Spotlight + Excerpt: Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison

Spotlight + Excerpt: Her Dark Lies by J.T. EllisonHer Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 416
Published by Mira on March 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

At the wedding of the year, a killer needs no invitation
Jutting from sparkling turquoise waters off the Italian coast, Isle Isola is an idyllic setting for a wedding. In the majestic cliff-top villa owned by the wealthy Compton family, up-and-coming artist Claire Hunter will marry handsome, charming Jack Compton, surrounded by close family, intimate friends…and a host of dark secrets.
From the moment Claire sets foot on the island, something seems amiss. Skeletal remains have just been found. There are other, newer disturbances, too. Menacing texts. A ruined wedding dress. And one troubling shadow hanging over Claire’s otherwise blissful relationship—the strange mystery surrounding Jack’s first wife.
Then a raging storm descends, the power goes out—and the real terror begins…

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison. Ellison is a new author for me, but as I’ve been reading a bit more suspense recently it looks like an absolutely riveting read. I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing Her Dark Lies in the weeks ahead, so here’s a teaser to whet all of our reading appetites!

Excerpt from Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison (continued from yesterday’s excerpt at Berit Talks Books)

There is something…wistful on his face. I run my hand from his cheek to his temple, smoothing back his too-long hair. There is the lightest sprinkling of silver in his part, just a few hairs here and there, lending him a serious, studious air.

“A magic bed? What, does it fly?” I tease.

“In a way. Rumor has it ladies tend to get knocked up on their wedding nights. My grandmother and my mother swear by it.”

“Ah.” A deep sense of foreboding seizes me, and I instinctually scan my body for any signs of pregnancy. It’s a reflex, something I’ve done regularly since we first became intimate. An accidental pregnancy terrifies me. I can only imagine the headlines, how I’d be portrayed. Prevailing wisdom: a woman like me can only land a man like Jackson Compton if I get pregnant and he is forced to do the right thing.

I run my mind over our sexual escapades from the past month. I had my implant taken out; it was making me feel terrible. I have been taking my pills on time, haven’t I? We’ve been careful, yes?

Stop it. You’re being paranoid.

Yes, of course we’ve been careful. The dull ache deep in my stomach is certainly my impending monthly, just in time to ruin our wedding night. The malaise I’ve been feeling for the past couple of days is stress and travel related. I’ve never flown well, even short hops leave me with a headache, clammy and uncomfortable. Add in a mild concussion and a boat on slightly stormy seas? I’d gone to the doctor for a preventative motion sickness patch before we left; it is helping tamp down some of the nausea from the bump on my head, too.

The long night coupled with the long journey from Nashville to Naples is catching up to me. We’d been forced—quelle horreur—to fly first class on Delta instead of being chauffeured across the sea in the family jet. Jack’s father is flying in from Africa, where he’s been on business with Jack’s brother Elliot. As heads of the company, their travel needs take precedence.

Yes, it was a terrible burden for me to be waited upon by the dark-eyed flight attendants with their prettily accented Italian and sly smiles for Jack. The wine was plentiful, the carbonara and crusty bread delicious, the lay-down beds surprisingly comfortable. I’d only disliked being separated from Jack. He was in the cozy suite behind me, and I felt all alone, watching the flight attendants’ faces light up with pleasure as they walked past me to tend to Jack’s needs.

The breeze picks up, and I realize Jack is looking at me curiously. “Everything okay?”

“Yes, but good grief, don’t wish a baby on us just yet. I want to be married for a while, first.”

“No promises, darling. My parents will explode with happiness at the idea of another heir.”

There is a certain hopefulness in his voice. Jack is a decade older than me. A widower. His first life was stolen from him. He is ready to start a family. I understand. He’s already experienced so much. I’m only getting started. I’m not ready for a child. I might not ever be ready. I need to tell him that, before the wedding. In case it’s a deal breaker.

I take a deep breath. “Jack?”

“Yes, darling?”

But we are interrupted by a call from the upper deck. Gideon, beckoning. “We need you for a moment, Jack.”

Jack squeezes my shoulder. “Be right back.”

I watch Jack stride away and wrestle my urge to confess back into place. What purpose will it serve? He’ll just get upset, and who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind.

You know what they say about digging your own grave.

I turn back to the island.

Unlike the smoky gray open waters of the bay, the water in the shallower edges of the channel is cerulean and almost clear; schools of dark fish race away. What are they running from? The boat? A predator?

The breeze cools, the azure Mediterranean early summer sky turning hazy. Bad weather is coming. Italy is under a Red warning this long weekend, a severe weather alert, expecting the worst storms in a decade.

I hope everyone gets here in time. The channel crossing to Isle Isola is too dicey to manage anything smaller than the yacht or the hydrofoil ferry in bad weather, and the hydrofoil normally runs to Isola only once a week, though it’s running three days in a row for us to get all the guests on the island. And obviously, the choppers can’t fly if the storm is too bad.

The Hebrides is approaching the cliff’s edge now. The imposing granite face is sheer and unforgiving. We’re so close I can see the striations of the stone, the moss growing in the cracks. At the top, there is a flash of white. What is that?

A scarf, my mind fills in. A woman’s scarf.

And then it is gone.

Someone is watching for us.

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

Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah PennerThe Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Pages: 320
Published by Park Row on March 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course
Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.
One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.
In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

My Review:

The Lost Apothecary combines a bit of a time slip story with historical fiction, a soupcon of magical realism and just a touch of mystery, then wraps it all up, not in a nice tidy bow, but rather in a potpourri of savory herbs, pungent spices and well-hidden poisons.

It begins in the present, with 30-something Caroline Parcewell alone in London on a trip that was supposed to have been a celebration of her tenth wedding anniversary.

But Caroline discovered that her husband was an unfaithful arsehole just before they were supposed to leave Ohio for England, and Caroline decided to use the non-refundable airline tickets and hotel booking as an opportunity to get some space and take some time to figure out whether to resign herself to the safe, secure and boring life she has or to figure out what of her own independent hopes and dreams she still has a shot at fulfilling.

And at the tips of her loose ends she unearths the tip of a mystery that sets her back on the road to the person she used to be, before she let her husband talk her into being the person that he needs to further his career.

So Caroline undertakes a bit of a historical treasure hunt. The tiny glass vial she has found could be nothing. Or it might just possibly be the key to unlocking a historical mystery. Or two. Or three.

In her search for a late 18th century female apothecary and serial killer, she has a chance to uncover a hidden chapter of history. Along the way she might also find the person she was meant to be.

Or she might be prosecuted for murder.

Escape Rating A-: If you crossed The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane with In the Garden of Spite you might get something in the neighborhood of The Lost Apothecary. And I mean that in all its strangeness, all its depth, all its death, and definitely all its sense of women helping women and women making sure that other women are, if not celebrated, at least remembered.

Even in Caroline Parcewell’s 21st century framing story, it’s still about women’s skills, women’s magic, and women helping each other stand up in the face of men who want to keep them down at every turn and by any means available.

There are two stories in The Lost Apothecary. Caroline’s 21st century story and Nella and Eliza’s late 18th century story. Both are about women doing their best to help other women, although Nella and Eliza are the helpers in their tale, while Caroline is the helpee in hers, and both end with them learning to help themselves and to get by, as they say, with a little help from their friends.

There isn’t a lot of mystery in Caroline’s own story. Her husband is a selfish, self-centered, manipulative douchecanoe and many of the events in Caroline’s story relate to his douchiness in one way or another.

In other words, I loved her and I hated him and there weren’t a lot of surprises in that part of the story.

But this is also Caroline’s journey of self-discovery – and there were plenty of fascinating things happening along that particular way. One of the things that this story does well is the way that it portrays the joy and the compulsion of historical research. While it is seldom as easy as it turns out to be for Caroline, the way that she gets sucked into her deep dive into the past and her need to keep hunting no matter what was very well done. The reader absolutely gets sucked in right alongside her.

That the friend she makes on her journey of discovery is a librarian at the British Library was absolutely the best icing on the cake for this reader.

The story of the apothecary herself, or herselves as it turns out, Nella and Eliza, was a different kind of fascinating, but I didn’t find their story – at least not until the end – as compelling as Caroline’s. The idea that a female apothecary was helping women poison their husbands was sensational on many levels, but their internal dialog, the beliefs that drove them, while they felt true to the times in which they lived at the same time felt like a bit of a strain from my 21st century perspective. It’s not that it didn’t work, because it definitely did, but more that I wanted to reach through the book and shake both of them. Which, come to think of it, says a lot about how compelling I found their characters.

But the way that the two stories wrapped themselves together was utterly marvelous. I am absolutely astonished that this is the author’s debut novel – and I can’t wait to see where she takes me next!

Review: Level Up by Cathy Yardley

Review: Level Up by Cathy YardleyLevel Up (Fandom Hearts, #1) by Cathy Yardley
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Fandom Hearts #1
Pages: 154
Published by St. Martin's Press on April 11, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Geeky introvert Tessa Rodriguez will do whatever it takes to get promoted to video game engineer– including create a fandom-based video game in just three weeks. The only problem is, she can't do it alone. Now, she needs to strong-arm, cajole, and otherwise socialize with her video game coworkers, especially her roommate, Adam, who’s always been strictly business with her. The more they work together, though, the closer they get…
Adam London has always thought of his roomie Tessa as “one of the guys” until he agreed to help her with this crazy project. Now, he’s thinking of her all the time… and certainly as something more than just a roommate! But his last girlfriend broke up with him to follow her ambitions, and he knows that Tessa is obsessed with getting ahead in the video game world.
Going from friends to something more is one hell of a challenge. Can Tessa and Adam level up their relationship to love?

My Review:

I reviewed the second book in the Fandom Hearts series, One True Pairing, several years ago for Library Journal. I loved it so much that I gave it a Starred Review. While that review may be behind a paywall, a variation of it is here on Goodreads.

I also enjoyed it so much that I bought the first book in the series, Level Up, certain that I would get a round tuit eventually. When the notification for this tour popped up I decided that eventually was finally here.

And I have to say that Level Up was just as much geeky fun as One True Pairing.

The title of Level Up is a bit of a pun. Both Tessa and Adam work for the game design company MPG, whose name is also a pun but stands for Mysterious Pickles Games – not that anyone really calls the place that.

And they’re roommates. Adam owns the house, Tessa rents a room and shares the public spaces. They’re friend-ly rather than friends, as Tessa is very much of an introvert while Adam has a whole coterie of male friends that he works with and spends time gaming with outside of work.

The thing is that both Tessa and Adam need to do some leveling up in their lives and neither of them are quite ready to acknowledge it. Both are a year out of long-term relationships that went badly, and that’s a lot of it.

But Tessa in particular is in more than a bit of a “pickle” of her very own. She’s an excellent coder, she has serious skills in coding and design, but she’s a woman trying to break into a profession, a company and a gang that is an entirely male preserve.

She knows that she’s ready to level up her career and move from being merely the audio coder to a member of the engineering team. She’s been keeping her nose to the grindstone nearly 24/7 in the hopes that her talents will be recognized.

And it just doesn’t work that way. It should, but it doesn’t.

If Tessa wants to be recognized, she needs to put herself into a position where she can be known – at least a little bit. She needs to spend some time with her colleagues and co-workers and not holed up in her cubicle or her room.

Stepping outside of her comfort zone – and her walls – brings her the friendship of the geeky women who operate the geeky bookstore around the corner from the house. Tessa finds friendship and sisterhood with a group of women who are every bit as nerdy and geeky as she is herself. She belongs.

And she can help them as much as they can help her.

They need to win a fandom contest to say the bookstore. Tessa needs a gaming project that she can spearhead to bring herself the right kind of attention at MPG. And Adam needs to get over his high-maintenance ex by getting himself a girlfriend.

Those things shouldn’t quite go together. But they do. And it’s awesome, geeky romantic fun every level along the way.

Escape Rating A-: There is just so much to love in the Fandom Hearts series, especially for anyone who is a bit of a geek themselves. The portrait of life at a game developer in Level Up, and the way that One True Pairing speaks to the heart of “shipping” are just so much fun.

This story succeeds on multiple levels – and they’re all a lot of fun.

The romance here is a geeky version of friends to lovers. Tessa and Adam are platonic roommates. They’ve worked together for a while and shared a house for a year. They’ve had a chance to get to know each other and they’re friend-ly without being close friends. It also seems like their bad breakups have insulated them from each other, keeping them from seeing each other as possible romantic partners.

There are, after all, plenty of professional pitfalls for Tessa if she gets romantically involved with a co-worker or even dresses like anything other than “one of the guys”. She’s in an awkward spot. And it’s a very real kind of awkward. Software development companies of all types are known to be sausage-fests. All guys, all the time, to the point where measuring whose is biggest is practically a daily event.

That the team lead of this particular development group is a known asshole to everyone but especially to women makes this scenario feel especially true to life. Tessa still wants in, but knows that she’ll have to prove herself every single day and pay for it with her career if she ever falls a bit short – even if that shortfall is something that a man would be forgiven for instantly.

So Tessa’s spearheading of this project for her new friends is ballsy. Necessary for her career. And a tightrope walk every minute. And we feel for her.

The romance is glittery icing on top of Tessa’s hard-working and hard-won cake. Adam has to both get over his ex and see her for the user that she really is. And that he and Tessa are good for each other because they already like each other for who they really are and not anyone they need to pretend to be.

And it’s lovely that they figure that out while snowbound – even if that particular part of the scenario felt a bit too close to real life this month!

For those of us who are geeky girls, Fandom Hearts is a series that demonstrates that we can be just exactly who we are and still meet cute and find romance without compromising on our love of all things nerdy.

BTW if the plot of One True Pairing reminds readers a bit of last year’s marvelous Spoiler Alert, just remember that One True Pairing was originally published in 2017. So if you like one you’ll love the other and definitely vice-versa. After all, we’ve all shipped the story of a romance between one of the characters we love – or the actor who plays them – and a real-life person more than a few times in our fannish lives, haven’t we?

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 2-21-21

Sunday Post

In honor of yesterday’s rather long Stacking the Shelves post, here’s a picture of long George stretching very long. He’s become a very big boy!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Wish Big Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of The Rakehell of Roth is Tammy V.
The winner of the Heart to Heart Giveaway Hop is Monica M.

Blog Recap:

A- Review: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Wish Big Giveaway Hop
A- Review: Best Laid Plans by Roan Parrish
B Review: Soul of Eon by Anna Hackett
A++ Review: Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers
Stacking the Shelves (432)

Coming This Week:

Level Up by Cathy Yardley (blog tour review)
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (blog tour review)
Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison (spotlight + excerpt)
Matagorda Breeze by Lyla Hopper (review)
The Conductors by Nicole Glover (review)

Stacking the Shelves (432)

Stacking the Shelves

It pretty much rained and snowed books here this week, even if there was no actual snow. Plenty of rain, though.  I picked these up, and the ones that you’ll see in the coming weeks, for, basically, reasons. Which doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to peeking into as many as possible, because books. It’s all about the books!

For Review:
The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox
Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen
Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
Dark Wizard (Bonds of Magic #1) by Jeffe Kennedy
The Divines by Ellie Eaton
Exit by Belinda Bauer
A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth
The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng (Chronicles of the Bitch Queen #3) by K.S. Villoso
The Engagement Arrangement (Boots and Bouquets #2) by Jaci Burton
The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Girl A by Abigail Dean
Girls with Bright Futures by Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
It’s Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake by Claire Christian
The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
The Love Proof by Madeleine Henry
The Love Square by Laura Jane Williams
The Mellification by Nat Buchbinder
Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane
The Push by Ashley Audrain
The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
Shiver by Allie Reynolds
Siri, Who Am I? by Sam Tschida
Smoke (IQ #5) by Joe Ide
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
The Things We Leave Unfinished by Rebecca Yarros
This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith
The Upstairs House by Julia Fine
Walking the Edge (Danger in the Big Easy #1) by Sue Ward Drake
Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur



Review: Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers

Review: Behind the Throne by K.B. WagersBehind the Throne (The Indranan War #1) by K.B. Wagers
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Indranan War #1
Pages: 413
Published by Orbit on August 2, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Meet Hail: Captain. Gunrunner. Fugitive.
Quick, sarcastic, and lethal, Hailimi Bristol doesn't suffer fools gladly. She has made a name for herself in the galaxy for everything except what she was born to do: rule the Indranan Empire. That is, until two Trackers drag her back to her home planet to take her rightful place as the only remaining heir.
But trading her ship for a palace has more dangers than Hail could have anticipated. Caught in a web of plots and assassination attempts, Hail can't do the one thing she did twenty years ago: run away. She'll have to figure out who murdered her sisters if she wants to survive.
A gun smuggler inherits the throne in this Star Wars-style science fiction adventure from debut author K. B. Wagers. Full of action-packed space opera exploits and courtly conspiracy - not to mention an all-out galactic war - Behind the Throne will please fans of James S. A Corey, Becky Chambers and Lois McMaster Bujold, or anyone who wonders what would happen if a rogue like Han Solo were handed the keys to an empire . . .

My Review:

The blurb talks about Star Wars, implies that Hail Bristol is someone like Han Solo who has just found themselves at the head of an empire. But that isn’t strictly true and sets up a whole lot of assumptions about who Hail Bristol is and what she might do as empress. It also sets up some false expectation of just how much running and gunning there will be in this space opera.

But that reference to Lois McMaster Bujold hits the nail a LOT closer to the head, particularly as regards Bujold’s definition of science fiction as the “romance of political agency” because this first book in the Indranan War trilogy is ALL up in the politics of the Indranan Empire in a very big way.

Even if it’s the absolute last place that Hail Bristol EVER wanted to be again.

If this series, at least as far as this book goes, has a Star Wars analogy in it, the resemblance sits much more firmly on Princess Leia’s braided crown. If Leia ran away from her responsibilities as Princess, Senator and leader of the Rebel Alliance to take up with Han Solo and live the life he’s been leading as a mercenary and gunrunner for twenty years, the person she’d be at the end of those decades would be someone like Hail.

Because, as Hail discovers the deeper she gets stuck back into Imperial politics, you can take the girl out of the palace intrigue but you can’t take the talent for palace intrigue out of the girl, not even after twenty years of becoming the woman she has become, a gunrunner, a mercenary, and most definitely when the job calls for it, a killer.

And that’s just who and what the Indranan Empire needs when Hail is dragged back to the palace to take up her rightful but resented place as Princess Hailimi Mercedes Jaya Bristol, the last remaining heir of the Empress of Indrana.

Hail’s sisters and her niece are all dead. “Gone to temple” as they say in Indrana. Her mother is dying, poisoned by a slow-acting drug that is about to reach its endpoint – and hers.. It’s going to be up to Hail to find out who eliminated her family – and who is now gunning (and knifing, and bombing) for her.

It’s going to take a killer to catch all the killers – before it’s too late. For Hail – and for Indrana.

Escape Rating A++: I picked up Behind the Throne because I absolutely adored the author’s A Pale Light in the Black, which is also space opera and also the first book in its series. I loved the writing, the world building, and the way that the characters are drawn, and I just wanted more and wanted a story that I would be sucked right into and wouldn’t want to leave. I started this in audio and fell in love with it, but audio was just not going fast enough so I switched to the ebook fairly early on. I did listen long enough that every time Hail says “Bugger me,” which she does often, with good reason and plenty of emphasis, I hear the voice of the audiobook narrator – who was excellent.

This story isn’t the action-oriented adventure that the blurb makes it out to be. It was published in 2016, so that is certainly known and I wasn’t expecting it to be. I was expecting it to be like A Pale Light in the Black, and it definitely is that.

The characters are well-drawn. They feel like real people – admittedly real people in a very unreal situation. Hail has made a life for herself, a life that she’s good at. She doesn’t want to go back for reasons that become obvious early on and are not the result of the current crisis. She didn’t want the life that she’d have been required to lead if she stayed – so she went. Coming back to pick up the pieces of that life is hard and painful and makes her do and think and feel realistic things. She feels inadequate, she feels guilty, she sees herself stepping back into old patterns, she’s lost, she’s confused – and she’s driven. All at the same time.

This is also a story about trust. Trust in yourself, and trust in others. Hail returns to the palace knowing that the only people she trusts are either missing or dead. And that the life she thought she’d built for herself was based on not just one lie, but on a whole damn pack of lies, so she’s lost trust in herself as well.

But she has to find people she can trust, if not absolutely then at least trust enough, to help her wade through the morass and save herself and her empire. And that exercise, of figuring out who is on which side and why and how and whether it’s enough, is a big part of this story.

Because, just like the protagonist of A Pale Light in the Black, Hail is building a team that will see her through. If she trusts them enough. If they trust her enough. And if they are all absolutely excellent at their very difficult jobs.

In the end, in spite of how different their origin stories are, the character that Hail reminds me of the most is Emperox Grayland II in The Collapsing Empire and the rest of Scalzi’s Interdependency series. Although the crises they face are very different, Grayland and Hail come at them from the same direction. They are both outsiders to their respective Imperial systems and Imperial politics, stuck in positions they didn’t want but must defend at every single turn.

Even though they are both extremely unconventional for the positions they hold, their very unconventionality makes them not just the only people by inheritance for those positions at the time they are forced to take them, but the only people by talent, skill and capacity to pull the nuts of their respective empires out of the fires that they have inherited along with their thrones.

So if space opera is your jam, or if you love stories with terrific SFnal worldbuilding and absolute craptons of political skullduggery, Behind the Throne is a winner on every level along with its gunrunner empress Hail Bristol.

I’m already buckled up for Hail’s next adventure/imperial catastrophe in After the Crown, because this ride isn’t over yet and that is the most excellent thing ever!

Review: Soul of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: Soul of Eon by Anna HackettSoul of Eon (Eon Warriors #8) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Eon Warriors #8
Pages: 211
Published by Anna Hackett on February 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

The last thing she expects is an instant mating with a handsome alien warrior…just before they are abducted by the deadly Kantos.

Commander Kaira Chand of the Australian Air Force knows the meaning of loss. She lost both her beloved husband and her father over recent years, and she vows never to let a man close again. As head of security for a secret weapons facility in the Australian desert, she’s fighting to protect the scientists working to defend Earth from invasion. That includes working with their allies, the Eon Warriors. What she never expected in her wildest dreams was to find herself instantly mated to a handsome, silver fox alien warrior.

Medical Commander Thane Kann-Eon lives to heal. He’s dedicated to keeping his crew aboard the warship, the Rengard, whole and healthy. Unlike his fellow warriors, he knows he’ll never mate. There hasn’t been a mating in his family for generations. Then a petite Terran commander changes everything. He’s instantly drawn to Kaira, and as soon as their hands touch, he’s stunned by the deluge of emotion that crashes over him. An unheard-of instant mating.

In the midst of their shocking connection, Kaira and Thane find themselves abducted by a Kantos strike team. Taken aboard a battlecruiser, they soon realize the insectoid aliens nabbed the wrong couple, and they are marked for execution. Now they face a wild race for survival that will take them to a distant, deadly world. They’ll both struggle with their raw, intense mating bond, against the backdrop of a Kantos proving ground where everything is out to kill them

My Review:

Soul of Eon begins in the immediate aftermath of the previous book in this series, the awesome Storm of Eon. Literally. As that story ends, Kaira and Thane experience an incredibly rare instant mating when the Kantos invade and kidnap them both.

There’s a lot to unpack in that description, now that I think about it. Which first leads to saying that this series is probably best read in order, starting from Edge of Eon. A LOT has happened since Eve kidnapped Davion! I’m not sure you’d have to read every single one to get everything in Soul of Eon, but the series is so good!

Where once the Terrans and the Eons were distantly neutral with each other, by the time that Soul of Eon takes place they have united against their common enemy, the insectoid Kantos. It’s not just that the two planets and peoples have come together to face a common foe, in the sense that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, but there have been plenty of personal “comings” together as several of the Eon warriors have discovered their mates among the Terrans – to everyone’s complete surprise.

There is an element of “fated mates” in this aspect of the story, along with a bit of the “Mars needs women” trope, but it works pretty well here. It certainly seems like the Terran half of the eventual couple can decide not to pursue the relationship – as Kaira does for a good chunk of Soul of Eon.

Eons are only fertile with their mates, so there’s a whole lot more at stake on their side of the equation but even then, it usually takes a while for the Eon of the couple to figure out that more is happening than just ordinary attraction.

So what Kaira and Thane experience as the story opens – technically as the previous story closed – is that they become instantly aware that they are fated mates. Not that they actually indulge in the sexual aspects of their bond right then and there. Because reasons – and they’re in public! At a party! With his boss!

Which turns out to be a good thing when the Kantos show up. Talk about the potential for an epic case of coitus interruptus!

It’s only after the Kantos, with Kaira and Thane their prisoners, take flight to return to the Kantos fleet that their captors realize that they have kidnapped the wrong couple. The Kantos are planning to “kill the spares” when fate intervenes.

All that Kaira and Thane have to do is survive on a planet filled with predatory flora and fauna, evade the juvenile Kantos who are using them, and each other, as deadly training exercises, and invade a highly secured base where they might possibly have a chance of contacting an Eon warship in time to save their asses – along with the asses of their very unexpected allies.

All in a day’s work for an Eon warrior and his reluctant would-be Terran mate!

Escape Rating B: I have enjoyed every entry in this and pretty much every single one of this author’s series, and Soul of Eon is no exception to that rule. And it can certainly be said that I had a much better time reading Kaira’s and Thane’s adventure than they had escaping from the Kantos during those same adventures!

For this reader, however, this was one of the books in this series that was a lovely reading time but wasn’t special in the way that Storm of Eon and some of the earlier entries in the series were.

Part of that has to do with the characters. I liked Kaira and Thane, but they didn’t stand out for me the way that Finley did in Storm. That being said, I did find it very interesting that Kaira was a widow, and that the reason she initially didn’t want to pursue the mating bond with Thane was that she just wasn’t ready to put her heart on the line again.

But she just didn’t stand out – or up considering Finley’s height – the way that Finley did.

The other thing about this story was that I kept having the feeling that I’d read it before – or at least I’d read something very similar before. I keep thinking that there was another story by this author that had similar elements – the part about the planet itself being out to get them – but the story I know this reminds me of is The Magic Mountains by Alexis Glynn Latner from the Pets in Space 4 Sampler. I’ll admit that this niggled at me a lot, to the point where my attempts to chase down the recollection took me out of the story.

Very much on my other hand, Soul of Eon provided some fascinating revelations about the Kantos, along with a marvelously effective bunch of Kantos rebels who have been mounting quite the effective resistance. And along with that bit of intel, we have a lovely teaser for the next book in the series, King of Eon. In order to cement the alliance between Eon and Terra, the King himself is planning to look for a wife among the Terrans. It’s pretty clear that he thinks he’s going to make a state marriage of convenience.

I’m pretty sure that his plans are not going to survive contact with whoever turns out to be his fated mate. I always love the story in each series where the leader gets setup to take the fall into love, so I’m really looking forward to this one!

Review: Best Laid Plans by Roan Parrish

Review: Best Laid Plans by Roan ParrishBest Laid Plans (Garnet Run, #2) by Roan Parrish
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Series: Garnet Run #2
Pages: 304
Published by Carina Adores on February 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A man who’s been moving his whole life finally finds a reason to stay put.
Charlie Matheson has spent his life taking care of things. When his parents died two days before his eighteenth birthday, he took care of his younger brother, even though that meant putting his own dreams on hold. He took care of his father’s hardware store, building it into something known several towns over. He took care of the cat he found in the woods…so now he has a cat.
When a stranger with epic tattoos and a glare to match starts coming into Matheson’s Hardware, buying things seemingly at random and lugging them off in a car so beat-up Charlie feels bad for it, his instinct is to help. When the man comes in for the fifth time in a week, Charlie can’t resist intervening.
Rye Janssen has spent his life breaking things. Promises. His parents’ hearts. Leases. He isn’t used to people wanting to put things back together—not the crumbling house he just inherited, not his future and certainly not him. But the longer he stays in Garnet Run, the more he can see himself belonging there. And the more time he spends with Charlie, the more he can see himself falling asleep in Charlie’s arms…and waking up in them.
Is this what it feels like to have a home—and someone to share it with?

My Review:

The original phrase (in the original Scots) by the immortal Robbie Burns goes, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” But in contemporary English it’s usually paraphrased as “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”. Or something along those lines.

The point is pretty clear, whatever the language.

There are two kinds of plans going astray in this second book in the Garnet Run series, after last year’s terrific series opener Better Than People. Even better, you don’t have to read the first to enjoy the second, although both books are lovely and well worth reading.

Rye Janssen comes to the tiny town of Garnet Run Wyoming with not much more than the ghost of a plan – a ghost that gets exorcised just about the minute he arrives in town.

Rye inherited a house in Garnet Run from the grandfather he never met. Rye has been couch-surfing in Seattle since his most recent eviction. He’s broke, unemployed and has no place left to turn when the news that he owns a whole house in what he thinks of as the middle of nowhere turns out to be true and not the scam he expected it to be.

With no ties left in Seattle except his cat Marmot (who will happily come with him), and no economic prospects whatsoever, he climbs into his barely functional car and sets out for the unknown. He’s thinking that a house has to be a better place to live than his current circumstances. His plan is to get to Garnet Run, move into the house and see what happens next.

As I said, a ghost of a plan that goes up in smoke when he sees the sagging, teetering house that is his legacy from his grandfather. But he has no place and nothing else, so Rye and Marmot haul in the sleeping bag they share and start making do – because that’s what they always do.

Charlie Matheson has done nothing but live his life according to a self-imposed plan since the day his parents were killed in a car accident, leaving the just barely 18-year-old Charlie with a decent house, a failing hardware store, and the custody of his then 13-year-old brother Jack. (Jack is the protagonist of Better Than People.)

20 years later, Charlie has completely refurbished the house, has turned the hardware store into a profitable business and managed to see Jack through to a successful adulthood, living his dream as a successful book illustrator and commercial artist.

But Charlie never got to live his own dreams. Actually, Charlie barely lets himself live. The only people who are part of his inner circle are his brother Jack and his Maine Coon cat Jane. Outside of them, he has acquaintances, he has colleagues, but no close friends and definitely no lovers.

Until Rye Janssen slinks into his hardware store looking for as few cheap parts as possible to keep that house from falling down around his ears. He’s already put his leg through the rotting floorboards.

Charlie loves projects and Rye desperately needs help that he’s both ashamed and afraid to accept. That shouldn’t be enough to start a relationship – even though their cats are all in on that front LONG before their humans are on board.

Can a man who has nothing but roots and one who is all wings have anything like a chance?

Escape Rating A-: A lot of this series, at least so far, is centered around not just the romance but about the romantic partners and their relationships with their marvelously well drawn companion animals. And I’ll confess that I loved this one just a bit more than the first book because most of the animals in that story were dogs, while the star animal attractions in this one are both cats – not that I didn’t like the dogs, too.

But cats. Definitely cats for the win.

There’s something else about this series that definitely needs a shout-out, and that’s the way that it shows and doesn’t just tell two important things. One of the protagonists in the first book is neuroatypical, and that’s not something we see nearly often enough in one of the main characters in a romance. Happy endings are for everyone – or at least they should be.

In this book, Charlie is possibly a bit on that scale, but mostly it feels like he’s a trauma survivor whose coping mechanisms are now getting in his way. What makes this story shine is its attitude of total sex positivity. This is a story that demonstrates, over and over and over again, until both Charlie and the reader get the message, that love and sex are whatever works for each person. There is no rule that says only certain acts are or are not sexual, and that only certain behaviors are or are not okay. As long as everyone involved freely consents, whatever does or does not float a particular person’s boat is just fine.

And if they choose not to put their boat out at all, that’s fine too.

There’s a saying “that love is all there is is all we know of love” and that’s at the heart of this book.

But it also tells a lovely story about someone who has never had a place to call his own discovering that he can put down roots and make a life in a place he can call home. And that someone who had to grow up much too scared and much too soon still can still find a person who can help him make new dreams and take new wings.

And that every town, no matter how small or remote, can use an absolutely kick-ass cat playground and shelter to help make a town into a  community.

Wish Big Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Wish Big Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

There’s an old saying about wishes – honestly there are probably LOTS of old sayings about wishes – that goes, “If wishes were horses then beggars would ride.” At least that’s the version I remember.

We make wishes in all kinds of situations, blowing out birthday candles, seeing the first star at night, seeing a falling star, throwing a coin in a well. It’s a bit of superstition, but it’s generally a harmless one.

The results of a wish all depend on what you do after you make it, doesn’t it? Some wishes are close to impossible to fulfill. Others can be helped along, if we’re willing to do the work to turn the impossible into the possible. There’s another saying about this very thing, this one attributed to Mary Kay Ash, “If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right.”

If you wish for a chance at the winner’s prize here at Reading Reality, all you have to do is fill out the rafflecopter for your chance! This one is easy-peasy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can wish for more prizes at all the other stops on this hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Review: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Review: The Four Winds by Kristin HannahThe Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction
Pages: 464
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone comes an epic novel of love and heroism and hope, set against the backdrop of one of America’s most defining eras—the Great Depression.
Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance.
In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.

My Review:

Today is the Presidents Day Holiday in the U.S., so I went looking through the virtually towering TBR pile for something with an Americana theme. Which led me straight to The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. While the Great Depression happened everywhere, the Dust Bowl feels like a distinctly American bit of history. At least this particular telling of it certainly is. Just as the topsoil of Texas and the Great Plains States blew east as far as Washington D.C., many of the people living in the former – and future – breadbasket of America blew west to California.

Like many of the people who went west, in that or any other era of American history, these former farmers – and doctors, lawyers, bankers and businessmen – and their families went west to make a better life for their families. Or at least a life where the very land that once sustained them wasn’t killing them with every breath.

The story, this era of devastation and loss, is seen through two women, Elsa (Elsinore) Wolcott Martinelli and her daughter Loreda. The story begins with Elsa, over-protected and under-loved, a 25-year-old woman who sees the life her upper-class parents have mapped out for her and wants none of it.

Elsa is no beauty, and she was diagnosed with a heart condition in her early teens. Her parents expect her to live the life of an invalid, doomed to spinsterhood and expected to sit quietly and self-effacingly in a corner, waiting until her parents become elderly and need her to take care of them.

Elsa wants a life for herself. One evening she goes out in secret and meets a man who is just as lonely and feels just as trapped as she does. In stolen moments together, she discovers love while he honestly just finds a temporary escape.

At least until the child they make changes all of their plans. And the dry years and the dust take away everything they ever dreamed of. It’s left up to Elsa to take her children somewhere that they might have a chance.

Or at least somewhere that the land itself won’t kill them – although there will be plenty of other things and people that just might do the same.

Escape Rating A-: I’m having a bit of a mixed feelings reaction to this book and in an unusual way. Those mixed feelings are because I recognize that this book is really, really good, while at the same time feeling like it’s not for me.

And I’m thinking that’s because for historical fiction, which it very much is, The Four Winds definitely borders on Literary Fiction which is generally not my jam. So I’m torn.

The alternative explanation is that the historical parts really drew me in, but the character of Elsa didn’t. On the one hand, she’s an indomitable spirit, surviving in a situation that would bring anyone to their knees – as it certainly does Elsa.

The difference is that Elsa doesn’t so much rise up until the very end as she puts her head down and keeps on keeping on for the sake of her children Loreda and Anthony. But she doesn’t so much exhibit courage or selflessness as she does a lack of self. She’s been beaten down her whole life and now she beats herself down whenever her situation isn’t doing a hard enough job at it.

I think that is where the story verges on Literary Fiction as she’s downtrodden internally even before she’s trodden down externally.

But the history wrapped into this is intensely compelling. It’s as though the author reached into the Dust Bowl Migration photographs by Dorothea Lange and just pulled out all of the emotion and backstory and poured it onto the page. If you’re not seeing the iconic image of the woman with her children as you’re reading this you need to take a good, hard look at Lange’s work because the images are still absolutely soul-searing 80-plus years later.

And those scorching is on every page of The Four Winds. Not just the despair of the land and the life blowing away – and into everyone’s lungs – in Texas, but the hate and derision on the face of so many Californians when they arrive. The inhumane treatment that Elsa and her children – and all of the other migrant workers – receive in California echoes through the years right up to the present and the way that immigrants are spoken about, written about and treated to this very day.