Today’s Steals and Deals at AAR…..

I love Ninth House–it’s smart, snarky, and has fabulous world-building. In our DIK review, I wrote:

The 1800 freshman matriculated at Yale University are likely a storied bunch. Over 35,000 applied to the famed Ivie–those accepted were likely the rock stars of their high schools with sky-high SATs and absurdly impressive resumes. None of them however have the talent that garners Galaxy “Alex” Stern, the protagonist of Leigh Bardugo’s splendid novel Ninth House, entry into New Haven’s hallowed halls. None of them see ghosts.

Alex can not only see ghosts–Greys–she can interact with them. The Greys made her life a misery, one that she’d tried escaping by becoming a drug using–and dealing–high school dropout. All that changed when Alex, recovering in a hospital bed from an horrific violent incident, woke to see a dean from Yale there to offer her a full ride at the school. The catch? She’ll use her wraith watching skills to help the Lethe Society, one of Yale’s famously mysterious secret societies.

The fictional Lethe is the ninth house and, unlike the other societies in the book, is a product of Bardugo’s astonishingly inventive imagination. In Ninth House, the renowned prestigious and powerful clubs–Skull and Bones, Manuscript, Aurelian, Scroll and Key, Wolf’s Head, Book and Snake, St. Elmo’s, and Berzelius–each channel, via ritual, a particular brand of magic. Skull and Bones specializes in divination, Scroll and Key in portal magic, Wolf’s Head in shapeshifting, Manuscript in glamours, Aurelian in logomancy, Book and Snake in necromancy, and St. Elmo’s in elemental magic. (Berzelius is inept.) Lethe House’s charter is to oversee these magical machinations.

Alex and the other two current members of Lethe, golden boy Darlington and socially awkward Dawes, are tasked with ensuring when the other societies use magic, nothing unexpected happens. Alex’s ability to see Greys–unheard of even in the magical world–means, among other things, she can monitor and, in theory, prevent the undead from disrupting the rituals….

Ninth House is an almost flawless read. I read it last year and then again this week. Both times, I resented my time away from its pages. I can’t recommend it enough.

It’s on sale at Amazon for 2.99 here.

Always to Remember is a heartbreaker of a DIK. (Check out that glorious old-school cover!) In our review, we wrote:

I can count on one hand the number of romance novels that have ever moved me to tears. Lorraine Heath’s classic Always to Remember sits at the top of that elite list, head and shoulders above the rest. In the ten years since its initial publication, it has only gained power, as its themes seem even more relevant in a time of war. Poignant, heartbreaking and uncommonly wise, it’s a remarkable story that represents the very best of what the genre has to offer.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Clayton Holland lives as an outcast in his hometown of Cedar Grove, Texas. During the war he refused to fight for the Confederacy, unwilling to raise arms against other human beings. As a result he was sent to prison and nearly executed for his purported crime. Most of the men who left to fight – friends and neighbors he’d known his whole life – died in battle, while Clay returned to Cedar Grove after the war to face the scorn and hatred of the townspeople. Derided as a coward, he lives an isolated life on his family farm with his brothers: Lucien, who hates him and wishes he’d never returned, and nine-year-old twins Joe and Josh.

Meg Warner’s husband Kirk was Clay’s best friend since childhood, but she lost him and several of her brothers to the war. Every time she sees Clay it’s like having salt rubbed in the still festering wound, his presence a constant reminder of how he betrayed and dishonored those closest to her by refusing to fight by their side. Determined to make him suffer, she devises a plan. Clay is a talented sculptor, so she hires him to carve a memorial to the men Cedar Grove lost in the war, hoping that working on it will force him to face his cowardice. But the more time she spends with him, the more she comes to see a far different man than the one she thought she knew.

This is a gentle, character-driven story with a slowly unfolding romance, as the author artfully portrays Clay and Meg’s growing relationship and the gradual thawing of her feelings from hatred to love. The evolution of those feelings is subtle, natural and completely believable. Heath explores the hearts of both characters, making them live and breathe on the page. The intimate scenes are more than just requisite romance novel sex, but an integral part of their developing relationship and character growth. It’s a testament to how complex this story is that falling in love doesn’t solve all their problems or end the conflicts between them, but raises new ones that must be dealt with as well.

It’s on sale at Amazon for 1.99 here.

We enjoyed this romance. We wrote:

Isobel Maitland, the widowed Countess of Ashdown, cannot escape her late husband’s family. His will stipulates that in order to have a role in her son’s life, she must be totally free of scandal, in atonement for her mother’s sins: no remarriages, no flirtations, no colorful gowns. For the sake of her son, Isobel suffers the life of a dowdy, uptight matron under the watchful eye of her mother-in-law and brother-in-law. Until one night under the spell of anonymity at a masquerade she sleeps with a notorious rake, Phineas Archer, Marquess of Blackwood.

Phin is certainly a rake, but not quite as bad as his reputation would suggest; he’s secretly an agent of the Crown, investigating a smuggling ring that may be involved in an assassination attempt against Louis XVIII, and with which Isobel’s in-laws may be involved. Phin isn’t thrilled with the prospect of using Isobel to get information; He finds her excessively stuffy and is preoccupied with his search for the mysterious ‘Yasmina’ he met at the masquerade. Meanwhile she isn’t thrilled with his total disregard for her, after their passionate encounter. It becomes evident to him, though, that she isn’t what she seems, and the Maitlands may be far more sinister than either could have imagined.

As enjoyable as this novel was, there were some questions of plausibility– why doesn’t Isobel just tell Phin the terms of the will? It just complicates things unnecessarily, and prevents them from forming a true trusting connection. While I didn’t doubt their HEA, per se, their relationship is far more physical than emotional. Even Isobel says, “We’ve never been very good at talking.”

Even with this complaint, though, I had a very hard time putting the book down. Isobel and Phin are both compelling characters, sympathetic yet imperfect, and I was captivated by the dynamics of their relationship. They certainly had chemistry. While the villains seemed a bit excessively evil, they did pose a credible threat to Isobel.

You can get it for 1.99 here.

AAR readers like Wylde’s rough motorcycle gang love stories–more than our reviewer did. Amazon readers like them too–Devil’s Game is rated 4.5 stars from over four thousand reviewers.

The Devil’s Jacks and the Reapers are two rival motorcycle clubs who pretty much hate one another’s guts. In recent years they have coexisted in a fragile sort of detente, with each party not backing down, but neither committing acts of aggression. Until now.

There’s been unrest between the clubs in recent months with each blaming the other for various actions. After a member of the Devil’s Jacks is mortally wounded and another seriously injured, the Jacks decide to take action against the Reapers. Jacks’ enforcer Liam begins an online flirtation with Reaper’s resident’s daughter Em, culminating in her abduction. By holding Em hostage, the Jacks hope to convince the Reapers of the necessity of adhering to the truce between them.

I’m of two minds about this book. This is sort of an amalgamation of an old skool abduction tale, Romeo and Juliet with a lot more leather and sex, and “what on earth am I reading?”. On the plus side the narrative is so compelling that I had trouble putting it down. And I generally dislike dual first person points of view, so that is saying something. The plot races along with turning points occurring at just the right moments. It’s an unpredictable sequence of events that kept me glued to the pages.

It’s 1.99 at Amazon today here.

Love feel good stories? Kristan Higgins’ Pack up the Moon is for you! In our review, we wrote:

I liked Lauren and know a lot of women like her but Josh was a problem for me. I’ve met hundreds of people on the spectrum, and he isn’t an accurate portrayal of the disorder. I get tired of the only slightly off center – and always in a way that benefits them – Asperger’s/Autism novelized individual because such characterizations often make it hard to get the funding these clients need to live full lives in the real world. Additionally, those moments when Josh sees red and essentially loses control of his temper were also an issue for me.  Some of those encounters are violent and involve him actually laying his hands on people. One stereotype that we are constantly fighting against in the mental health industry is that the neuro-different are dangerous and violent. None of the research supports that.

I found Josh’s stoicism realistic but not the fact he combined it with being such a great caregiver. I’m often with the families for years and the guys tend to be strong emotionally but leave the work of physical care giving to others. Josh combining the two felt off, but I understood the author was trying to convince me how perfect he was :-)

Moving on, the secondary characters here are wonderful. I loved almost all of them – Josh’s friend Radley, Lauren’s friend Sarah, the family members. They were exquisitely detailed and articulated. They were also not filler but an integral part of the story; each of them showed us a different aspect of the grieving process and how to be a friend to someone in need.

It’s on sale at Amazon for 2.99 here.

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