them to Amy.

Review: For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

Review: For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. KlingerFor the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon by Laurie R. King, Leslie S. Klinger
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: anthologies, historical mystery, mystery, short stories
Pages: 272
Published by Pegasus Books on December 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For the Sake of the Game is the latest volume in the award-winning series from New York Times bestselling editors Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, with stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and friends in a variety of eras and forms. King and Klinger have a simple formula: ask some of the world’s greatest writers—regardless of genre—to be inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.

The results are surprising and joyous. Some tales are pastiches, featuring the recognizable figures of Holmes and Watson; others step away in time or place to describe characters and stories influenced by the Holmes world. Some of the authors spin whimsical tales of fancy; others tell hard-core thrillers or puzzling mysteries. One beloved author writes a song; two others craft a melancholy graphic tale of insectoid analysis.

This is not a volume for readers who crave a steady diet of stories about Holmes and Watson on Baker Street. Rather, it is for the generations of readers who were themselves inspired by the classic tales, and who are prepared to let their imaginations roam freely.

Featuring Stories by: Peter S. Beagle, Rhys Bowen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Jamie Freveletti, Alan Gordon, Gregg Hurwitz, Toni L. P. Kelner, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello, Harley Jane Kozak, D. P. Lyle, Weston Ochse, Zoe Sharp, Duane Swierczynski, and F. Paul Wilson.

My Review:

Welcome to my review of the biennual collection of Sherlock Holmes-inspired stories edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. This is an every two years treat, as evidenced by my reviews of the previous collections in this quasi-series, A Study In Sherlock, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes and Echoes of Sherlock Holmes.

The stories in all of these collections were inspired by Holmes, one way or another, and are commissioned for the collections. And like all collections, they are a bit of a mixed bag. The game, however, is definitely afoot, both in stories that feel like they could be part of the original canon, and in stories that take their inspiration from the Great Detective without necessarily featuring him in either his Victorian guise or a more contemporary one.

I have several favorites in this year’s collection, one each to reflect the different aspects of Holmesiana that are represented here.

My favorite story in the manner of the master himself The Case of the Missing Case by Alan Gordon. It takes place before the canon begins, when Mycroft is still working his way up the government ladder, and Sherlock, in his very early 20s, has not yet taken up rooms with Watson. And is not yet quite as sure of himself and his methods as he will later become. It actually fits quite nicely into the period between the excellent Mycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Whitehouse, and the beginning of the official canon.in A Study in Scarlet.

In this story we see a very young Sherlock justifying his continuing presence in London to the consternation of his parents and the absolute chagrin of brother Mycroft by solving the case of a missing violinist and saving his brother’s life. This story also provides a rather lovely explanation for Sherlock’s acquisition of his famous Stradivarius.

This collection has relatively few Holmesian stories set in the Victorian era. Most are either modern variations of Holmes – or modern detectives, whether amateur or professional, who use Holmes’ methods.

Of the contemporary Holmes stories, I can’t decide between Hounded by Zoe Sharp and The Ghost of the Lake by Jamie Freveletti. They are such completely different versions of the 21st century Holmes that choosing between them is impossible.

Hounded by Zoe Sharp is so much fun because it is a contemporary reworking of The Hound of the Baskervilles. It shows just how timeless the canon can be, by transplanting from the 19th century to the 21st and still making it all, including the ghostly hound, work.

The Ghost of the Lake, on the other hand, is a 21st century version of Holmes that owes a lot to both Elementary and Sherlock without feeling like an imitation of either. In this story, Sherlock Holmes is a 21st century operative for a secret British government department who has come to Chicago to prevent the kidnapping of an American national security specialist who has plenty of tricks up her own sleeve – and who is every bit Holmes’ equal in every way.

I liked, not only the portrayal of Holmes in this story, but also the character of Dr. Hester Regine. And I loved the trip down memory lane to Chicago, my favorite of all of the places that we have lived.

Last but not least, the story that took the phrase “inspired by Sherlock Holmes” to new heights. And depths. And several places in between. That would be The Adventure of the Six Sherlocks by Toni L.P. Kelner. This story both spoofs the love of Holmes and celebrates it at the same time, as its amateur detectives find themselves using Sherlock Holmes’ own methods to investigate a murder at a convention of Sherlock Holmes fans.

The story reminds me a bit of Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb, where an author is murdered at a science fiction convention – but if “Six Sherlocks” uses that book as a springboard, it’s a very light spring.

Even the idea of a cooking show featuring actors portraying Holmes and Watson is hilarious. But when someone murders “Holmes” at the Sherlock Holmes convention, there are too many pretend Sherlocks and nearly not enough real ones to crack the case. This one is a light and fun send up of fan conventions in general and Sherlock Holmes mania in particular as well as being a cute mystery.

Escape Rating B+: Overall I enjoyed this collection. There were a couple of stories that just weren’t quite my cuppa, and one or two where it felt like they were a bit too far off the Holmesian tangent to be in this collection.

I read it in a day, finding myself getting so caught up in each story that I almost finished before I knew it. If you like Holmes or Holmes-like or Holmes-lite stories, this collection is every bit as much of a treat as its predecessors.

Of all the stories in all these collections, the one that still haunts me is from the first one, A Study in Sherlock. It’s The Case of Death and Honey by Neil Gaiman, and it’s the one that I still most want to be true.

Review: The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin + Giveaway

Review: The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin + GiveawayThe Frame-Up (The Golden Arrow #1) by Meghan Scott Molin
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Golden Arrow #1
Pages: 287
Published by 47North on December 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

By day she writes comic books. By night, she lives them.

MG Martin lives and breathes geek culture. She even works as a writer for the comic book company she idolized as a kid. But despite her love of hooded vigilantes, MG prefers her comics stay on the page.

But when someone in LA starts recreating crime scenes from her favorite comic book, MG is the LAPD’s best—and only—lead. She recognizes the golden arrow left at the scene as the calling card of her favorite comic book hero. The thing is…superheroes aren’t real. Are they?

When the too-handsome-for-his-own-good Detective Kildaire asks for her comic book expertise, MG is more than up for the adventure. Unfortunately, MG has a teeny little tendency to not follow rules. And her off-the-books sleuthing may land her in a world of trouble.

Because for every superhero, there is a supervillain. And the villain of her story may be closer than she thinks…

My Review:

First of all, think of Batman. Not because he appears in this story, except by mention. As does every geeky/nerdy movie, TV show, book, comic and game that you can think of. And a few you probably can’t. (Not just because a few of the geek references are made up for the purposes of this story, but because no geek, no matter how dedicated, is into absolutely every geekish everything on every geekish axis. I say this as someone who is fairly geeky, and recognized most but not quite all of the references and in-jokes.)

And I’m not sure if someone without at least a passing knowledge of geekdom will enjoy this story, because there are a LOT of in-jokes. And while the point of the romance part of the plot is that MG finally realizes that she doesn’t need to find someone who knows the ins and outs of geek culture in order to find her happily ever after, it does help the reader to know what at least some of what the flying references refer to.

Back to Batman. Among all of the famous superheroes, Batman is the one who is just “original recipe” human. He may be incredibly rich, and probably has a heaping helping of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but underneath the batsuit is just a (usually really, really buff) man. No extra-terrestrial origin, no mythic ancestors, no science experiment gone wrong. Just as Batman responds in Justice League to the question, “What are your superpowers again?”. His answer, “I’m rich.”. And that’s all.

The “caped crusader” who turns out to be at the heart of the mystery in The Frame-Up, the Hooded Falcon, is just like Batman. Not nearly as rich, but just as human. And only human. Excessively trained, and with a desire to see justice done, but merely human.

As a comic book, the original Hooded Falcon died decades before the opening of the events in this story, but MG Martin is a writer for Genius Comics, the company founded on the popularity of the Hooded Falcon. And even though the Falcon’s original creator is long since dead, his son still publishes a comic under the Hooded Falcon name – admittedly without any of his father’s, or his father’s creation’s spirit.

But someone in LA is committing crimes that recreate panels from the classic Hooded Falcon adventures. This person seems to have taken up either the banner of the Falcon himself, or perhaps that of the Falcon’s creator. Either way, there’s a vigilante on the streets of LA who has put himself (or possibly herself) in the sights of LA’s current generation of drug kingpins.

The police want to stop the crime spree before it’s too late. After a chance encounter, Detective Matteo Kildaire recruits MG as a police consultant expert on all things geek in general, and on her hero the Hooded Falcon in particular.

But all the clues point much, much too close to home, both for MG and Matteo. When his creator died, the Hooded Falcon was on the trail of both the drug kingpins AND the dirty cop who was covering for them.

History seems to be repeating, with both MG and Matteo caught in the crossfire. This time it’s not a crossfire of BAM and KAPOW, but real guns firing real bullets and dealing real death. They have to find the faces behind the masks, before it’s too late for our heroes.

After all, in real life there’s no possibility of a failure saving reboot if they get it wrong.

Escape Rating B-: The Frame-Up felt a bit like two books in one. One book that I really liked, and one that I really didn’t.

The first third or so of the story is the setup. We get introduced to MG, her coworkers at Genius Comics, and the opening frames of her relationship with Matteo. That relationship begins by being intimately tied to the case – not that it doesn’t take on a life of its own.

But the introduction to MG’s world is hard to take. MG is the lone female at Genius Comics. We see things entirely from her perspective, and that’s a realistically scary place to be. Geekdom in general, and geekdom-creation spaces in particular, are rightfully notorious for their misogynistic dudebro culture. Women are made to feel unwelcome, and it’s deliberate. MG is correct in her belief that she has to be “more badass” than any of the guys just to be taken half as seriously  – no matter how unfair it is or how much it hurts to be that defensive all the time.

Matteo, with his need to find an “in” so that he can surreptitiously scope out the company, absolutely DOES undermine MG’s position. That she falls for him rather than boot him to the curb at the first opportunity rankles quite a lot.

And the whole setup makes for very hard reading.

Once things are significantly setup, the story kicks into a higher gear and becomes a lot of fun.

The mystery is definitely a wild and crazy ride, only missing a few scattered BAMs and KAPOWs to make it completely part of the comic hero genre. I really liked MG’s nerdiness and felt for her desire to be her authentic best self. I particularly liked the way that Matteo, while he is a “virgin” when it comes to geek culture, is open minded about everything he experiences. It’s easy to see that he accepts MG for who she is, loves her as she is, and doesn’t feel any need to cram her into a box that won’t fit – as her parents and so many people in her life have previously tried to do.

The case has a lot of heart to it. It’s about children taking care of, writing wrongs for, or attempting to get past the legacies of their parents. It’s about superheroes and supervillains, and how real people come to fit into those places – whether they intend to or not.

And in the best superhero tradition, good triumphs, evil gets its just deserts, and the hero and heroine live happily ever after. At least until the next supervillain comes along…

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Frame-Up to one lucky US commenter!

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