Guest Review: Accidentally Yours by Bettye Griffin

Guest Review: Accidentally Yours by Bettye GriffinAccidentally Yours by Bettye Griffin
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 288
Published by Bunderful Books on August 6, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

A romantic comedy available for the first time as an eBook (originally published under the title Prelude to a Kiss)...

Vivian St. James, facing both a new millennium and her thirty-fifth birthday, vows that this will be her last New Year's Eve spent at home in front of the TV. Determined to meet her Mr. Right, she throws herself into an avid social life, attending events all over the greater New York metropolitan area in search of her dream man. While successful in her quest to meet potential mates, soon an unfortunate pattern develops as accidents or sudden illnesses befall her candidates, one by one. To her chagrin, the treating physician on duty is always the handsome Dr. Zachary Warner...

ER physician Zack Warner finds himself captivated by the dark-skinned beauty who presents to the ER accompanying an injured date. But the presence of her escort makes it impossible to act on his attraction, and when she leaves the facility he figures he'll never see her again. But their paths do cross again, as he is called on to treat Vivian's companions. As the injuries pile up, he good-naturedly ribs her about her unfortunate effect on the men she dates, all the while longing to have her attentions for himself. His making light of her increasingly worrisome situation does anything but endear him to a mortified Vivian, who wonders if she's some kind of jinx. But then Zack finds himself on the casualty list...and their uneasy relationship takes a new, easy, turn that surprises them both...

Guest Review by Amy:

HR executive Vivian St. James is sneaking up on 35, and still single. Dates just don’t work out, going at it the way she has been. So she gets involved in events all over New York, trying to find Mr. Right. Somehow, the guys she ends up meeting keep getting hurt, and she takes them to the ER, where she keeps bumping into physician Zach Warner. Jinx? Or is the universe trying to tell her something?

Escape Rating: A: This story was originally published by Harlequin in 2001, as Prelude to a Kiss.  A couple of things stood out as differences: a) the cover of the later publication did not make it obvious that this story featured African-American characters, and b) the new title is much more interesting and true to the story. Some reviewers, apparently ones who read Accidentally Yours, kvetched about the fact they didn’t realize until they were well into the story that all the main characters were persons-of-color. One critic frothed that they were “1/4 of the way through” before they figured it out.  To them, I say, “pishantosh.” It’s made clear quite early on, and the mental shift that I had to go through as a white woman — we make characters in our own image, after all — was refreshing to me.

Bettye Griffin has given us a fun little rom-com tale here. There’s a fair bit going on; we meet Vivian’s best friend, her neighbors, her parents, and a series of guys that she dates (and takes to the ER) along the way. She’s not really a jinx, of course, those guys were just unlucky, and stuff happens. There’s almost a comedy-of-errors flavor going on in this book. It’s glaringly obvious from the outset that Zach is the Mr. Right that Vivian is looking for, naturally. Zach and his buddy (who is the fiancee of one of Vivian’s close friends) turn out to be Vivian’s landlords, but no one’s telling anyone that they know this, they’re both just circling around and thinking surely the other has better things going on. But when Zach falls and sprains his ankle, and Vivian runs him to the ER, things take a turn. His brownstone is full of steps, as brownstones tend to be, so he ends up staying on her sofa for the week.

Things could have gotten hot at that point in the story, but Griffin throws us a knuckleball, and they don’t. Zach and Vivian have both discovered that they kinda like the domesticity of “being together,” but still don’t quite manage to bring things together. A few weeks later, they’re both on safari vacations — and bump into each other there, quite unexpectedly. Sparks fly, and when they get back to New York, they go on a date, then don’t see each other for a couple of weeks before flying out together to go to Desireé and Austin’s wedding. Ever the gentleman, he gets them a lovely suite for their stay in Denver. The comedy-of-errors continues, but I shan’t spill all the details. There’s some pretty intense tension in this book, and when it finally gets resolved, it does so beautifully, with two people who have fallen pretty hard for each other, just taking a while to realize it. The book trips along blissfully to the utterly-predictable ending.

Serious read? Absolutely not. Fun romp of a romance? Totally.

Review: The Pawful Truth by Miranda James

Review: The Pawful Truth by Miranda JamesThe Pawful Truth (Cat in the Stacks #11) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #11
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When Charlie Harris decides to go back to school, he and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, find themselves entangled in a deadly lovers quarrel on campus in the latest installment of the New York Times bestselling series.

In addition to his library duties and his role as doting grandad, Charlie has enrolled in an early medieval history course offered by young, charismatic professor Carey Warriner. Charlie feels a bit out of place- his fellow classmates are half his age- except for Dixie Bell Compton, another 'mature' student. When Charlie hears an angry exchange between her and their professor, his interest in piqued. He's even more intrigued when she shows up at his office asking for a study partner. Charlie turns her down and is saddened to learn just a few days later that Dixie has been killed.

Charlie wonders if Professor Warriner had anything to do with Dixie's death. Warriner is married to a fellow professor who happens to be a successful author. There are rumors on campus that their marriage was on the rocks. Was Dixie's death the result of a lovers' triangle gone bad? Charlie soon discovers that the professor's wife may have some secrets of her own and his suspect list is only getting longer.

As he and Diesel step further into the tangled web of relationships, someone else is viciously killed. Whose jealousy finally erupted into murderous rage? Was it a crime of passion or is there another more sinister motive? Charlie races to unravel this mystery: and to draw out the culprit, he may just have to put his own life on the line...

My Review:

I was looking for a comfort read this week. I’ve been reading too much fanfiction and haven’t been able to just dive into anything that I could write a review for. And the cats have been particularly adorable this week, which led me to Charlie Harris, his large and in charge Maine Coon cat Diesel, and the Cat in the Stacks series. As if that wasn’t enough of a reminder, I just picked up an eARC of the next book in the series!

Charlie Harris is the rare books librarian and archivist at Athena College in the cozy little small town of Athena Mississippi. Charlie, an alum of Athena College, spent most of his professional life in Houston, but returned home at the beginning of the series in Murder Past Due, when he inherited a lovely old house from his Aunt Dottie. (A far northerly version of this opening occurs in Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who series.)

By this 11th book in the series we’ve gotten to know Charlie, his friends and family, and the denizens of Athena fairly well. Especially Charlie’s large and colorful cat, Diesel. Maine Coons are generally large and fairly placid cats, but Diesel is exceptional even for his breed, as Charlie comments that he’s 37 pounds or so with the bone structure to carry that weight. Diesel can afford to be fairly laid back, as he is bigger than even some medium sized dogs.

Diesel is often a common sight around town, as he accompanies his person nearly everywhere that Charlie goes. But Diesel, for all his size and empathy, is never portrayed as anything more than just a very large cat who is smart on the feline intelligence scale. He doesn’t solve murders.

Yes, I want a Diesel of my own. Maine Coons are handsome and very well behaved.

Which is more than one can say for Ramses, the kitten that Charlie and Diesel adopted at the end of Six Cats a Slayin’.

If you’re getting the impression that I read this series more for the cat than his human, you might be right.

Nevertheless, Charlie Harris is an interesting sleuth, and the author, a real-life librarian, has done an excellent job of making Charlie read like “one of us” while still allowing the other characters to lampshade Charlie’s unfortunate resemblance to TV small town sleuth Jessica Fletcher.

Too many dead bodies seem to turn up in both of their wakes – to the point where one might wonder – as some of the other characters frequently do, whether Charlie’s luck is good or bad and whether or not it is safe to be in his orbit.

This particular case combines the character’s loves of both English literature and history with that oft-quoted quip by Henry Kissinger, the one that goes, “The reason that university politics is so vicious is because takes are so small.”

Only Charlie Harris could manage to audit a college class that results in not just one but two dead bodies. And ends with the killer’s hands wrapped around Charlie’s own throat.

Escape Rating B: I read this series for fun – and I certainly had fun reading The Pawful Truth. In spite of the terribly punny title.

This entry in the series provided a light read that instantly swept me back into the little town of Athena and Charlie Harris’ terrific family, whether those family members are by birth or by “adoption”.

(I’ll admit that I would also love to audit that class that Charlie does – Plantagenet and Tudor England was also my favorite period of history.)

But the mystery in this one was also interesting in the way that it spins out from what seems like a relatively simple case of love triangle gone wrong to something that in the end surprisingly resembles Shakespearean tragedy. A particular Shakespearean tragedy in fact – that of Othello.

It was fun to watch the case morph from the simple to the increasingly complex, even as Charlie did his usual job of digging into something that he should never have been part of in the first place – only to find himself in the middle yet again.

That this case looked to be based in the insular world of academia added yet more red herrings while also providing a semi-credible excuse for Charlie to involve himself way more than he ought to have. Not that Charlie ever needs much of an excuse.

And I was too busy catching up with all my friends in this series to spot who the murderer was, which just added to the fun.

I’ll definitely be back for the next book in the series, Careless Whiskers, whenever I need a little reading vacation in Athena.

Reviewer’s Note: As much as I always love Diesel, his behavior with the tiny and precocious kitten Ramses brought a smile to my face and reminded me very fondly of feline behavior in my own household. When Hecate was a tiny kitten Freddie used to “let” her chase him and “pretend” that she had thrown him to the ground. At the time, Hecate weighed 1.5 pounds (maybe) and Freddie about 12 pounds. Cats who want to play with each other in spite of a significant size difference will play just the way that Diesel and Ramses do and it’s utterly adorable.

Review: Permafrost by Alistair Reynolds

Review: Permafrost by Alistair ReynoldsPermafrost by Alastair Reynolds
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, time travel
Pages: 182
Published by Tor.com on March 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Fix the past. Save the present. Stop the future. Master of science fiction Alastair Reynolds unfolds a time-traveling climate fiction adventure in Permafrost.

2080: at a remote site on the edge of the Arctic Circle, a group of scientists, engineers and physicians gather to gamble humanity’s future on one last-ditch experiment. Their goal: to make a tiny alteration to the past, averting a global catastrophe while at the same time leaving recorded history intact. To make the experiment work, they just need one last recruit: an ageing schoolteacher whose late mother was the foremost expert on the mathematics of paradox.

2028: a young woman goes into surgery for routine brain surgery. In the days following her operation, she begins to hear another voice in her head... an unwanted presence which seems to have a will, and a purpose, all of its own – one that will disrupt her life entirely. The only choice left to her is a simple one.

Does she resist ... or become a collaborator?

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

My Review:

If you cross “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff” with the Skynet, and add just a splash of Station Eleven, you get something like Permafrost. Unless there’s a time paradox in there somewhere – or maybe because there’s a time paradox in there somewhere.

Like I said, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.

I want to say that perhaps a bit of the Chronicles of St. Mary’s, but there’s very little funny going on here. Actually nothing at all. More like some of The Chaos Function, where all the choices are bad and the only question is finding the least bad choice.

I know the above description feels like a paradox of some kind in and of itself, but Permafrost is that kind of book. The kind where you reel around afterwards, trying to reconcile everything that happened. Much as the characters within the story do, trying to figure out which of their choices went astray – whether they were led by the nose into those choices – and whether there is a least bad way out of the mess in which they find themselves.

Because making good choices seems to have gone by the wayside long before anyone even knew that there were choices to be made.

At first, the story seems not only simple, but actually a bit familiar. Earth is suffering under a global extinction event that no one wanted to acknowledge until it was too late to stop. Sometime around 2050 the Scouring happened, after the sudden extinction of all insect life started a cascade that led to the end of pretty much everything and everyone else.

As this story opens in 2080, we’re caught up in what seems to be a heroic last-ditch scientific effort to fix the mess – or really just make it a little less bad so it can be survived – by sending people back in time.

Not physically, but mentally. A select group goes back and hijacks the brains and bodies of a few people in the past, just enough to get a viable seed vault into a place where it can survive intact until 2080 and restart vegetation and everything else that follows.

The experiment both succeeds and fails at the same time – and the two versions of history seem to be fighting it out in everyone’s head. Especially the head being shared by the “pilot” from the future and “vessel” in the past.

Unless there’s someone behind the scenes pushing everyone into even worse choices than anyone thought.

Escape Rating A-: Okay, so the time travel is a bit handwavium. Time travel usually works better if the author hand waves the mechanism and does their level best to explore the meat of the story that results once that hand has been waved – and that’s the way it works in Permafrost.

At first the reader thinks the story is about the big project to change the past. There’s been a terrible disaster, one that can only be solved in the past – not unlike Star Trek: The Voyage Home, come to think of it. So a story about the plucky scientists trying to fix the problem would be very much on point. But that’s not this story.

Instead it’s very intimate. Valentina’s consciousness is sent back in the past. She’s supposed to take over the person she’s piloting, Tatiana. The scientists have never managed to make the experiment work until Valentina succeeds. But when she does, success doesn’t look anything like anybody thought it would. Especially poor Valentina, who is having conversations with Tatiana in their shared head – and Tatiana is not very happy about the whole thing. Then it all goes pear-shaped – well, even more pear-shaped than the situation in the world of 2080 has already gone.

And that’s where the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey bits come in. Because Tatiana was the first person to successfully go back. But she isn’t. And she is. And the others who started out after her but “landed” before her are describing both a different past and a different future than the one she left. To the point where everyone begins to question who is really driving events and exactly what direction they are being driven in. And whether it’s too late, too early, or just in time to fix at least some of what’s broken – before it’s too late to fix anything at all.

In the end, Permafrost struck the same note as the utterly awesome but completely different story in To Be Taught, If Fortunate. It asks big SFnal questions but provides a tiny but exceedingly human answer. An answer that is still giving me the shivers.

Review: The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss

Review: The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora GossThe Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical mystery
Series: Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #3
Pages: 416
Published by Simon Schuster Audio on October 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Mary Jekyll and the Athena Club race to save Alice—and foil a plot to unseat the Queen, in the electrifying conclusion to the trilogy that began with the Nebula Award finalist and Locus Award winner The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter.

Life’s always an adventure for the Athena Club...especially when one of their own has been kidnapped! After their thrilling European escapades rescuing Lucina van Helsing, Mary Jekyll and her friends return home to discover that their friend and kitchen maid Alice has vanished—and so has Mary's employer Sherlock Holmes!

As they race to find Alice and bring her home safely, they discover that Alice and Sherlock’s kidnapping are only one small part of a plot that threatens Queen Victoria, and the very future of the British Empire. Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine save their friends—and save England? Find out in the final installment of the fantastic and memorable Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series.

My Review:

Once upon a time, in the summer of 1816, a group of writers and other creatives conducted a rather famous ghost story contest. Out of that little game among friends came the foundation of modern science fiction AND the first modern modern vampire story. This is a true story. Mary Shelley wrote the beginning of Frankenstein and John Polidori wrote The Vampyre (the precursor for Dracula and every other vampire in modern fiction) during that house party.

I open with that anecdote because in it’s own way it sets the stage for the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club. Just as the foundational stories for members of the group were written during that weekend, so does it seem more plausible that the ladies of the Athena Club, would find each other and band together.

Or at least as plausible as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, with the potential for a cast nearly as large.

For these women are all extraordinary, each in their own way. Even more so, because none of them chose what they are. But, as the stories in this series reveal, they have chosen – even if sometimes reluctantly – to embrace what they are. To embrace their own very monstrousness – and to embrace each other in sisterhood.

The series began, back in The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, with the death of Mrs. Henry Jekyll and her daughter Mary’s discovery that not only did her late father have a daughter, herself, under his Jekyll persona, but that he also had a daughter as Edward Hyde. And that both herself and Diana Hyde, along with Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein and Beatrice Rappaccini, were all the daughters of members of the secretive Societé des Alchemists, and that all of them had powers as the result of their fathers’ experiments.

During that first adventure, they met and teamed up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, who were investigating an entirely new series of Whitechapel Murders.

However, unlike nearly every other Holmes pastiche (I’m reading two others at the moment) the presence of Holmes in the Athena Club’s adventures does not mean that he is in charge or even the central character. The singular glory of this series is that the men who appear in the series are never the central characters.

This is a story of sisterhood – and even the villains are female. Not that there aren’t plenty of villainous men in the story – after all, all of these women are monsters because their fathers experimented on them or their mothers without any consent whatsoever. But that is in the past – their pasts. The cases they have to resolve in their present, especially the case in The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl, present women as the central figures, both in the crime and in the resolution of it.

And that’s in spite of embarking upon this case because it looks like Sherlock Holmes has been kidnapped by Moriarty.

Escape Rating A+: I refer to Sherlock Holmes because that’s how I initially got into this series. I love Holmes pastiches and they are often my go-to stories when I’m in a slump. In the case of the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, while I may have come for Holmes I stayed for this incredible story of sisterhood – and also for the seemingly endless number of drop ins by the heroes and villains of 19th century literature and the teasing of my brain thereby.

This one has what initially appears to be a cameo by a Dr. Gray who looks like a fallen angel and has the world-weary affect of someone who has lived entirely too long and seen entirely too much for his apparent 20ish age. And who turns out to be Dorian Gray. And may be part of the next book, if there is a next book. I hope there is a next book. Sincerely.

When I describe this book to people, it’s by way of the characters. Think about it. Dr. Jekyll’s daughter, Mr. Hyde’s daughter, Dr. Moreau’s daughter, Dr. Frankenstein’s daughter, the Poisonous Girl (from a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne if you’re wondering), Dr. Van Helsing’s daughter, the Mesmerizing Girl of the title (I’m not sure what story she is from but I bet there’s one somewhere – unless she’s Alice as in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but the backgrounds don’t match), along with a few contributions from Irene Adler Norton and Mina Murray Harker as well as a cross country automobile trip courtesy of Bertha Benz.

The mixture of the real with the fantastical continues to enthrall, at least this reader – or listener as the case may be – in this third volume of the adventures. It helps that this is a series I listen to rather than read, and that the reader (the awesome Kate Reading) does a particularly excellent job of distinguishing the voices of the women who make up the cast.

This is also a series where it feels like a requirement to have read the whole series from the beginning – and reasonably recently as well. The heroines of these adventures are all the women who were forgotten or glossed over in the original works so one isn’t familiar with them without having had the pleasure of meeting them here.

I’m aware that I’m squeeing over this one. In fact, I’m still squeeing and I finished the book a week ago. I delayed writing this review in order to tone down the squee a bit, and it didn’t work. At all. Very much sorry not sorry.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of a wild and crazy romp through 19th century Gothic literature in the company of the most wonderful and monstrous sisterhood you’ll ever want to meet, go forth and grab a copy of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, available at your nearest bookseller. (This plug is made in the spirit of Catherine Moreau, who inserts such advertisements throughout the narrative of all three books – to the complete consternation of Mary Jekyll – at every marvelous and even tangentially appropriate turn.)

I loved every single one of the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, and sincerely hope that there will be more. And soon.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 11-17-19

Sunday Post

I’m getting kind of a late start on today. I had a migraine yesterday like I haven’t had in a while. The kind where I go “white blind” for a while – and then just start looking for the license number of the truck that hit me. Attempting to read around the sparkles in my vision until they pass is always a special kind of treat – NOT. But they are a lot less frequent than they used to be, so I call that a win.

And there are always more books to read! That’s a win too!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Gratitude Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Lucky Leaf Giveaway Hop is Brittany

Blog Recap:

A Review: Death in Focus by Anne Perry
Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop
A Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott
B Review: All Fired Up by Lori Foster
Gratitude Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (366)

Coming This Week:

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss (review)
The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz (review)
Permafrost by Alistair Reynolds (review)
Drone by M.L. Buchman (review)
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary (review)

Stacking the Shelves (366)

Stacking the Shelves

I think that Macmillan dumped their latest catalog into Edelweiss about five minutes after I closed last week’s Stacking the Shelves. Which gave me a week to privately chortle with glee over getting the eARC for Network Effect. I absolutely LOVE Murderbot and can’t wait to read its next story. I’m also thrilled to get Tevinter Nights. I’ve lost count of just how many times I’ve replayed Dragon Age Inquisition at this point. Oh well, I suppose everyone needs a hobby.

For Review:
Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights edited by Patrick Weekes
Drone (Miranda Chase NTSB #1) by M.L. Buchman
The Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher
Harrow the Ninth (Locked Tomb #2) by Tamsyn Muir
Hideaway by Nora Roberts
The Hollows (Kinship #2) by Jess Montgomery
The Library of Legends by Janie Chang
Miss Austen by Gill Hornby
Much Ado about Nutmeg (Pancake House Mystery #6) by Sarah Fox
Network Effect (Murderbot Diaries #5) by Martha Wells
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
The Stolen Gold Affair (Carpenter and Quincannon #8) by Bill Pronzini
Starborn (Born Prophecy #2) by Katie MacAlister

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
The Name of All Things (Chorus of Dragons #2) by Jenn Lyons (audio)

Gratitude Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Tenth Annual Gratitude Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bookhounds!

To thank YOU, my readers, I’m giving away a the winner’s choice of a $10 gift card or a $10 book. To enter, use the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Review: All Fired Up by Lori Foster

Review: All Fired Up by Lori FosterAll Fired Up by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Road to Love #3
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on November 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He’s tantalizing trouble she can’t resist…

Charlotte Parrish has always wanted a certain kind of man: someone responsible, settled, boring. Bad boys need not apply. But when her car leaves her stranded and a mysterious stranger with brooding eyes and a protective streak comes to her rescue, she can’t deny how drawn she is to him. In town searching for family he’s never met, Mitch is everything she never thought she wanted—and suddenly everything she craves.

Finding his half brothers after all these years is more than Mitch Crews has allowed himself to wish for. Finding love never even crossed his mind…until he meets Charlotte. She’s sweet, warmhearted, sexier than she knows—and too damn good for an ex-con like him. But when his past comes back to haunt him, putting Charlotte—and the family he’s come to care for—in danger, Mitch isn’t playing by the rules. He’s already surrendered his heart, but now he’ll risk his life.

My Review:

Once upon a time I used to read ALL of Lori Foster’s books, but it’s been a while. Actually, I just looked and it’s been over a year and a half, so quite a while, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled the last time.

So I took a little break.

All Fired Up reminded me of just why I read so many of her books. So it looks like I’ll be back for the first two books in this series, Driven to Distraction and Slow Ride. Which I have not read, yet, and the lack of which did not detract from my enjoyment of All Fired Up one little bit.

In other words, feel free to start the series here, because it works as a standalone – not that it doesn’t tease interesting things about the previous two.

There are three story threads in All Fired Up. The first two threads are immediately tied together as the story opens, while the third does its level best – and absolute worst – to cut those first two threads into ribbons.

Mitch Crews comes to town because he wants to go home, even if it’s a home he’s never had with people he’s never met – people who don’t even know he exists. But he’s heard stories about Elliott Crews’ perfect family life with his wife and sons so many times that when he needs to put down roots after five years in prison, he goes to find them.

At least to find his two half-brothers. He can’t imagine that the woman his dad was cheating on will possibly want anything to do with him, a living reminder that her husband cheated on her at pretty much every turn.

But Elliott’s descriptions of his “real” family sounded so much better than Mitch’s childhood in a crime-riddled and poverty-stricken area, left in the neglectful care of his addict mother and her psychopathic dealer/boyfriend.

He wants to be close to his family, even if he’s not sure they are exactly his, or that they will want to have anything to do with him. Nothing surprises him more than their instant acceptance, not just on the part of his two older brothers, but especially the instant love and acceptance from their mother Ros. A woman who should hate him for where he came from but instead loves him as just another one of her boys.

There is one other thing that knocks him for six. His instant attraction to Charlotte Parrish, the Crews brothers’ office manager, assistant, and adopted sister. Brodie and Jack Crews may treat Charlotte like a little sister, but Mitch’s feelings for her are far from brotherly.

Mitch tries to ease his way cautiously into the kind of family that he’s never dreamed of, only to see those dreams come crashing down when the trouble that has trailed him all his life tails him back to his new-found family.

He’s ready to run, sure that they will want to cut their losses and cut him loose – only to discover that he’s theirs and they are his, through thick or thin or any trouble that might come their way.

Escape Rating B: There are, as I said, three threads to this story. One I loved, one I liked, and one didn’t quite work for me. Hence the B rating.

The part of the story that I really enjoyed was the relationship between Mitch and the family that turns out to be his after all. There’s a bit of a fairy tale element to his instant acceptance, but it adds to the joy of the story. The Crews family, with the exception of dear-old-philandering-dad, are all absolute gems. Even dad manages to grow up, at least a bit, by the end of the story – surprising the heck out of absolutely everyone.

But the best parts of this book are the interactions between Mitch and his brothers, and the way that the family accepts him, and the way that he learns to let them – in spite of his own issues and complete lack of experience in the way that a reasonably functional family should function.

That part of the story was particularly strong and it just plain worked.

Mitch’s budding romance with Charlotte had its ups and downs in a number of ways. Charlotte at 25 does seem rather innocent when it comes to men. (Charlotte’s actual awesomeness seems to have been a big part of the previous stories – this may be the one thing I missed by not having read the other books.) The men in their small town don’t seem to be worth the gas it would take for one of her brothers’ Mustangs to drive over them – and Brodie and Jack have done an entirely too excellent job of making sure that no one unworthy touches their little sister.

They think that Mitch “might” be worthy, if he decides to stay, so they don’t so much warn him off as warn him to take it slow and be damn sure of his intentions first. So the romance in this one consists of mostly heated thoughts and longing looks for a good bit of the story. Once they do get there, though, they do burn up the sheets – but it takes longer than normal for them to reach that point.

The psychopath following Mitch, the arsehole who was his mother’s drug dealer and her boyfriend, well, he drove me a bit batty. He’s disgusting slime and when the story switched to his perspective and his actions, let’s just say that it was not a head I wanted to spend any time in whatsoever. Also he seemed to be a cliched villain and, in the end, a bit of a paper tiger. The fear of him turned out to be greater than the reality – or he was just too damn good at picking his victims.

But I loved the way that Mitch, his family and friends took care of that disgusting piece of baggage from his past so that he and Charlotte and their extended family could have a much brighter future!

Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline ScottThe Poppy Wife: A Novel of the Great War by Caroline Scott
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War I
Pages: 448
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the tradition of Jennifer Robson and Hazel Gaynor, this unforgettable debut novel is a sweeping tale of forbidden love, profound loss, and the startling truth of the broken families left behind in the wake of World War I.1921. Survivors of the Great War are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many have been reunited with their loved ones, Edie’s husband Francis is still missing. Francis is presumed to have been killed in action, but Edie knows he is alive.

Harry, Francis’s brother, was there the day Francis went missing in Ypres. And like Edie, he’s hopeful Francis is living somewhere in France, lost and confused. Hired by grieving families in need of closure, Harry returns to the Western Front to photograph soldiers’ graves. As he travels through France gathering news for British wives and mothers, he searches for evidence his own brother is still alive.

When Edie receives a mysterious photograph that she believes was taken by Francis, she is more certain than ever he isn’t dead. Edie embarks on her own journey in the hope of finding some trace of her husband. Is he truly gone, or could he still be alive? And if he is, why hasn’t he come home?

As Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to the truth about Francis and, as they do, are soon faced with the life-changing impact of the answers they discover.

An incredibly moving account of an often-forgotten moment in history—those years after the war that were filled with the unknown—The Poppy Wife tells the story of the thousands of soldiers who were lost amid the chaos and ruins in battle-scarred France; and the even greater number of men and women hoping to find them again.

My Review:

I read this book on November 11, the day that was originally created as Remembrance Day. A day to commemorate those who served in the war that is over but not done for the protagonists of this marvelous story.

They always say that funerals are for the living, not the dead. They provide closure, and as humans, we all need that. Or, to put it another way, we need to get through those famous “seven stages of grief“ to move on with our lives after a loss.

This story is not merely about the two protagonists, but about thousands of people – possibly whole nations of people – who are stuck in that first stage of grief, shock and denial. Because there’s no body, no definitive answer. Only a gaping wound where a loved one used to be and no certainty that they are really gone. Only that they are lost – and so are their survivors.

Edie and Harry are linked by one such loss. Her beloved husband Francis was Harry’s oldest brother. Or at least by 1921 the past tense in reference to Francis is presumed but not absolutely certain. Francis is one of the thousands of soldiers who has been labeled “missing, presumed dead.”

Harry saw him wounded, shot in the chest at Ypres. Harry saw him sent back to an aid station, and was certain that his brother’s wound was fatal. But Francis’ body was never processed. If he is truly dead, no one seems to know where or when.

But four years after the war, someone sends Edie a photograph of Francis in the mail. It’s a Francis she never knew, a man who had been ravaged by war. But a man still alive – at least at the time the photograph was taken. There’s no note with the photograph and nothing to say where or when it was either taken or mailed.

So Edie asks Harry to look, again, for Francis. Not that Harry hasn’t looked plenty of times before – and not just for Francis. After all, it’s Harry’s job to go to the battlefields and graveyards and photograph the graves, the artifacts, and the ruins. He is the photographer of the lost. (This book was originally published in the U.K. under that title, The Photographer of the Lost.)

But sending Harry doesn’t stop Edie from also going herself. To look, one more time, for evidence that her husband is dead – or to find him if he is alive. She is not alone on her journey – and neither is Harry.

Their dead travel with them – and with every single person they meet along the way, all hoping against hope that this time they will find what they are looking for. Even if it’s just that much needed but so far elusive sense of closure.

Escape Rating A: The word most commonly used in reviews of The Poppy Wife (under both of its titles) is haunting. Because it is. All of Europe is haunted by the ravages and losses of the Great War, and so are all those left behind, as Edie, Harry and the people they meet along the way certainly are.

I will also add here that while this book is beautiful, it is not one to read if you are already down. This is a story about finding closure, not about finding a happy ever after. Unless you are prone to schadenfreude while watching other people grieve, this is a hard book to read. Beautiful and deeply felt, but if you’re in the doldrums it’s likely to make them worse, not better.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Or so goes the famous quote by William Faulkner. The Poppy Wife is the story of two people, and an entire generation, who are doing their best to put the dead into their own past. One step, one relic, one graveyard at a time. And we grieve with them.

I leave you, The Poppy Wife and The Photographer of the Lost with this final note. The painful and painstaking journey that Edie and Harry and the many characters of this story are trapped in the middle of continues to the present day. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, there are, on average, 50 discoveries of World War I remains every year, but few are ever identified. The remains of Lance Corporal Frederick Thomas Perkins were discovered in 2018, giving his granddaughter the closure that his family still needed more than a century after he was declared “missing, presumed dead.”

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Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the fifth annual Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop, hosted by The Kids Did It and The Mommy Island.

The weather outside may or may not be frightful, at least not yet, but the fire pictured in the graphic above certainly looks delightful. Even though both the tree and the pile of packages are much tidier and considerably less destroyed than they would be in my house. Hecate the cat is firmly of the opinion that all the things exist for her to play with!

While it may feel a bit too early to actually decorate for Xmas – after all it’s still two weeks – and a bit – before Thanksgiving, it’s never too early to start shopping for that perfect present. Unless you’re planning to leave coal in someone’s stocking. I’m pretty sure that’s available all year ’round!

But speaking of the perfect present – maybe you should treat yourself to a little something in the midst of all that holiday planning. Whatever you are planning this holiday season, answer the rafflecopter for a chance at either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository to put a little something in YOUR stocking!

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And for more fabulous holiday prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!