Stacking the Shelves (128)

Stacking the Shelves

Early this week we went to a lecture/presentation by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the human star of the new Cosmos, among other fascinating achievements. If you are interested in science or space or simply an intelligent presentation, he’s definitely worth seeing if he comes to your city. He was fantastic. And he just added a whole bunch more books to my TBR list.

And if you enjoy urban fantasy but are looking for something just a bit different, A Key, an Egg an Unfortunate Remark by Harry Connolly is awesome!

For Review:
Chaos Broken (Chronicles from the Applecross #3) by Rebekah Turner
Day Shift (Midnight, Texas #2) by Charlaine Harris
Desert Rising by Kelley Grant
Homefront (Homefront #1) by Jessica Scott
A Match for Marcus Cynster (Cynsters #23) by Stephanie Laurens
The Shadow Revolution (Crown & Key #1) by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith
Shards of Hope (Psy-Changeling #14) by Nalini Singh
The Silence that Speaks (Forensic Instincts #4) by Andrea Kane
The Undying Legion (Crown & Key #2) by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith

Purchased from Amazon:
A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark by Harry Connolly (review)

 

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Review: The Kill List by Nichole Christoff

kill list by nichole christoffFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: thriller
Series: Jamie Sinclair #1
Length: 247 pages
Publisher: Random House Alibi
Date Released: December 2, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

As a top private eye turned security specialist, Jamie Sinclair has worked hard to put her broken marriage behind her. But when her lying, cheating ex-husband, army colonel Tim Thorp, calls with the news that his three-year-old daughter has been kidnapped, he begs Jamie to come find her. For the sake of the child, Jamie knows she can’t refuse. Now, despite the past, she’ll do everything in her power to bring little Brooke Thorp home alive.

Soon Jamie is back at Fort Leeds—the army base in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens where she grew up, the only child of a two-star general—chasing down leads and forging an uneasy alliance with the stern military police commander and the exacting FBI agent working Brooke’s case. But because Jamie’s father is now a U.S. senator, her recent run-in with a disturbed stalker is all over the news, and when she starts receiving gruesome threats echoing the stalker’s last words, she can’t shake the feeling that her investigation may be about more than a missing girl—and that someone very powerful is hiding something very significant . . . and very sinister.

My Review:

kill shot by nicole christoffI picked this book because I’m signed up for a tour for the second book in the series (The Kill Shot) next week. At least with series that aren’t too far down the path, I like to start from the beginning.

And what a beginning this one is! Wow! What a ride.

Jamie Sinclair is a fascinating point-of-view character. She is a security consultant as well as a private investigator. She also has a not-so-secret penchant for taking cases that involve child kidnapping. Which is how her ex manages to get her involved with his life again – but not in any way that helps him.

Not that he thinks its going to turn out quite the way that it does. Jamie’s interest is in saving the child, what happens with the adults is only her problem if it contributed to the kidnapping or if it gets in her way.

She has just finished up a case that splashed itself in the headlines. A pedophile was stalking a news anchorwoman in Philadelphia and tried to kidnap her two kids. Jamie got the guy, but in the process, he nearly slit her throat and managed to switch his sick fixation from the newswoman to Jamie.

Let’s just say ick.

When her ex calls and practically orders her to come to New Jersey’s Leeds Army Base to help him, she plans to refuse, until he tells her that his 4-year-old daughter has been kidnapped. It doesn’t matter that this child, and his girlfriend’s pregnancy with same, was the cause of their divorce. All that matters to Jamie is the little girl.

Things get messy fast. Jamie and her ex have serious issues that have nothing to do with the kidnapping. He thinks he can order her around because he was psychologically abusive when they were married. It doesn’t work half so well this time around.

The FBI agent assigned to the case is on that she has crossed paths with before on a similar case. The last time she and Kev Jaeger “worked together” the children died because Kev was just a bit too “by the book”. Unfortunately for Jamie, she and Kev had a one-night stand during the emotional depths of the case. Their professional relationship is tempestuous.

The head of the Military Police on base is someone that Jamie would like to get to know a hell of a lot better. But her reaction to Adam Barrett, and vice versa, is not exactly professional. Jamie is very gun shy of overstepping those boundaries after the fiasco with Kev.

And last, but certainly not least in this case, the job that Jamie’s ex Tim Thorp now holds as base commander at Leeds is the job that Jamie’s father, a retired general who is now a U.S. Senator, used to hold. Jamie grew up in the house that her ex now lives in.

This story has a lot of sticky bits. Everyone is connected to everyone else, in multiple ways, and not necessarily in ways that are going to further anyone’s investigation. This is a very closed little world, and familiarity has bred contempt between a whole lot of the participants.

Jamie is looking for the little girl, Brooke, who has juvenile diabetes and is way too young to manage it herself. If her kidnappers don’t know, or don’t care, Brooke will be dead in three days.

The case lasts for a week. Hope fades. But complications arise is flocks.

Because this isn’t about little Brooke. The case is about Jamie’s ex Tim Thorpe and whatever the hell he did to wind up with stacks of cash in his safe. He’s lying to everyone, and it looks like his child has been caught in the crossfire.

Meanwhile, Jamie’s stalker is still out there. A homeless psychotic in Philly couldn’t possibly have a connection to a child abduction case in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. Or could he?

Just like Tim Thorp’s web of lies, this case has a lot more threads than anyone could have imagined.

Escape Rating B+: I liked this story, and I liked Jamie. The thriller aspect kept me pulling out the book in unlikely places just so I could finally find out who done it, and whether I had guessed anything right. (The answer is both yes and no).

I did figure out what Thorp was hiding, and where the money came from. In the end, he’s revealed to be slime, but it is pretty obvious that he is a lying scumbag from the very beginning – it just takes a while to zero in on what he’s lying about that is getting everyone in his orbit shot at and his daughter kidnapped.

Jamie is a terrific character. She has been through a lot, and has emerged strong. Sometimes a little too tough and strong for her own good. But he stands on her own two feet, except when her father enters the picture.

There’s a strong thread in this story about psychological abuse and the effects it has on adult children who have survived. Jamie is not the only person in this story who was abused as a child, and the way that they have each been affected is a key part of figuring out who, and more importantly why, all the perpetrators are in this mess.

It’s also pretty clear that Jamie’s messed up relationship with her father led directly to marriage to another man just like him, so that the cycle continued. Jamie’s better, but I don’t see her as completely out. Her dad’s constant negative opinion of her, even when he is not present, still rules a lot of her behavior.

I even liked the way that Jamie’s potential relationship with MP Adam Barrett is explored slowly and carefully. They both have a lot of baggage that makes relationships difficult. The middle of this case was not a good place to start.

The thing that bothered me about Jamie is that every man she meets seems to fall in love with her. The cop that she regularly works with in Philly is definitely carrying a torch for her, and is both obvious and sad about it. Jamie isn’t encouraging him, but she also still has to work with him and needs his friendship.

The FBI agent Kev Jaeger is also falling all over her, and falls all over himself when Adam Barrett starts showing an interest. Kev’s jealousy gets in the way of the investigation at some points.

Then there’s Adam Barrett. Jamie and Adam meet and fall instantly into something which they both resist as long as they can. While I liked their relationship, it was one too many. If romantic part of this romantic suspense plot was Adam and Jamie, then someone else shouldn’t have been in this picture. Probably the poor, sad Philly cop. He could have been fatherly concerned instead of romantically concerned and still served the same place in the story.

The way that all the cases finally wrapped up held a LOT of surprises. Even though the long arm of coincidence meant that they had to come together in the end, the way they came together caught me by surprise.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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Review: A Key an Egg an Unfortunate Remark by Harry Connolly

key an egg an unfortunate remark by harry connollyFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: urban fantasy
Length: 294 pages
Publisher: Radar Avenue Press
Date Released:
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

After years of waging a secret war against the supernatural, Marley Jacobs put away her wooden stakes and silver bullets, then turned her back on violence. She declared Seattle, her city, a safe zone for everyone, living and undead. There would be no more preternatural murder under her watch.

But waging peace can make as many enemies as waging war, and when Marley’s nephew turns up dead in circumstances suspiciously like a vampire feeding, she must look into it. Is there a new arrival in town? Is someone trying to destroy her fragile truce? Or was her nephew murdered because he was, quite frankly, a complete tool?

As Marley investigates her nephew’s death, she discovers he had been secretly dabbling in the supernatural himself. What, exactly, had he been up to, and who had he been doing it with? More importantly, does it threaten the peace she has worked so hard to create? (Spoiler: yeah, it absolutely does.)

My Review:

I bought this book because I read an article from the author on io9. It turned out that the io9 article was an extract from a more complete essay published at Black Gate. It’s here, go read it. I’ll wait.

For those who didn’t go to the full article, it’s the author talking about the writing of this book – specifically that there are no female protagonists in urban fantasy of a certain age. Or any age over 35. He had me hooked at that point, because yes, I’m over 35. You may not be yet, but we all get there at some point, unless we don’t survive.

There are female wisdom figures in urban fantasy over that age. There are also plenty of cosy mysteries where the sleuth, amateur or professional, is of retirement age – remember Miss Marple?

But in urban fantasy every heroine (and pretty much every hero), kicks butt, takes names and sets things on fire, not necessarily in that order. What if your heroine is past the chasing suspects at top speed stage but can still bring the baddies in with a lot of brain and heart. Especially a lot of brain.

We may not be as fast at 60+ as we are at 30+, but we (hopefully) know more stuff. And magic, in particular, is a field where knowing more stuff can definitely win the day.

Marley Jacob is 62, and she has been keeping Seattle safe from the supernatural, and the supernatural safe in the city, for a long time. She’s a good witch, but there are definitely circumstances where she is a good witch in the same way that Granny Weatherwax in the Discworld is a good witch – because her goodness is so sharp that it cuts things – including, occasionally, herself.

Marley is certainly a chaos magnet of the highest order. A lot of things go wrong in her orbit, sometimes because of something she did, and often because of something someone wants to do to her – with extreme malice.

Although its not ever explained, I’m pretty sure based on context in the story that Marley Jacob’s name is no accident. If it rings a bell that you can’t quite close in on, reverse the order. Jacob Marley was Ebenezer Scrooge’s ghostly partner in A Christmas Carol. (I hope that in some later book we get more info, so I can find out if my guesses are anywhere near the mark.)

The title of the book, as long as it is, is also a description of the key elements of the story. All those things are involved, but it’s the last, that unfortunate remark, that sends everything careening on its way. Or at least that brings some of what is skulking in the dark out into the light.

It’s up to Marley, and her nephew and new right hand man Albert, to figure out how one unfortunate remark to her other nephew, the late and not in the least lamented Aloysius, could have kicked off so much chaos and mayhem in her city. Before it kills them all.

Escape Rating A+: For me, this book was absolutely un-putdown-able. (That needs to be a word)

Whatever the stereotype of older women may be in your head, Marley is guaranteed not to fit into it – and that’s a terrific thing. She’s very clear that once upon a time, she waged war. She used to be that kick ass magical gunslinger, and she has REGRETS. Waging peace in her one small corner of the world is just as hard, but she believes it is better in the long run for everyone – and backs up that belief with a lot of wisdom as well as the occasional spell.

But she doesn’t do violence. Her new assistant Albert was a soldier in Afghanistan, and one of their constant struggles is his desire to protect and defend Marley, with weaponry if necessary, only to discover that she has already figured a way out and that his attempts to grab a gun have only gotten in her way and made things worse.

At the same time, Marley is giving Albert a lesson about magic and its uses in the world, as well as an introduction to everything in Seattle that goes bump in the night. Albert also gets a surprising lesson into the old saying that goes, “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.” Albert wants to meet a werewolf.

Marley’s version of waging peace involves keeping her city safe. At the very beginning of the story, she makes it clear to the late Aloysius that part of what she’s keeping the city (or at least its female population) safe from is him. When he asks her for a love potion, and she explains to him very carefully that what he is asking for is really a rape potion, I wanted to stand up and cheer.

She also makes Aloysius finally see himself as others see him – a smarmy and self-absorbed user. Also a complete slacker and bully who is disliked if not hated by everyone he puts the touch on. Seeing the light gets Aloysius’ lights turned off permanently. But even though he was an arsehole, he was still family. Marley moves heaven and earth (sometimes close to literally) to find out what the jerk was involved in that got him killed.

Finding out that there’s a dragon at the bottom of it all is a fantastic surprise.

If you love urban fantasy, or even like it, this is an awesome book. Please read it so we get more.

Reviewer’s note: I lived in Seattle until very recently, so a lot of the places in this book are VERY familiar. It’s not just that I’ve been stuck waiting for the Ballard Bridge more than a few times. There’s a scene where Marley and Albert go to the grocery store on W. Dravus in Magnolia, and walk towards Magnolia Hill over the railroad tracks. The store is a QFC, and I’ve been there and walked that same stretch. I still miss the Red Mill Burgers across the street. Very deja vu.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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Review: Unchained Memory by Donna S. Frelick

unchained memory by donna s frelickFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Interstellar Rescue #1
Length: 338 pages
Publisher: INK’d Press
Date Released: February 24, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Three hours ripped away her past.
His love promised her the future.

From the night she wakes up in her pickup on the side
of the road, three hours gone and everything of value
lost to her, Asia Burdette is caught in a clash of invisible forces. She has only one ally in her struggle to understand why–Ethan Roberts, a man she shouldn’t love, a psychiatrist who risks everything to help her.

With black ops kidnappers dogging their trail, the lovers race to navigate a maze of mind control, alien abduction and interstellar slavery. If they keep following the signs, they’ll find a battle that’s been raging since the first silver saucer was spotted in the skies above Earth.

My Review:

This story has an absolutely fascinating science fictional premise – what if (all SF stories start with some kind of what if?) but what if some of the people who claimed to have been abducted really had been abducted by aliens.

After all, if the universe has half as many habitable planets as some scientists think it does, wouldn’t some of them be populated with nasty, exploitive races who think that humans make great pets – or slaves?

And wouldn’t there be some organizations created to protect this underdeveloped (at least interstellar travel and weaponry-wise) from some of those technologically more advanced, albeit morally equally bankrupt, planets and predators?

Both Stargate SG-1 and Star Trek Voyager exploited this the secondary theme of advanced civilizations brainwashing humans and using them as slave labor, but I haven’t seen a story that takes the first part seriously until now.

Asia Burdette has a girl’s night out with her best friend, but not only stays sober but gets herself on her way back home before midnight. Her three kids are home with a babysitter, and her abusive husband works the night shift.

On the way home, she loses three hours of her life. And in those three hours, her house catches fire and everyone inside is killed. Her children are dead, along with the babysitter, and her husband blames her for her neglect.

She blames herself, too. But she has lost three hours of her life in her truck by the side of the road, and has no idea what happened. She wasn’t drunk, she wasn’t drugged, but whatever happened to her in those three hours, her life as she knew it is over.

Her husband is no loss, but the death of her children is something that Asia can never get over. And she desperately needs someone or something to blame other than herself. Or at least an explanation, not just for the memory loss, but also for her recurring nightmares of a life more hellish than even her own experiences.

After a few years of not much sleep and getting much too close to becoming an alcoholic, Asia tries psychiatric therapy. Her first shrink is a disaster (in more ways than one, as we’ll see later) but her second makes her feel safe enough to let her start getting to the truth.

Ethan Roberts also makes Asia feel horny, but that’s a different kind of problem. It’s still trouble, but at least it’s explainable trouble.

What isn’t explainable are the nature of the dreams that Ethan uncovers while using an Alpha Wave Inducer. Ethan normally treats people who think that they have been abducted by aliens. Asia doesn’t have any clue what happened to her, but the thought of alien abduction has never entered her sane and conscious mind.

The more that Asia is able to relate of her dreams while under the machine, the more that both Ethan and Asia realize that whatever happened to Asia, it was real – and that it didn’t happen on Earth.

It turns out that the truth isn’t just out there, but it is also in Asia’s head. When Ethan starts looking back at his own case files for the few other patients who had dreams just like Asia’s, he discovers that all of his old patients and their files have gone into a black hole, and that the only way to save Asia is to run.

They don’t know who they are running from, but they are sure they are running for their lives. And they are correct. There are too many people and forces who want to know what Asia remembers, and find a way to exploit it, and her.

The morally bankrupt forces who would imprison humans are not just out in the galaxy – they are right here on Earth and they are after Asia and Ethan. But when the forces of evil are right here, it’s time for the rescue to come from somewhere out there. The question is whether rescue will come in time to save anyone – including the secrets that need to be protected.

Escape Rating B+: I enjoyed this a lot and liked the premise. Because it’s SFR I’m going to get a little bit more into a few issues…

I knew who the bad guy was pretty early on. It wasn’t that he did anything evil at the beginning, he was just slimy. Something wasn’t right about him and there were no other candidates.

This is SFR, meaning that there is a love story mixed in with the SF. I could see the chemistry developing between Ethan and Asia, and I was certainly sold on them falling for each other. At the same time, they meet as therapist and patient. Going from that kind of relationship to a romance is a bit skeevy, even if Ethan isn’t skeevy at all. I fully recognize that this probably happens more than we think it does, but it raises a bunch of red flags for definite reasons.

Yes, I am letting my real world views into my fiction, but when something upsets the willing suspension of disbelief, it takes me out of the fiction.

There’s an X-Files element to the story, that the government is involved in some very shady dealings with some extremely shady people (and not-people) and that what they really want to do is both suppress knowledge of the wider universe and exploit it for gain, or just for bigger and better guns. There’s a bit of Men in Black here too, since the government actively suppresses any knowledge of aliens.

And I felt that there was definitely a look back at episodes of Stargate SG-1 and Star Trek Voyager. So that I keep from spoiling everything, let’s just say that a look at a synopsis of Beneath the Surface in SG1 or Workforce from Voyager will provide a whole lot of clues about where Asia has been, what she was doing and how she got there.

But both of those episodes were awesome, so I was happy seeing something of those stories in a new form. It also means I recognized what was going on the first time Asia has a vision.

The story has the pace and plot of a thriller, definitely one of the X-Files type, except that not only do the equivalents of Mulder and Scully get into a real relationship, but one of them has been a dupe and not an investigator the whole time.

Unchained Memory is a lot of fun, especially if you like “spot the trope” bingo. This is the first book in a series, and I’m looking forward to more science fiction romance fun.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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Q&A with Authors Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne

shadow ritual by eric giacometti and jacque ravenneShadow Ritual (reviewed today here) is one of those books that just reached out and grabbed me. It wouldn’t let go, or I couldn’t, until I turned the last page a few brief hours later. I was absorbed and enthralled.

The history and mystery that fuels this story is one that most of us don’t know well. The Freemasons and the history of the Masonic Order is shrouded in mysteries and secrets for those of us on the outside. In this Q&A, the authors tell a bit about how they chose as their protagonists a police detective who is a Mason and a security officer who is beyond derisive of those practices, as well as a glimpse of how much truth in wrapped in their absorbing piece of fiction.

Just to whet your appetite for this book, an excerpt is included at the end. This is one of those book tours where I wish that there was a giveaway attached. However, the publisher is doing a book tour at the same time as this one, and it does have a giveaway. Check here for details.

And now, on to the questions…

1. How did the two of you come together to write SHADOW RITUAL?
Many things led us into this adventure. First of all, Jacques is a Freemason, and Eric had investigated scandals linked to freemasonry. We had two different visions of this brotherhood. Second, Eric had already written a mystery and his French publisher was encouraging him to write another one. Thirdly, we had known each other since our teenage years together spent in Toulouse, in the south of France, when we shared a passion for esoteric mysteries and secret societies. At the time, while others were flirting, we were exploring Cathar castles and Templar outposts, certain we would find some lost treasure, perhaps even the Holy Grail. We always kept a bit of that feeling of wonder. All of this came together with the idea of a Freemason inspector. Two other inspirations fed Shadow Ritual: the little known story of Freemason persecutions in Nazi-occupied France, and the true story of French Freemason archives stolen by the Nazis in 1940, recovered by the Soviets in 1945 and only returned to France in 2000. What secret did they hold?

2. How does the fact that Jacques is a Freemason and Eric is a Profane affect the portrayal of the relationships between your characters?
It gives us a more balanced view of freemasonry: one that is not too indulgent and not too full of fantasy.

3. What was the inspiration for the characters Antoine Marcas and Jade Zewinski?
Antoine embodies an upright Freemason who believes in his ideals, but is aware that the brotherhood is not perfect. He is always doubting, and that is his strength. Jade is hostile to freemasonry and challenges Marcas, by asking him all the questions the Profane have about this secret society.

4. The Inspector Marcas series is an international phenomenon! Has the success of the series changed your life?
The success of the series has allowed us the freedom to write and earn a living from it, which is a real luxury.

5. How did you decide to write a series with a freemason as the protagonist?
We though thrillers are an excellent way for readers to discover the world of freemasonry. Then, we were doubly lucky: at the time, nobody in France had had the idea of creating a positive Freemason protagonist, and Dan Brown published his Da Vinci Code a year before we brought out the first Antoine Marcas mystery in French. We were the first French authors to benefit from the Dan Brown effect.

6. SHADOW RITUAL deals with actual Freemason history and the potential implications of a breach; has SHADOW RITUAL ruffled some feathers?
At first, Jacques’s brothers were a little thrown off. But over time, freemasons have become fervent supporters of Inspector Marcas. The rituals and meetings described in the books are genuine, and readers can understand a little bit more about the brotherhood.

7. How much research do you have to do, which are the most difficult types of scenes to research, and have you ever had to go to extreme or unusual lengths to research a scene?
We spend a lot of time in libraries, often in Freemason libraries, which have many rare books. We also meet with scholars. This is a fascinating part of the work, but it’s important not to get lost in the research or to recount too much of what we found in books. The hard part is building a plot and adjusting the mechanism to work like clockwork.

8. What are you reading now?
The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a fascinating book about the unforeseeable events that change the destinies of nations.

9. Who or what has influenced your style of writing?
Jacques’s influences are very literary, as he was a French professor and a Paul Valery scholar. Eric’s are more thrillers (both books and movies).

10. What’s up next for you, Eric?
I’m heading to New York for Thrillerfest in July. I can’t wait to meet other thriller writers. And next year, there will be another Antoine Marcas thriller in English, one with surprising Freemason information about the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower.

11. What’s up next for you, Jacques?
Las Vegas in August to celebrate my son’s twenty-first birthday, and shared impatience with Eric for the next Marcas adventure.

Excerpt:

PROLOGUE

1945
BERLIN

The bombings had redoubled at dawn, and the ground trembled. The man’s razor slipped a second time. Blood dribbled down his stubbly cheek. He clenched his jaw, grabbed a damp towel, and dabbed the cut.
Designed to last a thousand years, the bunker’s foundations were showing signs of weakness.
He looked in the cracked mirror above the sink and barely recognized his face. The last six months of combat had left their mark, including two scars across his forehead, souvenirs of a skirmish with the Red Army in Pomerania. He would celebrate his twenty-fifth birthday in a week, but the mirror reflected someone a good ten years older.
The officer slipped on a shirt and his black jacket and shot a half smile at the portrait of the Führer, a mandatory fixture in all the rooms of the Third Reich Chancellery’s air-raid shelter. He put on his black helmet, adjusted it, and buttoned his collar, fingering the two silver runes shaped like S’s on the right.
His uniform had such power. When he wore it, he soaked up the fear and respect in the eyes of passersby. He reveled in the gazes that oozed submission. Even children too young to understand the meaning of his black uniform pulled away when he tried to be friendly. It reactivated some primitive fear. He liked that. Intensely. Without his beloved leader’s national socialism, he would have been a nobody, just like the others, leading a mediocre life in an ambitionless society. But fate had catapulted him to the inner circle of the SS.
Now, however, the tide was turning. Judeo-Masonic forces were triumphing again. The Bolsheviks were scampering, ready to take over like a swarm of rats. They would spare nothing. Of course, he hadn’t either. He’d left no prisoners on the Eastern Front.
“Pity is all the weak can be proud of,” Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler liked to tell his subordinates. That same man had given him—a Frenchman—the Iron Cross for his acts of bravery.
Another tremor shook the concrete walls. Gray dust fell from the ceiling. That explosion was close, maybe just above the bunker in what remained of the chancellery gardens.
Obersturmbannführer François Le Guermand brushed the dust from his lapels and examined himself again. Berlin would fall. They had known this since June, when the Allies invaded Normandy. But what a year it had been. A “heroic and brutal” dream, to borrow the words of José-Maria de Heredia, the Cuban-born French poet Le Guermand loved.
A dream for some and a nightmare for others.

It began after he’d joined the SS Sturmbrigade Frankreich and then the Charlemagne Division, swearing allegiance to Adolf Hitler. This came two years after he’d marched off with the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism. Marshal Pétain’s spinelessness had disgusted him, and he had set his sights on the Waffen SS units that were taking foreign volunteers.
He had fought bravely, and one day a general invited him to dinner that changed his life. Anti-Christian comments filled the conversation. The guests praised old Nordic religious beliefs and championed racist doctrines. Le Guermand listened with fascination as they related the strange and cruel stories of the clever god Odin, the dragon slayer Siegfried, and mythic Thule, the ancestral homeland of supermen, the real masters of the human race.
Le Guermand was seated next to the general’s liaison, a major from Munich who explained how SS officers with pure Germanic blood had received intensive historical and spiritual training. “The Aryan race has waged battle with degenerate barbarians for centuries,” he said.
Before, Le Guermand would have mocked the words as the wild imaginings of indoctrinated minds, but in the candlelight, the magical stories were a powerful venom, a burning drug that flowed into his blood, slowly reaching his brain and cutting it off from reason. Le Guermand was caught in the maelstrom of a titanic combat against the Stalinist hordes, and at that moment, he understood the real reason he had joined this final battle between Germany and the rest of the world. He grasped the meaning of his life.
On that winter solstice in 1944, in a meadow lit up by torches, he was initiated into the rites of the Black Order. As he faced a makeshift altar covered with a dark gray sheet embroidered with two moon-colored runes, he heard the deep voices of soldiers chanting all around him: “Halgadom, Halgadom, Halgadom.”
“It’s an ancestral Germanic invocation that means ‘sacred cathedral,’” the major told him. “But it’s nothing like a Christian cathedral. Think of it as a mystical grail.” The major laughed. “In a Christian context, it’s like a celestial Jerusalem.”
An hour later, the torches were extinguished. As darkness swallowed the men in ceremonial uniforms, Le Guermand emerged a transformed man. His existence would never be the same. What would it matter if he died? Death was nothing but a passage to a more glorious world. François Le Guermand had joined his fate with that of this community. It was cursed by the rest of humanity, but he would receive sublime teachings promising new life, even if Germany lost the war.
The Red Army continued to advance. Le Guermand’s division took a battering. Then, on a cold and wet morning in February 1945, when he was supposed to be leading a counterattack in East Prussia, Le Guermand received orders to report to the Führer’s headquarters in Berlin. There was no explanation.
He bid good-bye to his division, only to learn later that his fellow soldiers, exhausted and underequipped, had been decimated that very day by the Second Shock Army’s T-34 tanks.
The Führer had saved his life.
On his way to Berlin, Le Guermand passed countless German refugees fleeing the Russians. The radio broadcast Dr. Goebbels’s propaganda: Soviet barbarians were pillaging houses and raping women. It made no mention of the atrocities committed by the Reich when they had marched victoriously on Russia.
The lines of frightened runaways went on for miles.
How ironic. In June 1940, his family had pulled a cart along a road in Compiègne, France, fleeing the arriving Germans. Now he was a German soldier, and he was retreating. From the backseat of his SS car, he contemplated the dead German women and children lying on both sides of the road, some in an advanced stage of decomposition. Many had had their clothing and shoes stolen. This de- pressing spectacle was nothing compared with what he would find when he arrived in the capital of the dying Third Reich.
Past the northern suburb of Wedding, he gazed at the burned and crumbling buildings, the victims of incessant Allied bombings. He had known Berlin when it was so arrogant and proud to be the new Rome. Now he gawked at the masses of silent inhabitants trudging through the ruins.
Flags bearing swastikas hung over what remained of the rooftops. His car came to a stop at an intersection on Wilhelmstrasse to let a convoy of Panzer Tiger tanks and a detachment of foot soldiers pass. Le Guermand watched as a man spit at the troops. Before, such behavior would have led to an arrest and a beating. On this day, the man just went on his way.
A banderole remained intact on the side of an intact building—an insurance company—that hadn’t been destroyed. “We will vanquish or we will die,” its large gothic letters read.
Arriving at the chancellery guard post, he found the bodies of two men hanging from streetlights. They hadn’t been as lucky as the man who had spit at the troops. The dead men were wearing placards: “I betrayed my Führer.” Probably deserters caught by the Gestapo and immediately executed, Le Guermand thought. Examples. No Germans could escape their destiny. The bodies, their faces nearly black from asphyxiation, swayed in the wind.
To his surprise, there was no officer to meet him at the bunker, but instead, an insignificant civilian. His thread- bare jacket bore the insignia of the Nazi Party. The man told him that he and the other officers of his rank would be assigned to a special detachment under the direct orders of Reichsleiter Martin Bormann. His mission would be explained in due time.
The man led him to a tiny room. Other officers, all detached from three SS divisions—Wiking, Totenkopf, and Hohenstaufen—had received the same orders and were lodged in nearby rooms.
Two days after they arrived, Martin Bormann, secretary of the Nazi Party and one of the few dignitaries to still be in Adolf Hitler’s good graces, called the Frenchman and his comrades together. With a cold, self-confident gaze on his bloated face, he looked at the fifteen men gathered in what remained of a chancellery meeting room. Then Hitler’s dauphin spoke in a strangely shrill voice.
“Gentlemen, the Russians will be here in a few months. It is possible that we will lose the war, even though the Führer still believes in victory and has put his faith in new weapons even more destructive than our long-range V-2 rockets.”
Bormann let his eyes drift over the group before continuing his monologue.
“We need to think about future generations and remain committed to final victory. Your superior officers chose you for your courage and loyalty to the Reich. I speak especially for our European friends from Sweden, Belgium, France, and Holland who have conducted themselves as true Germans. During the few weeks we have left, you will be trained to survive and perpetuate the work of Adolf Hitler. Our guide has decided to stay to the end, even if he must give his life, but you will leave in due time to ensure that his sacrifice is not in vain.”
Le Guermand looked around. The other officers were murmuring and shifting in their chairs. Bormann continued.
“Each of you will receive orders that are vital for our work to continue. You are not alone. Other groups such as yours are being formed throughout German territory. Your training will begin at eight tomorrow morning and will last for several weeks. Good luck to all of you.”
During the two months that followed, they were taught to live an entirely clandestine life. François Le Guermand admired the organization that persevered, despite the impending apocalypse. He felt detached from his French roots, from that nation of whiners that had prostrated itself at the feet of Charles de Gaulle and the Americans.
Le Guermand was cloistered in underground rooms and went days without seeing sunlight. A rodent’s life. There was no rest between the lectures and coursework. Soldiers and civilians introduced him to a vast network that was especially active in South America, as well as Spain and Switzerland.
They were trained in covert bank transfers and identity management. Money didn’t seem to be a concern. Each member of the group had a duty: to go to his assigned country and blend with the population under a new identity. Then wait—ready to act.
By mid-April, the Soviets were just six miles from Berlin. Three hundred French survivors of the Charlemagne Division were guarding the bunker. That was when the liaison officer from Munich arrived. Bormann deferred to the major, as though he were a superior officer. Le Guermand ate a quick lunch with the major, who called Hitler an evil madman and then held out a black card embossed with a white capital T.
“This card marks your membership to an ancient Aryan secret society, the Thule-Gesellschaft,” the major explained. “It has existed since long before the birth of Nazism. You have been chosen for your courage and devotion. If you survive the war, other members of the Thule will contact you with new orders.”

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
shadow-ritual-giacomettiravenne2012_credit_melania_avanza

Jacques Ravenne is a literary scholar
who has also written a biography of the Marquis de Sade
and edited his letters.
He loves to explore the hidden side of major historical events.

Eric Giacometti was an investigative reporter
for a major French newspaper.
He has covered a number of high-profile scandals
and has done exhaustive research in the area of freemasonry.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Anne Trager loves France so much she has lived there for 27 years and just can’t seem to leave. What keeps her there is a uniquely French mix of pleasure seeking and creativity. Well, that and the wine. In 2011, she woke up one morning and said, “I just can’t stand it anymore. There are way too many good books being written in France not reaching a broader audience.” That’s when she founded Le French Book to translate some of those books into English. The company’s motto is “If we love it, we translate it,” and Anne loves crime fiction, mysteries and detective novels.
***
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Review: Shadow Ritual by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne

shadow ritual by eric giacometti and jacque ravenneFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, hardcover
Genre: thriller
Series: Antoince Marcas #2
Length: 270 pages
Publisher: Le French Book
Date Released: March 25, 2015
Purchasing Info: Authors’ Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

An electrifying thriller about the rise of extremism. Two slayings—one in Rome and one in Jerusalem—rekindle an ancient rivalry between modern-day secret societies for knowledge lost at the fall of the Third Reich. Detective Antoine Marcas unwillingly teams up with the strong-willed Jade Zewinski to chase Neo-Nazi assassins across Europe. They must unravel an arcane Freemason mystery, sparked by information from newly revealed KGB files. Inspired from the true story of mysterious Freemason files thought to hold a terrible secret, stolen by the SS in 1940, recovered by the Red Army in 1945 and returned half a century later.

My Review:

This is the second book in the series featuring Antoine Marcas, and based on this entry in the series, I hope that the publisher gets the rest of the series translated tout de suite. Meaning, as fast as the translator Anne Trager can get them out.

Shadow Ritual is edge-of-the-seat thrilling, very much in the vein of The Da Vinci Code but with much better editing. The pace is taut, and the story, even the parts about rituals and history and the secret society background of this mess, moves along at a rapid clip.

Just enough to feel the horror (at the appropriate points), but not so long as to dwell on it.

The prologue takes place at the end of Nazi Germany. One young French SS officer, along with a cadre of fellow fanatics, is tasked with smuggling important papers out of Germany and setting himself up as a sleeper agent in a sympathetic country to wait until his masters need him again. His masters are not exactly the Nazis – but a philosophical splinter group called the Thule. Who manage, in their own evil, world-domination type ways, to be even worse than the Nazis.

Without the extra-terrestrial power boost, the Thule remind me a bit of Red Skull in the first Captain America movie. I know this is just slightly off topic, but the brands of megalomaniacal pure-Aryan BS feel surprisingly similar..

The story in Shadow Ritual moves to the 21st century, and a sudden string of ritual murders. The ritual murders are tied into Freemasonry, a subject that sets more than a few of the investigators as well as the perpetrators into absolute fits, but only the Thule actually foam at the mouth.

The string of murders imitates and corrupts a big piece of Masonic ritual. Someone is killing people, not just Freemasons but anyone connected with the secret being pursued, in a way that sends a calling card to any Masons who see the victims or read about the results.

Antoine Marcas, a detective in the Paris Police, is a Freemason with an interest in Masonic history and documents. When a Masonic researcher is killed at the French Embassy in Italy, Marcas is paired with a hard-boiled Embassy security officer who hates the Masonic Order and anything connected with it.

As partnerships go, this is not a happy one.

But Jade Zewinski’s Foreign Service bosses don’t all love the Masons either, so they are happy to have someone in charge of the investigation who will not report to the Order first. At the same time, they need Marcas because all the clues are steeped in Masonic ritual and don’t make much sense to anyone who is not intimately familiar with the Order.

Their uneasy but ultimately productive partnership unearths a trail of dead bodies – and puts them squarely in the sights of an underground society that blames the Masons, the Jews, and anyone they just plain don’t like for what they see as the suppression of the true World Order – one that puts the Nazi Thule back on top of empire – with everyone else crushed under their heel.

Starting with Marcas and Zewinski.

Escape Rating A: This is one of those books that just grabbed me. I loved the deep dive into unfamiliar history – especially because that exploration was encapsulated into a thriller that kept me enthralled up to the very end.

Part of what made this story work was the two protagonists. They don’t like each other at all. Zewinski is openly hostile about everything that Marcas believes in. And we don’t know why until the very end – just that she acts like a bitch at every turn.

At the same time, they definitely respect each other. Even though she often treats Marcas like dirt, she also respects his abilities as a detective. Likewise, even though Marcas is often infuriated by Zewinski’s attitude and hostility, he also respects her ability to get the job done. He sometimes questions whether she wants to leave him behind, or is hoping that he won’t measure up in some way, but there is certainly mutual respect.

They manage to rely on each other as partners even though they drive each other crazy.

Also, Zewinski is in some ways the stand-in for the audience. The history and mystery that is driving the action is deeply embedded in the Masonic rituals and history. Marcas knows those secrets intimately, and Zewinski has spent her life actively avoiding anything to do with Freemasonry. In order to them to solve the crimes together, he has to explain the mysteries to her, and that provides a logical way to explain them to us.

For most of us, Freemasonry is shrouded in secrets and legends, and it was fascinating to get a glimpse behind the curtain. Lots of stories have exploited this desire to find those secrets, including The Da Vinci Code and the movie National Treasure. Mixing the secrets of the Freemasons with their persecution by the Nazis makes for a chilling read.

Like The DaVinci Code, Shadow Ritual is the second book in the series featuring its code-breaking detective. Also like The DaVinci Code, you don’t need to have read the first book about Antoine Marcas to enjoy the second.

Not that I don’t want the first book. And the rest of the series. ASAP.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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Review: A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett

blink of the screen US cover by terry pratchettFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: fantasy, science fiction, short story collection
Series: Discworld
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Doubleday
Date Released: March 17, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

A collection of short fiction from Terry Pratchett, spanning the whole of his writing career from schooldays to Discworld and the present day.

In the four decades since his first book appeared in print, Terry Pratchett has become one of the world’s best-selling and best-loved authors. Here for the first time are his short stories and other short-form fiction collected into one volume. A Blink of the Screen charts the course of Pratchett’s long writing career: from his schooldays through to his first writing job on the Bucks Free Press, and the origins of his debut novel, The Carpet People; and on again to the dizzy mastery of the phenomenally successful Discworld series.

Here are characters both familiar and yet to be discovered; abandoned worlds and others still expanding; adventure, chickens, death, disco and, actually, some quite disturbing ideas about Christmas, all of it shot through with Terry’s inimitable brand of humour. With an introduction by Booker Prize-winning author A.S. Byatt, illustrations by the late Josh Kirby and drawings by the author himself, this is a book to treasure.

My Review:

going postal by terry pratchettIn Going Postal, Terry Pratchett wrote, among many other marvelous things, that, “A man is not dead while his name is still spoken.” If that maxim is true, it will be a very long time before his legacy is finished. This review of A Blink of the Screen is just one of many millions of ways that his spirit is being kept alive.

This collection, finished before the author’s death, contains all of Sir Terry’s published shorter works, including his first published short story, written at the age of 13.

Not many writers would willingly dust off their juvenalia and put it out there again to be commented on and laughed at. The Discworld generally produces laughter, but that is more in the line of “laughing with”. Anything that most of us wrote at 13 would expect to get a great deal of “laughing at”.

While I would not say that The Hades Business is the best thing I have ever read, by Pratchett or anyone else, it hangs together surprisingly well for a story that the author wrote just barely into his teens. It shows the beginning of Pratchett’s trademark sideways humor, and has a darn good payoff at the end.

The two non-Discworld stories I enjoyed the most are The High Meggas and Turntables of the Night. Also Once and Future, as an interesting twist on the Arthurian Tales.

long earth by terry pratchett and stephen baxterThe High Meggas is one of the stories that became the seed of The Long Earth series. It’s a story about survival and cunning in an era where the theory of parallel universes has been proven, and is being used to visit and/or exploit all the survivable parallel Earths in the wake of a catastrophe. The main character is a paranoid survivalist, who is utterly correct in his paranoia – they really are out to get him – unless he gets them first. The way that the parallel Earths are traveled to reminds me of both S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador and Charlie Stross’ Merchant Princes series, both of which very much post-date The High Meggas.

Turntables of the Night is a DEATH story, but it may be the DEATH in Good Omens rather than the one in the Discworld. Or possibly all the various DEATHs speak in ALL CAPS. The part of this story that haunts me is the way that the narrator describes the seduction of DEATH. Not in the physical sense, but in the emotional and psychological sense. Also the poor narrator is unreliable, because she can’t believe what she saw, but can’t quite convince herself that she didn’t see it.

Once and Future is fun because it turns the tables on the classic Arthur stories, but not until the very sharp twist at the end, which really gets you. I expected something to be different, but not this way. This way was better.

Hollywood Chickens has the answer to the age-old question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” but the method the chickens use is awesome. And only figured out by inference and observation, in a way that was both cool and funny.

Wyrd-Sisters by Terry Pratchett new coverOf the Discworld stories, well, if you have loved any of the Witches stories (start with either Equal Rites or Wyrd Sisters) then The Sea and Little Fishes should not be missed. Nor the deleted extract from the story at the end of the book.

The Sea and Little Fishes showcases the relationship between Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, and shows just how fearsome “good” can be, especially as embodied by Granny Weatherwax. She is the kind of witch who has become very, very sharply good at being good, because if she went bad she would (and certainly could) probably destroy the world. The problem with being very good is that you often expect other people to follow your example, and are quite obviously cross with them if they don’t. Also Granny not only doesn’t suffer fools gladly, she doesn’t suffer fools at all – to the point where they usually know to stay out of her way. The Sea and Little Fishes is a story about what happens when they don’t.

The deleted extract from this story is equally interesting but different. I can see why it got deleted – it doesn’t further the plot of The Sea and Little Fishes at all. At the same time, it shows just how close Weatherwax and Ogg are, and how well they understand each other, even though they are completely different, both as witches and as people. Nanny Ogg takes care of Granny Weatherwax a lot more than one might expect, and it’s terrific.

The short expositions on (and in) the Discworld are not truly stories, but they are absolutely laugh out loud, chuckle, snort funny.

Escape Rating A-: The usual thing about short story collections is that they are uneven – some stories are bound to be better than others. In this particular case, the chronological order of the stories helps that a bit. We expect the stories from the 1980s and 1990s to be better than the bits that Pratchett wrote during his teens. That the stories from the 1960s are in fact not bad is kind of amazing.

And they definitely show the author’s signature humor. For a fan, they are worth reading, but they’re not a good place to introduce people to Pratchett’s work.

The Discworld stories are also more for the fans than for people unfamiliar with the author or Discworld. Many of the short expositions owe at least some of their humor to the fact that we already know these people and this place. The Minutes of the Meeting to Form the Proposed Ankh-Morpork Federation of Scouts is definitely of this type. As is A Few Words from Lord Havelock Vetinari.

But for those of us who are fans, this collection is a treat – including Pratchett’s introduction to each story. We shall not see his like again, and he will be sorely missed.

If you have not yet had a chance to discover the wit, wisdom and wonder that is the Discworld, I envy you. There is a marvelous journey waiting for you.

Get to it!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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