Stacking the Shelves (190)

Stacking the Shelves

I got nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, but almost nothing. I’m pretty sure this is the tiniest shelf-stack ever. After a couple of weeks of fairly tall stacks, it’s good in a way to see one that’s not so much.

But I’m at the ALA Annual Conference right now, so next week’s stack could rival the Empire State Building. But I hope not.


For Review:
Lonen’s War (Sorcerous Moons #1) by Jeffe Kennedy
Niko (Hell Squad #9) by Anna Hackett


Review: Autumn Princess Dragon Child by Lian Hearn

Review: Autumn Princess Dragon Child by Lian HearnAutumn Princess, Dragon Child (Tale of the Shikanoko, #2) by Lian Hearn
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Tale of Shikanoko #2
Pages: 288
Published by FSG Originals on June 7th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Shikanoko has been humbled by failure, and his once clear destiny has become clouded . . .

The Autumn Princess and the boy who is the true emperor are fugitives in the forest, alone and unprotected . . .

In the mountain sorcerer’s hut a new generation of the Old People is born―the Spider Tribe, not quite human, not quite demons, and quickly coming of age . . .

One clan is in retreat, the other holds the capital, and natural disasters follow one upon another. Will Heaven ever be placated?

In Autumn Princess, Dragon Child, the old order has come unsettled and the weave of destiny has become unpredictable as it is pulled tighter, sharper, faster, by the instincts for vengeance and redemption, loyalty and survival. The battle for the Lotus Throne has begun in earnest.
In this medieval Japan of Lian Hearn’s peerless imagination―so full of magic, beauty, violence, love, and sorrow―the only thing truly inevitable is that these forces are building to a brutal climax, though who the players will be and what the stakes will be cannot yet be told.

My Review:

The Tale of Shikanoko is a myth that was never written, from a past and a country that never quite was.

And it is an epic tale, but one that is perhaps better read in one long delicious gasp, rather than being forced to wait as each part of the tale is released. Or perhaps that should be “revealed”.

She said, wishing that she could find the time to read it all right now, instead of being forced to ration her reading time, knowing that the temptation to reach the end of this glorious tale will become much too strong to resist.

I’m waxing a bit lyrical because this series just breathes that sort of atmosphere. It’s not so much a story that one reads as a world that one falls into, and doesn’t want to leave.

Autumn Princess, Dragon Child is the second part of the Tale of Shikanoko. And it feels like one single tale, broken up into smaller chunks for the sake of publication expediency rather than because the story really breaks into four parts.

Or I could be saying that because I want the excuses to read it all now.

emperor of the eight islands by lian hearnThe first part of the tale, Emperor of the Eight Islands, set the stage. We meet not only Shikanoko, the story’s prime mover and shaker (more often the prime person being moved and shook), but also all of the other characters on the stage. And the civil war between rival factions, the Miboshi and the Kuromori, and their fight to hold the throne.

There is magic here, both the active kind practiced by the mostly evil Prince Abbot and the mostly good Sesshin, and the kind of ambient magic that underpins the world, where the spirits are protesting that the rightful Emperor has been thrown into exile and has lost his throne.

That the rightful emperor is also a child hiding as a monkey boy just adds to the magic and the misdirection. Even more so that the only person who knows where he is will not survive to see him reach his rightful place.

If he ever does.

lord of the darkwood by lian hearnEscape Rating A-: Autumn Princess, Dragon Child does not stand alone. It is not just necessary, but absolutely crucial to read Emperor of the Eight Islands first, as Autumn Princess definitely starts in the middle of things. And those are things which are certainly not finished by its end. For that, we need to wait for Lord of Darkness and The Tengu’s Game of Go later this year.

In Emperor of the Eight Islands, Shikanoko was a reactive figure. Things happened to him (lots of things happened TO him) and he reacts and then deals with the aftermath. He does not control events, instead they control him.

In Autumn Princess, Shikanoko begins, just very barely, to master the power swirling around inside him. He is able to act, at least some of the time, and not merely react. But much is still outside of his control.

The fate of the Autumn Princess herself is one of those things that is very much outside of his control. Her fate seems both pre-ordained, and something that could have gone much, much better if Shikanoko had had more control of himself from the very beginning. But if he had, there wouldn’t be much of a story.

A lot of the action in Autumn Princess revolves around betrayals. One of the threads of story from the very beginning involved a betrayal of a son by his father, and a wife by her husband. Their actions have continued to add one falsity upon another, as each of them has turned against every other person who has entered their lives, in their fruitless quest to set aside that first betrayal.

Shikanoko’s uncle betrayed both Shikanoko and his father. The Prince Abbot and his cousin betrayed the rightful emperor. The false emperor, in his turn, was betrayed by a trusted friend. The circle of wrongness continues to ripple outward.

Ultimately, Autumn Princess, Dragon Child has the feel of a middle book, which it is. There is no upward trajectory. Instead, the situation gets worse and worse as the story continues. The only character who may possibly be happy with their current situation is the hidden child emperor, who is having more fun, and a much more fulfilling life, as a performing monkey boy than he ever had as the cossetted and smothered imperial heir.

How his tale will turn back towards Shikanoko’s ongoing tragedy remains to be seen. But based on the first half, it’s going to be awesome.

Review: Absinthe of Malice by Rhys Ford

Review: Absinthe of Malice by Rhys FordAbsinthe of Malice (Sinners, #5) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sinners #5
Pages: 200
Published by Dreamspinner Press on June 22nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

We’re getting the band back together.
Those five words send a chill down Miki St. John’s spine, especially when they’re spoken with a nearly religious fervor by his brother-in-all-but-blood, Damien Mitchell. However, those words were nothing compared to what Damien says next.
And we’re going on tour.
When Crossroads Gin hits the road, Damien hopes it will draw them closer together. There’s something magical about being on tour, especially when traveling in a van with no roadies, managers, or lovers to act as a buffer. The band is already close, but Damien knows they can be more—brothers of sorts, bound not only by familial ties but by their intense love for music.
As they travel from gig to gig, the band is haunted by past mistakes and personal demons, but they forge on. For Miki, Damie, Forest, and Rafe, the stage is where they all truly come alive, and the music they play is as important to them as the air they breathe.
But those demons and troubles won’t leave them alone, and with every mile under their belts, the band faces its greatest challenge—overcoming their deepest flaws and not killing one another along the way.

My Review:

I want to strangle the author. Except I really don’t. I loved this book. But…while the story is pretty much wrapped up at the end, a bombshell gets dropped on the last page that makes a terrible wait for the next book. Which means I can’t strangle the author, because then I’ll never find out what happened. Damn, a good plot ruined.

And there bloody well better be a next book. After THAT. Which I’m going to leave for readers to discover for themselves. Then we can share the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

sinners gin by rhys fordThe Sinners series so far has been leading up to this. In the beginning, back in Sinner’s Gin, Miki St. John was all alone and drowning in his pain, both physical and emotional. As the story has progressed, Miki has been putting his life back together, along with putting a band back together.

That band, Crossroads Gin, is a mix of the old and the new. Damien, back from the dead and the wreck that killed Sinner’s Gin. Rafe and Forest are new, but have so many demons of their own that they fit right in.

In each book in the series so far, Sinner’s Gin, Whiskey and Wry, Tequila Mockingbird and Sloe Ride, the band has added a new player, the Murphy family has lost one wild child to the lure of loving a broken rock star, and the old Sinner’s Gin has become the new Crossroads Gin.

But in each book in the series, each man has battled his own internal demons, and at least one external demon has arrived on the scene in an attempt to snatch at their newfound happiness.

Now that there is a band, Absinthe of Malice moves the story into a new chapter. To see if they’ve really got what it takes to make great music, and to see if they can bond into something truly special in spite of the heavy baggage they all carry, they decide to carry some real baggage.

Crossroads Gin takes the band on the road, in a rented bus and with no roadies. They play dives and broken down clubs all across the U.S., with no one to rely on except each other, and their men back in San Francisco who drop everything at a moment’s notice whenever help, support or love is required. Or carpentry and electrical work.

And just as in every Sinners book, the band is dogged by a string of near tragedies. Fate does seem to be out to get them, but there is also someone or something who is trailing their every step, willing to stick in both a figurative and literal shiv whenever they think they might be getting it all together.

They start out wondering if they can survive each other on tour. They end up questioning whether they can survive at all.

Escape Rating B+: Compared to some of the other stories in the series, Absinthe of Malice has a few more slow spots. Also, there is no budding romance here to drive up the emotional tension. All the guys have found their true loves in the earlier books. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of lovely romantic moments, but there’s no chase. Everyone has already been caught.

This is a book where everyone who has been involved so far gets at least one terrific scene and a real chance to shine. And that includes the Murphy parents, Donal and Bridget, who each get their turn to finally make Miki see that he is every bit as much their son as the ones they gave birth to.

There’s also a fair bit of minutiae of a band traveling together and gelling into a unit,, along with a lot of rubbing each other very much the wrong way. Being cooped up in a single vehicle on boring roads for long stretches of time will do that to anyone.

But danger always dogs this bunch. If it wasn’t for all of them finding the loves of their lives, I would say that if it wasn’t for bad luck, they don’t have any at all.

The beginning of the tour closes with a knife attack. The perpetrator is never caught, but fear of that unknown follows along every mile of the tour. Either it’s Chekhov’s gun, which I doubt, or there is more nastiness to come in future books in the series.

Along with the aftershocks from that exploding bomb at the end.

Review: Riverbend Road by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Riverbend Road by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawayRiverbend Road (Haven Point, #4) by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, library binding, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Haven Point #4
Pages: 368
Published by HQN Books on June 21st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Return to Haven Point, where New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne proves there's no sweeter place to fall in love
Protecting the streets of Haven Point isn't just a job for police officer Wyn Bailey, it's a family tradition. But lately she's found herself wanting more, especially from her boss—and overprotective brother's best friend—sexy chief of police, Cade Emmett. The only problem is getting Cade to view her as more than just a little sister.
Cade's hands-off approach with Wyn isn't from lack of attraction. But his complicated past has forced him to conceal his desire. When Wyn is harmed in the line of duty, Cade realizes the depth of his feelings, but can he let his guard down long enough to embrace the love he secretly craves?

My Review:

This may have been my first visit to Haven Point, but it certainly won’t be my last. It seems to be a terrific little town, and I had a lovely time there.

So even though this is book 4 in the series, I really enjoyed the book, and didn’t feel like I’d missed a whole lot by not being in on the series from the very beginning. But I definitely plan to go back and catch myself up.

Riverbend Road is a little cul-de-sac in Haven Point, and three of the residents on this one street are out main characters in the story.

Wyn Bailey is the daughter of the former police chief. She’s followed the family footsteps and entered the police herself, even though it wasn’t necessarily what she thought she’d be doing. After the deaths of both her twin brother Wyatt and her dad, living out Wyatt’s dream to protect and serve seemed like the right thing to do.

She enjoys the serving part quite a lot, but the protecting isn’t quite the way she intended to spend her life. And now that she’s nearing 30, she’s starting to want a life of her own. Preferably with the current police chief, Cade Emmett. And that’s where the problem lies.

Although her parents took Cade and his brothers into their house as often as he’d let them, Wyn ccertainly doesn’t see Cade as another brother. He’s her older brother’s best friend, and she had a crush on him in high school. Not that either of them is exactly in high school any more.

And now he’s her boss. Which makes things even more difficult. Cade wants to keep their relationship above board – she’s the only female on the tiny Haven Point P.D., and she’s the best officer he has. He needs her on the force.

The problem is that he just plain needs her, and those two things can’t mix. But when Wyn nearly gets herself killed while rescuing a couple of boys from a barn fire, Cade can’t manage to put his feelings for Wyn back in the box where he’s been hiding them.

Especially since Wyn can’t stop herself from encouraging him to let those feelings out at every possible opportunity.

But it’s the newest resident to their little corner of Haven Point that brings everything to a crisis. And she does so in a way that lets both Wyn and Cade be heroes, and makes them figure out what is really important in their lives. At last.

Escape Rating A-: There’s a lot to love about this story. The romance falls into two tropes, both of which I always enjoy. First there’s the big brother’s best friend angle, and then there’s the falling for the boss/at work angle.

Growing up, Wyn and Cade each thought of each other as the proverbial forbidden fruit. He’s just enough older than Wyn that he was out of reach when she was a teen, and of course he would never chase after his best friend’s little sister. There’s always a sweetness to the forbidden nature of this particular trope that I enjoy, because the romance is a fulfillment of a fantasy that neither ever thought could come true, if they thought of it at all.

I also like the falling for the boss trope when it’s done well, and it is here. These two shouldn’t have a relationship because it will seriously mess things up at work, if it doesn’t get them both fired. But there isn’t the kind of power imbalance that can occur with this trope. Not just because Wyn has other options, but because this isn’t a case where they are both so devoted to their careers in this field that compromise means someone, and it’s usually the woman, has to give up something too dear. They are both strong protectors, but Wyn is ready for another professional chapter of her life as well as a personal one. At the same time, they both respect each other’s strengths. They’ve grown towards each other in life and in the job.

The romantic suspense subplot of this story was also nicely done. I’ll admit that I really dislike the tendency of many romantic suspense books to put the heroine in jeopardy of a psychopathic stalker or rapist. In the case of a heroine who is also a cop, it’s particularly distasteful. Instead, here it’s the neighbor Andrea Montgomery who is on the run from a rapist, and Wyn who helps her take back her life, and who rides to the rescue when things go to hell.

Not that Wyn isn’t also in enough danger to make Cade finally get his head out of his ass, but it’s the kind of danger that makes sense for her and her job.

All in all, a lovely story and a great town. I can’t wait to go back.

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

I am giving away a copy of Riverbend Road to one very lucky US commenter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Hop


midsummer eve hop

Welcome to the 2016 edition of the Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Hop, hosted by BookHounds.

I checked out the Google Doodles for today. While it is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the Winter Solstice south of the equator. Looking at the two doodles, those poor rocks are obviously way happier being up north today. On December 20, I’m sure it will be the other way around.

Rocky summer from Google Doodles

The winter version shows those poor rocks blinking and shivering under a blanket of snow!

But whether you are basking in the sun or shivering in the winter chill, a good book or two always helps to wile away the hours.

For my part in this Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Hop, I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon or B&N Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository. This giveaway is open to all!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more fabulous bookish prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop!

Review: The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan + Giveaway

Review: The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan + GiveawayThe Woman in the Photo: A Novel by Mary Hogan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, library binding, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 14th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

In this compulsively readable historical novel, from the author of the critically-acclaimed Two Sisters, comes the story of two young women—one in America’s Gilded Age, one in scrappy modern-day California—whose lives are linked by a single tragic afternoon in history.
1888: Elizabeth Haberlin, of the Pittsburgh Haberlins, spends every summer with her family on a beautiful lake in an exclusive club. Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains above the working class community of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the private retreat is patronized by society’s elite. Elizabeth summers with Carnegies, Mellons, and Fricks, following the rigid etiquette of her class. But Elizabeth is blessed (cursed) with a mind of her own. Case in point: her friendship with Eugene Eggar, a Johnstown steel mill worker. And when Elizabeth discovers that the club’s poorly maintained dam is about to burst and send 20 million tons of water careening down the mountain, she risks all to warn Eugene and the townspeople in the lake’s deadly shadow.
Present day: On her 18th birthday, genetic information from Lee Parker’s closed adoption is unlocked. She also sees an old photograph of a genetic relative—a 19th century woman with hair and eyes likes hers—standing in a pile of rubble from an ecological disaster next to none other than Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. Determined to identify the woman in the photo and unearth the mystery of that captured moment, Lee digs into history. Her journey takes her from California to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, from her present financial woes to her past of privilege, from the daily grind to an epic disaster. Once Lee’s heroic DNA is revealed, will she decide to forge a new fate?

My Review:

In The Woman in the Photo there are two stories. One is the story of Elizabeth Haberlin in the May of 1888 and the critical May of 1889. She’s the wealthy daughter of a doctor. Most important for this story, she’s the daughter of the private physician to all of the rich “bosses” who have their second homes at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club on Lake Conemaugh. The dam and the lake are perched ominously, and eventually disastrously, above the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Until the fateful day, May 31, 1889, Elizabeth Haberlin led a privileged, if restricted, life. She chafed at those restrictions but didn’t often challenge them, at least not until the flood, when she took a horse and attempted to warn the citizens of Johnstown before the dam gave way. In the face of the disaster wrought by the sheer selfishness and greed of her peers, Elizabeth chose to take up a life of purpose, assisting Clara Barton and her newly established Red Cross in their disaster relief efforts.

Her family never took her back. And she never forgave them for their callous self-centeredness.

In the 21st century, Elizabeth Parker, called Lee by her adopted mother, sees a picture of Clara Barton and an unknown woman who looks like her when her closed adoption file is pried open to give her limited genetic information.

Lee begins a quest through libraries, databases and finally back to the scene of that long ago tragedy, in her attempt to find out who she is and where she came from. Only to discover that while her family history is interesting, she is who she has always been, the daughter of the woman who loved and adopted her.

Escape Rating B-: I don’t believe that I have ever read a story that buried the lede as deeply as the author has in this book.

To “bury the lede” in journalistic parlance is to begin a story with details of secondary importance to the reader while postponing more essential points or facts.

Throughout most of the story in the past, Elizabeth Haberlin is a self-absorbed and vain young woman who has nothing better to do than choose which dress to wear and how to escape her mother’s suffocating expectations for her.

And we get to read a whole lot of that, to the point where it drags, in order to get to the incredibly fascinating parts of her life. After the terrible tragedy, Elizabeth becomes an entirely new person, finding joy in purpose and throwing off the expectations of her family. That’s the person I wanted to read about and follow along with, and it is that part of this story that gets the fewest number of pages and the least amount of time. I wanted to see who she became, and how she felt about it. Her life as a debutante was so pointless and boring that it bored even her.

I loved the parts about Elizabeth Haberlin after she chose to become her own person, and that’s what I got the least of in this story.

The 21st century parts also suffered from too much setup and not enough payoff. We get a lot of exposure to Lee’s current circumstances, which pretty much suck. The fascinating part of Lee’s story is her search and eventual discovery of her blood relations, and that is the shortest part of her story with the least emphasis.

I want the book I didn’t get – the story of Elizabeth Haberlin’s life after the Flood. I want to know so much more about the person she became, the life she led, and how she felt about turning her back on her old life and its old expectations. That’s not the book I got. Damn it.

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

The publisher is giving away a copy of The Woman in the Photo to one lucky US/CAN commenter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 6-19-16

Sunday Post

After having reviewed a book about magical libraries this week, it seems totally appropriate to be heading off to the American Library Association Annual Conference next week. Just as there is an L-space that connects all the great Libraries of the multiverse, I am convinced that there is also a C-space that connects all the Convention Centers, and imposes a uniformity on all the spaces. Having attended ALA for a number of years, one exhibits floor looks pretty much like another. The booths move around, and the contents change, but an overhead photo looks fairly similar from year to year. The support beams are just in slightly different places in each hall.

This year, the ALA Annual Conference is in Orlando, the site of so much recent tragedy. I was torn about mentioning the location, because I just wasn’t sure what to say about recent events. But in Galen’s post yesterday, “Naming and Responding to Hate –YAPC::NA and ALA Annual in Orlando“, he said it all so much better than I could.  In closing, one more comment. It’s true in a sense that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, but people with guns, especially military assault rifles, can generally kill a lot more people a lot faster than people without guns. Why is this so hard? Why does this keep happening?

Current Giveaways:

June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
$25 Amazon Gift Card from Susan Grant

Winner Announcements:

The winner of a $10 Amazon Gift Card in the Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop is Elizabeth H.

invisible library by genevieve cogman us editionBlog Recap:

A- Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
B Review: June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore + Giveaway
A- Review: The Space Between Sisters by Mary McNear
B+ Review: The Champion of Baresh by Susan Grant + Giveaway
C Review: Maggie Dove by Susan Breen
Stacking the Shelves (189)

midsummer-smallComing Next Week:

The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan (blog tour review)
Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Hop
Riverbend Road by RaeAnne Thayne (blog tour review)
Absinthe of Malice by Rhys Ford (review)
Louisa by Louisa Thomas (review)

Stacking the Shelves (189)

Stacking the Shelves

When the Fatal series first came out, I remember being interested in reading it, but never got a round tuit. By the time I thought of it again, it was several books in and I just didn’t feel like playing catch up. So when TLC Book Tours was looking for reviewers who hadn’t read the series, I jumped at the chance to get in at the beginning.

Likewise, I’d heard good things about Annie Bellet’s Twenty-Sided Sorceress series, but hadn’t gotten the chance to read it. Now there’s an omnibus edition of the first four books in the series, and I’m looking forward to one glorious reading binge.

For Review:
Closed Casket: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie
The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
Fatal Affair (Fatal #1) by Marie Force
Fire Brand by Diana Palmer
Level Grind (Twenty-Sided Sorceress #1-4) by Annie Bellet
Lowcountry Book Club (Liz Talbot #5) by Susan M. Boyer
Unsportsmanlike Conduct by Jessica Luther

Purchased from Amazon:
Hostage to the Stars (Sectors SF #7) by Veronica Scott

Borrowed from the Library:
The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner


Review: Maggie Dove by Susan Breen

Review: Maggie Dove by Susan BreenMaggie Dove: A Mystery by Susan Breen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery
Pages: 236
Published by Alibi on June 14th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

Susan Breen introduces a charming new series heroine in this poignant and absorbing cozy mystery with a bite. Maggie Dove thinks everyone in her small Westchester County community knows everyone else’s secrets. Then murder comes to town.
When Sunday School teacher Maggie Dove finds her hateful next-door neighbor Marcus Bender lying dead under her beloved oak tree—the one he demanded she cut down—she figures the man dropped dead of a mean heart. But Marcus was murdered, and the prime suspect is a young man Maggie loves like a son. Peter Nelson was the worst of Maggie’s Sunday School students; he was also her late daughter’s fiancé, and he’s been a devoted friend to Maggie in the years since her daughter’s death.
Maggie can’t lose Peter, too. So she sets out to find the real murderer. To do that, she must move past the grief that has immobilized her all these years. She must probe the hidden corners of her little village on the Hudson River. And, when another death strikes even closer to home, Maggie must find the courage to defend the people and the town she loves—even if it kills her.

My Review:

If this cozy mystery were any cozier, it would knit itself a sweater. Or perhaps crochet an afghan. And as much as I occasionally love a good cozy (Marty Wingate’s Potting Shed AND Birds of a Feather series for example) this one just didn’t work for me.

In spite of the contemporary setting, there’s something slightly old-fashioned about both the heroine and the story. Although the story isn’t strictly first person singular, it is definitely written from protagonist Maggie Dove’s point of view. And a lot of the time her point of view is small and self-absorbed.

I don’t mean that Maggie is vain or egotistical. But her daughter died 20 years ago in an automobile accident, and Maggie has isolated herself in her house and her small town and her grief, and hasn’t ever moved on. Neither has her daughter’s boyfriend Peter, who was luckily thrown from that car all those years ago.

Peter is now the Assistant Police Chief, and in very big trouble. First a hated villager dies on Maggie’s lawn. Then a beloved old woman, and Maggie’s best friend, dies in a nursing home, both of the same cause – an overdose of Ecstasy that Peter has easy access to. And a substance that has gotten him in trouble before.

Maggie finally shakes herself out of her 20 year depression in order to prove Peter’s innocence, because he’s too sunk into his own morass of despond to take care of his own business his own self. But then that’s part of what his and Maggie’s functions are in each other’s lives. They take care of each other and they keep the memory of the late, lamented Juliet alive. So that neither of them has to move on.

Until Maggie is forced to make an irrevocable choice – either to surrender to the same forces that brought her best friend down, or to step forward and finally make something of the rest of her life.

Escape Rating C: This book is very slow going, right up until the end, then it’s a race for the finish. It’s also very clearly the setup for a series, as Maggie takes the entire book to make us wallow in her grief and passivity, introduce us to her town and her friends (and frenemies) and finally, finally get up and move on.

Maggie is a terribly nice person, but she also congratulates herself on her niceness just a bit too much, and beats herself up unmercifully when she acts or even merely feels human.

Also, part of Maggie’s persona and her self-judgement revolves around her faith and her attachment to her church and its activities. She’s been a Sunday School teacher there for years, and that has clearly provided a sense of stability and a circle of friends. Her faith is very important to her, and she thinks about it often. So often, in fact, that readers who are not expecting this story to have an inspirational tinge to it may wonder what they have wandered into.

But about the mystery. One of the things that is done well in this story is to peel back all the layers of everyone in this small town. No one is quite what they appear to be, and Maggie has been oblivious to much of what lies beneath the surface for many years. The investigation that she throws herself into is a big and much needed wake up call.

As far as the murderer goes, the author manages to scatter an entire net full of red herrings, and I did nibble at most of them. In the end, I figured out whodunnit right about the same time Maggie did, and only because there were no other suspects left. The author leads us readers on quite the chase. The last 10% wraps things up at a furious pace as Maggie and the reader finally see what has been successfully hiding in plain sight all along.

Review: The Champion of Baresh by Susan Grant + Giveaway

The Champion of Barésh (Star World Frontier #1) by Susan Grant
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Star World Frontier #1
Pages: 348
Published by Susan Grant on May 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

RITA-winner Susan Grant is back with an all-new, stand-alone tale of two improbable lovers, their daring secret, and the gamble destined to alter the course of their worlds forever.
A desperate woman in need of a miracle—A bad-boy prince in need of redemption
She was playing with fire...
Jemm Aves battles to keep her dreams alive on a dead-end world. Working for the mines by day, she’s a successful bajha player at night, disguised as a male to be allowed to compete in the colony’s dangerous underworld where club owners will go to extremes to retain the best players. Every win puts her one small step closer to her goal: saving enough to escape Barésh with her family. When a nobleman from one of the galaxy’s elite families recruits her to be a star player for his team, it's because he doesn't know her secret. Her ruse proves to be her most perilous game yet when it puts both their lives—and her heart—at risk.
Prince Charming he was not...
Prince Klark is eager to reverse his reputation as the black sheep of the Vedla clan, a family as famous for its wealth and power as it is for being a bastion of male-dominated tradition. If his bajha team can win the galactic title, it would go a long way toward restoring the family honor that his misdeeds tarnished. He travels to Barésh to track down an amateur who’s risen to the top of the seedy world of street bajha, offering the commoner a chance of a lifetime: a way off that reeking space rock for good. But his new player comes with a scandalous secret that turns his plans and his beliefs upside down. He sets out to win a very different prize—his champion’s reluctant heart.

My Review:

Because I kept conflating this story with the excellent Empress Game by Rhonda Mason, I was kind of expecting that the stakes in The Champion of Baresh would be slightly bigger than they are. And then they actually are, but not quite in the way I thought. And that’s always a good thing. I also kept wondering if this story linked at all to Grant’s Star series. It turns out that it does, but it is not necessary to have read, or to remember in my case, the details of the earlier series to enjoy The Champion of Baresh.

Baresh is a dead-end world, and Jemm Aves has a dead end job – but then all the jobs on Baresh are pretty much dead end, if not downright deadly. Not deadly as in dangerous per se, but deadly as in the working conditions are so totally awful that the job will kill you one way or another if you live long enough, and if you quit the poverty will kill you even quicker.

Think about all the diseases that miners have been proven to get on this planet, and then multiply that by an entire manufactured world that is completely dependent on mining a deadly and necessary ore. That’s Baresh.

And Jemm Aves wants off.

But the only chance she has for getting herself and her family – mother, brother, niece – is to pick up her dad’s old sens-sword and compete in barroom bajha. And the only way to make her way into the bajha circuit, even on a backwater world like Baresh – is to pretend to be a man. Or at least a boy.

The more she wins, the more that the local gangleaders want to tie her down to an exclusive contract. The better she does, the more she earns – and the more dangerous it gets.

Until she’s presented with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play in the professional leagues. But that’s only possible if she can keep her secret – or find someone else to keep it with her.

Escape Rating B+: In the end, The Champion of Baresh is a love story about breaking down barriers.

The initial barrier that needs to be broken is the custom that says that women can’t play bajha. Think of bajha as a real-life version of the arena fighting video games, with a few changes. Matches are fought blindfolded, and all contestants use the same weapon, a sens-sword that administers a shock rather than a slice. Although there are professional teams, matches are fought one on one. But it’s the combined score of the whole team that leads to the championship.

Of course, the barroom circuit on Baresh is a LOT less formal. There’s only two individuals, and a whole lot of crowd noise. When Jemm, fighting as Sea Kestrel, steps into the ring, she’s the best that Baresh has ever seen. She’s living proof that women can play bajha, and play it well. But she has to compete as a man. Not just because of the social conventions, but because it is way safer for her and her brother/manager if no one knows who she really is.

star princess by susan grantPrince Klark Vedla has a whole lot of barriers to jump over, many of them all by himself. He has to convince himself that this street rat is capable of making the jump to the big leagues, a difficult feat all by itself. Then he has to decide to become complicit in Jemm’s secret, defying not just social convention but his own moral code. He wants to win the Championship for his family to erase the stigma of his own intemperate actions in The Star Princess.

And then Jemm and Klark have to bridge the barrier between street rat and prince-not-so-charming. Two people who have never fallen in love fall for each other, each believing that it can’t possibly work. It takes a wise and somewhat scary old man to get Klark’s head out of his ass on that score.

But as much fun as the romance is in this book, the fun is in breaking down the wall that prevents women from playing bajha. When Jemm’s secret is finally revealed, after a series of stunning victories, the powers-that-be in the sport try to bury everything under the rug, and attempt to keep Klark and his team silent with vague but menacing threats.

Watching Jemm and Klark set their entire sporting world on its ear, by proving that women not only can play bajha, but that they want to play bajha, and that encouraging them to play bajha is good for the sport. In the end the score is Neanderthals 0 and Opening Doors to Opportunity a very satisfying 1.




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