'Not That Duke'...Although Well Written...Lacks The Power Of Surprise.

Title:  Not That Duke
Series:  Would-Be Wallflowers #3
Author:  Eloisa James
Format:  ERC
Length:  384 pages
Expected Date Of Publication:  July 25, 2023
Publisher:  Avon
Rating:  3.5 Stars

The Duke of Huntington has no interest in an eccentric redhead who frowns at him over her spectacles…until he realizes that she is the only possible duchess for him. A new enemies-to-lovers romance by New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James.

Bespeckled and freckled, Lady Stella Corsham at least has a dowry that has attracted a crowd of fortune-hunting suitors—which definitely doesn’t include the sinfully handsome Silvester Parnell, Duke of Huntington, who laughingly calls her “Specs” as he chases after elegant rivals.

And then—

The worst happens. Marriage.

To the duke. To a man marrying her for all the wrong reasons.

How can Silvester possibly convince Stella that he’s fallen in love with the quirky woman he married? Especially after she laughingly announces that she’s in love—but not with that duke.

Not with her husband.

Please enjoy the exclusive excerpt from:
Not That Duke.
February 20, 1816 12, Mayfair Place The Duke of Huntington’s townhouse “I’ve found your duchess.”Determination was stamped all over the dowager duchess’s face. “Lady Stella Corsham is perfect for you: the granddaughter of a marquess, with a sizable dowry. Able-bodied, well-bred, and original.”In an act of profound self-control, Silvester Parnell, Duke of Huntington, did not roll his eyes. Or otherwise indicate that in demanding her son marry a version of herself—a short, opinionated woman, albeit with spectacles rather than a monocle—his mother had lost her mind. “‘Original’is not a characteristic that interests me,”he said, instead. His mother’s eyes sharpened. “I suppose you are looking for a girlish nitwit who will entertain ladies for tea and never embarrass her children.”He pretended to think about it. “Does she have to be a nitwit?”“Yes,”the dowager snapped, adding: “Because you want her to swill tea all day long.”When his parents first married, rather than redecorate the ducal country house as did most new duchesses, Her Grace had redesigned the chimney on her husband’s first experimental steam engine. In the years since, she had delighted in flouting society with everything from her clothing (unconventional) to her entertainments (Julius Caesar performed by trained rats was a notable example). Silvester and his sisters had grown up with the full knowledge that “polite”society considered his mother—and by extension, her family—to be eccentric, if not mad. Once sent to Eton, where he routinely engaged in fisticuffs in his parents’defense, Silvester came to the conclusion that although he adored his mother, a less divisive duchess would be preferable. “Do you think I am unaware of how much you and your sisters wish that I would blend into the wallpaper like most of the noodling nobility?”she demanded now. “I am proud of your chimney,”Silvester said, meaning it. His mother’s clack box feed pipe for locomotives had survived four iterations of ducal steam engines and was still in use around the country. “Lady Stella—”Silvester interrupted. “Which doesn’t mean I want to marry Lady Stella.”To be clear, he didn’t mind Stella’s lack of height or her spectacles. Certainly he appreciated her rather glorious bosom. The eccentricity? That he minded. Rumor had it that she’d read the entire Encyclopedia, which explained the fact that their conversations were often startling. And interesting. He liked arguing with Stella; he just didn’t want to marry her. “Want to? Want to?”The dowager pounced like a robin on a worm. “What does want have to do with it? You need a duchess. Lady Stella is suitable.”“My fiancée will be of my choosing, Mother. I would like to be in love with my wife.”She snorted inelegantly. “Romance is a fool’s game, nothing to do with marriage. You’re making a laughingstock of yourself mooning about after Yasmin Régnier.”Fool he may be, but Silvester intended to marry Yasmin. She had charm, hair the color of old ducats, a naughty giggle  .  .  . More than that, he and Yasmin were friends, never mind the fact that he’d love to bed her. He felt the pull of her in his bones, deep in his gut. Perhaps even in his heart. “Moonblind.”The dowager waved her monocle at him. “Lady Yasmin is not for you.”His mother was small in stature, but she made up for it with gargantuan will power. “I intend to ask Yasmin to marry me,”Silvester told her. His mother replaced her monocle and eyed him. “You’d better open the Dower House. Lady Yasmin won’t want to live with me.”A full renovation of the master bedchamber and Dower House at the ducal estate, Huntington Grange, was already in progress. “You will come to love Yasmin,”he said, not at all sure, but it was worth a try. Her Grace snorted again. “Every Season, one woman attracts all the men like seagulls on a gutted fish.”“A lovely metaphor,”Silvester commented. “A lady who tolerates fools will make a dreadful wife.”“Why?”Silvester inquired, though he didn’t really care. “Because she tolerates fools,”his mother repeated. “She has no bollocks!”“No woman has bollocks, as they are male appendages,”Silvester said. “May I point out that Stella has as many suitors as Yasmin?”“Fortune hunters and third sons,”the dowager said contemptuously. “You’d be the only duke. My point is that Lady Stella braves ballrooms in spectacles, although society dictates that ladies should blunder blindly around the dance floor.”“An idiotic rule,”Silvester agreed. “Don’t you see?”his mother demanded. “You need to find a woman who has backbone, not just a woman at the center of a crowd.”His mother was a brilliant tactician. She delivered that line with just the right amount of scorn. If women were allowed to debate in the House of Lords, the opposition would wither. Luckily, he had a lifetime’s worth of experience thwarting her demands. “No,”Silvester stated. From the moment he entered Eton at the age of eight, he had carefully shaped a reputation for easy charm to counter his family’s reputation for eccentricity. That didn’t mean he hadn’t inherited his mother’s steely core. Or his father’s entitled ferocity. “I will never marry Lady Stella.”The best debaters know when to retreat. His mother bounded to her feet and headed for the drawing room door. “You won’t marry Lady Yasmin, either,”she said over her shoulder. He opened his mouth to retort—But she was gone.
My Thoughts
The smart, pudgy, shy, girl might get the guy in this read.  
But the question still remains.
Is he the right one?
You would think that would NOT be an issue.  Given the 'beggers can't be choosers' tone of her family and the people around her.
But choose she does.
The person she chooses is not leading man, Sylvester Parnell, Duke of Huntington.
She instead is carrying quite the bright torch for Giles Renwick, Earl of 
Giles has a thing for one Lady Yasmine Regnier!
But then, EVERY breathing male on two legs seems to have a thing for the beautiful, blonde, willowy, and very French, Lady Yasmin.

While it is true that things in this story would be a lot less complicated if someone had just bothered asking the lady who SHE WANTS.
This is one a Regency Romance.
So no chance of that.
On we go with the confusion and misunderstandings that make this story a story.  And leave readers shaking their heads and looking for the nearest exit.
Because even though Sylvester spends more and more time with Stella.
Is known to be longtime friends, and ONLY friends with Lady Yasmin.
And is doing everything but climb the walls and beat his chest in attention to Stella.
She is still consumed by the belief and fear that he is in love with Yasmin.
Ohhhh kayyy!

This is one of those reads that you want to enter into without having read the previous book.
In fact.
In order to really enjoy this series.
This reviewer suggests that you read the series last book first. 
The reason.
The ends of books #1and #2 give away the pairings of the books to follow.
Self spoilers ahoy!
And one of the major reasons for the 3.5 star rating.
That and the incessant misplaced whining about Yasmine by EVERYONE!

Much to the book's credit, however.
The character development and flair as seen in the devious Lady Lidiya.
The Sylvester's eccentric moth mother.
And even Stella's kitten 'specs'.
Not to mention Lisa James' Stella writing.

Reviewer's Note
Thank you to Netgalley and Avon for  providing the review copy on which this honest critique is based.
Not That Duke is part of a closely related series.  It may be read in any order.

About Eloisa
 New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James writes historical romances for HarperCollins Publishers. Her novels have been published to great acclaim. A reviewer from USA Today wrote of Eloisa's very first book that she "found herself devouring the book like a dieter with a Hershey bar"; later People Magazine raved that "romance writing does not get much better than this." Her novels have repeatedly received starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly and Library Journal and regularly appear on the best-seller lists.

After graduating from Harvard University, Eloisa got an M.Phil. from Oxford University, a Ph.D. from Yale and eventually became a Shakespeare professor, publishing an academic book with Oxford University Press. Currently she is an associate professor and head of the Creative Writing program at Fordham University in New York City. Her "double life" is a source of fascination to the media and her readers. In her professorial guise, she's written a New York Times op-ed defending romance, as well as articles published everywhere from women's magazines such as More to writers' journals such as the Romance Writers' Report.

Eloisa...on her double life:

When I'm not writing novels, I'm a Shakespeare professor. It's rather like having two lives. The other day I bought a delicious pink suit to tape a television segment on romance; I'll never wear that suit to teach in, nor even to give a paper at the Shakespeare Association of America conference. It's like being Superman, with power suits for both lives. Yet the literature professor in me certainly plays into my romances. The Taming of the Duke (April 2006) has obvious Shakespearean resonances, as do many of my novels. I often weave early modern poetry into my work; the same novel might contain bits of Catullus, Shakespeare and anonymous bawdy ballads from the 16th century.

When I rip off my power suit, whether it's academic or romantic, underneath is the rather tired, chocolate-stained sweatshirt of a mom. Just as I use Shakespeare in my romances, I almost always employ my experiences as a mother. When I wrote about a miscarriage in Midnight Pleasures, I used my own fears of premature birth; when the little girl in Fool For Love threw up and threw up, I described my own daughter, who had that unsavory habit for well over her first year of life.

So I'm a writer, a professor, a mother - and a wife. My husband Alessandro is Italian, born in Florence. We spend the lazy summer months with his mother and sister in Italy. It always strikes me as a huge irony that as a romance writer I find myself married to a knight, a cavaliere, as you say in Italian.

One more thing...I'm a friend. I have girlfriends who are writers and girlfriends who are Shakespeare professors. And I have girlfriends who are romance readers. In fact, we have something of a community going on my website. Please stop by and join the conversation on my readers' pages.

Berkley Presents: What The Hex

Title: What The Hex
Author:  Jessica Claire
Date Of Publication:  April 4th, 2023
Length:  336 pages 
Publisher:  Berkley 
Rating:  4 Stars 

Enemies-to-lovers has never been more enchanting in this witchy romantic comedy from the New York Times bestselling author of Go Hex Yourself .

Penny Roundtree wants nothing more than to be a familiar to a witch. She’s been a member of the Society of Familiars ever since she was old enough to join the Fam. There’s just a small problem—no one’s hiring. Witches and warlocks are so long-lived that there are far more familiars available than witches to train them. So when an unorthodox arrangement to apprentice under the table to a forbidden warlock presents itself, she takes it.
Willem Sauer is banned from having a familiar due to past transgressions, thereby limiting his magic-casting abilities. Unfortunately for the surly, Prussian warlock, he has no choice but to work with enthusiastic Penny as a familiar. They immediately clash like dried roan horsehair and honeycomb gathered by moonlight (it’s a terrible spell combination, ask anyone).
Casting spells has delightful perks Penny never could have dreamed of, but also greater dangers. Someone is targeting Penny. Willem and Penny must work together to catch their enemy, and if their ploy requires a little kissing on the side, who is to question the rules of magic?
    Please enjoy this excerpt from 
    What The Hex
 Sir?”I look up from the book in my lap, annoyed that one of the servants has bothered to disturb me in my study. Putting aside the treatise on the casting benefits of various types of dried beetles as spell components, I eye my housekeeper. “Is there a problem?”She gestures feebly toward the front of the house. “It’s happening again.”My annoyance disappears immediately, replaced with surging anger and frustration. I jump to my feet, racing out of my study and down the hall. “Where?”“M-mailbox,”she calls after me. “Dorothy found a dead bird in your mailbox.”I storm out the front door and into the neighborhood. My house is in a little suburban community of other witches and warlocks, because it’s easiest to have neighbors that won’t call the police on me at all hours. I scan my lawn and the driveway. Nothing seems amiss, but the mailbox is hanging open. Biting the inside of my cheek, I manage to keep a bland expression on my face as I stalk toward the curb. One quick glance inside the mailbox shows that Dorothy did not lie. There’s a dead dove inside, nestled atop my mail. That weasel. I knew he’d come after me, especially after I’d just stolen his prized library. It’s an affront that can’t go unrecognized. Still, to frighten my housekeeping staff feels petty. He’s lucky they’re well aware I’m a warlock . . . even if they’re not aware that I’m a stifled one. I pull out the dove, irritated. The breast of the dead bird has been painted with runes, and I’m sure if I opened it up and examined the contents of its stomach, I’d find laurel leaves and a pebble from a hero’s grave. It’s a specific sort of spell that my nemesis is casting, one designed to break my wards and make my house vulnerable to others. This isn’t the first time that my old master Stoker has tried this sort of stunt. Ever since I left his service, he’s tried to have me killed. However, it is the first time he’s cast a curse at my current house. The house I’d had built to my specifications ten years ago, after I’d been forced to move from the last one because Stoker had found me again. He wants to make my life hell. And since I can’t cast to protect myself, the only thing I can do is avoid him. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have stolen his books. Ten years ago, I thought moving would solve my problems. My enemies would no longer have my address, and I’d finish the rest of my probationary period out under the radar. It’s clear that Stoker won’t rest until he finds me, and it doesn’t matter how many times I move. The man’s held a grudge for 250 years. Of course he’s going to attack me while I’m vulnerable. Well, no more. I’m not retreating. I’m done hiding. I made the first move, so I shouldn’t be surprised that he’s retaliating. Still, a dead dove is a little . . . over the top. I take the dead bird inside with me and hand it to the housekeeper, who makes a sound of protest. “Get rid of that.”“But, sir—”“I’ll be in my study.”I head for the bathroom, wash my hands, and then walk back to my study, locking the doors behind me. I want to go down to my laboratory, but I never go when the help staff is here. No one can know about the secret door I’ve had built that leads down to my lab and my trove of stolen spell books. For now, I have to wait. I take a deep breath, thinking through everything I need to get done. New wards around the house—that’s the first priority. An obfuscation spell to hide my address from anyone looking it up online. Each spell will wear me out for at least a week. All of them together and I’ll be out of action for well over a month. Without a familiar to act as my power source, I’ll be forced to rely on my own limited pool of energy. That means everything will take twice as long to cast and will leave me vulnerable. I can’t pay another witch or warlock to do it for me, because they’ve been forbidden to assist in my casting. It’s part of my “punishment.”Only ten more years to go. The thought is a dismal one. Maybe I should start out with scrying, I decide. See what exactly Stoker plans—A loud chirp echoes in the room. My eyes snap open, and I look at the “mailbox”atop the mantel of the fireplace. An envelope is inside, delivered by mystical means. It’s the only way my old master—my other old master, the one that’s not trying to kill me—communicates with me. I stride over toward it and tear the wax seal off the back of the envelope, reading the contents of the letter. Stoker is on the move. Be aware. —Abernathy I crumple it and toss the notice to the ground. “Thanks for nothing, but you’re a bit late.

My Thoughts 
If you are looking for a sweet, light, and oh so magically delicious romance.  Look no further than Jessica Claire's What The Hex.
Leading lady, Penny Roundtree, is a standout character from the word go.
With her bubbly personality, rainbows and unicorns packaging, and go-getter approach to life.  Is it any wonder that she would do anything other than to turn the otherwise staid and colorless life of exiled warlock, Willem Sauer, upside down?

The fun of this book is found in the secrets tha the two main characters are forced to keep.
And the questions that those secrets force others and them to both ask and answer. 

Are they friends?
Can they be lovers?
Will they ever be free of the ever present threat of Willem's old Master?
Will Willem ever be able to clear his name?
...and so much more. 

Seeing the evolution of Willem as a character as he and Penny grow closer.
So sweet.
And the sex!!!
The incorporation of the FAM, and all of the color and intrigue provided by the supporting cast.
Just fabulous...
And the right amount of funny to boot.

What The Hex is the second book in the Hex series.  But it could make a great first forey into wonderful Spring romance reading for all the magically inclined lovers of love.

Thanks to Netgalley and Berkley Books for providing the review copy upon which this honest review is based. 

This is a pen name for Jill Myles.

Jill Myles has been an incurable romantic since childhood. She reads all the 'naughty parts' of books first, looks for a dirty joke in just about everything, and thinks to this day that the Little House on the Prairie books should have been steamier.

After devouring hundreds of paperback romances, mythology books, and archaeological tomes, she decided to write a few books of her own - stories with a wild adventure, sharp banter, and lots of super-sexy situations. She prefers her heroes alpha and half-dressed, her heroines witty, and she loves nothing more than watching them overcome adversity to fall into bed together.

Buy The Book

Berkley Presents: Smolder

Title:  Smolder 
Series:  Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #29
Author:  Laurell K. Hamilton 
Date Of Publication:  March 21st, 2023
Length:  496 pages
Publisher:  Berkley Books 
Rating:  5 Stars
The wedding of the century between vampire hunter Anita Blake and the vampire king of America Jean-Claude is almost here, but an ancient evil arrives in St. Louis and even Jean-Claude’s unmatched power isn’t enough to save them. Only with the return of a lost love can they hope to combat the monster and save their loved ones and every vampire in the country from being consumed by darkness.

Please enjoy this excerpt from 
EDWARD STOOD IN front of the half circle of mirrors getting fitted for the wedding clothes he’d be wearing as best man in my wedding. I’d been his best man/ person less than a year ago, so turnabout was fair play. He was even hating the clothes almost as much as I hated the formal-length dress that his bride had forced me to wear at the last moment when I thought I’d get away with a tux like the men. Now it was his turn to think he’d get to wear a tux and find out he was half right. Since I was marrying someone who either designed or helped design most of his own clothes, Jean-Claude had ideas for spicing up the traditional boring clothes that most modern men wore. Normally his fashion sense wouldn’t have bothered Edward, who had a very traditional style, but now as he glared at himself in the mirror he was bothered, very bothered. “You have got to be kidding me,”he said. His blue eyes were already starting to turn pale like winter skies, which usually meant he was about to kill something, or that he wanted to kill something. Peter, his very grown-up son, and I sat in little chairs that were usually reserved for mothers of the bride, or other members of the female side of the wedding, because men didn’t have to come to the designer wedding couture side—ever. Edward was my bestest friend, but I grinned at him, because I was enjoying the men getting outfitted in something they hated so much more than any normal tux. “You look great,”I said, smiling, and that at least was true, unlike me in every bridesmaid dress I’d ever been forced to wear. He looked to Peter for a different opinion. “This is ridiculous.”He spread his arms out to his sides so that Peter could get the full effect of the black leather and cloth tailcoat with its high, stiff collar that framed about half Edward’s head. His blond hair looked brighter yellow than I’d ever seen it, maybe it was the black leather framing it? Or maybe it was his desert tan, which wasn’t tanned by most standards, but it was the most color I’d ever seen on Edward’s skin. “Except for the collar, the jacket looks great on you, and the collar isn’t bad, it’s just”—Peter made a waffling motion with his hand—“it’s odd, like it shouldn’t be there, but I really like the leather over the shoulders, and the scalloped leather over the forearm looks like a leather bracer from armor. It’s really cool, Ted.”Peter’s desert tan was a lot darker than Edward’s; technically they were stepson and stepfather, but for them it wasn’t about genetics, it was about love. Edward’s glare softened a little and turned back to the mirrors. He took a visible deep breath and let it out slowly as if he were counting to ten. He pulled on the edges of the jacket as if it needed to be settled in place, but it fit him perfectly; the little bump of the tails on the coat actually drew the eyes to his ass, and since we had never ever been anything but friends I didn’t usually notice Edward’s body like that. I’d thought of tailcoats as old-fashioned until I saw the first of our wedding party in them and realized that they actually accentuated everyone’s booty a lot more than modern jackets did. “Why do I hate this so much, besides the stand-up collar?”he asked. “Maybe it’s just so different from your usual cowboy–U.S. Marshal aesthetic?”Peter suggested. I looked at Edward, and finally said, “It’s the most fitted thing I’ve seen you in since you slimmed down for your wedding. You look slender, more . . . delicate almost, and in all the years we’ve been friends, delicate has never been a word I used for you.”He nodded at himself in the mirror. “That’s what it is, I look smaller even to me.”“You’re in the fiercest shape I’ve ever seen you in, unless you’ve put on weight since I saw you at the pool during the wedding trip. You’re all muscle. Hell, Ed”—and I had to stop and force myself to say, “Ted, I didn’t even know you had a six-pack under there until that weekend.”“I hadn’t. Not since I was in the military twenty years ago, so never since you’ve known me.”“All the moms and most of the daughters at martial arts class think I have the hottest dad and that includes the male instructors.”Peter said it with a touch of pride, unlike some twenty-year-old sons who would have felt competitive with their fathers. Of course, Edward had never been competitive with Peter either. “High praise, I take it, since I haven’t seen your instructors,”I said. Peter grinned. “Yep.”“Since you’re one of the instructors now, very high praise,”Edward said, and he smiled at his son with a pride that I never thought I’d ever see in his eyes for anyone. When we first met, Edward and I had both been so alone, and neither of us had ever expected that to change. Now here we were, both of us happier than I’d ever seen us. Sometimes life was good. Peter looked embarrassed but pleased. “Why didn’t you tell me you’d made instructor, Peter? Congratulations.”“It’s just part time.”“But you’re still in college, so part time is all you can really do,”I said. “There’s really not a lot of money in owning a good martial arts school, and instructors make less. You have to be a belt factory or offer kickboxing as a fitness class or something sell-out like that to earn enough money to pay full-time staff, full-time wages,”Peter said. “You talked to Bill like I suggested,”Edward said. “Bill owns the school,”Peter explained to me, “and yes, I talked to him. I’d need another job that paid better if I wanted to be full-time at the dojo.”He made quote marks with his fingers when he said full-time. “How’s the double major going?”I asked. “I’m really enjoying Preternatural Primates this semester. I never knew how many species of trolls there were, and did you hear new DNA testing split the Yeti into three species instead of just the two?”“Really? I hadn’t heard about that.”“I can send you the link to the article our prof shared with us.”“Please,”I said. “But now I want to see some of the trolls we have in this country in person.”“I’ve seen the Lesser Smoky Mountain Trolls.”I almost added that I knew someone who had their doctorate on the trolls, but the person in question was my ex, Richard Zeeman, and the last time Peter had seen him, someone we both knew had died. Today was a good day; we didn’t need to rake up horrible memories and ruin it. “Really, when?”“They’re indigenous to the area of Tennessee where one of my mentors lives. I don’t remember if I’ve talked to you about Marianne.”“The witch who helped you learn to control your magic, right?”“Yeah, I guess I did talk about her.”He shook his head. “Nathaniel told me after the trip when he went with you and Micah to try and learn how the magical energy worked between the three of you.”I knew that Nathaniel talked to Peter even more than I did, and Marianne was out of the broom closet as a witch, so I guess it was okay that Nathaniel shared. Besides . . . I looked at his eager face so happy in college, learning new things that he’d call up to share, and realized that I trusted Peter. He knew how to keep secret whatever needed kept. “Your face went all serious, Anita, what are you thinking about?”he asked. I smiled. “My first thought was that what Nathaniel had shared could get Marianne in trouble, and then I realized that I trusted you. Trusted your judgment, trusted you to keep secret what needs keeping.”He smiled at me like I’d said something wonderful; maybe I had, but it was one of the best smiles I’d seen on his face since he got to watch his parents walk down the aisle together. “Thanks, Anita, that means a lot.”“You’ve earned it, Peter.”“He’s starting to like his biology classes better than his criminal justice ones,”Edward said, still tugging at the perfectly tailored coat. “Are you still fast-tracked for preternatural law enforcement, or did the trolls lure you to the biology side?”“I still want to be a preternatural marshal like you and Ted, but I failed my blood test for lycanthropy so they’re letting me stay in the program, but they aren’t sure about my future in it.”“I’m sorry, Peter, really,”I said, and patted his arm. “It’s not your fault, Anita.”“You got hurt protecting me.”“If I hadn’t been there the weretiger would have killed you. I don’t regret what I did, and you shouldn’t either.”I looked at that calm, wise face, and thought, When did he get so grown-up? “I’ll do my best to be all healthy and therapy-evolved, but I am sorry that you popping hot on the test is keeping you out of the military and law enforcement.”“I don’t shift, and my test is undetermined just like Ted’s.”“And it’s my fault both times.”“I’m still a marshal, and that you and I got to keep our badges sets a good precedent for Peter to get into law enforcement.”“True, but if it’s my blood getting all up in your wounds when we were both cut up by wereanimals, why don’t both of you show full-blown Therianthropy at least on the test? I mean I don’t change form either, but my test always comes back listing every type of Therianthropy I have inside me.”“The doctors don’t know,”Ted said. “They were interested in the fact that both Ted and I test the same because we were father and son and they thought they had a theory, until they found out we’re not genetically related.”“I went in with Peter last time so the doctors could talk to us together.”“And draw more blood,”Peter said. Edward nodded. “And draw more blood.”“Dr. Lillian wants to draw more blood tomorrow from both of you and from me so she can compare it. Sorry.”“No, we came here to figure out what’s happening to us,”Edward said, then tugged on the jacket as if it didn’t fit right, but I’d never seen him in a piece of clothing that fit him better and that included the tux he’d worn for his own wedding. “And to try on beautiful wedding clothes,”I said, smiling. The seamstress rejoined us then; she had the pants that were supposed to go with the jacket instead of the temporary ones that she’d forced Edward into so she could see how the jacket fit. The pants were black leather. “You are so going to owe me for this,”Edward said. “One, I’ve seen you wear leather for undercover work before. Two, I wore a formal-length dress on a beach with bedazzled flip-flops for your wedding.”“That was not this bad,”he said, motioning at the pants that the patient woman was holding up for him. “I tried on dresses that were so low that I flashed an entire bridal store when I tripped over the hem.”He grinned, then shook his head. “Okay, that’s fair.”“If I said I’m sorry I missed you trying on dresses, would you be mad?”Peter asked. “Yes,”I said, firmly. He and Edward both laughed. I tried to hold out, but I finally gave in, and we laughed until Edward had to go into the changing room and get into the freshly hemmed leather

My Thoughts 
Oh my dearest Laurell...
How I love you and your uber-complex plots.
With title 29 in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series; offering nothing less than sheer supernatural delight.
Staring the delectable Jean-Claude, Asher, a much more alpha Nathaniel, Angel, Devil, and even the return of Richard.
Although I must admit that the absence of Micah is much felt this go round.
Marriage for Anita.

Can't wait for that.

Although the peek at her past that this read offers is just as off putting  as the time that we got to go home with Jason.
It looks as though this read and it's eons old demigod baddie are going to carry over into the following book.
That is worth a serious
... Yay!
This book really let us see the relationship dynamics of Anita's life.  And how the "sliding doors" effect of her polyamory has its good and not so good aspects.
It seems that everyone as done a great deal of evolving.
None to a more attractive degree than Nathaniel.
Oohh la la...
Richard, I can't say that I trust yet.
Although there is a part of me that really really wants to.
Oh well...
I guess we'll just have to wait for Slay, to see how what was so deliciously started in Smolder, plays out.

Reviewer's Note 
Thanks to Netgalley and Berkley Books for providing the review copy upon which this honest review is based. 
Smolder is the 29th book in an interrelated series. It is recommended be read consecutively.  To maintain continuity. 

About Laurell

Laurell K. Hamilton is one of the leading writers of paranormal fiction. A #1 New York Times bestselling author, Hamilton writes the popular Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novels and the Meredith Gentry series. She is also the creator of a bestselling comic book series based on her Anita Blake novels and published by Marvel Comics. Hamilton is a full-time writer and lives in the suburbs of St. Louis with her family.
See Her Socially:  WebGR / TwitterFacebook

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Berkley Presents: In Isabeau's Eyes

Title:  In Isabeau's Eyes 
Series:  Kentucky Nights #1
Author:  Lora Leigh
Length:  352 pages, Kindle Ed.
Date Of Publication:  March 21st, 2023
Publisher:  Berkley 
Rating:  4 Stars 

The first novel in a new series from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lora Leigh—you've met the Mackays; now it's time to meet their friends.

Danger is stalking Isabeau Boudreaux. After the deaths of her parents ten years ago during a violent attack that left her blind, remnants of her vision are returning. But a series of accidents has convinced her friends the Mackays of Somerset, Kentucky, that someone wants her dead. When a roadside blowout proves to be almost fatal for Isabeau and her good friend Angel, Angel’s brother mercenary Tracker Calloway knows this was no accident.

After a particularly bloody job, the last thing Tracker wants to do is get involved. But whoever is after Isabeau almost hurt his sister, and Isabeau is the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Tracker is determined to protect her but knows staying away from Isabeau is impossible. He begins a steady seduction to tempt the innocent woman into a world of hunger like she could have never imagined. And keeping her is the only option—if he can save her from an unknown enemy as her sight begins to slowly return.

Please enjoy this excerpt from 
Isabeau's Eyes
SHE’D ALMOST DIED. AGAIN. AND THIS TIME, THE NEAR miss had nearly taken someone else as well. Isabeau Boudreaux sat still and silent in the front seat of the pickup she’d been led to, the door open, fighting the misty blurriness of her eyesight and her own fear. For ten years she’d been fighting to live, and for nine of those years it seemed bad luck was determined to kill her where her father had failed. If it was bad luck, as her brother, Burke, was wont to say. “Goddammit, Angel.”A new voice, filled with anger and disgust, rose amid the others that had arrived at the site where Angel’s truck had nearly gone over a sheer cliff after the tire had exploded. “What the bloody fuck is going on here? That was no convenient blowout. That tire was shot out, and you and I both know you’re experienced enough to see it.”Isabeau froze, her fingers tightening on the handle of the cane she carried as the accusation drifted to her over the distance between the truck she sat in and Angel’s truck a good fifty feet away. She was guessing the unknown male was one of Angel’s brothers, most likely the eldest brother, who they called Tracker. She’d met the younger one, Chance, and rather liked him. But even angry, his voice wouldn’t sound like this. She couldn’t hear Angel’s response, but the male didn’t care if he was heard or not. Rough, dark, and raspy, it was a sexy sound, despite the anger filling it. “And you damned well know that woman is a walking target and has been for years,”he snapped again. “Why didn’t you stay the fuck away . . . ?”Isabeau flinched; the pure fury in the man’s voice and his words whipped across her emotions, pulling at the guilt she already felt, and a fear she’d fought for years. Unfounded fear, she was told often, but a fear all the same. Of all her accidents in the past ten years, law enforcement hadn’t found a single shred of evidence that they were anything more than bad luck. Even her brother, as strong and suspicious as he was, and the friends he surrounded himself with, couldn’t find so much as a rumor that they were anything more than accidents. She was blind. Shit happened. Right? Her blindness hadn’t been an accident though. The bullet she’d taken to her head when she was fifteen should have killed her. Instead, it had somehow lodged in her skull, taking her sight rather than her life. And her memory of that night. “Dammit, Tracker, I said shut the hell up.”Angel’s demand had come too late; the words had already been said. “Stop being an asshole just for the sake of it.”“I’m never an asshole for the sake of it, little sister,”he countered with a snarl. “And you damned well know it. It comes naturally.”Isabeau heard the heavy sigh next to her where the door had been left open by the young woman keeping her company. Annie Mackay was eighteen, and very sensitive for her age. That sound was heavy with sympathy, and Isabeau hated it. The girl felt sorry for her, when that was the last thing Isabeau wanted. “Tracker is Angel’s brother,”the young woman said softly. “Sort of. He and his family raised Angel after Aunt Chaya thought she’d been killed in a hotel bombing. He’s like her foster brother.”“Angel told me,”Isabeau said. “He has a right to be angry. She was almost killed.”“But it wasn’t your fault,”Annie stated, her voice soft. “Tracker’s just really worried about her. He always worries more now that she’s pregnant. And that would have been a really bad accident.”Isabeau tightened her fingers on the cane once again, the all-too-familiar feeling of helplessness, of dependence, strangling her. She couldn’t even leave, not without asking someone to take her home. And how could she do that, after Angel had nearly died driving her to the remote location where the weekend gathering hosted by the few friends she made was being held? The invitation to the Mackay reunion weekend had filled her with such excitement when Angel had extended it and told her she could ride to the property with her. Three days and nights at the lake house getting to know the rest of the Mackay family amid good food, music, and bonfires. Now, she just wanted to hide in the small house she owned in Somerset, Kentucky, and decide if she should call her brother and tell him about this latest incident. One more time, he’d warned her, and she was returning to the ranch with a bodyguard. He was tired of the accidents that made no sense and defied explanation. He’d protect her himself if he had to lock her in the ranch house to do it. A miserable existence. She didn’t want to go back to Texas. She loved her brother, Burke, and his father and stepmother. His half sister, Kenya, was fun to be around, but Texas wasn’t home. It was dusty and too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter. The sound of cattle filled the air constantly, along with the shouts of the cowboys on horseback who worked them. But she didn’t want anyone else hurt because of her either. This accident had been too close. If the truck had gone over the cliff, she, Angel, and Angel’s unborn child, would have died. “It was an accident.”Annie broke into her thoughts with the assurance, but Isabeau heard the doubt in her voice. An accident. Like the truck that nearly ran her over in Beaumont, the attempted abduction outside her college dorm, the gas explosion in the empty apartment next to hers when she’d moved to Dallas—and those were just the highlights of her bad-luck adventures, as she’d been calling them. Just an accident. But evidently, this one hadn’t been. Tracker Calloway had told his sister that she had enough experience to know that the tire was shot out. That meant it had been deliberate. Someone had shot it as Angel rounded the sharp curve in the narrow mountain road. It was no accident, Isabeau thought as she fought back the sudden terror that wanted to rise inside her. Had someone really been causing the “accidents,”and had they finally grown tired of failing and decided to use a bullet? She rubbed at the side of her head, her fingers finding the scar beneath her hair that marked where the bullet had struck her the summer she turned fifteen. “Uh-oh, here comes Tracker,”Annie murmured. “And Dad and Duke.”Dad being Rowdy Mackay, and Duke being Angel’s husband. “Annie, go with your mom,”Rowdy directed his daughter, his tone warm and caring when he spoke to her, but Isabeau heard the undercurrent of tension. “We’re going back to the lake house now.”“Okay, Dad.”Annie moved back, the blurred shadow of her form hesitant as she moved. “Isabeau, this is Tracker Calloway with me,”Rowdy told her as Annie left. “He’ll be driving you back to the lake house.”Isabeau’s felt the lash of trepidation as it rushed through her. “Ms. Boudreaux,”Tracker spoke as he opened the driver’s side door and slid in. She jerked, flinching away from him a second later as the huge shadow suddenly moved closer, his arm reaching across her. “Seat belt,”he seemed to bite out as he grabbed the latch and pulled it across her. The complete lack of respect the move indicated was like a slap in the face. “I’m blind, not incompetent.”The words burst free from her before she could hold them back. “And I can buckle my own damned seat belt.”It snapped into place even as she spoke. “Tracker,”Duke spoke from behind Rowdy, his voice holding a warning. “Politeness counts.”It seemed to be a repeated order, if Duke’s tone was anything to go by. “As does common sense,”Tracker snorted. “Now close the damned door so I can get her to the house. Hopefully without either of us going over a cliff.”Isabeau barely stilled a gasp at the not-so-subtle accusation in his tone and her own surprise at how deep it seemed to hurt. “Why don’t you let someone in possession of that common sense drive instead,”Rowdy snapped as the tension shot up by several degrees. “Because the rest of you actually give a damn if you live or die,”Tracker growled, his voice deepening, becoming more graveled as Isabeau felt anger beginning to burn between Tracker and Rowdy. “Looks like me and Ms. Boudreaux are the only two who don’t give a flying fuck. Now close the goddamned door so I can leave.”“Like hell . . .”Rowdy snapped, his body shifting closer to her as though he intended to jerk her from the truck. She actually wouldn’t have put it past him. “Rowdy, I’ll be fine,”Isabeau hurriedly injected as she lifted a hand helplessly, looking between the two men, the fiery tension building around them too much for her to take in or to deal with. The shadows of both men standing beside her suddenly seemed far more dangerous as they’d stepped closer to where she sat. “Get out of the truck, Isabeau,”Duke ordered. “Some of us aren’t nearly the asshole Tracker’s making himself out to be . . .”Making himself out to be? “It’s not an act, Duke. You of all people should know that,”Tracker snorted, the complete assurance in his tone almost amusing as he voiced her own thoughts. Amusing if the situation hadn’t had the potential to be so disastrous. “I’m certain it isn’t,”Isabeau assured him as she did the unruly students she occasionally dealt with. Despite his gruff words, she sensed he wouldn’t hurt her. “And you do it very well.”She turned back to Duke and Rowdy. “Mr. Calloway and I will get along fine, I promise. Tell Angel I’ll talk to her later.”Reaching past Duke she felt for the door handle, gripped it, and eased it toward her slowly. She was rather surprised when the two men shifted back and allowed her to close the door. The truck slid into gear and moments later began backing along the road only to swing into what she assumed was a wider spot to turn and continue along the steep incline of the mountain. Folding her hands in her lap, Isabeau faked composure. She’d learned how to do that years ago, after first losing her sight, to appease Burke, who had been enraged for more than a year because of their mother’s murder, and Isabeau’s father’s attempt to kill Isabeau as well before he’d killed himself. That was what the official police report concluded, as had the coroner. That her father, Carmichael Boudreaux had killed his wife, Danica, and believed he’d killed his daughter, then turned the gun on himself. Her gentle, laughter-filled, loving father had seemingly found some reason to believe they should all die. There had been no suicide letter, no indication that he harbored such darkness inside him. Friends hadn’t noticed anything unusual in him, no hint of depression or financial worries. Yet he’d killed his wife and attempted to kill his daughter. Isabeau’s accidental survival had amazed the doctors and surgeons. The fact that she’d recovered, with only the loss of sight, had astounded them. “I’m not one of your teenage students.”Tracker’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “I don’t like being patronized, Ms. Boudreaux.”She’d known all that offended male pride would escape soon. Most men dislike being talked to as though they were teenagers. Especially when they were acting in that age group. “Then don’t act like a schoolyard bully,”she suggested calmly. “As I understand it, you know both Duke and Rowdy fairly well. Infuriate their protective instincts, and fists are going to start flying. You should

My Thoughts 
In Isabeau's Eyes marks the beginning of a new adventure for authoress, Lora Leigh. 
And a new series to love for her readers.
Isabeau Boudreaux is a character that one can't help loving from the start. 
Who even though she was blinded by an as yet unknown assassin. Who did manage to kill both her mother and father.  When she was just a girl of fifteen.  Has never stopped striving to live her life on her own terms.
Now a woman grown, and having weathered many more attempts on her life.
This tough cookie has shown time and time again.  That crumbling is not on her agenda. 
That is until a failed car crash involving Isabeau and her best friend Angel.  Brings her face to face with the man who; while determined to save her body.  Just might steal her heart.

Tracker Calloway...
Rough around the edges.  Determined to be the "white knight " in Isabeau's situation.  And totally unprepared for the feelings that this "force of nature" of a woman will inspire.
If he can keep her alive.
That is...

And now for the technical support...
This first book in the Kentucky Nights series.  Is classic Lora Leigh. 
Strong leading man with a past.
Meets strong leading damsel with a past.  And oftentimes quite a dangerous present. 
From which he is then obligated to save her.
They then fall in uncontrollable lust.
Resulting in some of the best written sex scenes known to human kind.
Yada...yada... impending peril...saving of the day...yada yada...declaration of love...grand gesture...HEA!

And for the most part we got that this time around. 
But we also got something a little bit special because of Isabeau's disability. 
That served to her, her peril, and her romantic entanglement all the more interesting. 
At least for a while anyway. 
As well as making up for some of the confusion that comes about when trying to clarify the origin story of the mysterious bad guy.  Trying to kill our girl.  And his relationship to both her and the good guys trying to save her.
Because this story has some rather serious "six degrees of separation" action going on between cast mates. 
Someone is always someone's cousin's  sister’s brother twice removed. 
And then there is the insta-attraction between Tracker and Isabeau. 
As I stated earlier, it did lead to some really hot sex.
The second time they meet?
Then There is the whole regaining her sight thing.
Which while a good thing in most cases. Just made this book run of the mill for me.
All of that being said however.
This is a good book if you want something light.  That you can read in one sitting and will make your heart and libido race.

Reviewer's Note
Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley Books for providing the review copy upon which this honest review is based.

About Lora

Lora Leigh lives in the rolling hills of Kentucky, often found absorbing the ambience of this peaceful setting. She dreams in bright, vivid images of the characters intent on taking over her writing life, and fights a constant battle to put them on the hard drive of her computer before they can disappear as fast as they appeared. Lora’s family, and her writing life co-exist, if not in harmony, in relative peace with each other. Surrounded by a menagerie of pets, friends, and a teenage son who keeps her quick wit engaged, Lora’s life is filled with joys, aided by her fans whose hearts remind her daily why she writes.

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Berkley Presents: The Last Russian Doll

Title:  The Last Russian Doll
Author:  Kristin Loesch
Format:  ERC
Length:  384 pages
Publisher:  Berkley Books 
Rating: 4 Stars 

A haunting, epic novel about betrayal, revenge, and redemption that follows three generations of Russian women, from the 1917 revolution to the last days of the Soviet Union, and the enduring love story at the center.

In a faraway kingdom, in a long-ago land...

...a young girl lived happily in Moscow with her family: a sister, a father, and an eccentric mother who liked to tell fairy tales and collect porcelain dolls.

One summer night, everything changed, and all that remained of that family were the girl and her mother.

Now, a decade later and studying at Oxford University, Rosie has an English name, a loving fiancé, and a promising future, but all she wants is to understand--and bury--the past. After her mother dies, Rosie returns to Russia, armed with little more than her mother’s strange folklore--and a single key.

What she uncovers is a devastating family history that spans the 1917 Revolution, the siege of Leningrad, Stalin’s purges, and beyond.

At the heart of this saga stands a young noblewoman, Tonya, as pretty as a porcelain doll, whose actions—and love for an idealistic man—will set off a sweeping story that reverberates across the century....

Please enjoy this excerpt from 
The Last Russian Doll 
In some faraway kingdom, in some long-ago land, there lived a young girl who looked just like her porcelain doll. The same rusty-gold hair. The same dark-wine eyes. The girl’s own mother could hardly tell them apart. But they were never apart , for the girl always held the doll at her side, to keep it from the clutches of her many, many siblings. The family lived in a dusky-pink house by the river, and in the evenings, the children liked to gather around the old stove and listen to their mother tell stories. Stories of kingdoms even farther away and lands even longer ago, when there had been kings and queens living in castles, stories of how those castles had been swept away into the midnight-black sea. The many , many siblings would drift away to sleep on these stories, and then the mother would take the girl and the doll into her lap and tell tales of the girl’s father. He’d had the same rusty-gold hair, the same dark-wine eyes, in some other faraway kingdom, in some other long-ago land. But one evening after supper, as the stove simmered and the samovar sang and the mother spoke and the children listened, there came the sound of footsteps outside the house. Stomp-stomp-stomp. There came a knock on the dusky-pink door. Rap-rap-rap.
My Thoughts 
The Last Russian Doll offers readersa very forthright journey through time.  As experienced by three generations of Russia. 
Starting with Rosie, her mother's stories, a mysterious key, and memories of the night that changed her life for ever.
Leading Rosie to the story of Tonya, and her love of a revolutionary...
And a web of secrets, stories, lore, and love that will answer the seeming unanswerable.  And tie everyone and everything together across time.

This is a very beautiful book. That takes a very close, and sometimes unflattering look at love.  Its costs, rewards, failings, successes, and consequences. 
Though we know this to be a work of Historical Fiction.  The incorporation of Russian lore into the story, gives a feel of magical realism.
That when combined with the mysterious aspect of the tale, make this a story that is truly a world apart. 

Reviewer's Note 
Many thanks to Berkley and Netgalley for providing the review copy upon which this honest review is based.

About Kristen
Kristen Loesch grew up in San Francisco. She holds a BA in History, as well as a Master’s degree in Slavonic Studies from the University of Cambridge. Her debut historical novel, THE LAST RUSSIAN DOLL, was shortlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award and longlisted for the Bath Novel Award under a different title. After a decade living in Europe, she now resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children.

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Berkley Presents: A Sinister Revenge

Title:  A Sinister Revenge 
Series:  Veronica Speedwell #8
Author:  Deanna Raybourn
Length:  336 pages
Date Of Publication:  March 7th, 2023
Publisher:  Berkley 
Rating:  4 Stars

Veronica must find and stop a devious killer when a group of old friends is targeted for death in this new adventure from the New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award–nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

Veronica’s natural-historian beau, Stoker, has been away in Bavaria for months and their relationship is at an impasse. But when Veronica shows up before him with his brother, Tiberius, Lord Templeton-Vane, he is lured back home by an intriguing job offer: preparing an iguanodon for a very special dinner party.

Tiberius has received a cryptic message—along with the obituaries of two recently deceased members of his old group of friends, the Seven Sinners—that he too should get his affairs in order. Realizing he is in grave danger but not knowing why, he plans a reunion party for the remaining Sinners at his family estate to lure the killer out while Veronica and Stoker investigate.

As the guests arrive and settle in, the evening’s events turn deadly. More clues come to light, leading Veronica, Stoker, and Tiberius to uncover a shared past among the Sinners that has led to the fatal present. But the truth might be far more sinister than what they were prepared for.

Please enjoy this excerpt from 
A Sinister Revenge 
Bavaria, September 1889 You must not go into the forest at night,”the innkeeper warned, his voice trembling with fear. “Something dangerous walks there in the darkness.”He carried on in this vein for some time as I applied myself to a stein of Weissbier and a plate of crisp, excellent sausages. My friend and traveling companion, the Viscount Templeton-Vane, listened politely as the fellow grew more vehement. “The creature that walks by night, it is part wolf, part man. It has but one eye, the other a gaping hole of deepest black. It keeps to the shadows, and if you dare to come near, it snarls like a bear,”he went on, his eyes round in his chubby, shiny face. He was a character straight from a storybook, plump and bearded, an imp of a fellow, with lines of good humour etched upon his face. But there was no mirth to be found upon his visage as he told his tale, only fear, brightening his eyes and causing his mouth to tremble ever so slightly. Behind him, a lurking barmaid whose ample charms were scarcely contained by the lacing of her dirndl, threw her apron over her head and fled through the door to the kitchens. The viscount—Tiberius to his friends—quirked up one expressive brow. “My good man, calm yourself. Surely this is some piece of local lore meant to frighten the feeble. We English are made of sterner stuff.”“But it is true,”the fellow insisted, colour pinkening the cheeks above the white fringe of his beard. He glanced around and lowered his voice. “I have seen it, a hulking shadow, moving in the silence of the firs. And when I stepped in its direction, it reared back and it growled with the fiendish fury of a hound of Hell.”Tiberius, usually a man of cool logic, looked startled. “Growled, you say?”“Like a wolf,”the man confirmed. I sighed. It was time to put an end to this. “My good man,”I said politely to the innkeeper, “whilst I must concede that your use of alliteration is impressive, I think we can dismiss the notion of a hybrid monster roaming these mountains.”He gave me a look of profound injury and slunk away, muttering. Tiberius met my gaze. “Can we? I realise the local folk are a superstitious lot, but how exactly would you explain the existence of such a creature?”I ticked off the qualities as I said them. “A tall, unsociable creature that keeps to the shadows, shuns the society of respectable people, and growls its displeasure? Tell me, who does that seem to describe?”Tiberius’mouth went slack, then curved into a smile. “You mean—”“Yes, Tiberius. I think we have, at long last, found your brother.”•••The Honourable Revelstoke Templeton-Vane—Stoker, familiarly—had not been lost so much as slightly misplaced. For some months Stoker and I had enjoyed an intimate relationship that had proven thoroughly fulfilling, indeed enrapturing, in all the particulars. We were work colleagues, engaged in the endlessly fascinating work of preparing museum exhibits for our employer, Lord Rosemorran. We were also neighbours, each of us inhabiting a small folly on his lordship’s Marylebone estate. And we were occasional partners in detection, as falling over corpses had become something of a habit. In short, our lives were so fully entwined it was difficult to say where one left off and the other began. We enjoyed it all—from the scientific work to the investigation of crime, to the exuberant physicality of our more private endeavours. (Stoker is singularly suited to the amatory arts through a combination of bodily charms, robust stamina, and an enchanting thoroughness that might have startled a less experienced or enthusiastic partner than I.) But following a painful interlude, Stoker had taken himself off to nurse his wounded feelings. When last he and I had been together, there had been a complication regarding my marital status. Not a complication so much as a husband—one I had believed dead and whose resurrection was most unwelcome. The fact that we had nearly died as a result of Harry’s dramatic appearance into our lives had not endeared him to Stoker, and he had taken his leave of England whilst still believing me bound forever to a man with criminous tendencies.* As his parting words had been a directive to grant him time and privacy to smooth his ruffled feathers, I had naturally concurred. By the next morning he was gone, leaving only a hastily scribbled line to explain he was off to Germany in pursuit of a trophy—as a natural historian, his employment entailed procuring and improving a vast array of specimens—but no invitation to join him ensued. At almost precisely the same moment, a letter had arrived from Tiberius urging me to come to Italy, where he had persuaded his hostess, an aging papal marquise, to part with a prized collection of rare birdwing butterflies. I am, first and foremost, a lepidopterist. I did not hesitate to pack my carpetbag and board the first train out of London. Through the end of the spring and the whole of that summer I accompanied Tiberius as he made his way through Italy, sending boxes of butterflies back to Lord Rosemorran’s burgeoning museum. From Stoker, I had not a single line, although Lord Rosemorran frequently alluded to Stoker’s peregrinations through the Black Forest in his own letters. I thus had a vague idea of where Stoker was, and I was not at all distressed by our lack of communication. I knew two things: the depth of our feelings for one another and the fact that absence makes the heart as well as the libido grow stronger. I had little doubt that Stoker missed me—all of me. No, the fact that he had taken his leave so abruptly and with no effort at a proper good-bye did not distress me in the slightest. And while another woman might have grown increasingly irritated that the post forwarded from England brought not the merest scrap of a postcard to say nothing of a proper letter, I naturally devoted myself entirely to the study of lepidoptery. I passed my days in hunting specimens that flittered and fluttered from the Dolomites to the Sicilian hills and back again. I grew leaner and more firmly muscled from scrambling over peaks and pastures. I set out at daybreak each morning from our lodgings, when the night’s dew still bespangled the grasses at my feet. I did not return until the languid golden sun dropped beyond the horizon, leaving a few last gentle rays to show me the way back. I never used my net; its presence was merely a habit from my previous expeditions. Instead I followed the butterflies, making careful study of their mazy peregrinations, their behaviours and habitats. And when I returned to the solitude of my room, I spent long hours writing up my findings both for my private notes and for publication in the Aurelian journals. Invariably, I dropped into bed exhausted by my exertions, only to rise at dawn and repeat the process. Not for me the languid evening passed in mournful contemplation of the distance—both literal and figurative—between myself and the person I considered to be my twinned soul. I would not permit myself to waste away in pining and regret. I had the celibate consolations of science, and I made full advantage of them. If I am to be strictly honest within these pages—and I have sworn to be so—then I will admit to the occasional wakeful night or interminable afternoon when I found my thoughts inhabited by his familiar form and face. When these moods came upon me, so strong was my longing for him, it required all of my discipline to refrain from flinging my things into a bag and dashing to him. The only remedy was another strenuous day spent in pursuit of my studies, driving myself physically harder than ever before even as I enumerated his flaws. I cataloged them as I strode the Italian hills, whipping up my annoyance. “What sort of man just leaves? And without so much as a proper kiss good-bye,”I muttered to the nearest rock in a fit of particular frustration on the isle of Capri. “What kind of fellow thinks it is acceptable simply to disappear for months on end and send no assurances of his well-being? Not a telegram, not a semaphore flag, not so much as a scrap of a postcard with his current address? An ass,”I told the rock. But even as I said the words, I knew Stoker was not entirely to blame. He had left still believing I was the wife of another man. Only a handful of hours had passed between Stoker’s departure and my learning the truth of my marital status—that I was not, and never had been, legally married. Why then did I leap at Tiberius’invitation instead of rushing after Stoker to stop him before he left England? It was some months before I could face the answer: I was a coward. When I learnt of Stoker’s resolve to leave, to take time for himself to consider our attachment, my initial reaction, the longing of my heart, had been to go to him. And therein lay my terror. I, who had laboured and loved independent of real connection for so long, was entirely and besottedly enraptured with this man. When I most had need of a confidant, I had not turned to him out of fear of dependency, and when he left, the desire to run to him had kindled that fear once more. So I drove it out with hard physical exercise, with time and distance, hoping I could blunt the sharp edge of my resistance to committing myself fully to Stoker. My demeanour, ordinarily so tranquil as to be remarkable, was frequently waspish as I came back, always, to the fact that even if I wanted to go to him, he had insisted upon the gift of time. If time was what he wanted, he should have all the time in the world, I decided. In fact, I would grow weary and withered and ancient before I would stir a single step towards him. If I suffered from the loss of his company, then he should suffer as well, I decided. I had my dignity, after all. I do not know how long I might have maintained my lofty determination to wait for him to make the first move. I might still be wandering the Lombard hills, butterfly net in hand, had Tiberius not appeared one morning at breakfast, bags packed and travel arranged. Our hotel, a converted castello, was very fine and comfortable but with few of the comforts so beloved of the English traveler. The beds were hard, the pillows nonexistent, and the mosquitoes particularly aggressive. Worst of all possible woes, the tea was unspeakable and I had almost resigned myself to drinking coffee. I was peering into the murky depths of the teapot when Tiberius took the chair across from me. “I wish to find Stoker,”he said flatly. “Do you know where one might run him to ground?”I put aside the crime that passed for tea in those parts and gave him a level look. “Somewhere in Bavaria, if Lord Rosemorran’s letters are accurate. But his lordship can be vague about such things, and this is, after all, Stoker of whom we are speaking, a man inclined to follow his most wayward impulses. He might be in Batavia. Or Bolivia. Or Bechuana.”He did not respond to my little witticism and I gave him a close look. Tiberius was, like all the Templeton-Vane men, a singularly handsome fellow. But there were plummy shadows under his eyes, and a line, slim but severe, etched its way across his brow. “Tiberius, why

My Thoughts 
This eighth offering in the Veronica Speedwell series, finds both Stoker and Veronica both closer and farther apart than ever.  With more than enough murderous goings-on to keep readers guessing and pages turning. 

Fresh from a protracted bout of hurt feelings and wound licking while tramping through the wilds of Bavaria. 
Stoker finds himself not only reunited with our dear Miss V.  But also on a quest to prevent the murder of his brother,  Tiberius. 
During a house party at the family estate. 

Written with plot stylings favoring those of the classic, And Then There Were None.  A Sinister Revenge, offers readers a very atmospheric read.  Allowing scenes to be set as much by the house, grounds,  and character interactions.  To the same or greater degrees as any other plot elements. 
Sweetening the most suspenseful pot.  The ever present guessing game of who will be the next to die. With some serious Regency Romance flavors thrown in. 

As well as the more pressing and personal question of whether Stoker and Veronica's tattered relationship can survive the 'husband debacle' of the previous book.
As well as a closer look down the rabbit hole into Stoker's past.
It must be said that this book as well as its predecessor offers a more intimate experience.   That while a nice change from the more traveled and action packed stories of the past.  May take a little more time to draw the reader in than one is accustomed to.

All in all...
This is a middle of the road read for what is a stellar series. 
Here's hoping that the journey will continue in coming reads.

About Deanna 

New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist Deanna Raybourn is a 6th-generation native Texan. She graduated with a double major in English and history from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of one, Raybourn makes her home in Virginia. Her novels have been nominated for numerous awards including two RT Reviewers’ Choice awards, the Agatha, two Dilys Winns, a Last Laugh, three du Mauriers, and most recently the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Novel. She launched a new Victorian mystery series with the 2015 release of A CURIOUS BEGINNING, featuring intrepid butterfly-hunter and amateur sleuth, Veronica Speedwell. Veronica has returned in several more adventures, most recently AN IMPOSSIBLE IMPOSTOR, book seven, which released in early 2022. Deanna's first contemporary novel, KILLERS OF A CERTAIN AGE, about four female assassins on the cusp of retirement publishes in September 2022. (Please note: Deanna is not active on GR.)

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