Review: Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara

Review: Clark and Division by Naomi HiraharaClark and Division by Naomi Hirahara
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, World War II
Pages: 312
Published by Soho Crime on August 3, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set in 1944 Chicago, Edgar Award-winner Naomi Hirahara’s eye-opening and poignant new mystery, the story of a young woman searching for the truth about her revered older sister’s death, brings to focus the struggles of one Japanese American family released from mass incarceration at Manzanar during World War II.
Twenty-year-old Aki Ito and her parents have just been released from Manzanar, where they have been detained by the US government since the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, together with thousands of other Japanese Americans. The life in California the Itos were forced to leave behind is gone; instead, they are being resettled two thousand miles away in Chicago, where Aki’s older sister, Rose, was sent months earlier and moved to the new Japanese American neighborhood near Clark and Division streets. But on the eve of the Ito family’s reunion, Rose is killed by a subway train.
Aki, who worshipped her sister, is stunned. Officials are ruling Rose’s death a suicide. Aki cannot believe her perfect, polished, and optimistic sister would end her life. Her instinct tells her there is much more to the story, and she knows she is the only person who could ever learn the truth.
Inspired by historical events, Clark and Division infuses an atmospheric and heartbreakingly real crime fiction plot with rich period details and delicately wrought personal stories Naomi Hirahara has gleaned from thirty years of research and archival work in Japanese American history.

My Review:

This story is a reminder that, for all its midwestern friendliness, Chicago is still as Carl Sandburg so famously put it, the “City of the Big Shoulders”, and it can turn a cold, cold heart towards anyone it deems an outsider. It’s why Chicago, to this day, is considered one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., along with the New York City/North Jersey/Long Island metroplex, Milwaukee (which is close to becoming part of greater Chicagoland every day) and Detroit.

The biggest part of this story is about the Japanese-American experience in Chicago during World War II, as seen through the eyes of Aki Ito, a young Nisei woman from California by way of the Manzanar Relocation Center (read as political double-speak for concentration camp) who arrives in Chicago in 1944 with her parents to discover that her older sister Rose died the day before, crushed under the wheels of one of Chicago’s famous “El” trains. Rose’s death is ruled as a suicide, but Aki is determined to prove that her idolized older sister was murdered.

But Clark and Division is not a murder mystery, although it is being promoted that way. And not that there isn’t something to investigate in Rose Ito’s death. But Aki doesn’t so much investigate as obsess and flail around. Rose’s death drives Aki, but the investigation of it does not drive the story.

What does drive this story is Aki’s exploration of and adaptation to a city that does not want either her or her people to become part of it. Except that they are and they have, and Aki’s journey is to discover herself and how she fits into both her own community and this strange and unwelcoming place as she learns to live her life out from under her sister’s long and rather brilliant shadow.

Escape Rating B: It’s hard to figure out where to start with this one, because there were so many interesting parts to this story, but none of them quite gelled into a whole. Or at least not into the whole that I was expecting. Which means I ended up with a ton of mixed feelings about this book, because I wanted to like it and get wrapped up in it way more than I did.

One of the reasons the whole is not greater than the sum of its interesting parts is that there is so much that happens before Aki gets to Chicago, and there’s not enough time or space to go into any of it in nearly enough detail. That the story begins with Aki’s childhood in Tropico, California, where her father is successful and respected is a necessary grounding because it makes the transition to Manzanar and the later move north to Chicago and down the socioeconomic scale all that much more traumatic. But we don’t get enough depth in either of those parts of the story so it compresses the time we have with Aki in Chicago where the mystery is.

Also, the story is told from Aki’s first person perspective and it all feels a bit shallow. Not that she’s shallow – or at least no more shallow than any other woman her age – but rather that we only skim the surface of her thoughts and feelings. Too much of what happens to her in Chicago reads like more of a recitation of what she did than an in-depth exploration of what she thought and felt. Although I certainly enjoyed Aki’s description of working for Chicago’s famous Newberry Library in the 1940s.

The portrait drawn of the Japanese-American community in Chicago during the war years, along with the crimes, both to her sister and to her community, that Aki looks into/flails around at are based on historical events, but the story isn’t enough about those crimes to fit this into the true crime genre, either. Although the parts of the story that wrapped around the history of Chicago were fascinating and I wish the story had gotten into more depth there.

And that may sum up my feelings about this book the best. I wish there had been more depth to the fascinating parts. There are clearly entire libraries of stories that could flesh out this piece of forgotten (willfully forgotten in the case of the “relocation centers”) history. I just wish this had one of them.

Review: The Godstone by Violette Malan

Review: The Godstone by Violette MalanThe Godstone by Violette Malan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Pages: 304
Published by DAW Books on August 3, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This new epic fantasy series begins a tale of magic and danger, as a healer finds herself pulled deeper into a web of secrets and hazardous magic that could bring about the end of the world as she knows it.
Fenra Lowens has been a working Practitioner, using the magic of healing ever since she graduated from the White Court and left the City to live in the Outer Modes. When one of her patients, Arlyn Albainil, is summoned to the City to execute the final testament of a distant cousin, she agrees to help him. Arlyn suspects the White Court wants to access his cousin's Practitioner's vault. Arlyn can't ignore the summons: he knows the vault holds an artifact so dangerous he can't allow it to be freed.
Fenra quickly figures out that there is no cousin, that Arlyn himself is the missing Practitioner, the legendary Xandra Albainil, rumored to have made a Godstone with which he once almost destroyed the world. Sealing away the Godstone left Arlyn powerless and ill, and he needs Fenra to help him deal with the possibly sentient artifact before someone else finds and uses it.
Along the way they encounter Elvanyn Karamisk, an old friend whom Arlyn once betrayed. Convinced that Arlyn has not changed, and intends to use Fenra to recover the Godstone and with it all his power, Elvanyn joins them to keep Fenra safe and help her destroy the artifact.

My Review:

This is a first. I’ve never read a blurb for a book that managed to reveal too much AND say too little at the same time. It doesn’t really do a good job of describing or teasing the book at all, but still manages to reveal the thing that if it were in a review would be labelled a spoiler. ARRGGGHHH!

So, this wasn’t quite what I was expecting, except in that this is an author I really enjoy (start her Dhulyn and Parno series with The Sleeping God or her more recent book, Halls of Law, written under V.M. Escalada but it’s still her.) So I was expecting a good reading time – and I certainly got that – I just didn’t get it quite the way I started out thinking I would.

This is one of those stories where it feels like you’re dropped in the middle. Which can be a good thing, because it makes the world and the characters seem fully formed from the very beginning. On the other hand, because no one is getting introduced to this world or coming of age in this story we don’t get the explanations that help ground readers into a new world.

It’s more like an immersive language course. The language, after all, already exists and is fully formed when the student begins the class. The newbie is then in a sink or swim situation to get up to speed as soon as possible.

So it is in The Godstone. As the story begins, we’re in a small village out in the hinterlands somewhere. Far from the capital, which is just how both Arlyn Albainil and Fenra Lowens like it. Arlyn is a world-renowned furniture maker, and Fenra is the village healer. Arlyn is also Fenra’s long-term patient, as he suffers from what we would call periodic bouts of severe depression.

Both characters are well into adulthood when we meet them, even if Arlyn is a whole lot further into adulthood than anyone – including his healer – could possibly imagine. They are who they are going to be. What makes them interesting is that they are not exactly who they appear to be, and especially not precisely who they have told each other they are.

The Godstone is an adventure story. And a quest. And a story about being forced to dismantle a comfortable persona in order to do what desperately needs to be done.

Which just so happens to turn out to be saving the world.

Escape Rating A-: This turned out to be an absorbing little world, and a surprisingly compelling story, in spite of the fact that I a)knew way too much from the blurb going in and b)went down a rabbit hole of my own making and couldn’t get myself out. Only to eventually realize that the rabbit hole was not quite as much of a wild goose chase as I originally thought.

And that many of my assumptions about the way that things work here, based on what they remind me of, may be considerably more off-base that rabbit hole that sorta/kinda wasn’t.

The story at first seems straightforward enough, in a sense, because it’s obvious to Arlyn from the very beginning that there are some seriously screwy political shenanigans going on in the capital that someone wants to entangle him in. So even though the political shenanigans themselves are more convoluted and dangerous than first appears – because of course they are – that initial framework itself is easy to understand.

Arlyn knows that his summons to the capital is not exactly on the up and up because he’s being summoned as the nearest relative of a powerful practitioner (read as magic-user). He knows it’s not legit because he himself is the supposedly dead practitioner he’s been pretending to be the relative of for, let’s say, lo these many years.

Fenra, who is the local practitioner in their remote village, assumes its not totally legit because the rise of political shenanigans in the capital was the reason she decided to set up her practice in a remote village in the first place. Paraphrasing Shakespeare a bit, because this story made me borrow bits from pretty much everywhere – It’s Denmark, and the state of the place is rotten and getting rottener by the year. Fenra doesn’t want her patient getting caught up in someone else’s game of political or magical one-upmanship, whoever and whatever it might be.

The exact nature of Arlyn’s illness – or at least how he became ill – is suddenly and perpetually relevant. Arlyn has periodic bouts of what appears to be a deep depression. Fenra is able to level him out so he can be functional – and also not waste away into nothingness – but she can’t cure him.

What makes Arlyn’s illness so fascinating, and what turns out to be the central puzzle of the whole story, is how he got that way. Once upon a time, the practitioner he used to be created an artifact that could literally destroy the world. He couldn’t destroy the artifact or at least not without potentially doing the thing he didn’t want to do in the first place, i.e. destroying the world that he himself was living on, so he locked it away where it could never be found. Except, of course, it has been, hence the original not-exactly-legit summons.

Arlyn thought that when he locked away the artifact, the Godstone, he lost his power in the locking away. Instead, he split himself in two, kind of like the episodes of Star Trek where Captain Kirk splits into good and evil twins. So there are two Arlyns, and both of them are telling their bits of the story in the first person, as are Fenra and Arlyn’s long-lost – seriously lost – friend, Elvanyn.

I found myself following the story by using equivalences. The Modes, the different neighborhoods, or counties or villages, seemed to be like the Shards of Marie Brennan’s Driftwood. Not quite, but close enough. Political skullduggery is it’s own mess, but the forms it takes tend to be similar, and so it seems here. Arlyn’s personality split echoes that Star Trek scenario, as what he’s divided into are a half with knowledge but no power, and one with power but no knowledge. Arlyn is actually a fairly decent person, while his other half, Xandra, has all of his power and all the arrogance that goes with it, but none of Arlyn’s wisdom or empathy to temper it.

Arlyn was a bit of a puzzle because his name echoes a character in, of all things, Final Fantasy XV. I kept mentally equating Arlyn Arbainil with Ardyn Izunia. Then I thought I’d fallen down a rabbit hole, then I decided that there was more carryover than I first thought, and not just because both characters are considerably older than they appear. Also much more of a psychological mess than they first appear. And while Arlyn is not as nasty as Ardyn, his long-buried counterpart, Xandra, certainly is.

So there’s a lot to process in this one. I enjoyed the hell out of it, even the times I was a bit confused. The round-robin of first-person narratives got a bit confusing with both Arlyn and the other Arlyn telling their parts of the story under the same name, but they were so opposite to each other that it didn’t take too long to get back on track.

There are still so many things about this world I don’t know, things that occasionally got a bit in my way but never for long. I loved that the other two voices were so distinct, and that Fenra was keeping just as many secrets as Arlyn – even if hers were not nearly as world-shattering. Although, come to think of it, they could be if this turns out to be the first book in a series after all. The Godstone didn’t end in a way that felt like it led to more adventures in this world, but it could.

I certainly had a more than good enough reading time that I’d sign up for the sequel – right this minute if I knew where to sign!

Review: What the Cat Dragged In by Miranda James

Review: What the Cat Dragged In by Miranda JamesWhat the Cat Dragged in by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #14
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on August 31, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Librarian Charlie Harris and his faithful feline companion, Diesel, have inherited Charlie’s grandfather’s house, along with a deadly legacy: a decades-old crime scene, in this all-new mystery in the New York Times bestselling Cat in the Stacks series.

Charlie has always believed that his grandfather had sold his house to his longtime tenant, Martin Hale. So when Martin dies, Charlie is surprised to discover the house was not left to Martin but instead belongs to Charlie. As he and Diesel check out the house he remembers fondly from his childhood, he is pleasantly surprised that it is in better condition than expected. That is, until they find a literal skeleton in a closet.

While the sheriff’s department investigates the mysterious remains, Charlie digs deeper into the past for clues to the identity of the bones and why they are there. But the cold case heats up quickly when Martin’s grandson is found dead on the farm.

As Charlie delves into his own family history, he encounters many people who might have been motivated to take a life. But Charlie and Diesel know that things are not always what they seem, and that secrets seemingly lost to time have a way of finding their way back to haunt the present.

My Reviews:

This book has been calling my name, loudly, with increasingly more high-pitched meows, until I finally just gave in and read it. The series features a 50-something librarian with the last name of Harris and his now two feline companions – one of whom is pictured on the cover of every book in the series. How could I possibly resist?

Librarian Charlie Harris has a tendency to get himself involved in investigating local murders, no matter how much Detective Kanesha Berry really, really wishes he could manage to keep his much too inquisitive nose out of police business.

But this time Charlie’s involvement is kind of baked in, along with his own investigation into a surprising number of skeletons in his own family’s closet. Secrets that have been buried for not just years but decades, stuff that Charlie never knew about and now wishes he had learned at his grandparents’ knees back when those knees were still available.

Charlie begins the story surprised to inherit his grandfather’s house and farm outside of town. He thought that the property had been sold long ago, and it’s only upon the death of the man who turns out to have been a life tenant and not the owner that Charlie learns that he’s just inherited another house.

What he discovers, or rather what his Maine Coon cat Diesel discovers when they visit the new/old property, is that Charlie has inherited a literal skeleton as well. Diesel finds a cache of human bones in the attic. Nobody is pleased at this development, least of all Detective Berry.

The discovery of those bones opens up, not just one proverbial can of worms, but can after can after can. Especially when another dead body is found on the property – this one considerably more recent and very nearly as puzzling.

Charlie, who can’t resist any sort of puzzle especially once he’s in it, is caught between multiple mysteries. Those bones might be old enough to be laid at his grandparents’ feet – although the revelation that the body in question has neither feet nor hands just adds to the macabre feel of the whole mess. The new body has something to do with a secret that his grandfather kept long ago and Charlie’s dive into the family tree turns up secrets left, right, center and on the wrong side of the blanket.

While Detective Berry has her hands full with the recent killing, it turns out to be up to Charlie to uncover the identity of not just the old bones but how they came to be in the attic. And when the new case intersects with the old, the answer very nearly adds Charlie’s bones – along with Diesel’s – to the family skeleton pile.

Escape Rating A-: This series is always a comfort read for me. It helps that librarian Charlie Harris, besides sharing a last name, also feels like “one of us” librarians, probably because his author is a real-life librarian. He has the kind of job, or at least the kind of work environment, that many of us wish we had in real life. He’s inherited enough money that he does not have to worry about the librarian’s lament, that “librarians get paid weekly, very weakly.” And of course there are the charms of Charlie’s two cats, the large, in charge and quite well-behaved cat-about-town Diesel, and the rambunctious just-barely-out-of-kittenhood Ramses.

Ramses reminds me a lot of our George, except that our cats are not tempted by “people food” and they don’t beg for any. They’re more interested in the plastic wrappers that some of our food comes in. But I digress.

In this entry in the series, I discovered that the case that Charlie was investigating was way more interesting than the one that Kanesha Berry was dealing with – in spite of the two cases intersecting at the end. At very nearly Charlie and Diesel’s end.

But Charlie’s half of the investigation was wrapped up in family secrets. All the stuff you think you know about your family that turns out to be not what you thought it was. Like discovering, at my grandfather’s funeral, that he was married before he married my grandmother, and that my dad’s sisters were actually his half sisters – if they were related at all. Which they might not have been. Apparently grandpa’s first wife played around, which was why he divorced her. I didn’t find out until I was in college, but it explained so much about the way my grandma treated me as a child. I was her only grandchild, after all.

That’s the kind of secret that Charlie discovers when he starts looking into his own family history. He remembers visiting his grandparents when he was a child in the house he’s just inherited. His dad and his aunt both said granddad had sold it, but clearly he didn’t. What Charlie digs into uncovers a whole bunch of fascinating family secrets that you’d – and he’d – think wouldn’t have much bearing on the present. But they do, otherwise his search wouldn’t be such a big part of the story.

I really liked following the progress, and the two steps forward one step back, nature of his search. The result was a surprise, especially to Charlie, but his reaction was all the more heartwarming because of it.

This series as a whole is very cozy. It’s a small-town, Charlie is one of those accidental amateur detectives who can’t seem to stop stumbling over murders. His friends and family are a big part of the background action and serve as his support team, cheering squad and occasionally attempt to warn him off to no avail. Relationships in town are complicated, everyone knows everyone and knows everyone’s secrets – or at least thinks they do.

And the cats are adorable. Still realistically cats and not super-felinely able, but absolutely adorable. I’d read this series just for Diesel, and sometimes I have. But I like all the characters, I find Charlie’s life and investigations soothing – in spite of the times he nearly becomes part of his own case – and I’ll sign up for another whenever the next one comes out, which looks like it’s going to be Hiss Me Deadly, hopefully next March!

In the meantime, the next time I’m looking for a fix of Athena Mississippi I’ll have to go back to the author’s Southern Ladies Mystery series. They’re a hoot!

Review: Paper and Blood by Kevin Hearne

Review: Paper and Blood by Kevin HearnePaper & Blood (Ink & Sigil, #2) by Kevin Hearne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Ink & Sigil #2
Pages: 304
Published by Del Rey Books on August 10, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Kevin Hearne returns to the world of the Iron Druid Chronicles in book two of a spin-off series about an eccentric master of rare magic solving an uncanny mystery in Scotland.
There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.
But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.
The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.

My Review:

The alphabet – any alphabet – is magic. Just think about it for a minute. Alphabets, whatever they might look like, represent the ability to communicate across not just space but across time. If you’ve ever taken Latin, you remember Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War, with its famous opening about “Gaul is a whole divided into three parts,” except in the original Latin. Which Caesar may have dictated instead of penned himself, but still, the idea that we can read the words of a person who lived and died not merely centuries but millennia before we were all born is, honestly, magic.

And that’s the kind of magic that lies at the heart of the Ink & Sigil series. Al MacBharrais isn’t a wizard or a sorcerer or a Druid (more on that later) but he can do magic. With ink and paper and a special kind of alphabet called sigils. With the appropriate training and lots and lots of practice, Al can write letters that perform magic. Like a magical version of Doctor Who’s famous psychic paper. Or a magic that can temporarily give him the strength and stamina that he left behind in the sands of time long ago.

Not unconscionably long, just normally long. Al is in his early 60s, and while his mind may be as sharp as ever, it’s been a very hard-knock life as the normal aches and pains of 60+ years of living all too frequently remind him. But when he gets a call from the distressed apprentice of one of his fellow sigil agents, those aches and pains do not keep him from riding to the rescue.

Even if that rescue turns out to be in Australia. It may be a long way from Al’s printing and bookbinding business in Edinburgh, but he’s the only remaining agent without a wife, family or apprentice depending upon him to come home at the end of the day. Or the case. Or the encounter with an ancient monster who is literally shitting demons in a creek.

Along with a deity who is holding his two colleagues hostage. Not to get to Al, but to make sure that someone reaches out and gets the Iron Druid along on what seems to be a rescue operation.

Only to discover that it’s a whole lot bigger and worse than that. But then, so are the gang of friends that Al brings along to one very weird fight.

Escape Rating A: If you love urban fantasy, but have wondered why you haven’t seen much of it recently, the Ink & Sigil series will remind you of the best of that genre. And if you haven’t read much of it, but you like the kind of story where there’s a detective, amateur or professional, a crime, whether mundane or magical, a whole lot of beings that popularly go bump in the night and the snark quotient turned up to 11, well then, this series has the potential to definitely be your jam.

It certainly is mine.

Al MacBharrais is a departure for an urban fantasy protagonist, as he is not young, or immortal, or unaging or actually either a magic user or a magical being himself. Not that he isn’t accompanied by beings who fit one or more of the above classifications.

It’s that combination of Al’s ordinariness with the extraordinary nature of the people he works with and the trouble they get into that make this series so much fun. It’s a view of our world through another perspective but one that is still grounded in our own. While his friend, associate and contracted servant, the hobgoblin Buck Foi, is there to provide comic relief and to give any authority figure – even a deity – a poke in the ego with a sharp stick whenever he feels it’s necessary. Which is often.

The story in this one follows multiple parallel tracks. Al is in Australia to rescue his colleagues, with the help of their apprentice. Al’s rather unusual friends are there to help, to guard his back, to have some fun, and, in the person of “Gladys Who Has Seen Some Shite” to see some really weird shit. But it also gives Al the opportunity to observe his friends operating outside of their normal sphere, bringing Al to the realization that the Gladys he has been employing as his receptionist is clearly something else or something more, altogether. Along with, but certainly not limited to, being Canadian.

And then there’s the bigger story, that when Al figures out just how big a mess his friends are in, he asks for help from one of the magical heavy-hitters, the Iron Druid formerly known as Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs Oberon and Starbuck. Al thinks he’s getting help with his problem, only for it to turn out that, in the end, it’s Atticus, now calling himself Connor, who needs Al’s help solving his.

That’s where things get interesting, also a bit, not exactly problematic but certainly at least deeper.

There’s never been any question that the Ink & Sigil series takes place in the same universe as the author’s Iron Druid Chronicles, it says so right there on the label. In the first book, also titled Ink & Sigil, there’s a lovely little side story about the evening that Al and Atticus met up in Rome and had a nice dinner together. It was a lovely little story, it set the time period for the new series nicely, but didn’t require that the reader have previously read the Iron Druid Chronicles to get into Ink & Sigil – it just made the story extra nice if you already had.

Now, with Paper & Blood, you really need to have read Ink & Sigil to get the full flavor of what’s going on in this second book. But with Atticus/Connor as an important secondary character, it will make a lot of readers feel like they need to have read at least some of the Iron Druid Chronicles to get everything that’s happening – and especially why it’s happening – in this book. I’ve read the first six books of that series (start with Hounded, it’s awesome) and intend to go back and finish, so I didn’t feel too lost when he became such a big part of this story, although it did make me itch to have read the ending of that series because it’s clearly part of the backstory for this. As much as I LOVED seeing Oberon again, I can’t help but imagine that anyone who hadn’t read at least some of the Iron Druid series would flounder a bit here. I hope I’m wrong.

So, this story provided a whole lot of closure for the Iron Druid Chronicles, provided Al with a lot more fascinating information about his friends and associates, engendered a whole lot of chuckles and a bit of outright laughter courtesy of Buck Foi, AND left me eagerly awaiting the next book in this series whenever it appears.

But I’m also holding my breath for the next book in The Seven Kennings, this author’s epic fantasy series, which seems to be titled A Curse of Krakens and is coming out a year from now. Obviously, this is a writer I really, really like and don’t care what I get next as long as I get something!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 8-1-21

I posted this oldie but goodie on this same day last year. It’s still true. It’s ALWAYS true.

Another month ends.
All targets met.
All systems working.
All customers satisfied.
All Staff eagerly enthusiastic.
All pigs fed and ready to fly.

And here’s Lucifer’s opinion of the whole thing:

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Sip Sip Hooray Giveaway Hop is Merysa

Blog Recap:

A Review: The House of Always by Jenn Lyons
A- Review: Hacking Mr. CEO by Anna Hackett
B+ Review: Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman
B+ Review: Pirate’s Promise by Lisa Kessler
A Review: Hold Fast Through the Fire by K.B. Wagers
Stacking the Shelves (455)

Coming This Week:

Paper & Blood by Kevin Hearne (review)
The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams (review)
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (review)
Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara (review)
The Godstone by Violette Malan (review)

Stacking the Shelves (455)

I think a big chunk of this stack is from the most recent Tor Books load into Edelweiss. I certainly stared at their titles long enough! I can’t resist at least looking at almost everything they publish! I’m really, really curious about Battle of the Linguist Mages just because of the title, although my favorite title on this list is definitely The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All because who wouldn’t love a title like that? It could be anything!

For Review:
An Ambush of Widows by Jeff Abbott
Another Now by Yanis Varoufakis
Battle of the Linguist Mages by Scotto Moore
The Bone Track (Alexa Glock Forensics #3) by Sara E. Johnson
The Cabinet by Un-su Kim
The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Come with Me by Ronald Malfi
The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All by Josh Ritter
Her Hidden Genius by Marie Benedict
Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillippi Ryan
The Magician by Colm Tóibín
The Peculiarities by David Liss
Servant Mage by Kate Elliott
The Silence of Scheherazade by Defne Suman
Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
Truth of the Divine (Noumena #2) by Lindsay Ellis
Well Matched (Well Met #3) by Jen DeLuca
What if You & Me (Say Everything #2) by Roni Loren
Where the Drowned Girls Go (Wayward Children #7) by Seanan McGuire
The Year of Our Love by Caterina Bonvicini


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

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Review: Hold Fast Through the Fire by K.B. Wagers

Review: Hold Fast Through the Fire by K.B. WagersHold Fast Through the Fire (NeoG #2) by K.B. Wagers
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: NeoG #2
Pages: 416
Published by Harper Voyager on July 27, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Near-Earth Orbital Guard (Neo-G)—inspired by the real-life mission of the Coast Guard—patrols and protects the solar system. Now the crew of Zuma’s Ghost must contend with personnel changes and a powerful cabal hellbent on dominating the trade lanes in this fast-paced, action-packed follow-up to A Pale Light in the Black.
Zuma’s Ghost has won the Boarding Games for the second straight year. The crew—led by the unparalleled ability of Jenks in the cage, the brilliant pairing of Ma and Max in the pilot seats, the technical savvy of Sapphi, and the sword skills of Tamago and Rosa—has all come together to form an unstoppable team. Until it all comes apart.
Their commander and Master Chief are both retiring. Which means Jenks is getting promoted, a new commander is joining them, and a fresh-faced spacer is arriving to shake up their perfect dynamics. And while not being able to threepeat is on their minds, the more important thing is how they’re going to fulfill their mission in the black.
After a plea deal transforms a twenty-year ore-mining sentence into NeoG service, Spacer Chae Ho-ki earns a spot on the team. But there’s more to Chae that the crew doesn’t know, and they must hide a secret that could endanger everyone they love—as well as their new teammates—if it got out. At the same time, a seemingly untouchable coalition is attempting to take over trade with the Trappist colonies and start a war with the NeoG. When the crew of Zuma’s Ghost gets involved, they end up as targets of this ruthless enemy.
With new members aboard, will the team grow stronger this time around? Will they be able to win the games? And, more important, will they be able to surmount threats from both without and within? 

My Review:

I positively ADORED the first book in the NeoG series, A Pale Light in the Black, to the point where it was one of my A++ reviews AND on my Best of 2020 list. It got me hooked on this author, to the point that I’ve been reading their previous series, The Indranan War and The Farian War, whenever I’m looking for an SFnal pick-me-up read.

Of course, all of that put this book, Hold Fast Through the Fire, on my list of Most Anticipated Reads for 2021. And it was definitely worth the wait!

But one of the things that I really loved about A Pale Light in the Black was that it made for excellent competence porn. Honestly, all my favorites last year qualified as competence porn. Reading about people who were just plain very good at their jobs doing those jobs very well shined a light in what was otherwise a rather dark year of incompetence.

So I was a bit surprised when the first third of Hold Fast Through the Fire did an all too excellent job of demonstrating just why both Groucho Marx and Doctor Who labeled “military intelligence” as a contradiction in terms. Certainly the intelligence department of the NeoG is NOT displaying any of that vaunted commodity when it decides to use four NeoG Interceptors and their crews as bait for a terrorist and not tell them about it.

Especially as the members of those crews – see the comment about competence porn above – are very good at their jobs and more than intelligent enough to figure out that something is wrong about the runaround that they are getting – and to start figuring the whole thing out on their own.

Because the crew of Zuma’s Ghost are, in fact, damn good at their jobs. They also have excellent bullshit detectors, even when the BS is being slung by one of their own. Or perhaps especially then.

In the first book, there was, of necessity, a cargo hold’s worth of setup. Introducing the characters, creating the world, explaining just enough about how history got from point A, our present, to point B, their future.

The story in that first book mostly felt, not exactly low-stakes, but certainly less humongous stakes than this time around. That was a story where the intraservice Boarding Games became a metaphor for the crew of Zuma’s Ghost learning how to be a team both at the games and out in the black.

This time, although the Boarding Games are still a factor, the stakes for the story as a whole are much higher and have much broader implications. Also, where first time around the team didn’t exist yet and had to form itself, this time the team that we watched build in the first book begins this story even more fractured than a couple of changes in personnel should have caused.

Back to that problem of military intelligence again.

The high-stakes mission that the crew of Zuma’s Ghost is caught up in is wrapped up in wealth, power and privilege, and the way that the rich and powerful never seem to face the consequences of the dirty deeds that they feel entitled to commit. The plan is to drop those consequences squarely on their heads.

If the NeoG can just manage to keep their own heads in the face of so many deaths – including entirely too many of their own.

Escape Rating A: This was one of this epic, can’t put it down reads. I started in the morning and finished late in the evening because I just couldn’t stop. Then I went to bed with an horrendous book hangover that I still haven’t shaken.

Although there were certainly points during that first third where I wanted to reach through the book and shake someone – preferably the control freak in NeoG intelligence who was using his friends and his colleagues as unwitting bait because he didn’t want too many people to know what was going on and question him about it.

It was painful watching these characters that I’ve already come to know and love struggle to punch their way out of a maze that they shouldn’t have been in in the first place. I wanted to stand up and cheer when they gave the idiot the dressing down he REALLY deserved.

But the big and high-stakes part of this story revolved around the plan that NeoG intelligence had been keeping under wraps. A senator, a shipping company executive and a thug (and doesn’t that sound like the start of a bad joke) have been spending years making oodles of moolah in an interplanetary bait-and-switch scheme. They’ve been stealing from both the government and the outer colonies, taking money for colonial supplies, shipping substandard goods to the colonies, and then selling the goods they’ve stolen on the black market to those same colonies for a huge markup.

Their scheme is coming to a close. NeoG is closing in, and they’re decided to go out in a blaze of other people’s glory by fomenting unrest in the colonies and using the resulting chaos for one last score before they slip away into the black.

It’s a huge organization with a lot of tentacles. Tentacles that reach out to hurt NeoG as the net closes in.

On the one hand, the whole nefarious scheme sounds all too plausible, not just then but honestly now. It’s the same colonizers’ rape of their colonies that has gone on since the very first country got big enough to call itself an empire.

So the scheme, in all its terrible awfulness, works all too well as a plot device. The stakes feel realistically high and get brought home to our heroes in a realistically painful fashion. But the leaders of the scheme as characters read as just a bit too far over the top. A plan that intelligent and that successful should be led by equally savvy villains. This bunch read more like comic book villains. Admittedly extremely successful comic book villains but still, their leader got way too close to an actual BWAHAHA to take as seriously as the crimes they committed warranted.

But this was a great story about a terrific team beating impossible odds to save the day and make each other proud. I loved the way they got the job done and done oh so well. There were also plenty of heroes to go around to balance out those cartoonish villains, but the one who saved the day more often than anyone expected was Doge, the dog-shaped robot who is turning out to be more dog than anyone ever imagined.

I had a great time with Max and Nika and the entire crew of Zuma’s Ghost, and I can’t wait for their next adventure. I’m still chuckling a bit that one of the Navy ships that helped out in the final encounter was the Normandy. Because of course it was.

Review: Pirate’s Promise by Lisa Kessler

Review: Pirate’s Promise by Lisa KesslerPirate's Promise (Sentinels of Savannah #5) by Lisa Kessler
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, paranormal romance
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #5
Pages: 270
Published by Entangled Publishing: Amara on July 26th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Greyson Till never found a weapon he didn’t like. As the immortal Master Gunner of a pirate ship, he’s grown his collection for over two hundred years. So when a legendary cursed blade that can cut through any material goes missing from the government’s paranormal artifact vault, he’s eager to retrieve it. Working with the secret division Department 13 has always come with its set of challenges, but this one is the worst yet.

Along with the mission comes fiery, no-nonsense paranormal weapons expert Aura Henderson, who couldn't be less thrilled about this pairing. The last time they saw each other, Greyson accidentally blew her cover, almost killing them both. Worst of all, to get the sword, she has to pose as Greyson's wife. The last thing she needs is to get involved with a sexy grumbly pirate, whether in reality or just pretend.

When they locate the relic, the gilded blade thirsts for blood and things aren’t what they seem. Greyson isn’t sure who to trust anymore, and he’s not about to let death come between them...

My Review:

Once upon a time, in the 1700s, the pirate crew of the Sea Dog found an unexpected treasure. They found the Grail. That Grail. King Arthur’s Grail. And drank from it. They expected, honestly, nothing at all. What they got was a form of immortality. They heal. From everything. Even old age.

Actually, they just never age. Something that has become a big more difficult to cover up in the 21st century with its CCTV, social media everywhere all the time, and just the sheer amount of documentation that’s required to make a living.

Even immortal pirates have to make a living. Keeping their replica Sea Dog not just afloat but seaworthy requires licenses, paperwork and yet more paperwork, and, of course, money.

After all, the pirates may heal, but their ship most definitely does not. And operating the Sea Dog as a tourist attraction is more a labor of love than profit. And it requires a cargo hold of licenses and permits of its very own.

That’s where Department 13 of the U.S. Government comes in. It’s not a surprise that there’s a department tasked with monitoring the weird, the wacky, and the things that go bump in the night. It’s even less of a surprise that the department in question would know ALL about the immortal pirates.

So when a dangerous relic is stolen from Department 13’s super-secret and super-secure warehouse, only to turn up in Scotland, the Department is a)embarrassed as hell and b)worried about causing an international incident with their British counterparts, who are, of course, MI13.

But there’s not a lot of trust between the pirates and the government. Not surprising considering their respective histories. But the Department needs to get that relic back, and the Sea Dog is the right crew for the job. With one addition, Department 13 Agent Aura Henderson.

It’s a simple job. Sail to Scotland aboard the Sea Dog. Pose as a couple of well-heeled collectors, buy the relic and sail back with the prize so it can be locked up again. Hopefully more permanently this time.

NOTHING about this job is as easy as it should be back in the planning stages in Savannah.

Aura doesn’t believe the pirates will have her back. The Department fears that the pirates will, well, act like pirates and sell the relic to the highest bidder. The current owner of the relic is Aura’s former NYPD partner and the entire operation is a trap. For her.

Oh, and Aura’s former partner – he’s a demon. And that relic of his – it’s out for blood. Specifically, Aura’s blood. It wants to cut her open in order to take it.

Escape Rating B+: I got started in this series in Magnolia Mystic because I was looking for something a bit lighter and fluffier than the dense tome I was reading at the time. Between the immortal pirates, the evil property owner, and the seeress promising gloom and doom, I was surprised to get what I came for. There is a bit of lightness in this series, even though there’s generally something dark and evil coming their way in every story.

Considering their long lives, the pirates of the Sea Dog have more than a few demons of the psychological type in their mental baggage. They all have serious trust issues with outsiders for obvious reasons, and when the story began they’d all loved and lost a few too many times and all seemed to be more or less resolved not to get emotionally involved again.

But this time there’s an actual demon, although not so much a demon from hell as a demon from a hellish dimension. The demon has stolen a mythical sword that can cut through any material. It’s already cut through Agent Aura Henderson’s trust in herself. This “thing” was her police partner for several years and she never noticed that it was anything other than a cop she shared pizza and a love of B movies with. Until he revealed his demonic nature, she thought he was one of the good guys and was she ever wrong.

What’s making this whole thing work for me is that the setup reads as if Stargate and Anna Hackett’s Treasure Hunter Security series had a book baby and this series is it. From Stargate we get the idea of other planets and dimensions who have left stuff lying around and from THS comes the idea that government agencies and private contractors are tasked with hunting this stuff down and putting it away where it can’t do any harm. That Treasure Hunter Security is an action/adventure/suspense type romance makes it a very strong read alike for the Sentinels of Savannah. (Start with Undiscovered and be prepared for a book binge to tide you over until the next immortal pirate falls.)

So Pirate’s Promise and the entire Sentinels of Savannah series is just a big ball of elements that I love. There’s a touch of the paranormal, supernatural or otherworldly, there’s the idea that history is bigger and much different from what we imagine, there’s action, there’s adventure, and there’s a hot romance between two people who are perfect for each other and fighting it every step of the way.

That the pirates have baggage as well as booty and that the heroines have all walked through dark places and kept both their dukes and their guards up just adds to the fun. This entry in the series, featuring the romance between the ship’s master gunner and an agent who really, really loves to make things explode definitely made for a fun and explosive reading time for this reader.

Review: Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman

Review: Radar Girls by Sara AckermanRadar Girls: a novel of WWII by Sara Ackerman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large Print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, women's fiction, World War II
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on July 27, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An extraordinary story inspired by the real Women’s Air Raid Defense, where an unlikely recruit and her sisters-in-arms forge their place in WWII history.
Daisy Wilder prefers the company of horses to people, bare feet and salt water to high heels and society parties. Then, in the dizzying aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Daisy enlists in a top secret program, replacing male soldiers in a war zone for the first time. Under fear of imminent invasion, the WARDs guide pilots into blacked-out airstrips and track unidentified planes across Pacific skies.  
But not everyone thinks the women are up to the job, and the new recruits must rise above their differences and work side by side despite the resistance and heartache they meet along the way. With America’s future on the line, Daisy is determined to prove herself worthy. And with the man she’s falling for out on the front lines, she cannot fail. From radar towers on remote mountaintops to flooded bomb shelters, she’ll need her new team when the stakes are highest. Because the most important battles are fought—and won—together.
This inspiring and uplifting tale of pioneering, unsung heroines vividly transports the reader to wartime Hawaii, where one woman’s call to duty leads her to find courage, strength and sisterhood. 

My Review:

Like the author’s previous books, including last year’s Red Sky Over Hawaii, Radar Girls is a story that talks about World War II on a slightly different homefront from most.

The experience of the war was a bit different in both Hawaii and Alaska, as these two U.S. territories were considerably closer to the front lines than the 48 contiguous states. Alaska was vulnerable because of its large size and relatively small population, making it an easy target – except for the weather. Islands in the Aleutian chain were occupied during the war.

Hawaii, on the other hand, was a small, sparkling, isolated jewel in the middle of the Pacific. It was the perfect location for the U.S. to have a forward base in the Pacific – and provided a tempting target for Japanese forces to use as a stepping stone to the U.S. mainland.

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 showed the U.S., and especially the Islands’ residents, just how vulnerable their paradise could be. In the wake of the attack, they were determined not to get caught with their defensive pants down a second time.

The centerpiece of that determination forms the heart of this story, as Hawaii mobilizes its men for war and its women for defense, armed with a new tool in their arsenal – RADAR.

This story of previously unsung heroines is wrapped around three fascinating threads. First, of course, there’s the war. But secondly, there’s the story of the sisterhood of women who were recruited to learn military communication, signal interpretations and vectorology, in spite of all the men who said they couldn’t do it. Daisy Wilder, her friends and her frenemies become the heart and soul of the Women’s Air Raid Defense of the Islands, watching for enemies approaching by air and sea, locating downed American pilots and piloting those in trouble safely home.

Daisy comes into the program as a loner, having been raised around more horses than people in the isolated cabin she and her mother have shared since her father’s death. Daisy has been her little family’s primary breadwinner, and dropped out of school in order to make a living at the stables where her father was once employed.

She doesn’t expect to become part of this group of women – after all, it’s not something she has any experience with. That two of the other women are upper class and look down on her for lack of education, her towering height and her practical, unfeminine wardrobe is what she expects. She expects to fail.

Instead she succeeds. Her supposedly “unfeminine” traits and interests make her a good fit for the WARD, and becomes part of this tight-knit sisterhood in spite of those expectations – and in spite of those frenemies.

So a story of unexpected sisterhood set amidst a story of rising to the occasion in the midst of war. But it wouldn’t be complete without the romance that weaves through it. A romance that might never have happened without the war breaking down the barriers between the son of one of the richest men on the island and the daughter of the man his father accidentally killed.

Escape Rating B+: I picked this up because I enjoyed the author’s previous book, Red Sky Over Hawaii, in spite of one seriously over-the-top villain – as if the ordinary wartime conditions weren’t enough trouble for one woman to be dealing with.

I liked Radar Girls more than Red Sky because it didn’t go over that top and dump ALL the troubles of the world onto the same woman’s shoulders. Not that Daisy and her group of found sisters didn’t have plenty of problems, but they were a bit more evenly shared.

One of their training officers is a creeper, stalker and sexual harasser. One of their husbands is MIA and presumed dead. Another woman’s husband is a gambler who has lost their house. Someone else just has terrible luck with men – or makes terrible choices of men. Or a bit of both. Daisy herself is in love with someone she can’t believe could love her back considering their backgrounds.

And they adopt a kitten, who has kittens providing comfort and comic relief in equal measure. While someone in the neighborhood keeps stealing their lingerie from the clothesline.

And over all of it, the constant tension of interpreting radar signals that might, this time, be a second invasion, knowing that getting it wrong could have potentially dire consequences. It’s a stress that increases with each day and each potential sighting – and that never lets up.

Considering that WARD operated behind the scenes – or underground – this is a story where there aren’t a lot of really BIG events happening onstage. There are lots of radar sightings that have the potential to be a second invasion – but it never happens. The women are, by the top secret nature of the job, in an isolated environment. There are big battles, and they all listen to them on the radio, but the battles don’t come to them.

But in spite of all that, in spite of the big drama happening offstage, the story is captivating from the very first page, with Daisy on a remote beach seeing the Japanese planes screaming overhead. Daisy is a fascinating character who is just different enough for 21st century readers to identify with while still feeling like a part of her own time.

Also, I love a good training story, so the parts of this one where Daisy and her cohort get a crash course in their new duties and master them was a treat. It was easy to imagine oneself being part of that crew and doing one’s own bit to fight their war.

This author seems to be making a specialty of telling captivating stories about the homefront experience of her own home state during World War II. I’m looking forward to more – and I expect them to keep getting better and better!

Review: Hacking Mr CEO by Anna Hackett

Review: Hacking Mr CEO by Anna HackettHacking Mr. CEO (Billionaire Heists #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Billionaire Heists #3
Pages: 292
Published by Anna Hackett on July 27th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
Goodreads

To save the only mother I’ve ever known, all I have to do is hack a tech billionaire.

My foster mother is sick. The woman who gave me a home, love, a life. I’ll do anything to find the money for her surgery, including using my skills as a hacker.

My name’s Remi, also known as Rogue Angel, and usually I work for a security company testing clients’ systems. But now a shadowy bad guy has tracked me down and given me an ultimatum.

I have to hack Rivera Tech—the biggest technology company in the world, owned by billionaire CEO, Maverick Rivera. If I do, I get paid and I can help my foster mother. If I don’t, my family is in danger.

Hacking Rivera is no walk in the park, and soon I find myself in a tantalizing game of cat and mouse with big, grumpy, and way-too-sexy Maverick. What I never, ever expected was for him to make me feel safe, or to threaten my closely-guarded heart, or to ignite every single part of me.

I can’t drag him into my mess.

But Maverick has other ideas, and he isn’t a man who takes no for an answer.

My Review:

In the very first of the Billionaire Heists series, Stealing from Mr. Rich, the first of the “Bachelor Billionaires”, as the New York City news media calls them, found himself falling for a woman who was in way over her head – and his – with some really evil dudes who were out to rob him blind, using her as their patsy.

In the second book, Blackmailing Mr. Bossman, the second bachelor falls for a woman who seems to be blackmailing him because her bestie is being blackmailed by people who are after his money. This one was just the right book at the right time for me, as everyone who seems to be lying turns out either not to be or doing it for the best of intentions.

In the first two stories, the romance happens because the women who find themselves in these messes begin with the very best of intentions, trying their damnedest to fix a situation that they may not have broken but that they feel responsible for patching up.

None of them are damsels in distress, wringing their hands and waiting for a man to sweep in and fix things for them. They’re out there trying to fix the mess for themselves when the man they have been forced to do wrong by decides that he’s not going to sit passively by while someone evil messes with both of them.

They are on the same side after all – even if they don’t start out that way.

In this final book in the series, white-hat hacker Remi Solano finds herself donning a black hat when she learns that her foster mom needs expensive experimental treatment to remove an otherwise inoperable brain tumor. Mama Alma has less than 6 months to live, and Remi and her siblings together couldn’t raise the kind of money if they had 6 years to do it in. So she markets her only skill on the dark web, hoping to make a score that will get Mama into that expensive treatment.

And she gets in way over her head. Because otherwise we wouldn’t have this marvelous story.

Someone wants her to hack into Rivera Tech and steal the files on something called the Calyx Project. She doesn’t know who they are, and she doesn’t know what the project is, but the job pays a cool million and that’s enough to take care of Mama.

Not that Remi actually wants to hack Rivera. She’s not exactly sure that she can, even as skilled as she is. Rivera Tech has the best security she’s ever seen, which only makes sense because Maverick Rivera is a genius programmer and computer designer in his own right. And it’s his company, the extremely handsome profits from which have made him the third of the “Billionaire Bachelors”.

Although, Remi has seen plenty of pictures of the man, and she’d be more than happy to hack one of his extremely well-tailored suits right off his sexy body. Not that she thinks she’ll ever have the chance – especially not if she manages to pull off this job.

And that’s where everything gets hairy. Or goes south. Or pear-shaped. Or all of the above.

Calyx is a super-secret government project. Whoever wants Remi to steal it is planning on committing treason – or planning on Remi committing treason on their behalf. Remi’s obviously a pawn in this game, a pawn that the contractor called “The Shadow” refuses to let go of when Remi and Mav join forces.

The chase is on. The Shadow wants them both dead. They’ve become loose ends in his failed attempt to hack Rivera by proxy, and he never leaves loose ends. They’re dodging bullets and hired badasses while they try to close in on the villain who is trying to close in on them.

Meanwhile, they’re closing in on each other, even if neither of them has any expectations that the other will stay once all the excitement is over – one way or another.

Escape Rating A-: I think this was my favorite game in the whole series, making it end on a marvelous high note. I loved the hacking scenario, and the way that Remi and Mav just had a great time geeking out together.

The way the story ended, with Mav and Remi being chased by The Shadow through the entire Rivera Tech campus, read like it would make a great video game, which felt totally appropriate for a romantic suspense story featuring two geeks.

I have to say that the villain of this piece, The Shadow, was just a bit too over the top. He’s the only thing keeping this from being an A grade. I loved Remi and Mav, I enjoyed the hell out of watching them get together, and all the geekery was very much my jam. The Shadow, while extremely dangerous and deadly, had a persona that wouldn’t have been out of place in a B grade superhero movie.

Which, come to think of it, is also pretty geeky. Just not as cool as the rest of the story.

While I’m happy to see the Billionaire Bachelors all find their HEAs, I’m kind of sorry to see this series end. On my third hand, this does plenty of crossover with Norcross Security, which is clearly not done yet. After all, Vander Norcross, the boogeyman’s boogeyman as Remi called him, still has to find a woman he can’t run over. That’s going to be epic!