Review: Kilts & Kraken by Cindy Spencer Pape

Format read:  ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: steampunk romance
Series: Gaslight Chronicles #3
Length: 89 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: June 4, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance

Magnus, Baron Findlay, longs to bring the wonders of the steam age to his remote island home, but his hands are full fighting the vicious kraken ravaging the coast. When he’s swept to sea during battle and washes up on the shore of an isle in the Hebrides, he is near death.
Struggling to establish herself as one of the first female physicians in Edinburgh, Dr. Geneva MacKay is annoyed when The Order of the Round Table sends her north to care for an injured highlander. To heal him, Geneva escorts the handsome warrior home, just in time to defend the villagers from another onslaught.
As the attacks escalate and they work together to fight off the threat, neither Geneva nor Magnus can resist the overwhelming attraction between them. But as their relationship deepens, a new threat arises-from within the village itself…

Steampunk has two sides to its equation. On one side of the scales, technology went a different path from our history, and parts of it developed sooner than in the world we know. The obvious sign of the change is the prevalence of airships in Victorian England. But there are other technologies that work as well, often teletext or some other fast communication.

What balances those scales? Usually a form of magic. In Spencer Pape’s world, some people have arcane powers. And the things that go bump in the night are real. Vampyres are just hungry undead. And they stink. Werewolves are people who get furry every once in a while.

But what about the rest of the uncanny beasties? Them too. In our history, kraken are the stuff of legend. But so are the Knights of the Round Table.

In Spencer Pape’s Gaslight Chronicles, the descendants of the Knights of the Round Table are still protecting Great Britain. And in the north of Scotland, there’s an island that is getting attacked by kraken, one right after another. Even it’s hereditary laird, Magnus Findlay, who may wear a kilt but looks (and fights) just like a Viking berserker, can’t seem to stop them.

If you’ve got good magic, you’ve got bad magic. Like witches. The laird is tied to the island. It’s part of his power. But if he can’t leave, he can bring modern technology to Torkholm. Until a kraken attack sweeps him far away, all the way to the mainland, where the healing power of his homeland can’t save him.

But the healing power of Dr. Geneva McKay, daughter of the Knights, can keep him alive until his men get him home. And once there, her medical knowledge and her ability to see things as they are, upsets the local herb-women who don’t want anything to change. Ever.

She might even change the heart of a man who has sworn that he’ll never try to marry a woman from the mainland again. Not after his first wife threw herself off out a window rather than stay isolated on Torkholm another minute.

And why would bringing roads to this tiny island cause the kraken to start attacking, after 100 years of quiet seas?

Escape Rating A-: I can’t say that I didn’t know exactly who was bringing the kraken, even the first time I read the story. It’s pretty obvious. It doesn’t matter. The important part of this story is the love between Magnus and Geneva, and the conflict they face about what to do about it. Magnus absolutely must stay on Torkholm, and Geneva won’t stay for anything less than love. But she has a medical practice in Edinburgh, and a life there. Magnus is rightfully afraid to bring another mainland woman to his remote island, after his disastrous first marriage.

The opposition forces were, well a bit obviously witchy. And bitchy. They liked being the most important females because they had healing skills, and wouldn’t have wanted a real doctor on the island, but the attacks started long before that. Some people really, really hate change. Something that is still true.

At least, no one can call up sea monsters. About that recent hurricane…


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Moonstone and Miss Jones by Jillian Stone + Giveaway!

Format read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: Mass Market Paperback, ebook
Genre: steampunk, paranormal romance
Series: Phaeton Black, Paranormal Investigator #2
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Kensington Brava
Date Released: September 25, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

A master of paranormal deduction—and paramour seduction—Phaeton Black has a knack for bumping into things that go bump in the night, from ghoulies and ghosties to long-leggedy beauties…

Mooning For The Moonstone

Barely escaping the clutches of a succulent succubus, Phaeton Black returns to London only to get sucked into another unearthly scheme. Professor Lovecraft has been tinkering with the secrets of life and death, replacing body parts with the latest mechanical marvels. To succeed, he needs to tap the power of the fabled Moonstone—and he needs Phaeton’s help. Of course, Phaeton would prefer to investigate the more interesting body parts of Miss America Jones. Perhaps, bringing his lady friend along for the ride won’t be to too much trouble…

Shanghaied In Shanghai

The bewilderingly beautiful and bountifully gifted daughter of a Cajun witch, Miss Jones is always up for an adventure, especially with Mr. Black as her traveling companion. But when Phaeton is mysteriously shanghaied in Shanghai, America thinks he’s run out on her. Stranded in the Orient—and steaming mad—she’s prepared to look under every stone for the missing detective. The case has put them both in the most compromising positions, but this time, Miss Jones is on top and Mr. Black is at the bottom…of a truly infernal plot.

Pardon me while I have a screaming case of “middle book syndrome”. ARRGGHHH!

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s talk about the book. The Moonstone and Miss Jones is another darkly seductive delight in the adventures of Phaeton Black and American Jones. The difference between this story and their first adventure, The Seduction of Phaeton Black (see review here) is that in this second story the emphasis is more on the steampunk, the darkness and the mystery.

Don’t get me wrong, Phaeton and America are still very much taken with each other, but in this story they finally figure out that they are actually in this thing together, and are not mere ships passing in the night. The story is still steamy, but Phaeton’s finally figured out where to moor his boat. So to speak. His problem is going to be keeping things anchored. Literally.

Those visions of strange beings and and dangerous fantasms that Phaeton has had all his life? They are sendings from a parallel reality, and that reality is starting to come unraveled. Along with our own. Of course, Phaeton is the key. Along with a little present that the Egyptian goddess Qadesh gave him at the end of his previous adventure. Everyone thinks this “Moonstone” will solve all their problems.

Too bad for Phaeton that he’s the only one who can use it. Precisely because he doesn’t want a damn thing from it except to be left alone with America and their ‘pea in the pod’. There is much too much power at stake for that to happen.

But in the process of chasing after the evil-doers, keeping the world from unraveling, and guarding America, Phaeton discovers something that he never expected. He has friends. Real, honest to goodness friends. And a life worth fighting back from hell for.

Escape Rating B+: The Moonstone and Miss Jones is a completely wild ride into not just steampunk, but also parallel universes, the potentials of H.G. Wells time-machine, a little homage to H.P. Lovecraft, and the value of friendship, all wrapped into one. And it’s a cracking good adventure.

Read The Seduction of Phaeton Black first. This story starts pretty hard on the heels on that one, at least as far as continuity is concerned. Phaeton and America had a romantic idyll in between, one that’s interrupted by Phaeton being shanghaied in Shanghai, but the stories crack straight on from one to the other.

There are several interesting side-stories that I would love to see developed revolving around some of the Nightshades guarding America. The smoldering romances there have tons of potential.

I can’t believe I’m going to have to wait until next summer for book 3, The Miss Education of Dr. Exeter. I want to magic it up from the future and read it now, dammit!


Win Phaeton’s most charming charm bracelet. And find clues to the Moonstone’s hiding place in this modern, edgy take on the traditional charm bracelet created by Ana Karolina, a 19-year-old Mexican born designer who made her debut at Nordstrom at the ripe old age of 17. This silver-plated chain bracelet makes skulls and bugs look oh-so cool!

Win one of five copies of The Moonstone and Miss Jones (ebook or print-winners choice)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Run the Risk by Lori Foster

Format read: print ARC received from the tour company and an ebook from NetGalley
Formats available: Mass Market paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Romantic suspense
Series: Love Undercover #1
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Date Released: September 25, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

When Detective Logan Riske goes undercover to find Pepper Yates, a potential link to his best friend’s unsolved murder, he vows to gain her cooperation by any means necessary. But the elusive beauty is more suspicious—and in far more danger—than he expected. And the last thing Logan needs is to start caring for her…. Pepper has spent years dodging the corrupt club owner who will stop at nothing to keep her silenced. She can trust no one, not even the handsome new “construction worker” who’s moved in next door. The heat between them is undeniable. But will surrendering to passion bring her the safety she so desires—or will her feelings for Logan draw them both into a killer’s crosshairs?

Everyone in this story is hiding something. Or someone. Or themselves. Make that all of the above.

But it’s the assumptions that surround the case that trip everyone, including Detective Logan Riske, up, over and over again. Especially his initial assumption that he can sweet-talk the elusive sister of his material witness without getting involved himself.

Everyone assumes that Pepper’s brother, Rowdy Yates, was the witness to a murder committed by corrupt night club owner Morton Andrews. But brother Rowdy went underground and stayed underground for two long years.

The murder victim had been Riske’s best friend. He wanted payback. He wanted Andrews convicted. Except that Andrews had bought, and paid for, too many cops, too many judges, too many politicians, to make it easy, or safe, to get him the usual way.

Instead, Riske went undercover, moving in next door to Pepper Yates, trying to get close to her, never letting “Sue Meeks” know that her construction worker neighbor was really a cop.

But Pepper had been hiding her real self under “Sue’s” incredibly meek and extremely drab exterior for much too long. Logan was a temptation she just couldn’t ignore. Especially when he pursued so intently.

As Logan expected, getting close to Pepper brought her protective brother Rowdy out of the woodwork. What Logan didn’t expect, was that Rowdy was being protective for a very damn good reason, and that Logan had just blown everything to hell.

Even worse, now that Logan knew why Pepper needed protection, he wasn’t sure exactly who he should be protecting her from. Just which cops are corrupt? His partner is hiding something. So is his Lieutenant.

But the person he really needs to protect Pepper Yates from is himself.

Escape Rating B+: Lori Foster always does a fantastic job of drawing out the romantic and sexual tension between her main leads, and Run the Risk absolutely continues the trend. The attraction between Logan and Pepper steams off the page, and the emotional conflict that makes them hesitant to get involved is gripping. Their relationship starts out with lies. It’s not a good foundation for anything lasting.

Pepper’s relationship with her very protective brother Rowdy was also a highlight. He definitely skates the edge of the law, but at the same time tries to protect her from the worst part of what he does, and from the bad parts of life in general. Possibly unreasonably so, but it’s who he is, and Pepper understands that even when it drives her crazy.

Part of the suspense angle–the part with Logan’s partner Reese and his Lieutenant–wraps up just a little too conveniently, or too simply, at the end. There was a lot of build-up during the story, and then the ending of that sub-plot felt a bit “flat” to this reader.

However, I still stayed up until 2 am to finish Run the Risk, and I’m absolutely looking forward to the next story of Love Undercover. I wonder if it’s either Reese or Rowdy? Both could sure use an HEA of their very own…

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Last Victim by Karen Robards

Format read: ebook from NetGalley
Formats available: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: romantic suspense, paranormal
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Date Released: August 7, 2012
Purchasing Info:Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Dr. Charlotte Stone sees what others do not.

A sought-after expert in criminal pathology, Charlie regularly sits face-to-face with madmen. Obsessed with learning what makes human monsters commit terrible crimes, Charlie desires little else from life—no doubt because when she was sixteen, she herself survived a serial killer’s bloodbath: A man butchered the family of Charlie’s best friend, Holly, then left the girl’s body on a seaside boardwalk one week later.

Because of the information Charlie gave police, the Boardwalk Killer went underground. She kept to herself her eerie postmortem visions of Holly and her mother. And even years later, knowing her contact with ghosts might undermine her credibility as a psychological expert, Charlie tells no one about the visits she gets from the spirit world.

Now all-too-handsome FBI agent Tony Bartoli is telling Charlie that a teenage girl is missing, her family slaughtered. Bartoli suspects that after fifteen years, the Boardwalk Killer—or a sick copycat with his M.O.—is back. Time is running short for an innocent, kidnapped girl, and Bartoli pleads for Charlie’s help.

This is the one case Charlie shouldn’t go near. But she also knows that she may be the one person in the world who can stop this vicious killer. For Charlie—whose good looks disguise a world of hurt, vulnerability, and potent psychic gifts—a frantic hunt for a madman soon becomes a complex test of cunning, passions, and secrets. Aiding Dr. Stone on her quest to catch a madman is a ghostly presence with bad intentions: the fiery spirit of seductive bad boy Michael Garland who refuses to be ignored, though in his cat and mouse game they may both lose their hearts.

Dr. Charlotte Stone sees what others do not. And she sees the Boardwalk Killer coming for her.

The Last Victim is one of those books that didn’t know what it wanted to be when it grew up. Maybe got finished would be the better way of putting that. Even after writing a dual review with Lea over at Book Lovers Inc. I still can’t get this one out of my head (not in a good way) so I’m taking another stab at it. Or stabbing it again.

It starts out as a mystery/suspense/thriller with a paranormal twist. Charlie Stone is the only survivor of a brutal serial killer’s rampage, and grows up to become a criminal psychiatrist who specializes in, you guessed it, serial killers. But to make the story different, or to make Charlie different, the author mixed in a dose of the old “I see dead people.” Charlie’s psychic.

So when the serial killer she’s just finished interviewing gets shanked in the prison hallway, she sees his ghost leave his body, looking and sounding mighty confused.  Charlie tried to save Michael Garland, convicted serial killer of seven women, but he bled out under her hands. His enemy knew just where to stick that shiv.

The big problem is the Michael Garland is sex on a stick, undoubtedly part of how he lured in his victims. Charlie was fascinating to him while he was alive, probably not in a good way.   Now that he’s dead, his ghost is “attached” to her. That’s a problem.

The serial killer that Charlie escaped, back when she was a teenager, seems to be back. Either him or a copycat. This doesn’t fit the general serial killer profile, but someone using the exact same M.O. is at work, and the FBI wants Charlie’s assistance. She’s an expert on the man they dubbed “The Boardwalk Killer” from 15 years ago, and she’s a professional expert in this field.

While the FBI doesn’t care, nor should they, about how many personal nightmares this case awakens for Charlie, they make an absolute metric buttload of mistakes about her safety. They put her directly in the crosshairs of the serial killer she escaped. This seemed insane.

One member of the FBI team hated/resented/snarked out at Charlie just for being a psychiatrist, having zero idea about Charlie’s psychic ability. Skepticism about the woo-woo stuff would be understandable, but police agencies of all types and stripes routinely use psychiatrists and psychologists to profile serial killers. Any agent who acted out in that fashion with professionals that the Bureau needed wouldn’t BE an agent very long.

But still, the suspense/thriller thing, while it’s been done before, wasn’t bad. This whole getting the team together thing kind of worked. What derailed the train for me was Charlie’s relationship with Garland. And yes, I said relationship. What you have here is a criminal psychiatrist falling in love with the ghost of known serial killer. When they got to the point of having sex by astral projection, my eyes started rolling and wouldn’t stop. The number of ways in which Charlie should have known better stagger the imagination, and I have a pretty good imagination.

There is groundwork being laid that Garland is not as bad as his prison record makes him out to be. But until that’s proven, he’s still a convicted serial killer. And he’s dead! Either one of those factors should label him as “Danger, keep away!” in big red letters to any sane woman. Which may mean Charlie is more than a little nuts. Your mileage may vary.

Escape Rating C-: Okay, the train may have derailed, but I couldn’t stop myself from watching the wreck. You know how it is. I had to keep reading, to see what happened next. It’s over-the-top, but it’s over the top in a way that pulls you along for the ride. I did not figure out who the serial killer was. My eyes may have been rolling too hard at the ghost-sex thing.

I think The Last Victim would have been better if the author had resisted the impulse to grab quite so many packages from the troperville trolley. I counted at least five; ghost-romance, “I see dead people”, serial killer stalks his last victim, new FBI team hunts high-profile serial killers, trauma victim uses angst to forge career.  The writing was compelling, but a shorter menu might have meant for less eye-rolling disbelief on the part of many readers.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: All He Ever Needed by Shannon Stacey

Format read: eARC from NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, Mass Market Paperback
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Kowalski Family #4
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Purchasing Info:Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Born to Roam

Mitch Kowalski lives out of a suitcase—and he likes it that way. Traveling for work has the added bonus of scaring off women who would otherwise try to tie him down. But when he’s called home to help with running the family lodge, he’s intrigued by the new girl in town and her insistence that she doesn’t need a man—for anything. If there’s one thing Mitch can’t resist, it’s a challenge, especially a beautiful one.

Looking for Home

After a nomadic childhood, Paige Sullivan is finally putting down roots. Determined to stand on her own two feet, she lives by the motto men are a luxury, not a necessity. But when Mr. Tall, Dark and Hot pulls up a stool in her diner and offers her six weeks of naughty fun with a built-in expiration date, she’s tempted to indulge.

Mitch won’t stay put for a woman, and Paige won’t chase after a man—they’re the perfect match for a no-strings fling. Until they realize the amazing sex has become anything but casual…

If you like contemporary romance and you haven’t met Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski Family series, what are you waiting for? The Kowalski family are just plain fun. You’ll either want to be adopted by them, or marry one of them, after reading Exclusively Yours, the first book in the series.  (I wasn’t all that fond of book number two, Undeniably Yours, but I loved Yours to Keep, book three)

Ms. Stacey really needs to do a family tree of the Kowalskis, just so we can keep everyone straight. Sean, the hero of Yours to Keep, is the brother of Mitch, the “He” in the title of All He Ever Needed. Joe and Kevin, the heroes of the first two books, are their cousins. It’s all one big mostly happy family.

In All He Ever Needed, Ms. Stacey tells the kind of story she does best, a contemporary romance about two adults who have loved and lost and need to find their way through a little bit of pain to a place where they can find their happily ever after in a small town that’s willing to become their home.

In this case, it’s Mitch Kowalski, home to take care of his brother Josh and help fix up the family B&B in Whitford, Maine. A town where everyone remembers every girl Mitch ever kissed (or more) and every prank he ever pulled. Mitch owns his own company now but no one in Whitford ever seems to remember that. He’s back until they get the family’s Northern Star Lodge and Josh back on their respective feet.

Paige Sullivan owns the Trailside Diner. Her car broke down in Whitford, and she just stayed. She’s finally found a place where she belongs, just for herself. Owning the diner has made her put down roots, and she believes it’s kept her from becoming the kind of woman her mother is, chasing one man after another, suppressing her own personality to fit whoever she thinks she loves.

Mitch figures that while he’s in town he’ll have a fling with someone, on his usual terms, no strings, no ties, no tears when he leaves.

Paige doesn’t date. Not anyone. Not in the entire two years she’s been in Whitford.

Mitch tempts her off the wagon. After all, they both know the rules. Until they both break them.

Escape Rating A:  If you love small-town romances, or even think you might, get Shannon Stacey. If you liked any of the first series, you’ll love this one. Whitford is a terrific place, and she’s started a whole bunch of interesting stories that I can’t wait to find out how they resolve. But this one, this one was just so good. Paige has made a good life for herself, and you can see how she wants to make it work. Mitch has been running so fast, he doesn’t know what he really wants. Their chemistry absolutely sizzles and steams, but they take it slow, and for good reasons. Everyone knows the name of every girl Mitch ever slept with in town, and they’re all still smiling. Readers will be smiling at the end of the book, too.

I want to find out how the other stories in town turn out. All He Ever Desired and All He Ever Dreamed are coming out in October and November so I thankfully won’t have long to wait.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King

Formats available: Hardcover, ebook
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #12
Length: 288 Pages
Publisher: Bantam
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher, Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, Book Depository

Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling novels of suspense featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, comprise one of today’s most acclaimed mystery series. Now, in their newest and most thrilling adventure, the couple is separated by a shocking circumstance in a perilous part of the world, each racing against time to prevent an explosive catastrophe that could clothe them both in shrouds.

In a strange room in Morocco, Mary Russell is trying to solve a pressing mystery: Who am I? She has awakened with shadows in her mind, blood on her hands, and soldiers pounding on the door. Out in the hivelike streets, she discovers herself strangely adept in the skills of the underworld, escaping through alleys and rooftops, picking pockets and locks. She is clothed like a man, and armed only with her wits and a scrap of paper containing a mysterious Arabic phrase. Overhead, warplanes pass ominously north.

Meanwhile, Holmes is pulled by two old friends and a distant relation into the growing war between France, Spain, and the Rif Revolt led by Emir Abd el-Krim—who may be a Robin Hood or a power mad tribesman. The shadows of war are drawing over the ancient city of Fez, and Holmes badly wants the wisdom and courage of his wife, whom he’s learned, to his horror, has gone missing. As Holmes searches for her, and Russell searches for herself, each tries to crack deadly parallel puzzles before it’s too late for them, for Africa, and for the peace of Europe.

With the dazzling mix of period detail and contemporary pace that is her hallmark, Laurie R. King continues the stunningly suspenseful series that Lee Child called “the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today.”

So many shadows. The story begins in the shadows of Russell’s memory…she has been struck on the head and has forgotten who she is. All she knows is that she has enemies after her. If only her life were that simple. But it never is.

If it were, she would not be Mary Russell, and she would not be the partner and wife of the world’s first consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. And, most importantly, her life would not interest us.

The shadows of the title are in this case a metaphor. There are many shadows. Russell’s memory clears up. Eventually.

But the year is 1925, and the place is Morocco. North Africa during the shadow war between the great powers, in that uneasy temporary cessation of hostilities between World Wars One and Two.

Russell came to Morocco at the behest of Inspector Lestrade to investigate a film company, but mostly because she is waging her own private little war with Brother Mycroft. This would not be conducive to good family relations under normal circumstances, but Mycroft Holmes has occasionally been, at times, the British government. At least the secret parts of it.

In Morocco, Russell and Holmes meet old friends from their travels in Palestine. The only problem is that they are not sure whether Ali and Mahmoud Hazr are there to plan an assassination, or to stop one.

And which would best serve the interests of the people of Morocco, the people of England, and the interest of Mycroft Holmes?

Russell, for one, is very, very tired of worrying about the puppet-master in the shadows, manipulating her life, and the lives of those around her, thinking he knows what’s best for everyone. What if he’s wrong?

Escape Rating A-: What sticks in the mind at the end of this tale are two facets. One was the way that the story slid into historical events. This could have happened and would have left this little trace in history. This is just cool.

Then there’s the question that comes up so often, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”  But when the decision is between this many over here and that many over there, the side with the bigger and better guns generally wins. “Might makes right” in other words.

But might isn’t always right. The way that the Hazr brothers questioned the British treatment of the Moroccan people is intended as reminiscent of T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) with good reason. What may have looked reasonable from London was undoubtedly balderdash from a closer perspective. Think of the U.S. Revolution for an example that may be more familiar.

Starting the story with Russell in a mental fog made for somewhat of a slow start. She normally has a very clear and direct narrative voice; even when she doesn’t know where she’s going, she knows what she’s doing while she’s getting there. The story took a while to gather itself together as Russell reassembled herself. Once she remembered who and what she was, and the plan pulled together, the story took off!

Review: The Guardian of Bastet by Jacqueline M. Battisti

Jacqueline M. Battisti’s new urban fantasy/paranormal debut, The Guardian of Bastet, had me from the very first word in the blurb. Her main character is a cat-shifter. Not a jaguar or a puma, oh no. At the full-moon, Trinity Morrigan-Caine shifts into a house-cat. The book might as well have jumped up and said “Here reader, reader, reader…”

The story made me purr with delight.

Trinity Morrigan-Caine is a half-breed. Her mother is a powerful witch of the Morrigan line. (Yes, that Morrigan. Morgaine. You know the one. She had a little something to do with a fellow named Arthur. Way, way back.) But Trinity isn’t a powerful witch like her mom. Because Olivia Morrigan went and fell in love with a werepuma, and that just isn’t done. So Olivia Morrigan got disowned and disavowed, and went to live with her husband, Ben Caine, in the Genesee Valley of upstate New York.

Which turned out to be kind of like Sunnydale in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Complete with demons and Hellmouth. Olivia Morrigan found herself the head witch of the Genesee Valley Society of Others (GVSO) because witches are just so much better than everyone else.

The only problem is that Olivia and Ben’s daughter, Trinity, isn’t quite what Olivia had in mind. Trinity isn’t much of a witch, and she doesn’t shift into anything fierce. Dad’s an alpha werepuma. When it’s Trinity’s time of the month, Trinity turns into good old Felis catus, otherwise known as an ordinary house cat. She even (ugh!) hunts mice. Very well according to her cousin and housemate.

Tracy’s other power? Well, since she turns into an animal, she can also understand them. Which makes her a fantastic vet. Her patients just adore her. And she does work miracles with the animals.

The other problem with being a were-kitty is that Trinity has all the morals of, well, a cat. She likes men. Frequently and often. And isn’t horribly particular. Which comes to bite her, and pretty much everyone around her, in the butt when Trinity brings a demon home on the worst booty call ever.

But at least Trinity didn’t summon the demon. She just didn’t pay attention when he started mesmerizing her. There’s a hotter place in hell for the ones who summoned him. Figuring that out and growing up and into her powers enough to take that bad boy out, is what makes this story sing.

This is Trinity’s story. She starts out as a damn good veterinarian, but a dud in everything else. Only one person believes in her, and unfortunately for Trinity, it isn’t one or both of her parents. (Dad did better than mom, but still…) The only one to believe in Trinity was the GVSO’s one and only resident vampire, Vincent. His last act is to gift Trinity with an ancient amulet, a powerful talisman that he has been keeping for centuries, waiting for the one person capable of meeting its potential.

That person is Trinity, the forbidden child of a witch and a shifter. Only she can be the true Guardian of Bastet. But only if she can accept herself and her own powers, powers that everyone has told her she does not have. She’s always believed she’s just a dud.

But only a true Guardian can send the demon back to the nether-realm he came from. And to do that, Trinity will have to accept that she is powerful and capable, and worthy of being the true avatar of Bastet.

Bastet was a warrior-goddess, the woman with the head of a lion. Her Guardian must also embrace the warrior within.

Trinity will need to be a warrior, and a shifter, and a witch. And powerful in all ways. Because that warrior within her will need to fight against a traitor who is way too close.

Escape Rating A-: The mother/daughter dynamics (and grandmother/mother/daughter dynamics) remind me a bit of Brave, and that’s a good reminder. A lot of what drives this story is the mother/daughter issue. Not just that Olivia makes no secret of her disappointment in Trinity, but also Gwendolyn Morrigan’s rejection of her daughter Olivia for marrying a shifter. And most of all, Trinity’s cousin Lily, and her feelings of rejection by her witch mother for also being an under-powered half-breed.

Trinity comes off as a bit self-absorbed at the beginning of the story (her mental dialog about turning into a cat once a month and playing with her cat-familiar as a cat is hilarious), but she definitely has reasons for where she starts out. And she certainly redeems herself.

Review: Dragon Justice by Laura Anne Gilman

Dragon Justice is the fourth book in Laura Anne Gilman’s Paranormal Scene Investigations Series, after Hard Magic, Pack of Lies, and Tricks of the Trade. She’s been building this urban fantasy version of New York City and its world for quite a while, ever since the first book in her Retrievers series, Staying Dead. And what a world it is! If you love urban fantasy I dare to to read the words “Cosa Nostradamus” without your imagination opening up into a smile of wonder. Concept and pun in one single phrase.

Dragon Justice, being the fourth book in the PSI series, builds on everything that came before. (See my review of Tricks of the Trade for details about prior events in the series)

It helps a LOT to have read the other books in the series. That’s no hardship. This series, both these series, are awesome. But it makes it damn difficult to write a review as though this book stands alone.

Dragon Justice has the feeling of a middle book in the story arc. Each individual book in the Paranormal Scene Investigations Series uses a police-procedural-type framework — the PUPIs are investigators, after all. So there is a crime that needs to be investigated. But that’s not the biggest part of this particular story.

The big things are the forces moving in the background. Ian Stosser and Ben Venec are the two “Big Dogs” at PUPI, and they go off in different directions. Ian gives everyone a vacation so he can take care of some family business. Alone.

Ben goes to Philadelphia to work on a private security contract at a small museum. Ben turns out to be much smarter than Ian. He invites Bonnie Torres, one of the PUPs, to come to Philly. Whatever Ben’s original motives might have been (and yes, they were exactly what Bonnie is hoping they were) when a dead body turns up, the PUPIs start an investigation. The victim wasn’t Talented, but Talent seems to have been used to kill him.

While Ben and the team are working in Philly, Ian is in New York City dealing with problems of his own, and they are big ones. Two of the biggest; money and family. It takes a lot of capital to start up and investigative service like the PUPIs, and it requires a lot of specialized equipment. Expensive. The Cosa has some very unsavory characters in it, including loan sharks. Bloodthirsty ones who demand actual blood.

And then there are the long-standing problems that Ian has had with his sister Aden, problems that go way beyond sibling rivalry. Aden believes that only the Cosa Council should have the power to police and punish Council members who commit crimes. Ian knows the system is broken, that’s why he started the PUPIs in the first place. Ian believes in that old principle from Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Aden thinks the Council is capable is watching over its members, and that no one else is fit to judge them, because the Council members are the most powerful Talent-users. Aden has forgotten the principle that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” She’s tried blackmail, she’s tried boycott, she’s tried a smear campaign. Nothing has stopped her brother. She resorts to finding people with even greater power than the Council, not thinking that anyone with that much power won’t stop Ian with just a warning.

If someone wants PUPI stopped so badly that they will kill for it, then something truly evil must be coming. Bonnie and Ben need even greater help to save themselves and their friends from what Bonnie’s sense of kenning sees in the future. But the price of enlisting the aid of Bonnie’s friend Madame, the dragon who watches over New York, is very, very high.

Sometimes the myths are true.

Escape Rating A: There is a LOT going on in this story, and it all matters. It also ties into the original Retrievers series, with cameos from not just Wren Valere, but also her partner Sergei Didier and the demon P.B. (Someone really needs to make a P.B. plushie!)

The depth of the world having already been built really tells. Things feel solid. The reader knows who Founder Ben is, what Bonnie means about needing to top up her current, or why all the PUPs need to restock on food as much as they do. Current uses real energy. The interactions between Council and Lonejack and Fatae are already well-established.

And Ian Stosser is an idiot. He built up this entire organization, and then he continues to handle too many things as if he has no backup, and no responsibilities to anyone other than himself. I know the character is that way for a reason, and I still want to reach in and shake some sense into him. Idiot.

There’s also some foreshadowing that old enemies from the earlier series are building for a comeback. This is not a good thing for Bonnie or her world, however excellent for the story. But I bet things are going to get darker before they get lighter again. I can’t wait for the next book.

Soon, please?


Review: The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway

The “rose” who requires rather careful care and handling in this women’s fiction novel by Margaret Dilloway is Gal Garner, and she very definitely has thorns. But just like the flowers that she nurtures so carefully, there are definitely rewards for navigating your way through Gal’s prickly, thorny life.

You can learn a lot about actual rose gardening while reading The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, or at least, rose breeding and rose gardening in Southern California. Because that’s where this book takes place. There are snippets (how appropriate) from rose care books at the head of each chapter, and they seem totally real.

Gal Garner certainly needs care, and lots of it. Perhaps even more care than the roses she breeds so painstakingly.

Gal is 36. She has been a kidney dialysis patient for ten very long years. She’s had two transplants and both have failed. Her life has been defined by a childhood illness that was not caught in time, one that destroyed both her kidneys. Her world has been defined by the limitations of her disease.

And not just her world, but also her parents, and her older sister Becky. The family drama will play out again, one more summer, against a real rose, not rose-colored, backdrop.

Ten years is a long time for a dialysis patient. Gal is on borrowed time. She needs a kidney. Her mother has already given one. The rest of her family are not an option.

Gal is a biology teacher at a private high school. She is painstaking, smart, witty, acerbic. She suffers no fools because she has no patience and no time. She most explicitly does not grade on the curve. Her students learn or they fail. Their parents want her gone. Her life is closing in.

All she has are the roses she breeds. Her goal is one rose, a rare Hulthemia, that she can get voted into the All-America Rose Selections. A successful test rose would be worth a fortune. She could stop teaching.

But instead of a successful test rose, in the spring she gets her teenage niece as a house guest. Her sister Becky has become irresponsible. Again. Becky has left for Hong Kong. Supposedly for work. And sent Riley to her Aunt Gal for months, with no warning. And with no thought as to whether Gal can handle a 15-year-old girl.

Gal can’t turn her away. Riley is her family, even if she hasn’t seen her since she was three.

And even if she looks just like her mother. Gal’s sister Becky, whom Gal is still angry with. Angry for her irresponsibility. Angry with for just being healthy. Angry with for just being able to have a child, and then for throwing her away.

Riley has raised herself. Becky has never been responsible. Gal feels guilty that she didn’t do more, all those years ago. So she tries now. But they are both set in their ways.

Riley isn’t a child any more. She’s almost a woman. And Gal spends every other night in the hospital having dialysis. But needing each other is more than either of them has ever had.

Roses grow towards the sun.

Escape Rating B+: The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns was a little slow to get started. At first, Gal is not a likable character. On the one hand, the reader sympathizes with her because of her illness, but on the other hand, she makes herself as unpleasant as possible to everyone around her. She’s so busy making sure that no one feels sorry for her she acts like a jerk, knowing they can’t retaliate because of her illness.

The women’s intergenerational drama is one that’s been done before. Gal’s illness dominated the family dynamic, so Becky felt left out and acted out. What was interesting, and what makes the story work, was the way that things played out in the next generation. Even though Riley looks like Becky, Gal doesn’t visit her mother’s sins on her. Nor does she treat her like a child after a few false starts. Gal needs her too much.

Their need for each other makes them forge a totally different dynamic, a better one than the sisters had. It works.  There is a happy ending of sorts, but not a huge one. And that’s the way it should be.

***Disclaimer: I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.

If you want to join this month’s discussion of  The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns on the BlogHer Book Club, you can join the discussion by following this link to the Book Club.

Review: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

The Chaperone is not quite a story about Louise Brooks, although she’s the device that makes the whole thing possible. So what is it?

It’s a fictionalized account of something that might have been, a journey that the now-legendary 1920s film actress might have taken to New York to audition for the famous Denishawn modern dance company in 1922. Brooks did join Denishawn that year. She was 15.

But young girls from Cherryvale, Kansas (transplanted to Wichita for the purpose of the story) did not spend summers in New York City on their own in 1922, no matter how mature and precocious they might be. And no matter how neglectful their fathers were and how determined their mothers might be to leave them to raise themselves. Sending Louise off alone just wouldn’t have been done.

Enter the fictional character of Cora Carlisle. A married woman willing to spend a summer in New York at the Brooks’ expense, chaperoning the Brooks’ incredibly willful daughter, all for the excuse to explore her own hidden past.

The title of the story is The Chaperone because it is Cora’s journey that we follow, not Louise’s. And what a journey it is.

When we first meet Cora, she seems like a staid, middle-class matron. A woman who has settled in to her boring and predictable little life, and who fears the modernity embodied by Louise (picture at right from Wikimedia Commons), who symbolized with her bobbed hair and very relaxed morals the flapper and the Jazz Age.

But Cora goes to New York to confront her past. She was one of the forced by lucky participants in a great social experiment of an earlier generation; Cora was one of the orphans who was sent West on the Orphan Trains. She intends to go to the orphanage that she came from, and search for her own records. She wants to know her roots. Her adoptive parents were good to her, but they are long dead. The past can’t touch them. But it might help her.

The future is what she finds. Louise may be taking dancing lessons, but it’s what she teaches Cora that matters. She opens up the world of the big city, and a window into the way that the world will be. As Louise’s chaperone, she goes to shows that she wouldn’t have seen, places she wouldn’t have visited. The world is bigger than Wichita. And what happens in New York, can stay in New York.

But Cora has a secret back home, too. Her marriage is not what it appears to be. Just as Louise’s privileged childhood is not what it appears to be. But living with Louise has taught Cora that if you maintain the appearance of things, what happens behind closed doors can be very different from the world sees.

Cora can have her private happiness if she is willing to reach outside of her moral corset and grab for it with both hands. Louise was never that lucky.

Escape Rating A-: Louise Brooks’ history is known, but Cora Carlisle’s fictional existence is woven so seamlessly into her biography that I had to check it again to make sure that she didn’t exist. The meld of fact and fiction was almost picture perfect.

At the beginning of the story, there’s a big dose of “why are we here?” going on in the reader’s head. Or at least this reader. Louise is not a sympathetic character. She is self-centered and self-absorbed to the point where it’s no wonder her mother wants to send her off with someone else for the summer. And Cora is, to use a word suited to the time, a prig. The hook was getting into Cora’s head about why she wants to go on this trip.

But there’s also a little mystery. Cora doesn’t ask her husband’s permission to go to New York; she tells him she’s going. That just wasn’t done in 1922. Either she’s very liberated, and her other interactions don’t bear that out, or there’s something unusual in her marriage, which turns out to be the case.

The 20s were a fascinating time, and Cora managed to be in the right place at the right time to see a lot of things that foreshadowed later historic events. She grows up a LOT during that summer, much more than Louise, which is what makes the story. Louise should be the one growing up, but Louise is already much older than she should be. Unfortunately so. Cora is the one who “gets a life” that summer.

Louise is the tragic figure. She’s already fallen, she just doesn’t know it yet. Cora, the older woman, is the larva who will break out of her cocoon and become a butterfly.

***Disclaimer: I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.

If you want to join this month’s discussion of  The Chaperone on the BlogHer Book Club, you can join the discussion by following this link to the Book Club.