Stacking the Shelves (551)

I am experiencing maximum squee! I got an eARC for Bookshops & Bonedust, the Legends & Lattes prequel. Now I’m scared half to death that it won’t live up to the legendary Legends and their accompanying Lattes (along with Thimble’s describably delicious cinnamon rolls). But I’m still very game to find out. Quite possibly this weekend even though the book won’t be published until NOVEMBER.

For Review:
The Archive Undying (Downworld Sequence #1) by Emma Mieko Candon (audio)
Bad Blood (Goddess with a Blade #7) by Lauren Dane
Bookshops & Bonedust (Legends & Lattes #0) by Travis Baldree
Hex (Sentinel Security #6) by Anna Hackett
The Last Devil to Die (Thursday Murder Club #4) by Richard Osman
Murder Crossed Her Mind (Pentecost & Parker #4) by Stephen Spotswood
Normal Rules Don’t Apply by Kate Atkinson
Sherlock Holmes & the Silver Cord by M.K. Wiseman

If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

Please link your STS post in the linky below:

Review: What Darkness Brings by C.S. Harris

Review: What Darkness Brings by C.S. HarrisWhat Darkness Brings (Sebastian St. Cyr, #8) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #8
Pages: 349
Published by New American Library, Berkley on March 5, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

London, September 1812. After a long night spent dealing with the tragic death of a former military comrade, a heart-sick Sebastian learns of a new calamity: Russell Yates, the dashing, one-time privateer who married Sebastian’s former lover Kat Boleyn a year ago, has been found standing over the corpse of notorious London diamond merchant Benjamin Eisler. Yates insists he is innocent, but he will surely hang unless Sebastian can unmask the real killer. For the sake of Kat, the woman he once loved and lost, Sebastian plunges into a treacherous circle of intrigue. Although Eisler’s clients included the Prince Regent and the Emperor Napoleon, he was a despicable man with many enemies and a number of dangerous, well-kept secrets—including a passion for arcane texts and black magic. Central to the case is a magnificent blue diamond, believed to have once formed part of the French crown jewels, which disappeared on the night of Eisler’s death. As Sebastian traces the diamond’s ownership, he uncovers links that implicate an eccentric, powerful financier named Hope and stretch back into the darkest days of the French Revolution. When the killer grows ever more desperate and vicious, Sebastian finds his new marriage to Hero tested by the shadows of his first love, especially when he begins to suspect that Kat is keeping secrets of her own. And as matters rise to a crisis, Sebastian must face a bitter truth--that he has been less than open with the fearless woman who is now his wife.

My Review: 

The Hope Diamond in 1974

The Hope Diamond, the very real, very beautiful and very large Hope Diamond, is currently owned by the Smithsonian Museum and housed in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Once upon a time, the Hope Diamond was just a bit bigger than the 45.52 carats it is today and was part of the Crown Jewels of France. Then there was that little historical incident known as the French Revolution, and the Crown Jewels were first put on display and then stolen in 1792.

At which point it disappeared from history, only to reappear in its current size and setting in 1839 as the Hope Diamond in a gem catalog from the banking family of that name.

So where did it go between 1792 and 1839? It’s not exactly the kind of thing that a person could hawk on a street corner – or even take to the usual dealers in stolen goods. Because of its unusual color, it was too easy to trace – even after cutting it down from its original OMG 115 carats to the (still OMG) 67.125 carat gem that was part of the French Crown Jewels.

When the noted art collector, diamond merchant, high-priced pawnbroker and all-around thoroughly disgusting example of humanity Daniel Eisler is killed in his own front parlor, it’s not a case that would normally involve Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin. But the man accused of the murder is dear to a woman Devlin once loved. She claims her husband is innocent – of that crime at least.

Devlin agrees to look into the killing, as it’s pretty obvious that whatever else is going on, there’s been somewhat of a rush to judgment, to the point where it looks like a fix is in. A fix that has tentacles that reach all the way up to the highest powers in that land – whether one defines those high and mighty powers as the Prince Regent or Devlin’s father-in-law, the power behind Prinny’s shaky throne.

At first, it doesn’t seem possible that the famous blue diamond could have anything to do with the death of a dealer whose hands it may have passed through, once upon a time. After all, Daniel Eisler – at least in his fictional incarnation – is such a thoroughgoing bastard that most who hear of his death consider it an improvement to humanity as a whole.

(Daniel Eisler was based on a real person, Daniel Eliason, who really does occupy a place in the history of the Hope Diamond at the time this story takes place. However, the real person does not seem to have been anything like as poor an excuse for a human being as his fictional counterpart.)

But the deeper Devlin digs, the more the diamond – and the agents of Napoleon still hunting it after twenty years – appears to be at the center of a case that otherwise gets darker and murkier as it goes.

Revealing secrets and lies that have lurked in the shadows of the seemingly war with France – and have the potential to rock Prinny’s unstable Regency to its foundations.

Escape Rating A: It’s not much of a surprise that after Tuesday’s book reminded me SO MUCH of St. Cyr that I would be hearing the siren song of the next book in my catch-up read of the series. I kind of wish I’d listened to that voice a bit more readily, as once I started What Darkness Brings I fell right into it with a grateful sigh.

One of the things that I’ve loved about this series is the way that it blends real historical events and figures with a story that often feels “ripped from the headlines” of its own era’s newspapers and gutter press.

Nearly all the history of the Hope Diamond and the French Blue diamond from which it was cut really happened – especially the truly wild bits about the original theft. The speculation about why that theft occurred and just how it got to England are not just plausible but have been looked into as possibilities over the centuries. One part of that speculation and conjecture in Devlin’s time, however, has been verified. In 2005, when scientific testing confirmed that the Hope Diamond was, in fact, cut from the gem in the French Crown Jewels.

At first, I didn’t think the plots in this entry in the series were going to reach nearly as high as they did, but once you read even a bit of the true history and the conjectures that surround it, it made sense that it turned out the way it did.

The way the murder, the theft plot and the real history branched and intertwined made this entry in the series one hell of a wild ride, while still tying up loose ends from previous entries and opening up entirely new fields of questions for future books in the series – some of which have admittedly been answered by the point where the series as a whole rests – hopefully temporarily – after Who Cries for the Lost closed its own set of doors and opened yet more to keep us all on pins and needles until the next entry in the series.

Next up in my catching up/filling in read of the St. Cyr series will be Why Kings Confess. And I confess that I’ll be picking that up the next time I’m looking for a comfort read, or guaranteed competence porn, or just have the urge to see what I missed with these marvelous characters!

Berry Good Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Berry Good Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

It’s always terrific to have a blog hop on the first day of the month (Thank You MAMA!) and this one is especially good because it’s named for all the delicious fresh fruit – including berries – that is just perfectly ripe and juicy over the summer. With school being out, it’s enough to make anyone think that “WOW, Summer is HERE!”

What makes you feel the summery-est?  Answer below for your chance at the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in Books.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more “berry good” prizes, be sure to visit 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: A Thousand Recipes for Revenge by Beth Cato

Review: A Thousand Recipes for Revenge by Beth CatoA Thousand Recipes for Revenge by Beth Cato
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, historical fantasy
Series: Chefs of the Five Gods #1
Pages: 411
Published by 47North on June 13, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBookshop.orgBetter World Books

A world on the brink of war and a mother and daughter on the run, in a thrilling novel of swashbuckling adventure, culinary magic, and just desserts.
Adamantine “Ada” Garland has an empathic connection to food and wine, a magical perception of aromas, flavors, and ingredients. Invaluable property of the royal court, Ada was in service to the Five Gods and to the Gods-ordained rulers of Verdania—until she had enough of injustice and bloodshed and deserted, seeking to chart her own destiny. When mysterious assassins ferret her out after sixteen years in hiding, Ada, now a rogue Chef, and her beloved Grand-mère run for their lives, only to find themselves on a path toward an unexpected ally.
A foreign princess in a strange court, Solenn unknowingly shares more with Ada than an epicurean gift. They share blood. With her newfound magical perception, she becomes aware of a plot to kill her fiancé, the prince. It’s part of a ploy by adversarial forces in the rival country of Albion to sow conflict, and Solenn is set up to take the blame.
As Ada’s and Solenn’s paths converge, a mother and her long-lost daughter reunite toward a common goal, and against a shadowy enemy from Ada’s past who is out for revenge. But what sacrifices must be made? What hope is there when powerful Gods pick sides in a war simmering to eruption?

My Review:

There are a thousand quotes about revenge and most of them are not kind to the person seeking it. But it’s possible that the one in the world of these particular five gods is the most bitter, literally and figuratively. “There are a thousand recipes for revenge, and they all taste like scat.”

In other words, revenge tastes like shit. In a world where the ability to perceive and even enhance the qualities of every single thing a person might eat or drink is the highest form of magic, that has to be one of its world’s greatest curses.

And a warning that entirely too many people have refused to heed in this fantastic story that has only just begun.

At first, we’re following two women who don’t seem to have much to do with each other. And even though we don’t know it yet, someone’s revenge has reached out, seemingly from beyond the grave, to do its best to turn both their lives into shit.

Or perhaps something a bit worse but surprisingly edible – even if it really, really shouldn’t be. Which is where this world’s magic comes in.

Ada Garland is one of the chefs blessed by Gyst, the God of Mysteries and Unknowns. Her tongue is literally magic. She can tell whether something is clean or polluted, poisonous or just badly prepared, too salty, too sweet, or perfectly balanced. Her magic allows her to make the dish that a person wants and needs most in that moment – and do it perfectly every time.

And she has the power to turn certain special ingredients, called epicurea, into magical items that will pass their magic on to whoever eats them.

It’s a gift and a curse at the same time, as all blessed chefs in her country are automatically conscripted into the royal service the moment their talents manifest. It’s a service that led Ada to her husband and their child. And it’s a service that split them apart when the alliance between their countries dissolved.

Ada is on the run, and has been for over a decade, taking care of her increasingly unstable grandmother while avoiding the grasping, greedy mother who wants to use her and her talent for ends that are even more unsavory than Ada first believed.

The revenge that reaches out for Ada, her friends and her family threatens to expose all of her secrets – and theirs. If it doesn’t get them all killed first. Or worse. Much, much worse.

Escape Rating A+: I picked this up because I was looking for something else with magical cookery after The Nameless Restaurant. Both stories do feature cookery as Magic with a Capital “M”, but that is the only thing they have in common. I’m still grateful for the push from the one to the other, because A Thousand Recipes for Revenge is just plain awesome and I’m so glad I read it, even if it is making me give the side-eye to pretty much everything I eat.

The magic system here is both fascinating and unsettling at the same time, because it’s all wrapped around magical foods, the ability to create them and the ability to taste them. This is a world where many people can cook, and unsurprisingly so or everyone would starve, but where it takes a gift from the actual gods to be a chef. But the silver lining of that gift comes with plenty of cloud wrapped around it, as both Ada and Princess Solenn discover to their cost.

This is also definitely one of those stories about being better off – or at least sleeping better at night – if one did not know how the sausage was made. It’s a secret that has been brutally suppressed in this world for excellent if entirely terrible reasons.

At first, this seems like a rather typical military type, gaslamp set fantasy. Ada is AWOL from her military service, while our second perspective on this story, Princess Solenn, is in the midst of being married off for a political alliance.

But then Ada’s old comrades start getting killed, Ada’s hidden existence is suddenly under threat, and it seems like she’s on the run from awful but otherwise mundane forces. Until things go completely pear-shaped and the gods start getting involved. At which point it’s off to the races – against time, against death, against the forces of oppression and most especially against petulant beings who would rather play with their food than either nurture it, treat it as a pet or kill it as prey.

And then things get really complicated.

I thought I knew where this was going. And then I thought I knew where this was going. But it didn’t go any of the places I thought it would, but where it did end up was both head spinning and stomach churning as well as a tremendous tease because there had to be more and at first I didn’t realize there was, but there is and oh thank goodness!

Ada and Solenn give readers two heroines to route for, as this is both Ada’s story of picking up the pieces of the life she left behind and Solenn’s coming of age story and both are fantastic. The world’s setup at first seems fairly standard epic fantasy and then goes to places that are fresh (if occasionally rotting) and new and unexpected. There are bits of Bujold’s World of the Five Gods and Jenn Lyons’ A Chorus of Dragons in the way that the gods of this world operate, as well as Guy Gavriel Kay’s and Jacqueline Carey‘s use of real world geography and history as a way of creating a fantasy world’s map and political divisions, but the magic system is just completely off a new wall and it’s marvelous in the way it suffuses the story.

Which, as I squeed earlier, thankfully isn’t done yet. There’s a second book in the Chefs of the Five Gods series, A Feast for Starving Stone, coming in January. And I can’t wait!

Review: The Benevolent Society of Ill Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman

Review: The Benevolent Society of Ill Mannered Ladies by Alison GoodmanThe Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies (The Ill-Mannered Ladies, #1) by Alison Goodman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Ill-Mannered Ladies #1
Pages: 464
Published by Berkley on May 30, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

A high society amateur detective at the heart of Regency London uses her wits and invisibility as an 'old maid' to protect other women in a new and fiercely feminist historical mystery series from New York Times bestselling author Alison Goodman.
Lady Augusta Colebrook, "Gus," is determinedly unmarried, bored by society life, and tired of being dismissed at the age of forty-two. She and her twin sister, Julia, who is grieving her dead betrothed, need a distraction. One soon presents itself: to rescue their friend's goddaughter, Caroline, from her violent husband.
The sisters set out to Caroline's country estate with a plan, but their carriage is accosted by a highwayman. In the scuffle, Gus accidentally shoots and injures the ruffian, only to discover he is Lord Evan Belford, an acquaintance from their past who was charged with murder and exiled to Australia twenty years ago. What follows is a high adventure full of danger, clever improvisation, heart-racing near misses, and a little help from a revived and rather charming Lord Evan.
Back in London, Gus can't stop thinking about her unlikely (not to mention handsome) comrade-in-arms. She is convinced Lord Evan was falsely accused of murder, and she is going to prove it. She persuades Julia to join her in a quest to help Lord Evan, and others in need—society be damned! And so begins the beguiling secret life and adventures of the Colebrook twins.
A rollicking and joyous adventure, with a beautiful love story at its heart, about two rebellious sisters forging their own path in Regency London

My Review:

Lady Augusta Colebrook is an ape-leader. She’s a 42 year old spinster with no prospects of marriage whatsoever – and she’s content in that state, living with her twin sister Julia in rather well-upholstered circumstances. Lady Augusta and Julia may still be under the control of the younger brother who inherited the title, but his control is limited to general opprobrium and ownership of the house they live in as they have independent means of their own.

What makes Lady Augusta (generally called Gus by her friends and intimates) an ape-leader? The term is from an old English adage which said that a spinster’s punishment after death, for failing to procreate, would be to lead apes in hell. Technically both Gus and Julia are ape-leaders, but Gus’ personality tends toward leading considerably more than Julia’s does or ever will.

Julia is a peacemaker who thinks the best of everyone. Gus is the person in whose wake Julia is generally trying to make peace after Gus has refused to kowtow to the behavioral expectations due to her gender.

The sisters should be content to sit on the sidelines of Regency society and mind their own behavior while observing the misbehavior (amorous and otherwise) of the younger and livelier members of the ton.

But there’s life in both of these “old girls” yet, and Gus at least is determined to make sure that both of them experience that life to the fullest – for whatever time her sister might have left. Which leads them to the kind of dangerous derring-do that neither of them ever expected.

The kind of adventure in the kinds of places that may very well get them killed – even as it opens their eyes to the kinds of things that no well-bred, well-behaved woman is expected to see or know.

But once they’ve seen, once they know, they can’t unsee. And they can’t help but try to fix what they can with as much benevolence as possible.

Escape Rating B+: “Well behaved women seldom make history” or so goes the famous quote by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, which may be a quote from 1976 rather than the Colebrook sisters Regency – but very much still applies.

It’s also the reason I picked this book up.

The cover, and the blurb, both lead readers to the impression that this book is going to be on the light and frothy side, but that is far from the case. Rather than being a look at the frivolities and minor disgraces in the life of the ton, as so many Regency romances are, The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies shines its light in very dark places, in a way that is not dissimilar to C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr series.

Both the Colebrook sisters and St. Cyr are conducting their investigations during the Regency period, in this book specifically 1812 – which is also the year in which books 4 through 8 of the St. Cyr series (Where Serpents Sleep, What Remains of Heaven, Where Shadows Dance, When Maidens Mourn, What Darkness Brings) take place. Both series expose the slimy underbelly of the glittering Regency, but they do it from different perspectives.

St. Cyr, as a member of the aristocracy, operates within the halls of power, while the Colebrook sisters, as disregarded females on the outskirts of the ton, expose the dangers that specifically affect women in that society merely for living while female. In a way, it’s as though Sebastian’s wife Hero, a social reformer in her own right, was the focal point of his series.

(This is all a very large hint that if you enjoy the one series you’ll probably enjoy the other, as they are shining their lights into the dark places of the same historical period. Just not the same dark places.)

What makes the dark places that the Colebrook sisters so chilling is that the places their so-called ill-behavior takes them were all much too real. And it’s much too easy for a reader to imagine themselves in those circumstances. Women really were not just their husband’s property in this era, but his to seemingly dispose of as he pleased, even into an early grave whether indirectly by way of an insane asylum or by an outright murder which was entirely too easy to cover up in a world where a man’s word was law, his wife was chattel and forensic science hadn’t even reached infancy yet.

It’s no wonder that Gus has no desire to marry – she’s too intelligent not to be aware that for a woman with both independent means and an independent streak a mile wide, the costs for her could be deadly.

The conditions that Gus and Julia investigate in the three stories that make up this book are dark, gruesome and inescapably real, to the point where this book needs a whole lot more trigger warnings than that blurb would lead one to believe.

Whether or not a reader will stick through those dark places is going to depend a lot on how one feels about Gus and Julia, because they, especially Gus, are the ones leading us through multiple valleys of the shadow of death, and if they aren’t people you’re willing to follow, then it does work.

I felt for Gus, and liked her intelligent observations of the conditions she was supposed to live under and decided to refuse from her position of relative privilege. I’m not totally sure she successfully walked that fine line between giving a historical-set heroine enough agency to do the things we need her to do to be the protagonist without making her more of a creature of our time than hers. Julia does feel like a woman of her times, which is why she drove me a bit crazy as a character as I couldn’t get into her head at all.

Your reading mileage may vary when it comes to Gus and Julia, but there seems to be no debate on the personality of their brother Duffy. Duffy is used to demonstrate just how circumscribed their lives are supposed to be by the lights of their society. He’s also a total arsehat, a person whose head is so far up their arse that they are wearing it for a hat. And in Duffy’s case, only the British spelling will do. He’s the character we all love to hate. If this were the froth that the cover picture leads you to believe, he’d be both the villain AND the comic relief.

Instead he’s a symbol of everything that’s wrong and just why Gus needs to fight back so damn much and so damn hard.

While there is a bit of a romance hinted at, this is far, far, far from being what is usually meant by a Regency romance – and it’s a much more interesting book for it, but perhaps not for the faint of heart.

Memorial Day 2023

Memorial marker for Lt. John R. Fox

When directing artillery fire, using the phrase “danger close” signifies that the desired target for the fire is close to friendly forces, possibly including the artillery observer — and that the observer is aware of that fact. The distance for a strike to be considered “danger close” varies with the type of weapon, but for artillery it’s at minimum 600 meters. The point of the phrase, of course, is to acknowledge that the request is dangerous but not suicidal.

Calling a strike directly on one’s own position is an evocative act. As a former artillery office put it on Quora: “People who called in artillery, or gunships, or aerial bombs on their own position have been noted to have received EITHER a posthumous Medal of Honor OR… considered to be foolish and excitable at their funerals.” And that makes sense; trying to live to fight another day is better than a heroic sacrifice that accomplishes little.

Of course, some times living to fight another day is not in the cards. Lieutenant John R. Fox found himself in such a position in Sommocolonia, Italy, on 26 December 1944. A group of U.S. soldiers were dug in defending the village against an overwhelming force of the Wehrmacht. Lt. Fox directed artillery fire against the attackers, but eventually his position was about to get overrun with no chance of Fox being allowed to be captured. Consequently, he called down fire on his own position.

As it happened, one of Fox’s best friends, Maj. Otis Zachary, was the gunner. Zachary refused Fox’s request until a colonel ordered that the fire proceed.

After the battle, the villagers were rounded up and made to leave the village. Their priest recalled seeing Fox’s body surrounded by the corpses of a hundred attackers.

Instant Medal of Honor? Not so much:

Medal of Honor Recipient John R. Fox

Like many African American soldiers, Lt. Fox’s sacrifice was not recognized at the time. The “Buffalo Soldiers” were, after all, just expected to melt away. Formal desegregation of the army wouldn’t happen for another four years.  It took 38 years for him to be awarded a Distinguished Service Medal; 53 to get the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The villagers of Sommocolonia had long acknowledged the sacrifice of the U.S. soldiers in defense of their town, but had it not been for the efforts of the survivors and families of the soldiers, as well as that of author Solace Wales, Lt. Fox may not have been remembered at all.

Remembrance is not a passive act. It takes time and effort to remember, especially of the things that for whatever reasons of prejudice were discounted or intentional forgotten.

On this Memorial Day, remember — actively.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-28-23

Happy 3-day Memorial Day Holiday Weekend to everyone lucky enough to have it!

Last week’s reading plan went a bit pear-shaped, just like the week before. It happens but it is so damn frustrating when it does! This week’s just doesn’t have all that many places it CAN go, between the holiday and the blog hop. A chance for a bit of a reset, I hope.

Speaking of hope, here’s a picture of Luna in the process of her own exploration of the catio. She’s posing on the breakfast nook window, hoping to induce her daddy-person to come out and join her. Possibly with his own breakfast!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Moms Rock Giveaway Hop (ENDS WEDNESDAY!!!)

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop is Elaine G

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Watching the Clock by Christopher L. Bennett
B+ Review: Dear Chrysanthemums by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
A+ Review: Red Team Blues by Cory Doctorow
B Review: Light Chaser by Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L. Powell
A- Review: The Nameless Restaurant by Tao Wong
Stacking the Shelves (550)

Coming This Week:

Memorial Day 2023 (Guest post by Galen)
The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman (blog tour review)
A Thousand Recipes for Revenge by Beth Cato (review)
Berry Good Giveaway Hop
Marion Lane and the Raven’s Revenge by T.A. Willberg (review)

Stacking the Shelves (550)

Not a big stack this week. I’m not sure whether that’s the result of the summer books being at the forefront – as there are always less of them, or just fewer books that I wanted this time around. Although, speaking of wanting things, after finishing yesterday’s delicious audiobook, The Nameless Restaurant, as I wrote the review I learned that this first Hidden Dishes story was set in the author’s existing Hidden Wishes world. I sensed a theme there, more than enough of a theme to have me buying that earlier series!

This week’s prettiest covers are An Inheritance of Magic and, yet again, The Last Drop of Hemlock, this time in audio. Although The Hexologists manages to be both pretty AND pretty interesting looking.

Have a terrific weekend!

For Review:
Devil Makes Three by Ben Fountain
The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft
House Gone Quiet by Kelsey Norris
An Inheritance of Magic (Inheritance of Magic #1) by Benedict Jacka
The Last Drop of Hemlock (Nightingale Mysteries #2) by Katharine Schellman (audio)
On Freedom Road by David Goodrich
Ravensong (Green Creek #2) by TJ Klune
Sandymancer by David Edison

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Etc.:
A Gamer’s Wish (Hidden Wishes #1) by Tao Wong
A Jinn’s Wish (Hidden Wishes #3) by Tao Wong
A Squire’s Wish (Hidden Wishes #2) by Tao Wong
War Cry by Brian McClellan

If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

Please link your STS post in the linky below:

Review: The Nameless Restaurant by Tao Wong

Review: The Nameless Restaurant by Tao WongThe Nameless Restaurant (Hidden Dishes: Book #1) by Tao Wong
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Format: audiobook
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy fantasy, fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Dishes #1
Pages: 168
Length: 3 hours and 10 minutes
Published by Dreamscape Media, Starlit Publishing on June 1, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

There is a restaurant in Toronto. Its entrance is announced only by a simple, unadorned wooden door, varnished to a beautiful shine but without paint, hidden beside dumpsters and a fire escape. There is no sign, no indication of what lies behind the door.
If you do manage to find the restaurant, the décor is dated and worn. Homey, if one were to be generous. The service is atrocious, the proprietor a grouch. The regulars are worse: silent, brooding, and unfriendly to newcomers. There is no set menu, alternating with the whim and whimsy of the owner. The selection of wine and beer is sparse or non-existent at times, and the prices for everything outrageous.There is a restaurant in Toronto that is magically hidden, whose service is horrible, and whose food is divine.This is the story of the Nameless Restaurant.

My Review:

“Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger,” or so the t-shirt goes. There’s a wizard’s corollary to this that goes, “Wizards should not meddle in the affairs of jinn, for they are not subtle at all and very capable of schooling foolish wizards who overstep while they are spooning up dessert along with the wizards’ deflated egos.”

But that dessert occurs at the end of this tasty meal of a book. There are plenty of delicious courses before you get there.

The story in The Nameless Restaurant is also the story of a day in the life of this nameless restaurant, a tiny, hole in the wall place hidden in downtown Toronto where the magic of delicious meals happens at the hands of the restaurant’s magically adept owner-chef.

That chef-owner’s day usually begins with prep for the evening meals for his usual, but mostly supernatural, customers. On this day, Mo Meng, has to alter his routine due to an interruption by a spoiled brat of a jinn demanding that he serve her and her wizard companion a meal, right that minute with whatever he might have on hand.

Mo Meng grumps about both the interruption to his routine and the overbearing willfulness of his “guest” but still complies with her request-couched-entirely-as-an-order. She doesn’t even bother to pay for her meal when she’s finished the best meal she’s ever had.

But the destruction she might leave in her wake if he calls her on it simply is not worth the trouble.

Not that trouble doesn’t follow her back to the restaurant that evening. And that’s where things get truly fascinating, as we hear not just the details of the mouth-watering dishes that Mo Meng prepares, but we also get a ringside seat for an epic confrontation between a jinn who has, in fact and really truly, seen it all and done it all for millenia, and a gaggle of human magic users who think they’re all that when they really, really aren’t. A fact which Lily is more than happy to school them ALL in while she savors her dessert.

Escape Rating A-: Anyone who loved Travis Baldree’s Legends & Lattes is going to eat The Nameless Restaurant up with the very same spoon. If you’re looking for something to tide you over until Bookshops & Bonedust comes out, The Nameless Restaurant is definitely it!

The format of this little chef’s kiss of a story is “a day in the life”, but what a day and what a life! At first, the fantasy aspects are pretty minimal. It’s clear from Mo Meng’s musings and grumblings that he is a magic-user of some kind, but the details are covered in the sauce of his meticulous descriptions of food preparation.

It’s only when the pot of the story is fully on the boil, when the irregular regular denizens of the restaurant gather for what sounds like a spectacular meal (as all meals in that restaurant seem to be) that the reader gets some real hints about the nature of both the place and community it serves and why Mo Meng serves it.

Which is where both the fun and the tension come in. While everyone in the place is magical in one way or another except for Kelly the waitress, the Nameless Restaurant is warded to be a place where most of that magic gets left outside – except for Mo Meng’s cooking skills, of course.

So the tension in the story ratchets up slowly as the reader gets hints – and picks sides! – in the upcoming conflict. Which, when it comes, is explosive – but not in the way that the urban fantasy setting might lead one to believe.

This is, after all, a cozy fantasy. So what is brewing in that little place isn’t a battle – but it most definitely is going to be a takedown. With dessert. And leaves the diners eagerly anticipating another night at the Nameless Restaurant, while the reader is left salivating for the next installment in this delicious series!

One final word of caution. You are probably familiar with the warning about not going to the grocery store hungry, out of the very reasonable fear that you will attempt to buy the entire store because in your hunger it ALL looks good? This book takes that one step further, as it should be issued with a caution not to drive to the grocery store while listening, as not only will you be tempted to eat the entire store, but you’ll end up disappointed because nothing you consume will measure up to the temptations described in the story.

Review: Light Chaser by Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L. Powell

Review: Light Chaser by Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L. PowellLight Chaser by Peter F. Hamilton
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Pages: 173
Published by Tordotcom on August 24, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

In Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L. Powell's action-packed sci-fi adventure Light Chaser, a love powerful enough to transcend death can bring down an entire empire.
Amahle is a Light Chaser - one of a number of explorers, who travel the universe alone (except for their onboard AI), trading trinkets for life stories.
But when she listens to the stories sent down through the ages she hears the same voice talking directly to her from different times and on different worlds. She comes to understand that something terrible is happening, and only she is in a position to do anything about it.
And it will cost everything to put it right.

My Review:

How to reboot the galaxy in 10 (or so) not so easy lessons. Because that first lesson includes the really heavy lifting of getting you to believe that the cushy, if a bit lonely, life you’ve been leading for millennia NEEDS to be rebooted in the worst way.

And that you’re the only one who can possibly do the job. If you can be convinced to deal with the heartbreak of both a completely epic betrayal on a galactic scale AND the heartbreak of un-forgetting the loss of the love of your artificially long life. Over and over again.

Amahle is the Light Chaser of the title. She, and all of her ilk, travel in endless repeating circuits of their little corner of the galaxy, distributing trinkets, treasures and carefully curated technology to dozens – or perhaps hundreds – of stagnant little planets in return for recordings of memories and experiences faithfully preserved in high-tech collars in the centuries since their previous visits.

There’s nothing sinister about the recordings themselves. In fact, the reverse. The Light Chasers are treated pretty much like deities, and the tech and the treasure that they bring is a boon to both the individual economies and the local planetary government. The collars keep records only, they don’t take anything from their wearers.

But the conditions of the planets. That’s where things get sinister. Because each planet is locked in whatever era of development it was created – whether their situation is bloody, medieval horror or post-scarcity techno-pampered ennui.

There’s no growth. There’s no change. There’s no evolution. Golden ages last forever – but so do Dark ones. To the point where Amahle, no matter how many times her memory has been wiped, is starting to notice.

Which is where Carloman comes in. Over and over again. Seemingly reborn on multiple planets in multiple eras, seeking out one of her collar-wearers so that he can deliver a message. Knowing that she will inevitably see that message in the long (at least relatively) journeys between the stars.

If he doesn’t manage to get the whole message across in one circuit, he’ll simply have to try again. Until he gets it right. Or she does.

Escape Rating B: As much as I LOVED yesterday’s Red Team Blues, I did go into it thinking I was going to get something SFnal – so I had still had a taste for that in my mind. (And I had another book just fail.) So I went looking for something short and SFnal that I already had – which is where Light Chaser comes in.

There are two threads to this story. The first one is hidden – at first. Because from one perspective, Light Chaser is the ultimate star-crossed, crosstime, long-distance romance. It’s so long distance and so far across time that initially Amahle doesn’t even remember that once upon a time, it happened. (And yes, there are hints of This is How You Lose the Time War if you squint a bit.)

Amahle’s been made to forget, repeatedly and often over the very long years, but her once and future love, Carloman, loves her so damn much that he’s managed to get around a veritable empire of AIs that are keeping them apart.

We never do find out how he does that, we only know that he has. And does. And possibly will again if it doesn’t work this time around.

The truly SFnal part of the story is the story of Amahle’s life in her here and now, as Carloman’s intrusions into the collars she has collected and viewed slowly but surely strips away her somewhat bored complaisance and wakes her up to a truth that seemingly only he can see. But once she’s seen it, she can’t unsee it, to the point where she tears her whole world apart to get it back.

It starts at the end and ends at the beginning, but along the way it portrays a far future world that isn’t what it ought to be – and tells the story of the painful stripping away of both illusion and self needed to get it back on track.

I finished Light Chaser wanting just a bit more of pretty much everything, as there is a LOT of handwavium involved in making the whole thing work. But within the constraints of a novella, it does a terrific job of making the reader think right along with Amahle. Digging this one out of the depths of the virtually towering TBR pile was absolutely the right thing to do!