Thanksgiving Day 2015

santa and turkey

For Thanksgiving Day I usually write something short and if possible funny. The cartoon above would probably be on point. Or sometimes Galen does a reading list. Not this year.

Instead, we have this:

first thanksgiving refugees

John Oliver on Last Week Tonight said something cogent about the results of that first Thanksgiving, comparing it to events going on right now:

john oliver refugees thanksgiving

As has happened so often since 9/11, we are again forgetting one of Ben Franklin’s most important comments:

franklin liberty vs security variation

Because Ben was right. So many people seem to be willing to give up who we are and what we stand for as a country because they have bought in to the fear that has been ginned up by certain political leaders and news outlets on the right of the political spectrum.

Even though Franklin D. Roosevelt turned out to be spectacularly wrong about the Japanese Internment Camps, in this he was absolutely right. (And the Internment Camps were a response to unreasoning and racist fear)

fdr fear

Remember this instead:

fear is a liar


Review: Cast in Honor by Michelle Sagara

Review: Cast in Honor by Michelle SagaraCast in Honor by Michelle Sagara
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Chronicles of Elantra #11
Pages: 512
Published by Mira on November 24th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

In the aftermath of a vicious battle between darkness and light, the city of Elantra has emerged victorious. But Shadows continue to haunt every corner of its streets...
Elantra stands strong, but countless numbers of Hawks, the city's staunchest protectors, were lost in the brutal attack. Humans, Barrani, Aerians, Leontines—none of the races emerged unscathed from the defense of the city. Homes were lost, families were scattered…and the outcast Barrani Lord Nightshade is missing from his castle in the fiefs.
Yet as the chaos surrounding the battle begins to wane, Private Kaylin Neya's duties must resume, despite her grief. Called in to investigate a triple murder in a quiet part of town, Kaylin and her companions are soon embroiled in a case that is anything but routine. Evidence of the deadly Shadows that still threaten the city leads to hints of ancient, forgotten magics. And a visit to the Oracular Halls points directly to Ravellon—the heart of the Shadows and the darkness they contain.
But it is there that Lord Nightshade will be found—if he still survives.

My Review:

Elantra is a completely immersive world. It sucks you in the moment you start the first page. Then it spits you out at the end of the book, gasping at the shock of the return to the real. You find yourself figuratively pounding on its door, begging to be let back in, only to hear a sniggering voice whisper, “come back next year”, as you scream in frustration.

I’m still sitting in that shock of return stage. I was desperate to see how it ended, and now I’m completely bummed that I finished and I’m stuck waiting until next year.

The Elantra series is an urban fantasy set in an epic or high fantasy type world. While our protagonist Kaylin is human and mortal just like us, most of the people she works with and/or cares about are either not one, not the other, or not both. Elantra is ruled by a Dragon Emperor who really is a dragon. And immortal. And believes that the city is his hoard, which he will defend to the death. Usually the challenger’s.

One of Kaylin’s best friends is also a dragon. Bellusdeo, rescued from the realms of Shadow, is the only female dragon in existence. She is the hope of her race, and she hates it. Because everyone is trying to protect this immortal warrior, when all she wants to do is be of use, including being the warrior that she is born to be.

There’s an irony in Kaylin and Bellusdeo’s friendship. Not just because both are female, but because they are both surprisingly in the same boat. People keep trying to protect them against their will, when all they both want is to protect and serve everyone else. That Bellusdeo doesn’t need protection and Kaylin is basically a squishy human doesn’t make a difference. They both often end up fighting some well-meaning soul who is attempting to keep them safely on a pedestal that neither of them has any interest in mounting in the slightest.

Many of Kaylin’s friends are Barrani, this world’s quasi-equivalent of the more political and tricksy variety of elves. One reason the Barrani like Kaylin so much is that she is a chaos and trouble magnet. Immortality often gets boring, and being around Kaylin is guaranteed to be anything but.

Her sergeant at the Courts of Law is a Leontine, and yes, he’s a lion. Some of her friends are Aerians, who do not seem to be immortal but do, as the name states, fly. Her house is sentient, and occasionally rather fierce.

But Kaylin herself is very human and very young. She is either in her late teens or at most very early 20s, and only a year or so has elapsed since the first book in the series, Cast in Shadow. Kaylin is still learning, but at her sometimes slow and often recalcitrant human pace, which frustrates the Dragons and Barrani no end.

The story is always told from Kaylin’s first person perspective. We know what she knows, we hear the explanations she is always begging for, and when she is lost, so are we. Kaylin is lost a lot, because circumstances have conspired so that she is always in the middle of big magic that she does not understand, but is often the only person who can fix it, even with her imperfect understanding and sometimes complete lack of knowledge.

The story in Cast in Honor is that something magical is swallowing the City of Elantra, and if it isn’t stopped, the world will come to an end. It’s up to Kaylin and her friends to figure out what is going wrong, and stop it, before it is too late. No matter what the cost. Or who.

cast in shadow by michelle sagaraEscape Rating A+: This is a series that you wallow in. The world of Elantra is incredibly complex, and is not really familiar. It has its own magic system, its own history, and definitely its own bogeymen. Even though Kaylin starts out the series not well-informed about the wider world, she certainly remembers her own history, even the parts she would rather forget. Kaylin attracts both natural and supernatural trouble, seemingly just by breathing, and a lot happens to her in each book. If the combination of urban fantasy tropes with high fantasy magic and scope appeal to you, start with Cast in Shadow or the prequel novella, Cast in Moonlight, to learn about Kaylin’s world as she does.

I wish I had the time to re-read the entire series before every annual addition. It’s that good.

This particular entry had Kaylin staving off the end of the world as she knows it, yet again. And it still seems completely logical that all this chaos happens around Kaylin. Also that she usually doesn’t figure out either what to do or what she did until sometime after the fact, but it still works.

Magic was visited upon her when she was 13, and her life hasn’t been the same since. In some ways that are good, and in some ways that are bad, but always in ways that the immortals around her find completely not boring, if occasionally extremely frustrating.

Underlying the mystery of how to save the world and why it needs saving, at least this time, is something deeper. Kaylin finds a young girl not unlike the person that she was at the same age. And Kaylin wants to prevent young Kattea from making the same mistakes that she did, even though their situations are not the same. In the end, Kaylin is able to let go of some of her regrets by letting Kattea find her own way.

But a bigger part of the story here is a meditation on loneliness, and what it means to be lonely. Kaylin is no longer lonely, and no longer alone. By chance, by design, by circumstances often beyond her control, Kaylin has created a family of choice around herself that she sometimes loves, sometimes frustrates her beyond measure, but always keeps her tied to the real world.

Through the characters in this novel, particularly the very unusual Gilbert and his unexpected relationship with Kattea, Kaylin is forced to look at what loneliness is, and how terrible it can be to be both immortal and lonely. It turns out we all need a hand to hold onto – even when we don’t have real hands.

Review: Cat Telling Tales by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Review: Cat Telling Tales by Shirley Rousseau MurphyCat Telling Tales (Joe Grey #17) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Joe Grey #17
Pages: 373
Published by William Morrow on November 22nd 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's Website

Even the bright seaside village of Molena Point has been hit hard by the economic downturn, bringing a rash of foreclosures in which many residents are abandoning their family pets. While feline P. I. Joe Grey's human friends join together to care for the starving cats, a fire leaves a twelve-year-old boy homeless. The body of his alcoholic guardian is discovered in the smoldering ruins, causing Joe to wonder if escape was really impossible for the elderly woman or if something more sinisteroccurred.
Meanwhile, Debbie Kraft descends uninvited on the Damens' home with her two children, claiming that her ex-husband has left her with no money and nowhere else to go. But when Joe learns that the victim of the fire was Debbie's estranged mother and that Debbie is not broke at all but carrying plenty of cash, his fur is on end with suspicion.
As Debbie's abandoned tomcat follows her all the way down the coast from Oregon with his own clues to add to the mix, Joe learns that Debbie's Realtor ex-husband may be involved in a number of intricate real estate scams. Furthermore, his sales partner may be missing, and while Joe and his pals prowl through the dead woman's house, they discover that her reclusive neighbor has disappeared as well.
But it's not until Debbie's tomcat arrives that Joe and his feline detective pals find the biggest clue of all: a grave that the cops have missed. And as the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together, tortoiseshell Kit sees her own dreams coming true in the handsome new cat with whom she might share her life's adventures.

My Review:

catswold portal by shirley rousseau murphyOnce upon a time (1992) there was an epic fantasy titled The Catswold Portal, written by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. I remember it as being a lovely little story, all the better for the possibility that some cats could switch between human form and feline form, and that some cats could have human speech and human intelligence.

While there is no direct link, at least so far, it is pretty clear that at least some of the ideas from The Catswold Portal found their way into the author’s Joe Grey mystery series. Because Joe Grey and his feline friends Dulcie, Kit and now Misto and Pan, all have human-level intelligence. Old Misto also tells fabulous tales of times long ago, and may possibly link back to Portal at some point.

But in the meantime we have a marvelous small-town mystery series where the best detectives in the town of Molena Point are Joe Grey and Dulcie. Joe Grey lives with Clyde Damen and his new wife Ryan Flannery, and Dulcie lives with Wilda, former parole officer and current librarian. Kit lives with a slightly fey older couple, the Greenlaws. Misto has found a home with the town vet, John Firetti. All of their humans know that the cats are much more than they appear. Joe Grey’s very first adventure, where he discovers his newfound talents, is in the marvelous Cat on the Edge.

When Joe Grey started ordering deliveries from the local deli and charging them to his housemate, the truth was bound to come out.

But Joe Grey, along with the rest of the increasing number of hyper-intelligent felines, have found a way to put their innate and insatiable curiosity to good use. They help the local police department solve crimes. The cats phone in reports to 911, providing information that they have gathered. Sometimes they get their info by sitting under a table and looking like they are sleeping, and other times they have to break and enter, or even dig for a vital clue.

In this 17th entry in the series, we find the feline private investigators attempting to unknot what at first seems like a series of unrelated incidents. A fire kills an alcoholic old woman. The old woman’s daughter returns to Molena Point, supposedly destitute, with two children and a suspicious story about her ex-husband. Said ex-husband’s business partner seems to be missing, as does the best friend of an older woman down on her luck and living in her car.

And nearly everyone in this strange chain of events is missing a cat, or has abandoned a cat, or both. And it’s the cats who figure out how all these missing persons and their crimes tie together, from discovering that the destitute woman is carrying wads of cash to finding the two missing women buried under a decrepit house. Even though they are all afraid that they are leaving too many clues behind about their collective identity as the police department’s two best and most mysterious snitches, their curiosity won’t let them rest until justice is finally done.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up after attempting to read a book so bad that I still want brain bleach days later. I knew that Joe Grey and his pals would be an antidote for the reading that ailed me, and they certainly were.

The Joe Grey series combines the joys of a small town mystery series with the unique aspect that the private detectives are really cats. This is not like the late Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who series, where Qwill believes that Koko and occasionally Yum Yum are pointing out clues to him. Whatever Qwill thinks Koko is telling him, it is always Qwill who solves the crime.

Joe Grey, along with his friends Dulcie, Kit, Misto and Misto’s son Pan, are the detectives. One of the fun things about this series is that while the cats have human intelligence and speech, they still seem like cats. Joe Grey in particular speaks the things that we think our cats are thinking. His attitude’s feel like a cat’s attitudes – he loves his comfort and his crab salad, and thinks that humans talk too much around the things they are really thinking, and don’t say the things they really should say. Joe Grey also has the occasional existential crisis, he can’t help but use the gift he’s been given, and yet he worries about the way it has changed him and his friends.

Dulcie has learned how to use computers from her librarian housemate, and has taken up writing poetry. She loves who she is and doesn’t worry about who she used to be.

But they all worry about getting caught. Seeing a cat talking on the telephone would blow most human’s minds, and would certainly blow the cats’ collective cover. Their need to figure out a way to tell the police what is really going on and explain how the key evidence was found, especially when it is in a place that no human could find it, often takes up some of the mental powers.

Like all small town mystery series, part of the fun is in seeing how all of our friends are doing over the books. When we first met Joe Grey and his human housemate Clyde, Clyde was a bachelor who occasionally got himself involved with the wrong woman. In this book, Clyde and Ryan are celebrating their first wedding anniversary, if Joe Grey can ever manage to tie up the string of crimes that keep sending the town into crisis after crisis.

While the cats do solve the crimes and the mysteries, this particular story, set in the midst of the recent recession, has a lot to say about the human costs of the real estate crash, not just the criminal scam that is the center of the case, but also the way that so many families, when they lost everything, either abandoned or were forced to leave behind their pets, especially cats, as they moved into shelters or apartments that would not take pets. Those stories are heartbreaking, but the little town of Molena Point is doing the best it can for all its residents, including their stray cats.

Who knows? One of them might be the next Joe Grey!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 11-22-15

Sunday Post

This was a rest and recuperation week, after two trips two weeks in a row. Most of my schedule fell apart, as nothing I originally planned to read ended up appealing much, if at all. C’est la vie.

gratitude-hop 2015-300x225There are no winners this week, but there is plenty of time to get in on the Gratitude Giveaways Hop. And this weekend we have the Black Friday Book Bonanza! That means two chances to win either a $10 gift card or $10 book from me, plus tons of fabulous bookish prizes at the other stops on each hop.

The Black Friday Book Bonanza, and all the other stuff about Black Friday, tells us that Thanksgiving is coming this week. This will be the first Thanksgiving in a few years that we haven’t spent it in Canada, where it is not Thanksgiving but somehow is still Black Friday. That still seems weird to me. While the reasons it is called “Black Friday” have more to do with Christmas shopping and retailers hopefulness than the Thanksgiving holiday itself, it is still the Friday after Thanksgiving here. That lots of stores in Canada have Black Friday sales without having had a Thanksgiving Thursday just seems strange.

But speaking of Thanksgiving, the fear-mongering about accepting refugees from Syria has reminded me that one of the things I always have to be thankful for is that all four of my grandparents made it to the U.S. ahead of the Nazis. The members of my family who did not emigrate to the U.S. or Canada before the war died in the camps. There were quotas and immigration restrictions and significant amounts of anti-Semitism, but arriving in the U.S. beat dying at the hands of the Nazis. It is impossible for me not to see the parallels between that situation and the current fear-mongering and hate-baiting against Syrian refugees today.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Gratitude Giveaways Hop
The Crescent Spy by Michael Wallace

devoted in death by jd robbBlog Recap:

A- Review: Devoted in Death by J.D. Robb
A- Review: Hell Squad: Reed, Roth, Noah by Anna Hackett
B Review: The Crescent Spy by Michael Wallace + Giveaway
B Review: Wildfire on the Skagit by M.L. Buchman
C Review: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Stacking the Shelves (161)




black friday book bonanza 2015Coming Next Week:

The Shadow Revolution by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith (review)
Cast in Honor by Michelle Sagara (review)
Cat Telling Tales by Shirley Rousseau Murphy (review)
Black Friday Book Bonanza

Stacking the Shelves (161)

Stacking the Shelves

This was not a good week, bookish-wise. I had a couple of days where absolutely nothing I was planning to read looked remotely appealing, and I bounced around Goodreads and Amazon and my TBR pile trying to find something that would capture my attention. My inability to settle on a book is definitely reflected in my Amazon purchases this week. I bounced off a LOT.

For Review:
At Blade’s Edge (Goddess with a Blade #4) by Lauren Dane
Coming Back (Ink & Chrome #3) by Lauren Dane
A Copper Ridge Christmas (Copper Ridge #4) by Maisey Yates
Intimate by Kate Douglas
Night Study (Soulfinders #2) by Maria V. Snyder
Under the Spotlight (In the Zone #4) by Kate Willoughby

Purchased from Amazon:
Cat Bearing Gifts (Joe Grey #18) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Cat Telling Tales (Joe Grey #17) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Kilted Cowboys (MacLeod Sisters #2) by Jamie Salisbury
Mark of the Black Arrow (Robin Hood: Demon’s Bane #1) by Debbie Viguie and James R. Tuck
The Rising (Alchemy Wars #2) by Ian Tregillis
Tartan Deadlines (MacLeod Sisters #1) by Jamie Salisbury
Where Love Takes Us (Heartfelt #1) by Jamie Salisbury


Review: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

Review: The Gap of Time by Jeanette WintersonThe Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction
Series: Hogarth Shakespeare
Pages: 273
Published by Hogarth on October 6th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s “late plays.” It tells the story of a king whose jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter and the death of his beautiful wife. His daughter is found and brought up by a shepherd on the Bohemian coast, but through a series of extraordinary events, father and daughter, and eventually mother too, are reunited.
In The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson’s cover version of The Winter’s Tale, we move from London, a city reeling after the 2008 financial crisis, to a storm-ravaged American city called New Bohemia. Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, technology and the elliptical nature of time. Written with energy and wit, this is a story of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and redemption and the enduring love of a lost child on the other.

My Review:

There are occasions where the concept seems way better than the execution, and this may be one of them.

Last year, Hogarth Press, an imprint of Random Penguin, announced that as part of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016, they would be commissioning a series of novels by contemporary authors that would be contemporary re-writes of Shakespeare’s plays. It looks like as many as they can manage, stretching out several years, by authors who are generally well-known, well-respected, or both. Anne Tyler will be doing The Taming of the Shrew, and Jo Nesbo will be handling Macbeth. That one I can’t wait to read.

But The Gap of Time is the first book in the series. It is Jeanette Winterson’s new vision of one of Shakespeare’s final plays, The Winter’s Tale.

The plot of The Gap of Time follows the story of The Winter’s Tale close to exactly. Except for somewhat superficial changes of profession and the way the world works differently, the stories are the same. Which means that any synopsis of the play is spoiler-ridden for the book.

One thing that is fairly clear – circumstances may change, but human beings are pretty much the same. The plot is relatively simple, but the execution of the 21st century version gets a bit complex.

In both stories, two men are childhood friends, and that friendship continues into adulthood. Both men are rich and successful. When Leo marries the beautiful and successful Mimi, the friendship between Leo and Xeno opens to include Mimi. It’s never a three-way, but it is pretty clear that everyone loves everyone to some degree or another.

Then Leo goes crazy. He decides, based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever, that Xeno and Mimi are having an affair, and that the child Mimi is carrying is really Xeno’s. There’s no affair and the child is Leo’s.

One of the things that makes the 21st century different from the 17th is that Leo can get a paternity test for the child. He can find out for sure. But when he finally does, he refuses to believe the scientific evidence. As I said, he’s gone round the bend.

Through a series of mishaps and criminal interventions, after the baby is born, Leo gets the little girl shipped off, and through even more mishaps she is adopted by a widower and his teenage son. Little Perdita has a very happy life, knowing she’s adopted but also knowing that she is loved.

It’s only when Perdita herself is on the verge of adulthood that all of the buried secrets finally come out. The effect is both catastrophic and cathartic, but those that deserve it get a happy ending.

Escape Rating C: I liked the last third of this book way more than the first third, even though the story in the first third is more straightforward, right up until the baby abandoning debacle. The last third, while it has its confusing aspects, clips along rapidly, and all of Leo’s many, many mistakes finally get resolved, even though it feels like his ending in this story is the least happy. But then, he doesn’t really deserve happiness at the end of this mess.

Everyone suffers a lot of heartbreak to finally reach that ending. Leo comes off as totally bonkers. He’s gotten a horrible idea fixed in his head, and can’t get it out. That Leo has this particular fixation has more to do with what he’s repressing than anything that he sees in real life. It’s pretty obvious to the reader, and quite possibly everyone else except Leo, that Leo is in love with both his wife and his best friend. The two of them running off together represents his worst fears, that he would lose them both. So he’s rejecting them first.

Giving the baby away, essentially abandoning her, is the crisis that sends everyone’s lives into a complete tailspin. Mimi becomes a recluse, Leo is still successful but totally alone, Xeno becomes an alcoholic hermit. Their lives are on hold for 18 years as the little girl, known as Perdita, grows up.

The catalyst for change occurs when Perdita meets Xeno’s son Zel, and they fall in love. Xeno arrives to spout doom and gloom, Perdita’s adopted father has a stroke, and Perdita learns enough of her own origin story to realize that she might have fallen in love with her half-brother. She and Zel go on a journey to find out the truth, and all of the members of the earlier generation are finally forced to confront each other and the events that drove them apart.

The plot is pretty much the same for both the book and the play, but something gets lost in the gap of time between the early 1600s and the early 2010s. Or things get added and interpreted differently. Or both.

On the one hand, Leo’s obsession with his wife and his best friend makes a bit more sense in contemporary terms. Xeno has no qualms about admitting that he’s gay, and while Leo doesn’t like to talk about it, it’s obvious to readers that he is bi. That he loves both of them and can’t quite admit it makes his motives make a bit more sense. On that other hand, his refusal at first to have a paternity test done, and his later refusal to admit its validity are just plain nuts. In the 1600s, his inability to accept Mimi’s and Xeno’s word that they are not having an affair rests totally on how much he trusts them. Since he doesn’t trust them at all, he doesn’t accept what they say is true. Rejecting the scientific paternity test just seems bizarre.

The way that the baby gets “lost” ends up reading like a visit from the Keystone Kops, along with their more murderous criminals. It’s necessary to the story, but just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to this reader. On the other hand, Leo was completely bonkers by this point.

So the setup was slow and had some bits that didn’t work for modern times. The last act, where everything gets revealed, has the virtue of moving fast. Everything gets wrapped up in a hurry. While it was great to see all the craziness work out and true love triumphant, it felt like the 21st century parts of the plot got left hanging a bit.

As an experiment, The Gap of Time is fascinating. As a story, the updating left some glaring plot holes.

Your iambic pentameter, or lack thereof, may vary.

Review: Wildfire on the Skagit by M.L. Buchman

Review: Wildfire on the Skagit by M.L. BuchmanWildfire on the Skagit by M L Buchman
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Firehawks #5
Pages: 194
on June 19th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Smokejumper romance- Krista Thorson, No. 2 smokejumper with Mount Hood Aviation's elite team, parachutes into wildfires for a living. Too tall, too big, too strong, she never fit in...except on the fireline. Her past lost, her future uncertain, Krista fights for the present. Special Forces veteran Evan Greene jumps fire to avoid facing his past. Some memories are too painful. Evan's policy? Bury and move on... Until Krista unearths what he most wants to forget. No half-measures win this firefight. Together they must face their pasts before their love burns away in the Wildfire on the Skagit.

My Review:

Yesterday I had a fairly bad headache. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t want to read, but does mean I bounced off book after book, including some that I know I really want to read, just not right then. I’ve already caught up with Anna Hackett’s Hell Squad series, so I went hunting for another one of my auto-absorb authors. And that’s how we end up with Wildfire on the Skagit as today’s book, because M.L. Buchman is guaranteed to get me lost in a good story.

wildfire at larch creek by ml buchmanI will say that his numbering system for his series is starting to drive me a bit bonkers. I always end up wondering if I’ve missed an intervening book or two. Having read both Wildfire at Dawn (reviewed here) and Wildfire at Larch Creek (here) I don’t think I did.

This Smokejumpers trilogy within the Firehawks series features the people who jump as first stick for Mount Hood Aviation. MHA is the best of the best, which is exactly what you would expect from any company run by Majors Beale and Henderson from The Night is Mine (reviewed here) and the rest of Buchman’s Night Stalkers series.

But this trilogy features the smokejumpers of MHA, the people who jump out of perfectly performing aircraft in order to fight terrifyingly dangerous fires. The hero of Wildfire at Dawn, first stick Johnny “Akbar the Great”, is still with MHA after he found true love with a local wilderness guide. His former jumping partner, Tim Harada, is now fighting fires back home in Alaska, after the events of Wildfire at Larch Creek.

Which left Tim’s former position open at MHA for Krista Thorson, one of the few female smokejumpers. There are plenty of women firefighters and pilots at MHA, but few women become smokejumpers because the job requires a tremendous amount of upper body strength, which few women have. Krista is one of those few. Being taller and stronger than her classmates, male and female, in her small town high school caused her no end of grief and social ostracism back then. Now it’s an asset for her job, even if she still believes that most men want some little delicate flower instead of the Viking warrior that Krista so strongly resembles.

Evan Greene is still trying to burn through his demons by jumping fires. He comes to MHA after five years with the Montana Zulies because MHA never has a down season. During the Pacific Northwest’s wet winters, MHA flies to the southern hemisphere to jump fire in someone else’s hot season. After six years as a Green Beret, and five years as a smokejumper, Evan hasn’t figured out what to do with his downtime, so he’s found a way not to have any.

Both Evan and Krista have demons to face. Some of them are even the same demon – that fear of loving anyone and letting them rely on you because you won’t be there when they need you has bitten them both deep. And while Evan may not exactly have PTSD, he certainly has some dark and dangerous moods that keep anyone from getting too close to him.

Evan is afraid to feel, because he lost the one person who needed him the most. And Krista not only knows just what that feels like, but suffers from the added whammy that she can’t believe that any man will want her for the woman she is, and not some little doll who needs protection. None ever have, until Evan walks into her life and away with heart.

The only question is whether Evan is willing to let go of his pain and offer her his heart in return.

Escape Rating B: This is a hot and sweet romance with surprisingly little conflict between the main characters. And I would much rather see the struggle for a happy ever after to come out of issues that are organic to the characters rather than a misunderstandammit, so I liked the way this one worked.

wildfire at dawn by ml buchmanOne of the other things that I really,really love about all of Buchman’s series is that the romance is always between equals. Both parties are strong characters, and are often strong warriors of one kind or another as well. In the cases where there are differing careers, both are experts. There are no weak links, and especially no stories where the man is strong and driven and the woman is weak or inexperienced. These are all stories of grown-ass men and competent, mature women. Often as not, the women are more capable than the men, as was the case in the previous two books in this trilogy. Laura the wildlife guide in Wildfire at Dawn had a better handle on herself and her future than Johnny “Akbar”, who is great at what he does but seems to be putting the rest of his life on hold for as long as he can continue to jump smoke.

Krista is every bit the smokejumper that Evan is, and possibly a bit more. And he doesn’t need her to be weak in order to make himself feel strong. That she is a big, strong, muscular woman has given her a few relationship hangups, but then in our current society, any woman who does not meet the tall and waifish model ideal would end up battered about the edges of her self-confidence. We all have body issues, unfortunately.

The bond between Evan and Krista is that they both share a similar pain – the fear of getting close to someone and not being there when they are needed. It’s happened to both of them and left terrible scars. They help each other find strength in those broken places, and it’s marvelous.

One of the best parts of this story was the sequence with the Smokejumpers Camp that Krista has started. She brings in 20 girls from the local high school for a three-day wilderness experience of camping, hiking, living a bit off the forest, and training jumping and rock climbing. She’s giving back the experience that she didn’t have, that young women can do or be anything they set their minds to, and that their strength and skill is an asset and definitely not a liability. That Evan also sees her true purpose and is completely on board with it made them bond together marvelously.

And it’s a lesson we all need to be reminded of, no matter what our age. We can be anything we set our minds to.