Black Friday Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Black Friday Giveaway Hop, hosted by yours truly, Reading Reality, and the Caffeinated Reviewer!

This may not be the usual Black Friday – and it certainly may not have it’s usual salutary effect on retail business and its profit margins. Once upon a time – last year – the day after Thanksgiving marked the traditional opening of the holiday shopping season. As such, it was usually the day when retail stores tipped from the red – owing more money over the year than they made – to black – finally operating at a profit for the year.

While Black Friday this year won’t be what it normally is – or was – Cyber Monday is a thing that got really big very quickly but whose impact has faded more than a bit.

Once upon a time, most folks didn’t have high-speed internet in their homes but a LOT more people had it where they worked. Also, a fair number of people either had Black Friday off, or were working retail or were too busy over the holiday weekend whether visiting family or putting up decorations or whatever that they weren’t at work on Black Friday. But everybody who went back to the office on Monday spent at least some time sharing stories about how their Turkey Day went AND taking a bit of personal time at work – officially or otherwise – to shop for online bargains over their place of work’s high-speed internet.

So Cyber Monday got to be a thing. It’s not as big of a thing as it used to be.

Black Friday is also a bit of an odd day for blogging or pretty much anything normal – particularly for those still in a turkey coma or trying to figure out how to deal with all the leftovers from the day before. And so this hop was born.

We’re also going to do just a bit to help some retail businesses – here at Reading Reality at least some of the bookish ones. I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $15(US) gift card to either Amazon or the local bookstore of your choice, or $15(US) in books from the Book Depository. In order to do this there are just a couple of restrictions. For US entrants, the bookstore you choose needs to have an easy method for me to purchase your gift certificate online and get it sent to you. If you are outside the US, you need to be in a location that the Book Depository ships to (they don’t do Gift Certificates – maybe someday.)

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For more terrific prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!



Thanksgiving 2020

Galen here, once again sneaking onto Marlene’s blog to do a Thanksgiving reading list post.

George staring at me. Awaiting turkey?

As was the case in 2018, we are thankful for yet another kitty in our lives. George is one of the offspring of a neighborhood cat. He’s turned into quite the social glue of our clowder, demanding and getting affection from Freddie, Lucifer, and Hecate in various ways.

Again, as with 2018, I am hopeful that the results of the election will get our country back towards the path of justice. Of course, this is a difficult time: the pandemic is on fire everywhere in this country, and I fear that all of the travel and gatherings for Thanksgiving will cause so many needless deaths.

Marlene and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving together with the cats, and no one else is invited. Maybe next year will be different, but for as many of us to get to next year as possible, patience is required today. On the one hand, that’s easy enough for me and Marlene to say; we’re introverts. I won’t pretend that staying home hasn’t been hard for us, but I know it is a lot more difficult many others, including folks who have no choice but to go out into the world in order to keep body and soul together. But please: if you can, stay home for the holidays, share your Thanksgiving meal only with your pod (or at least stay outdoors as much as possible), wear your masks, and wash your hands.

Some reading:

Review: Deception by Nina Croft + Giveaway

Review: Deception by Nina Croft + GiveawayDeception by Nina Croft
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal romance, science fiction romance
Series: Dark Desires Origins (#2)
Pages: 400
Published by Entangled: Amara on November 23, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Brave new world or the same old crap?
Warlock Milo Velazquez has always dreamed of a day when “monsters” like him don’t have to hide in the shadows. Now, on a planet far from Earth, he’s hoping the old prejudices have been left behind. Though from what he’s seen so far—not a chance.
Their new leader could make life a living hell for Milo and the other immortals illegally transported across the galaxy. Under cover, he scopes out the threat, but he never expected to find a beautiful woman locked in a cell underground. He should ignore her and focus on his mission, but instead he sets her free.
Milo has met all kinds, paranormal creatures and humans, in his centuries of life, but Destiny is like nothing he’s ever encountered before. She’s flawless, and strangely naïve, though she can spout off facts like a walking encyclopedia. He isn’t sure who—or what—she is, or why someone so innocent would be a prisoner.
All he knows is Destiny is different...and finding out why could be their only hope for survival.
Each book in the Dark Desires Origins series is STANDALONE:* Malfunction* Deception


My Review:

It is just so damn good to see Rico Sanchez again. He was my introduction to the original series, all the way back in the original and entirely too short version of Break Out in 2011. I liked that book the first time I read it, absolutely loved it in the expanded edition in 2013, and have followed the series ever since just to follow the misadventures of this vampire in space.

Along with marveling at the whole concept of vampires in space, and wondering why I hadn’t seen this before – but definitely wanted to again!

At the time of Break Out and the entire Dark Desires series, this part of the galaxy had been settled by refugees from Earth for several centuries. The empire they founded on the cornerstones of a universal church and an authoritarian regime has become settled if not stable. The Terran origins of the humans in the Trakis system has receded back into history, to the point of myth and legend.

Except for Rico Sanchez, who lived through ALL of it from the Spanish Inquisition to the time period of the original story in 3058. We’ve seen hints of what happened in between, but didn’t have the full story.

At least not until the Dark Desires Origins series began earlier this year with Malfunction.

While in the first book in this new series it’s the ship that seems to be malfunctioning, the premise of the series as a whole is that the entire Earth was malfunctioning, in a way that we can kind of see from here. The consequence of that malfunction was an expedition to a galaxy far, far away where humans could re-establish themselves as a species – and probably mess up an entire new galaxy as well.

Certainly the “migration” was a clusterfuck in all sorts of very human ways. The best and the brightest were supposed to be “Chosen Ones’, but instead all the places on the 24 ships were taken up but the “rich and powerful” who purchased their places through bribery and kickbacks.

And one ship, just one ship, where Rico Sanchez replaced half of the originally intended passengers with people more-or-less like himself. Vampires, werewolves and other shifters. And at least one warlock.

Not a wizard like Harry Potter – although comparisons could be, and frequently are made. Rather, Milo Velazquez is the immortal “child” (he was over 500 years old before the migration) of a power-hungry witch and a demon. Not just any demon, either, but one of the lords of the seven Hells.

He’s also Rico’s nephew – sorta/kinda – so Rico doesn’t take no for an answer when Milo says he’d rather take his chances on Earth. Milo wakes up aboard Rico’s ship after 500 years of cryo-sleep in a place he swore he’d never go doing the one thing he swore he’d never do again.

Falling in love.

Escape Rating B: I’m enjoying this series so far because its an origin series for something I already loved. Based on reviews, readers new to the series are finding Malfunction and now Deception a great way to get into something marvelous, so don’t feel like you have to go all the way to Break Out to get into this one.

The setup to this series reminds me, in a peculiar way, of the way that Amanda Quick’s Arcane Society series took to the stars to become Jayne Castle’s Harmony series. People with psi powers on Earth first banded together to protect themselves, and then took themselves to the stars where they could fully develop their powers.

(Quick and Castle are the same person, Jayne Ann Krentz, and all of her books are wonderful.)

Robin D. Owen’s Celta series has a similar origin to Harmony. But both are based on the premise that there are people with psi powers here on Earth now who are forced to hide their powers and that they leave Earth not necessarily because the planet as a whole is FUBAR’d but because their particular situation is.

In the Dark Desires world, it’s the paranormal beings who are forced to lead a hidden existence, and who take advantage of a situation to get off Earth along with everyone else.

While most of the people on Rico’s ship are the traditional population of paranormal romance, Milo is a bit different. While it’s impossible not to see the influence of Harry Potter on his presence in this series, Milo explicitly isn’t quite like Harry even if he can do many of the same things.

One of the things that he and Rico have in common is that the “Church”, whatever its current incarnation, has always seen both of them as infernal creatures, eternally damned, who can be persecuted, crucified or burned at the stake – occasionally all of the above – anytime they need a scapegoat to keep the downtrodden masses occupied.

Neither of them is human and they only pretend to be when it suits them. Their views on humanity in general and the Church in specific are often quite scathing while being at the same time completely understandable.

All of which makes Milo’s attraction to the strangely innocent Destiny that much more fascinating. Destiny is naïve in a way that Milo hasn’t been for centuries. She’s not stupid, she’s just sheltered. And the more she breaks out of that shelter the deeper Milo falls – as much as he doesn’t want to.

The reasons behind Destiny’s sheltering turn out to be the heart of everything wrong with the new colony on Trakis Two. Discovering who and what she really is drives her journey and the dramatic tension of the entire story that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat from the minute she awakens to the second she breaks out of her mental cell for good, forever, and especially for Milo.

I am definitely looking forward to more of this prequel series. Hopefully in the not too distant future!

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

To celebrate the release of DECEPTION by Nina Croft, we’re giving away a paperback copy of Malfunction, the first standalone novel in the Dark Desires Origins series!

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GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Malfunction by Nina Croft. This giveaway is administered by BookMojo on behalf of Entangled Publishing. Giveaway ends 12/31/2020 @ 11:59pm EST.

Review: Fishing for Trouble by Elizabeth Logan + Giveaway

Review: Fishing for Trouble by Elizabeth Logan + GiveawayFishing for Trouble (Alaskan Diner Mystery #2) by Elizabeth Logan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Alaskan Diner #2
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on November 24, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Something fishy is going on at a local seafood processing plant, and Charlie Cooke is on the hook to solve the case in this new Alaskan Diner Mystery.
Summer has come to Elkview, Alaska, bringing twenty hours of sunlight every day, not to mention a surge of tourists and seasonal workers. Chef Charlie Cooke is eager for a busy yet relaxing season, but when a young man working a summer job at the local fish processing plant dies moments after walking into the Bear Claw Diner, she’s quickly swept into the investigation.
Soon, through her best friend Annie Jensen, Charlie learns that another student worker at J and M Processing has disappeared, leaving more questions and fewer answers. The near-endless sunlight gives plenty of time to search for clues, but Charlie will have to work with Annie and local reporter Chris Doucette to net the killer before anyone else gets hurt.


My Review:

Whenever someone’s ex shows up in a story, it always means drama. Not always trouble – although usually trouble – but always drama.

In romance, when an ex shows up with whom the protagonist has unfinished business, there’s the possibility of a second-chance-at-love story. But there are always other possibilities, especially in a mystery series like the Alaskan Diner series.

When Charlie’s (let’s call him emotionally abusive – as well as unfaithful) ex turns up in tiny Elkview, Alaska, it certainly wasn’t to deal with any unfinished emotional business between them – no matter what the lying, cheating asshole pretended.

Oh, he’s still emotionally manipulative and abusive – just for kicks. It was enough to make me think that Ryan Jamison was going to turn out to be an EvilEx™ but he wasn’t nearly that important.

He was just a sleazy lawyer on retainer for a local fish processing plant. The very same fish plant that employed a summer worker who had just died in Charlie’s Bear Claw Diner – before his order had even been delivered.

Which doesn’t let food poisoning out as a possible cause of the young man’s death – but certainly absolves the Bear Claw of any possibility of being the agency of the poison. But Ethan Johnson is still dead, his girlfriend tried to skip town and one of his friends is missing.

There’s clearly something rotten in the village of Elkview, and the advent of Charlie’s ex just adds to the stink already coming from the fish processors. Especially when the cause of death turns out to be, not food poisoning, but mercury poisoning – and mercury that was administered over a long-term at that. Mercury that could have been in the fish that was being processed. Or part of an experiment. Or some other cause yet to be determined.

The Alaska State Trooper stationed in Elkview, Cody Graham, is as overworked as he was in the first book in this series, Mousse and Murder, leading him to re-activate his gang of volunteer sleuths – a gang that includes both Charlie and the local newspaper reporter Chris Doucette.

Charlie, both with and without Chris’ assistance – but definitely more with – has to discover out what’s really going on at the secretive fish processing plant – and why so many of its summer workers are going missing, getting into trouble or ending up dead.

And figure out who is leaving Charlie threatening messages – before she ends up in the same boat!

Escape Rating B: This is turning out to be a comfort read series for me. It reminds me just enough of the Alaska I used to live in, although this is certainly a more idealized version of life in the Great State than real life. Even in Anchorage the winter weather is both long and brutal, and the feeling of isolation can be overwhelming. (January generally sucks. Period. Exclamation point.)

But the summers can be glorious, and that is portrayed very well in this second entry in the series, including the strangeness of trying to go to sleep when it’s still light out and getting to be out until midnight while it’s daylight.

So part of what I read this series for is that lovely small-town vibe with a special Alaskan flavor.

That being said, this is a cozy mystery series, and it may eventually run into the conundrum that all such series face – that the population is too small to support the number of murders that will eventually ensue. But that’s for another day, far down the road. For this one, we have students on summer jobs to provide both the corpses and the murder suspects.

This is a story where the red herrings, the many, many red herrings, are particularly tasty – and not just because they’re nestled among the absolutely mouth-watering descriptions of all the yummy things that Charlie cooks, bakes and serves at the Bear Claw Diner.

Charlie and her friends are extremely amateur sleuths. They wander down a lot of dead ends to reach the killer – who in the end reaches out for them because, well, they are so not professional about any of this.

This was a story of multiple misdirections, as none of what looked like clues in the beginning turned out to be germane in the end – at least not to the murder. Not that they didn’t uncover plenty of other skullduggery being processed along with those fish.

The identity of the murderer came a bit out of left field, and it felt like Charlie’s ex exited in that direction. We don’t get near enough clues about the real identity of the murderer or his motives, and Charlie’s EvilEx™ turned out to be a Chekhov’s Gun ex. He hung on the proverbial mantlepiece and wasn’t nearly as involved as it looked like he would be at the beginning.

On the other hand, the tentative beginnings of Charlie’s relationship with Chris became a bit less tentative over the course of the investigation, while Charlie’s frankly adorable relationship with her cat Benny continued to provide just the right amount of sweetness to this story without spoiling the story. Benny on the other hand is VERY spoiled.

In the end, this was as light and fluffy as one of the omelets served at the Bear Claw Diner. I’ll be back for another delicious treat when the author returns to this series with Murphy’s Slaw in May 2021!

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

 

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Great Escapes
This post is part of a Great Escapes Book Tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Dune: The Duke of Caladan by Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson

Review: Dune: The Duke of Caladan by Brian Herbert, Kevin J. AndersonDune: The Duke of Caladan by Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Caladan Trilogy #1
Pages: 414
Published by Tor Books on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A legend begins in Dune: The Duke of Caladan, first in The Caladan Trilogy by New York Times bestselling authors Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.
Leto Atreides, Duke of Caladan and father of the Muad’Dib. While all know of his fall and the rise of his son, little is known about the quiet ruler of Caladan and his partner Jessica. Or how a Duke of an inconsequential planet earned an emperor’s favor, the ire of House Harkonnen, and set himself on a collision course with his own death. This is the story.
Through patience and loyalty, Leto serves the Golden Lion Throne. Where others scheme, the Duke of Caladan acts. But Leto’s powerful enemies are starting to feel that he is rising beyond his station, and House Atreides rises too high. With unseen enemies circling, Leto must decide if the twin burdens of duty and honor are worth the price of his life, family, and love.


My Review:

Dune: The Duke of Caladan really should have been titled Dune: The Book of Foreshadowing. Seriously. This book is all the foreshadowing all the time. That’s neither good nor bad, but it is kind of “meh”.

First edition cover

Which it may not be if the original Dune is just something you read but didn’t make that gigantic an impression. But those of us for whom the original is part of our personal canon (see Sarah Gailey’s marvelous feature for an explanation of what that REALLY means) there’s not nearly as much dramatic tension here as there was in the original.

After all, we already know EXACTLY what happens to all of these people – and only one year in their future at that. And even if you don’t already know from either the book or one of the dramatic adaptations, it’s pretty easy to find out. Dune was originally published in 1965 as a two-part serial in Analog magazine It tied for the Hugo and won the FIRST Nebula and was cited as the WORLD’s best-selling science fiction novel in 2003. Synopses and analyses and all kinds of other -ses are readily available pretty much everywhere, including a brief but decent summary on Wikipedia that manages to hit all the high points without nearly conveying just how compelling the damn thing is to read – or at least was when it first came out.

I read it in for the first time in the mid-to-late 1960s, probably not long after I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time, so I was probably 11 or 12, certainly no more than 13, and it was one of the first big science fiction books I ever read, along with Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, and Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land – which I was MUCH too young to completely “grok” at the time. I read them all, including LOTR, more than once, and those readings formed the backbone of my lifelong love affair with Fantasy and Science Fiction – along with a heaping helping of Star Trek.

I think it’s difficult to see from today’s perspective just how influential those books were on a young reader who fell into the genre, because speculative fiction today, to treat fantasy and SF more broadly, is so much more influential – and infinitely more readily available – than it was then. There weren’t nearly so many choices, so discovering something that was just SO GOOD was marvelous and had an outsize influence.

All that to say that the original Dune – not the sequels and prequels and what-have-you – is a book I still remember very fondly – and still remember the high points of even decades after the last time I read it.

So I had hopes that this prequel would bring back some of that intense love I felt for the original OMG half a century ago. (Mind reels!) And it did bring back memories of the original book. Perhaps too many, as those memories cut the legs out from under any dramatic tension in this one.

Escape Rating C+: I loved the original, and this one suffers both in comparison and in the way that my knowledge of the original story turns almost the entirety of this book into foreshadowing of that one instead of feeling compelled to read this one in it’s own right.

Completists will probably love this book. However, while I may usually be a completist it’s just not working for me here. I feel like I already knew enough about what happened at this point in the history, AND it’s really difficult to get into a story knowing when, where, how and why the protagonist will die. And that the death in question isn’t even all that far off.

Even the information that is new to this story, like the plot about the Noble Commonwealth and the Caladan drug, drove me a bit bonkers as I kept expecting one of the Mentats to suggest that there might be a link between the two, but it never happens. Which meant that the “big reveal” wasn’t one to this reader, although it certainly was to entirely too many characters within the story.

But as much as that particular lack of computation felt like a missing piece, overall there were too many pieces, and they repeated too many things I remembered. When I saw the blurb for this book, I was expecting something a lot shorter than what I got. So don’t let the details on Amazon or anywhere else fool you, the Book Depository, and only on the British edition of the book, seems to be the only place that got the correct information. This is NOT a 320 page book. Rather, it just misses being a 420 page book by a hair. Maybe it SHOULD have been a 320 page book. But it isn’t.

Science fiction has been referred to as the “romance of political agency” and this is definitely a book in that mode. It’s all about political chicanery, noble skullduggery, and greed on all sides, with Leto as the one honorable man in the middle of an imperial shitstorm. Readers who are looking for something to either substitute for, whet their appetites for, or tide them over until the next movie version will probably enjoy this. There are plenty of juicy bits.

But it doesn’t live up to the original – or at least not the way that original shines so bright in my memory.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 11-22-20

Sunday Post

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Black Friday Giveaway Hop, hosted by Caffeinated Reviewer and Reading Reality, starts this Friday, Black Friday, November 27. It’s not too late to sign up if you’re looking for something to post the day after Thanksgiving, and if you’re looking for a chance at a bit of holiday cheer for yourself, the hop runs through Monday, November 30. Come one, come all!

The picture below is “Old Man George”. Not that George is old, or will be for hopefully many years as he’s not quite a year old yet. But there’s something about his pose and the expression on his little face that made me think that this is what he will look like when he’s a little old man cat. He’ll still be adorable – of course he will – but the zoomies might have calmed down a bit by then. Maybe.

This is also the start of Turkey Week in the U.S., otherwise known as the Thanksgiving holiday. We did pick up our “traditional” turkey boob yesterday at the grocery store, along with just enough fixings for two people to have a little feast. Hopefully the cats won’t interfere in the preparation process TOO much! In spite of EVERYTHING, we still have a lot to be thankful for, and I hope that you do too!

Please take care of you and yours, and have a safe and happy holiday!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card from Sophie Barnes and The Formidable Earl
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the In Everything Give Thanks Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Holiday HOHOHO Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

In Everything Give Thanks Giveaway Hop
B+ Review: Lowcountry Boughs of Holly by Susan M. Boyer
Holiday HOHOHO Giveaway Hop
B Review: The Formidable Earl by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway
A- Review: Under a Winter Sky by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr, L. Penelope
Stacking the Shelves (419)

Coming This Week:

Dune: The Duke of Caladan by Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson (review)
Fishing for Trouble by Elizabeth Logan (blog tour review)
Deception by Nina Croft (blog tour review)
Black Friday Giveaway Hop

Stacking the Shelves (419)

Stacking the Shelves

More books again. The TBR pile has embiggened! Some of these won’t be out until next August, but still, it seems like the holiday publishing doldrums have passed even if the holidays themselves aren’t here yet.

And there’s one book on the list that I’m already salivating over. It’s The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison, because it’s the sequel to the marvelously splendiferous The Goblin Emperor. Not that I didn’t adore The Angel of the Crows this year by the same author (Sarah Monette writing as Addison) but The Goblin Emperor was just so incredible that the sequel couldn’t come fast enough. And now it’s here. Well, it’s here in my TBR pile of eARCs, and it will be here for reals in June.

For Review:
Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron
The Bitter Taste of Murder (Tuscan Mystery #2) by Camilla Trinchieri
Bound (Chinatown Demons #1) by Rhys Ford
Cash in Hand by TA Moore
The Lady Has a Past (Burning Cove #5) by Amanda Quick
Maps for the Getaway by Annie England Noblin
The Moonsteel Crown (Dominion #1) by Stephen Deas
A Rogue’s Company (Sparks & Bainbridge #3) by Allison Montclair
The Quiet Boy by Ben H. Winters
She Wouldn’t Change a Thing by Sarah Adlakha
The Siren by Katherine St. John
The Stills (Kinship #3) by Jess Montgomery
The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison
The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff
The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Once Upon a Townsbridge Story (Townsbridges #0) by Sophie Barnes
A Stitch in Time (Stitch in Time #1) by Kelley Armstrong
The Wicked & the Dead (Faery Bargains #1) by Melissa Marr



Review: Under a Winter Sky by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr, L. Penelope

Review: Under a Winter Sky by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr, L. PenelopeUnder a Winter Sky by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr, L. Penelope
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Pages: 373
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on November 19, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Four powerhouse authors of fantasy and urban fantasy bring you a feast of romantic midwinter holiday adventures. These heartwarming and pulse-pounding tales celebrate Hanukah, Christmas, the solstice, Yule – and holidays from worlds beyond our own. With fancy-dress balls, faery bargains, time travel, blood sacrifice, and festive cocktails, these stories will delight lovers of fantasy and romance, with a dash of seasonal joy.
Ballgowns & Butterflies by Kelley Armstrong
The North Yorkshire moors are always a magical place, but they’re particularly enchanting at the holidays…especially if one gets to travel back in time to a Victorian Christmas. For Bronwyn Dale, it is the stuff of dreams. Fancy-dress balls, quirky small-town traditions, even that classic one-horse open sleigh, complete with jingle bells. There’s just the tiny problem of the Butterfly Effect. How does a time-traveler make a difference without disrupting the future forever?
The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon, a prequel novella to Heirs of Magic, by Jeffe Kennedy
Shapeshifter Prince Rhyian doesn’t especially want to spend the Feast of Moranu at Castle Ordnung. First of all, it’s literally freezing there, an uncomfortable change from the tropical paradise of his home. Secondly, it’s a mossback castle which means thick walls and too many rules. Thirdly, his childhood playmate and current nemesis, Lena, will be there. Not exactly a cause for celebration.
Princess Salena Nakoa KauPo nearly wriggled out of traveling to Ordnung with her parents, but her mother put her foot down declaring that, since everyone who ever mattered to her was going to be there to celebrate the 25th year of High Queen Ursula’s reign, Lena can suffer through a feast and a ball for one night. Of course, “everyone” includes the sons and daughters of her parents’ friends, and it also means that Rhyian, insufferable Prince of the Tala, will attend.
But on this special anniversary year, Moranu’s sacred feast falls on the long night of the crystalline moon—and Rhy and Lena discover there’s more than a bit of magic in the air.
Blood Martinis and Mistletoe by Melissa Marr
Half-dead witch Geneviève Crowe makes her living beheading the dead--and spends her free time trying not to get too attached to her business partner, Eli Stonecroft, a faery in self-imposed exile in New Orleans. With a killer at her throat and a blood martini in her hand, Gen accepts what seems like a straight-forward faery bargain, but soon realizes that if she can't figure out a way out of this faery bargain, she'll be planning a wedding after the holidays.
Echoes of Ash & Tears, an Earthsinger Chronicles Novella, by L. Penelope
Brought to live among the Cavefolk as an infant, Mooriah has long sought to secure her place in the clan and lose her outsider status. She’s a powerful blood mage, and when the chieftain’s son asks for help securing the safety of the clan, she agrees. But though she’s long been drawn to the warrior, any relationship between the two is forbidden. The arrival of a mysterious stranger with a tempting offer tests her loyalties, and when betrayal looms, will Mooriah’s secrets and hidden power put the future she’s dreamed of—and her adopted home—in jeopardy.


My Review:

If it’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays where you are, this collection is a terrific way to get into the holiday spirit. Or spirits, as the case might be, for multiple definitions thereof. It certainly made me shiver with the remembered chill and sparkle of the kiss of snow, even if we don’t get much of that around here.

There are five stories in this little collection, all featuring winter and some type of solstice or longest night type story, and all with just a little bit of something extra.

It could be those holiday spirits, although not necessarily Christmas or Yule, as not all of these stories take place on our Earth. These are all some variety of fantasy romance, so the world is not necessarily the world we know – at least not quite.

Ballgowns & Butterflies by Kelley Armstrong is a bit of a time-travel story, and it is set in our world and does feature Christmas. But it isn’t quite the one we recognize – although it sorta/kinda is in a delicious way.

Because the Christmas that Lady Bronwyn Thorne is celebrating is an honest-to-goodness Victorian holiday, in the Victorian era where she spends part of her life. The Victorian Christmas celebration is the one on which many of our contemporary traditions, at least in Britain and North America, are based. As a historian, it’s the era that is nearest and dearest to Bronwyn’s heart – as is her husband who she met in that time period, but has married in both.

This was a lovely little story, and I enjoyed its evocation of the holiday spirit as well as feeling for Bronwyn’s time-travel dilemma. At the same time, this story feels like a coda to another, longer story, only because it is. This is the followup to A Stitch in Time, which is wrapped around the romance between Bronwyn and her Victorian-era husband William, and I very much wish I’d read that first.

Likewise, the only other story set at least partially in our world, Blood Martinis & Mistletoe by Melissa Marr, read like just the kind of urban fantasy that I love to sink my teeth into. But this was also part of the author’s Faery Bargains series, and I felt like I’d missed all of the setup which is in the first book in the series, The Wicked and the Dead. Which I now very much want to read because this seems awesome.

(Actually I bought the first books in both of these series because I was so intrigued.)

And now I have to confess two things before I get to my favorite story in the collection.

I didn’t read L. Penelope’s Earthsinger story because I haven’t read the series, and I just didn’t want to get teased yet again by a story that is even more bang in the middle of a series than the previous two.

And, as much as I was looking forward to reading the Grace Draven story, because I have read at least some of her Wraith Kings series, that story wasn’t included in my eARC. C’est la vie.

But, but, but, the story I got this collection for was definitely there. And I’m so happy about that.

I love Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Kingdoms/Chronicles of Dasnaria mega-series, so I’m always up for more. And The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon, a prequel for Heirs of Magic, her upcoming series set in the same world, certainly delivered.

Did it ever!

The story is “the Next Generation” of that long-running saga, taking place 25 years after the (final?) defeat of the evil Deyrr at the end of the (now we know it’s not) final book, The Fate of the Tala. Which I adored even though I was sorry to see the whole thing wrap up.

I always hoped the saga would continue, so this was a treat from beginning to end.

What’s lovely about this one is that we get to see everyone we met in the previous series, know that they are all doing well and that they have all managed to have their happy ever afters. HEAs that they all definitely earned.

But this story focuses not on the previous heroes, but rather on their children, all of whom are now adults – albeit some more mature than others. Then again, that’s kind of the nature of being in one’s 20s, figuring out who one really is and what kind of a future one is looking for.

Or, in the case of these seven princes, princesses and princelings, the kind of future that is barreling towards them at breakneck speed – even if they don’t know it yet.

So, on the surface, we have the story of the longest night of the year, coupled with a romance that could either be a second-chance-at-love or a story of two lovers who missed their chance and need to close that door before their future truly begins.

The question of which it is going to be is not quite answered by the end of this story about unfinished business and lost chances because a much more dangerous future rears its ugly head just as we think there might be a resolution.

All those delicious and perilous chances are left hanging off the edge of a sheer cliff when the interlude closes, leaving readers – especially this one – absolutely salivating for what is to come.

I can’t wait. Hopefully I won’t have to wait long, as the projected publication date in Goodreads says next month!

Howsomever, just like the other stories in this collection, The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon is not the place to start your journey with this fantastic series. Start with The Mark of the Tala and settle in for a wonderful reading binge.

Possibly a long enough – and certainly captivating enough – binge to carry you through until spring!

Escape Rating A-: I got this collection for the Jeffe Kennedy story, and I loved that story, so that makes the whole thing a win. I liked both the Armstrong and the Marr stories enough that I bought the previous books in their respective series’ so also a win. I felt the chill of winter snow even in the warm Atlanta fall weather so even more of a win for bringing me just the right taste of a season that I don’t have to experience too much of, definitely a win all the way around! If you are into any or all of the series featured in this collection, you’re in for a treat!

Review: The Formidable Earl by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Formidable Earl by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Formidable Earl (Diamonds in the Rough, #6) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #6
Pages: 416
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 17, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He's breaking the rules for one woman, and coming dangerously close to falling in love…
Simon Nugent, Earl of Fielding, knows he's flawed. He's arrogant, possessive, and haunted by a terrible choice he made long ago. So when a former friend's daughter gives him the chance to do a good deed, he grabs it. Except he'd like to grab her as well and teach her a thing or two about kissing. If only she weren't so damn stubborn.
Ida Strong wants one thing – justice on behalf of her father. She has no room for anything else, in spite of her growing and (at times) inexplicable attraction toward a certain earl. But for a woman who knows what betrayal tastes like, placing her trust in others is hard. Risking her heart, would be downright foolish. Until it's the only thing that seems to make sense.


My Review:

The Formidable Earl harkens back to the first book in this series, A Most Unlikely Duke. In that first story, Raphe Matthews, the very unlikely duke, steals the Earl of Fielding’s fiancee. Not that it was actual theft, not that Gabriela didn’t go extremely willingly, and not that Simon was even remotely heartbroken.

The only parts of Simon that took any kind of hit were his pride and his reputation. Possibly along with the stick up his ass – although that may have become more firmly embedded as the years went by. After all, Simon only proposed to Gabriela because she’d make a perfect countess – not because he cared about her or even really knew her.

It was, after all, what the Earl of Fielding was expected to do. So he did. But fortunately for everyone both in that story and this one, SHE didn’t.

Considering that Simon has a terrible habit of doing what is expected instead of what he wants, well past the point of his own detriment, he’s actually better off without Gabriela, who wasn’t nearly as perfect for the role he imagined for her as he thought she was.

But she’s perfect as the Duchess of Huntley, and Raphe and Gabriela are perfect for each other.

Leaving Simon, in his mid-30s, alone and in need of a wife, or so he – and polite society – believe.

What Simon is really in need of is a LIFE. It’s only when he steps just a bit outside his comfort zone to get one that he finds everything he really needs. All he has to do is consign his starched and pristine reputation to the scrapheap where it belongs.

By marrying a woman who everyone insists is a traitor, a prostitute, and very nearly a murderess into the bargain.

Escape Rating B: There’s a theme to this series, and it’s pretty obvious from the series title. One protagonist or the other is just not “suitable” for marriage into the ton, whether it’s because they were raised outside it, because they were forced out of it, or because they were never part of it in the first place. The usual progress of each story is for the person who does belong to realize that what polite society thinks and believes is a whole lot of horseshit.

The books in the series are only kind of loosely linked, so it really isn’t necessary to read the previous books, or to read all of them, before diving into The Formidable Earl. (I just discovered I missed one along the way and now I WANT to go back to it, but I don’t HAVE to go back.)

The reason for, in this case, the heroine’s unsuitability was fascinating, but the hero’s reaction to it was at times just a bit squicky. Let me explain.

Ida Strong’s dilemma is a reminder that this series takes place at a time when the Napoleonic Wars were not far in the past at all, and that there were still a lot of hard feelings, wounded veterans and general all-around recriminations going on at the time. (The Napoleonic Wars, in a fictional sense, are a gift that just keeps on giving. So many dramatic possibilities both during the war and in the following years.)

Four years before this story begins, Ida Strong’s father, a celebrated British Army General, was convicted of treason in Napoleon’s escape from Elba. Matthew Strong was executed for a heinous crime that he did not commit, and his daughter vowed to find the men responsible and clear her father’s name.

In those intervening years, Ida lived in a brothel owned and operated by her mother’s sister. And that’s where Simon Nugent, the Earl of Fielding, discovers her the one time he decides to break away from his extremely priggish persona.

Simon’s exposure of Ida puts her life in danger from the men who connived at framing her father. The story here is Simon attempting to protect her while falling in love with this woman who is oh-so-wrong according to everyone who is anyone, but oh-so-right for Simon.

But, the exposure of Simon’s thoughts and feelings about the possibility that Ida is a prostitute is extremely uncomfortable to read. It’s not that it isn’t true to what we think of the Regency, it’s that, quite honestly, it just feels awful. It makes all kinds of sense for the era, but it still makes the reader, or at least this reader, squirm when reading it.

Which gives me mixed feelings that Ida has to reject the idea so forcefully in order to be considered “worthy” of becoming his heroine equally squirmy. Again, not that this isn’t true to what we believe of the era. But it still made me uncomfortable.

All of that being said, I really, really liked Ida. She’s a terrific heroine, forthright and proactive with plenty of agency. She was more middle-class to begin with, but society has completely rejected her so she’s pretty much said “to hell with it and the horse it rode in on.”

That Simon is both slavishly devoted to worrying about what people will think and falling desperately in love with Ida puts him on the horns of a delicious dilemma. That Ida has decided what she wants and what she doesn’t, and has no plans to settle, in contrast with Simon’s need to keep her with his initial unwillingness to buck society provides the romantic tension.

That someone really is out to get her, and that they nearly succeed, provides plenty of dramatic tension to keep the reader turning pages until the very last.

I’m certainly looking forward to the continuation of this series with Her Scottish Scoundrel in May of 2021. Not nearly soon enough!

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

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Holiday HOHOHO Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Holiday HOHOHO Giveaway Hop, hosted by Review Wire Media and Chatty Patty’s Place!

Even in this very strange year, it’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays. After all, the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday is next Thursday, one week from tomorrow! That’s close.

I’m just realizing that one of the few bright spots of this bizarre year is not having to hear holiday carols wherever I go. The downside, of course, is that there is no place TO go. Or at least there shouldn’t be.

Still, it’s that time of year again. Which in our house means picking up our annual turkey “boob” at the grocery store this weekend. (There’s only two of us, we don’t feed the cats people food, so a turkey breast is enough for us and we STILL have leftovers!)

Our annual discussion of what to trim that turkey boob with (as well as my annual preparations for the Black Friday Giveaway Hop) marks the holiday season as officially here in our house.

What about your house? What marks the opening of the holiday season for you? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance to win either a $10 Amazon Gift Card (or the equivalent from your local Amazon) or $10 in books from the Book Depository. This giveaway is open to anyone anywhere that the Book Depository ships, so the U.S. and LOTS of other places!

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For more holiday prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

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