"Recovery Road" Serves As The Glue That Holds The Series Together


Title: Recovery Road
Author:  Christine Feehan 
Length:  410 pages
Publisher:  Berkley 
Rating:  3.5 Stars

A broken man finds a woman worth living for in the new novel in #1 New York Times bestselling author Christine Feehan’s Torpedo Inkmotorcycle club series.
Kir “Master” Vasiliev doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. He’s a burnt-out shell with no one and nothing but his club. Whatever Torpedo Ink needs, Master will put himself in harm’s way time after time. If he doesn’t make it back, he’s certain everyone will move on just fine.

Investment banker Ambrielle Moore knows her own mind, and she’s not willing to settle for anyone. So when a second-rate gangster and his thugs try to coerce her into marriage—and giving up all of her family’s money—she’s having none of it. Until they turn to cold-blooded murder.

Grieving and enraged, Ambrie is ready to go scorched earth on her captors when Master shows up anticipating a damsel in distress. But Ambrie is nothing like he expected, and everything he never knew he desired....


Please enjoy this excerpt from 
Recovery Road 
Everyone had a breaking point. Everyone. Kir “Master”Vasiliev was well aware he had been past that point when he agreed to take the assignment. He never should have done it. Burning out when behind bars with no backup was a bad idea, especially if he didn’t give a fuck whether he lived or died—which he didn’t. The only reason he didn’t kill the two guards and the four prisoners right then and there was because he had a job to do, and he never let a job go unfinished. That was drilled into him. His club, Torpedo Ink, needed the intelligence, and he had been given the assignment to get the information and then kill the four men who had threatened their president and his family. That meant the two dirty guards who were involved with them had to die as well. The eighteen charter members of Torpedo Ink had grown up together in a place loosely called a “school”in Russia. Their parents had been murdered by a powerful man named Kostya Sorbacov. He took the children of his political enemies and placed them in one of four schools supposedly to become assets for their country. That was true of three of the four schools, although all of them were brutal. The fourth school was located far from the city where the criminally insane prisoners—the ones the government refused to acknowledge existed—were housed. Pedophiles. Rapists. Serial killers. These were men and women Sorbacov utilized as the instructors for the children in the fourth school. Supposedly the children were to become assassins—assets for their country. What they really were, were playthings—toys for Sorbacov and his friends. Over twenty years, two hundred eighty-nine children entered that school. Only nineteen survived. Destroyer, the nineteenth survivor, had recently found his way to them and joined Torpedo Ink. Like Master, Destroyer knew his way around prisons, but Master had been trained to take these missions from a young age, and Torpedo Ink relied on him. Of all the members, he was the only one with a record in their new country. They all had impeccable paperwork, thanks to Code. Even Master’s prison records were mostly manufactured. Still, the fact that he was officially dirty, when the rest of his club was officially clean, set him apart. Only Destroyer would understand that concept. Torpedo Ink now spent a good deal of their time hunting pedophiles and those running human trafficking rings. None of them could ever live normal lives after what had been done to them as children, teens and young men and women. To survive, they had turned their bodies into weapons and developed what others might refer to as psychic talents. Czar had explained that he believed everyone had talents, they just didn’t have to use them so they never worked at making them strong. The members of Torpedo Ink had started as young children to practice in those long, endless days and nights in the basement of their hideous torture school. Master was positive the cameras in the laundry room where the guards had brought him had been turned off. After all, the guards wouldn’t want it to be caught on film if the four prisoners about to beat the shit out of him accidentally killed him. Still, that didn’t stop him from making certain the cameras weren’t working. He wasn’t about to take any chances. He never did. That was what kept him from ever getting caught. Master had been sure to offend these specific prisoners several times in the yard that afternoon, even after he’d been warned. He’d done it out of anyone’s hearing so that when the prisoners and the guards were found dead in the morning, and he was back in his cell, no one would think to connect him with the bodies. That was always key in this kind of mission. As the primary assassin, you were never caught with the target, not by anyone. There was nothing to connect you to the death. If you had to draw attention to yourself to get put into solitary, you picked a fight with some other prisoner, not the target. It had taken time and expert maneuvering to get locked up near these four men so they would share the same yard and floor. Torpedo Ink had to be certain the intelligence was right about them. Once they’d locked onto them, Master had been put in place. Then it was a matter of finding out who was aiding them—passing on messages to them and allowing them out into the world when they were needed. Master knew every classic way to hide an assassination team. Master had been placed in several prisons, hidden there, to be used when Sorbacov deemed it necessary. These four men were protected in that prison. They came and went, and they had special perks. Women were brought to them when they asked for them. They had whatever kinds of meals they wanted. Cush rooms. Master recognized it all, because he’d lived that life from the time he was a teen and could pass for an adult. It was a shit life to live. He spent a lot of time fighting, killing, getting beat by guards, pacing in small cages, trying to stay sane. Master stood against the wall, where the guards had thrown him. Just waiting. This was such a common scenario. He couldn’t count the times he’d been in it, the new prisoner, stupid enough to cross those older ones who ran the prison and bribed the guards. It was always the laundry room or some smaller, concrete room with a hose to wash down the blood. Sometimes there were small windows where guards watched and bet on the action. He knew this wasn’t going to be one of those times because it was probable the intention was to kill him. As if he gave a fuck. He didn’t. And that was bad. For him. For them. Mostly for them. The guards hadn’t bothered with cuffs. Why would they? Four big Russians were about to beat the fuck out of him for his “indiscretion.”The guards locked the laundry room doors and sat back to watch the show. They parked themselves on the long table that prisoners used to fold the laundry, grinning from ear to ear. This certainly wasn’t the first time they’d brought someone for the four Russian assassins to teach a lesson to. “He’s a big fucker, Boris,”Shorty, one of the guards, said. “Strong as an ox.”Boris didn’t bother to answer the guard or even look at him. “You got something to say to me now, freak?”he hissed. Master raised an eyebrow. Answering in Russian, he called him several names, including degenerate, a brainless, obnoxious pig who could only hang with monkeys. He indicated the other three men with him. He was fluent in several languages, but like Boris and the other four prisoners, he was born and raised in Russia. He might look all brawn, but he had a brain. He was born with the odd talent of seeing in numbers. He could compute numbers almost faster than any computer. His brain just worked out any problem and spit out the answer. He had instincts for investments, and when Code, their resident genius hacker stole money from criminals, he knew how to utilize that money to the fullest. As treasurer of the club, he oversaw the money and made the investments. He also played several instruments, and his main job was construction. He had an affinity for wood. Now, looking passively at Boris, he taunted him in a bored voice, getting creative with his insults, because he was a creative kind of man. Boris roared and came at Master, his arms spread wide. Master stayed with his back against the wall, on the balls of his feet, shoulders loose, and as the other man came in, he snapped out his hand like a knife, driving it straight into the exposed throat. Boris choked, coughed. His eyes rolled back in his head and he went down to his knees, both hands going up to wrap around his throat. Master followed up with a strike to the back of his skull, driving him hard toward the cement floor. Boris face-planted so hard the sound seemed to reverberate through the entire laundry room. “Damn!”Shorty laughed. “That was fast. Should have been taking bets on the new guy.”“Too late now,”Longfellow, the other guard, said mournfully. He moved a little closer to survey the damage Master had done to Boris. The Russian assassin was vomiting, but not lifting his head, so he was by turns choking and getting the mess all over his face. He lay gasping for breath, desperate to breathe around the endless retching. The three other Russians fanned out, coming at Master from three sides. They were silent as they tried to surround him, their faces the masks they’d learned from their teachers in the schools they’d attended, but they couldn’t hide the fury—or slight trepidation—in their eyes. In their experience, no one had ever bested Boris in the prison. Most likely they had never dealt with anyone as fast or as calm as Master. Master didn’t move, keeping the wall at his back and Boris on his left. That meant he only had to deal with two of them immediately and the guards. The third had to get around the body of his fallen friend before he could actually be of some help to his friends. Kir “Master”Vasiliev had been in this scenario too many times. He knew their moves before they made them. They might be faster than any who had come before, but Sorbacov’s sick trainers had forced him to learn these tactics in very brutal ways. That fourth school, the one he’d attended, had been right there with its own prison on the grounds. The instructors had plenty of opportunities to teach a young boy how the prison system worked. How corrupt the guards could be. How complicit. How the inmates could be beaten, raped or killed by other stronger, more powerful prisoners in just such setups as this one. He’d learned all of the various setups because he’d lived through them all. His training hadn’t been simulated. Unlike other children who had been sent into the prison to be “trained,”he hadn’t died. He’d survived. He’d become a warped, scarred, dead soul of a man with a hefty criminal record. He was the only member of Torpedo Ink that still had that record, and it was ongoing. Absinthe could get rid of the charges eventually, but they were still out there, looking as if he had been freed on technicalities. He waited, knowing what was coming, and there it was, without warning: the familiar adrenaline rushing through his veins like a drug. The need for violence. The only time he felt alive. He wasn’t like Reaper and Savage, or even Maestro. He didn’t need or want to take an opponent apart. That wasn’t his thing and never would be. No, he needed the actual war, the fight, the pounding of fists, the slash of the knife, the precise blow of the foot sending so much power and energy through a human body that the shock shattered internal organs. He had spent a good portion of his life behind the walls of some kind of prison. That had been his specialty, what Sorbacov had him trained for. He was the chameleon, able to, even as a teen, get into the right block, assassinate the right prisoner and never have an ounce of suspicion directed his way. In order to gain those skills and accomplish the mission, again and again, he’d been beaten and raped repeatedly from the time he was a toddler. He’d learned to kill. To make weapons out of nothing. To make himself into a weapon. 
 
My Thoughts 
There are peaks and valleys in the storylines of the best series.
As such...
It seems that Christine Feehan's Torpedo  Ink saga has come to one such valley.  In the form of its eighth offering Recovery Road.
The story of Kir Vasiliev, aka Master, and Ambrielle Moore.
She's an investment banker.  Just living her best life.  Until the day when she finds herself kidnapped and forced to marry into the criminal  underworld. As her parents are murdered in front of her.


Master...
Torpedo Ink's Treasurer and Prision Assassination Specialist.  Has always been a man sentenced to live life as a criminal, a prisoner..
Until he marries the woman that can set more than just his heart free.
Book eight spends more rehashing the tortured pasts of its members than other books.  Simply because the antagonist is a blast from club  president, Czar's past.  Who is now out to dismantle his future.
The heat romatic/heat level of this book would be considered a "slow burn".  In relation to Ms. Feehan's other books in the same series.  Though it must be acknowledged that the emotional intensity shared between the couple more than compensates for the shortfall in sexual creativity.
This book really allows Ambrielle to save the day in some really unexpected and heartwarming ways.  Without infringement upon Master's 'tarnished white knight' status.
As he works to facilitate his lady love's revenge upon the men who killed her parents.
For the most part...
This book seems to serve more as a link in the series continuity chain. Than a story that really adds something truly new and different to the series.
But that in no way means that it is no less worth the read.

Reviewer's Note
Recovery Road is the 8th book in a continuing and interrelated series. It may be read as a standalone or as part of its intended series.
Thanks to Netgalley and Berkley Books for providing the review copy upon which this honest review is based.
 




About Christine 

Christine Feehan is a #1 New York Times bestselling author multiple times over with her portfolio including over 90 published novels, including five series; Dark Series, GhostWalker Series, Leopard Series, Drake Sisters Series, the Sisters of the Heart Series, Shadow Riders and Torpedo Ink. All of her series have hit the #1 spot on the New York Times bestselling list as well. Her debut novel Dark Prince received 3 of the 9 Paranormal Excellence Awards in Romantic Literature (PEARL) in 1999. Since then she has been published by various publishing houses including Leisure Books, Pocket Books, and currently is writing for Berkley/Jove. She also has earned 7 more PEARL awards since Dark Prince.
Her series include:
The Dark Series - https://www.christinefeehan.com/darkb...
The GhostWalker series- https://www.christinefeehan.com/ghost...
The Leopard Series - https://www.christinefeehan.com/leopa...
The Shadow Series- https://www.christinefeehan.com/shado...
Torpedo Ink series- https://www.christinefeehan.com/torpe...




IN HER WORDS:
I've been a writer all of my life -- it is who I am. I write for myself and always have. The ability to create pictures and emotions with words is such a miracle to me. I read everything; I mean everything! All kinds of books, even encyclopedias. I am fascinated by the written word and I love storytellers. It is a great privilege to be counted one myself. (www.christinefeehan.com

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"A Love By Design" Is The Perfect Fit For The "Fight For Your Rights" Romantic



Title:  A Love By Design 
Series:  The Secret Scientists Of London #3
Author:  Elizabeth Everett 
Length:  336 pages
Format:  ERC
Publisher:  Berkley Books 
Rating:  4 Stars

You couldn't design a better hero than the very eligible and extremely charming Earl Grantham. Unless, of course, you are Margaret Gault, who wants nothing to do with the man who broke her youthful heart.

Widowed and determined, Margaret Gault has returned to Athena's Retreat and the welcoming arms of her fellow secret scientists with an ambitious plan in mind: to establish England's first woman-owned engineering firm. But from the moment she sets foot in London her plans are threatened by greedy investors and--at literally every turn--the irritatingly attractive Earl Grantham, a man she can never forgive.

George Willis, the Earl Grantham, is thrilled that the woman he has loved since childhood has returned to London. Not as thrilling, however, is her decision to undertake an engineering commission from his political archnemesis. When Margaret's future and Grantham's parliamentary reforms come into conflict, Grantham must use every ounce of charm he possesses--along with his stunning good looks and flawless physique, of course--to win Margaret over to his cause.

Facing obstacles seemingly too large to dismantle, will Grantham and Margaret remain forever disconnected or can they find a way to bridge their differences, rekindle the passion of their youth, and construct a love built to last?

Please enjoy this excerpt from
A Love By Design
by
Elizabeth Everett 
GRASS THINNED BENEATH the willows, giving way to patches of cool, hard earth. The scent of wet stone itched the inside of Georgie’s nose as he made his way to the streambank. Black water rushed toward a distant outlet and giggled against the silent rocks. A rare contentment settled in his chest. Pushing aside the curtain of willow branches, Georgie paused. Below the chimes of the stream’s rapids came a low, snuffling noise. He knew that sound. Disappointment washed through him. Someone had breached his refuge and the excitement of the morning was lost now. For a moment, he considered finding another place downstream where he could be alone. When the sound came again, Georgie rolled his eyes up to heaven and shook himself all over, like a dog shaking off the wet, ridding himself of his frustration. Small for his eight years and good with neither letters nor numbers, yet already George Willis knew when a woman was crying, a man was generally the cause of it. Huddled in the nest of interlaced roots at the bottom of the tree, a scrawny lass in a sky blue frock lifted her head and peered at him. Her fiery red hair had been plaited and hung limply over one shoulder, crimson splotches around her eyes, nose, and mouth contrasting with the milky whiteness of her skin. “Hullo. Broken heart, izzit?”he asked, letting the branches fall behind him as he walked under the dome of the great willow. “A broken heart? Don’t be stupid,”the lass said with the ladle-like dip of a well-heeled accent. “Are you lost?”he asked. The girl couldn’t be from the village with that accent. Pulling a lace-trimmed handkerchief from a pocket in her pretty half apron, she blew her nose, honking like an angry goose. “No. I’m a guest at Grange Abbey.”Folding her handkerchief, she finally stared him straight on, scrutinizing him with a mixture of interest and distaste. Ah. That made sense. The stream lay on the border of the Viscount Grange’s vast estates. The viscount had four daughters—could have been five. They were loud and constantly moving so Georgie had a difficult time telling them apart except the oldest, Violet, who was his same age and obviously up to no good. He liked her. If this girl were a guest, why wasn’t she at the Abbey with the rest of the family? He’d glimpsed them playing pall-mall in the garden, the youngest girls lisping their displeasure at having to hit the balls with their mallets and not one another. Perhaps she was a poor relation like Mam had been before his father put a baby in her belly and had to marry her. Maybe she was like the girls in the stories Mam told him, the ones down on their luck until a handsome prince showed up to rescue them. That was ripper, then. He’d save her, wouldn’t he, then on to some fishing. “Hungry?”he asked. “I’ve some tommy I can share with you.”She turned her cherry red nose up at his overture, but Georgie didn’t take any offense. Instead, he clambered over to the pile of rocks where she sat and squatted, unwrapping the bundle the Abbey’s cook had given him. A gorgeous aroma of yeast and wheat had him near fainting with pleasure. He’d been at the estate asking for work. His father had been gone for months now and what coin his mam brought in with her lace could not keep them fed and clothed for much longer. Although his father disavowed them most times, Georgie’s mam swore they had been married before he was born. Most of the villagers didn’t believe her but they were kind to her just the same. Georgie tolerated her trying to raise him like a gentleman’s son, but his empty belly and threadbare clothes had finally convinced her to leave off with lessons and let him earn some coin on his own. With great reluctance, Georgie kept himself from yothering the rest of the bread. He would save it for supper and let Mam have the last of the stew. The gardener had given him a job starting tomorrow including a penny as footing. Georgie would be the man of the house from now on and his mam would never have to suffer his father’s wrath again. To distract himself from the gnawing in his belly, George inspected the lass more closely. Her frock was clean, and she wore real kidskin boots, but her collar needed mending, the boots were dirty, and a faded and frayed ribbon pulled back her hair. “Was Miss Grange cruel to you?”he guessed. “No.”The girl rested her chin on her knees. “Not Miss Grange. She’s not cruel, a’tall.”“Witch locked you in a tower and you’ve gone an’escaped?”he guessed. The lass snorted in derision. Hmmm. “Suffering a curse?”“Don’t be daft. I’m not cursed,”she exclaimed. “I’m not . . .”She swallowed, then fixed her gaze on the water. “I’m not anything special.”Georgie’s good humor deserted him as she curled into a secret. This was his private space she’d invaded for no good reason as far as he could see. He’d come here to celebrate his good fortune, to throw stones at things and avoid going home to his mam’s worried sighs and the slate board that mocked him with its unanswerable questions. No broken heart, money enough for sturdy shoes, and a belly so used to food, she could refuse a slice of delicious bread without a second thought. This lass didn’t need rescuing. He leapt to his feet, fists on hips, and scowled down at her. “If no one was cruel and you’re not lost, why don’t you go home and cry to your mam?”With a guttural roar, she rose to her feet. George had to tilt his head to see the top of her. Lawk, the lass was tall. “Why don’t you shut up?”Later, much later, he claimed the element of surprise sent him falling back onto the hard-packed earth when she punched him in his empty belly. The truth was this girl had the power to bring him to his knees with or without a blow. When he looked at her, she appeared almost ethereal, backlit by the prisms of sun that shone through the diamond-shaped spaces between the willow leaves. Georgie considered for a moment that she might be an escapee from an asylum like he heard tales of from Mrs. Morgan, the postmistress, who read aloud the stories from the broadsheets of London. “You din’t have to kill me,”he complained. “You’re not dead,”she retorted. Being a gentleman, born if not raised, he wasn’t allowed to punch her in return. He stood, brushed off his clothes, and slapped his threadbare cap against his knee, watching her all the time, ready for the next assault. Scowling at him, she crossed her arms and tapped her foot as if her show of ill temper would drive him away. This was his secret spot. He wouldn’t give up his refuge to an interloper, no matter how terrifying. She huffed, staring at the water as though the crisp patter of the stream was a confidence she’d been longing to hear. “I apologize,”she muttered. “I have a most unladylike temper.”As well as a most unladylike left hook. He left that part unsaid. Apologies could be more difficult to part with than coin. A linnet serenaded them from the other side of the stream and Georgie lifted his face to the early May sunshine. “Is your mam dead?”he asked. With a sharp intake of breath, she pulled her hands into fists and he braced for another attack. “No, but I wish she were,”the lass said boldly as if daring Georgie to condemn her. For wasn’t that the worst thing you could say? He came to stand next to her, pretending to stare at the water as well. The skirts of the willow behind them billowed protectively around their bodies as they stood in silent communion. “I wish my father were dead as well.”For the first time, he said aloud the words in his heart. The stream took their secrets on its way and the side of her arm brushed his shoulder. A skitter of odd sparks followed the touch. Open and closed, her fingers curled around invisible balls until she stooped and grabbed a handful of rocks. “Can you hit that tree over there?”she asked. Not looking at him, she held the rocks out in her open palm. An offering of solidarity. Surreptitiously rubbing the ache where she’d punched him, he took a rock. The linnet’s song and the plunk of stones falling into the water filled the silence between them that day as Georgie Willis fell irrevocably in love with Maggie Strong.
 

My Thoughts 
This third offering  in the Secret Scientists Of London series.
Is, in a word...captivating. 
Why?
Well.
There is the "lost love found" story of Gorgie and Maggie.
Who were as idealistic youths all set to run away together.  She following him into his chosen career of military service.  Or "following the drum," as a military wife.  Until some harsh words and a fateful decision on his part changes the trajectory of both their lives forever. 
Sending him into the service as planned. 
But his lady love a world away to Paris, a marriage to another man, and a life as a respected engineer.


But now it seems that things have changed for these two most star-crossed of lovers.
As he is now Earl of Grantham.
And she is now the widow Gault. 
Back in London determined to build her own engineering firm, and rebuild her life.
But it seems that the male dominated work place and society are a lot less ready for a woman engineer than she is to take both by storm.
But her completion of a secret and very daunting project could change everything. Or be the key to her forever ruination. 
It's a good thing that she can rely on George and all the memories and longings that he inspires to destruction her when the going gets misogynistic.
Ahem...
Needless to say, this book will set any blue-stocking, feminist,  woman forward reader's heart pitter pattering.
If for no other reason than the way that the social constraints and obstacles make the romance.
With George's dogged support being the cornerstone of Margaret's success. 
And her achievements being the one thing assured to heal his heart.
Swoon...
This is a bit of a slow burn writing wise. But the story does find its feet quite well by the third chapter.
The romantic heat is a moderate one.  Playing nicely with social commentary and character conflict. For a very mature and well rounded read on the whole. 
It must be said that at the time of this review. I have not had the pleasure of reading the previous two books in the series. So all opinions are based solely on this story. 

Working girls, reclaimed hearts, social change and romance.
Signed sealed and delivered with unmistakable flair and panache. 
Yes please. 
A Love By Design is and will always be the perfect fit.

Reviewer's Note:
This review is based on a copy of the above referenced work provided by Netgalley and Berkley. 
All opinions expressed are my own.

About Elizabeth 

Elizabeth Everett lives in upstate New York with her family. She likes going for long walks or (very) short runs to nearby sites that figure prominently in the history of civil rights and women's suffrage.

Her Secret Scientists of London series is inspired by her admiration for rule breakers and belief in the power of love to change the world.

Head over to Elizabeth's website and subscribe to The Rule Breaker's Report for the latest news on The Secret Scientists of London series, exclusive excerpts from Elizabeth's books, giveaways, and much more! 

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"Back In A Spell" Weaves A Romantic Enchantment That One Never Wants To Leave...

Title:  Back In A Spell
Series:  Witches Of Whistle Grove #3
Author:  Lana Harper
Format:  ERC
Length:  336 pages
Publisher:  Berkley
Rating:  4.5 Stars

An awkward first date leads to a sparkling romance between one of the most powerful witches in town and a magical newbie in this rom-com by Lana Harper, New York Times bestselling author of Payback’s a Witch.

Even though she won’t deny her love for pretty (and pricey) things, Nineve Blackmoore is almost painfully down-to-earth and sensible by Blackmoore standards. But after a year of nursing a broken heart inflicted by the fiancée who all but ditched her at the altar, the powerful witch is sick of feeling low and is ready to try something drastically different: a dating app.

At her best friend’s urging, Nina goes on a date with Morty Gutierrez, the nonbinary, offbeat soul of spontaneity and co-owner of the Shamrock Cauldron. Their date goes about as well as can be expected of most online dates—awkward and terrible. To make matters worse, once Morty discovers Nina’s last name, he’s far from a fan; it turns out that the Blackmoores have been bullishly trying to buy the Shamrock out from under Morty and his family.

But when Morty begins developing magical powers—something that usually only happens to committed romantic partners once they officially join a founding family—at the same time that Nina’s own magic surges beyond her control, Nina must manage Morty’s rude awakening to the hidden magical world, uncover its cause, and face the intensity of their own burgeoning connection. But what happens when that connection is tied to Nina’s power surge, a power she’s finding nearly as addictive as Morty’s presence in her life? 

Please enjoy this exclusive excerpt from
Back In A Spell
by
Lana Harper
Let It Snow I’VE NEVER BEEN what one might call a winter person. Witches are supposed to feel naturally aligned with the Wheel of the Year, receptive to the charms of every season—and nowhere is that easier than in Thistle Grove, where every type of weather is utterly and gorgeously flamboyant, the most extravagant cosplay version of what it might look like anywhere else. In theory, I could appreciate the extremeness of its contrasts; all that diamond-faceted white, blazing against the blue of windswept skies and the stark black silhouette of Hallows Hill. I could even get behind winter chic, when it came to sleek après-ski wear. And then there was Yule, with its fragrant wreaths and crackling logs and sea of candlelight. Arguably the most luminous and magical of the solstices. But in practice? Winter is horribly inelegant and messy, almost impossible to calibrate. One too many layers leaves you sticky and sweltering, while one too few lets the chill creep into your bones. Your hair turns into kindling, or poufs into a staticky halo immune even to glamour spells. You can’t even run properly in winter, unless you’re a die-hard marathoner with no self-preservation instincts left intact. All around cruel and unusual. At least we rarely suffered more than two months or so of such yearly punishment in Thistle Grove. But this year, strangely, winter seemed to suit me. This year, I found every fresh snowfall soothing, almost meditative. There was one raging right now beyond the frost-rimed window of the Silver Cherry, where I was grin-and-bearing my way through a jewelry-making class; a feathery whirlwind, like being inside a shaken snow globe filled with drifting down. It felt hypnotic, a chaotic escapade of white that made it hard to hold on to any single thought for long. Which, these days, was more than fine by me. These days, my thoughts and I didn’t tend to be on the best of terms. “Sweetheart,”Jessa said, in that delicate tone she’d taken to using on me, like one harsh note might topple me over, damage me in some irreparable way. She didn’t have to be quite that careful with me, but I loved that she wanted to be. “You’re doing your depressed mime face again.”The words themselves didn’t tend to match up with the spun-sugar tone all that often, because she was still Jessa, and I loved her for that, too. “What?”I mumbled, finally tearing my eyes from the window. “My . . . what?”“You know.”She rearranged her adorable, ringlet-framed features into a truly dismal expression, drooping puppy-dog eyes and a dramatically downturned mouth like a melancholy bass. “Like you’re about to perish of chronic woe. Or possibly planning to re-create that scene from The Giver, where the kid and his little brother escape into the snow to die with their emotions.”“It’s been a while since middle school English class, but even so, I’m fairly sure that wasn’t supposed to be the takeaway,”I told her with a snort. “And hard pass on that cold demise. If I absolutely have to die somewhere with my emotions, I’d rather go all nice and toasty.”Dragging my attention back to my little work tray, strewn with a glittery mishmash of wire and beads, I saw that I’d been halfheartedly tooling around with making earrings before the blizzard got the best of me. Once upon a time, I’d have crafted something gorgeous given an opportunity like this, painstakingly applied myself until I had it just right. Too bad “once upon a time”felt like several eons and an infinity of wrong turns ago. “Burn you at stake, then, noted,”Jessa quipped—though of course, thoroughly normie as she was, my best friend had no idea how close to home that hit. As far as I knew, Jessa had never once seriously considered the notion that our charming postcard of a town really was settled by witches, exactly like Thistle Grove legend would have you believe. To her, I was just Nina. Best friend and partner in crime from our shared law school days, now in-house counsel to my family’s extensive business interests. Not Nineve Cliodhna of House Blackmoore, second in line to the most powerful witch dynasty in Thistle Grove. “Don’t worry, buddy,”I assured her. “I do still have considerable will to live. Just not, like, enough zest to care about these earrings, apparently.”Jessa pooched out her lower lip, abandoning the complicated (and suspiciously BDSM-looking) beaded choker she’d been working on. “But that’s the point,”she insisted, smooth brow wrinkling with concern. “That’s what these classes are for, Nina. We’re supposed to be nurturing our creative selves, meeting new people, rediscovering your zest. Unearthing it.”She looked so crestfallen that for the barest moment, I entertained the idea of assembling the pitiful bead hodgepodge into something pretty with a simple transmutation spell of the pumpkin-into-carriage variety, but even more basic. The raw materials were already right in front of me, half-threaded. I could have done it with just a few words, using a single, purely distilled thought as a vehicle of my will. But that wouldn’t have been honest or fair, which was part of the reason I never did magic in front of my best friend. For the safety and the continuing preservation of our town, as per the Grimoire—the spellbook that also held sway over the conduct and governance of Thistle Grove’s witch community—only long-term, witchbound partners were permitted access to that secret. And for all that I adored Jessa to pieces, our friendship wasn’t the kind of love the founders had had in mind when deciding who should be privy to our magic. Letting the oblivion glamour cast over the town take hold of her, erasing her memory of whatever spell I’d worked, would have felt . . . traitorous. A little gross, even. And it would have been a cop-out at best. Jessa was the kind of delightful whirlwind of a person who effortlessly transformed strangers into friends—or short-lived partners, as the case may be—wherever she went, and I knew she’d been hoping a little of that joie de vivre might rub off on me. Tonight’s jewelry-making class was the fourth hopeful outing of its kind, following a disastrous wine-and-paint night (during which I’d gotten the not-artistically-conducive kind of wasted), an equally catastrophic pottery class that had reminded me of Sydney’s love of ceremonial teacups and sent me spinning into a meltdown, and a flower-arranging class that had only managed to unearth memories of the ivory-and-rose-gold palette I’d chosen for the flowers at my own wedding. A wedding that was never going to happen, much like the perfect life with Sydney that had been meant to materialize thereafter. A life that now seemed not just fictional, but so fantastically unbelievable that I, a flesh-and-blood descendant of the sorceress Morgan le Fay, couldn’t conceive of it as a reality. “You’re talking about me like I’m some archeological dig, Jess, and we’re troweling for ancient potsherds of joy. What if there’s no zest to unearth? What if I’m just a barren wasteland?”I dropped my chin, the familiar, hateful well of tears pressing against my eyes. I was so damn sick of crying at the slightest provocation, like some weepy damsel stuck in a mire of never-ending distress, but I’d apparently won the sob lottery. Team #Leaky4Life over here. “Permanently broken?”“Everyone’s fixable, sweetheart,”Jessa assured me, slipping a soft arm around my shoulders and tilting her temple against mine. She favored those subtle skin-musk perfumes that you couldn’t detect on yourself—the kind I’d never go for, because what was the point if you couldn’t catch indulgent whiffs of it throughout the day?—but that made her smell gorgeous, a vanilla-cedar scent that hit somewhere between gourmand and woody. Being hugged by her felt like free aromatherapy. “Even that guy you dated, with the towering manbun?”I asked, a little damply. “You say that like there’s only been one . . . which, would that were the truth.”“The one who drank so much bulletproof coffee it was like he was speaking in fast-forward all the time,”I clarified. “And did biceps curls while taking dumps.”“Fuck no, not him.”She shuddered delicately against me, sticking out her tongue—which was pierced, something no other estate lawyer I knew could ever have gotten away with. Apparently a deceptively angelic face like Jessa’s covered a multitude of sins, even when it came to the most uptight of clients. “Everyone but Chasen, then.”“Of course that was his name. And what about dictators? Or sex cult leaders? Or serial killers?”“Now you’re just being difficult. Allow me to rephrase, counselor.”She shifted sideways against me, just enough to boop me on the nose. “You are fixable, sweetheart. Eminently so.”“Then why can’t I get into even this, the most emotionally undemanding of activities?”I asked her, that relentless ache lurching in my chest again. A panging disorientation that felt almost like homesickness, as my gaze skimmed over the dozen or so other people happily crafting beneath the cherry cutouts dangling from the ceiling, the recessed lighting spilling over them in a mellow glow. Mostly clusters of women around Jessa’s and my age, along with a few mothers with their tweens in tow. Even the solitary goth enby with the pentagram neck tattoo—likely a tourist drawn to the Silver Cherry by its affiliation with Lark Thorn, who was not only teaching this class but also sold her line of enchanted jewelry here—looked to be having a more exuberant experience with this mortal coil than I was. “What kind of mess can’t focus on stringing beads together? Or letting loose on a pottery wheel?”I swiped at my eyes, trying in vain to keep from smearing my eyeliner. “It’s been a whole year, Jess. How long is this emotional fugue state even supposed to last?”My voice rose enough that on the other side of the room, Lark Thorn abruptly straightened from where she’d been instructing one of the tweens. She turned just enough to flick a concerned glance at me over her shoulder, deep brown skin glowing against the vivid turquoise of her scoop-neck sweater, her dark eyes liquid with sympathy. The Thorns were empathically attuned to each other’s feelings, and acutely sensitive to others’emotional landscapes, too. Though I doubted Lark even needed their particular brand of ESP to detect the seismic rumble of my distress. The Nina I used to be had been unshakably sure of herself, vacuum-sealed into her composure. But these days, the old me felt like a fossil, a crumbling memory. These days, I was more of a tempest in a teacup. A flailing, distractible tempest that just could not seem to get it the hell together. I twitched my lips into an “everything’s just peachy over here”smile, wincing inwardly as she gave me a lingering look before turning away. I wouldn’t have agreed to come here tonight at all, had I remembered Lark’s connection to the studio. Given how the Blackmoores’standing in this town had declined since the debacle of last year’s Gauntlet of the Grove—not to mention the fact that my little brother, Gawain, had briefly come under suspicion when one of the Avramovs’dearly departed ancestors cursed the Thorns this past Beltane—the last thing I needed to be doing was signaling weakness in front of a member of one of the other families. The thought spurred me into taking a breath, stiffening my spine a little, and leaning away from Jessa as if she wasn’t, in fact, my load-bearing support column. Trying to act as though I at least remembered who I was supposed to be. “I don’t think heartbreak’s an exact science, sweetie. Though I will concur that maybe we’ve been going about this the wrong way,”Jess concluded thoughtfully, nibbling on her lip. “You
My Thoughts
Nineve Blackmore is the sensible one.   Buttoned up...
Dependable...
Pearls and sweater sets classic...
And...
Ready for love?
Ìt seems so.
After a year of recovering from the broken heart that her ex-fiancèe, Sydney, left behind.
It seems that her bestie (non magical...btw.)  Is determined to find the perfect mate to free her most buttoned up buddy.
Enter one Morty Gutierrez.
Decidedly non magical.  At least in the spells and charms sense  of the word.
But that does little to stop this beautiful, non binary person being absolutely "magically delicious" in every other respect.


Back In A Spell
is the third offering in the Witches Of Thistle Grove series.  And shows readers a softer and more emotional side of magic.

Most of which is brought to the fore by Morty.
But things really get interesting when the previously 'normie' Morty, is getting more magical.  The closer he/they get to their lady love.
This book is a wonderful addition to the WOTG stable.
The sensitivity, humor, romance, and magic; make the hours spent reading pass faster then one can say ABBRACADABBRA.
In short...
This book is wonderful!
Now...
Where's the next one? Lol!

Reviewer's Caveat
There has been much unnecessary ado about the use of Morty's pronouns within the scope of his and Nineve's relationship. 
To this, as a card carrying member of the rainbow squad.
I say PLEASE STOP!
He said that his pronouns were he / they.  Giving her a CHOICE  of which to use.
If you would rather sit and debate proper pronoun usage in fiction.  Rather than enjoy a great story. Knock yourself out.
I'm sure Merriem Webster would be proud.
As for the rest of us...
We'll be reading and loving the book.

Reviewer's Note
The opinions expressed in this critique are those of WTF Are You Reading?
And have not been influenced by Berkley or any third-party.
Many thanks to Berkley and Netgalley for providing the review copy  on which said review is based.
Back In A Spell can be read alone. But is best enjoyed as part of its intended series.


About Lana

Lana is the New York Times bestselling author of Payback's A Witch and the forthcoming From Bad to Cursed from Berkley Books. Writing as Lana Popovic, she is also the author of YA novels Wicked Like a Wildfire, Fierce Like a Firestorm, Blood Countess, and Poison Priestess. Lana studied psychology and literature at Yale University, law at Boston University, and is a graduate of the Emerson College publishing and writing master's program. She was born in Serbia and lived in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania before moving to the United States, where she now lives in Chicago with her family.


"Token" Offers Readers So Much More Than A Flash In The Pan When It Comes To Romance

Title:  Token
Author:  Beverley Kendall
Format:  ERC
Length:  368 pages
Publisher:  Grayson House
Rating:  4 Stars

She’s brilliant, beautiful…and tired of being the only Black woman in the room.

Two years ago, Kennedy Mitchell was plucked from the reception desk and placed in the corporate boardroom in the name of diversity. Rather than play along, she and her best friend founded Token, a boutique PR agency that helps “diversity-challenged” companies and celebrities. With corporate America diversifying workplaces and famous people getting into reputation-damaging controversies, Token is in high demand.

Kennedy quickly discovers there’s a lot of on-the-job learning and some messes are not so easily fixed. When Kennedy’s ex shows up needing help repairing his company’s reputation, things get even more complicated. She knows his character is being wrongly maligned, but she’s reluctant to get involved—professionally and emotionally. But soon, she finds herself drawn into a PR scandal of her own
. 

Please enjoy this exclusive excerpt from
Token
by
Beverley Kendall
Looking for a job sucked. Getting laid off sucked even more. Three weeks ago, Kennedy Mitchell found herself in both unenviable positions. While searching for a new job in her field of expertise—marketing and five solid years of it—she’d accepted a fourweek receptionist position to tide her over. Hey, student loans didn’t pay off themselves and they couldn’t care less about your employment status. But, as grateful as she was to have money coming in, she hated the part of the job that had her slapping herself awake every five minutes. That also sucked. It would be one thing if the place were a bevy of human activity (she generally liked people and they tended to like her back). Nope, that wasn’t even close to what she was dealing with. Per the visitor log, a grand total of six had passed through the first-f loor lobby of ECO Apparel in the two weeks she’d been there. Three on one day alone. And during the hours when the employees were upstairs ensconced at their desks, the place resembled a ghost town. Seriously, she wouldn’t be surprised to see tumbleweed roll past the reception desk one fine windy day. Although, for a ghost town, the lobby was sleekly modern, all sharp angles, and glass and chrome. Glancing down at her cell phone, Kennedy released a longsuffering sigh. How was it possible that only three minutes and not an hour had passed since her last five-minute checkin? This was usually when she prayed for one of two things: the power to control time, or another job. Since the chances of either happening within the next seventy-two hours were zero to none, she grudgingly resigned herself to her fate and tapped the keyboard, bringing the sleeping monitor back to life, and the email from an interested recruiter back into view. Seven hours to go, and the jury was still out on whether she would make it until noon—much less to the end of the day. The ding of the elevator broke the lonely silence and was soon followed by the click of heels on the faux marble f loors. Twisting in her seat, Kennedy spotted Nadine from Administrative Services striding purposely toward her, folder and purse in hand. She hastily closed out of her email and treated the brunette to a bright smile. “Hey, Nadine, is it break time already?”The pretty admin assistant usually came to relieve her for a midmorning break at ten. Currently, it was an hour shy of that, and taking a break right now would upset the monotony of her day. How would she cope with the upheaval? “Mr. Mullins wants to see you in his office, and I’ll be filling in for you for the rest of the day,”her co-worker announced abruptly. Kennedy stiffened and her eyebrows rose at the hint of annoyance and resentment threading Nadine’s tone. Well good morning to you too. What the hell happened to the pleasant, chatty girl of not even twenty-four hours ago? And why on earth did the director of Human Resources want to see her in his office? Especially as she, like Nadine, reported to the manager of Administrative Services. Then Nadine’s folder landed with a splat on the desk near the monitor. Kennedy’s gaze f lew to hers and she found herself on the receiving end of a very pointed come on, get a move on, girlie. There’s only one chair and you’re sitting in it look. That was enough to galvanize Kennedy into action even as her jaw ticked and she prayed for calm. She hurriedly collected her purse from the bottom drawer before surrendering her seat to her visibly impatient co-worker. As if it’s my fault she’s getting stuck down here answering the phone. Despite Kennedy’s own growing annoyance, she paused and turned before leaving, her shoulders squared, and chin lifted. “Any idea why Mr. Mullins wants to see me?”Her voice was stiff but scrupulously polite. Since her interaction with him was limited to a brief walkby wave on her first day during a tour of the offices, she was at a loss. Nadine gave a bored shrug. “I hear no evil and speak no evil. They tell me nothing. I just go where I’m told to go, and do the work they pay me to do, if you know what I mean.”Kennedy’s heart instantly softened, and she excused Nadine’s uncustomary churlishness for what appeared to be the frustration that came with being the Jane-of-all-menial-work of the company. “Believe me, I know exactly what you mean.”They shared a commiserative what we women have to put up with look before Kennedy took the elevator up to the eighth f loor. Honestly, the drawbacks of possessing a vagina were sometimes too much. Giving birth was only one of them. Or so she’d been told. Her turn in the stirrups hadn’t come yet, but she assumed one day it would, and it wouldn’t be pretty. The company directory alone pointed to an obvious gender bias. Not one woman held an executive, director, or seniorlevel management position. Not. One. And it had been eight years since the previously all-male clothier had ventured into female clothing. One would think that one woman would have made it to the ranks of at least a senior manager position by now. What were they waiting for, a march on Washington? But wait, if she didn’t think it could get worse, it did. Kennedy had yet to see one Black face of any hue in the parade of employees who walked by her every day—that is, unless she looked in a mirror, and her hue skewed to the lighter shade of that spectrum. She wouldn’t be surprised if that was one of the reasons she’d been picked to grace the reception desk. In the twenty-first century, one would think that impossible. Especially in the city that didn’t sleep, and could be touted as America’s United Nations, every race, ethnicity, language, and sexual orientation duly represented on the postage-stamp island. Be that as it may, Kennedy knew better than most that the city tended more toward separate individual dishes—separate being the operative word—rather than one big old melting pot. Once off the elevator, she detoured to the bathroom where she freshened her lipstick, powdered the shine off her forehead, and gave her long, thick, brown curls a few twists. With her hair and face in order, she ran a critical eye over her outfit, a purchase of pure indulgence. Although had she even the vaguest idea that she’d be unemployed a week after she bought it, she most assuredly would not have indulged. But the cream pencil skirt and the baby blue fitted shirt ensemble had called out to her. Buy me. I come in your size. Your body will thank you in the end. And Kennedy, self-proclaimed clotheshorse that she was, hadn’t been able to resist the Siren’s call. Okay, so maybe due to financial constraints she was more a clothes pony. After ensuring no visible panty lines ruined the overall effect of polished professionalism and stylishness, she proceeded to Mr. Mullins’s office. She found him at his desk, the door to his office wide open. Upon seeing her, a smile broke out across his face. “Ah, Miss Mitchell, come in.”Kennedy met him halfway, where they shook hands, and she offered a pleasant greeting. He then gestured toward the table and chairs at the other end of the room. “Please sit down. Make yourself comfortable.”Average in height and build, hair graying and thinning at the crown, the man himself was as nondescript as middle-aged white men came. If his smile—wide and genuine—was any indication, she could relax, which she did one vertebra at a time. It didn’t look as if she was about to be let go early. Typically, people didn’t smile like that when they were about to deliver bad news. Unless, of course, they were psychopaths. No, they tended to furrow their brow, feigning concern and sympathy. Kennedy took a seat where instructed as Mr. Mullins swiped a sheaf of papers off his desk before joining her. She looked around for somewhere to put her purse that was not on the table or the f loor and found nothing suitable. In the end, she simply plopped it on her lap. Sliding on a pair of reading glasses, Mr. Mullins glanced down at the papers in front of him before directing his attention back to her. “So how are you settling in? Everyone treating you alright? No one bothering you I hope.”Yeah, nope! Absolutely not. No way was she falling into that trap. This was the kind of throwaway question people asked when they didn’t want or expect an honest answer. “No, everyone has been great.”She certainly wasn’t going to tell him that two of the managers had asked for her number and the head of IT asked her out for dinner. As someone personally opposed to mixing business with pleasure, and that included dating co-workers—been there, regretted that—invitations like that were shot down faster than a clay pigeon at a skeet shooting competition. “Good, good, good. Now, I’ve just been looking over your résumé—”he paused, glanced at it and then back at her over the rim of his glasses “—and by the looks of things—your previous experience and education—it’s apparent that you’re overqualified for the receptionist position. Any receptionist position for that matter.”For the measly sum of two hundred and fifty grand—the majority of which had been covered by scholarships or else she wouldn’t have been able to afford a school like Columbia—for both her undergraduate and graduate degrees, she sure hoped she was overqualified for the task of greeting visitors and forwarding calls. “Yes, but this wasn’t supposed to be permanent. The agency said it was a four-week assignment.”Mr. Mullins nodded. “That’s right. I’ve been told Nancy should be back in a few weeks.”He lowered her résumé, but still held it loosely between his fingers. “Does that mean you aren’t interested in a permanent, full-time position? I might have thought you’d prefer something in Marketing.”Kennedy watched as he turned the situation over in his mind. He seemed determined to solve the mystery of the overqualified temporary receptionist. But this wasn’t Agatha Christie–level stuff. No amateur sleuthing required. “I was laid off and this just sort of fell into my lap. The right job at the moment,”she stated simply. There were layoffs and then there were layoffs. Hers had been the latter as she’d been assured she’d keep her job after the merger. The following week, she’d walked into the offices of Kenners in the morning and was carting a box with every personal item she’d accumulated over the course of five years—including a dazzling pink slip—out the front door by the time the clock struck noon. Just like that, five years of job—no, financial security—ripped out from under her. And to add insult to injury, two weeks of severance was all she had to show for years spent busting her ass putting in fifty- and sixty-hour weeks. God how she hated them, pink slips, which shouldn’t be pink at all. They should be black like the hearts of the people who played favorites with other people’s livelihoods. “Completely understandable,”he replied, nodding. “Now, getting to the reason I wanted to speak with you. I assume you’ve heard of Sahara, right? She’s a singer. Won several Grammys. I believe she’s recently gotten into acting. Really a lovely young woman.”Had she ever heard of her? Almost everyone on planet Earth had heard of Sahara, and she wasn’t just some wannabe actress. Her first role garnered her an Oscar nod. Not too shabby for a small-town girl from New Jersey, who bore such a striking resemblance to Aaliyah, some people in your stuff here
My Thoughts 
It's not easy being a big fish in a small pond.
Especially if you happen to be a big, black, and very female fish.  In the very male and very white pond of corporate pr.
Just ask our heroine.  One Kennedy Mitchell. Once doomed to languish amid the drudgery and doldrums of the corporate reception desk. Despite her Columbia degree. Killer business acumen and exceptional style.
Until the day that her bosses at a certain fashion giant; start looking to woo the likes of a certain entertainment powerhouse.  And realise that they need just that splash of color that Kennedy can provide.


Now...
Let's flash forward a little shall we.  Kennedy is doing well for herself as the Olivia Pope-esque "fixer" of racially tone deaf Corporate PR.
Blonde, mega-rich, bestie, Aurora in tow.
When a certain tech billionaire/ big brother to aforementioned bestie/ Kennedy's first.  Shows up with all of his good looks, charm, and a PR nightmare that only his ex can fix.
If that is...
She is game to becoming his sort of not ex.
Hmmmmm...

Well.
Let's see...
It appears that the time has come to get as they say "down to the brass tacks" of this review.
So here we go.
Is this a sweet, funny, poignant, and sometimes overly obvious "acknowledge the black woman struggle romance?
Yes.
Is it habitually readable?
Yes.
Is its inclusiveness charming without being overdone.
Yes.
Is it expertly written?
It is.
The character development and interplay is some of the best around.
And the emotional appeal is stellar.
The one thing that took away from some of the appeal.
The " only black face in the crowd" on repeat.
We get that.
Its a given...
Can we move on?
And I say this a a black woman.
It troubles me sometimes that in black writing the characters spend so much time being black.  That readers are deprived of the experience of seeing them as anything else.
Same here...
Right down to the supposed tongue in cheek name of Kennedy's company.
Token.
Really!?
Oooooh kay!!!
But I digress.
All in all this is a good, sweet, and very readable romance.  With a heart melting HEA.
So much more than its name implies...
Token is no proxy...
Literary or otherwise. 


About Beverley

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Beverley Kendall has lived on two continents, in three countries, two provinces, and four states. She stopped her nomadic existence and settled in the southeast with her young son. All things artistic feed her creative passion, but none more than writing.

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Communicate with me via beverley@beverleykendall.com 


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