Review: Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayChristmas at Thorncliff Manor (Secrets at Thorncliff Manor, #4) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, holiday romance
Pages: 244
Published by Sophie Barnes on December 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

More than love is in the air …Join the Heartly family as they return to Thorncliff Manor for the holiday season where four sisters and four very handsome, very eligible bachelors, are about to enjoy a lively Christmastime filled with laughter and love. But aside from the covert matchmaking undertaken by the eccentric hostess, Lady Duncaster, the thrill of adventure is sweeping through the estate. Soon, all the guests will be entangled in a treasure hunt for a lost heirloom and secrets hidden for decades will rise to the surface as matters of the heart are finally revealed.

Will Fiona ever see the Earl of Chadwick as more than a friend? Will Emily find an unlikely love in the Marquess of Montsmouth? Can Laura recognize the man of her dreams in the Duke of Lamont? And is Viscount Belgrave able to open Rachel’s eyes to romance? The magic of Thorncliff is about to offer the last unmarried Heartly sisters a chance at their own happily-ever-afters. So sit back with a warm mug of cocoa and lose yourself in a Regency Christmas Romance…

My Review:

Christmas at Thorncliff Manor is a delightful little sugarplum of a holiday romance.

It is also the final book in the Secrets at Thorncliff Manor series, and as such, it does its level best to both resolve the outstanding mysteries left from the first three books in the series and get the remaining Heartly daughters happily married before the final page.

I have not read the previous books in the series, and it looks like some absolutely fascinating things occurred during those books. Thorncliffe Manor is hiding a secret stash of valuables smuggled out of France during the Terror. And while those who betrayed the nobles who left that stash have been revealed and received their just desserts, the treasure trove itself has never discovered.

Not that several of the Heartly siblings, among others, have not spent a significant amount of time hunting for it.

Fiona is hoping to find her great-aunts jewel box. The Marquess of Montsmouth, an avid art collector, wants to find the paintings that are supposed to be included. They do not end up with each other.

But the remaining Heartly sisters, fun-loving Fiona, author Laura, artist Emily and scientist Rachel, do find their happily ever afters where they at least least expect them, among the wealthy, titled, and eligible men that their hostess Lady Duncaster has invited to spend the holidays at Thorncliff Manor.

The fun in this story is watching each of these singular sisters find someone who is just perfect for them. Even the scientific and mathematically inclined Rachel, who can prove with statistical certain that it is statistically impossible for her to ever meet the right man for her.

Instead, one after another the sisters find their matches, men who appreciate them as they are, and have no desire to attempt to mold them into what society expects them to be.

The sweetest story of all is Fiona’s. She is finally mature enough to see that the man who has been her playmate and protector is the only man she could ever possibly love. Even though trying for more has the potential to ruin the foundational friendship of both of their lives, it is too great a prize for them not to risk it all.

Finding the missing treasure is the icing on a very delicious cake of a holiday romance.

Escape Rating B+: If you’re looking for a sweet historical holiday romance, Christmas at Thorncliff Manor is an excellent choice. And I say that even though I have not read the rest of the series. It seems clear that there is more depth to the backstory if you’ve read them all, but this entry is surprisingly complete in itself, especially considering that the Heartly siblings have been hunting for that treasure from the very first book.

The holiday party setting also adds to the fun, and it provides the “glue” that makes these four separate romances stick together. It’s obvious to the reader, and to at least some of the participants, that someone is matchmaking in the background, and that everyone is more than willing to go along for the ride.

I did find Fiona and Chadwick’s romance to have the most depth. It does feel as if they are the primary couple in the story, and we see Fiona’s point of view more than her sisters. Their romance is in a classic trope. They have known each other forever, but Chadwick was her older brother’s friend. He has treated her like a little sister, but now she is 19 and he has finally realized that she is the woman he wants to marry. He has to figure out how to make her see him as something other than an older brother without scaring her off. And there’s a bit of a bittersweet touch because he knows this marks an ending no matter what happens. If she can’t see him as a romantic partner, he’ll need to step away from a family that has become a second home to him.

As I said at the very beginning, this one is a sugarplum, a sweet holiday treat, indeed.


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Review: The Duke Who Came to Town by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Duke Who Came to Town by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Duke Who Came To Town (The Honorable Scoundrels #3) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Honorable Scoundrels #3
Pages: 84
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

She doesn’t want to be a kept woman...

Josephine Potter knows she must retain her employment to provide for her younger sisters and to maintain the house. While a young woman working as an accountant—at a hotel no less—could be frowned upon by some, it’s still a respectable way to earn a living. No matter what a certain duke might think. Besides, Josephine has a few rules she lives by: Don’t rely on others, don’t accept money from someone you don’t know, and never allow a man to control your life. But when she is fired from her job, Josephine may have to bend a few rules...

Devon, the Duke of Snowdon, has never met a more bull-headed woman than Josephine Potter! The Potter sisters are granddaughters of a Viscount and should not have to work for a living. So despite Josephine’s arguments, Devon insists she end her employee status immediately and accept a stipend for her and her sisters. When she is then fired, she accuses him of meddling in her life...and things are about to heat up despite the cold winter weather. As they work together to figure out why Devon’s hotel is losing money, a mutual attraction that won’t be denied, grows between them.

But when rumors of impropriety abound, can Josephine’s reputation be saved...or will her life be destroyed by scandal?

My Review:

This is the third, and presumably final, novella/novelette in the Honorable Scoundrels series. I say final because the series has been the story of the three Potter sisters finally finding their happily ever afters, after having been left destitute by their late and not much lamented father.

There are only three sisters, so unless cousins start popping up, only three stories in the series.

Each of the stories in the series has been a delectable little treat, and this final story in the series is no exception.

Josephine Potter is left at home in London while her next sister Louise goes to the north of England to take up a position as a governess in The Governess who Captured His Heart, and their youngest sister Eve travels southwest to spend the holidays with a married friend who can help her make connections, if not in the haut ton, at least connections that will lead to a respectable marriage in The Earl Who Loved Her. (All three stories take place at the same time, but none of them know what really happens to the others. At least not until afterwards.)

Josephine stays home in London because she has a job. A rather surprising position as an accountant for a middle-class hotel

But her job isn’t half as surprising as the man who unexpectedly pays her a visit. Since her family’s fall in fortunes, a duke, any duke, is the last sort of person she expects to see in their slightly down-at-heel townhouse. Even more surprisingly, Devon, the Duke of Snowdon, claims to be a representative of the Potter sisters’ guardian – a man who has never cared a fig for their state or status or even if they were managing to keep body and soul together.

Which they learned to do without his nonexistent help, thankyouverymuch.

But their old guardian is dead, and the new holder of his title and obligations feels obligated to take care of the Potter sisters, not just by a meager stipend, but actually in the style they should be entitled to as great-granddaughters of a Viscount.

Which means that the Duke of Snowdon arrives at Josephine’s threadbare house and insists that she quit her job and rely on the charity of a man she has never met, and whose father couldn’t be bothered to spare her and her sisters the merest thought.

Josephine is having none of it, and can’t be bothered to be polite about it. Nor should she be. But when her job suddenly disappears, she’s absolutely certain that the Duke of Snowdon must be behind her sudden reversal of fortunes.

And he is, but not in the way that she believes. Now Devon needs Josephine’s help to find out why his investment in a respectable middle-class hotel is losing money instead of making it.

Working together, they find not just the true source of Devon’s problem, but also that their best true match is with each other.

Escape Rating B: This series is fun, brief, and meant to be read all together. Three lunch breaks might just about do it – these stories are quite lovely and equally short.

One of the things that worked well in the first two books is the way that the unlikely romances occurred in equally brief circumstances. Events had to proceed quickly because there was a naturally limited amount of time for the couple to fall irrevocably in love in spite of occupying rather different social strata and economic circumstances.

The duke’s coming to town is not similarly constrained. Devon could spend as much time in London as he needed or wanted, in spite of his visit not occurring during the Season or when Parliament was in session. That the element of time constraint was missing meant that this story could have been longer, and I wish it had been. In the vastness of London there was plenty of opportunity for more background and an equal amount of time for the romance to develop.

So while I enjoyed The Duke Who Came to Town, I think I would have liked this one a bit better if it had been a longer story. Which is, in its own way, a different kind of compliment to the author. I liked these people so much that I wanted to spend more time with them.

But if you are looking for a series of sweet little treats to sweep you away for short breaks during the busy holiday season, you can’t go wrong with these Honorable Scoundrels.


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Review: The Earl Who Loved Her by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Earl Who Loved Her by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Earl Who Loved Her (The Honorable Scoundrels, #2) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Honorable Scoundrels #2
Pages: 86
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

A chance meeting...

Eve Potter can hardly wait to arrive at Amberly Hall for the Christmas season! The hope is that she will make a match with an eligible gentleman. But as fate would have it, she misses the coach that is sent to collect her from her point of arrival, and starts out on foot...only to go in the wrong direction. Nearly frozen, she arrives at Blackhall, where she is invited inside and introduced to the master of the house, the Earl of Ravenworth. Eve is smitten, for he is beyond handsome, which makes him a temptation she must avoid. But can she...?

Bryce Harlowe lives as a recluse, shunned by Society and even his own family after being accused of taking a scandalous transgression. The young woman at his door cannot stay at Blackhall less her reputation be ruined. And yet, when the pesky winter climate leaves them snowed in together at Blackhall, Bryce and Eve grow closer, each discovering a mutual respect and longing for the other. Until Bryce’s past is revealed, threatening to rip apart their newfound love...

-Please note that this is a novella-

My Review:

The Earl Who Loved Her is the second novella in the Honorable Scoundrels series, after last week’s The Governess Who Captured His Heart. The series features the three Potter sisters, Louise, Eve and Josephine.

The Potter sisters were raised as gentry, great-granddaughters of a Viscount. But their grandfather was a younger son who made a quite comfortable living as a solicitor. Unfortunately for the girls, their father did not inherit either their grandfather’s talent for the law or his facility with hanging on to his money.

When their mother died, their father descended into a bottle and neglected both his living and his daughters. At his death, the sisters were left destitute. But instead of throwing themselves on the kindness of strangers or even distant and neglectful family, they are determined to rescue themselves.

The Honorable Scoundrels series is the story of those attempts, which have so far proven to be much more successful than any of their late father’s attempts at either business or the practice of law.

The first two stories in this series take place at the same time, but in different places. This is not one of those stories where the same events are viewed through different eyes. As far as Eve (and Josephine) know, their sister Louise is off to her first position as a governess somewhere in the north of England.

As far as Louise (and Josephine) know, Eve is off to visit her best friend Margaret, who lives near Bournemouth on England’s southwest coast. Margaret has married well, and Eve’s invitation to her house for the holidays is intended to provide Eve with important connections so that she has a chance of marrying well and rescuing the family’s fortunes – or at least their position in society.

But just as Louise’s trip had unexpected results, so did Eve’s. She arrived at the coaching station in the midst of a freezing drizzle, and could not face waiting a half hour or more for the promised carriage to arrive to get her. Instead, she set off down the road, expecting to arrive at her destination in good time.

She trudged her freezing, cold, wet way to the nearest estate, only to discover when she was admitted that she fetched herself up not at her friend’s house, but at nearby Blackhall, home of the reclusive (and scandalous) Earl of Ravenworth.

Just as the rain turns into snow, and the roads become impassable. Eve is stuck at Blackhall, alone (except for the servants) in the house with the most notorious man in the district. If her situation is ever discovered, it will ruin her chances for a favorable marriage – whether anything happens between them or not.

Eve’s reputation teeters on the brink of utter ruin.

Of course, nature does not cooperate, and the weather gets even worse. Eve can’t leave. But the more that she and Bryce get to know each other, the more tempted they become. Bryce cannot manage to conceal just how much he is tempted to compromise the beautiful and intelligent Eve. And she is even less capable of hiding just how close she is to letting him.

But Bryce feels like his past actions have made him unforgivable, so he refuses to tell Eve what it is that she should be (or not be) forgiving him for. They are at an impasse – until Eve finally has the ammunition she needs to take matters into her own hands.

Escape Rating B+: Just like the previous novella in this series, The Earl Who Loved Her is a short, sweet and relatively clean read. And treat.

Also like the previous story, this one takes place over a relatively short and deliberately constricted time period, and under circumstances where there are of necessity relatively few characters and the hero and heroine are forced into a circumstance where they have little choice but to spend a great deal of concentrated time together.

It’s a circumstance that makes the relatively quick romance and the short length of the tale work very well.

The Earl Who Loved Her is a little treat – sort of like a “fun-sized” candy bar. There’s just enough story here for a brief pick-me-up, without being so big as to feel (or make the eater feel) over-saturated with sweetness (or chocolate, to continue the metaphor).

The language that the Earl sometimes uses is a bit flowery, but the feelings behind it seem true. As with the previous book, he is a man who considers himself not worthy of the heroine’s affections. He wants to make sure she has the choice to pursue the goal she originally planned, and is absolutely certain that he can’t be the advantageous marriage that she needs, no matter how much she wants him to be.

And no matter how innocent he is of the “crime” of which he has been accused. It’s up to her to get it through his thick skull that he is what she wants after all. And Eve, like all the Potter sisters, is more than up to the challenge!


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Review: The Governess Who Captured His Heart by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Governess Who Captured His Heart by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Governess Who Captured His Heart (The Honorable Scoundrels, #1) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Honorable Scoundrels #1
Pages: 87
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

Temptations or Priorities...?

Determined to help her oldest sister make ends meet, Louise Potter accepts a governess position in the northern part of England. If this means accompanying an older gentleman on his travels, then she will. There’s only one problem: Louise is about to discover that her travelling companion is not the elderly man she expected, but rather seduction itself...

Alistair Langley has no desire to share his carriage with his niece’s newly hired employee. But the matron he expected to find at his door is instead a beautiful young woman, one he knows he can’t travel alone with. After all, he’s going to visit his brother who is pressuring him to marry and produce a Langley heir—or be cut off from inheritance. When he confides in Louise, together they form a plan. But the closer they become, the more temptation beckons...

Until finally a choice must be made: Love or money? Or is it possible to have both?

My Review:

The Governess Who Captured His Heart will probably capture a lot of readers’ hearts in this short and sweet historical romance.

The trope is a classic. Two people, trapped together on a long trip with not much to entertain themselves except each other. They have an unexpected opportunity to get to know each other to an amount of depth that would never have occurred outside of this carriage ride, when they are stuck with each other’s company, and no one else’s, for hours at a time. For an entire week.

Louise Potter is on her way to her first posting as a governess. Her new employer offers her the opportunity to ride to the estate in comfort, as her uncle is traveling to visit her at the same time. Louise hears “uncle” and expects someone middle-aged and probably overweight, bald, or both.

Alistair Langley, on the other hand, hears “governess” and expects someone starched from head to toe and equally comfortably middle-aged, possibly with grey hair confined to a severe bun. Certainly someone matronly at the very least.

The only thing that either of them got remotely correct was the bun – if not the color.

Louise Potter is in her mid-20s, just barely considered “on the shelf” by polite society. Which she used to be a part of before her father drank away what was left of the family fortunes and then inconveniently died, leaving Louise and her 2 sisters with no income and a house they can’t afford but desperately want to keep. Her older sister has managed to become an accountant, and now Louise has secured employment as a governess. They hope to put together enough funds to keep the house and give their youngest sister the season they never had.

Alistair Langley is just over 30. His family’s history is just a bit irregular, or at least his parents’ marital escapades were. His “niece” is very nearly his own age. And their family, while definitely of the upper crust, is far from conventional.

Alistair is the heir to a title, and is being pressured to marry and secure the family line. Louise is under pressure of her own, to make a success of this first posting and help her sisters.

But a week of forced intimacy leads both of them, step by reluctant step, to the inescapable conclusion that whatever they thought their futures would be, their best chance of happiness is with each other – even if it’s a chance that neither of them believes they can take.

Escape Rating B+: This one is a great little story. At 87 pages, it is short – a nice little pick-me-up if you want to just get swept away, but don’t have very long to stay swept. And the short length of the story works well in this particular instance. While I would love to know more about both Louise’s circumstances and Alistair’s rather peculiar family, it isn’t strictly necessary to enjoy this story.

I think that has to do with the way this story is laid out. All of the action, and certainly all of the romance, takes place on that trip. Everything is confined into a relatively small space and time. It would have been all too easy to expand things, and most of it would have felt like extra padding. This is just right.

Most of the romance is in the banter and the unresolved sexual tension, which ratchets up deliciously with each conversation. This is a romance where these two people, first surprised by each other, then discomfited by each other, discover that they have much more in common than they or society would expect them to.

They have a likeness of mind (as well as an attraction of the body) and like definitely calls to like.

I also liked that their conversations and internal thoughts felt “real”. They both do want, and they both are responsible people, and those two drives conflict with each other. They are both bound to their duty, and it makes them respect each other – as well as helping the readers to like and respect them.

In this short length, and with this particular circumstance, that this is also a relatively clean romance works well. They might, and particularly in Alistair’s case, they do, have quite salacious thoughts, but they don’t act upon them until after the wedding. If he’d ravished her when he first discovered that he wanted to, this would be a different story, and probably not nearly as good.

The Governess Who Captured His Heart is the first novella in the Honorable Scoundrels trilogy featuring the Potter sisters. I’ll be reading The Earl Who Loved Her next week. I can’t wait to find out how youngest sister Eve meets her match!



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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

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: Diffraction by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Diffraction by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayDiffraction (Atrophy, #3) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Atrophy #3
Pages: 352
Published by Entangled: Select Otherworld on January 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

After his unusual reaction to a weapon, Commando Varean Donnelly is accused of being a shape-shifting alien and imprisoned onboard the Imojenna. Sure, he has abilities he keeps hidden from everyone--including the gorgeous doc examining him--because the government makes sure people as different as him disappear. For good.
Imojenna doctor Kira Sasaki knows there's something different about the handsome commando the captain's thrown in their brig. She doesn't think he's Reidar, although he might have been a victim of their cruel experiments. But when Kira learns the stubborn commando's racial make-up, she finds herself torn between defending him to Captain Rian Sherron and his crew or urging Varean to escape while he still can.

My Review:

atrophy series by jess anastasiThe Atrophy series is still hitting my “I miss Firefly” button, but as the series goes on the linkages both get more obvious and more tenuous at the same time.

Let me explain.

The universe of the Atrophy series, along with its protagonists, feel very much like the crew of the Serenity, but with some significant differences.

Rian Sherron at first seemed like a ringer for Mal Reynolds, but a Reynolds who had gone way, way further into the Dark Side than even the gloomy and driven Reynolds seemed to have reached. As the series has continued, we learn a whole lot more about why, and the why is where things diverge.

The evil forces in Atrophy are not the mindless Reavers, but the sound-alike but not really do-alike Reidar in the Atrophy universe. The Reidar are shapeshifting aliens, and they have spent the last several decades, if not far longer, placing shapeshifted Reidar into positions of power and authority all over the human Alliance.

For several years, Rian Sherron, Alliance military hero, was a brainwashed captive of the Reidar, forced to act as one of their elite assassins. He escaped, with the help of Arynian priestess Ella (yes, think Inarra Sera, it’s close enough). Rian managed to claw some of himself back from the brink, and now the Reidar and all their operatives are hunting Rian and Ella across the galaxy.

In Diffraction, the Reidar manage to capture Rian’s ship Imojenna, and his crew is scattered as they attempt to continue their mission to expose and eliminate the Reidar. Meanwhile, Kira Sasaki, the Imojenna’s ship’s doctor, has managed to find her own version of River Tam, but she certainly doesn’t see Commando Varean Donnelly as a sibling.

She also doesn’t see him as someone she can keep in her life, no matter how much she wants to.

Escape Rating B: This is a solid entry in the series, but it doesn’t rise to the level of the first two books, Atrophy and Quantum. It mostly feels like a middle book, as in between all of the chases and captures, the arc of the story-as-a-whole is trending downwards.

The crew of the Imojenna have found a weapon against the Reidar, but no way to mass produce it, or even ship it. They’ve lost some of their own, and currently have more questions than answers to the mess they find themselves (and their galaxy) in.

In the middle of all the action is the romance between Kira and Varean. Varean is a mystery to the Imojenna crew. He reacts to the Reidar weapon, not exactly like a Reidar, but definitely not like a human. He’s something other, and they don’t know what. Under the circumstances, that they don’t trust what they don’t know is hardly surprising.

What is surprising is the doctor’s reaction. Kira is incensed at the way Varean is being treated, and it leads to an emotional involvement that springs just a bit out of nowhere, even in these desperate circumstances. There’s been a lot of insta-love in this series, and in this particular case it’s on a hair trigger. At the same time, there is absolutely no time for these two to fall in love. They just do. I hope the romance in the next book in the series takes just a bit longer to build.

This is a series that almost requires being read in order. While the romances in each book are separate, the overall story builds from one book to the next. Also, the relationship between Rian and Ella is something that we see glimpses of in each book, but is nowhere near any resolution – at least not yet. The long arc of the series is fascinating. How do you manage to defeat an enemy who could be anyone, anywhere, and can command all the resources of your own people against you at every turn? I definitely want to know what happens next.

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Jess is giving away one copy each of the first two books in the series, Atrophy and Quantum, to lucky winners on this tour.

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