Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva Devon

Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva DevonThe Wedding Wager by Eva Devon
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 317
Published by Entangled: Amara on October 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

All Lady Victoria Kirby wants is to dig in the dirt, take notations, and record history, thank you very much. Bumbling through ballrooms and getting disdained by the ton for her less than ideal looks, on the other hand, is the last thing she wants. But her reckless father has a different idea for her future when he puts up the ultimate ante—her hand in marriage—and loses. Over her dead body.
The Duke of Chase cannot bear to see a woman misused. After all, he saw that often enough as a child. So when he’s witness to a marquess gambling away his daughter to a lecher of a man, he has no choice but to step in and rescue her. Lady Victoria has a reputation for being as tart as a lemon and as bitter as one, too. So, he may have just found the perfect wife to keep a promise he made to himself long ago--to never have an heir. With her, surely, he'll never be tempted to take her to bed and break that promise.
But when he meets the wild, witty intelligent young lady he’s bound to marry, he knows trouble is headed his way... And everything he ever swore to uphold may very well come undone, especially his heart.

My Review:

Once we get to know the Duke of Chase, it seems as if he’s a bit too good to be true. Even if at the beginning he seems a bit too bad to be trustworthy.

However, I loved Victoria from her very first appearance – as did Chase although he was much less willing to admit that even to himself.

But Chase is absolutely right about Victoria’s father. He is utterly irredeemable. There are no such thing as best intentions when one is wagering one’s daughter’s hand in marriage on a roll of the dice – even if it’s best two out of three and the dice are rigged.

That’s where we meet our hero, and our villain. Not that Victoria’s father turns out to be all that effective – or energetic – in that particular endeavor. The Marquess of Halford is determined to find his bluestocking daughter a husband before she’s permanently on the shelf – even though that’s exactly where his older daughter wants to be.

Victoria is a dedicated archaeologist, who has served as her father’s lead assistant ever since she was a child. She enjoys her work, and indeed pretty much any intellectual pursuits. She also hates the ton and the feeling is very, very mutual. She thought her father understood that, and he certainly encouraged her work.

Until the night he wagers her future, allowing her hand to be won by the scandalous rakehell otherwise known as Derek Kent, the Duke of Chase. A man whose reputation is hard-earned, hard-won, and utterly false.

Chase seems to have more than a bit of “white knight” syndrome, and Victoria is the latest in a long line of damsels he has rescued – generally by helping the world to think that they are not damsels at all.

Victoria doesn’t want the usual lot of high born women, marriage, motherhood and never allowed a thought in her head about anything serious, important or intellectual. Chase is caught on the horns of a dilemma, he needs a wife to keep the predatory mamas of the ton at bay, but he gave his word that he would never father an heir to the dukedom. Marrying Victoria, with her reputation as a plain-faced shrew should solve all of both their problems. He’ll give her the respectability of being his duchess, and the freedom to do whatever she likes. He’ll never desire her enough to bed her, so there will be no danger of an heir.

All’s fair in love and war, and the best laid plans of mice and men often go very far astray. While it’s true that Victoria’s caustic wit and sharp tongue are quite capable of disemboweling a man with a single phrase, she is beautiful. The ton’s narrow definition of beauty simply can’t encompass a woman who is meant to stride through the world like a goddess.

But by the time they’re each past admitting, at least to themselves if not each other, that they both want a marriage in full and not merely a platonic friendship, they’re both so deep in lies and misconceptions that they may not be able to wade across the chasm that they’ve dug between them.

Escape Rating B: The Wedding Wager is deliciously frothy and a quick and utterly lovely read. I liked Victoria so very much as a character, and I loved Chase’s response to her. He does think she’s beautiful, but the attraction between them is as much about her intellect as it is about her appearance. Nor does the story dwell on every detail of her appearance, and I really liked that. It felt like we got way more of the female gaze, Victoria’s appreciation of Chase’s charms, than we did the other way around.

And yet we still got that sense that she is beautiful and that the ton’s rules have become so narrow that they just can’t see it. Victoria doesn’t have to change anything about her physicality to become a “success” with the ton, she just has to own her authentic self.

One of the parts of this story that really sings is Victoria’s forthright nature and her unabashed cultivation and use of her own intellect. She’s smart, she’s thoughtful, she finds the restrictions of the ton unbearably frustrating, finds the entire thing a stupid but stupidly painful farce and does her best to ignore it as much as possible. I particularly enjoyed the scene at the theater where the older woman, Lady Gannet, enjoys Victoria and matches her in intelligence and agreed that the girls of the ton were generally forced to be stupid. Yes, Lady Gannet believed that Victoria’s prime duties as duchess were to take care of her husband and provide him with children, but she also used her brain and missed a time when other women did as well and wasn’t in the least bit shy about saying so.

I loved Victoria and Chase’s intelligent banter, although he seemed a bit too good to be true in his appreciation and support of her goals and ambitions. I wanted him to be, it makes the romance work, but at the same time it felt a bit too easy.

Speaking of easy, Chase’s secrets were too easy to figure out, so I’m glad that he revealed them to Victoria relatively early on. In the end, the conflict between them wasn’t about the secrets, it was about his clinging to the past that created those secrets.

And he gives very good grovel when he finally figures it out.

One final note. Something about the way the story was set up gave me the niggling feeling that this was part of a series. I think it was in the depth of Chase’s friendship with Brookhaven. It felt like there was prior history that was known but not present in this book. That might be true, but this is not – at least so far – part of a series. Howsomever, if it turned out to be, particularly if the next book were about Brookhaven himself, I’d be EXTREMELY interested!

TLC
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Review: Brothers of the Wind by Tad Williams

Review: Brothers of the Wind by Tad WilliamsBrothers of the Wind by Tad Williams
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Osten Ard
Pages: 272
Published by DAW Books on November 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set in the New York Times bestselling world of Osten Ard, this short novel continues the saga that inspired a generation of fantasists
Pride often goes before a fall, but sometimes that prideful fall is so catastrophic that it changes history itself.
Among the immortal Sithi of Osten Ard, none are more beloved and admired than the two sons of the ruling family, steady Hakatri and his proud and fiery younger brother Ineluki -- Ineluki, who will one day become the undead Storm King. The younger brother makes a bold, terrible oath that he will destroy deadly Hidohebhi, a terrifying monster, but instead drags his brother with him into a disaster that threatens not just their family but all the Sithi -- and perhaps all of humankind as well.
Set a thousand years before the events of Williams's The Dragonbone Chair, the tale of Ineluki's tragic boast and what it brings is told by Pamon Kes, Hakatri's faithful servant. Kes is not one of the Sithi but a member of the enslaved Changeling race, and his loyalty has never before been tested. Now he must face the terrible black dragon at his master's side, then see his own life changed forever in a mere instant by Ineluki's rash, selfish promise.

My Review:

It’s hard to believe that The Dragonbone Chair was published over 30 years ago. A whole lifetime ago. I read it as it was published, and I remember loving it and waiting impatiently for each book but don’t remember anything about the story. I DO remember attempting to read one of the author’s later series (Otherland) and failing miserably.

But that was a long time ago, and the past is another country, so when this book popped up on Edelweiss I thought, “Why not?” As this is a prequel to Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, the trilogy that began with The Dragonbone Chair, I figured that I didn’t NEED to remember anything at all to get into this one.

And I was right. The writing was as lush and descriptive as I sorta/kinda remembered, but I didn’t need to look up anything about the plot of the original books to get into this one – because none of those events had happened in this world. Not yet anyway.

So the story here stood alone. And thankfully didn’t stand nearly as long as the original trilogy, which I may remember fondly but also remember as doorstop-sized. Each. (Also, don’t worry about the designation of this book in some places as following or being part of the Last King of Osten Ard series. Last King is a sequel to Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and Brothers is a prequel.)

Brothers of the Wind is, as it says right there on the label, a story about brothers and brotherhood. But the brothers are immortal princes in their world, so the family dynamics and family squabbles and sibling rivalries are both neverending and potentially world-shattering in their impacts.

A shattering that is still being felt a thousand years later.

Escape Rating A-: More than anything else, Brothers of the Wind is a story about overweening pride going before a very big fall. And it’s a story about the difference between pride and honor. It’s also, playing into that pride, a story about the braying of privilege and the horrifying results of its exercise.

As I was reading, I found myself wondering if Ineluki was what we would call bipolar or something much too similar. He doesn’t have much of a brain-to-mouth filter, but that reads like a consequence of his overwhelming privilege. When Ineluki has a tantrum, which he does, frequently and often and with terrible consequences, he gets placated and indulged because he’s a prince which makes him powerful in his own right. He doesn’t face the consequences of his actions because everyone, especially his brother Hakatri, cleans up after him. Which just makes Ineluki resent him all the more.

But Ineluki really reads like someone who has a gigantic dose of impostor syndrome. He never seems to feel like he’s equal to his brother Hakatri in the hearts of either their parents or their people. The way that the brothers’ actions play out over the course of the story read very much like the dynamic between Thor and Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and wasn’t that a surprise?

I think it fits though. Hakatri, like Thor, is the golden favorite, the older brother who is beloved by absolutely everyone and seems utterly perfect to everyone he meets. While Ineluki is dark and always trying to make his own mark in a world where it seems like his older brother has already taken all the best bits. Ineluki is a resentful second son who nurses his grudges and his temper like a spoiled child.

A spoiled child whose tantrums remake the face of the world, and not for the better, with consequences that will ring down through the ages in the tolling of funeral bells.

But this isn’t just the story of the two brothers, because the perspective of the story is told by Hakatri’s faithful servant, Pamon Kes. While Brothers of the Wind isn’t quite as epic as The Lord of the Rings, The Dragonbone Chair and the whole of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn definitely are. Which means that this book reads very much as if The Lord of the Rings had been written by Sam Gamgee entirely from his first-person perspective. A perspective that shows that even the compassionate, golden Hakatri took a tremendous amount of advantage of the goodwill and hero worship of an awful lot of people, whether his motives were pure or not.

So Brothers of the Wind can be read on more than one level. It’s a story about brothers who can’t manage to escape the roles that have been ordained for them. It’s certainly a story about a whole lot of pride going before a huge, world-shattering fall. And it’s a fascinating prequel for one of the modern classics of epic fantasy, a story that will take lovers of the original straight back to Osten Ard, and will hopefully carry a new legion of readers off to those faraway shores.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-24-21

It’s only Sunday and it’s already one of THOSE weeks. Nothing terrible, just another epic book hangover and a late night followed by not nearly enough sleep. Some worlds are just too fascinating to leave in the middle and too traumatic to get over at the end. C’est la reading vie.

There might not be any giveaways going on this week, but don’t forget to save the date (NOVEMBER 24) for the Thanksgiving Week Giveaway Hop!

This week’s cat picture is George posing as “the most interesting cat in the world” in imitation of “the most interesting man in the world” meme. I think George wears it very well.

 

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Howloween Giveaway Hop is Rochelle

Blog Recap:

B+ Review: A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz
B Review: Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner
A Review: Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman
C Review: Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn
A- Review: Insurrection by Nina Croft
Stacking the Shelves (467)

Coming This Week:

Brothers of the Wind by Tad Williams (review)
The Wedding Wager by Eva Devon (blog tour review)
All the Feels by Olivia Dade (review)
A Peculiar Combination by Ashley Weaver (review)
Grave Reservations by Cherie Priest (review)

Stacking the Shelves (467)

Every once in a while, the daily deal from Audible provides me with a real winner. I’m in the middle of Day Zero right now, and so far, it’s awesome. It’s certainly WAY more awesome than the $2.99 it cost me, so I’m considering it a serious win.

This week’s stack is fairly short. I have more new books in the hopper, but I tend not to post them here until I get covers. After all, oohing and aahing over the pretty covers feels like a big part of the point of STS. (That and keeping me organized, but that’s not half so interesting.) So here’s what I have that I have covers for. The supply chain seems to be wrecking havoc in all sorts of places!

For Review:
A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari
The Hookup Dilemma by Constance Gillam
Nightwork by Nora Roberts
A Taste of Ginger by Mansi Shah
When Blood Lies (Sebastian St. Cyr #17) by C.S. Harris

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill (audio)


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

Please link your STS post in the linky below:


Review: Insurrection by Nina Croft

Review: Insurrection by Nina CroftInsurrection by Nina Croft
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera, vampires
Series: Dark Desires Origins #3
Pages: 384
Published by Entangled: Amara on October 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Malpheas is one of the most powerful demons from Earth, but when he wakes up from cryo on the other side of the galaxy, he notices something is wrong—he’s human. Oh, hell no. In order to get his powers back, he must remove the sigil on his arm by carrying out three good deeds. But acts of kindness aren’t exactly his strong suit. Working undercover as a security officer investigating a suspicious death, he’s assigned to work with Hope, the most softhearted woman he’s ever met. If she can’t teach him how to be good, no one can.
Hope is in a pot of trouble, and if anyone finds out what she did, that pot would quickly boil over. She just needs to lay low until she can figure out a way to fix this mess. But when she’s ordered to show Mal the ropes and introduce him to everyone, sorting out her problems becomes impossible. Mal is sexy as sin, broody as hell, and believes she can help him change his bad-boy ways. Fine. If that keeps him from discovering her ties to the rebellion, she’ll teach him how to be a perfect angel.
As they work together, though, it becomes clear that Hope isn’t the only one with a hidden agenda, and their irresistible attraction to each other just adds fuel to the fire. When secrets are exposed, they must make the impossible choice between doing what’s right and doing what’s necessary.
Light meets dark, good meets evil…and love can hurt like Hell.

My Review:

At the end of Insurrection, it feels a bit like the circle just got squared. Or it feels like the series has either come to a conclusion or is headed for one. It kind of depends on whether you boarded the ship on the way to the Trakis system at the beginning of the Dark Desires Origins series in Malfunction, or whether you’ve been aboard for the whole wild ride starting at the very beginning in Break Out.

Because at the end of Insurrection, while we aren’t exactly where we were at the opening of Break Out, we can certainly see that beginning from here. The pieces that we picked up then are just about in place now, which makes a certain kind of sense as the Dark Desires Origins series, which began with Malfunction and was followed by Deception, seems to be heading towards its conclusion here in Insurrection.

Break Out, the first book of the Dark Desires series, takes place several centuries after the events in Insurrection. Events that are so far back in the rearview mirror that they’ve taken on the patina of myths and legends – even though Rico Sanchez lived through it all, as we’ve seen in this prequel series.

But then Rico has lived through a LOT of human history – even though he is no longer exactly human himself, and hasn’t been since the Spanish Inquisition. While no one expects the Spanish Inquisition in the first place, even less do they expect to meet a vampire who began hunting the night at that same time.

The premise behind the entire Dark Desires and Dark Desires Origins series is that Earth was well on its way to becoming uninhabitable, so a fleet of sleeper ships left the dying planet for what would hopefully be greener pastures.

Or at least pastures less fucked up by humans. At least not yet.

In the series that seems to conclude with Insurrection (I could be wrong about this being the conclusion but it feels close) we watched the maneuvering and the finagling, the bribery and the theft, as the places that should have been assigned by lottery were instead filled with the rich and the powerful. While Rico Sanchez bought, bribed or murdered his way into filling half of one ship with his own people. Not just vampires, but also shapeshifters and other things that go bump in the night, including one warlock (his story is in Deception) and one of the seven lords of the Abyss, more colloquially called Hell.

The demon Malpheas just so happens to be the warlock’s father. True to his demonic nature, Malpheas is used to getting his own way, reigning from the top of the heap, and killing anyone who gets in his way. In other words, he’s an entitled alphahole with the power to back it up.

Power he has been cut off from by the time Rico wakes him from cryosleep at the beginning of Insurrection. Malpheas has to commit three “good deeds”, definition rather nebulous, before he’ll have access to all his powers again. The curse he has to labor under is one last “present” from his old frenemy Lucifer.

All Mal has to do is figure out what “good” means, keep the humans on the other ships from discovering just what Rico has been hiding aboard his own ship, and plot and scheme to take over everything once he’s managed to beat the curse.

Unless Mal learns the lesson that his curse is trying to teach him, first.

Escape Rating A-: Now that I’ve finished Insurrection I have the strongest urge to go back and reread the expanded version of Break Out again. It feels so much like this story puts all the pieces in place for that one, and I want to check just how well it did.

This also feels like a great place to end the Dark Desires Origins prequel series, as we’ve seen in detail just how much the humans of the Trakis expedition brought humanity with them, very much warts and all. Readers who began this journey with Malfunction will leave Insurrection primed and ready to see where things have ended up by the time of Break Out, while readers who boarded this flight there will be sorely tempted to see how well the ends meet.

I’m not sure that readers who start here will be completely satisfied. On the other hand, their appetites may be whetted well enough to tempt them to read the entire series from start to finish!

In addition to all of the historical and human – or human-ish – pieces being put in place for the story to continue in that already explored future, one of the reasons that this story read like so much a part of the original book was that both deal explicitly with the problems not of mortality but of immortality.

The process that is discovered on Trakis Seven makes people practically immortal, just as Rico’s vampirism does. People who have gone through the process CAN be killed – decapitation is always an option – but don’t die from disease or accidents or even extreme old age.

The problem with immortality is that the human lifespan is meant to be finite. Psychologically, we need purpose and surprise and a whole bunch of other things that stop being important if one knows one literally has all the time in the universe. Time enough to have been there and done that for every possible thing one could be or do. It gets boring.

In Break Out, Rico may be a bit bored, but the people who have gone through the Trakis immortality treatment are getting really, really bored. And jaded. Just as the immortal demon, Malpheas has gotten bored and jaded with his already extremely long life.

So the romance in this story is wrapped around Malpheas experiencing the old curse of “may you live in interesting times.” As an immortal demon with all his powers, he can make whatever and whoever he wants happen. Nothing is interesting. With his powers locked away, he’s just human. A big, strong, and very sexy human, but human nonetheless. Everything is frustrating. Everything is weird. Everything is fascinating. His times are suddenly very interesting indeed in a way that he hasn’t experienced for a very long time. For Malpheas, the curse has become a blessing.

And the biggest part of the blessing is Hope Featherstone. Not just because she’s nice and she’s pretty, but because she’s real and so are all her emotions. She may want the big, sexy beast, but she doesn’t actually like him all that much. She also finds him surprisingly resistible, and that’s something Mal has never experienced in his life. He has to become a better person to have a chance with her.

That he discovers that she’s not nearly as good as she appears makes them perfect for each other. Now they just have to survive the mess that both their secrets have gotten them into. And get themselves as far away as possible from the brave new world being established – because it’s already every bit as FUBAR’d as the old world they left behind.

Because of the situation on Trakis Four at the end of this book, this feels like the end of the Dark Desires Origins series. But it may not actually be the end. It was great fun to go back to the beginning, to see how the situation we saw in Break Out came to be, with paranormal beings from Earth flying spaceships in a far-flung corner of the galaxy. I never expected to read about vampires in space but I’m certainly glad I did.

This was a fitting sendoff for the whole thing, as not only do we see how things got to be the way they were, but the ending puts a fair amount of focus back on the character most of us fell for at the beginning, vampire and captain Rico Sanchez. It’s been an exciting ride from beginning to end, and I’m glad I took the trip.

If the author ever chooses to return to this universe I’ll be right there.

Review: Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn

Review: Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. RocklynFlowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 112
Published by Tordotcom on October 19, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Flowers for the Sea is a dark, dazzling debut novella that reads like Rosemary's Baby by way of Octavia E. Butler.
We are a people who do not forget.
Survivors from a flooded kingdom struggle alone on an ark. Resources are scant, and ravenous beasts circle. Their fangs are sharp.
Among the refugees is Iraxi: ostracized, despised, and a commoner who refused a prince, she’s pregnant with a child that might be more than human. Her fate may be darker and more powerful than she can imagine.
Zin E. Rocklyn’s extraordinary debut is a lush, gothic fantasy about the prices we pay and the vengeance we seek.

My Review:

I picked this up because I was expecting a story that would be doing that creepy, uncomfortable straddle over the place where dark fantasy bleeds into horror. But that wasn’t quite what I got – although there was plenty of uncomfortable, downright painful straddling in the book itself.

Having finished the book, it feels like I got the middle part of a story that had a lot more depth to explore – but that those deeper elements just weren’t present in the part I got.

The story begins aboard a ship that has, or at least had, some very interesting magic. The ship is and has been, floating in an endless sea, its passengers permanent exiles from a shore they left behind. Originally, the ship fed and protected and sustained them easily, but the magic is dying, or the sea is dying, or it’s all fading away.

Our perspective on the ship, its inhabitants and its circumstances is through the mind of resentful, pregnant, angry, ostracized Iraxi. She is angry at everyone on the ship, and everyone on the ship is resentful and afraid of her. Even though they all hope that the baby she has zero desire to carry or bear will save them all.

Iraxi’s perspective is an uncomfortable one. She is, herself, extremely uncomfortable in the last days of her pregnancy, and very, very angry at everyone and everything around her. Including most especially, herself.

But Iraxi’s anger is a much bigger thing than one woman – or even one ocean – can contain. All she has to do is accept it, and accept the past that brought her to this point, and it will become big enough to encompass the world – and destroy it.

Escape Rating C: Even after finishing this book, I still had more of a sense of what it was supposed to be from the blurb than from reading – actually listening to – the entire thing from beginning to end. Not that the reader didn’t do a good job, because she most definitely did, but because the story didn’t quite gel for me – or perhaps it gelled in the wrong places.

The blurb describes Flowers for the Sea as Rosemary’s Baby meets Octavia Butler, in other words a combination of horror and SF. I was expecting something at least a bit like Rivers Solomon’s marvelous The Deep, in the sense that I was expecting a story that was intended to reclaim the Middle Passage of the slave trade for its victims and away from its perpetrators.

I didn’t exactly get either of those things. Admittedly that’s at least in part because both the author and the narrator did an all too excellent job of portraying Iraxi’s unwanted, undesired, unwelcome and utterly resented pregnancy and eventual childbirth as a internal horror of anger, fear, hatred, loathing, disgust and pretty much every other negative emotion in a way that hit me right in the nightmare to the point where it overshadowed the entire story.

The other reason the story didn’t gel is that we see the entire thing from Iraxi’s perspective, and Iraxi is angry almost to the point of incoherence pretty much all of the time. She hates her circumstances, she hates her pregnancy, she hates her baby, she hates all the people aboard the ship for the way that they have forced her to carry this unwanted pregnancy to term, the way that they in their turn hate and fear her and only give a damn about the child she is carrying. She’s lonely, she’s resentful, she’s afraid and she’s hiding the reasons she is in this circumstance from herself and from the reader, only dribbling out clues and then shutting herself down before we learn what we need to know.

Paradoxically for a story that didn’t work for me, I wish this had been longer. We don’t know anything about this world, although we learn that it isn’t exactly ours. We don’t know nearly enough about Iraxi’s people, their background or how they got into this fix. We eventually get hints, but they’re not enough. More pages, more scope to learn more, would have made this work better – at least for this reader.

Your reading mileage may vary. I’m headed off to gibber in a quiet corner someplace until the nightmare passes.

Review: Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman

Review: Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne FeldmanSisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 400
Published by Mira on October 26, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Inspired by real women, this powerful novel tells the story of two unconventional American sisters who volunteer at the front during World War I
August 1914. While Europe enters a brutal conflict unlike any waged before, the Duncan household in Baltimore, Maryland, is the setting for a different struggle. Ruth and Elise Duncan long to escape the roles that society, and their controlling father, demand they play. Together, the sisters volunteer for the war effort--Ruth as a nurse, Elise as a driver.
Stationed at a makeshift hospital in Ypres, Belgium, Ruth soon confronts war's harshest lesson: not everyone can be saved. Rising above the appalling conditions, she seizes an opportunity to realize her dream to practice medicine as a doctor. Elise, an accomplished mechanic, finds purpose and an unexpected kinship within the all-female Ambulance Corps. Through bombings, heartache and loss, Ruth and Elise cherish an independence rarely granted to women, unaware that their greatest challenges are still to come.
Illuminating the critical role women played in the Great War, this is a remarkable story of resilience, sacrifice and the bonds that can never be vanquished.

My Review:

“It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.” The quote is by William Tecumseh Sherman. While Sherman was referring to the American Civil War, it is just as germane to World War I, and indeed any war either before or since.

Sisters of the Great War focuses on, not those who fired the shots, but rather those whose duty it was to hear the shrieks and groans of the wounded. Those who were tasked with the duty of transporting the wounded from the “front” to the makeshift hospitals nearly always inadequately staffed with doctors, nurses and orderlies who did the best they could with what little they had to patch them up if they could, invalid them out if they could not, or at least give them as much peace and surcease from pain as possible as they died.

Ruth and Elise Duncan represent two of those women. Ruth as a nurse, and Elise as an ambulance driver and mechanic. The story in Sisters of the Great War is the story of service on the front lines of that hell, undertaken with a lot of pluck, a great deal of stubbornness, and no small amount of naivete as a way of escaping privileged but unfulfilled lives under their father’s dictatorial thumb.

In Baltimore. In the United States. In 1914. Three years before the Americans entered the war. They volunteered, not really knowing, as no one did in 1914, that the war was going to take four long years of trenches and gas and devastation. Ruth left behind her father’s stern disapproval in the hopes that somehow, someway, serving as a nurse in wartime would give her the experience and the attitude needed for her to live her dream and become a doctor.

Elise just came along to keep her sister safe. Not that, as it turned out, safety was what either of them was built for. Nor was there any safety to be had in hospital tents or in barely functioning ambulances that were shelled almost as often as the trenches.

This is a story of perseverance in the face of bombs, shells and prejudice, railing against the lice and the substandard food and the even worse conditions and the sheer bloody-mindedness required to do not nearly enough with not nearly enough in order to save as many as possible – even if that wasn’t nearly enough either.

But they tried their best. They kept trying in the face of all the odds. And in the end, it was enough.

Escape Rating A: There have been plenty of stories featuring women who served in World War I as nurses or ambulance drivers. I can think of three off the top of my head; Phryne Fisher, Maisie Dobbs and Bess Crawford. (It may or may not be a coincidence that all lead mystery series.)

But the thing that struck me about all three of those heroines in comparison to Ruth and Elise Duncan is that in all three of those cases, in spite of the war being a critical part of each of their experiences, the brutal, devastating, depressing horror of the experience itself is a bit glossed over.

Phryne firmly keeps herself from looking back at her experience as an ambulance driver, while Maisie’s wartime experience effectively occurs between stories. Even Bess Crawford a nurse in a forward aid station, just as Ruth Duncan is at the beginning of her career, seems to carefully glance away from the worst of the gore in the operating theater to focus on the more individual gore of the murders that Bess uncovers.

What feels singular about Sisters of the Great War is that it uses Ruth’s and Elise’s slightly separated perspectives to put the nearly neverending horrors of the war and the desperation of the health care workers attempting to save them in the center of the story.

We’re with them every draining, numbing step of their way. We feel for them and with them and it makes their experience searing and horrifying and so very human. They’re both trying so hard and it’s never enough and they keep doing it anyway. We can’t turn our eyes away from their story – because they didn’t.

And yet, they’re not superhuman. We see their hopelessness and their fears and their exhaustion and we’re with them.

But because the story doesn’t gloss over just how much hell this war is, it’s a hard book because their experience, and the entire experience of that war, was so very hard and so deeply dark.

Not that there aren’t light moments in the story and in their hopes for the future – even as both of those things are full of fear. Ruth may have volunteered to escape their father, but she is also following the man she loves. Elise finally admits the truth of her own heart, and lets herself fall in love with another woman in spite of the censure they will face.

They do emerge from their war, bloody, often literally, and not either unscathed or unbowed. But they find the light at the end of their long dark tunnel and the entire experience makes for an extremely compelling read.

Review: Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner

Review: Fan Fiction by Brent SpinerFan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events by Brent Spiner, Jeanne Darst
Format: audiobook
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: autobiography, humor, mystery, noir
Pages: 256
Published by Macmillan Audio on October 5, 2021
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From Brent Spiner, who played the beloved Lieutenant Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, comes an explosive and hilarious autobiographical novel.
Brent Spiner’s explosive and hilarious novel is a personal look at the slightly askew relationship between a celebrity and his fans. If the Coen Brothers were to make a Star Trek movie, involving the complexity of fan obsession and sci-fi, this noir comedy might just be the one.
Set in 1991, just as Star Trek: The Next Generation has rocketed the cast to global fame, the young and impressionable actor Brent Spiner receives a mysterious package and a series of disturbing letters, that take him on a terrifying and bizarre journey that enlists Paramount Security, the LAPD, and even the FBI in putting a stop to the danger that has his life and career hanging in the balance.
Featuring a cast of characters from Patrick Stewart to Levar Burton to Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, to some completely imagined, this is the fictional autobiography that takes readers into the life of Brent Spiner and tells an amazing tale about the trappings of celebrity and the fear he has carried with him his entire life.
Fan Fiction is a zany love letter to a world in which we all participate, the phenomenon of “Fandom.”

My Review:

There’s a fine line between parody and farce, and it feels like Brent Spiner tap-danced over it in both directions, multiple times, during the course of this story. If that dance turned out to be set to one of Frank Sinatra’s greatest hits, or something else from the “Great American Songbook” I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised.

It might be best to go into this story not really thinking of it as, well, a story. It’s more of a combination of homage and love letter. The “mystery” part of the story reads like an homage to the noir films of the Golden Age of Hollywood, complete with a reference to that classic image of noir, the painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942 courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

It’s also a love letter, to his friends and fellow crew members of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and to all of us who vicariously voyaged with them aboard the Enterprise-D.

But as a story, it goes over the top so much and so often that it pratfalls down the other side. At the same time, it mixes events from his real life in a way that intentionally blurs the line between fact and fiction to the point where the reader just has to hang on for the ride without attempting to figure out which is which.

So the story is grounded in what feels like the real, the real traumas of Spiner’s childhood with his abusive stepfather, the real grief over the death of Gene Roddenberry which occurs during the course of the story. But the picture that hangs within that real framing is the story of a crazed fan stalking the actor and making his life his misery, while his attempts to find help to keep him safe and find his stalker send the story way over the top into the land of make believe.

At least I hope they do, because some of what happens can’t possibly be real. Can it?

Escape Rating B: I’ll confess that as much as I’m still a Star Trek fan, particularly the original series and Next Generation, I had no intentions of reading this book, until I saw the audio. The full cast audio with appearances by several of the Next Gen cast playing themselves – albeit a slightly exaggerated version thereof. And that’s what got me to pick up the audio – and eventually the book because I needed to doublecheck more than a few things.

There is still plenty of animosity among the remaining members of the original series cast, even after 50+ years, but there were no such rumors about the Next Gen cast, and the idea that they would get together and do this for one of their members after all these years says a lot about the group dynamic. A dynamic that was on full display in this recording.

So the audiobook is both a blast and a blast from the past and I was all in for that. Fan Fiction is a tremendously fun listening experience, and hearing everyone play themselves made the whole thing a real treat even when the story itself doesn’t quite hold up to examination.

I also have to say that, as weird as it is in yesterday’s book where the author is a character in his own fictional story, it’s even weirder when the author is a real-life character in a story that is basically fan fiction about his own life. Particularly in the bits where he alludes to his own romantic escapades. (He’s married now, but he hadn’t even met his wife in 1991 when this story takes place. So it’s weird and meta but not quite THAT weird and meta.)

There’s a saying about the past being another country, that they do things differently there. Fan Fiction, in addition to its bloody animal parts in the mail, bombshell twin detectives who BOTH have romantic designs on the author AND the stalker who gets stalked by yet another stalker, is also a trip down memory lane back to 1991.

That’s 30 years ago, and we, along with the world, were a bit different then. Next Generation was in its 5th season, and still not all that popular in the wider world of TV no matter how huge a hit it was among science fiction fans. Next Gen was in syndication only at a time before the streaming juggernauts were even a gleam of a thing in a producer’s eye. It was the author’s really big break as an actor, and that was true for all of the cast except Patrick Stewart and LeVar Burton.

So we were all a lot younger then, childhood traumas were a lot closer in the rearview mirror and still being worked on and worked out, and no one knew then that Star Trek would become a multimedia colossus to rival Star Wars. None of us knew then what we know now, and that’s true of the author and his attitudes towards his own celebrity.

Back to this story. The mystery/thriller aspects push the willing suspension of disbelief well past the breaking point. I half expected this to turn out to have all been a dream like The Wizard of Oz. But the full cast recording turns the whole thing into a delightful trip down memory lane as well as a hilarious send-up of acting and fame and celebrity and fandom. .

If you’re a Star Trek fan, get the audio and settle in to hear some of your favorite characters tell you just one more story. Bits of it might even be true!

Review: A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

Review: A Line to Kill by Anthony HorowitzA Line To Kill (Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery, #3) by Anthony Horowitz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Hawthorne and Horowitz #3
Pages: 384
Published by Harper on October 19, 2021
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The New York Times bestselling author of the brilliantly inventive The Word Is Murder and The Sentence Is Death returns with his third literary whodunit featuring intrepid detectives Hawthorne and Horowitz.
When Ex-Detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, author Anthony Horowitz, are invited to an exclusive literary festival on Alderney, an idyllic island off the south coast of England, they don’t expect to find themselves in the middle of murder investigation—or to be trapped with a cold-blooded killer in a remote place with a murky, haunted past.
Arriving on Alderney, Hawthorne and Horowitz soon meet the festival’s other guests—an eccentric gathering that includes a bestselling children’s author, a French poet, a TV chef turned cookbook author, a blind psychic, and a war historian—along with a group of ornery locals embroiled in an escalating feud over a disruptive power line.
When a local grandee is found dead under mysterious circumstances, Hawthorne and Horowitz become embroiled in the case. The island is locked down, no one is allowed on or off, and it soon becomes horribly clear that a murderer lurks in their midst. But who?
Both a brilliant satire on the world of books and writers and an immensely enjoyable locked-room mystery, A Line to Kill is a triumph—a riddle of a story full of brilliant misdirection, beautifully set-out clues, and diabolically clever denouements.

My Review:

Think of this story, in fact, think of this entire series, as taking place surrounded by the rubble of the “fourth wall” that author Anthony Horowitz continually demolishes by making himself a character in his own series.

And not even the hero of it. He’s the narrator, but he’s definitely not the star of this show. That position is reserved for – really taken over by – detective Daniel Hawthorne, formerly of the London Metropolitan Police and currently working for himself and whoever is willing to pay him to figure out whodunnit when the Met is stumped.

Or when he’s way, way off their patch, as he and “Tony” are in this story.

After the previous books in this series, The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death, where Hawthorne barges in, completely disrupts “Tony’s” life, drags him along on a case and never lets the man catch his breath, this case begins when Tony reluctantly agrees with his agent’s notion to send both himself and Hawthorne to a literary festival in the Channel Islands. Tony hopes that this will finally be the first time in their contentious acquaintance that Tony will be in his element and Hawthorne will need at least a little bit of his help and guidance.

But Hawthorne has an agenda of his own on Alderney and is just going along with this literary festival idea for the ride to a place he wants to get to anyway. And, as much as this might not be the mostly anti-social Hawthorne’s natural setting – he’s VERY good at playing whatever part is necessary to get him who and what he needs to achieve whatever he’s set out to do.

Whatever Hawthorne’s private agenda, and Tony’s anger and disappointment when he figures it out, their entire reason for being on Alderney ends up taking a back seat to murder. Specifically the murder of the man responsible for funding the literary festival, and coincidentally – or perhaps not – responsible for the current controversy that is tearing tiny Alderney apart.

Considering that Alderney has a population of around 2,000, it’s not much of a surprise that they have a police force of 3. That none of the three are actually available to work this case is a bit of an issue, but considering that no one can remember the last time there was a murder on Alderney, they’re not much missed. But the police force on the nearby islands isn’t much bigger – or much more experienced with murder. (If anyone remembers the TV series Bergerac, there’s no one like him anywhere in evidence – and this was a case that could certainly have used an experienced detective with local knowledge and no axe to grind.)

Naturally they ask for Hawthorne’s help. And just as naturally, Hawthorne assumes that Tony will tag along as chronicler, occasional foil, and, just as important from Hawthorne’s perspective, the person who will pay all the bills.

So Tony finds himself in the exact position he had no desire to be in again, serving as Watson to Hawthorne’s Sherlock – and one of the less ept Watsons into the bargain. Meanwhile Hawthorne is on the track of a murderer that Tony is certain no one will feel an ounce of sympathy for, making any book coming out of this case a nonstarter.

However, as their previous cases have proven, in the end Hawthorne is always right, and Tony is inevitably barking up the wrong tree when it comes to figuring out whodunnit. There might be a book in this mess after all.

Escape Rating B+: Both of the author’s current series, the Susan Ryeland series that starts with Magpie Murders and the Hawthorne and Horowitz series, take the concepts of a classic murder mystery and wrap them up in ways that the authors of those classics never would have thought of.

In the Susan Ryeland series, that’s literal, as the classic-style mysteries of Atticus Pünd, which are included in their entirety in each book, provide clues to the more recent murder that Susan Ryeland is bumbling her way towards solving.

In the Hawthorne and Horowitz series it’s a bit more of a stretch, but still definitely there, and not just because the main characters are so obviously avatars for Holmes and Watson, albeit a Holmes who is even more sociopathic and self-absorbed than the original, leading around a Watson who is even more bumbling. Not that saying any of that doesn’t feel slightly weird, as it’s the author of the book inserting himself into the narrative as a character, which gets more than a bit meta.

But the mystery that Hawthorne is presented with in this case begins as something that Dame Agatha Christie – at least in the person of Hercule Poirot – would have had a great time solving. The victim is wealthy – and he’s an absolute bastard. The line of people wanting to murder him is long, to the point where the title of the book is a pun on the concept. Alderney is a relatively remote location, an island that can be closed so that the potential suspects are forced to remain, while the murder itself begins as a locked room murder in the victim’s own mansion.

All of those are plot elements that Christie played with more than once, and quite successfully. It’s not a surprise that another mystery writer would take those same ingredients and make something quite a bit different from them. Because, of course, nothing is quite as it seems.

Except the victim’s bastardy. That was most definitely real. And the point of quite a lot.

The case is even more complicated than it initially appeared to be. At first, it just seems difficult, but as Hawthorne digs into the lives and motives of the potential suspects, it gets deeper as well. And puts at least some of his own motives for coming to Alderney on display. A bit. As much as Hawthorne ever displays much of any part of his internal life.

Or to put it another way, once the body was discovered, the story got really fascinating really quickly. It was much more fun following Horowitz following Hawthorne as he investigated than it was hanging around as Tony groused – mostly to himself – about getting there and being there and dealing with Hawthorne and the other authors at the festival.

The other stories in this series started with murder. This one takes a while to work itself up to that sticking point. Once it does, it’s off to the races, while throwing out plenty of red herrings for the reader, along with Tony, to chew on.

The thing is, Tony doesn’t actually like Hawthorne, which is fair, because Hawthorne is not at all likeable. It makes the early part of this book awkward because all of their interactions are frustrating, and Tony is clearly frustrated by pretty much everything involved in his odd relationship with Hawthorne. Absent a case, their conversations seem rather forced – only because they are. But it makes for a bit of a slow read until they have a case in hand.

Also, and very much the point, Tony may not like Hawthorne, but he is utterly fascinated by him. And so are we. So once Hawthorne is in his element, solving a mystery, the relationship between them falls into a place from which we can watch the master at his work – even if, or especially because, we can’t see where he’s heading with it until the end. Or somebody’s end. Or both.

“Tony” may not want to work with Hawthorne again. Ever. But I really hope he does.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-17-21

This week’s schedule held up better than I expected.  And that one will be back a bit closer to the publication date.

There’s an actual nip in the air here in Atlanta. It actually feels like “fall” enough to start wearing long sleeves. It’s lovely. But speaking of fall, the leaves are falling like rain – or like the leaves in the videogame Ghost of Tsushima. George actually watched Galen play – so did I, the game is gorgeous – but George was more interested in the leaves falling in the game than the action. He tried to catch them – not very successfully. His efforts did not help the gameplay one bit, as the leaping cat tended to block the screen at the worst times!

So here’s a picture of George leaf-peeping in real life. He can’t catch them through the window, but he’s absolutely fascinated watching them fall!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Howloween Giveaway Hop (ENDS TUESDAY!!!)

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Scaredy Cat Giveaway Hop is Amber Y.

Blog Recap:

A Review: Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
B Review: Along the Saltwise Sea by Seanan McGuire writing as A. Deborah Baker
B Review: The Hacker by Anna Hackett
A Review: Scandal in Babylon by Barbara Hambly
A- Review: The Route of Ice and Salt by José Luis Zárate
Stacking the Shelves (466)

Coming This Week:

A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz (review)
Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner (audio review)
Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman (blog tour review)
Insurrection by Nina Croft (review)
Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn (audio review)