Review: If You Only Knew by Kristan Higgins + Giveaway

if you only knew by kristan higginsFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genre: women’s fiction
Length: 416 pages
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Date Released: August 25, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Wedding-dress designer Jenny Tate understands the happily-ever-after business, yet somehow she’s still involved in her ex-husband’s life. In fact, Owen’s new wife may—inexplicably—be Jenny’s new best friend. Sensing this, well, relationship isn’t helping her move on, Jenny trades the Manhattan skyline for her hometown up the Hudson, where she’ll be able to bask in her sister Rachel’s picture-perfect family life…and hopefully make one of her own.

Her timing couldn’t be more perfect, since Rachel will need her younger sister. Her idyllic marriage has just fallen to pieces in spectacular fashion after she discovers her husband sexting with one of his colleagues. Second chances aren’t in Rachel’s nature, but the desire for an intact family has her rethinking her stance on adultery, much to Jenny’s surprise. Rachel points to their parents’ “perfect” marriage as a shining example, but to protect her sister Jenny may have to tarnish that memory—and their relationship­—and reveal a secret about their family she’s been keeping since childhood.

During this summer of secrets and lies, temptation and revelation, Jenny and Rachel will rely on each other to find the humor in their personal catastrophes, the joy in their triumphs…and the strength to keep hanging on.

My Review:

This is a story about secrets and sisterhood. And its heart is in the relationship between two sisters, Rachel and Jenny, and in the sure and certain knowledge that no one on the outside ever really knows what happens between the two people who make up a marriage.

And it’s about a life-altering secret that achieves closure in the most surprising way.

Three women are trying to discover what comes next after they lose the man they think is the love of their life. Not just Jenny and Rachel, but also their mother.

Mom has been a professional widow for over 20 years by this point. She’s never gotten over the sudden death of her supposedly perfect husband, and has become a person always looking for the dark side of life. If there’s a silver lining, she’s skipped looking for the cloud, and starts immediately searching for the mercury poisoning.

But dear old dad wasn’t perfect. Not long before his death, Jenny caught him in the supply closet of his dental practice with one of his assistants, playing tonsil hockey. After dad’s death, his secret became her secret – neither her sister nor her mother ever knew about dad’s feet of clay.

Jenny always wonders whether things would have been, or would be, different if she let that particular cat out of the bag. It would certainly change her mother and sister’s opinions of dad. But it might also destroy them. Or their relationship with Jenny. Shoot the messenger is not an uncommon reaction.

Instead, Jenny holds this secret close as she puts her life together after her divorce, and she watches Rachel’s world fall apart after she finds her supposedly perfect husband sexting one of his associates.

The story is told in alternating points of view, switching from Jenny to Rachel. Jenny is still passively friendly with her ex and his new wife. He didn’t cheat, he just fell out of love with her, got a divorce, and married and knocked up the first woman he met afterwards. But Owen also gets to have his cake and eat it, too. He gets to keep Jenny’s friendship and have a perfect life in all the old familiar places that used to be Jenny’s.

No wonder she moves away.

Rachel’s world falls apart. She’s always said that infidelity was a deal-breaker, but she also wants to keep her perfect life in her perfect house with her suddenly not-so-perfect husband and their triplet daughters. We watch her flail around as the secret and the ensuing distrust undermine her world and her sense of herself.

In the end, both Jenny and Rachel find a future that is different from what they had always imagined, but that might, possibly, be better than they dreamed. And that perfect is an illusion.

Escape Rating B+: I stayed up until 4 am to finish this. I started it and couldn’t put it down.

Unlike some of the author’s previous books, this one is definitely women’s fiction (much as I hate that term) and not a contemporary romance. Jenny does find a relationship, but the resolution of that thread was not the backbone of the book. Instead, it’s about finding herself, and also about Rachel figuring out her future.

There were a lot of times when I wanted to shake either Jenny or Rachel for their passivity. Jenny knows that it is insane to be best friends with her ex-husband and his new wife. Note that I’m not saying friendly, I’m saying besties. Friendly is good if it’s manageable, because hate just eats at you. However, being an actual part of the life that used to be hers but isn’t does not let Jenny move on. Staying too connected to Owen is holding her back and she knows it. But she doesn’t make herself let go until near the end, and when she finally does, it made me want to stand up and cheer.

Rachel is in an awful position. It’s not just that her husband has been having an affair and continues to lie about it, but the way that he projects all the blame onto her for his inability to keep it in his pants, and to expect that she has to instantly forgive and forget because she’s a stay-at-home mother. I wanted to slap his smarmy, lying face. It’s not that it isn’t possible to rebuild trust after an affair, but that he expects all the work to be on Rachel’s side, and that he doesn’t have to do anything, including stopping the affair, in order to maintain his outwardly-seeming perfect life.

It takes Rachel a long time to finally realize that she can’t go on like this. He’s lying to her, and she’s lying to everyone else. The scene where she finally puts the mess in terms that he can’t ignore was awesome. And heartbreaking.

She also acknowledges that she has to do what Jenny has already done – figure out who she is and what she wants so that she can make a life for herself that might, someday, include someone else in it again. In her need to be a perfect wife and mother, and her exhaustion with caring for the triplets (OMG three babies) she has lost sight of her own person.

A lot of this story resonated with me. Rachel and Jenny’s mother is all too much like my own mother, so the things that she said that drove them crazy were all too familiar. And crazy-making. I understood why Jenny didn’t tell either her sister or her mother about their father’s affair. Some pains are not helped by sharing them, and this is one of them. If he’d lived, it would have been different, but once the person is dead, it’s too late.

And I did love that Jenny finally got closure on her dad’s secret, just not in a way that she expected.

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

I’m giving away a paperback copy of If You Only Knew to one lucky U.S. commenter.

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***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.

Guest Post by Nina Croft on Living Forever + Giveaway

blood and metal by nina croftAs part of the celebration of her latest fantastic Blood Hunter book (see today’s review for deets) I’d like to welcome Nina Croft back to Reading Reality. In addition to the tour for Blood and Metal, Nina sent me a fantastic guest post about one of the central themes in a lot of her fiction. “Who wants to live forever?” along with that age-old romantic question, “If you could live forever, who would you want to spend it with?” As so many of her marvelous stories involve vampires and other immortals, this question comes up a lot. The answer, at least when Nina is answering the question, is always interesting.

Who wants to live forever?
by Nina Croft

Well, I do for one.

Of course, I might change my mind in a few thousand years, but until then it seems a way better option than the alternative.

I’m Nina Croft, and I write all sorts of romance often with a speculative element, and this week, BLOOD AND METAL, book 5 in my Dark Desires series releases.

The series is essentially science fiction romance with a paranormal twist and follows the adventures, romantic and otherwise, of the crew of the space ship, the Blood Hunter.

I hope readers find the series fun and sexy, but there is also an underlying deeper theme to all the books—that of man’s fear of death and the search for immortality, whether through science, religion or by some paranormal means.

The idea of immortality, and the price people would be willing to pay to obtain it, has always fascinated me, and I believe it’s one of the things that draws people to paranormal. It’s part of the lure of the vampire—the fact that they cannot die (well not easily anyway). It’s certainly one of the main things that draws me, as a writer, to the paranormal.

My Dark Desires series takes place in a future when man has fled to the stars and there they have discovered the secret of immortality—Meridian—a rare substance available to only a few. A new class has evolved; the Collective, super rich and immortal, they rule the universe. And just about everyone else is desperate to earn enough money to pay for the Meridian treatment. Though as the series goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that money isn’t the only price to be paid. And some members of the Collective are getting a little squeamish.

The series began with Break Out. Ricardo Sanchez, my hero, is the owner and pilot of the ship. Unlike most of the civilized universe, Rico isn’t interested in Meridian. He doesn’t need it, because he’s already immortal. Rico is a vampire and has lived a long time (he was born on Earth in the middle ages).

Move onto book 5. In Blood and Metal, Daisy, the co-pilot of the Blood Hunter, has never wanted immortality, rather it was thrust upon her when she was dying and Rico did the only thing he could to save her life…turn her into a vampire.

Fergal, our hero, on the other hand, doesn’t so much want to live forever as he doesn’t want to die (a slightly different goal but with the same results.) With that aim, he signed up for a totally experimental cybernetics programme, and is now dealing with some unexpected results.

So neither Daisy nor Fergal really wanted to live forever, but both are now immortal (if they get to survive the book), and they both have to learn to deal with that.

So what do you think? Would you like to live forever? And just how much would you be willing to pay? Let me know for a chance to win an ecopy of Break Out (book 1 in my Dark Desires series), Bittersweet Blood (book 1 in my Order series) and Operation Saving Daniel (book 1 in my Melville Sisters series).

[photo of Nina Croft]About Nina Croft

Nina Croft grew up in the north of England. After training as an accountant, she spent four years working as a volunteer in Zambia which left her with a love of the sun and a dislike of 9-5 work. She then spent a number of years mixing travel (whenever possible) with work (whenever necessary) but has now settled down to a life of writing and picking almonds on a remote farm in the mountains of southern Spain.

To find out more about Nina, look for her at her website, Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.

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

I have adored all of Nina’s series, so I’m absolutely thrilled that she is letting me give away an ebook prize pack of the first books in her three series. The winner will receive ebook copies of Break Out (reviewed here) Bittersweet Blood (reviewed here) and Operation Saving Daniel (reviewed here). I’m a fan, so I’m happy to be able to share some of my favorites with a lucky commenter.

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Review: Blood and Metal by Nina Croft + Giveaway

blood and metal by nina croftFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Blood Hunter/Dark Desires #5
Length: 268 pages
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Date Released: August 24, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

She’s his last chance for redemption…if she doesn’t kill him first.

Copilot of the Blood Hunter, Daisy is a newly-turned vampire, and she’s hungry. Really hungry and it’s interfering with her plans for revenge. Unfortunately, the only thing that can distract her from said hunger is sex…which is a problem when she can barely refrain from draining any man dry within moments. But old flame Fergal Cain might just be the sexy-assed solution to her problem.

Part human, part cyborg, and with a poison coursing through his system, Fergal’s running out of time to find the scientist who has the cure. Unfortunately for him, the misfit crew of the Blood Hunter put a serious kink in his plans. And if the poison doesn’t kill him, the hot little vamp he can’t resist might do the honors herself…

My Review:

Plant girl turned vampire meets intrepid reporter turned cyborg. Or at least that’s one variation on the romance between Daisy, copilot of the Blood Hunter and Fergal Cain, escaped prisoner. However, there are many, many layers to both of their identities, and lots of both internal and external tension in this latest installment in the marvelous Blood Hunter series.

temporal shift by nina croftThe previous book in this series, Temporal Shift (reviewed here) serves as a bit of a reboot for the series. During the events of that book, which take place on the other side of a wormhole, only six months pass for the crew of Blood Hunter. It’s during those six months that Daisy, a genetically modified young woman with a whole lot of chlorophyll in her DNA, is nearly killed and is changed into a vampire in order to save her life.

The crew of the Blood Hunter has already lost some of their nearest and dearest in the galactic power struggle that they keep finding themselves in the middle of, and Rico, who swore that he would never turn anyone again, turns Daisy to keep her with them. Especially since her near-death is all his fault.

But Daisy the vampire is also a problem. She’s hungry ALL THE TIME, and doesn’t have enough control to manage her hunger. Her crewmates are now also food, but food she doesn’t want to kill. Lucky for her, they are all immortal and can afford to feed her regularly. Rico tells her that sex will also quiet her hunger, but every single person on the Blood Hunter is part of a couple. Everyone has already found their soulmate, except for poor lonely and starving Daisy.

When they come back through the wormhole, they discover that 20 years has passed in the world they left behind, and everything has gone into the shitter. The very militant and anti-anyone-not-pure-human Church of Everlasting Life has taken control of everything, and people in general are either true believers or truly terrified.

deadly pursuit by nina croftThe head of the church, Temperance Hatcher, is responsible for the deaths of too many of the Blood Hunter’s crew. And he has two of the crew as hostages, Alex and Jon. Alex has been forced to resume her role as reluctant High Priestess in order to keep her husband Jon alive. (If you’re curious about how they got together in the first place, read Deadly Pursuit (reviewed here) for the story of Alex’ escape from the Church and their unlikely romance.)

In their first unsuccessful attempt to break Jon out of prison, the crew rediscovers Fergal Cain instead. When they first met, Fergal was an investigative journalist infiltrating a company that produced cyborgs. Twenty years later, Fergal is an escaped cyborg attempting to rescue the one man who knows the details of Fergal’s condition, and the one man who can possibly keep him alive.

The Blood Hunter crew can’t leave Fergal behind, they’ve just blown his cover as a prison guard. But Fergal is certain that he can’t stay with the Blood Hunter, he’s carrying too many deadly secrets that will either get them all killed, or get him tossed out an airlock. But when he and Daisy discover that they are everything the other one needs to cure everything that ails them, he can’t make himself turn away.

Not even when it is much, much too late.

Escape Rating B+: I’ll confess to being a bit confused by the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey bits in Temporal Shift, so it was great that the author put the crew back into normal space and into a story where time behaved normally again.

At the same time, the 20 year break served as an interesting reboot. When the crew left normal space it took the leaders of the two of the three major power groups with them. So the Collective and the rebel conclave both collapsed without their leaders and the Church very much ascendant took over everything.

Rabid theocracy is not anyone’s friend in this book. In this case, the True Believers in human purity are unable to tolerate any deviance, either in DNA or in thought. The prisons are full and the people are scared, quite reasonably, to death.

Fergal Cain has a big secret that he is carrying through most of the book. However, it is a secret that is easily guessed by the reader. And my knowing what it was did not detract from the drama, because the tension always revolved around other people’s reaction to that secret, not its existence.

Daisbreak out by nina crofty and Fergal make a perfect pair. He is a cyborg, and he normally has to hold back on his strength and capabilities. Daisy is a vampire who is afraid to let down her guard out of fear that she might kill her partner. Except that Daisy discovers that while Fergal may be terrific in bed, he isn’t food for her vampire. As a cyborg, he tastes terrible!

But that they are each able to let down their respective guards makes their intimacy, both physical and emotional, hard for them to resist. Fergal has never belonged to anyone or anything before, and his connection to Daisy, and through her to the crew of the Blood Hunter, kills his resolve to remain alone. It may be safer on his own, but he finally discovers that being connected to other people is worth it.

And Daisy finds herself in a relationship that is not just worth fighting for, but also worth living for, and someone with whom she may be able to share “forever”.

If you like your science fiction romance with a heaping helping of non-stop action adventure, start this series with Break Out (reviewed here). You’ll be glad you did.

 

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Blood and Metal Button 300 x 225

As part of the tour, Nina is giving away 2 sets of the paperback copies of the first three books in the series, Break Out, Deadly Pursuit and Death Defying and 5 ecopies of Temporal Shift, book 4

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***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.

Review: The Last Time I Saw Her by Karen Robards

last time i saw her by karen robardsFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: paranormal romantic suspense
Series: Dr. Charlotte Stone #4
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Date Released: August 25, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

In this world, Dr. Charlotte “Charlie” Stone skillfully probes the twisted minds of incarcerated serial killers to better understand what makes them tick, and to help nab those who remain at large. But in the next world, Charlotte’s ghostly lover—convicted killer Michael Garland—is facing death yet again. It seem the only way Charlie can snatch Michael from the jaws of oblivion is by proving his innocence. And this dead man’s dead ringer may just be the key.

A mysterious stranger has turned up in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and Charlie is shocked to realize he could be Michael Garland’s identical twin. But she suspects the resemblance is only skin deep—and that behind the handsome face may lurk the perverse mind of a killer. While using all her keen profiling gifts, Charlie risks her life to discover the shocking secret that will clear Michael’s name.

Then a breakout at Wallens Ridge State Prison forces Charlie to contend with a sudden swarm of psychopaths bent on spilling blood. No one has a better chance of tracking down the deadly fugitives than Charlie—unless the rampaging killers manage to find her first and make this case her last. But Michael will move heaven and hell—and even make a devil’s bargain—for the chance to save Charlie’s life, and feel her touch once more . . . if only for the final time.

My Review:

The books in this series have all been train-wreck books for me. When I say train-wreck, I mean in the sense that I can’t turn my eyes away, no matter how awful things get. I’d say they were crack, but having read my reviews of the earlier books in the series, they haven’t always been that good.

But they sure as hell are compelling.

The premise is a grand mix of packages off the troperville trolley. Dr. Charlotte Stone is a psychiatrist who studies serial killers. Why? Because she survived a serial killer’s rampage when she was a child, and she still feels guilty about hiding while her best friend was murdered in front of her.

Charlie Stone also sees dead people. So now we have a psychic psychiatrist.

It gets crazier. Charlie is writing up a study of serial killers at the local prison. She interviews these multiple murderers multiple times. It’s a dangerous job, and Charlie feels like she’s the one to figure out what makes these dudes tick.

Until her sexiest patient is shived right in front of her, and the ghost of serial killer Michael Garland attaches himself to Charlie Stone’s life and work. And this is where we enter crazytown, because Charlie falls in love with the damn ghost. And surprisingly vice-versa.

Hey, if you’re going to be crazy, go all the way!

her last whisper by karen robardsWhen The Last Time I Saw Her starts, Charlie is in a bad way. At the end of the previous book, Her Last Whisper (reviewed here) Michael got sucked off to Spookyville for what looks like the last time. His soul is scheduled for demolition, and the only thing he is hanging on to is Charlie saying that she loves him. The demons that run Spookyville are tormenting him with visions of Charlie in danger, because, of course, she always is.

Consumed by grief, Charlie is at the end of her rope. Then two insane things happen. First, she meets a man who looks like Michael Garland’s twin brother. Second, and much more typical for Charlie, she finds herself captured by a whole gang of escaped serial killers as the entire set of death row inmates at Wallens Ridge State Prison scoop up Charlie and a whole bunch of others in their surprisingly well planned prison break.

While heads will definitely roll at the prison when the escape is investigated, Charlie is much, much more worried that all of the hostages’ heads will roll much sooner. All those men were in maximum security for damn good reasons, and now they’re out and determined to get payback. Breaking Charlie is pretty high on their collective “to do” lists.

Fortunately for Charlie, and unfortunately for the escaped killers, one of the other hostages is Michael Garland’s twin. And while the dude is unconscious, the real Michael makes a deal with his demon captors – if they let him save Charlie, he’ll let them have his soul.

You guessed it, Michael takes over the body of his twin and saves Charlie. They have two days to experience what life would have been like if they’d met under anything like normal circumstances. Then he’s gone forever.

Or is he?

Escape Rating B-: Rating this series is always confusing. I read this on a long flight over the weekend, and was at the 93% mark when the flight landed. I almost didn’t get out of my seat because I wanted to finish SO BAD.

On that other hand, the premise for this series is utterly insane. Psychiatrist gets targeted by serial killers over and over and over, and she sees dead people. She falls in love with the baddest bad boy of them all, and tries to help him cheat death – or the afterlife – whatever.

And for most of the series, it’s not just that he is a convicted serial killer, but that the case is airtight. While Charlie wants to believe that Michael didn’t do it, it’s hard not to think that’s her heart (and other places further south) talking and not her head.

The one thing I didn’t think was remotely possible in this mess was a happy ending, but the author managed to pull one out anyway. The method for doing so is one I’ve seen used in fanfiction a few too many times. Going back and changing the past, in order to make the future come out closer to what you want. This is the point where the story tripped completely into woo-woo territory.

But the ending, as hokey as it was, was surprisingly satisfying. Charlie drove me crazy every single step of the way, but I still wanted her to get her HEA. Even as my eyes roll at the way it was achieved.

All’s fair in love and war and paranormal romance.

***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.

Review: Tequila Mockingbird by Rhys Ford

tequila mockingbird by rhys fordFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: M/M Romantic Suspense
Series: Sinners #3
Length: 250 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: June 27, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Lieutenant Connor Morgan of SFPD’s SWAT division wasn’t looking for love. Especially not in a man. His life plan didn’t include one Forest Ackerman, a brown-eyed, blond drummer who’s as sexy as he is trouble. His family depends on him to be like his father, a solid pillar of strength who’ll one day lead the Morgan clan.

No, Connor has everything worked out—a career in law enforcement, a nice house, and a family. Instead, he finds a murdered man while on a drug raid and loses his heart comforting the man’s adopted son. It wasn’t like he’d never thought about men — it’s just loving one doesn’t fit into his plans.

Forest Ackerman certainly doesn’t need to be lusting after a straight cop, even if Connor Morgan is everywhere he looks, especially after Frank’s death. He’s just talked himself out of lusting for the brawny cop when his coffee shop becomes a war zone and Connor Morgan steps in to save him.

Whoever killed his father seems intent on Forest joining him in the afterlife. As the killer moves closer to achieving his goal, Forest tangles with Connor Morgan and is left wondering what he’ll lose first—his life or his heart.

My Review:

I’m really enjoying this series. I’m reading the back numbers so that when I get to Sloe Ride next month, I’m all caught up.

Caught up in all the fun, that is.

This series blends two rather disparate groups that go even better together than peanut butter and chocolate, even though at first blush (not to mention all the blushes later!) they shouldn’t.

The combination is of a “getting the band back together story” with an interconnected family romance – and the members of the band do not start out as members of the family, and half the band is dead. On the other hand, that solid family are all cops, so if someone is needed to investigate what went wrong, the detectives are right there.

But this series follows a pattern, and it’s a good one (with one minor quibble which we’ll get to later).

sinners gin by rhys fordSinner’s Gin is dead, to begin with. The only surviving member was Miki St. John, and when the book Sinner’s Gin begins (reviewed here) he’s still in recovery, both from grief and from the accident that killed all his friends. When someone starts trying to kill him, he winds up in the very protective arms of San Francisco Police Lieutenant Kane Morgan. And so it begins.

In Whiskey and Wry (reviewed here), we discover that one of the other members of Sinner’s Gin survived. Damien Mitchell is alive and not very well, locked in a sanitarium while guards and drugs try to convince him that he’s someone else, and that Sinner’s Gin is just a coma dream. Until someone tries to murder him, and he escapes to find Miki. He discovers Sionn Murphy, the killer nearly finds them both, and Damien finds Miki at a Murphy/Morgan Sunday dinner.

The other two members of Sinner’s Gin are not coming back from the grave. This isn’t that kind of story. Instead, Miki and Damien need a drummer and a bass player to get back on stage. Into that vacancy walks Forest Ackerman, a young drummer that they met in the way back, when Sinner’s Gin was still scratching their way up, and Forest’s adopted father owned a small recording studio. Their late drummer is the one who got Forest started on the drums. Now it’s his turn to take that achingly vacant place.

But not before an awful lot of shit goes down. Just like in the previous two books in the series, someone is trying to kill Forest, for reasons that are not initially clear. When the killer starts by murdering Forest’s dad, and tries to take out a bunch of cops in the process, Forest finds himself face to face (and body to body) with SFPD SWAT Lieutenant Connor Morgan.

The lust at first contact surprises them both, since Connor has always believed he was straight, and Forest has always believed that no one good could possibly care for him.

As they grope towards each other, and their possible future, the killer continues his attempts to remove Forest from the land of the living. And while it is great that he keeps missing Forest, he does a lot of collateral damage while he tries to zero in on his target.

When he hits Miki and Damien in yet another attempt to take out Forest, he brings the wrath of all the Morgans down on his head.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed this story a lot. I was on the long flight home from Spokane to Atlanta, and it made the trip fly by. Pun intended. Speaking of puns, I also loved the two plays on words involved in the book. Tequila Mockingbird is a fairly common mangling of the much more famous title, To Kill a Mockingbird. If this doesn’t make sense to you, just say the two titles out loud, one after another. The other bit of wordplay is in the name Forest Ackerman. Forest with one R is one of the protagonists of this story. Forrest Ackerman, with two Rs, is a famous “Golden Age” science fiction writer. Just having returned from Worldcon, which has an award named in Ackerman’s honor, the similarity was a bit hard for this reader to miss, whether it was intended or not..

One of the strengths of this series is the Morgan family dynamic. They are amazing, and being adopted by them would be awesome. It is a family that sticks together and in a good way. In spite of some ups and downs and stresses and tensions, they are something that you don’t often see in fiction, especially the families of the protagonists – the Morgan family is absolutely the opposite of dysfunctional. Not that the members of the family don’t have stuff to overcome, but whatever it is, it isn’t a result of parental abuse or divorce or anything else nasty within the family. Donal and Brigid love and support all of their children and whoever they drag in. And also, the author has made it abundantly clear that the spark between Donal and Brigid is alive and well, even though they’ve raised 8 children to adulthood.

Because the Morgan children mostly have their respective acts together, it stands to fictional reason that the people they bring home with them are particularly damaged, even though they are all very strong in their broken places. Forest is no exception.

His biological mother pimped him out until he was old enough and emotionally strong enough to break away physically if not necessarily emotionally. He was adopted by Frank Marshall, an old hippie who gave him a home and structure and sent him to school, and more importantly didn’t expect to either get a blow job or use him as a punching bag in return. When that old hippie is murdered at the beginning of the story, it sets Forest’s world into a tailspin. Just because Forest is legally an adult doesn’t mean he is remotely ready to let go of the only stable and good person in his life.

Connor steps into the breach, literally, as he is the one who holds Forest as he cries for the man he called “Dad”. What surprises Connor is how much Forest gets under his skin. Connor is the oldest Morgan child, and he always expected to grow up to be his father. That meant becoming a cop, rising in the ranks, finding a wife, having a family. Finding a husband instead has never been on his conscious radar, so falling for Forest throws Connor for an internal loop of epic proportions.

In the middle of the internal angst, there’s the big external elephant in the room. At first, Frank Marshall’s death looks either like an accident or possibly murder for gain. But when someone starts targeting Forest and the studio and coffee shop he inherited, it begins to look like something else.

This is my quibble with the book. As much as I love the Morgans, and loved Connor and Forest together, and I especially loved seeing Forest become part of whatever Miki and Damien’s new band is going to be, the reasons for the suspense in this series are getting a bit further out there.

The band that replaces Sinner’s Gin should probably be named the Bad Luck Bunch, or something along that line. The reason why Miki got targeted in Sinner’s Gin made sense. While the reasons for Damien’s troubles almost made sense, the explanations didn’t quite cover the motives completely. And for Forest, the killer’s motives end up being pretty far out in la-la land. No group this small should be the target of this many completely separate crazed killers. On this score my mind is officially boggled.

sloe ride by rhys fordBut I still love the series and I’m definitely looking forward to Sloe Ride next month. It’s going to be especially fun to see the Morgan in the story as the protectee instead of the protector for a change.

***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.

Review: The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny

nature of the beast by louise pennyFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: mystery
Series: Chief Inspector Gamache #11
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Date Released: August 25, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Hardly a day goes by when nine year old Laurent Lepage doesn’t cry wolf. From alien invasions, to walking trees, to winged beasts in the woods, to dinosaurs spotted in the village of Three Pines, his tales are so extraordinary no one can possibly believe him. Including Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache, who now live in the little Quebec village.

But when the boy disappears the villagers are faced with the possibility that one of his tall tales might have been true.
And so begins a frantic search for the boy and the truth. What they uncover deep in the forest sets off a sequence of events that leads to murder, leads to an old crime, leads to an old betrayal. Leads right to the door of an old poet.

And now it is now, writes Ruth Zardo. And the dark thing is here.
A monster once visited Three Pines. And put down deep roots. And now, Ruth knows, it is back.

Armand Gamache, the former head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, must face the possibility that, in not believing the boy, he himself played a terrible part in what happens next.

My Review:

As much as I love this series, and all the characters in it, I would not want to live in Three Pines. Quebec. The murder rate is much too high. I can see the tourist brochures now – Come to Three Pines if you’re tired of your life. With the subtext that your life will probably end if you go there.

The regulars all survive. Often not unscathed, but survive. This is a place that people come to for sanctuary, and often stay. Providing they survive their initial introduction.

For a story that starts small, The Nature of the Beast brings in a wider and wider world, even though its entire physical setting is that one small village in Quebec.

We start with one myth, the boy who cried wolf, and end with another, the Whore of Babylon. While that seems like quite a stretch, the path from one to another ultimately becomes clear, even as it obscures who is responsible for the evils that rain down on this place.

A little boy loves to roam the woods around Three Pines, and make up stories about the monsters he finds. Laurent Lepage is not just very imaginative, he’s also an excellent salesperson – he does all too good a job at getting people to believe his fantastic tales. But Laurent has been doing this since he was 6, and at age 9 people are generally wise to him. So when he bursts into the local Bistro claiming that he found a gun bigger than his house with a monster on it, no one believes.

And, just as in the fable about the boy who cried wolf, this time he is telling the truth. And it gets him killed.

Three Pines has been hiding a terrible secret. 40 years ago an arms dealer, a genius engineer, and a serial killer built a gigantic gun in the woods near Three Pines. Over time, the arms dealer was murdered, the engineer died, and the serial killer got caught. But the gun remained under camouflage netting until poor little Laurent found it, and touched off a series of murders, a witch hunt, and very nearly a prison break.

Chief Inspector Gamache, formerly of the Surete du Quebec, has retired with his wife Reine-Marie to the village of Three Pines. He became famous for rooting out the long-standing corruption in the Surete, and retired or perhaps retreated, to Three Pines to heal.

But murder, and his past, keep finding him. He is the first to think that Laurent did not die in a bicycle accident, but was murdered. And it is he that starts the search for the boy’s trail, and discovers the gun known in the arms trade as Big Babylon.

This Supergun was purported to be able to shoot a payload into low-earth-orbit using mechanical energy only – no electronics. The aiming, however was so imprecise that it could only be used on a very big target, like a city. It is a weapon of mass destruction, and the rumors said that it was purchased by Saddam Hussein. Luckily, he never got it.

During the story I kept wondering if the reason that the image of the Whore of Babylon was etched onto the gun’s base was for Saddam’s benefit. The reason turns out to be much more chilling than I imagined.

The discovery of the gun brings a host of interested parties to Three Pines. Laurent’s death has already brought Gamache’s former colleagues to the village. Isabelle Lacoste is now Chief of Homicide, Gamache’s old position, and Jean-Guy Beauvoir, originally Gamache’s second, is now hers. They are there for the murder.

Following in their wake are a retired physics professor and finally, two agents of the Canadian Security Service. The professor knew the arms dealer, and the Security Officers claim to be paper pushers who just so happen to be experts in the arms dealer, and especially in the Supergun he planned to sell. Or sold.

After a second death, both investigations heat up, and go at cross purposes. This is a case where everyone has secrets, and everyone’s secrets get in the way of anyone else finding the truth. They are all going in circles, and they all suspect each other of agendas that may not be for the greater good.

Into the middle of it all, a bigger threat than anyone imagined. The one person left alive who might know the truth of the whole mess is a convicted serial killer, locked in maximum security for a series of murders so heinous that his trial was kept secret. Gamache is the only person who knows who the man really is or just how much he has done.

The question facing the retired Chief is a terrible one – will the world be better off with a soulless serial killer on the loose but the plans for the doomsday gun found and safe, or will it be better to keep the devil locked up and let the world hunt for the Supergun plans throughout Three Pines, with all the chaos and destruction that will cause?

Which is the greater good?

Escape Rating A+: This one kept me up until 3 am. I had to finish. And as usual with this series, it’s the way that events affect the people involved that stick with me, and not necessarily the case itself.

This is also a case that fools the reader, as well as the detectives, right up to the end. The story starts with “Who killed Laurent?” but we and the detectives all get so sidetracked by the Supergun that we lose sight of the dead boy. We all think we know the motive for his murder (and the one that follows) but no one seems to fit the frame for the murderer.

The tie to the serial killer seems to come from left field. At first, the detectives think that Gamache is grasping at straws when he brings the man’s name into the investigation. At the end, of course, he’s right. He’s always right in the end, no matter how many times he seems to go off course in the middle. And this course looked very far fetched when it is first introduced. It’s only at the end where we discover just how deliberate this particular piece of misdirection was.

How the Light Gets In by Louise PennyAnd through the entire story range the people of Three Pines. By this point in the series, we know them and love them – even the cantankerously nasty poet Ruth Zardo and her duck Rosa. It is Ruth that is both shielding the present from the awful past, and who provides the insights that make the solution possible. And it’s Ruth who provides a surprising amount of compassionate healing to those who are left needing it most. Just as she did with Jean-Guy at the end of How The Light Gets In (enthusiastically reviewed here)

The part of the story that is sticking with me are the open questions that are left at the end. Gamache has healed enough that he needs to find a second act for his life. He’s not yet 60, and there is plenty of time for him to leave his mark again in some other service. He still feels the need to fight injustice, right wrongs and solve murders. There are plenty of places begging for him to come and lead them.

At the same time, the serial killer is a manipulative murdering bastard who is looking for a way out of prison and back into the world where he can commit more sick crimes. He knows Gamache’s name, and obviously spends his life planning his next action. Or evisceration. I have a feeling that he will (unfortunately for Gamache) be back.

And then there’s the Supergun, and everything it brought with it. It’s not just that the behemoth is out there in the woods, it’s that there are now members of the illegal arms trading community who know where it is and where to look for information on it. Some of those completely unscrupulous people know that Gamache and his colleagues thwarted them this time, and there’s a chance they’ll want payback.

But the big questions are the hard ones. Do the ends justify the means? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one? And if they do, who decides which are which? And last, particularly in regards to the security community – Who watches the watchers?

Those are the questions that haunt Gamache at the end of this book, and I expect will play a big part of the next. They are certainly haunting me.

***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.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 8-23-15

Sunday Post

Sasquan_Official_Raven_Mascot_by_Brad_FosterThis is weird. I’m writing this before we leave for Sasquan, but by the time you read it, we’ll be on our way back. From here, I’m hoping that our suitcases won’t be overloaded with books, but that may be a vain hope. I try to resist picking up print books in the dealer’s room, because most of what I see I either have an eARC, or I’m willing to wait to get as an ebook. Howsomever, the one thing that is still better with print is signed books. For that, you need a physical copy. I know John Scalzi will be at Sasquan, which means a print copy of The End of All Things is definitely in my bookish future. As for the rest, we’ll see.

Because I’m writing this so far ahead, it is possible that next week’s schedule will be affected by what I manage to read (and OMG write up) while we are at the Con. In other words, contents may shift as the week (or the box) settles.

clear-off-your-shelf-August-202x300Current Giveaways:

Four books from my shelves in the Clear Your Shelf Giveaway Hop
A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd (paperback ARC)

pattern of lies by charles toddBlog Recap:

A- Review: Daring by Elliott James
B+ Review: Tales: Short Stories Featuring Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford by Charles Todd
C+ Review: Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville
Clear Your Shelf Giveaway Hop
A Review: A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (149)

blood and metal by nina croftComing Next Week:

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny (review)
Tequila Mockingbird by Rhys Ford (review)
The Last Time I Saw Her by Karen Robards (review)
Blood and Metal by Nina Croft (blog tour review)
If Only You Knew by Kristan Higgins (blog tour review)