Review: The Show by John A. Heldt

Review: The Show by John A. HeldtThe Show (Northwest Passage #3) by John A. Heldt
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, time travel, time travel romance
Series: Northwest Passage #3
Pages: 293
Published by John A. Heldt Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

Seattle, 1941. Grace Vandenberg, 21, is having a bad day. Minutes after Pearl Harbor is attacked, she learns that her boyfriend is a time traveler from 2000 who has abandoned her for a future he insists they cannot share. Determined to save their love, she follows him into the new century. But just when happiness is within her grasp, she accidentally enters a second time portal and exits in 1918. Distraught and heartbroken, Grace starts a new life in the age of Woodrow Wilson, silent movies, and the Spanish flu. She meets her parents as young, single adults and befriends a handsome, wounded Army captain just back from the war. In THE SHOW, the sequel to THE MINE, Grace finds love and friendship in the ashes of tragedy as she endures the trial of her life.

My Review:

While The Show is the third book in the author’s Northwest Passage series, it is much more of a direct sequel to The Mine, the awesome first book in the series, than the second book in the series, the marvelous The Journey, turned out to be.

In the Northwest Passage series, at least so far, the protagonists accidentally, or in the case of The Show, accidentally-on-purpose, discover methods of traveling in time. The time travel is complete handwavium – it’s purely a plot device and nothing more. And no more or less believable than the methods used in Outlander.

Not that the time period is the same as Outlander, or even the same from one book in the Northwest Passage series to another. In The Journey, the heroine travels within her own lifetime, and makes changes to her life in the past. Definitely changes for the better from her perspective, but one wonders about the butterfly, its flapping wings, and the effects on the futures of all of the other people who were within her original orbit.

That’s a question that raises its hand and waves vigorously by the end of The Show.

Because both Joel Smith in The Mine and Grace Vandenberg in The Show travel outside of their own lifespans. And then more.

In The Mine, Joel travels from 2000 to the summer of 1941, and leaves on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. He leaves, at least in part, because he knows about WWII and fears that if he finds himself in the Army there is the possibility that he will save someone who should have died, or kill someone who should have lived. He’s worried about that butterfly quite a bit.

But he didn’t worry about it enough not to fall in love back in 1941, and not to leave behind a trail of breadcrumbs that allows someone to follow him to the future. That someone is Grace, the woman he loves and would have married if he had stayed in 1941.

So she comes forward to the future, to him.

It’s all sunshine and roses – not to mention marriage and children, until yet another portal whisks her away from 2002 to 1918. Her journey is just as accidental as Joel’s original trip to the past – but the consequences are even more devastating.

When Joel left 2000 for 1941, he was a young man, fresh out of college, with no dependents and relatively few cares in the world or hostages to fortune. When Grace leaves 2002 for 1918, she’s a wife and mother of two little girls. She leaves everything behind – and can’t figure out how to get back.

Just as Joel did in 1941, Grace manages to make a life back in the past, with relatives that would become hers in the fullness of a time that she has already lived but they haven’t yet experienced.

She has her parents again, this time as contemporaries. She has a front row seat on their courtship. She even manages to fall in love again. It’s not the same, but it’s a life that could be sweet.

And then she discovers that she has one last chance, and it is the last chance, to go back to her real life in 2002 – if she’s willing to leave behind everything she’s found in 1918 to take the chance that this time she can go home.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed The Show, but it doesn’t hold up quite as well as my memory of The Mine – which you really need to read before going to The Show. Nor did it grab at my heartstrings in the way that The Journey did.

I think that one of the reasons this didn’t grab me quite as hard was that the blurb for the book gives the big plot twist away. We know from the opening pages that Grace is going to travel back in time – and it hangs over the story like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. Grace’s advent into 2000 was way too easy, and I just wanted the story to get to the interesting – and hard – parts.

Grace’s life in the 21st century also raises questions that Joel’s life in 1941 didn’t. How did Grace and Joel even manage to get married in 2000 without Grace having a birth certificate? How did she get a driver’s license – which she definitely did. It’s a detail that niggles at me.

Joel was rightfully worried in 1941 about what would happen if he turned up at an Army recruiter’s office after Pearl Harbor with no birth certificate or ID of any kind. But in the rush to get bodies in uniform he would have had a way easier time than Grace should have had even in the pre-9-11 21st century.

Grace’s story in 1918 was much more tightly focused on Grace, her dilemma and her once and future family than Joel’s was in The Mine. We don’t see nearly as much of the era in which she finds herself as we did with his story. That may also reflect that Grace, as a young woman, would have had fewer opportunities to engage with the wider world in 1918 than Joel did in 1941. Part of the reason that The Journey got to me so much was that I identified with Michelle’s choices very strongly, while Grace’s don’t resonate with me in the same way.

However, one of Grace’s choices that I did empathize with was her eventual decision to move forward in 1918. A choice that some readers seem to have been appalled by. As far as Grace knows, she’s stuck in the past. She doesn’t believe that she has any hope of returning to 2002. She mourns her life there and misses her husband and children desperately, but she came back to the past already pregnant and needs to make some kind of future for herself and her child.

One final thought about that butterfly flapping its wings. Joel worried about changing the past and thereby changing his future. Grace, on the other hand, when the opportunity arises, rushes to change the past in a way that should prevent the future that gave birth to herself. It’s the ultimate paradox of time travel, and it bothers me that it isn’t addressed in any way.

Then again, this series feels as if its intended as historical fiction mixed with romance and not SF – where the time paradox would get done to death. I’m considering it as much handwavium as the time travel mechanism itself.

And I’ll be back for the next book in the series, The Fire, the next time I need a reading pick-me-up.

Review: The Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty

Review: The Kingdom of Copper by S. A. ChakrabortyThe Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy, #2) by S.A. Chakraborty
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Daevabad Trilogy #2
Pages: 640
Published by Harper Voyager on January 22, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

S. A. Chakraborty continues the sweeping adventure begun in The City of Brass—"the best adult fantasy I’ve read since The Name of the Wind" (#1 New York Times bestselling author Sabaa Tahir)—conjuring a world where djinn summon flames with the snap of a finger and waters run deep with old magic; where blood can be dangerous as any spell, and a clever con artist from Cairo will alter the fate of a kingdom.

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad—and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family—and one misstep will doom her tribe..

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid—the unpredictable water spirits—have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad's towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

My Review:

The previous book in this series, The City of Brass, was absolutely awesome, as is this one. But the end of City felt guardedly hopeful. Five years down the road, the future that resulted from that guarded hope is anything but.

Instead, The Kingdom of Copper has the feel of The Two Towers, in that things are always darkest just before they turn completely black. And also in the sense that The Two Towers makes no sense without having read The Fellowship of the Ring first.

Likewise The Kingdom of Copper makes no sense without having read The City of Brass first. We readers need that introduction into the characters and especially the hidden city of Daevabad before we have a clue about what’s going on in this book – or why we should care.

Fair warning, if your reading of City was a while ago, it may take a while to get back to the heart of the matter in Kingdom. The worldbuilding in this series is epically dense. Not impenetrable, just terribly, terribly complex.

At the end of City, Nahri had negotiated her marriage with Crown Prince Muntadhir of Daevabad in exchange for an extremely large dowry and some concessions for her downtrodden people. Then her friend, Prince Ali, killed her would-be lover, the djinn Darayavahoush. Ali was exiled, and Dara was just gone.

Nahri is alone in a city she never knew existed, under the watchful eye of her cruel and tyrannical father-in-law. She does her best not to put a foot wrong, because every time she does anything just slightly for herself, the King punishes someone close to her. Ghassan’s treatment of Nahri is a microcosm of how he rules his kingdom. Neither are exactly flourishing under his “care”.

But the way that Daevabad is ruled seems necessary from the king’s perspective. His people, the Geziri, conquered the city that belonged to Nahri’s people, the Daevas, generations ago. But the Geziri are the minority in the city that they rule, outnumbered by both the oppressed Daevas and the completely subjugated shafit, who are djinn with human ancestry.

The king feels that it is necessary to keep the Daevas and the shafit at each other’s throats to keep them from banding together and turning against their oppressors. (And if anyone sees echoes of many past and present tyrannies, it’s probably not accidental).

From Nahri’s perspective we see events in the city, but that’s not all that we see. Ali has survived many attempted assassinations by his father-the-king’s agents, and is living a life of sort-of-peace and increasing prosperity in the desert that is the Geziri home. Or he is until his mother’s family maneuvers him, yet again, into a position where he feels he has no choice but to return to Daevabad and his father’s dubious mercy.

While it is pretty obvious to Ali that his mother’s relatives want him to take steps against his father, their methods are generally more political, economic and subtle than the other player in this game of empires.

Because the djinn Dara is not dead after all. Or does not remain dead – again. The exiled Daevas have a plan to retake their city. A plan for which they need the assistance of the greatest warrior – and most feared weapon of mass destruction – that their people have ever produced. Both are in the person of Dara, who just wants to stay dead, but is honor bound to serve his people one more time.

There’s going to be a bloodbath in the city that they all claim to love – with Nahri, Ali and Dara caught in the middle. Again.

Escape Rating A: This book was terrific. And compellingly readable to the point where I finished at 3 am because I just couldn’t stop reading. At the same time, it just misses the A+ because it takes a while to get back into the action. There’s a lot going on in this story, and it’s all predicated on the events of the previous book. I suspect that if I’d read City a month or two ago instead of over a year ago I might feel differently.

If the final edition includes a precis of previous events that will probably help – a LOT.

Part of what makes this story so good, as well as what makes it difficult to get back into after a long absence, is the combination of how densely packed the worldbuilding is and how different it is from the western mythic traditions that so often underpin epic fantasy.

The worldbuilding in the Daevabad Trilogy is based on what feels like a combination of Indian, Persian and Arabic resources. The history hearkens back to Suleiman, the Islamic name of King Solomon the Wise from the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible. The world of the Daevabad seems to be the result of Suleiman’s taming or subjugation of the Djinn, an event which exists in all three mythologies.

But most readers have an image in their heads for djinn, jinn, or the more popular term, genie. (If that image looks and sounds a lot like Robin Williams as the genie in Aladdin, well, Disney is also a mythmaker.)

The djinn in Daevabad are not those genies. Well not exactly. And not always. It feels like Dara might be a lot like those djinn, or genies – without the benevolent wish granting. But most djinn in this series seem to be basically people, with magical abilities and an affinity for one or more elements as granted by their heritage.

It takes a bit to stop thinking genie when one reads the word djinn and just think of them as warring tribes of magical people. But it’s definitely worth the mental leap to make it work for you.

Underneath the terminology, the story here is definitely a classic, using multiple tropes to underpin the story.

The obvious one is that age-old saw about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. Not just for the current ruler of Daevabad, but also those who would be the rulers. It’s also definitely a story about the corruption of believing that the ends justify the means.

Nahri is certainly the bird in the gilded cage in this installment. After the life of both freedom and insecurity she lived in Cairo, her life in Daevabad is constrained at every turn. It’s only at the end when she returns to the truths she learned during her life on the streets that she finally sees a way out – even if it’s not one that anyone wants to take.

This is also a triangle story, albeit one with some interesting offshoots. Nahri loves Dara, or at least the Dara she thought she knew before she discovered that he was essentially a war criminal. Dara loves her, but the version of her that he left behind when he died. Five years of realpolitik have changed Nahri from that relatively naive girl he left behind.

Ali probably loves Nahri. Or he is capable of it if he figures out what love is – and gets his head out of his own ass on a whole host of topics. And possibly just plain grows up a bit. But Nahri is his brother’s wife. His brother Muntadhir loves his best friend Jamshid – and vice-versa – even though they keep their relationship on the down low. And Jamshid owes fealty to Nahri as the leader of the Daevas.

It’s complicated.

But the real story feels like one about the cost of vengeance. The Geziris conquered Daevabad, so now they oppress and demonize the descendants of the conquered to the point where the Daevas feel as if they have no option but to overthrow the Geziris. And both sides subjugate the mixed-blood shafit at every turn. No one is willing to even talk about building a future together, because everyone is so fixated on the atrocities that their ancestors committed against each other. Which only results in more atrocities. And the cycle continues.

And if that scenario sounds familiar, it bloody well should.

In an interview, the author posited what feels like the point of the entire series when she said, “Can you ever make a new world that properly addresses the wounds of the past?” So far in this series, the answer is a resounding, but absolutely compelling, NO.

So far in Daevabad, no one is even trying. Hopefully they will in the untitled third book in this series, which is not scheduled until (boo-hoo) 2021. It’s going to be a long wait.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-20-19

Sunday Post

This was an excellent week in a way that very few weeks manage to live up to. All Grade A Reviews – including Amy’s guest review of one of my all-time favorite SFR authors/books. If you like space opera-type SF with a touch of romance, you absolutely cannot go wrong with Linnea Sinclair – not ever. I just wish there were more!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Jeepers! It’s January Giveaway Hop (ends TUESDAY!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Hats Off Giveaway Hop
$20 Amazon Gift Card from Jeffe Kennedy

Winner Announcements:

The winner of The Best of Us by Robyn Carr is L Lam
The winner of the $10 Gift Card or Book in the 3…2…1 Giveaway Hop is Joanna P.

Blog Recap:

A Review: The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards
A+ Guest Review by Amy: Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair
Hats Off Giveaway Hop
A- Review: Warrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy + Giveaway
A+ Review: Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport
Stacking the Shelves (323)

Coming This Week:

Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty (review)
The Show by John A. Heldt (review)
Target of One’s Own by M.L. Buchman (review)
Perennial: A Garden Romance by Mary Anne Mohanraj (guest review by Amy)
The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff (guest post/excerpt)

Stacking the Shelves (323)

Stacking the Shelves

It didn’t feel like I was picking much up this week – at least not until Macmillan dumped their latest into Edelweiss. As they include Tor Books, that usually fills up my list quite nicely!

I’m trying to be a bit better about not grabbing so much when I know I won’t get to them all. I don’t feel as guilty because they are all eARCs, but it does make my to-do list look like “dreaming the impossible dream”. But the covers always look so tempting!

For Review:
Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone
Gideon the Ninth (The Ninth House #1) by Tamsyn Muir
The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
Medusa in the Graveyard (Medusa Cycle #2) by Emily Devenport
Target of One’s Own (Night Stalkers 5E #4) by M.L. Buchman
Triple Jeopardy (Daniel Pitt #2) by Anne Perry
The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell

Review: Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport

Review: Medusa Uploaded by Emily DevenportMedusa Uploaded (The Medusa Cycle, #1) by Emily Devenport
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Medusa Cycle #1
Pages: 317
Published by Tor Books on May 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

The Executives control Oichi’s senses, her voice, her life. Until the day they kill her.

An executive clan gives the order to shoot Oichi out of an airlock on suspicion of being an insurgent. A sentient AI, a Medusa unit, rescues Oichi and begins to teach her the truth—the Executives are not who they think they are. Oichi, officially dead and now bonded to the Medusa unit, sees a chance to make a better life for everyone on board.

As she sets things right one assassination at a time, Oichi becomes the very insurgent the Executives feared, and in the process uncovers the shocking truth behind the generation starship that is their home.

My Review:

If The Forever Watch by David Ramirez, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein and The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells got together in a line marriage of the kind that Heinlein posited on Moon, the child they produced would be Medusa Uploaded.

A child that will absolutely stun you in speechless gibbering as well as afflict you with a terribly terrific case of book hangover.

This is also one of those stories where you reach the end, and, just like the main character, discover that none of the things that you thought you knew at the beginning are remotely as they appeared to be. Hence the being stunned.

I started out thinking of The Forever Watch because both take place on generation ships. In both stories, the population of the ship has left homeworld, which may or may not be Earth, in search of a new planet.

But whatever dreams of utopia the builders had at the beginning, those dreams have been long subverted by the time the story opens.

Our point of view character in Medusa Uploaded is Oichi Angelis, and she sees herself as a Worm. In fact, she sees almost all of the population of the Olympia as Worms. Most people are, like Oichi, members of the Servant class who are programmed by the Executives not merely to serve their every whim but also to see and hear only what the Executives allow them to.

Oichi has broken her programming. Much like Murderbot, she has illicit caches of forbidden entertainment stored in her brain, and that subversive data is how she keeps herself sane – at least until one scared and spoiled Executive arranges for Oichi’s execution. Because anyone in the Executive class can. Because victimizing someone else lets them feel less like a victim themselves.

But when Oichi is literally shoved out an airlock, she is saved. Not by a deux ex machina, but by an actual machine – and that’s when her journey really begins.

Because Oichi, with the help of Medusa, sets out to enact a revolution. She pushes people around like pawns in order to bring about a rebellion where the Executive class can be overthrown and the Worms can finally have an equal voice on the ship. It’s not just that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but that Oichi becomes the one who decides which are which.

Along the way, Oichi becomes an even more efficient killing machine than Murderbot ever was.

Oichi thinks she is running her own deadly show – only to discover that she’s been part of someone else’s game all along.

Escape Rating A+: First, I need to send a HUGE thank you to the person who recommended both The Last Sun and Medusa Uploaded, because both books have been absolutely stellar.

Above, I cited three books that Medusa Uploaded really, really reminded me of. The Forever Watch feels fairly obvious, as both are stories about generation ships in mid-journey, where one of the functionaries/passengers discovers that things have gone really, really wrong – and makes the mistake of trying to fix those things. These are also both stories where most of the assumptions that the protagonists make, and that we as readers follow along with, turn out not to be true – with catastrophic results.

Murderbot may feel like a strange choice, or like I’m just trying to get on the Murderbot bandwagon – not that Murderbot wouldn’t be utterly appalled that it even has a bandwagon. But at the very beginning of both stories we have a first-person protagonist who is aware that they are supposed to be programmed into certain behaviors and that they have subverted their programming. They both spend much of the story pretending to be what everyone around them believes they are while secretly exploring a database of forbidden entertainment. Entertainment which just adds to the subversive nature of their performance.

And last but definitely not least, the SF classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. (Which is still quite readable!) Both Moon and Medusa are stories where the downtrodden masses are forced to remain downtrodden due to structural inequities built into the systems that keep them virtually enslaved. And in both stories they rise up anyway, using the technology that is supposed to keep them under the thumb of the ruling class. Both stories also feature machines-as-people who integrate with the revolutionaries. (The scene at the end of Moon where Manny discovers that Mike is dead still makes me cry.)

Back to the list I began earlier…

Second, I confess that Medusa Uploaded is one of the few times where I’ve been so completely into a book that I experienced the approach/avoidance conflict of desperately wanting to know how it ended while simultaneously not wanting to finish and be forced to step out of this world.

I’m really glad that there’s a second book in the cycle (Medusa in the Graveyard), and extra happy that I already have the eARC. This is one that just isn’t going to wait!

Review: Warrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy + Giveaway

Review: Warrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy + GiveawayWarrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Chronicles of Dasnaria #3
Pages: 166
Published by Rebel Base Books on January 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Just beyond the reach of the Twelve Kingdoms, avarice, violence, strategy, and revenge clash around a survivor who could upset the balance of power all across the map . . .  Once Ivariel thought elephants were fairy tales to amuse children. But her ice-encased childhood in Dasnaria’s imperial seraglio was lacking in freedom and justice.. With a new name and an assumed identity as a warrior priestess of Danu, the woman once called Princess Jenna is now a fraud and a fugitive. But as she learns the ways of the beasts and hones new uses for her dancer’s strength, she moves one day further from the memory of her brutal husband. Safe in hot, healing Nyambura, Ivariel holds a good man at arm’s length and trains for the day she’ll be hunted again.   She knows it’s coming. She’s not truly safe, not when her mind clouds with killing rage at unpredictable moments. Not when patient Ochieng’s dreams of a family frighten her to her bones. But it still comes as a shock to Ivariel when long-peaceful Nyambura comes under attack. Until her new people look to their warrior priestess and her elephants to lead them . . .  

My Review:

Early in the Chronicles of Dasnaria series, and recalled at the beginning of Warrior of the World, Ivariel/Jenna has a vision of three lionesses. Those lionesses are clearly the princesses of the Twelve, now Thirteen, Kingdoms, Ursula, Andi and Ami, Their stories are told at the very beginning of this awesome, interlinked epic fantasy series. If you love strong heroines and enjoy epic fantasy with a touch (or more) of romance, begin with The Mark of the Tala and just enjoy the marvelous ride.

Based on events in the most recent book on that side of the continent – and the series – Jenna’s story will eventually link up to the Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series. After all, her younger brother Harlan is now the consort of High Queen Ursula. I’ll confess that I was hoping to see that link here, but it hasn’t happened by the end of Warrior of the World. But the story finally reaches the beginning of that end.

While I’m a bit disappointed not to see the ENTIRE gang finally get together, on the other hand I’m very happy to know that there are further adventures yet to follow in this world and this series. Not merely happy, make that downright ecstatic.

But while I’m waiting for the happy conclusion to the interconnected series, I still have Warrior of the World.

This book, and the Chronicles of Dasnaria subseries of which it is a part, needs to come with trigger warnings. Lots of trigger warnings. ALL the trigger warnings. And you do need to read at least the Chronicles of Dasnaria series from its beginning in Prisoner of the Crown in order to get the full significance of the conclusion of Ivariel/Jenna’s journey here in Warrior of the World.

Because the story of the series is about a young woman who is groomed to be a subservient sexual slave, who is forced to submit to repeated rapes, degradation, physical and sexual abuse by her husband/master, and who eventually breaks free with the help of her younger brother, who loses his rank and status for helping her to get away from the man and the society that brutalized her at every turn.

By this point in Ivariel/Jenna’s story, she is still healing from her trauma. That she murdered her “husband” in a fit of berserker rage is both part of her healing and part of her current trauma. She’s afraid that there’s a monster inside her that will eventually break free and kill those she has come to love while she is in the depths of her unthinking rage.

The story in Warrior of the World is the story of Ivariel learning to embrace ALL that she, both the light and the dark, and finding her path to coming into her own at last.

And learning to share that path with others who will be needed for the final push to victory – and redemption.

Escape Rating A-: As I said, ALL the trigger warnings. Ivariel/Jenna’s life at the Dasnarian Imperial court is simply horrendously awful. Reading about her deliberate grooming for the role her society forces her to play makes for very hard reading – but worth it in order to truly appreciate just how far she has come by the time we get to Warrior of the World.

This story is interesting both as the culmination of the Chronicles of Dasnaria subseries and because of its premise. This is a story about beginning as you mean to go on, about doing the things that signify who you are and not who your enemies – or even your friends – intend for you to be or think you ought to be. At the same time, it isn’t as action-packed as other entries in the combined series. It goes just a tinge slow at some points because healing is a slow process, so Ivariel needs time and process to, well, process.

Ivariel’s life before she found herself among the elephant herders of D’tiembo was a life of reaction. She didn’t act, she wasn’t in control. Even her liberation was a product of someone else’s actions and not her own. She begins the story not knowing how to hope her own hopes or dream her own dreams, and she has to learn those skills. She also has to learn to ask for what she wants and then live with the consequences of that “ask”.

Her healing in this story is about her learning to act and not react. Part of that “acting” is the way that she takes up the mantle of her Priestess of Danu persona in order to wage, not war, but peace. The enemies of the D’tiembo try to bring war to the peaceful tribe, and many want to react with war and vengeance. It’s Ivariel, learning to live with her rage, who points the way towards “waging peace” through bribery, subversion, and absorbing and utilizing the lessons taught to her by the necessary cruelty of her mother. It’s a hard lesson, but it buys time to set up the eventual peace and prosperity of the D’tiembo, so that when the magic finally returns, both Ivariel/Jenna and the D’tiembo are ready to go out and meet the wider world and the fates that await them.

If you don’t finish this story wanting your own elephant-friend, you haven’t been paying attention. The elephants, especially Violet, Capo and Efe, provide some of the most uplifting and heartwarming parts of the entire story.


Jeffe and Silver Dagger Tours are giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!



Hats Off Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Hats Off Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

It’s that time again. Time to settle back into so-called “normal” life after the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Or, for those who look at the holidays as a time to relax, time to get back on the treadmill, or back to the rat race, or whatever feels like “normal” to you.

When we lived in Alaska, the problem with January was that there wasn’t nearly enough daylight, it’s bloody damn cold, it’s been winter since early October and it’s going to BE winter until mid-April. Not that it’s any different in December, but in December I didn’t notice it so much because of the holidays. Even for someone who doesn’t celebrate Xmas, those lights are excellent for brightening and cheering the place – any place – up for a bit.

January was just gloomy. And cold. Did I mention cold?

So I’m happy to be in Atlanta, where winter generally deals a mere glancing blow to the area – and where we have sunshine most days even if it is just a tad chilly some of the time. But even 30 above zero is a huge improvement over 30 BELOW zero. I’ll take it.

But back to normal. Or whatever passes for normal in your neck of the woods. For me, normal life and January are usually marked by two things. The first is that the publishers come back to life after the holidays, and the new Spring and Summer books absolutely pour into NetGalley and Edelweiss.

The second is the American Library Association Midwinter Conference, which is usually held sometime in January, and often someplace that is just too damn cold in the winter. Last year was Denver. BRRRR! This year it’s in one of my old stomping grounds, Seattle. Where it will probably be a bit gray and gloomy, and rainy, but hopefully not blizzardy with snow. Next January will be Philly. BRRRR again. BRRRR I say. BRRRR!

What about you? What makes you feel like life is “back to normal” after the holidays? Answer in the rafflecopter for your choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a book, up to $10 US in value, from the Book Depository.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more terrific 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.

Guest Review: Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair

Guest Review: Finders Keepers by Linnea SinclairFinders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Pages: 453
Published by Bantam on April 26, 2005
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Be careful what you wish for. You might get it... Her ship's in shambles, her boyfriend's dumped her and she's frankly out of funds. Captain Trilby Elliot hopes her luck has changed when a high-tech fightercraft crash lands at her repair site. Finders keepers. She can sell the ship as salvage, pocket the profits. Except for one small problem: the pilot, Rhis, is still alive and intent on commandeering her ship. And another much larger problem: someone very powerful and very important wants Trilby Elliot dead.

I love the used bookstore, because of the serendipity of things; you never know what you’ll bump into! Quite a few of the reviews I’ve done here at Reading Reality have been things I found in the bargain bin at my used bookstore. I found this one, got hooked on the first page, and casually mentioned it to Marlene–turns out, she’s a fan of both sci-fi romances, and this author, but hasn’t ever reviewed any of her work here.

For shame! “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

Guest Review by Amy:

Trilby Elliot isn’t just any tramp-freighter captain plying the space lanes, trying to make a living, no. She does it all alone, except for her trusty ‘droid Dezi, in a clapped-out old ship that has seen better days. So, not a wimp, this lady fair. We find her holed up on some back-end-of-nowhere planet, hacking on repairs, and hoping to get home in time for her next cargo job, when she sees another spacecraft crashing.

She goes to check, thinking there might be salvage, and she finds…him. Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome, in the flesh. He’s injured from the crash, but Trilby and Dezi drag him back to the ship and get him in the med-bay to heal.  When he wakes, we find out he’s a lieutenant in the Zafharin military. He’s on the wrong side of dividing lines between three different sorts of civilization, in a ship belonging to the most non-human (and inhumane) of the three, and she just wants to get back to work.

Escape Rating: A+. Marlene warned me, she truly did. Linnea Sinclair is an awesome storyteller. The universe she constructed for this tale is rich in detail, but the details are close enough to our own sense of normalcy that we can grasp what’s going on, and not have to have things explained at great length. It’s a comfortable universe for a sci-fi fan to land in, even for all its violence and tension.

This is really my first foray into the sci-fi romance genre; I’m a fan of both sci-fi and romance, but this is new turf for me, and now I’m hooked. Unlike a lot of romances I read, this isn’t as trope-laden and obvious as a Harlequin, and there’s action and intrigue enough to keep sci-fi fans reading right along. Our heroine is a bit of a badass, with a softer side that she doesn’t let out much. But the handsome Rhis cracks her armor enough for them to fall for each other. He is, of course, Not Who He Appears to Be (we can’t totally escape the tropes, now, can we?), and when Trilby finds out, she’s furious, because the person he is reported to be is…infamous! A monster! Scourge of Space! But underneath the tough guy is a very real man, with very real feelings, and those closest to him know it, and push him back toward the woman he loves.

For quite a bit of this book, we’re not entirely sure who the antagonists are. There are two human-ish civilizations, the Zafharin and the Conclave, plus the ‘Sko, decidedly non-human. All three groups have been at cross purposes for years, and there is, of course, intrigue at the highest levels of Trilby’s tribe, the Conclave.  Over time, as I mentally shadow-boxed these characters looking for the villains, I got to the point that I was finding villainy even in our protagonists’ closest friends…could it be that even those closest to Trilby and Rhis are part of this vast conspiracy?

Once the bad guys were revealed, we have two people in love, who are also in a bit of a rough spot together, and the ending, while quick and to-the-point, gave me a happy smile.

Marlene’s Note: For anyone – including Amy – looking for more great science fiction romance, be sure to check out the SFR Galaxy Awards. While the 2018 Awards won’t be posted until January 31, there are PLENTY of great SFR stories among the previous years’ award winners!

Review: The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards

Review: The Last Sun by K.D. EdwardsThe Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence, #1) by K.D. Edwards
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Tarot Sequence #1
Pages: 363
Published by Pyr on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Court, is hired to search for Lady Judgment's missing son, Addam, on New Atlantis, the island city where the Atlanteans moved after ordinary humans destroyed their original home.

With his companion and bodyguard, Brand, he questions Addam's relatives and business contacts through the highest ranks of the nobles of New Atlantis. But as they investigate, they uncover more than a missing man: a legendary creature connected to the secret of the massacre of Rune's Court. In looking for Addam, can Rune find the truth behind his family's death and the torments of his past?

My Review:

As I read The Last Sun, it kept teasing me with all the books it reminded me of – including one that I can’t quite remember. It’s on the tip of my tongue? The edge of my fingers? The corner of my mind? I can’t quite find the right metaphor – or the book – and it’s driving me bananas!

But while I was going bananas, I was also enjoying the hell out of The Last Sun – so much so that I kept wondering what took me so long. This is urban fantasy, just the way I like it. Or at least one of the ways I like it.

First of all, there’s the whole Atlantis crossed with Amber thing going on. Rune St. John, the last scion of the Sun Court, is a descendant of Atlantis. Yes, that Atlantis. This foundation on which this urban fantasy world rests is that Atlantis was real, and that its people – at least some of them – managed to escape its destruction.

Which doesn’t seem to be all that long ago. The Atlantis World War is still within living memory. Admittedly, the living memory of the extremely long-lived Atlanteans. But there are some in Rune’s generation who were born on the homeland, even if they don’t remember it all that well.

I also threw in Amber – specifically Roger Zelazny’s Amber – not for its hypothesis of Amber as the “one true world” but for its use of the Trumps of the Major Arcana of the Tarot. The difference seems to be that in Amber the Trumps take on the aspect of the princes of Amber, where in The Last Sun the princes – and their entire courts – take on the aspect of the Trumps.

But the worlds are certainly equally as cutthroat and Machiavellian, and the courts are equally as decadent. Rune is the last Sun because his family was wiped out by a raid sanctioned and carried out by all of the other Houses. We meet Rune and his companion/bodyguard Brand as they are part of another sanctioned raid, this time conducted against the House of The Lovers.

You’ll need to check Wikipedia or something for a brief rundown of the Major Arcana of the Tarot – because it matters – a lot – in this story.

Like much of urban fantasy, The Last Sun is an exploration of this alternate contemporary Earth wrapped around a mystery and suffused with magic.

Rune Saint John operates as a private enquiry agent, sometime detective, sometime bodyguard, barely keeping his head above water financially – and every other way. His mentor/benefactor, The Tower (see what I mean about the Major Arcana?) hires him to find out what happened to Addam Saint Nicholas, one of the heirs of Justice. Addam has disappeared, but no one seems to be looking for him – not even his mother.

But then, Justice isn’t about protection. It’s about retribution. If something has happened to him, his mother will avenge him. Which is rather cold comfort – if you’re the person who isn’t dead, at least not dead yet.

The case, of course, is much more than it initially seems. The deeper that Rune digs into Addam’s family, friends and especially business associates, the more it seems that there’s something rotten at the heart.

Not Addam’s heart, but somebody’s heart. The question is who? Or, as Rune initially believes, what? When he discovers the what, he learns that too many things that were believed to be myths really aren’t. And everyone who believes that Rune isn’t anything but an example of a failed house learns that he is much more than he appears to be. Whether Rune manages to absorb that lesson for himself has yet to be seen.

Escape Rating A: I was just planning to read a couple more chapters last night. Instead, I lost all track of time and space and finished the book just before 3 in the morning. And WOW what a wild ride.

I found the initial premise interesting, but once I got really into the case, I was sucked in and stayed sucked.

Urban fantasy often rests on its portrayal of flawed, scarred protagonists who are as much antiheroes as they are heroes. Rune certainly fits right in beside the best of them. Something about Rune reminds me of the early Harry Dresden, and it’s not just that fire is the go-to spell for both of them.

Harry also begins his story at the thin edge of survival. He’s also been abused, and he’s also certainly been a victim. He has the capacity for great power, but he’s denigrated and underestimated at every turn – until he finally comes into his own. He’s also mostly unlucky in love. As is Rune, but with a difference. While Harry’s rather salacious male gaze of women starts to wear for many readers, Rune isn’t interested in women. All of his generally frustrated sexual attention is focused on men.

He’s just not mentally healthy enough to really get into a relationship with anyone at this stage of his journey. And the reasons for his shaky mental health are awful in their causes and reasonable in their results. In this, Rune reminds me an awful lot of Kai Gracen in Black Dog Blues.

But what makes Rune such an interesting character to follow is that he’s both an insider and an outsider at the same time. As the last scion of the Sun Court, he is literally the embodiment of that aspect of the Major Arcana – or he will be once he grows into his power. The Arcana are the highest of the high in New Atlantis – and in the rest of the world. If he lives long enough, Rune will be one of the great powers of his world.

But his house is impoverished and in disgrace. Rune himself is gossip-rag fodder at every turn. And he’s sunk so low that he actually has to work for a living – something that no scion of the Arcana is supposed to do. Or at least not supposed to HAVE to do.

So he’s seen the top, and he’s now on the bottom. But with his background and his legacy, he’s not really a part of either world.

And his life has made him all too aware of how often the ones who are closest to you are the ones who strike you down – usually from behind. Which makes him both an object lesson on how the mighty can fall and the messenger of the bad news that someone else has been betrayed by their nearest and dearest.

As Addam Saint Nicholas discovers. Once he’s found. And that’s just the beginning of the adventure.

The only good thing about having waited to read this book is that I have a much shorter wait for book 2 in the series. The Hanged Man is scheduled to come out in September. There are 22 cards in the Major Arcana, and if there’s a book for each of them, and the books are as good as this first one, I will be one very happy reader!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-13-19

Sunday Post

It already feels as if this coming week’s schedule has been tossed in a blender multiple times – and the week hasn’t even started yet. Some of that’s good. Amy sent me a guest review just in time for a day when I have a review due to Library Journal. (Speaking of Library Journal, I was named one of their Reviewers of the Year for 2018 and I am SO CHUFFED! Also extremely grateful to both of my LJ editors! (Apologies if the article is behind a paywall))

The blog hop I thought I was participating in this week isn’t happening after all, but I found a different one that is. ALA Midwinter Conference is next week and I’m already scrambling to get stuff together so that I’m not attempting to write posts in a place where I know I won’t have time to write posts. (Amy, thank goodness, gave me a second guest review to put up while I’m out. YAY!)

I’m getting my laugh for the day as I write this. The kickplate on our front door is reflective, enough so that the local birds see themselves in the reflection and come down to peck at the door. Freddie-cat is sitting by the front door, watching the birds. It’s clear that he is desirous of going out to play with the birds and scared to death of the birds at the same time! Poor, confused cat.

Current Giveaways:

The Best of Us by Robyn Carr
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the 3…2…1 Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Jeepers! It’s January Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

B Review: The Best of Us by Robyn Carr + Giveaway
Jeepers! It’s January Giveaway Hop
A- Review: Touch of Eon by Anna Hackett
B+ Review: Death Shall Come by Simon R. Green
B- Review: Untouchable by Jayne Ann Krentz
Stacking the Shelves (322)

Coming This Week:

The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards (review)
Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport
Hats Off Giveaway Hop
Warrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy (blog tour review)
Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair (guest review by Amy)