Review: Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson

Review: Real Men Knit by Kwana JacksonReal Men Knit by Kwana Jackson, K.M. Jackson
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on May 19, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When their foster-turned-adoptive mother suddenly dies, four brothers struggle to keep open the doors of her beloved Harlem knitting shop, while dealing with life and love in Harlem.
Jesse Strong is known for two things: his devotion to his adoptive mom, Mama Joy, and his reputation for breaking hearts in Harlem. When Mama Joy unexpectedly passes away, he and his brothers have different plans on what to do with Strong Knits, their neighborhood knitting store: Jesse wants to keep the store open; his brothers want to shut it down.
Jesse makes an impassioned plea to Kerry Fuller, his childhood friend who has had a crush on him her entire life, to help him figure out how to run the business. Kerry agrees to help him reinvent the store and show him the knitty-gritty of the business, but the more time they spend together, the more the chemistry builds. Kerry, knowing Jesse’s history, doesn’t believe this relationship will exist longer than one can knit one, purl one. But Jesse is determined to prove to her that he can be the man for her—after all, real men knit.

My Review:

Strong Knits is a mainstay in the small-town-in-a-big-city that is Harlem. And just like any small town, everybody knows everyone else’s business. But this is a community that has just lost one of its beloved pillars, Mama Joy, the owner of the knitting and yarn shop Strong Knits.

The community is reeling from their loss, but so, especially are her four officially adopted sons, Damian, Noah, Lucas and Jesse, as well as her unofficially adopted daughter Kerry. While they may all be technically adults, they all also relied on Mama Joy for love, stability, support (whether financial or emotional) and the occasionally necessary kick in the pants, administered lovingly, whenever she thought it was needed.

The neighborhood relied on her and her store as well. It was a place where a young person could find a piece of calm and support, learn a skill and some discipline, be safe and just be when needed. With cookies and milk. The women found in Mama Joy not just a sympathetic listener but a place where they could set burdens aside for a few minutes in an otherwise all too busy and all too tense life.

It was a haven. And now that Mama Joy is gone, suddenly, taken away by a heart attack, everyone wonders and worries whether and how and even if Strong Knits can continue.

Particularly the Strong brothers. Mama Joy saved them, and they want to save her store, the place where they – and so many other children in the neighborhood – grew up.

But they all have lives of their own now. They may still keep their rooms above the shop, but except for Jesse, they all mostly live elsewhere. Damian near his job on Wall Street, with his mysterious “partner”. Noah on the road as a Broadway dancer. Lucas at the firehouse, as he’s a member of the FDNY. Only Jesse, the youngest, still lives at home.

Because he can’t manage to settle on what he wants to be when he grows up. If that ever happens. So Jesse is mostly a player and only occasionally employed and seems least likely to keep the store going. But he’s surprisingly the one who wants it the most. And has the time to make the attempt.

It’s an attempt with a much closer deadline than he originally planned on. Mama Joy took out a second mortgage on the building. Now that she’s gone, the $100,000 loan has been called in. Not even the bank thinks they have a shot at making this work.

However, Jesse has an ace in the hole. Or at least a secret weapon in his corner. Kerry, the young woman their mother unofficially adopted, has been working part-time in the store since she was a little girl coming in for a refuge. Now Kerry is all grown up, working part-time at the community center and part-time in the store while she finishes her degree. She hoped to move up and out when she finished.

But with the death of Mama Joy, she steps in to help Jesse with the store. Between them, with the support of the community, they have the passion and the energy to make a go of it.

The only problem is that working in such close proximity has them wanting to make a go of each other. Even though Jesse and his brothers have all considered Kerry as untouchable. And especially because Kerry knows that Jesse is a player who loves ‘em and leaves ‘em and never leaves his heart behind. She knows that if she lets him into her heart, he’ll leave it on the floor in pieces.

Or will he?

Escape Rating B+: I mostly loved this book. Not just the way that the community rallies around the store and takes Jesse and Kerry’s attempt to make a go of it to their hearts – although that’s certainly a big plus. Even with just a bit of deus ex machina in the way that this part of the story ends.

It’s such a plus that in a lot of ways this felt more like relationship fiction than it does a romance. Because it feels like the story is all about the sometimes fractious relationships between the Strong brothers, the relationship that Mama Joy had with the community, the relationships that Kerry has with her friend and co-worker Val AND their work at the community center, and especially Kerry’s relationships with ALL of the Strongs. Including, especially, the late and very much lamented Mama Joy.

Because it’s not just about Kerry’s relationship with Jesse. Even though she and Jesse have been dancing around each other ever since they were teenagers. Kerry’s always known that Jesse was a player, and Kerry had no interest in being played – no matter how much interest she’s had in Jesse over the years.

But the brothers have always seen her as a bit of a little sister. They’re very protective of her, to the point where Kerry is a bit sick of the protectiveness and wants to be seen as the grown-ass woman she actually is.

So a lot of this story felt like it was about Kerry getting her act together, doing her best for the memory of Mama Joy, and figuring out what she wants to do next. She decides that while she’s helping Jesse get the store back on its feet, she’s going to do Jesse. Whatever her heart may want, she knows it’s a short term thing – because Jesse never sticks around.

That he eventually figures out that he wants to, stick around that is, this time is what sets up the actual romance. He’s finally growing up. And that’s a terrific part of the story. But, as much as I wanted this to end in an HEA, I’m not sure that either Kerry or Jesse is ready for that commitment. It felt like we didn’t quite see him do enough of the work to get there. And that Kerry still has plenty of work to do on her own-self as well.

So that HEA that ends the story, while it definitely feels like an HEA for the store and its future, feels a bit more like either a slightly shaky HFN for Kerry and Jesse, or the beginning of working towards an HEA that isn’t quite there yet.

But this was still a fun story and I had a great time with these characters. I found myself wishing that this was the first in a series, and that we’d see all of the Strong brothers find their own HEAs, one romance at a time. I’m REALLY curious about Damian’s mystery person!

Review: Claim of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: Claim of Eon by Anna HackettClaim of Eon (Eon Warriors #6) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Eon Warriors #6
Pages: 209
Published by Anna Hackett on July 6th, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

She’s an alien warrior dedicated to her job, but a tough, handsome Terran captain is a temptation she never expected.

As a female Eon warrior, Second Commander Airen Kann-Felis has fought for her career and is proud of her work aboard the warship, the Rengard. She has no time for men or frivolous pleasures, especially with the deadly insectoid Kantos causing the Eon trouble at every turn. When the Eon Empire makes an alliance with the small planet of Earth, she never expected to be working alongside a man like Sub-Captain Donovan Lennox. A good-looking, smart, and tenacious man who tempts her in ways she’s never been tempted before.

Donovan Lennox was born for space, and he’s happy to be aboard a high-tech Eon warship and helping to take down the Kantos. He’s even happier to work with the disciplined, independent female Eon warrior who is very easy on the eyes. Donovan believes in respect and pleasure, but what he doesn’t believe in is the myth of love. It was the one lesson his loser dad managed to teach him. As Donovan tries to tempt Airen into playing with him, she’s keeping her walls up, even as every second they spend together draws them closer.

When Airen and Donovan are on a shuttle mission together, they find themselves under attack by the Kantos and forced to crash-land on a deadly prison planet. With only each other to depend on, both of them will have to learn to trust each other, or they stand no chance at winning the race to survive the Kantos, or the prison planet’s dangerous creatures and bloodthirsty criminals.

My Review:

This is one of those stories that leaps from one crisis to another. It’s frying pans and fires all the way down, cooked by a chemical reaction made from the combustible relationship between Airen and Donovan – and the heat of incoming weapons fire.

The Eon Warriors series, beginning with Edge of Eon, takes place in a not-too-horribly distant future. It’s both epic space opera and epic science fiction romance in one terrific package. Not that all of the Eon Warriors don’t seem to come in absolutely fantastic packages all by themselves!

In this version of the future, the Eons are one of several advanced races that are out exploring the galaxy, and the Terrans of Earth are basically uncouth upstarts just beginning their exploration of the stars. First contact did not go at all well, because the original Terran delegation seems to have consisted entirely of entitled assholes who weren’t able to even admit that they weren’t the superior race.

Sound familiar?

So the Terrans went it alone, developing a tough and scrappy attitude towards space exploration – at least until they ran headlong into the insectoid Kantos. Or the Kantos found them. That first contact was NEVER going to go well, as the Kantos are a race that expands territory purely by conquest and extermination. They don’t negotiate with anyone about anything.

The Terrans are outgunned at every turn. Even the assholes finally admit that we need help. And the only help they know about are the Eon Warriors they pissed off early on. Their plot to get the Eons’ attention – and on their side – is as assholish as the first contact was. Just with much better results.

That story is in the first three terrific books in the series, Edge of Eon, Touch of Eon and Heart of Eon.

By the point of this story, the Eon Empire and the Terrans are very much on the same side. As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The Kantos are very much a mutual enemy, and in their mutual need to keep them at bay – if not on the run – the Eons and the Terrans have bonded. Sometimes literally, as several Eons have found their mates among the Terrans.

And that’s where this story begins. The Eons and the Terrans are experimenting with joint operations and mixed crews. They each need to learn the strengths of the other, and to get over any lingering prejudices that remain from the decades when their peoples strove to deliberately keep half a galaxy between them.

But the Eons, who have been having less and less success finding mates among their own people, have to admit that in the scrappy Terrans they have found something their own people have been lacking for some time.

Successful relationships. Romantic partnerships. Pair-bonding. Except that, as this story opens, neither of the protagonists is looking for anything of the kind. Or even believes that it exists – at least not for them.

Which means that when they do bond, each is incapable of accepting that the other is all in. And they are both afraid that between the Kantos on their tail, the engineered bioweapons that patrol the prison planet they’ve crashed on, and the prison wardens who kill on sight, they won’t live long enough to find out.

Escape Rating B: The romance in Claim of Eon could be seen as the flip-side of the romance in book 4 in the series, Kiss of Eon. Albeit with a bit of a twist. Where in the earlier book, the Terran is a ship’s captain, and the Eon is an exchange officer on her ship, they are not exactly equals. It’s her ship and her crew and he’s there because he’s the one who has to follow her orders. This time around, while the genders and species are swapped, what makes it really interesting, and provides some unanswered questions for the future, is that it’s not about whose ship and crew is behind them this time. Second Commander Airen Kann-Felis and Sub-Captain Donovan Lennox seem to be at about the same rank. Both of them in the middle of careers that have not yet reached the pinnacle of a ship’s captaincy.

They both begin the story with career goals yet to reach, and personal demons hiding in their emotional baggage that add to the difficulties they will face in any relationship. Not that either of them intends a relationship when this story begins.

Donovan wouldn’t mind a friends-with-benefits relationship at all, but the double-standard is still very much in play. As one of the rare female Eon warriors, and an orphan who has no family connections to help her along, Airen feels that she has to put her career first at all times. She is unfortunately all too aware – and from first-hand experience – that her male counterparts among the Eon Warriors have a difficult time – to say the least – accepting that a woman can be every bit the driven warrior that they are. So she shies away from relationships.

Donovan’s experience with bad relationships is second-hand. His dad was a loser who left his mother to raise him alone. That she never recovered emotionally from that betrayal leads him to believe that love is for losers, and that relationships are foolish.

Of course they’re both wrong.

There’s also a big story overarching the individual romances in each book in the series. The Kantos are after both Eon and Earth, and the events in this story portray their latest attempts. And while they fail in their pursuit – this time – by the time the story ends we’re aware that they haven’t given up – merely changed their focus.

The Kantos have had no luck pursuing the Eons, so as this book ends the ship receives word that the enemy has gone after what they perceive is the weaker link in the alliance. They’ve attacked Earth. Which means that the next book is going to see at least some of the Eon Warriors racing to assist their allies.

But in this story, we have a reluctant romance going on in the midst of an out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire, edge of the seat adventure, as Airen and Donovan seem to escape one Kantos trap only to find themselves enmeshed in another. So come to Claim of Eon for the romance, and stay for the thrill ride. Or the other way around! Either way, if you love science fiction romance, you’ll be glad you did!

Review: A Cruel Deception by Charles Todd

Review: A Cruel Deception by Charles ToddA Cruel Deception (Bess Crawford, #11) by Charles Todd
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, World War I
Series: Bess Crawford #11
Pages: 305
Published by William Morrow on October 22, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the aftermath of World War I, nurse Bess Crawford attempts to save a troubled former soldier from a mysterious killer.
The Armistice of November 1918 ended the fighting, but the Great War will not be over until a Peace Treaty is drawn up and signed by all parties. Representatives from the Allies are gathering in Paris, and already ominous signs of disagreement have appeared.
Sister Bess Crawford, who has been working with the severely wounded in England in the war’s wake, is asked to carry out a personal mission in Paris for a Matron at the London headquarters of The Queen Alexandra’s.
Bess is facing decisions about her own future, even as she searches for the man she is charged with helping.  When she does locate Lt. Lawrence Minton, she finds a bitter and disturbed officer who has walked away from his duties at the Peace Conference and is well on his way toward an addiction to opiates. When she confronts him with the dangers of using laudanum, he tells her that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies, as long as he can find oblivion. But what has changed him? What is it that haunts him? He can’t confide in Bess—because the truth is so deeply buried in his mind that he can only relive it in nightmares. The officers who had shared a house with him in Paris profess to know nothing—still, Bess is reluctant to trust them even when they offer her their help. But where to begin on her own?
What is driving this man to a despair so profound it can only end with death? The war? Something that happened in Paris? To prevent a tragedy, she must get at the truth as quickly as possible—which means putting herself between Lieutenant Minton and whatever is destroying him. Or is it whoever?
 

My Review:

This is a story about being stuck in limbo, and that’s fitting for its time and place. Because in Paris, in the spring of 1919, there was nothing but limbo. Not for the residents of Paris, not for the delegates to the Peace Conference, and certainly not for Bess Crawford, one of the many nurses in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service who was wondering whether she would be able to stay in the service once the wounded from the (hopefully) late war were finally settled and cared for back home in England.

And whether, or what, that was what she truly wanted.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles ToddWhen we first met Bess, back in November 1916 in A Duty to the Dead, she was a dedicated battlefield nurse in a war that was already two years old and seemed to have no end in sight. Getting through each day and each night, saving who she could and grieving the many she could not was all that the eye could see.

But in March of 1919, when this story takes place, the Armistice has been in effect for over 5 months, but a peace treaty was nowhere in sight. The Allied Powers are in a state of such disagreement that it sometimes seems as if a shooting war will break out across their negotiating table long before they reach the point where they can present anything like a united front to the Central Powers, meaning Germany and her allies.

It’s into the middle of this muddle, slightly muddled herself, that Bess finds herself back in Paris, and just like her “adventure” in The Shattered Tree, poking her nose into places that entirely too many people think it doesn’t belong.

Especially the man that she has come to Paris to find, Lieutenant Lawrence Minton. Lt. Minton’s mother is someone whose requests Bess is unable to refuse. His mother is the current Matron, or head, of the nursing service that Bess would like to remain part of after the war is finally officially over.

Matron is concerned that her son has been reported absent from his duties as one of many military attaches to the peace conference, and when Bess arrives to investigate, she learns that those fears are more than justified. The lieutenant is not just missing, he seems to be rusticating in the French countryside and doing his level best to remain doped to the eyeballs on laudanum every waking minute.

Bess feels caught between a rock and a hard place. If she reports the man’s current state to anyone, including his mother, officialdom will step in and he will be discharged in disgrace. As the lieutenant is an officer in her father’s old regiment, that disgrace will reflect badly on the regiment and could even reach up to the Colonel Sahib, who may no longer be the regiment’s official leader but is still involved with both the regiment and the war effort.

So Bess decides to investigate the matter herself – as she so often does. She knows that something happened to Minton in Paris that seems to have changed him overnight from a dutiful, conscientious officer who wanted to remain in uniform to a lying, cruel opium addict. She is determined to find out just what is driving the man’s search for oblivion at any cost.

That her search sends her straight into the path of someone determined to drive Minton to that oblivion, and to death beyond it, by the quickest road puts Bess in the sights of a murderer with nothing left to lose.

A place that Bess seems to find herself again and again, but this time without her usual allies and with more than the usual number of enemies.

Escape Rating B: As I said at the top, this is a story about being in limbo. There are just too many things that are very much up in the air, and Bess’ investigation into Minton’s circumstances are just one of the many, many things that are hanging.

The problem for the book is that limbo is a frustrating place to be, but not generally an interesting one. Limbo is angsty without a resolution in sight. While Bess’ investigation does eventually lead to resolution and the hope of closure for Minton, most of the other circumstances are out of her control, even at the story’s end.

And it seems as if Minton’s situation is equally unresolved for about 2/3rds of the story. Bess spends a LOT of time trying to figure out what’s wrong with him and then searching for answers that seem to be out of reach, either lost in Minton’s confused mind or eluding her through the streets of war-weary Paris.

As is known from history, the formal state of war between the Allies and the Central Powers did not end until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. A treaty which, again as we know now, led directly to the conditions which brought about World War II. But at the point where this story takes place, the Allies are still wrangling. France wants Germany to pay crippling reparations, a condition which they eventually won. The U.S., under President Woodrow Wilson, has his optimistic vision for the League of Nations, which he also eventually won. Neither side got exactly what they hoped for, but hindsight is always 20/20.

However, as this story takes place, the treaty is in the future. What is known is that all the powers, with the possible exception of the U.S., are much too war-torn and war-weary for the hostilities to continue, no matter what it takes to get everyone to the treaty-table.

Bess herself is in limbo, as the nursing service is drawing down rapidly. Many women are resigning in order to marry the men they either waited for or met during the war. Those that survived. England lost a generation of young men in the war, and many women would be unable to marry after the war because there weren’t nearly enough men left TO marry.

Bess can return to her parents house and be their daughter again. Not that she was ever disowned – far from it. She has, however, the option to be the daughter that she would have been if the war hadn’t intervened. But it did. She’s used to being on her own, making not just her own decisions but decisions of life and death for the men under her care. Going back to being anyone’s protected, obedient and dependent child is not a path she wants to take.

At the same time, in spite of the number of proposals that she has received during the war, she has no desire to see if any of those proposals were real. She may have liked or been fond of the men who made them, but she doesn’t love any of them. She’s not sure if there’s anyone she does love enough to marry. Except possibly her father’s regimental sergeant, Simon Brandon, a man who has been part of her life and her family for many years. But Brandon is absent throughout this story, as far as Bess knows off in Scotland courting someone else. Maybe or maybe not.

So Bess is in a personal limbo for this whole story. Admittedly, she doesn’t angst about it a lot, and when she does, it is mostly about her career and future in general, and not about marriage in particular, to Simon or anyone else. Not that Simon has ever offered. But it never read, at least to me, like romantic pining or that the story was in any way revolving around her love life. Bess is trying to figure out what her future will look like at a time when all futures were very much up in the air. As an intelligent, thoughtful person, worrying about the future in these circumstances is the right thing for her to be doing.

But limbo is just not as interesting as action. Or at least forward motion in some form. Something that I hope to see a lot more of whenever Bess returns in her next adventure.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-5-20

Sunday Post

To celebrate the end of of this 3-day weekend, here’s a picture of George stretched out very, very long. I have no idea what that thing is in the bottom of the picture. But George has become a very long, skinny drink of water in the last few weeks. Once he grows into his legs and tail he’s going to be a very big boy.

Have you seen the #Hamilfilm this weekend? We saw the play in the theater, in Chicago, but long after the original cast had left – and from slightly obstructed seats. So we’re looking forward to seeing all the parts we missed sometime this weekend. Along with a viewing of one of my favorite movies, 1776. As I was talking with a friend today, I realized that there is a similarity beyond the time period. Both plays, and both movies, rely on the music to tell the story. The sets were minimal, and so was the spoken dialog. It’s the music that moves, and the music that sticks in the mind long after the show is over.

Speaking of things that stick in the mind, this past week The Angel of the Crows really knocked me for a marvelous reading loop. If you like historical fantasy, or urban fantasy, or Sherlock Holmes, or wingfic, or Katherine Addison or Sarah Monette, this book is well and truly awesome. As was The Lost Princess Returns, but Lost Princess is the culmination of a long and deeply involved – and involving – series, while Angel is either an opening number or complete in itself. I sincerely hope it is an opening act, I’d love to see more in this world. And from this author.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Star Spangled Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the June of Books Giveaway Hop is Carl
The winner of the Daddy Shark Giveaway Hop is Jenness
The winner of the Gift Card Giveaway Hop is Molli

Blog Recap:

A Review: The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison
A- Review: Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory
Star Spangled Giveaway Hop
A+ Review: The Lost Princess Returns by Jeffe Kennedy
C Review: The Rakess by Scarlett Peckham
Stacking the Shelves (399)

Coming This Week:

A Cruel Deception by Charles Todd (review)
Witchmark by C.L. Polk (review)
Claim of Eon by Anna Hackett (review)
Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees (review)
Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson (review)

Stacking the Shelves (399)

Stacking the Shelves

It’s the Fourth of July! And it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! At the SAME TIME! I feel like there ought to be a flag on this list and a 10-yard penalty for rushing the season. I understand why there are Xmas books on Netgalley and Edelweiss now, and I even understand why they all come out in September, but it still feels weird. Very weird.

And for today’s picture of George, this is George after Friday’s visit to the vet for his final set of kitten booster shots. He’s getting to be such a big boy!

For Review:
The Boy Toy by Nicola Marsh
Christmas at Holiday House (Haven Point #12) by RaeAnne Thayne
Claim of Eon (Eon Warriors #6) by Anna Hackett
The Conductors (Murder & Magic #1) by Nicole Glover
Daughters of Darkness (Jennie Redhead #3) by Sally Spencer
The Fair (Time Box #2) by John A. Heldt
First, Become Ashes by K.M. Szpara
The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry
Happily This Christmas (Happily Inc #6) by Susan Mallery
Hollow Empire (Poison Wars #2) by Sam Hawke
In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce
The Last Christmas Cowboy (Gold Valley #11) by Maisey Yates
The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
The Politics of Love by Jen Jensen
Skin Deep (Siobhan O’Brien #1)  by Sung J. Woo
A Solitude of Wolverines (Alex Carter #1) by Alice Henderson
The Stormbringer (Stormbringer #1) by Isabel Cooper
Tools of Engagement (Hot & Hammered #3) by Tessa Bailey

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Kickstarter:
Found Girl (Project Enterprise #6) by Pauline Baird Jones
Girl Gone Nova (Project Enterprise #2) by Pauline Baird Jones
Kicking Ashe (Project Enterprise #5) by Pauline Baird Jones
Lost Valyr (Project Enterprise #7) by Pauline Baird Jones
Maestra Rising (Project Enterprise #8) by Pauline Baird Jones
Steamrolled (Project Enterprise #4) by Pauline Baird Jones
Tangled in Time (Project Enterprise #3) by Pauline Baird Jones
The Year of the Cat: A Cat of Perfect Taste edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith (Kickstarter)

Review: The Rakess by Scarlett Peckham

Review: The Rakess by Scarlett PeckhamThe Rakess (Society of Sirens, #1) by Scarlett Peckham
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Series: Society of Sirens #1
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on April 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Meet the SOCIETY OF SIRENS—three radical, libertine ladies determined to weaponize their scandalous reputations to fight for justice and the love they deserve…
She's a Rakess on a quest for women's rights…


Seraphina Arden's passions include equality, amorous affairs, and wild, wine-soaked nights. To raise funds for her cause, she's set to publish explosive memoirs exposing the powerful man who ruined her. Her ideals are her purpose, her friends are her family, and her paramours are forbidden to linger in the morning.

He's not looking for a summer lover…

Adam Anderson is a wholesome, handsome, widowed Scottish architect, with two young children, a business to protect, and an aversion to scandal. He could never, ever afford to fall for Seraphina. But her indecent proposal—one month, no strings, no future—proves too tempting for a man who strains to keep his passions buried with the losses of his past.

But one night changes everything...

What began as a fling soon forces them to confront painful secrets—and yearnings they thought they'd never have again. But when Seraphina discovers Adam's future depends on the man she's about to destroy, she must decide what to protect…her desire for justice, or her heart.

My Review:

So many people love this book, including the friends who recommended it to me. I feel sad, because I just…didn’t. No matter how much I really, really wanted to.

I have to admit that I started out being put off by the title. There are plenty of ways to subvert the rake trope without making up horrible feminine versions of the word. I’ve even read some of them. So I was turned off before I started. But I persevered.

The idea behind the story seems to be that men are celebrated for being sexual predators, while women are excoriated for being the victims of that predation, whether willingly or not. And it’s still true. Men with lots of conquests are envied, while women are slut-shamed for even a few.

So there was the thought going in that the protagonist of this story, Seraphina Arden, would be a sex-positive historical heroine. But she’s not all that positive, although there’s plenty of sex. While she certainly enjoys sex a LOT more than unmarried women traditionally do in historical romance, she’s mostly using sex – and alcohol, a whole lot of alcohol – to forget just how miserable she is.

Admittedly, she may not ALWAYS be miserable. But she’s taken herself off to her childhood home, where she was bullied, abused and eventually disowned because she let a man seduce her, in order to write her memoirs. So she’s put herself in a position to be reminded of a terrible time in her past, among people who vilify her because she refused to conform to the stereotype of a “fallen woman”, and she’s unhappy where she is because anyone would be, and drinking to forget her misery. Along with seducing her neighbor, who is, after a token resistance, more than willing to be seduced.

Her goals are more than laudable. She wants to create an educational institution for women. She wants educational reform, so that women can live independently and up to their full potential. She also wants legal reform, so that husbands (and fathers) don’t own their wives and daughters. So that her friend and mentor can’t be committed to a lunatic asylum by her jealous husband because she has taken up the cause of reform and therefore must, by definition, be insane.

And hysterical. If that doesn’t remind readers that the condition of “hysteria” was named for the Greek word for uterus because, in the minds of so-called rational men, only women suffered from ungovernable emotional excess.

Now she’s got me doing it, getting up on a soapbox to rant. Not that these subjects and these injustices don’t deserve a rant, but Sera’s internal angst isn’t the place for it, and neither is this review.

Dammit.

The portrayal of female friendship, that Sera and her two friends, a celebrated female artist and an equally celebrated courtesan, have banded together to rescue their friend and mentor from her unjust imprisonment is awesome. But it takes way too long to get there.

Sera spends the first 2/3rds of the book moldering in a decaying house, drinking to keep herself from writing, seducing her neighbor to keep herself from thinking – or writing , afraid of the neighbors who are posting scurrilous caricatures on her gate and leaving dead birds for her to worry over. She’s a mess.

Not that most rakes weren’t something of a mess underneath – but not this much. She’s a flawed heroine, which is great, but her flaws just stopped being interesting to me because it took her so long to even start working on them. Which would be true to real life, but not all that fascinating to read.

Escape Rating C: This is so much of a YMMV review. There are LOTS of people who love this book, and its plot and themes certainly have great possibilities. It just didn’t work for me. It really didn’t.

And the whole “rescue woman from an asylum she’s been committed to by her husband” worked much better in European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, even though, or especially because, the woman being rescued was a vampire!

Review: The Lost Princess Returns by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Lost Princess Returns by Jeffe KennedyThe Lost Princess Returns (The Uncharted Realms #5.5) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Uncharted Realms #5.5, Chronicles of Dasnaria #4, Twelve Kingdoms #11.5
Pages: 172
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on June 29, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

More than two decades have gone by since Imperial Princess Jenna, broken in heart and body, fled her brutal marriage-and the land of her birth. She's since become Ivariel: warrior, priestess of Danu, trainer of elephants, wife and mother. Wiser, stronger, happier, Ivariel has been content to live in her new country, to rest her battered self, and to recover from the trauma of what happened to her when she was barely more than a girl.
But magic has returned to the world-abruptly and with frightening force-and Ivariel takes that profound change as a sign that it's time to keep a promise she made to the sisters she left behind. Ivariel must leave the safety she's found and return to face the horrors she fled.
As Ivariel emerges from hiding, she discovers that her vicious brother is now Emperor of Dasnaria, and her much-hated mother, the Dowager Empress Hulda, is aiding him in his reign of terror. Worse, it seems that Hulda's resurrection of the tainted god Deyrr came about as a direct result of Jenna's flight long ago.
It's up to Ivariel-and the girl she stopped being long ago-to defeat the people who cruelly betrayed her, and to finally liberate her sisters. Determined to cleanse her homeland of the evil that nearly destroyed her, Ivariel at last returns to face the past.
But this time, she'll do it on her own terms.

My Review:

The lost princess who returns in this story is Jenna, once an Imperial Princess of Dasnaria. Jenna, with the help of her younger brother Harlan, was partially rescued and partially rescued herself from not just an excruciatingly abusive marriage but an entirely abusive culture as well, in the Chronicles of Dasnaria series, beginning with The Prisoner of the Crown. Which Jenna so definitely was when her story began.

Jenna transformed herself into the warrior-priestess Ivariel, she saved her adopted people AND their elephants, healed or buried the abused young woman she had been, married a good man, made a life for herself far away from the Imperial seraglio where she was born and was supposed to die, and had four children.

As the forces gather in the stunning climax of The Uncharted Realms series, a story told in The Fate of the Tala, Ivariel nee Jenna brings her people and her elephants to the fight. And finds herself fighting alongside two of the brothers she left behind, her rescuer Harlan, now consort of the High Queen Ursula of the Twelve Kingdoms (their story is The Talon of the Hawk) and her near-betrayer who has finally gotten his head out of his ass, her brother Kral (details of his story in The Edge of the Blade.) That Kral’s lady Jepp is the daughter of the woman who trained Jenna shows just how deeply Jenna/Ivariel has been ingrained in the combined series, even when she has not been present.

The enemy that is finally defeated in The Fate of the Tala has been a thorn in the side of the Twelve Kingdoms from the very beginning of this saga, all the way back in The Mark of the Tala. It’s an enemy that has been funded and nurtured by the Emperor Hestar and his mother, the Dowager Empress Hulda, of Dasnaria. The place from which Jenna, Harlan and eventually Kral fled so long ago.

Now that the forces of evil have been finally routed, it is time for the exiled children of Dasnaria to return home – to cut out the enemy’s heart. That said cutting out will require killing both their brother and their mother is the ice cream on a dish of revenge being served, at last, chillingly cold.

A dish of revenge that needs to be delivered personally by Ivariel, Harlan and Kral. No matter how much it hurts them to return to the place that tortured them and tossed them away.

That’s a lot of intro, all in order to say that all three of these interconnected series (Twelve Kingdoms, Uncharted Realms and Chronicles of Dasnaria are epic, compelling, marvelous and intertwined so deeply that by the time the reader reaches this lovely endpoint (I hope it’s the endpoint, they ALL deserve a lasting HEA) that the stories are so interwoven that there is no reasonable way to start here and have it all make sense. This is a series that rewards the reader with a deeply absorbing tale of magic, machinations, maneuvers and yes, romance.

Start with The Mark of the Tala and wend your way through to this terrific wrap-up, The Lost Princess Returns.

I wish you joy of the journey. It’s a great one.

Escape Rating A+: It’s obvious that I loved this story. In fact, it’s pretty obvious that I’ve loved the entire interconnected series, as I’ve reviewed them all. This is also a series that operates on two layers. First, it IS epic fantasy. The epic is the story of the three princesses of the Twelve Kingdoms rebelling against the rule of their abusive father. That father is also taking the Kingdoms down a terrible path, so they set out on a course to right his wrongs and remove him from his throne. Once that battle is won, they then have to rout the forces that helped set their father on his terrible path – not that he wasn’t plenty terrible on his own. The story of their journey, now as queens of their own kingdoms, to help each other find and fight those forces, gathering allies and enemies along the way, is told as The Uncharted Realms.

And then there’s Jenna, groomed, beaten, abused, betrayed and nearly dead, barely escaping with her life in the Chronicles of Dasnaria, only to build herself a new life as Ivariel and return here as the fabled “Lost Princess”.

This book serves as both an extended epilogue for the combined series and as the culmination of Jenna’s need to return to her origins, to heal the wounds she has covered over for more than 20 years. It is a story of revenge, and it’s a revenge that is necessary. Neither Hulda nor Hestar are capable of redemption. In the end, this is the story of not just Jenna but also Harlan and Kral moving beyond the people they were and the people who made them and tried to mold them into their own corrupt images, and finding their true selves. The selves they have built and become far from that terrible places.

The healing that comes for them is personal, but they also leave healing behind them, finally setting Dasnaria on a path to its own brighter future.

And the entire epic from the very beginning to this marvelous conclusion, is absolutely fantastic.

Star Spangled Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Star Spangled Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

Today is star spangled indeed, as it’s Canada Day! So Happy Canada Day to everyone in Canada, and Happy Fourth of July to everyone in the U.S. this weekend. Which is even better for being a 3-day weekend this year. And next year too, so plan ahead!

So this hop celebrates patriot holidays for two countries, even if one of them – Canada – doesn’t actually have a star on its current flag. Although it has in the past.

But these are both patriotic holidays celebrating the birth/consolidation of separate parts into a semi- or somewhat unified whole. Sometimes like a family complete with table-pounding and shouting at family reunions. And the occasional insults hurled either across the table – or to the picnic table next door, meaning in this analogy, each other.

I remember fireworks where I grew up, the tiny suburb of Golf Manor in Cincinnati. It looks like they still do fireworks, just not this year. That’s probably true a lot of places this year.

But it’s still a time to celebrate – wherever you are. And in celebration of this bloghop I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a book, up to $10 in value, from the Book Depository. This giveaway is open, not just in the US and Canada as they are celebrating this month, but everywhere that the Book Depository ships.

So have a happy Canada Day, or Independence Day, or whatever and whenever your country celebrates its birth!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more star spangled celebrations, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Review: Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory

Review: Party of Two by Jasmine GuilloryParty of Two (The Wedding Date #5) by Jasmine Guillory
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Wedding Date #5
Pages: 320
Published by Berkley Books on June 23, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A chance meeting with a handsome stranger turns into a whirlwind affair that gets everyone talking.
Dating is the last thing on Olivia Monroe's mind when she moves to LA to start her own law firm. But when she meets a gorgeous man at a hotel bar and they spend the entire night flirting, she discovers too late that he is none other than hotshot junior senator Max Powell. Olivia has zero interest in dating a politician, but when a cake arrives at her office with the cutest message, she can't resist--it is chocolate cake, after all.
Olivia is surprised to find that Max is sweet, funny, and noble--not just some privileged white politician she assumed him to be. Because of Max's high-profile job, they start seeing each other secretly, which leads to clandestine dates and silly disguises. But when they finally go public, the intense media scrutiny means people are now digging up her rocky past and criticizing her job, even her suitability as a trophy girlfriend. Olivia knows what she has with Max is something special, but is it strong enough to survive the heat of the spotlight?

My Review:

Once upon a time, a guy and a girl got stuck in an elevator together. He needed a fake date to his ex’s wedding, and she wasn’t interested in dating but thought he’d be fun for a fling, so “why not?” But the chemistry that began in that elevator led to their very own HEA – and four more lovely books – at least so far.

That was The Wedding Date, the author’s debut novel, which I still can’t believe. But when Alexa Monroe and Drew Nichols tied the knot, they started a chain reaction, one that is still going strong.

After stories about his best friend (The Proposal), her two best friends (The Wedding Party) and one of those same best friends and her mother (Royal Holiday), the series has come back around again.

Not to Alexa, but to her sister Olivia, meeting and clicking with a guy in a hotel bar in LA. He has a house in LA, but he has also had a plumbing disaster, hence the temporary hotel stay. She doesn’t have a house yet, but she’s looking for one. Olivia and her best friend Ellie are in the process of setting up their own law firm together because they’re both tired of working for big law firms, having no say in their work and no life outside it.

Ellie wants to have time for her husband and kids while still being able to do work that she loves. Olivia has been too busy climbing the ladder to partner to even have a life, and she’s ready for a life outside it – once the firm is off the ground, that is.

There is definitely a “meet cute” between Olivia and Max, that guy she meets in the hotel bar. But they don’t exchange last names, phone numbers or bodily fluids during that one meeting, so Olivia chalks it up to experience, albeit a good one, and gets on with her life.

Only to discover that the terrific guy she exchanged banter and chemistry with was the seriously hot junior senator from California, Max Powell. She never expects to see him again, but their meeting makes for a really EXCELLENT story.

Until they meet again, almost as accidentally as the first time. She knows she’s coming to hear him speak, but he has no idea she’ll be in the audience. She has little expectation that he’ll recognize her, and none that anything will come of this second meeting, but she’s just as surprised as he is when he finds her in the crowd.

This time they do exchange enough information to find each other. Or at least enough for Max to send Olivia cake instead of flowers, because that’s one of the many (many, many) things they talked about in that bar.

Cake leads to flowers, both lead to dates, dates lead to more dates lead to weekends spent in each other’s houses and outings with Max in a fairly lame disguise. But it’s enough. Until it’s not – at least for Max. Until Max wants to go public, and Olivia lets herself get pulled along for the ride.

While dating Max was fun, dating a famous senator is something else all together. And as much as Olivia loves him, it’s not something she can live with. She could live with Max just fine, but the reporters following them around and digging into every tiny detail of her past push her way outside her comfort zone.

To the point where she pushes Max out the door.

Escape Rating A-: The story of Party of Two feels a bit like the movie The American President crossed with the real-life story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (which was sorta/kinda touched on in Royal Holiday). Complete with all of the racist overtones and thinly veiled threats and insults that Princess Meghan has had to deal with. The stories do parallel more than a bit – at least on the surface.

But this felt like a story about opposites attracting, and as is wonderfully usually for this author, the ways in which they are opposite and the difficulties those differences lead them to felt organic and real. This is a romcom without a heinous misunderstandammit. Yes, they did need to work on their communication, but the problem isn’t simple and the fix isn’t either.

Max is rich, white and very, very privileged. While he has become aware of his privilege and is doing his best to both make up for some of the dudebro assholish things he did before he knew better and use his position to do some good in the community and in the world, he is still privileged in the way that only a white, rich, heterosexual man can be in America. And that perspective has shaped his personality in ways that, while not bad in and of themselves, clash directly with Olivia’s perspective of the world.

Basically, Max’s whole outlook is to leap and assume that the net will appear. Because in his life, at least so far, it always has. So he can be very impulsive, even in public situations, because so far at least his mouth hasn’t written any checks that his body can’t cash – or at least can’t cash with the help of his staff, his money, or both. This doesn’t make him a bad person, but it does make him speak or act before he thinks things through. Fairly often.

As a black woman, Olivia’s experience is very different. She’s never impulsive, because her entire life experience is that if she leaps, she will fall. The net will not appear for her and she will never get the benefit of the doubt. (This is true for women in general and is doubly or triply true – if not more – for her) Olivia goes through life with a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C and all the way up to Plan Z. She tries her best to never act before she thinks things through. She did that once in high school with what could have been catastrophic results. The results weren’t exactly catastrophic, but they were plenty disastrous and it took her years to get past them.

It’s not that Olivia and Max can’t have a relationship, in spite of Olivia being certain from the get-go that it can’t work. It’s not that they don’t love each other enough to make a relationship work. But they have a fundamental difference in how they see the world, and while they can work past that difference, it’s going to take compromise on both their parts. And it’s going to take talking about it openly and honestly to get there.

And that’s where they stumble. And it felt real and true to the characters and the story. Which goes back to why I love this series so much.

If you want to read a romcom that works deliciously for readers who don’t generally fall for romcoms, this entire series is a delight. You could start with this book, because it doesn’t rely on knowledge of the previous books in the series, but they’re wonderful and if you love one you’ll love them ALL!

Review: The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

Review: The Angel of the Crows by Katherine AddisonThe Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: gaslamp, historical fiction, historical mystery, steampunk, urban fantasy
Pages: 448
Published by Tor Books on June 23, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting.
In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings under a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.
Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.

My Review:

The Angel of the Crows is the second book by Katherine Addison, after her completely, totally, utterly awesomesauce The Goblin Emperor. And this second book is nothing like the first book – except that both are terrific.

But they are terrific in completely different ways. Goblin Emperor was a political thriller of epic fantasy, featuring assassination plots, deliberately mislaid heirs and a young man’s desperate attempt to learn how to rule a kingdom he was never supposed to inherit. It’s marvelous and thrilling and fantastic.

The Angel of the Crows, very much on the other hand, is urban fantasy, with several fantastic twists. This is steampunk and gaslamp and a bit of supernatural horror set in an alternate version of Victorian London where vampires have a pact with the Queen, werewolves are both legal and respectable, and every old building has its very own Angel to watch over the flock of humans that inhabit their domiciles.

It’s also a world where Dr. J.H. Doyle of the (British) Imperial Armed Forces Medical Service was wounded in Afghanistan in a war where the opposing forces were led by the Fallen. Fallen Angels, that is. A wound that has left him with a painful limp and a desperate need to turn into a hellhound every night.

A world where the self-styled Angel of London, an Angel called Crow so often he became one, solves mysteries that the police find too difficult to master. Including a series of bloody murders in Whitechapel.

The blurb turns out to be both right and wrong. Because these are not the characters the reader thinks they are. Yet they so very much are. And it’s surprising and wonderful from beginning to end.

Escape Rating A: In spite of the author’s claim, and the many, many differences between this world and the world we know, calling The Angel of the Crows a Holmes pastiche is right on the money.

But it’s the kind of Holmes pastiche that combines Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald (collected in the author’s Fragile Things among other places) with Lyndsay Faye’s Dust and Shadow. By that I mean that this alternate world is invested – or infested – with a high quotient of the supernatural, but that this variation includes the detective and his friend desperate to solve the Whitechapel Murders. As they would have been if they had existed in real life, but that Conan Doyle probably couldn’t touch with the proverbial barge pole as that crime spree was probably too close to recent memory to be a fit subject for fictional crime-solving. But Holmes and Watson were operating at the same time as “the Ripper” and more than enough time has passed for historical mystery writers to have a field day looking into their investigation, as is the case in Dust and Shadow.

This variation is also genderbent and genderfluid in ways that fit within the world the author has created, and yet come as a complete surprise to the reader. Dr. J.H. Doyle reveals himself to be Joanna Henrietta Doyle when Miss Mary Morstan crosses his path. That Doyle has managed to not merely continue to live as a man but actually blackmailed the I.A.F. into allowing him to keep both his medical license AND his army pension turns out to be quite the story.

And ALL the angels are female – at least as much as celestial beings have gender. But humans have assumed them to be male, so that’s how they’re addressed and perceived. Only Doyle knows the truth of just how Crow managed to keep himself from becoming either Fallen or Nameless – as he so definitely should have.

(I continue to refer to Crow and Doyle as “he” because that is how they refer to themselves and to each other. They seem to have decided on their preferred pronouns, and I comply with their preferred form of address.)

The story of this book is a combination of many of the most famous cases in the original Holmes canon, notably A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles, among MANY others, with their continued investigation into the Whitechapel Murders. While it is inordinately fun to spot the differences between the original version of those famous cases and this one, it is not required to be familiar with the Holmes stories to enjoy these versions. But if you are, the mystery that needs to be solved is often a bit anticlimactic as the resolutions aren’t generally THAT different. Even though James Moriarty turns out to be a vampire.

However, their exploration of how this version of the world works is fascinating, and their constant – and constantly frustrating – attempts to figure out who is – or who are – committing the Whitechapel Murders AND the Thames Torso Murders is definitely a new piece of both that puzzle and theirs.

The Angel of the Crows straddles, or perhaps that should be hovers over, a whole bunch of different genres. There’s historical mystery mixed with alternate history leavened with urban fantasy which includes more than a touch of the supernatural. And if any or all of that appeals to you as much as it does to me, The Angel of the Crows will sweep you away.