Review: Cover Fire by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Cover Fire by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayCover Fire (Valiant Knox #3) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Valiant Knox #3
Pages: 333
Published by Entangled Publishing on June 19th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He'll protect her with his life...but who will protect his heart?
If the assignment is crazy, dangerous, or a little of both, Sub-Lieutenant Sebastian Rayne can’t help but take on the challenge. So when Command Intelligence tags him to fly one of their agents behind enemy lines, it seems like just another routine death-defying mission. Crash landing on the planet was a piece of cake, but the gorgeous agent he delivered safely to her meeting is now believed dead and he must return to retrieve her body.
After Agent Jenna Maxwell realizes her own people attempted to have her killed, she enlists the hot stick jockey’s help. His new mission? Sneak her back onto his ship to ferret out who wanted to get rid of her and why. But she fears her growing feelings for Seb have blinded her to his reckless insistence on helping her stay alive, and his rash behavior will cause them both to lose their lives.

My Review:

Cover Fire is the third book in the Valiant Knox series, and it both lives up to its predecessors and takes the action in several new directions. If you like science fiction romance, start with Escape Velocity and jet right on over to Damage Control before jumping into Cover Fire. You’ll be glad you did.

And if you have a friend who likes military romance but is hesitant about the whole SF thing, this series is a terrific gateway drug for those who are thinking about trying SFR. It definitely has the flavor of military romance, but in setting that easily evokes contemporary military romance.

Because that Valiant Knox that the series is named for? She’s a battleship. She just happens to be a space battleship.

She’s also a floating city in space, much like a considerably less battered Battlestar Galactica, or a Babylon 5 that does more than just orbit a planet.

While the previous two stories in this series have focused more on the military side of the military police action to embargo the planet Ilari and its fanatic CSS soldiers, Cover Fire is all about the truly dirty side of war. Not black ops, but much, much dirtier. Jenna Maxwell is a member of Command Intelligence. She’s a spy, an infiltrator, and on occasion, assassin.

And somebody on her own side wants her dead. The question in her mind is whether she did something wrong that CI thinks needs to be “cleaned up”, or whether someone in CI is a mole for the CSS. All too many CSS moles have been uncovered among the crew of the Valiant Knox, so there’s plenty of reasons to believe that CI might have some too, in spite of the extreme vetting its agents go through on their way in.

That’s where our story begins. Hot-shot pilot Sebastian Rayne is still reeling after the revelation that his best friend was a CSS mole all along. They were best buds for years, and Seb never noticed a thing. He’s still kicking himself, and questioning his own judgment at every turn.

And taking suicide missions, like the one he’s offered to drop Jenna behind enemy lines on Ilari, the enemy stronghold, in a top-secret mission using a POS stolen CSS space shuttle. Of course the whole thing goes FUBAR. There was a damn good reason that shuttle didn’t look spaceworthy. It wasn’t.

But in their enforced togetherness while running from the wreck and escaping the CSS soldiers sent to investigate, Jenna and Seb have a little too much time to spend together. Just enough for Seb to notice that the tough-as-nails exterior doesn’t always match the woman who begins to question, just a little, whether her lonely, dark place in the underbelly of this war is worth the price she has to pay for it.

And just when both their missions seem to be back on track, Jenna is betrayed by her own side, and Seb is sent to pick up the pieces – pieces that are supposed to include Jenna’s body. Instead, he finds a live, scared and pissed off Jenna who has been forced to expose her real appearance, because that’s the only face that CI doesn’t have on file.

Jenna needs Seb’s help to track the reasons for her would-be assassination. And she needs Seb to remind her that the lonely life of a field agent is no life at all. And Seb needs Jenna to help him find closure for the biggest betrayal of his life.

But there is someone gunning for them both. Whether that’s CI, a CSS mole, or a player to be named later is anyone’s guess. But running for their lives together is the best thing that’s ever happened to both of them.

And it might just turn the tide of the war.

Escape Rating B+: I always have a great time aboard the Valiant Knox – or flying around it. But as much as I like the stories and the setting, I’m still not totally clear on the motivations of the CSS. They come off as “standard evil repressive fundamentalist cult” which is a common trope but doesn’t give me enough.

It also, as this story discovers, isn’t enough for some of its adherents. The CSS claims they want independence to go about their evil, repressive ways, but they may not be the only dog in this fight. We’ll see. That possibility gives me very high hopes for subsequent books in this series.

But about Cover Fire. All the stories in this series, so far, have dealt with forbidden romances in one way or another, and this one is no exception. Unlike the standard trope of the fighter pilot jock, Seb is not out to notch his bedpost. He is much more interested in a real relationship, or at least trying for one. And as much as he comes to want Jenna, as long as she believes that she has to run, he’s not after just a one-night-stand, no matter how he wants her.

He’s also going through a lot of self-doubt after the exposure of his friend as a CSS mole. He’s not sure what he feels, or with Jenna, who he feels it for. She turns her CI mask on and off like flipping a switch. Meanwhile, Jenna isn’t sure not just what she feels, but who she really is and whether she has a life expectancy longer than a few hours. She thinks her own organization is out to get her, and they are very, very effective at tying up loose ends.

Any relationship between them is the ultimate distraction from the effort to find out who ordered the hits and to keep them both alive long enough to expose the rot. There are plenty of times when that effort seems doomed, and often by their own mistakes.

I’ll admit that I did figure out whodunnit quite a bit before the end. I had the motives wrong, but the perpetrator seemed obvious, and was. Which didn’t decrease my enjoyment of the story and the series one iota.

I can’t wait to see what happens next. In the somewhat ominously titled War Games, coming out later this year.

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Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi CharishOwl and the Japanese Circus (The Adventures of Owl, #1) by Kristi Charish
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Adventures of Owl #1
Pages: 432
Published by Pocket Star on January 13th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.
Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.

My Review:

In this story, the Japanese Circus is a glitzy Las Vegas casino – owned by a Japanese Red Dragon. And Owl is almost as good as she thinks she is – and as all the hype said her story is.

This is urban fantasy, so a contemporary 21st century setting in a world not that much different from our own – except that the things that go bump in the night not only exist, but also go bump in the daytime, too.

Owl, a disgraced archaeology student formerly known as Alix, seems to have the worst radar in the world for telling the supes from the mundanes. And that’s what got her in so much trouble. Because in a world where supernatural creatures have been apex predators for centuries, it’s only logical that all too many archaeological digs would find powerful artifacts and dangerous creatures.

Alix’s disgrace was that once she stumbled into it, she wasn’t willing to cover it up.

As Owl, her luck continues to plummet. When we meet her, she and her trusty companion, her Egyptian Mau cat Captain, are on the run from a vampire gang after she accidentally exposed one of their ancient leaders to a fatal dose of sunshine. Owl’s method of running is to stay off the grid in a patched up Winnebago, stopping at out of the way places for supplies, cat treats and internet connections to her favorite MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game) where she plays, of course, a thief. And to check her contacts for more illicit archaeology gigs.

That’s how Owl makes her living now, when she can manage it. She steals treasures from archaeological digs. And she’s good at it. A little too good.

So when Mr. Kurosawa makes Owl and offer she quite literally can’t refuse, she finds herself up to her neck in bloodthirsty supernaturals. Only to discover that she’s been there all along.

Escape Rating B+: If fools rush in where angels fear to tread, then Owl jumps in where even fools would back away slowly. Part of Owl’s appeal, and the engine that drives the story out of the frying pan into the fire (and then straight into oven and on down) is the manic way that Owl barrels into every situation without ever pausing for either breath or thought. No matter how much trouble she is in at the beginning, she seems to have an absolute genius for making it worse.

And while at first the breakneck pace of Owl’s disasterrific nature was a whole lot of fun, by the end it feels like it’s walked its tightrope just a bit too long or a bit too high. She should be dead six times over. But more importantly, she doesn’t seem to learn. A tendency that I hope changes for the better over the next books in the series. She’s going to have to grow to remain interesting – not to mention, to plausibly survive the messes she keeps throwing herself into.

However, the characters that she surrounds herself with have hidden depths that just keep getting deeper and more fascinating as the story progresses. Owl seems to have the worst supe-radar in her universe, because all of her friends, acquaintances and enemies are all supernatural, except for her best friend and business partner Nadya. Even Captain has hidden talents. That cat is much, much too smart to be merely a cat and a vampire detector. That his scratches and bites are also highly poisonous to vamps is a big plus, but still doesn’t explain why his IQ occasionally seems higher than Owl’s. I bet there’s a story there, and I can’t wait to read it.

When Owl and the Japanese Circus came out a couple of years ago, there was an absolute outpouring of great reviews. Urban fantasy is not as popular as it used to be, and it’s not often these days that a new world gets created with the depth of worldbuilding that anchors Owl and her story. There’s a fantastic amount to explore here, and I have high hopes for that exploration.

And now I understand completely why this is the one book in my Netgalley queue that has never expired. The publishers know it’s a gateway drug. And they were right.

Review: Lockdown by Laurie R. King

Review: Lockdown by Laurie R. KingLockdown: A Novel of Suspense by Laurie R. King
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 336
Published by Bantam on June 13th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A classroom is held hostage by someone with a thirst for revenge in this stunningly intricate, ripped-from-the-headlines novel of rich psychological suspense from the New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell mysteries.
Career Day at Guadalupe Middle School: a day given to innocent hopes and youthful dreams. A day no one in attendance will ever forget.
New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King is an award-winning master of combining rich atmospheric detail with riveting, keen-edged mystery. Now, in her newest standalone novel of psychological suspense, King turns her sharp eye to a moment torn from the headlines and a school under threat. A year ago, Principal Linda McDonald arrived at Guadalupe determined to overturn the school's reputation for truancy, gang violence, and neglect. One of her initiatives is Career Day--bringing together children, teachers, and community presenters in a celebration of the future. But there are some in attendance who reject McDonald's bright vision.
A principal with a secret. A husband with a murky past. A cop with too many questions. A kid under pressure to prove himself. A girl struggling to escape a mother's history. A young basketball player with an affection for guns.
Even the school janitor has a story he dare not reveal.
But no one at the gathering anticipates the shocking turn of events that will transform a day of possibilities into an expolsive confrontation.
Tense, poignant, and brilliantly paced, Laurie R. King's novel charts compelling characters on a collision course--a chain of interactions that locks together hidden lives, troubling secrets, and the bravest impulses of the human heart.

My Review:

Lockdown was a surprise. In the end, it was nothing like I expected. Also, in the end, absolutely fascinating. Just not in the way that I expected at the beginning.

I was not expecting Holmes and Russell. Not that I wouldn’t love another entry in that series, but I knew this wasn’t it.

Instead, Lockdown is a story that starts out slowly and picks up steam, much as Guadalupe Middle School Principal Linda McDonald starts her day out early but slowly and ends with an exhausted rush at the end of this long and very surprising day.

It’s Career Day at Guadalupe, and Linda expects something to go wrong. Because, well, middle school. Take a whole herd of sixth, seventh and eighth graders, all rushing headlong into puberty at varying rates, mix well and throw them all together into a single steaming pot. It’s a guaranteed recipe for trouble at the best of times and in the best of places. The San Felipe neighborhood that Guadalupe serves is neither. And the varying differences of circumstances and misery that surround the students reflects both on their hyper-hormonal age group and the mostly working class racial melting pot neighborhood that surrounds them.

And in the middle of it all are two long-simmering tragedies. At the beginning of the school year, sixth grader Bee Cuomo went missing, and has neither been found, seen or heard from in the months since. And last year gang-leader Taco Alvarez murdered Gloria Rivas in cold blood, witnessed by two of Guadalupe’s students – Gloria’s sister Sofia and her friend Danny Escobedo. As the school prepares for Career Day, Taco’s trial is also proceeding, while his young cousin, still a Guadalupe student, tries to figure out what he owes to a cousin he both fears and worships.

But as the day moves forward and winds up to its explosive conclusion, the story peeks into the lives of every standout character in the school. That exploration begins with the Principal and her husband, from their surprising meeting in the jungles of Papua New Guinea to his rather murky past as a gun-for-hire. But everyone involved has secrets of their own, from the janitor who keeps the school running in some mysterious ways to the Coach who tries his best to save young boys before their eyes go completely dead to the students themselves.

They say that all happy families are alike, but that unhappy families are each unhappy in their own ways. And we see that here as their worlds collide with explosive violence, and it all goes wrong. But some things, after all, go right.

Escape Rating A-: At first, I wasn’t sure where this story was going. Based on the blurbs, it was pretty obvious that it was going to end in a school shooting, but I’ll admit to being completely misled about the shooter and their motivation until the very end.

And it does go slowly at first. There are a lot of characters, and a lot of tiny, individual portraits to sort through. At the beginning it felt as if the only characters we lingered on long enough to get a clear picture were Linda McDonald and her very mysterious husband Gordon Kendrick. Through Linda’s memories, we see their first meeting, and it’s obvious from the very beginning that Gordon has a very big secret that is finally catching up with him. It takes a while before that secret finally bites him in the ass, and the way that it happens just adds to the drama.

There are a lot of threads to this story. As the focus shifts from person to person, we see the way the wind blows. But there is more than enough misdirection for the reader to think that the explosion is coming from a completely different direction than it actually is.

The school is faced with so many crises, and both the students and their guardians have so many violent secrets. It’s not surprising that something erupts, only the how and the when are mysterious. Even the why becomes a bit obvious early on, or at least the reader thinks it does.

I went down the wrong path for a long time, and at the end was forced to back up and see where I missed the fork in the road. The misdirection was very well done.

While in her Career Day speech McDonald focuses on all the threads that make up the school and its community, the story is about all the threads that make up the tragedy and its aftermath. Once Linda’s day, and the story, get going, it’s impossible to stop until the end.

So I didn’t.

Review: Silver Silence by Nalini Singh

Review: Silver Silence by Nalini SinghSilver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity, #1; Psy-Changeling, #16) by Nalini Singh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: , Psy-Changeling #16
Pages: 464
Published by Berkley Books on June 13th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh returns to her extraordinary Psy-Changeling world with a story of wild passion and darkest betrayal...
Control. Precision. Family. These are the principles that drive Silver Mercant. At a time when the fledgling Trinity Accord seeks to unite a divided world, with Silver playing a crucial role as director of a worldwide emergency response network, wildness and chaos are the last things she needs in her life. But that's exactly what Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater bears, brings with him.
Valentin has never met a more fascinating woman. Though Silver is ruled by Silence--her mind clear of all emotion--Valentin senses a whisper of fire around her. That's what keeps him climbing apartment buildings to be near her. But when a shadow assassin almost succeeds in poisoning Silver, the stakes become deadly serious...and Silver finds herself in the heart of a powerful bear clan.
Her would-be assassin has no idea what their poison has unleashed...

My Review:

An answer to entirely too many of the questions, problems and issues in the entire Psy-Changeling series boil down to the truism that “human beings suck”. This isn’t a criticism of the series, merely an observation, because, after, all, human beings do suck. And for all of their differences, all of the races in this series, whether Psy, Changeling or original recipe human, are still all variations of human, and human beings suck.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, there’s a reason for the rant within the story. So much of the non-romantic action in Silver Silence is a response to some particular human beings sucking very, very much.

Silver Silence, as the first book in the Psy-Changeling Trinity sub-series, follows the events in Allegiance of Honor, and everything that led up to this point. What was once a world with three separate and equally distrustful if not equally powerful factions is beginning to coalesce into the alliance brought about by the Trinity Accords.

The Psy, the Changelings and the Humans, at least through the loose coalitions that speak for each group, are determined to work together for the greater good. And for the continued survival of all three.

But there is an awful lot of bloody water under the damn bridge, and there are a lot of very wary members of all three groups. Particularly the humans. The Changelings and the Psy, while always distrustful of each other at best, always did have somewhat equal power. Changeling minds are immune to Psy interference. But humans, less physically threatening than the Changeling and always open to mental interference from the Psy, have a lot to forgive, particularly of the Psy. Changelings mostly left them alone, while the Psy have spent a century plucking advances out of the minds of humans, keeping those advancements for themselves and breaking the human’s minds in the process.

All too many of the Psy were a force that lived up to the old maxim about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. No one could stop them, so they felt empowered to do whatever they damn well pleased to whoever they could.

Those days are over. Not necessarily or always out of altruism, but because the PsyNet that all Psy must connect to in order to remain healthy and function is itself sick. By walling themselves off from human emotions in specific and humans in general, the Psy have closed off a necessary safety valve for the PsyNet’s sentient mind. Psy need humans (and changelings) to willingly form bonds with them, and those bonds can’t be coerced. Without those bonds, without the breaking of the Silence conditioning that keeps them emotionally barren, the Psy will all die, but not before going on a psychopathic rampage of planet-wide proportion.

So the seemingly all-powerful Psy, whether reluctantly or willingly, must cooperate and intermingle with the Changelings and the humans. But it is in all three groups’ best interests to learn to get along. They each have something that the other lacks, strengths that the others need, and weaknesses that the others can shore up. Now that they are not all out to merely exploit each other. Business is still business, and that’s fair. But they’ve all finally acknowledged that they have to work together or things will get very, very ugly, and it won’t necessarily be anyone in particular’s fault. Once you start treating groups as “the Other”, bad things happen to both parties.

And that’s where this story comes into the whole. The Human Alliance, led by Bowen Knight, is willing to work with the Psy and the Changelings on an equal footing. There is still some distrust, but it is reasoned and reasonable distrust. But there are other human agencies working in the shadows who condemn any human who works with the others as either under Psy influence or a traitor to their race. (And haven’t we all heard those words before?)

The shining symbol of interspecies cooperation is Em-Net, a global crisis response team that provides assistance to all whenever and wherever needed. And it is personified by its extremely capable director, the Psy Silver Mercant. So Silver is attacked by stealth, from the shadows, by a patient predator who wants to see Em-Net in disarray and unable to respond, while also crippling the future of the powerful Mercant family.

But Silver is not alone when she ingests the poison that has been lurking unsuspected in her stored nutrition packets. Instead, the Bear Alpha Valentin Nikolaev is in her apartment, attempting to bait her into an un-Silent response to his rather less-than-subtle wooing. Valentin rescues Silver, and sets the events of the rest of the story in motion.

Despite her being Psy, Valentin knows that Silver is his mate. And he will do anything to protect her and keep her safe. And if that anything includes taking her to the Denhome and giving her ample opportunities to fall for both him and his clan, so much the better.

But Silver has a secret weakness, and not just her weakness for slightly clumsy Alpha Bears. Silver’s Silence conditioning is failing, and her growing emotional connection to Valentin is breaking her already vulnerable walls. But that conditioning, the Silence that keeps her ice cold and unemotional, is also the only thing keeping her alive.

Escape Rating B+/A-: This one came out right on the border between B+ and A-. I loved the relationship between Valentin and Silver. We watched it build from very small pieces into something big and wonderful and, at times, tissue-grabbing tragic. There is so much love and fear and hope built into their story, and that was marvelous.

There were also some fascinating reactions/revelations on the parts of Silver’s grandmother Ena and her brother Arwen. The Mercant family, for all of their reputation as ice-cold operators, clearly has never been completely Silent. We’ve seen other Psy families where loyalty comes to serve in place of love, and provides many of the same motivations that love does, but this is the first time we see love expressed within a Psy family, even though the words are never said. Not just that Silver loves her E-designation brother Arwen, for whom emotion is strength, but also the love between Silver and her grandmother Ena.

Valentin’s bear clan, even with the tragedy currently darkening its heart, is always a joy. Bears are real charmers, especially the cubs. And the story needs the lighter moments that they bring.

But the thing that kept this story at the border for me were the two unnamed human evil-doers who operate from the shadows and propel much of the political action of the story. They are both definitely evil. They both hate Psy, and to a lesser extent, Changelings. They both have a “Humans First” agenda that they are willing to press forward with mass murders. And they are both fanatics who are willing to murder massive numbers of humans to prove that Psy can’t be trusted, an irony which is totally lost on both of them.

They are not the same person and many of their goals and methods are not completely aligned. But as the story progresses and we get small glimpses from their own perspectives about their thoughts and motivations, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell them apart. I think one of them is exposed by the end, but because they were so amorphous and so much alike, I’m not sure who, or which, or completely if.

None of which changes the fact that I love this series, and can’t wait for the next installment. Hopefully next summer and not any later.

But I have one final comment. The covers for the US editions of this series are never as good as the UK editions. The US covers are often vaguely “cheesy”, and sometimes not even vaguely. Or, are just blah, as this one is. The UK covers are crisp and evocative portraits of the hero, and they just work. See for yourself.

US Cover
UK cover

Review: A Touch of Frost by Jo Goodman

Review: A Touch of Frost by Jo GoodmanA Touch of Frost by Jo Goodman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, western romance
Pages: 416
Published by Berkley Books on June 6th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

USA Today bestselling author Jo Goodman presents a "sprawling, lusty recreation of life, love, and slowly uncovered secrets*" as a rancher rescues a mysterious young woman with trouble of her trail.
RESCUE ME
After his train is robbed at gunpoint, Remington Frost awakens from a blow to find the bandits gone...along with the woman he was shadowing for protection. No stranger to risk, Remington will do what it takes to bring Phoebe Apple to safety and her kidnappers to justice. But ransoming Phoebe is just the start of trouble...
Phoebe is shocked to learn that her mysterious rescuer is none other than Remington Frost, the son of her sister's new husband. Home at Twin Star Ranch, she falls happily into western life--and cautiously in love with Remington. But danger hides close to home, and their romance illuminates a web of secrets and betrayal that may put the rancher and his intended bride past the point of rescue.
*Publisher's Weekly

My Review:

A Touch of Frost turned out to be how I spent one day of my weekend. It was a good day.

I like Jo Goodman’s historical western romances quite a bit. If you haven’t indulged, This Gun for Hire is every bit as good as everyone said it was. Possibly even better.

What makes her romances so special, and so very interesting, are the characters. Both the hero and the heroine are unconventional in one way or another, and the way that they work together carries the story, usually on a wave of intelligent banter. As is true in A Touch of Frost.

The story begins with Phoebe Apple’s kidnapping. Just when she starts to think that all of the dime novel desperadoes that she’s been reading about are purely fictional, her train is stopped by a masked gang who rob the passengers and take her hostage.

At first it seems as if her kidnapping was just bad luck, but the more that the gang talks among themselves, the more it seems as if her kidnapping was the entire purpose of the expedition, and that any petty thievery that took place was mostly window-dressing. But Phoebe doesn’t believe that anyone would bother ransoming her. Her sister may be the new wife of a wealthy landowner, but Fiona Apple has no money of her own, and as far as Phoebe knows there’s no reason why Fiona’s husband would pay good money to ransom his sister-in-law.

It’s pretty clear that Phoebe knows nothing about the way that things really work out west. She has no idea that her new brother-in-law, Thaddeus Frost, set his son Remington on her trail, to guard her until she arrived safely at the Frost ranch. And it’s a good thing that he did.

While Remington is rather ignominiously laid low during the actual robbery, he’s pretty quick to recover after the fact and set out in search of Phoebe and her kidnappers. Phoebe, who may be a bit uninformed but is certainly smart as well as brave, has left a trail of discarded items to serve as breadcrumbs for any potential rescuer.

From their very first meeting, Remington and Phoebe strike sparks off of each other. In spite of the pretty awful circumstances, Remington finds Phoebe game to continue with any plan he hatches, and he gets them out of her current mess and safely home while others pursue the gang. A gang that successfully eludes pursuit and makes off with the $2,000 ransom that Thaddeus willingly paid. Back when $2,000 was very definitely real money.

Money that he doesn’t even want back, now that Phoebe is safe.

And that’s where the story really begins. Because Thaddeus is very much afraid that his new wife arranged the kidnapping – not because she wishes her sister any harm, but because she desperately wants enough money to leave him and go back to the bright lights and big city of New York, where she was a very successful actress.

He just wants to make Fiona want to stay, and has zero idea of how to go about it – which is why he sent for Phoebe. Phoebe, on that other hand, knows all of Fiona’s little tricks, because she’s been the victim of most of them. They may love each other, but Fiona’s many, many, many insecurities mean that she can’t resist scoring off of Phoebe at every single turn.

And Phoebe discovers that, unlike her sister, she loves life in the wilds of Colorado. She finds every single bit of life on the ranch absolutely fascinating. And in spite of every argument that Fiona makes against him, Phoebe discovers that she loves Remington Frost.

But her kidnappers are still out there, and now they’ve upped their game to murder. It becomes a question of whose luck will run out first, Phoebe’s or her kidnappers.

Escape Rating B: I had a lot of fun with this book because every scene between Phoebe and Remington absolutely sparkles with wit and humor. Their romance proceeds at a fast and fun clip from their shaky meeting until they fall into each other’s arms. There isn’t a lot of pretense between them, and that’s wonderful to see in a romance. They are each simply themselves, and their personalities just work together. Also, this is very definitely a romance of equals, something that is difficult to both successfully and reasonably pull off in a historical romance.

It was also great that whatever the conflicts are in the story, and there are plenty of them, not a one of those conflicts requires a misunderstandammit between the hero and heroine. There are a lot of times when Remington wishes that he didn’t have to tell Phoebe the gory details of what’s going on, but he knows that he has to for their relationship to work. So he does it, and with very little prevarication at that.

But there are plenty of secrets in the story just the same. There’s an entire herd of drama llamas camped on the field between Thaddeus and Fiona. They do love each other, but they are not talking to each other, at least not about anything that really matters. There’s a huge subplot between them that can be summed up as “assume makes an ass out of u and me”.

Starting with Fiona assuming that Thaddeus had a long-running affair with his housekeeper after the death of his wife, and that said affair was still going on up until he met Fiona, if not longer. That said housekeeper is in love with Thaddeus makes the whole thing believable, and that Thaddeus has been oblivious to the woman’s feelings for 20-something years just adds to the confusion.

But the big mystery in this story is all about the kidnapping, and the subsequent murders. As much as I enjoyed the interplay between Phoebe and Remington, the case felt like it took a bit too long to finally unravel. Although I knew Fiona wasn’t behind it, finding out who was, why, and how, seemed awfully slow to come together. I reached a point where I just wanted them to wrap it up already.

And as much as I loved Phoebe, Fiona is an extremely unlikable character from beginning to end. It’s a good thing that Phoebe loves her, because I certainly did not. I found her cruel and manipulative, and while I knew she wasn’t the mover and shaker behind events, I wouldn’t have minded a bit if she were.

But I was very glad at the end that I got to see Phoebe and Remington’s happy ending. They earned it!

Review: A Peace Divided by Tanya Huff + Giveaway

Review: A Peace Divided by Tanya Huff + GiveawayA Peace Divided (Peacekeeper, #2) by Tanya Huff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction
Series: Peacekeeper #2, Confederation #7
Pages: 384
Published by DAW Books on June 6th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The second book in the action-packed Peacekeeper series, a continuation of Tanya Huff's military sci-fi Confederation series following Torin Kerr
Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr had been the very model of a Confederation Marine. No one who'd ever served with her could imagine any circumstance that would see her walking away from the Corps.
But that was before Torin learned the truth about the war the Confederation was fighting...before she'd been declared dead and had spent time in a prison that shouldn't exist...before she'd learned about the "plastic" beings who were really behind the war between the Confederation and the Others. That was when Torin left the military for good.
Yet she couldn't walk away from preserving and protecting everything the Confederation represented. Instead, ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr drew together an elite corps of friends and allies--some ex-Marines, some civilians with unique skills--and together they prepared to take on covert missions that the Justice Department and the Corps could not--or would not--officially touch. But after their first major mission, it became obvious that covert operations were not going to be enough.
Although the war is over, the fight goes on and the Justice Department finds its regular Wardens unable to deal with violence and the people trained to use it. Ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr has a solution: Strike Teams made up of ex-military personnel, small enough to maneuver quickly, able to work together if necessary. Justice has no choice but to implement her idea and Torin puts her team of independent contractors back into uniform. It isn't war, it is policing, but it often looks much the same.
When the scientists doing a preliminary archaeological dig on a Class Two planet are taken hostage, Torin's team is sent to free them. The problem of innocents in the line of fire is further complicated by the fact that the mercenaries holding them are a mix of Confederation and Primacy forces, and are looking for a weapon able to destroy the plastic aliens who'd started and maintained the war.
If Torin weren't already torn by wanting that weapon in play, she also has to contend with the politics of peace that have added members of the Primacy--former enemies--to her team. Before they confront the mercenaries, Torin will have to sift through shifting loyalties as she discovers that the line between"us" and "them" is anything but straight.

My Review:

There’s an absolutely kick-ass military SF story in A Peace Divided. And that story is a marvelous continuance of pretty much everything that has happened to Gunnery Sergeant, now Warden, Torin Kerr from her first introduction in Valor’s Choice to her re-emergence after the end of her war in An Ancient Peace.

So if you enjoy military SF featuring smart, kick-ass, hard-fighting female soldiers (in this case Kerr is an NCO in the Marines), start at the very beginning with Valor’s Choice. And take good notes, because it seems as if everyone she has ever crossed paths with, or even just run into, makes an appearance in A Peace Divided.

Along with her permanent enemies, and the original instigators of the Confederation’s war with the Primacy.

The future, as was once opined to a very young Dustin Hoffman as Ben Braddock in The Graduate, is in plastics. And that future is nowhere near as benign or profitable as his would-be mentor believed.

Unless, as it turns out, you’re running guns.

Like all of the books in this series so far, A Peace Divided is a part of the branch of SF that makes some interesting and peculiar uses of the concept that what you think is happening is not what is really happening. While that seems to have played a major part of the war between the Confederation and the Primacy, and everything that resulted from that war (as well as the uneasy peace that Kerr now finds herself in) it also applies to the action in this particular story, not just on the part of the plastic aliens, but here primarily on the part of the humans and other sentients who drive this story.

It seems that sentient behavior has a limited number of patterns to follow, whether the beings that follow those patterns are humans, Krai, or di’Tayken, or even whether those sentients are two-legged or four-legged, skinned or furred or carapaced, and every other variant that the writer managed to think of.

As one of the sub-themes of this story is about human (and admittedly other sentient) bigotry, it is ironic that part of the story rides on the concept that people are people, no matter what species those people are from.

There’s a lot going on in A Peace Divided. The story that we follow is that of a band of basically space pirates who have taken an entire archaeological team hostage in the possibly mistaken but certainly partly insane belief that the archaeologists have discovered a weapon that can kill the plastic aliens.

And the other part of the story we follow is, of course, that of Warden Torin Kerr and her, if not merry then certainly snarky band of mostly ex-military peace-keeping wardens, as they set out to rescue the archaeologists and take down the space pirates, hopefully with a minimum of bloodshed.

One of the ongoing issues of this series is that “minimum of bloodshed” is defined much, much differently in the police-like Wardens than it ever was in the Confederation Marines. Being a Marine was a whole lot easier. There were rules and there were orders, there was a strict hierarchy, and there was a lot of security in that, both for the Marines and for the ones giving the orders.

Kerr is now out on her own, in a hierarchy whose rules are occasionally very arcane, and where security is minimal. It’s all on her, not because she wants it to be, but because she can’t seem to find any other way to be.

But it is really, really hard to keep the peace when the other side is doing its level best, and its absolute worst, to start a war.

Escape Rating B+: I loved traveling with Torin Kerr and Company again, and I liked the story, but it really needs the dramatis personae listing in the front and with a lot more detail. Or a summary of the action up till now. I’ve read the whole series, absolutely loved the whole thing, but occasionally I got lost among all the names, races and faces.

Once things get down to the brass-tacks, it klicks along like a ship in warp drive, but it takes a while to get there. I expect that people who are binge-reading the whole series and have everything fresh in their minds are going to eat this one up with a spoon, because it feels like everybody who has ever touched Torin’s life gets at least a mention.

Underneath the story, there are at least three sub-themes going on, one more overt than the other two. And they all add depth to the action, as well as making the reader think about the book well after the last page.

The first, biggest and most obvious is the issue of the returning veterans. Like our own society, the Confederation has done an all too excellent job of training young people, for any and all definitions of people, to set aside their fears and their instincts and become effective and efficient killing machines. The problem they have, just like the one we have, is what to do with those killing machines after their war is over. And just like our own society, the Confederations equivalent of the VA is overworked and understaffed and some people slip through the cracks. Admittedly some also make a hole and dive out, but there are a lot of folks who need help and don’t get the help they need. And a lot of the people that Kerr finds herself dealing with are her former comrades who fell through those cracks and can’t find a way to adjust to being civilians. Kerr and her troupe have plenty of problems with re-adjustment themselves, and they all have each other.

The Marines have a code that they leave no soldier behind. As an NCO, Kerr carried the remains of too many of her soldiers out on her vest, and she’s still carrying them. That there are soldiers that the entire military seems to have left behind feels like failure. Only because it is.

And of course, those folks who are desperate and haven’t adjusted get used by others for their own nefarious ends.

The other two sub-theme layers are about gun control and bigotry. They are more subtle, and it is easy to let them go in the heat of the story, but they are definitely there. And they add color and texture to a story that could have just been gung-ho military SF, but ends up being so much more.

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

Thanks to DAW Books, I am giving away one copy each of An Ancient Peace and A Peace Divided.

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Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen by Victoria Alexander

Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen by Victoria AlexanderThe Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen (The Lady Travelers Guide, #1) by Victoria Alexander
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Lady Travelers Guide #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on May 23rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Embark on the breathtaking romantic adventures of The Lady Travelers Society in the brand-new series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander
Really, it's too much to expect any normal man to behave like a staid accountant in order to inherit the fortune he deserves to support the lifestyle of an earl. So when Derek Saunders's favorite elderly aunt and her ill-conceived—and possibly fraudulent—Lady Travelers Society loses one of their members, what's a man to do but step up to the challenge? Now he's escorting the world's most maddening woman to the world's most romantic city to find her missing relative.
While India Prendergast only suspects his organization defrauds gullible travelers, she's certain a man with as scandalous a reputation as Derek Saunders cannot be trusted any farther than the distance around his very broad shoulders. As she struggles not to be distracted by his wicked smile and the allure of Paris, instead of finding a lost lady traveler, India just may lose her head, her luggage and her heart.

My Review:

This is my second book in a row where one of the main characters begins the story desperately requiring the surgical removal of a seemingly permanent stick shoved up their fundament. As in today’s story that’s the heroine rather than the hero, I’m being a bit more delicate in my language referring to the deformity.

India Prendergast is more than a bit of a prig. I’d say that she is a “stick in the mud” but as has been previously established, the stick has already been firmly lodged elsewhere. In today’s terms, we’d say that she needs to lighten up more than a bit.

She is also both extremely judgmental and an unbearable know-it-all, and not in the useful way that Hermione Granger was a know-it-all. Miss Prendergast’s version of omniscience is that she has made rather firm decisions on exactly how the world works, according to her designs, and that she is always right in all of her judgements. Which are very exacting.

She’s great at managing things and people, but not very lovable. Or even likeable. And she’s certainly not terribly forgiving. Or much fun.

And she’s not quite 30.

In the case that begins the story, she is both right and wrong, but not, as she discovers at the end, in any of the ways she expects.

Her cousin Heloise, the woman who raised her after her parents death, has gone missing. Or so it seems. Heloise, a middle-aged spinster with a small but secure income, has become a member of The Lady Travelers Society, and after consulting with the Society, has planned a solo (well, solo with her lady’s maid) European tour of indeterminate length and rather sketchy itinerary.

As the story begins, India has not heard from Heloise in over six weeks, and her inquiries to the Lady Travelers Society, increasingly frantic and belligerent, have gone unanswered. As the police have been thoroughly dismissive and unhelpful, India is taking matters into her own hands.

She has investigated the Lady Travelers Society and has discovered that there is a fraud afoot. In her decided opinion, the three elderly ladies who appear to be running the Society, using the term “running” very, very loosely, are covering a scam. They seem much too dithery to be the masterminds of such a pernicious scheme to separate women of limited means from both their pounds sterling and their dreams of travel.

India is certain she has discovered that mastermind in Derek Saunders. Mr. Saunders, on the other hand, has just discovered that his great aunt and her two friends are, in fact, perpetuating a fraud in order to maintain their independence as widows. He’s there to put a stop to what India believes he is the mastermind of.

But they both need to find cousin Heloise, both for India’s peace of mind and for Derek to keep his great aunt and her cronies out of jail, or at least free from scandal.

India’s distrustful nature won’t allow her to let Derek search for her wayward cousin, as she believes Heloise’s waywardness is ultimately his fault. And he can’t let India go off investigating on her own in Paris, because if anything happens to her, society will certainly hold him responsible, even if he was not responsible for the original scheme that got them all into this mess.

And his great aunt and her cronies are very definitely matchmaking. Not that India and Derek don’t need their guiding, if slightly guilty, hands.

It’s up to them to not screw up their best chance at happiness. Their escapades prove that they both need all the help that they can get.

Escape Rating B: This story is solidly good fun, but the portrayal of the heroine in the first half of the story does make the reader want to shake her. India at the outset, while extremely effective, is also intensely annoying. Her self-righteousness sets the reader’s teeth on edge, as it does that of nearly every character she meets in the story.

On that other hand, one of the terrific things about this story is the heroine’s journey. The hero has already gotten most of the way to where he needs to be, courtesy of a swift kick to the posterior delivered by his uncle several months before the story begins. Derek, while he has not lost his sense of fun and adventure, has grown up after being threatened with being cut off from his inheritance. And it’s been the making of him.

Meanwhile, none of India’s acquaintances nor her (very) few friends have been willing to risk her judgemental nature long enough to tell her that she generally goes well beyond holding up standards into outright rudeness. She never gives anyone the benefit of the doubt, and makes no allowances for any human frailty on anyone’s part, including her own. Because of course she believes she has none.

And that’s where the story really lies. India doesn’t so much need to grow up as to just grow. Or the wooden puppet needs to become a real girl. Not necessarily in the sense of enjoying fashion or shopping or any of the things that women were supposed to enjoy in the late Victorian era, although she does come to that, but grow in the sense of accepting others. She can be kind without being judge-y, if she can finally admit that no one, including herself, is right all the damn time.

The setting of this story is marvelous. It is Paris in 1889, at the beginning of the 1889 World’s Fair. Some of the best and most evocative scenes in the story take place at the top of the newly opened and still quite controversial Eiffel Tower.

All in all, this is a lovely story of wheels within wheels, featuring an intelligent (if bull-headed) heroine and set in a marvelous place and time. And there will be more! The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger is coming in November.

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Review: The Nanny Arrangement by Rachel Harris

Review: The Nanny Arrangement by Rachel HarrisThe Nanny Arrangement by Rachel Harris
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, new adult romance
Series: Country Blues #2
Pages: 266
Published by Entangled Publishing on May 22nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Soft-spoken and shy Hannah Fisher is determined to make the man she’s loved her entire life finally see her as a woman. With the help of a makeover, a new mission—Operation Find My Happy—and the convenient forced proximity of a tour bus, she vows to win her best friend Deacon’s heart.

Former bad boy and current fiddle player Deacon Latrell has the world at his fingertips: a new gig with a famous band, plus his best friend on tour as his son’s nanny. Life couldn’t get much sweeter. Now if only he could stop imagining kissing the daylights out of his childhood BFF...

With one friend set on pushing the boundaries and the other afraid to rock the boat, one thing’s for certain—their story would make one heck of a country song.

My Review:

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed The Nanny Arrangement. As much as I love the friends-to-lovers trope, there are a whole lot of other factors in this story that generally drive me crazy, and certainly did this time. And I liked the damn thing anyway!

The Nanny Arrangement is right on the cusp between New Adult and Contemporary Romance. The protagonists are both 20-somethings, and are still figuring out what they want out of life. They also fumble quite a bit along their way.

This is really Hannah’s story. She has come back from a year-long stay in Paris as an au pair to initiate Operation Find My Happy. It’s not that Hannah doesn’t know where her happy is, it’s that she isn’t sure she can manage to grab it. Because Hannah has been in love with Deacon Lattrell for ten years now, and he doesn’t seem to see her as anything more than a friend. Admittedly his best friend in the whole universe, but still, firmly and seemingly irrevocably, stuck in the dreaded friend zone.

But as much as Hannah loves being Deke’s friend, as well as the surrogate mother to his young son Max, Hannah just plain loves Deke, and always has. But Hannah has always hidden herself away in baggy clothes and in the fringes of any group, and it is possible that Deke simply hasn’t seen her as she really is. And that he never got past spending high school defending Hannah from all the schoolyard cruelty inflicted on her as a red-headed girl with a stutter who wore slightly old-fashioned clothes. She was the class freak, and Deke was her lone defender.

There’s plenty of love there, but it isn’t exactly the kind of love that Hannah wants or needs. Running away to Paris didn’t cure her of her embarrassingly unrequited love for Deke, so putting herself out there and making him see her may not work either, but she has to try before she has a chance at moving on.

That’s where the fun begins. Deke is the latest member of the country rock group Blue. The band has been established for years, but they needed a new fiddle-player and Deke has turned out to be it. But Deke doesn’t travel without little Max, and that’s where Hannah steps in. The band needs a live-in nanny on tour, not just for Max but also for the lead singer’s little girl Stella. So just as Deke is on a trial contract as their fiddler for the length of their US tour, Hannah is on a trial contract as their nanny.

In the enforced intimacy of a small group on tour in not-nearly-big-enough buses, Hannah has the chance to open Deke’s eyes. It’s not her fault that as soon as he opens them, the idiot slams them shut again. He wants only the absolute best for Hannah, and he’s sure that’s not him. Not that he’s actually asked her what she wants. Of course not.

He’s an idiot, but while plumbing the vast depths of his idiocy he finally gets smart enough to put on some really excellent grovel to get back the girl he’s always loved.

Escape Rating B+: Throw the tropes New Adult Romance, Rock Star Romance, Friends-to-Lovers, I’m Not Worthy, and Misunderstandammit into a blender, mix with Operation Find My Happy, and come up with a story that in spite of its flaws still makes the reader finish with a big smile.

I say this because I find that I’m hit or miss with New Adult, and very much down on both I’m Not Worthy and the Misunderstandammit. Combining the trope where the hero kicks the heroine to the curb because he’s certain she’s too good for him, and mixing it with the trope where so many of their issues could be solved if they just talked with each other instead of past each other once in awhile does not make for this reader’s favorite frustration.

What redeemed a whole lot of these two issues was that, unusual for romance, Deke put on very good grovel to make up for his errors. Not that Hannah wasn’t going to take him back anyway, but not just Deke but all the guys in the story were conscious that Deke had screwed up big time and needed to make up for it even bigger time.

It was great not to see the guy get a hall pass on this.

But it was Hannah’s Operation Find My Happy that made the story for me. She’s not sure how to get what she wants, and she’s certainly not sure that she’ll get what she wants, but she has internalized the mantra about only getting a different result by taking a different action. Along with the realization that the whole unrequited longing thing just wasn’t working for her. She needed to get on or get over, and she hadn’t found a way to get over so it was time to get on with pursuing what she wanted, even if she lost.

I also loved the way that both the friendships among the women and the friendships among the men developed organically over the story. Expanding their respective circles was something that both Deke and Hannah desperately needed to do, even if neither of them saw it.

And we do see where Deke and Hannah came from, and just how and why they ended up in the pickle that they are in. And we’re thrilled when Hannah’s courage and Deke’s excellent grovel finally locate Hannah’s (and Deke’s and Max’s) happy.

Review: The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief by Lisa Tuttle

Review: The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief by Lisa TuttleThe Curious Affair of the Somnambulist & the Psychic Thief by Lisa Tuttle
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: From the Casebooks of Jesperson & Lane #1
Pages: 416
Published by Random House Publishing Group - Hydra on May 16th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

To solve some mysteries, one must embrace the impossible.
Has there ever been a more unlikely pair of consulting detectives than Jesperson and Lane? They certainly make a striking duo: Mr. Jasper Jesperson, with his shock of red hair and seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of all subjects—save common sense—and Miss Lane, whose logical mind is matched only by her fascination with psychic phenomena.
Their talents are rare . . . as are their customers. So when Jesperson and Lane are hired to track the nocturnal wanderings of a sleepwalking London business owner, they’re simply happy to be working again. The case begins as a window into the séances and other supernatural parlor games that are so popular these days, and takes a sinister turn as the intrepid investigators pull back the curtain on the cutthroat rivalries underpinning polite society.
But after several mediums go missing, it’s clear that Jesperson and Lane are in over their heads. For they’ve uncovered a presence beyond their understanding—an evil force that won’t hesitate to kill in order to achieve its nefarious ends.

My Review:

I really enjoyed the beginning of this book. It was an interesting set up to a slightly off-beat Sherlock Holmes read-alike, with an even more eccentric Holmes and a female Watson who is not a doctor. On the one hand, their respective eccentricities make Jesperson and Lane closer to partners from the beginning. On that other hand, it also begins as a kind of tweak of the nose at Conan Doyle, because Aphrodite Lane becomes a detective after discovering that her friend and employer Gabrielle Fox, who is supposed to be a skeptical investigator for the Society for Psychical Research, is every bit as much of a fraud and a trickster as every medium they have ever investigated.

Miss Lane is willing to believe, but she wants empirical evidence. Evidence that doesn’t involve secret hooks and pulleys under the table. And I applauded her for that.

But about halfway through, The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief turned into the most infuriating book I have read in a long time, perhaps ever.

I fully realize that sentence requires a bit more explanation.

At the beginning of the story, as Jesperson and Lane get started in their consulting detective business, the setting seems to be the same Victorian London as the Holmes and Watson stories. (There is a tip of the hat to Holmes as a fictional character they are both familiar with). There was, at that time, quite a bit of exploration of and belief in the supernatural, and frauds abounded.

Conan Doyle, in spite of his invention of that most rational detective, Holmes, was himself a great believer in spiritualism (and fairies!). Harry Houdini, formerly one of Conan Doyle’s great friends, practically had a second career as a debunker of mediums and psychic phenomena. Their friendship broke over this fundamental difference of belief.

When the first case is presented to Jesperson and Lane, that of the sleepwalking, Mr. Creavey (in other words, the somnambulist) they are looking for a logical and rational explanation. Which Jesperson eventually finds. Someone is controlling Mr. Creavey through a post-hypnotic suggestion.

And while psychic phenomena are bunk, hypnosis is a well-known and reproducible technique.

And this is where the story goes completely off the rails. At least for this reader. Because the so far rational and redoubtable Miss Lane, who is telling the story in the first-person, becomes completely irrational on the subject of hypnotism and hypnosis, when it is obvious to both Jesperson and to the reader that Miss Lane has herself been hypnotized. The only question yet to be completely resolved is whether her hypnotist is the same as Mr. Creavey’s, but even at the outset it seems all too likely. It would be much too coincidental, in the best detectival tradition, for there to be two different hypnotists involved in the same case.

Whether hypnosis works exactly as portrayed in the story is questionable, but it certainly does work and does exist to a significant extent. That the amount of control the hypnotist has over his victims seems rather greater than is considered the norm feels like it falls within the spectrum of fiction.

But it gets worse. While the formerly rational Miss Lane descends into risible irrationality, what drove this reader off the edge into fury was that the story seemed to change its basic premise. While throughout the book it seems to be part of the historical Victorian era, when mostly gullible or desperate people believed in spiritualism but it was not proven, the ending of the story requires that this setting become a world in which psychic phenomena are real and functional.

In other words, we began in rationality and ended with magic, with no explanation for how the basic way that the world works seems to have flipped on its head.

Escape Rating C-: I did finish, which gets the C grade. And I’m still thinking about the book, and still furious, which also keeps it in the C category. But, but and very definitely but. I am so disappointed. What read like a very promising start descended so far on so many levels. Miss Lane’s descent in particular, from rational action to idiocy was particularly galling, especially as we view the story from inside her head.

I enjoy stories where magic works. I love urban fantasy. But if that’s the case, it needs to be established, or at least hinted at, from the beginning. That’s not what happened here. And yes, I’m aware that some of the promotional materials delve a bit into the supernatural aspects, but a) promotional materials don’t always represent the work in hand, b) the switch between absolute belief in rationality to confirmed belief in “magic” is not even subtext in the actual text, and 3) the point-of-view character still changes from an interesting and rational being to a complete idiot.

Color me extremely disappointed. And very, very annoyed.

Review: Making it Right by Catherine Bybee + Giveaway

Review: Making it Right by Catherine Bybee + GiveawayMaking It Right by Catherine Bybee
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Most Likely To #3
Pages: 348
Published by Montlake Romance on May 9th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

In the final book in bestselling author Catherine Bybee’s Most Likely To trilogy, River Bend’s rebel follows in her father’s footsteps to become sheriff. But it might be time to forge her own path…
Some kids inherit a family business; Jo Ward inherited a badge. Once voted Most Likely to End Up in Jail, the town wild child has become sheriff—hell-bent on uncovering the truth about her father’s mysterious death. Life is quiet in rustic River Bend, but Jo longs for something beyond her small hometown and the painful memories it holds. All that keeps her sane is the support of her best friends, Melanie and Zoe.
But when Jo signs up for an expert law enforcement training seminar, she meets Gill Clausen, whose haunting eyes and dangerously sexy vibe just may challenge her single-minded focus. Commitment-phobic Jo can’t deny her attraction to the arrogant federal agent, and when odd things start happening around River Bend and danger surrounds her, she realizes she’ll need his help to discover who’s out to remove her from River Bend…permanently.
As Jo and Gill work together, it’s clear they make a great team. But can Jo loosen her grip on the past enough to let love in and reach for the future?

My Review:

Ten years before the beginning of Doing it Over, the first book in this absolutely marvelous series, Mel, Zoe and Jo, who truly are BFFs forever, vow that no matter where life takes them, they will meet up in River Bend for their tenth high school reunion. The ten-year reunion is a very big deal, not just for River Bend High School but also for the entire small town. And so are those cheesy predictions that end up in every senior’s yearbook.

Mel was voted “Most Likely to Succeed”, but in Doing it Over we discover that she did anything but. She returns to River Bend to pick up her pieces. Zoe, in her turn, was voted “Most Likely to Stay in River Bend”, so she, too, did anything but. In Staying for Good Zoe returns to River Bend on what she believes will be a temporary hiatus from her career as a jet-setting celebrity chef.

Now it’s Jo’s turn. Jo was voted “Most Likely to End up in Jail”, and she actually fulfilled that prophecy. Well sort of. Jo is on the opposite side of the bars than her high school classmates predicted. Jo is the Sheriff of River Bend, following in her father’s unexpectedly echoing footsteps.

And after nearly ten years as Sheriff, the job has turned into a straitjacket.

Jo pursued the job because she always believed that her dad’s supposedly accidental death was really homicide. And she thought that the best place to discover his killer was from inside his life.

But she didn’t think she’d still be there ten years later, with all her questions still unanswered. In the intervening years, she’s discovered a knack for law enforcement, but she’s less and less willing to live every minute of her life at the town’s beck and call and under the heavy thumb of its expectations.

She’d like some off-time, dammit. She’d like a life. And she’d really, really like to get laid.

Jo would also like to get further than she has so far with her off-the-books investigation into her father’s death. And for that she needs more skills and more contacts. Her quest takes her to the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, not to become an FBI agent herself, but to attend a week-long special training session that the FBI regularly holds for local law enforcement officers from all over the country.

She expects to learn a lot. She doesn’t expect to feel small and embarrassed every minute, because River Bend is a tiny town, she only has one full-time deputy, and certain kinds of crime are still blissfully absent.

She doesn’t expect that her pre-training one-night stand with a hot badass will turn into anything more. At least not until the same guy shows up at her training class as one of the FBI instructors. She’s both embarrassed and turned on, and just a bit sorry that Agent McHottie lives in DC while she’s in Oregon.

Until she finally remembers that he’s stationed not at Quantico, but at the field office in Eugene Oregon, only two hours from River Bend.

Jo and Gill (that’s Agent McHottie’s real name) actually do have a chance to make something of their almost-relationship. But there’s someone in River Bend out to get Jo. Or just the sheriff. Or perhaps there was a lot more going on with Jo’s dad’s murder than anyone counted on.

Or all of the above.

Escape Rating A: I’ve really enjoyed this series (a LOT) but I think that Making it Right is my favorite. And while you don’t have to read the first two books to get what is happening in this one, the whole series really is a lot of fun. If you enjoy small-town romances, and if you like stories about women’s long-lasting friendships, the entire series is a winner.

As much as I liked both Mel and Zoe, I think that part of the reason that I liked this one the best is that Jo felt like the easiest one for me to identify with. I fell into her thoughts and feelings about being a woman in a man’s job, needing to be taken seriously, always knowing that one misstep was all it would take to knock her off the pedestal, and feeling strangled by everyone else’s expectations.

Along with that big slice of regret she can’t manage to swallow, that her dad would have loved to have seen her turn her life around, but that it came too late for them to reconcile.

There are, as there often are in this series, three threads to this story. One is that Jo needs to find some of that elusive work-life balance. The town is eating her alive – not by doing anything wrong, but by dumping everything on Jo’s shoulders. She’s near a breaking point, and something is going to have to give, because Jo just can’t keep giving.

Jo is also stuck, or in a stuck-place, investigating her dad’s murder. She’s right that the whole thing is too pat, something stinks. She’s also equally right that someone doesn’t want her poking into that ten-year-old incident, because that sixth sense we all have that says someone in watching her is on overdrive. She just doesn’t know exactly who or exactly why, and neither do we.

The solution to this particular thread isn’t anything that the reader or Jo expects, which is awesome. Once everything is all laid out, it is obvious where the clues were, but we all miss them as they happen, and that makes the suspense part of this story even more suspenseful.

And of course there’s the romance. Which is perfect. Read Making it Right for yourself and you’ll see just how right Gill and Jo are for each other. Because they definitely are.

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

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