Review: The Lafayette Sword by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne

Review: The Lafayette Sword by Eric Giacometti and Jacques RavenneThe Lafayette Sword by Eric Giacometti, Jacques Ravenne, Anne Trager
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Antoine Marcas #2
Pages: 266
Published by Le French Book (NY) on June 7th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Gold. Obsession. Secrets. Following the murder of a Freemason brother, Antoine Marcas uncovers unsettling truths about gold and its power to fascinate and corrupt. A priceless sword is stolen and deaths ensue setting the Freemason detective on a case of Masons turned bad. A clue points to mysteries and conspiracy about elusive pure gold, launching a frantic, deadly race between two symbolic places the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. A captivating plot weaves alchemy and the Middle Ages into a modern-day thriller. Part of an international, best-selling series that has sold 2 million copies worldwide, with vivid characters, an evocative international setting, and history darker than midnight. For readers who love ancient myths, secret societies, chilling narrative and modern speed."

My Review:

shadow ritual by eric giacometti and jacque ravenneJust like the first book in this series, Shadow Ritual, The Lafayette Sword reads very much like a thinking person’s DaVinci Code. Only better, because the story in the end is much more firmly grounded in reality and makes much more sense, while still taking the reader on a thrill-a-minute ride.

In this book, we actually begin with three stories. In the 21st century, our hero, Paris Police Detective Antoine Marcas attends a regular meeting of his Freemason Lodge, only to discover not one, but two dead bodies inside the sanctuary. One is an initiate, and one is an old and dear friend. His chase of the killer nearly ends in his own death, but the killer, spares his life at the last moment for reasons unknown to Marcas. He’s heard his assailant’s voice, but the face was masked.

Also in the 21st century, we read the emails of a mysterious cartel code-named Aurora. Aurora’s purpose is to manipulate the price of gold, for the benefit of its members, of course. Aurora buys up the gold uncovered in Shadow Ritual, but it isn’t necessary to have read that book to enjoy Sword.

But if you love thrillers, these are marvelous.

There is also a plot thread in the 14th century. We follow Nicolas Flamel as he is forced to record the confession under extreme torture of a young woman. She accompanied Isaac Benserade to Paris, and her late master was burned to death by the Crown for plotting against the king. In truth, it was all a plot to find Isaac’s book of alchemical formulas. The Crown is broke, and desperately needs a miracle. Turning base metals into gold would certainly qualify as that miracle.

For those wondering why the name Nicolas Flamel sounds familiar, Flamel was a real historical figure, but he is better known to 21st century readers as the creator of the “Philosopher’s Stone” or “Sorcerer’s Stone” that was sought by Voldemort in the first Harry Potter book.

Back to The Lafayette Sword, and, the search for it.

As the story progresses, at first the reader is left wondering why these three threads are bound together in this book. They do not seem connected. All very interesting, but not necessarily converging.

But as Antoine chases the killer, and the secret that the man is searching for, these disparate trails come together. And when they do, the action, and the danger, heat up to boiling point. Or to the temperature of gold fever.

Escape Rating B+: For the first half of the book, the reader is wondering how and why the various disparate plot threads are finally going to come together. At the halfway point, they start to braid together in a way that will keep the reader turning pages furiously until the end.

For those who enjoy complex riddle stories like The DaVinci Code and National Treasure, there is plenty of meat to chew on. The quest for the killer and what is driving him delve deeply into Masonic history, and also into the history of both the American and the French Revolutions.

But like so many good thrillers, we also get a fight to the death both at the base of the Statue of Liberty and among the metal lattice of the Eiffel Tower. Both tourist destinations are linked by a surprising secret.

In the end, however, the mystery comes down to very human motives, and very human reason. Or unreason. One man has gone off the rails, pursuing a secret that for once, really does exist – but can’t be revealed.

We see the chase through the eyes of Antoine Marcas. He is both Freemason and cop, and in this case must parse his divided loyalties in order to reach justice without revealing secrets he is sworn to keep. And we see his internal conflict, not just about the almost opposing calls on his loyalty, but also his doubts and fears. And his abiding concern that his devotion to his duty has taken him away from his son. Marcas is both a dogged investigator, and a deeply troubled man.

And that makes him fascinating to watch. I am looking forward to hopefully next year, or whenever the next of his adventures will be translated into English.

Review: Indomitable by W.C. Bauers

Review: Indomitable by W.C. BauersIndomitable (Chronicles of Promise Paen, #2) by W.C. Bauers
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction, space opera
Series: Chronicles of Promise Paen #2
Pages: 368
Published by Tor Books on July 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Promise Paen, commander of Victor Company's mechanized armored infantry, is back for another adventure protecting the Republic of Aligned Worlds.
Lieutenant Paen barely survived her last encounter with the Lusitanian Empire. She's returned home to heal. But the nightmares won't stop. And she's got a newly reconstituted unit of green marines to whip into shape before they deploy. If the enemies of the RAW don't kill them first, she just might do the job herself.
Light-years away, on the edge of the Verge, a massive vein of rare ore is discovered on the mining planet of Sheol, which ignites an arms race and a proxy war between the Republic and the Lusitanians. Paen and Victor Company are ordered to Sheol, to reinforce the planet and hold it at all costs.
On the eve of their deployment, a friendly fire incident occurs, putting Paen's career in jeopardy and stripping her of her command. When the Lusitanians send mercenaries to raid Sheol and destabilize its mining operations, matters reach crisis levels. Disgraced and angry, Promise is offered one shot to get back into her mechsuit. But she'll have to jump across the galaxy and possibly storm the gates of hell itself.

My Review:

Her name may be an absolutely terrible pun, but Promise T. Paen’s story is absolutely terrific. And her strength of will is exactly as the title states, indomitable.

The cold war between the Lusitanian Empire and the Republic of Aligned Worlds is definitely heating up in this second book in the Chronicles of Promise Paen. And Promise, and her Marines are in the thick of the action.

Even when Promise isn’t supposed to be.

The story begins with Promise as a still raw but very promising (puns all intended) Lieutenant in the RAW-MC. That’s the Republic of Aligned Worlds Marine Corps to the rest of us.

Promise is who and what Torin Kerr in Tanya Huff’s Confederation series would have been if the Gunny had ever accepted any of the many, many invitations she received to go to Officer Candidate School.

unbreakable by wc bauersWhen Promise’s time came, she didn’t feel she had much of a choice. In her first story, Unbreakable, Promise accepts a field commission when her Captain and Lieutenant are taken out of the fight, and she is left as the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer in her company. But now that they’ve been through hell together, the janes and jacks of Victor Company are Promise’s Marines.

Even after they take them away from her.

The story in Indomitable is all about Promise’s fall and rise, in that order. And how she copes (and often doesn’t) with the survivor’s guilt that haunts her sleep and dogs her at every step. Because war is coming, and Promise is one of the few officers who is willing to look at the oncoming storm, see it for what it is, and still run forwards to meet it.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this book, but I don’t want to give too much of the plot away. If you love military SF or military space opera, get this series, and start with Unbreakable. You won’t be sorry.

For this reader, the Chronicles of Promise Paen read like a combination of Tanya Huff’s Confederation series and David Weber’s Honor Harrington. While Promise as a character is much, much closer to Torin Kerr, the setting owes a lot to the Honorverse, at least so far. The conflict that is spinning up between the Lusies and RAW reads too much like the war between Haven and Manticore in the Honorverse to feel like coincidence. At the same time, it is entirely possible that both stories are drawing from the same source material – the Napoleonic Wars. We’ll just have to wait and see on that.

So far, we haven’t seen a lot about the motives of the Lusies. They are fighting a proxy war, and they are gobbling up territory, while winning the public relations war. There are also some pointed callbacks to our history, as the peace movement in RAW directly reflects some of the “peace in our time” rhetoric before our World War II.

There’s a lot going on in this book. On the surface, the action is all about guerrilla warfare on a fringe world. The Lusies are again using proxies, just as in Unbreakable. RAW is forced to send in its own overstretched and under-strength troops, and the effects are predictably devastating. To call the situation a FUBAR is understating the scope of the clusterf**k by several degress of magnitude.

At the same time, we see the impacts of events back home, as powerful individuals attempt to block defense spending, oust anyone in favor of building up the fleet, and paint a big, fat target on Promise’s back. She’s playing in the big leagues, whether she planned to or not.

And because we see inside of Promise’s head, we see her doubts and her fears. She knows she’s been much more lucky than she has been good, and we feel her wondering if she has done enough. If she has been enough. We feel for her pain, and we see her grow, change and marginally cope.

In the end, the story is about Promise dealing with the hand she is dealt, and finally deciding to play it for all she’s worth. No matter the cost. Indomitable is filled with nearly non-stop action, but it ends on a pause, as Promise waits to take up her latest challenge.

I can hardly wait to see what she tackles (and what tackles her) next.

Review: The Mechanical Theater by Brooke Johnson

Review: The Mechanical Theater by Brooke JohnsonThe Mechanical Theater by Brooke Johnson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genres: steampunk
Series: Chroniker City #2
Pages: 112
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on June 9th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A Chroniker City Novella
Petra Wade’s older brother, Solomon, has always dreamed of being an actor. Instead, he works grueling shifts in the clockwork city’s boiler rooms to help support his large adopted family. When Le Theatre Mecanique holds an open call for their upcoming performance, he decides to audition. However, the only role he is suitable to fill is that of the theater’s custodian.
Leaving the well-paying boiler job behind him, Solomon immerses himself in the theater—watching rehearsals, studying the performances, and working with an emerging young actress to improve his skills. But back at home, his family feels the sting of their reduced income when his younger sister Emily develops pneumonia and the only treatment is too expensive.
Solomon will be forced to make a difficult choice: fulfill his dreams of stardom, or help save his younger sister.

My Review:

brass giant by brooke johnsonI finally picked The Mechanical Theater out of my towering TBR pile because I liked the first full-length novel in the Chroniker City series, The Brass Giant, enough that when I noticed that the second full-length novel in the series, The Guild Conspiracy, is coming out next month, and I wanted to catch up.

And I needed at least one short book this week. So here we are.

Although The Mechanical Theater definitely takes place after The Brass Giant, the events in the original story don’t seem to impinge much on this one. Petra is a very limited secondary character here, and while Emmerich acts as deus ex machina, he does so from off-stage.

So if you are looking for an introduction to the Chroniker City world, The Mechanical Theater will serve very well.

This is a short and tight little story. It’s all about Petra’s older brother. Solomon Wade voices every dream of anyone who has wanted to become an artist of some kind. In Solomon’s case he wants to become an actor. Not a star, just an actor. It is a burning need inside him that he will do almost anything to fulfill.

But Solomon, like Petra, has to work. The ragtag household that he and Petra were adopted into needs the older “siblings” to work so that the younger ones are fed and clothed. And in the current circumstances, so that little Emily gets the medicine she needs to cure her pneumonia and keep her alive.

Solomon wants to learn the craft he loves, and he has a surprising chance. The manager of the Mechanical Theater will pay him to serve as the theater’s caretaker, and allow him to observe rehearsals as he works. As a supplemental job, it lets Solomon draw a bit nearer to his dream.

But when Emily’s health turns to a crisis, he is forced to give up that dream to labor at double and even triple shifts in the boiler that provides his real income. And he is forced to stay away from the young actress that he has come to care for, leaving her in the hands of man she refuses to admit is beating her.

Solomon will move heaven and earth to get back to his true calling. But he needs a miracle to keep his family alive.

Escape Rating B: As I said, this is a tight little story. It moves quickly to describe Solomon’s situation, get him on the fringes of the world he wants to inhabit, and shows his despair as his dream is snatched away.

His internal conflict over the young actress is heartfelt. He likes her, possibly more. He wants to help her. And he can’t understand why she won’t take the first step to help herself. Until she finally does and discovers that there is more help out there than she believed.

Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be surprised to see the ne’er do well back in a later book in this series. He’s the type to carry a grudge.

But in the situation in Solomon (and Petra’s) household, we see just how bad conditions are in Chroniker City, and how grinding poverty affects everyone’s choices and prospects. We get a glimpse of this world at a level we don’t often see, because things don’t get much better during the story. They do get enough money to get Emily life-saving treatment, but it is a one-time fix. As the story ends, Solomon has a slightly better job, and enough time to go back to the theater, but they are still at the bottom. All it will take is one more crisis to send things spiraling downward again.

guild conspiracy by brooke johnsonThe “mechanicals” of the Mechanical Theater are also not a big part of the story. So this is steampunk for those who are not necessarily fascinated with the trappings of steampunk. All in all, a bit of an introduction both to the genre and to this world. I’m looking forward to more in The Guild Conspiracy.

Review: The Ninja’s Daughter by Susan Spann + Giveaway

Review: The Ninja’s Daughter by Susan Spann + GiveawayThe Ninja's Daughter (Shinobi Mystery, #4) by Susan Spann
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Pages: 230
Published by Seventh Street Books on August 2nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Autumn, 1565: When an actor's daughter is murdered on the banks of Kyoto's Kamo River, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are the victim's only hope for justice.
As political tensions rise in the wake of the shogun's recent death, and rival warlords threaten war, the Kyoto police forbid an investigation of the killing, to keep the peace--but Hiro has a personal connection to the girl, and must avenge her. The secret investigation leads Hiro and Father Mateo deep into the exclusive world of Kyoto's theater guilds, where they quickly learn that nothing, and no one, is as it seems. With only a mysterious golden coin to guide them, the investigators uncover a forbidden love affair, a missing mask, and a dangerous link to corruption within the Kyoto police department that leaves Hiro and Father Mateo running for their lives.

My Review:

The world portrayed within the pages of Susan Spann’s Shinobi Mysteries is endlessly fascinating. Not just because it is the past, but because it is set in the history of an area that those of us in the West do not know well. In this setting, we are even more fishes out of water than Father Mateo, one of the author’s two protagonists.

This series takes place in Feudal Japan, not long before the time period of James Clavell’s famous novel (and TV miniseries) Shogun. But the circles in which Father Mateo and his bodyguard and translator Hiro Hattori travel are not the rarefied courts of the Emperor and the Shogun, but rather the streets where regular people live, and where being hauled into the local Magistrate’s Court is always a constant threat.

At the same time, like so many historical mysteries, this series is set at a time when the world is in flux. In 1575 one Shogun has fallen, and powerful families are jockeying for position. Most people are just trying to stay out of the way. But the Portuguese Jesuit priest Father Mateo is one of the few Westerners admitted to the country, and his position is always under threat, as is his life.

It is Hiro Hattori’s job to keep the Jesuit alive at all costs. His life is forfeit if he does not, as is his honor. But as much as he respects this man from another place and another faith, they do not always see eye-to-eye, either about life in general, or hanging onto theirs in particular.

In the story of The Ninja’s Daughter, Father Mateo involves himself in the case of a young woman who has been murdered. Because Emi was an actor’s daughter, the Magistrate has declared there is no crime to be investigated. But Emi’s father Satsu is a hidden warrior like Hiro. They are both shinobi, as we say in the West, ninjas. To complicate matters further, Satsu is Hiro’s uncle, making the murdered girl his cousin.

Father Mateo does not believe that Hiro is willing to let the matter rest in injustice. Hiro runs himself ragged, trying to solve the crime so that he can spirit his charge away from Kyoto ahead of assassins that he has been warned are on their way.

He needs all the help he can get.

Escape Rating A-: The Ninja’s Daughter is a story about masks. Both literally, as the theft of a famous Noh mask is one facet of the investigation, and figuratively, as all of the players in this drama are hiding important pieces of who they really are.

Hiro himself always wears a mask. He is a shinobi, one of the hidden warriors. But his disguise is as a ronin, a masterless man, who has taken on a job that should be beneath his dignity, serving as translator to the foreign priest.

Father Mateo also wears a mask. He speaks Japanese well, and understands the culture much better than anyone except Hiro gives him credit for. He pretends to bumble, when all the while he sees much more than anyone expects.

And then there are the players in this little drama, dead Emi, her father Satsu, her sister Chou, and Chou’s fiance Yuji. Everyone is lying about something, the question is about what. Everyone has something to hide. And everyone believes that they knew the dead girl much better than she knew herself. The mess caused by her death proves that they didn’t.

In the midst of political upheaval, we have what turns out to be a relatively simple murder, obscured by a bunch of actors each playing the part they think they should.

claws of the cat by susan spannFor those who love historical mystery, this series is a treat. While these stories could be read as stand alones, the immersion in this world works better if the reader begins at the beginning, with the lovely Claws of the Cat.

Hiro’s cat Gato is an adorable little scene stealer.

And for those who have gobbled up this series and are waiting for the next, Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart, although set in China rather than Japan, has much of the same feel.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Courtesy of Seventh Street Books, I am giving away a copy of The Ninja’s Daughter to one lucky U.S. or Canadian commenter

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone + Giveaway

Review: Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone + GiveawayFour Roads Cross (Craft Sequence, #5) by Max Gladstone
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Craft Sequence #5
Pages: 416
Published by Tor Books on July 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The great city of Alt Coulumb is in crisis. The moon goddess Seril, long thought dead, is back—and the people of Alt Coulumb aren't happy. Protests rock the city, and Kos Everburning's creditors attempt a hostile takeover of the fire god's church. Tara Abernathy, the god's in-house Craftswoman, must defend the church against the world's fiercest necromantic firm—and against her old classmate, a rising star in the Craftwork world.
As if that weren't enough, Cat and Raz, supporting characters from Three Parts Dead, are back too, fighting monster pirates; skeleton kings drink frozen cocktails, defying several principles of anatomy; jails, hospitals, and temples are broken into and out of; choirs of flame sing over Alt Coulumb; demons pose significant problems; a farmers' market proves more important to world affairs than seems likely; doctors of theology strike back; Monk-Technician Abelard performs several miracles; The Rats! play Walsh's Place; and dragons give almost-helpful counsel.

My Review:

The world of the Craft Sequence is guaranteed to give any reader a lingering book hangover. This is a world that requires the reader to throw out all of their preconceived notions about religion, magic, gods, demons, law, order and chaos. Not necessarily in that order, and on a continuously repeating cycle.

This world makes the reader think. And think. And re-think.

In this universe where the gods are not only made real, but can be fought in real terms and killed, worship is power and power is money and money is power and the ends all too often justify the means. And the lawyers are necromancers. Or the other way around.

But the story underneath all of the absolutely mind-blowing trappings turns out to be about relationships. There are four roads that cross. The relationship between Craftswoman Tara Abernathy and Priest Abelard of Kos the Everburning, the relationship between Justice Cat and Vampire Raz, the relationship between Tara and Shale, a gargoyle child of the moon-goddess Seril, and at the heart of the mess, the relationship between Kos the Everburning and Seril the moon goddess.

Seril was supposed to have been killed 40 years ago, at the end of the God Wars that brought The King in Red into power in Dresediel Lex. But she wasn’t. It’s hard to kill a god. Not impossible, but damnably difficult. Now that Seril is back, someone is using her as a lever to take down Kos. Even though taking down Kos will send not just all of his contracts, but all of the financial markets that use Kosite debt as a baseline, into financial chaos.

The mess that will ensue could make the Great Depression, the Great Recession and Brexit fade into a pinprick, even if they had all happened at once.

What happens is a race against time. Tara wants to save the city that holds her friends from the catastrophic bloodshed and chaos. Abelard wants his god to remain in control of his own fate, and to continue to be a real part of the lives of his citizens and worshippers. Seril wants to survive. And someone wants to cause the downfall of the last of the old gods, no matter who gets killed, or how many dark means they need to use to justify their grisly ends.

three parts dead by max gladstoneEscape Rating A: Nothing about the world of the Craft Sequence is anything like any fantasy you have ever read. Even the sequence itself was published out of order; Three Parts Dead is the first book, Four Roads Cross is the fifth.

But read them all, because the creation of this world fills in one complex layer at a time. Just like the series of interlocking contracts and agreements written by the Craft.

While Four Roads Cross sometimes seems as if it directly follows Three Parts Dead, the events of the intervening works also seem to influence the action. Or at least the knowledge that the reader gains about the world seems to influence either the action or one’s feelings about it and understanding of it. Read the series, and be prepared to sit and think for a while in between.

(The author has stated that the numbers in the titles reflect the internal chronological order of the books, as opposed to the publication order. Pick an order and dive in.)

There is a lot in this story about the way that humans create gods in their own image, and the way that those images in turn influence the humans who fall under their sway. Seril needs her worshippers every bit as much as her worshippers need her. What makes the relationship between gods and humans different in this world from our theology is that the benefits of the relationship are tangible for both parties. Seril gets power, and in return she provides real aid and assistance.

last first snow by max gladstoneLike the other books in this series, this one rides on the strength of the different and surprising relationships that have formed, particularly in the wake of the events of Three Parts Dead. We also see a much different perspective on Craft and the persons who practice it than we have previously. Elayne Kevarian, the Craftswoman who carries much of the action in Three Parts Dead and Last First Snow, has stripped herself of almost all human relationships in her quest for the ultimate in Craft and eventual immortality. At the end of Last First Snow, we see her wondering about some of her choices.

Tara Abernathy, Elayne’s apprentice in Three Parts Dead, is choosing another road. In spite of everything her craft has taught her, she forges friendships, sometimes in spite of herself. The conflict in the end is about those who use others for their own ends, and those like Tara, and the goddess Seril, who take their strength from their relationships with others.

Virtue may not be its own reward, but at least in this story, there is strength in even a fractured unity. And it is a wonder to read, and to behold.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Tor Books is letting me give away a copy of Four Roads Cross to one lucky US/CAN commenter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-24-16

Sunday Post

This week had some real winners. Amy obviously adored Red Lily. I remember that one fairly fondly myself. But Lonen’s War is the fabulous start to a new epic fantasy series by Jeffe Kennedy, and The Emperor’s Arrow was an awesome debut by Lauren D.M. Smith. Rock Wedding felt like a fitting end to Nalini Singh’s Rock Kiss series, and Fatal Justice was the perfect reading crack to round out the week.

Next week looks fantastic. These are all books that I’ve been looking forward to for a year, and I can’t wait to dive in!

Current Giveaways:

$50 Amazon Gift Card from Nalini Singh

red lily by nora robertsBlog Recap:

A+ Guest Review by Amy: Red Lily by Nora Roberts
A- Review: Lonen’s War by Jeffe Kennedy
B+ Review: Fatal Justice by Marie Force
B Review: Rock Wedding by Nalini Singh + Giveaway
A- Review: The Emperor’s Arrow by Lauren D.M. Smith
Stacking the Shelves (154)

lafayette sword by eric giacometti and jacques ravenneComing Next Week:

Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone (review)
The Ninja’s Daughter by Susan Spann (blog tour review)
The Mechanical Theater by Brooke Johnson (review)
Indomitable by W.C. Bauers (review)
The Lafayette Sword by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne (review)

Stacking the Shelves (194)

Stacking the Shelves

In addition to the usual parcel of things that just looked interesting, I have a few special books this week. As you can see, I’m collecting the entire Fatal series by Marie Force. They’re irresistible!

I also have three books that I’ve been waiting for with the proverbial bated breath. Belle Chasse and Cast in Flight were both on my Most Anticipated list for this year. These are two series that I eagerly follow, and am always jonesing for the next book. My third “OMG I can’t believe it’s finally here” book is The Lafayette Sword by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne. I absolutely adored the first book in their Antoine Marcas series, Shadow Ritual, when it was published in English last year. I’ve been combing NetGalley and Edelweiss ever since, hoping for the next translation – and it’s finally here!

For Review:
The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor
Belle Chasse (Sentinels of New Orleans #5) by Suzanne Johnson
Cast in Flight (Chronicles of Elantra #12) by Michelle Sagara
Devil Sent the Rain by Lisa Turner
The Girl in the Castle (Deverill Chronicles #1) by Santa Montefiore
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
The Lafayette Sword (Antoine Marcas #2) by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne
When All the Girls Have Gone by Jayne Ann Krentz

Purchased from Amazon:
Fatal Justice (Fatal #2) by Marie Force (review)

Borrowed from the Library:
Fatal Consequences (Fatal #3) by Marie Force
Fatal Deception (Fatal #5) by Marie Force

Review: The Emperor’s Arrow by Lauren D.M. Smith

Review: The Emperor’s Arrow by Lauren D.M. SmithThe Emperor's Arrow by Lauren D.M. Smith
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy romance
Pages: 160
Published by Carina Press on July 18th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Grand Prize Winner of Harlequin's 2015 So You Think You Can Write contest
Debut author Lauren D.M. Smith delivers an epic fantasy romance in this soaring tale of a kickass warrior and the emperor she's honor-bound to defend
The bride candidates have been summoned. Their numbers are many, yet only one is an Amazzi warrior. Only one would give her life to protect him.
Evony of Aureline, warrior of her people, has no intention of becoming a hideous old man's bride. Though her people have sworn their loyalty to the legendary emperor Galen, Evony knows little of courts and intrigue. It's simply not her world.
Yet it's on the palace training grounds where Evony's archery skills gain her the respect of soldiers and legates alike. The emperor himself takes notice of the beautiful, ruthless warrior. In turn, the young, steely eyed Galen is nothing at all what Evony expected.
This man could very well conquer her heart. But does he feel the same?
As the rivalry among the remaining bride candidates intensifies and the plot for the throne unfolds, Evony must make a grave choice: fulfill her destiny and protect her people or follow her heart and pursue true love.
Either way, the honor of the Amazzi people and the future of the empire now rests with Evony of Aureline. For she is the Emperor's Arrow.

My Review:

Based on the description, I was expecting The Emperor’s Arrow to be a bit like The Champion of Baresh or The Empress Game. And there are resemblances, but not nearly as close as I expected. Instead, the slightly Roman flavor to the setting and the romance between an emperor and a barbarian remind me a bit of Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera. All books terrific company to be among.

The Emperor of this fantasy empire calls on all of the noble houses under his rule to send a daughter to compete to be his bride. And therefore his empress. While the nobility see this as a true competition, Emperor Galen has a different agenda in mind.

And, while he wouldn’t mind finding an empress, what he is really looking for are hostages. The competition is a nonthreatening way to get all the noble houses to send him a person who can become a hostage for their good behavior – if he needs one.

He knows that some of his nobles have made repeated attempts to assassinate him – one of those attempts took the life of his beloved sister. But he doesn’t yet know which one. Or even worse, which ones. Hence the bride competition.

While parts of the bride competition read like a fantasy version of The Bachelor, there is a real contest being conducted. Contestants are eliminated, not necessarily for their performance, but because it has been ascertained that their families are loyal.

Some of the contestants remain, not necessarily because they have a chance of becoming empress, but out of a need to, as the old adage goes, “Keep one’s friends close and one’s enemies closer”.

And then there’s Evony, an Amazzi warrior of the Aureline. Her people are unquestioningly loyal to the emperor, but they are also numbered among the first families of the empire, even as isolated as they generally are. Evony answers the summons to the bridal games because her people’s honor demands it.

The Emperor plans to use her unwavering loyalty to provide him with eyes and ears among the contestants. Evony plans to use the competition to find a man to sire her child.

Neither of them counts on falling in love.

Escape Rating A-: Harlequin was right, this author definitely can write. The author of The Emperor’s Arrow was the Grand Prize Winner of Harlequin’s 2015 So You Think You Can Write contest. This book shows that she absolutely can, and it is marvelous.

The story is wrapped in multiple layers. Evony is a terrific character. On the one hand, she is a fish out of water, so any necessary explanations to her of how the court works and what is going on within it, also work as explanations to the reader.

Evony herself is a great character to follow, because her perspective on court life and court intrigue is so refreshing. Evony is a warrior. She is also an extremely straightforward person, to the point of being very, very blunt. She looks at all the decorative women in the bridal competition and can’t figure out why anyone would allow themselves to be kept from learning to defend themselves, or why some of these women believe that they have no choices about their fate and their future.

She is not unusual among her people in being a warrior. Her tribe has many more female children than male children, and every person is trained in self-defense. Many, many of the women are warriors. She sees herself, her independence, her agency and her self-respect as being normal. Anyone who doesn’t have those things she feels a bit sorry for.

Her people also do not elevate their leaders above their people. So she sees the emperor as just another warrior, albeit one with more responsibility and at the center of more danger. She argues with him, disagrees with him, and calls him by his first name. She tells him things he doesn’t want to hear.

The one thing she never does is bore him. And he trusts her because it is clear from the very beginning that she does not have a political agenda. Until she falls in love with the emperor, and refuses to obey his orders to remain safe and far away. From that point on, her only agenda is to keep him safe and help him catch the people who want him dead.

And in the middle of the romance, there is also a wonderful female friendship between Evony and another of the bride candidates – the shy and somewhat diffident Admina. They discuss their lives, their hopes and their futures, and bond from two very different perspectives. It is refreshing and wonderful that their relationship is not about discussing men, but about who they are and who they want to be. It passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.

In the end, The Emperor’s Arrow is an absolutely marvelous fantasy romance. I am looking forward with great pleasure to much, much more from this author.

Review: Rock Wedding by Nalini Singh + Giveaway

Review: Rock Wedding by Nalini Singh + GiveawayRock Wedding (Rock Kiss, #4) by Nalini Singh
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, rock star romance
Series: Rock Kiss #4
Pages: 345
Published by TKA Distribution on July 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh continues her Rock Kiss series with a hot, sweet, emotional contemporary romance about love and forgiveness…
After a lifetime of longing for a real family, Sarah Smith thought she’d finally found her home with rock star Abe Bellamy, even if she knew Abe didn’t love her the way she loved him. But their brief relationship, filled with tragedy and heartache, nearly destroyed her. Alone, emotions in turmoil, and already shaky self-esteem shattered, Sarah struggles to pick up the pieces in the wake of their divorce.
Abe knows he’s to blame for the end of his marriage. Caught in a web of painful memories, he pushed away the best thing in his life – the sexy, smart woman he adores – breaking them both in the process. Then fate throws him a second chance to get things right, to prove to Sarah that she means everything to him. Abe desperately wants that second chance at love...even if he knows he doesn’t deserve it.
But can he convince Sarah – now strong and independent without him – to risk her wounded heart one more time?

My Review:

rock hard by nalini singhI have enjoyed the entire Rock Kiss series, as my reviews of the previous books (Rock Addiction, Rock Courtship, Rock Hard and Rock Redemption) certainly indicate. Rock Hard is definitely my favorite. We had great fun doing one of our joint reviews over at The Book Pushers. Gabriel (AKA T-Rex) was everyone’s favorite book boyfriend.

Rock Wedding, unlike some of the earlier books, contains a story that has been brewing through the entire series. Not just because parts of this story cover the weddings of the couples that were formed in the earlier books, but because the relationship between Abe and Sarah originally predated Fox and Molly’s romance in Rock Addiction.

Once upon a time, back when Abe Bellamy, the keyboard artist of Schoolboy Choir was drowning in at least the booze and drugs part of the fabled rockstar lifestyle, he married 21-year-old Sarah. And proceeded to totally screw things up until he finally drove Sarah away. Sarah was beyond right to leave the bastard. She probably should have done it a hell of a lot sooner.

But Sarah’s departure sent Abe into what was almost a final tailspin. Just because he drove her away, doesn’t mean he actually wanted her gone. Abe dove so far into booze and drugs that his bandmates had to stage an intervention to get him out and into rehab.

rock redemption by nalini singhIt doesn’t sound like it took the first time either, but it finally did. By the time (in Rock Redemption) that Abe and the rest of Schoolboy Choir rescue Sarah from an attempted battering by the guy she makes the mistaking of hooking up with after her divorce, it is pretty clear that Sarah’s and Abe’s relationship still has a lot of unfinished business.

When Rock Wedding opens, it is equally clear that whatever is unfinished between them contains a whole lot of sexual heat – as well as a whole bunch of raw emotion that Abe is finally clean and sober and able to deal with. Along with all of the baggage that derailed their first attempt at marriage.

But it’s going to take a lot of time and effort for Sarah to trust again the one man that she knows can break her heart – because he’s already done it. And she’s not sure she wants to risk it a second time – no matter how good it feels to try.

Escape Rating B: I liked Rock Wedding, but not nearly as much as some of the other books in the series – especially the completely yummy Rock Hard.

While I usually enjoy a second chance at love story, which Rock Wedding definitely is, the romantic tension was missing in this one. Sarah and Abe get together almost at the beginning of the book. And while Sarah keeps trying to convince herself that each encounter is just a one-time thing, it is obvious to the reader, and to Sarah herself, that it isn’t. She doesn’t expect Abe to keep coming back, and her very justifiable mistrust is disarmed when he does.

A significant chunk of this story is Abe proving to Sarah that he is going to remain clean and sober and be all in for their relationship this time. He has a long way to go to prove to Sarah that he will be there for her and for the baby they accidentally made on their first night together.

There are a lot of readers that enjoy romances that are started with or furthered by the introduction of an accidental pregnancy. This reader is just not one of them. The story is well done, but this is just far from my favorite trope. That Sarah spends a lot of emotional energy trying to convince herself that this is all about the baby and not about their relationship, while it made sense in context of the story, just didn’t work as well for this reader as the other stories in the series.

Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a few tears in my eyes during the emotional climax of the book, because I definitely did. I liked Abe and Sarah and was very happy to see them make a family. Not just their own nuclear family, but their family of choice with the members of Schoolboy Choir, the women who have given them all a reason to keep making beautiful music, and the marvelous people who surround them.

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Review: Fatal Justice by Marie Force

Review: Fatal Justice by Marie ForceFatal Justice (Fatal, #2) by Marie Force
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Fatal #2
Pages: 279
Published by Carina Press on January 3rd 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

She looked into the dead face of the man she'd dined with the night before
Standing over the body of a Supreme Court nominee, Lieutenant Sam Holland is hip-deep in another high-profile murder case. The fact that she was one of the last people to see Julian Sinclair alive just complicates things even more. On the plus side, her relationship with Senator Nick Cappuano is heating up—but it's also attracting a lot of unwanted media attention and blinding flash bulbs.
The pressure is on for Sam to find Sinclair's killer, but a new lead in her father's unsolved shooting puts her in unexpected danger. When long-buried secrets threaten to derail her relationship with Nick, Sam realizes that while justice can be blind, mixing romance with politics has the potential to be fatal...
94,000 words

My Review:

I’m convinced that Eve Dallas and Sam Holland are sisters under the skin. And for those of us who wait with bated breath for the next installment in the lives of Dallas and Rourke and the denizens of the NYPSD, Sam Holland and Nick Cappuano make a terrific early 21st century alternative.

In this second installment of the Fatal series, Sam and Nick are still negotiating the terms of their relationship. Sam is a newly minted Lieutenant in the fictional Washington DC Metro Police Department, and Nick is an equally newly minted U.S. Senator. The book begins with their back-to-back swearing in ceremonies.

But even before the second ceremony ends, Sam is out on another homicide. And it looks like the horrific domestic disturbance gone wrong may have ties to her father’s unsolved case. Deputy Chief Skip Holland is a quadriplegic as the result of a bullet lodged in his spine by an unidentified assailant, and Sam is determined to bring the perpetrator to justice.

If only she can figure out who the hell it was. And if only she can catch a break in any of her ongoing investigations.

But life and work spiral out of control for both Sam and Nick, as their relationship runs into a few rocks. Nick isn’t sure he can handle being the significant other of someone who puts their life on the line every day. And Sam doesn’t believe that she’s capable of being a political wife.

Especially when their personal lives, his political career, and her caseload keep careening into each other. Nick has to deal with the murder of yet another close friend, while Sam finds herself investigating the death of someone they just had dinner with. The profile of the cop and the senator has risen so high that gangs have put bounties on their lives. And someone is digging into the dirt in Sam’s past in order to smear it all over Nick.

Politics is a dirty business, and seems to be getting dirtier all the time.

And Sam’s case, the murder of Nick’s friend, is right in the thick of it. Along with a story about just how deeply hate and bigotry can corrupt a system, a person, and especially a family.

Escape Rating B+: This series is absolutely fantastic reading crack. I needed something that would be utterly absorbing, and Fatal Justice completely took me away from the real world for a few much needed hours.

However, as much fun as I had with Fatal Justice, I also see that I’m going to need to pace myself just a bit. Series like the Fatal series, and also the In Death series that it reminds me so much of, are fun in onesies and twosies, but the patterns get all too clear if one attempts to read three or four very close together.

fatal affair by marie forceThat being said, this story, just like Fatal Affair, was a whole lot of fun. Sam and Nick are both very likable characters. The reader wants them to work through their problems, which are realistic and over-the-top at the same time. For example, one of their issues is that every time Nick hears that a cop has been wounded or killed, his immediate response is to drop everything and make sure Sam is okay. While that seems laudable on the one hand, on that other hand Sam seems to be in harm’s way every other minute. At the same time, she can’t stop being a cop or doing her job because he’s worried. It is part of who she is.

But in spite of the recent spate of horrible real-life events, most cops do not face as many life-threatening situations in their entire careers as Sam seems to face in an average week. Likewise, Nick’s friends are being murdered at an alarming rate. If this keeps up, he soon won’t have any left among the living.

Though it makes for terrific drama. Or perhaps melodrama.

The case that Sam has to solve in this story is a lesson about the price of hate and bigotry. And as current as it must have seemed in 2011, it seems frighteningly real in 2016. This is a story where hate and bigotry literally kills. Which it so does.