Review: Defender by Anna Hackett

Review: Defender by Anna HackettDefender (Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #2
Pages: 211
Published by Anna Hackett on August 18, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Rescued from alien slavers, the only place she feels safe is in the brawny arms of a big, gruff cyborg.

Astrophysicist Dr. Jayna Lennox’s life imploded the day her ship was attacked by aliens. Through months of captivity, she’s survived by shutting down and not feeling. Then she’s freed by the House of Rone cyborgs and finds herself in the arms of huge, tough Mace. Struggling to heal, Mace is the only thing that makes her feel safe. The only person who makes her feel like she isn’t broken. But there are more of her crew members imprisoned in Carthago’s desert, and Jayna will have to delve into her darkest memories to help save them.

Born to fight and bred for rage, Mace barely survived his gang-ridden homeworld. Thanks to Imperator Magnus Rone, he’s found a place at the House of Rone. Unlike the other cyborgs, he feels, but only anger and annoyance. When a small, wounded human woman works her way under his skin, Mace finds himself feeling things he’s never felt before…along with a powerful need to keep her safe.

Jayna vows to help find her fellow humans, even if it means revisiting her nightmares and being part of a dangerous mission into the desert. But as the passion between her and Mace explodes, she finds herself with two battles on her hands: the battle to free the humans from their captors, and the war to win Mace’s scarred heart.

My Review:

When it seemed like the Galactic Gladiators series was coming to an end, back with Imperator, I said that this was a series that could potentially go on forever. By the end of Imperator, all of the human refugees that were kidnapped through the temporary wormhole had been rescued from the Thraxian slavers, and the slavers, or at least that group of them, had been broken.

But that didn’t mean that there couldn’t have been other groups of humans kidnapped from Jupiter Station or the surrounding space that had also been kidnapped, whether by the Thraxians or by some other group of evil, space-vacuum-sucking scum.

And so it proves with the House of Rone spinoff of the Galactic Gladiators series, beginning with Sentinel and now followed by Defender.

Cyborg romance is one of the more interesting, and potentially challenging, spinoffs of science fiction romance. The House of Rone is a gladiatorial house on Kor Magna, founded by the cyborgs that their imperator, Magnus, rescued from the experimental program that produced him and his inner circle of trusted operators.

(BTW, Magnus found his own HEA in Cyborg with one of those rescued from Jupiter Station.)

One of those challenges when it comes to cyborg romance is in the way that cyborgs can embody the tough, supposedly unfeeling alpha male stereotype – and the ways that they subvert that stereotype – and their own programming.

The cyborgs produced by the program that Magnus and his friends Jaxon (Sentinel), Acton and this story’s own hero, Mace, escaped were programmed not to have emotions. In fact, one of the factors that forced them to escape was that their programming was either failing or imperfect – and that they felt at least some emotions in spite of it – to varying degrees. With Jaxon (hero of Sentinel) having the most and Acton (clearly intended as the hero of the next book in the series) having the least.

Mace seems to fall in the middle of that emotional spectrum, which seems fitting as his cyborg enhancements, just like his emotions, are hidden on the inside.

He doesn’t expect to feel anything for Jayna, the human woman he helped to rescue from the Edull. (The Edull seem like much, much nastier and disgusting cousins of the Jawa traders in the first Star Wars movie – the ones who captured C3PO and R2-D2 at the beginning of the film.)

But of course she just gets under his skin. And very much vice versa.

As is the case with many of the books in both the House of Rone and the Galactic Gladiators series that spawned it, these two people with scars on both the outside and the inside discover that they make each other strong in their broken places.

And that even a cyborg who isn’t supposed to feel anything at all is capable of falling in love – even if it takes someone from halfway across the galaxy to help him finally figure it out.

Escape Rating B+: As is often the case with this author’s series, there is both an individual romance in this short novel and progress on an overarching story for the series.

In Defender, the romance is between Mace and Jayna, a cyborg defender – hence the title – and the woman he comes to defend – and love.

The story is both Jayna’s journey of healing after being captured, enslaved and experimented upon, and Mace’s journey to become more than just a battle-scarred warrior with some serious anger-management issues.

That they have to grope towards a relationship before they get to seriously groping each other is part of the journey – and part of the fun.

At the same time, Defender also links to the previous books in the combined series and provides hints of where the story goes from here. While it isn’t necessary to read the whole series to enjoy this entry in it, reading a couple, particularly Gladiator (the original kickoff) and Cyborg (Magnus Rone’s own story) should provide enough background to get the worldbuilding. But the series as a whole is a whole lot of fun, so why wouldn’t you read the whole thing?

The overarching story for the House of Rone revolves around the search for survivors from the ship Helios, the supply ship that was operating near Jupiter Station when the wormhole opened. That search has led the allied forces of the House of Galen and the House of Rone to the Edull, a race of sand-sucking tinkers, engineers and scientists who usually spend their time salvaging mechanical scrap. They do, however, keep slaves, which is how they seem to have acquired the Helios survivors. The Edull seem to find the humans interesting – to the point of buying them to experiment on. Jayna was rescued, but there are more humans hidden in the Edull’s secret capital city – and it’s the mission of this series to find that city and rescue all of them.

I can’t wait to see them finally succeed!

Review: Bursts of Fire by Susan Forest + Giveaway

Review: Bursts of Fire by Susan Forest + GiveawayBursts of Fire (Addicted to Heaven, #1) by Susan Forest
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: coming of age, epic fantasy
Series: Addicted to Heaven #1
Pages: 394
Published by Laksa Media Groups Inc. on August 6, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

To survive. To fight. To restore balance.

The Falkyn sisters bear a burden and a legacy. Their mother, the imperial magiel of the kingdom of Orumon, protects her people from the horrors of the afterlife by calling upon the Gods with a precious Prayer Stone. But war among the kingdoms has brought fire and destruction to their sheltered world. When a mad king's desire to destroy the Prayer Stones shatters their family, the three girls are scattered to the wilderness, relying on their wits and powers they don't yet master.

Assassin. Battle tactician. Magic wielder. Driven by different ambitions, Meg, Janat, and Rennika are destined to become all these and more. To reclaim their birth right, they must overcome doubtful loyalties within a rising rebellion; more, they must challenge a dogma-driven chancellor's influence on the prince raised to inherit his father's war: a prince struggling to unravel the mystery of his brother's addiction to Heaven.

My Review:

I signed up for this tour because, well, epic fantasy has always been one of my loves, and this book looked interesting. I’ll admit that the series title, Addicted to Heaven, gave me more than a bit of pause, but as it turns out, the heaven that people are addicted to is nothing like contemporary Western versions of heaven.

Bursts of Fire is very much a part of the epic fantasy tradition. There were times, in fact, when it felt like specific epic fantasies. But it does such a good job of exploring both its new facets and riffing on the stories from which it sprang that it made for a darn good read.

And I was on an airplane and this book was next in my queue. Bursts of Fire turned out to be a terrific book to transition from Worldcon back to “real life” as I traveled from a place where everyone was talking about SF and Fantasy and back to the so-called real world where those discussions are not quite so commonplace.

The story of Bursts of Fire begins in the way that quite a few epic fantasies begin – where the kingdom is under siege and the heir to the throne gets smuggled out of town ahead of the rampaging horde.

And that’s where the differences begin.

The heir isn’t the heir to the throne. And the heir isn’t an heir. Instead, the heiresses to the king’s magical advisor, all three of them, sneak out of the capital with the help of their nanny. Who they still need, as the oldest girl is 17 and the youngest is 11. And none of them have the remotest clue about how to manage on their own – or how to manage period without people waiting on them hand and foot.

They’ll have to figure it out – and somehow manage to grow up, in the midst of a civil war where they are being hunted by both sides. The forces of the usurper believe that all magic is evil – and the rebels just want to use them for their powers.

Powers that they mostly aren’t trained to use. They’re alone, desperate, and on the run. But at least they have each other. Until they don’t.

Whether they can figure out the right course to save themselves, save each other, and save the people that they feel responsible for, is a race against desperation and despair.

And just when they think they might have a chance to right at least a few of the wrongs – they discover just how bad things really, really are.

Escape Rating B+: Bursts of Fire turned out to be a terrific airplane book. Anything that can keep me distracted for 3-4 hours of an 8 hour flight is very much appreciated. And this certainly did.

As has been a relatively recent but also extremely welcome trend in epic fantasy, Bursts of Fire is a heroine’s journey rather than a hero’s journey. Or in this particular case, three heroines’ journeys. At the same time, the story begins on a familiar note, as the chosen one – or in this case chosen ones – are thrown from their original setting to make lives for themselves, and oh-by-the-way save the world.

Part of what does make this a bit different is that there is no mentor character to provide guidance – or for them to rely upon. They lose Nanny almost immediately. She was the one their mother gave the plan to, so the girls are on their own, lost and desperate.

Also very, very young and completely out of their depth. Only the oldest, Meg, has a real clue about just how bad things are and just how much things have changed for them. Little Rennika is too young to understand, and middle-sister Janat is too self-absorbed.

Janat is a character that I never warmed up to, and her self-absorption and unwillingness to grasp their situation continues throughout the story, making this reader grateful that the relatively mature Meg is the primary point of view character.

Meg understands the stakes earliest. Rennika is young enough to adapt. Janat is a problem from beginning to end, a problem that it looks like is only going to get worse.

What’s gone wrong with the kingdom did not make much sense at first. The reader is dropped into the middle of the story, just as the girls escape – and no one seems to know why their ally has suddenly attacked. As the story progresses, it becomes clear – for select definitions of clear – that no one really does know why he went off the rails. They just see the effects – and those effects are gruesome.

War is hell, and civil war is particularly hellish. The rebels want peace and they want to go back to the way things were – as much as is possible after two years of war. The girls, who have become young women fired – or broken – in the crucible of that war want to save as many people as possible, want to reverse the sudden upwelling of prejudice against magic users fostered by the usurper and his advisors, and want to take up the purpose that their family has always undertaken – to visit heaven and intercede with the gods on their people’s behalf.

The magic system of this world is fascinating and different, and their gods are real and act upon their world in ways that can be seen and measured if not countered. The primary manifestation of that magic is the magic users’ uncontrolled shifting through time. Magic has a price, and becoming unmoored from the time you are living is part of that cost.

The glimpses that all three sisters receive of their past, present and future are sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes heartening, and always confusing. It is as much of a curse as a gift, but their ability to intercede with the gods is both powerful and necessary in this cosmos.

That the usurper is determined to break that connection powers his mad campaign against his former allies – and the reasons for that determination are shattering for the kingdom, the reader, and his heir.

That the heroines are all very young leaves this book, and presumably the series it begins, balanced on the knife edge between young adult and adult fantasy.  The protagonists may be young adults, but the situations in which they find themselves feel adult in their consequences.

In the end of Bursts of Fire, we, and the characters, know more about the reasons for the fractured state of their world, but are no closer to a resolution. This is a story about a world that is broken – and it is not made whole by the end. There must be future books in this series, and I’m looking forward to reading them.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of Bursts of Fire to one very lucky US/CAN commenter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs

Review: The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan WiggsThe Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow on August 13, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The #1 New York Times bestselling author brings us her most ambitious and provocative work yet—a searing and timely novel that explores the most volatile issue of our time—domestic violence.

At the break of dawn, Caroline Shelby rolls into Oysterville, Washington, a tiny hamlet at the edge of the raging Pacific.

She’s come home.

Home to a place she thought she’d left forever, home of her heart and memories, but not her future. Ten years ago, Caroline launched a career in the glamorous fashion world of Manhattan. But her success in New York imploded on a wave of scandal and tragedy, forcing her to flee to the only safe place she knows.

And in the backseat of Caroline’s car are two children who were orphaned in a single chilling moment—five-year-old Addie and six-year-old Flick. She’s now their legal guardian—a role she’s not sure she’s ready for.

But the Oysterville she left behind has changed. Her siblings have their own complicated lives and her aging parents are hoping to pass on their thriving seafood restaurant to the next generation. And there’s Will Jensen, a decorated Navy SEAL who’s also returned home after being wounded overseas. Will and Caroline were forever friends as children, with the promise of something more . . . until he fell in love with Sierra, Caroline’s best friend and the most beautiful girl in town. With her modeling jobs drying up, Sierra, too, is on the cusp of reinventing herself.

Caroline returns to her favorite place: the sewing shop owned by Mrs. Lindy Bloom, the woman who inspired her and taught her to sew. There she discovers that even in an idyllic beach town, there are women living with the deepest of secrets. Thus begins the Oysterville Sewing Circle—where women can join forces to support each other through the troubles they keep hidden.

Yet just as Caroline regains her creativity and fighting spirit, and the children begin to heal from their loss, an unexpected challenge tests her courage and her heart. This time, though, Caroline is not going to run away. She’s going to stand and fight for everything—and everyone—she loves.

My Review:

The Oysterville Sewing Circle turned out to be a lovely story with multiple themes – and everything I expected from this author. Particularly after last year’s marvelous Between You and Me.

First of all, this is a story about home – the Robert Frost version of home being the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Because as the story begins, Caroline Shelby is returning to tiny Oysterville because she needs to take refuge. Her life has both fallen apart and moved in a direction that she never expected, and she needs help and a place to heal.

Secondly, this is most definitely a love story – in multiple senses of that phrase. Partly, it’s a lovely second-chance-at-love story. The love of Caroline’s life is also back in Oysterville. They missed their chance back in high school, but chance has come around again – and this time they are both mature enough to grab it and hang on tight.

There’s another kind of love in this story. Caroline has returned to Oysterville with two children in tow, children that she never expected or planned to have. But that she agreed to care for out of love for her best friend, suddenly dead of a drug overdose. Over the course of the story, she comes to love Addie and Flick not just for their mother’s sake, but for their own. And it’s Caroline’s metamorphosis from slightly reluctant and completely overwhelmed guardian to adopted “mom” that gives the story much of its heart.

The soul of this one comes from the darker circumstances that gave birth to both Caroline’s need to flee New York and her guardianship of Addie and Flick after their mother’s sudden death.

Because their mother Angelique was a top-tier fashion model who had been chewed up and spit out by the cutthroat fashion industry. As had her designer friend Caroline, who had seen her award-winning designs stolen by the man she believed was her mentor.

Once the truth finally comes out, Caroline discovers that she got off relatively easy, but that the damage that same man had done to Angelique was more than she could survive. Which leads to the three darker themes of the story.

Angelique was a high-functioning drug addict who hid her addiction well, until it killed her. Whether the man who regularly abused her got her hooked or simply drove her back to drugs when she couldn’t bear the beatings any longer is not known. But his physical abuse of Angelique as well as his deliberate destruction of Caroline’s career shines a bright light into the crawling darkness of the #MeToo movement.

And Caroline’s need to do something, anything, to give women like Angelique a safe place to talk, to be listened to, and to be heard, exposes the hidden-yet-not-hidden secret cesspool of domestic abuse, that it happens everywhere, even in small, seemingly perfect places like Oysterville.

And that both domestic abuse and addiction affect every person around the abuse and the addiction in ways that ripple out like a stone thrown into a pond.

Every town needs an Oysterville Sewing Club – and women like Caroline who stand up to become beacons of hope – and who receive hope themselves.

Escape Rating A: This was one of my airplane books on the way back from Ireland. I had 8 hours to kill, which meant plenty of time to read. The part of the trip I spent in Oysterville with Caroline absolutely flew by – pun definitely intended.

This is a story with a lot going on, taking a surprising dive into areas that don’t seem like the province of women’s fiction – particularly not so many all in the same WOW of a book.

There were a lot of things that I loved about this story. I think that the biggest was that Caroline never has all the answers. She just has questions – and the more she questions the more comes to light.

Caroline’s part of the story both echoes and illuminates the #MeToo movement. In her case, it was never about sex – only about exploitation. She had the ideas, but her supposed mentor had all the power. Her attempt to fight back against his blatant theft destroyed her career and left him even better off than before. And it’s both utterly disgusting and absolutely believable.

What made the story for me was Caroline’s attempt to understand what happened to her friend. Both because she feels guilty that she didn’t see the signs of the addiction, and because she didn’t speak up about the abuse that she suspected was going on. Out of her desire to understand, and admittedly to expiate some of her guilt, she starts the organization that becomes the Oysterville Sewing Society in order to give women in her old/new community a safe place. A place that she also needs.

And out of that comes her own healing, both emotionally and for the career that she thought was dead in the water. That she gets justice for her friend, and a happy ever after for herself and her children, is icing on a very lovely cake.

Bittersweet chocolate is my favorite, after all.

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Guest Review: Sentinel of Darkness by Katie Reus

Guest Review: Sentinel of Darkness by Katie ReusSentinel of Darkness (Darkness Series) (Volume 8) by Katie Reus
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Darkness #8
Pages: 152
Published by KR Press on October 16, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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She thought she’d put her past behind her…

Local artist Keva might be human, but she knows about the things that go bump in the night. Years ago, a dragon shifter saved her from certain death. Ever since, she’s lived in his clan’s territory and put her life back together. But the feeling of security is only an illusion, because her past has come back to haunt her. A past with claws and fangs, demanding blood.

He’ll do whatever it takes to defend his mate…

Dagen has finally met his mate—except he insults her the first time they meet. He’s not too proud to grovel to get back into her good graces. But when a threat from her past emerges, he realizes that he’ll do anything to keep her safe. Even if it means dying—or losing her forever.

Length: 30,000 words

Author note: This is a stand-alone story in the Darkness series complete with an HEA and no cliffhanger.

Darkness series: 1. Darkness Awakened 2. Taste of Darkness 3. Beyond the Darkness 4. Hunted by Darkness 5. Into the Darkness 6. Saved by Darkness 7. Guardian of Darkness 8. Sentinel of Darkness

Guest review by Amy:

Here’s a note from the Fair Warnings Department: Right up front, in the prologue’s third paragraph, we’re told that our heroine had been raped by her ex-boyfriend, a wolf shifter who was at that very moment chasing her down for further violence. I almost put the book down on the spot, and I’m fairly certain that there will be some readers who may find that triggering, and should therefore give this one a miss. Those events are not depicted, but they are mentioned by Keva later in the book, as a past-tense event in her life. Caveat emptor.

The messiness four years ago has turned out pretty okay for Keva. Randall’s dead, and she’s found a place to be, and do her art, where she feels pretty safe. The local dragon clan has her (literally) under their wing, and while she’s not closely integrated with them, she knows them, and knows that their Alpha is looking out for her well-being. New clan member Dagen (a distant relative of the Alpha, Conall) has moved into town, and discovers Keva – and knows almost at once that she’s the mate for him.

Escape Rating: A-: I’ve said in the past that I’m not a huge paranormal-romance fan; it’s got to be well-done, and the paranormal aspects sanely presented, or I’m just not having it. When you throw in the terroristic aspects of the first few paragraphs, this one started on a slightly-off note for me. But that moment is brief, and passes quickly as Randall gets his comeuppance. Keva was rescued by the local dragon clan, and Connall and his family keep an eye on things. Dagen comes to town, a businessman in his human form, and tries to buy her shop away from her at an insultingly low price. Connall, when made aware of this, made it clear she wasn’t to be messed with in that way, so Dagen goes to apologize – and falls for her.

This book is novella-length, so things move fast. Randall’s brother shows up with blood in his eye, and, well, wolf-shifters appear to be mostly insane. Dagen really, really wants to protect her, as she’s the mate he wants. So he sets himself as guard over her home, and when she wakes in the morning and sees him in his dragon form, she’s even more enamored with him. Things proceed as they should, with both of them revealing past traumas which help to equalize their relationship more than Keva thought possible at first.

I’ve said in the past that our paranormals must be “normal” people to me, and as much as that’s possible for dragon shifters, author Katie Reus gives us that. Besides the dragons, we have wolves and mention is made of bears as well, though we do not meet one directly. But our paranormal beings here don’t deny their nature, they embrace it, while working around the strictures of a life in the early 21st century.

This book is a quick, tidy read, with a straightforward story that ends right where a fairy-tale story must. Once it was clear that these two people were our protagonists, I had to wonder if a dragon shifter can or would allow themselves to be ridden (yes, I’m an Anne McCaffrey fan, from way, way back, and the dragons may have saved this book for me). Can Dagen take her flying? Is it as wondrous a thing as it absolutely must be for this tale to work? You’ll have to read Sentinel of Darkness to find out – and if shifter romance is one of your preferences, I recommend that you do so.

Review: For the Killing of Kings by Howard Andrew Jones

Review: For the Killing of Kings by Howard Andrew JonesFor the Killing of Kings (The Ring-Sworn Trilogy, #1) by Howard Andrew Jones
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy
Series: Ring-Sworn Trilogy #1
Pages: 368
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A cross between Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber and The Three Musketeers, For the Killing of Kings is the first in a new fantasy trilogy by Howard Andrew Jones.

Their peace was a fragile thing, but it had endured for seven years, mostly because the people of Darassus and the king of the Naor hordes believed his doom was foretold upon the edge of the great sword hung in the hall of champions. Unruly Naor clans might raid across the border, but the king himself would never lead his people to war so long as the blade remained in the hands of his enemies.

But when squire Elenai's aging mentor uncovers evidence that the sword in their hall is a forgery, she's forced to flee Darassus for her life, her only ally the reckless, disillusioned Kyrkenall the archer. Framed for murder and treason, pursued by the greatest heroes of the realm, they race to recover the real sword, only to stumble into a conspiracy that leads all the way back to the Darassan queen and her secretive advisers. They must find a way to clear their names and set things right, all while dodging friends determined to kill them - and the Naor hordes, invading at last with a new and deadly weapon.

Howard Andrew Jones' powerful world-building brings this epic fantasy to life in this first book of his new adventure-filled trilogy.

My Review:

Fair warning – this is definitely going to be one of those mixed feelings reviews.

This is a story about betrayal. Over and over and over again. Every time our heroes think they have things figured out, yet another enemy crawls out of the woodwork and they are on the run, again, even when they aren’t quite sure who, or what, they are running from.

It makes for a fine story in true epic fantasy fashion, of the “out of the frying pan into the fire” tradition. Which definitely makes for page-turning adventure.

One of the interesting things about this story is that the heroes are never quite sure who their enemy is, or why their enemy is their enemy, or, and perhaps even more important for this series opener, just how long their enemy has been plotting in the background.

This is one of those stories where nothing is as it seems. And the fish has already long rotted from the head down. Discovering the rot drives the action, and drives it hard, from the tip of the iceberg beginning to the “things are always darkest just before they turn completely black” ending.

That isn’t really an ending. The story continues. And does it ever need to!

Escape Rating B: This is one of the rare books that I listened to all the way through. I have the eARC, and I thought I would switch to it a few times, but I never actually did. For some reason, this one worked better for me in audio – in spite of some serious problems that I’ll get to in a minute.

In the end, I think that while I was enjoying the story more than enough to finish – I didn’t feel compelled to read faster. I enjoyed the journey more than the destination. (Also, I didn’t have anything set for my next listen that felt like it was calling my name.)

About the audio. On the one hand, it felt like the choice was made to use a female narrator in an attempt to make the squire Elenai the central character, so that this would read as a heroine’s journey. And Elenai is one of the central characters. But she is the only central character who is female, at least so far, and most of the point of view characters or prominent characters are male. One of whom, in particular, exhibits an awful lot of blatant “male gaze”. In the end, Elenai is a point of view but far from the only or predominant one.

The real problem with the audio is that the narrator mispronounces quite a bit. The most glaring mispronunciation was the substitution of “calvary” for “cavalry”. It jarred me every single time and was not the only one. The word “ebullience” was another. But the calvary/cavalry switch was just SO WRONG. While people do this all the time in real life, I expect better from a professional narrator. Epic fail.

Ironically, the story is not an epic fail, but it certainly is the start of an epic. There are a lot of epic fantasies that begin with an aging hero training the future hero. Eventually that aging hero is killed or incapacitated in the course of the story (Merlin, Dumbledore, Obi-Wan, etc., etc., etc.) It’s a fine tradition, but it gets turned on its head a bit in this particular epic.

The story here seems to be about the failing and falling of an entire generation of older heroes who either rested on their laurels or exiled themselves when their kingdom fell away from their ideals, leaving the training of the next generation to those who remained behind, the corrupt and the incompetent – but mostly the corrupt.

This turns out to be a story about finding the rot, cutting it out, and returning to the ideals that once kept their kingdom strong – even if the old guard doesn’t manage to live to see it.

So this first book in the series features two of that younger generation, one who has not finished training and has not yet been corrupted (Elenai) and one who thought that the new way was the right way, but has been redeemed before he got too far down that path (Rylen).

Their perspectives are quite different. Elenai was still in the hero-worshiping stage of her training, and it’s been eye-opening for her to discover that her heroes are flawed but still trying – and that she is now one of them. Rylen, on the other hand, began looking for glory, and in finding it has discovered that it is empty. And that honor and duty are what truly matters.

In the end, I enjoyed the story, but was left with the strong impression that it was a lesser version of the marvelous The Ruin of Kings. For the Killing of Kings, like The Ruin of Kings, isn’t just the title of the book. It’s the name of a sword – and a sword with an obviously very similar purpose and destiny at that. But The Ruin of Kings was such an awesome book that even a lesser version of it is well worth reading.

Another fair warning, For the Killing of Kings, while it doesn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, it does end on a brief pause between battles. If you get caught up in this story, as I did, you’ll be on tenterhooks for the next book in the Ring-Sworn Trilogy, Upon the Flight of the Queen, due out in November 2019.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 8-18-19

Sunday Post

This is my “crystal ball” post. I’m prepping it almost two weeks ahead because we’ll be away, so I’m attempting to predict the future. I have almost everything set up and ready to go, with one book that I’m planning to read on the plane and write up in Ireland. We’ll see how well my predictions match reality when I get home.

Speaking of getting home, all giveaway winners will be determined and notified (YAY Rafflecopter!) when I get home this coming week.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Oh! The Places You’ll Go Giveaway Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Back to School Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

A Guest Review by Amy: Poison Fruit by Jacqueline Carey
A+ Guest Review by Amy: Mischief and Mayhem by L.E.Rico
A+ Review: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
A- Review: American Magic by Zach Fehst
Back to School Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (353)

Coming This Week:

For the Killing of Kings by Howard Andrew Jones (review)
Sentinel of Darkness by Katie Reus (guest review by Amy)
The Oystervile Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs (blog tour review)
Bursts of Fire by Susan Forest (blog tour review)
Defender by Anna Hackett (review)

Stacking the Shelves (353)

Stacking the Shelves

I’m away on vacation as you read this, hopefully picking up all sorts of fascinating books at Worldcon. And probably running around like crazy. Hence this crazy Stacking the Shelves post.

The books listed below are books that I picked up on either Netgalley or Edelweiss a while ago, but then things got weird. One has no cover. One has a cover but I’m not sure it’s official yet. One has a cover, but as soon as I picked it up from Edelweiss it disappeared off the face of the earth – or at least off the face of the net. It’s not on the publisher’s website, not on Goodreads, not on Amazon. It’s a mystery – in more ways than one!

And of course all of the above could have changed by the time you read this. We’ll see when I get back!

For Review:
Highfire by Eoin Colfer
The Glass Thief (Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt #6) by Gigi Pandian
The Immortal Conquistador by Carrie Vaughn

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


Back to School Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Back to School Giveaway Hop, hosted by Review Wire Media and Chatty Patty’s Place!

This is the second blog hop this month with a “back to school” theme – so it must be that time again!

What’s the best thing you remember about going back to school? Or the worst? I never was a morning person, so on breaks I would sleep late and then stay up late. I always had another book to read. My mother always swore that someday that would change, but it hasn’t happened yet!

I loved learning new things but hated being told that I HAD to read something. So I read a lot, but usually the “wrong” things. Or at least books not assigned. Some things don’t seem to change!

Tell us what your favorite, or least favorite thing is/was about going back to school for a chance at your choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more wonderful back to school prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

Review: American Magic by Zach Fehst

Review: American Magic by Zach FehstAmerican Magic: A Thriller by Zach Fehst
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: thriller
Pages: 320
Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books/Alloy Entertainment on August 20, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this fast-paced, international thriller, chaos erupts after a shadowy figure with ties to an elite and ancient society posts incantations on the dark web that allow people to perform real magic.

When an enigmatic message uploaded to the dark web turns out to contain an ancient secret giving regular people the power to do impossible things, like levitate cars or make themselves invisible, American government officials panic. They know the demo videos on YouTube and instructions for incantations could turn from fantastical amusement to dangerous weapon at the drop of the hat, and they scramble to keep the information out of the wrong hands.

They tap Ben Zolstra, an ex-CIA field operative whose history with the Agency is conflicted at best, to lead the team that’s racing to contain the dangerous knowledge—and track down the mysterious figure behind the leak who threatens that even more dangerous spells will be released one by one until the world as we know it no longer exists.

This sweeping, globe-spanning thriller explores the dark consequences of a question mankind has been asking for centuries: What if magic were real?

My Review:

American Magic is a spy-thriller for everyone who ever wondered what would happen if someone deliberately broke the Statute of Secrecy in Harry Potter – in other words, how would the world react if magic suddenly turned out to be real – and the entire world wanted to weaponize it.

Of course they would.

It’s like a crossover story where Jack Reacher or Jack Ryan don’t so much meet Harry himself as run into some disaffected muggleborn who ran away from magic with their memory intact and decided to stick it to everyone who ever looked down upon them for not being pureblood. Or powerful. Or, really, sane.

In this version of our world, someone uses the dark side of the internet to release a video that provides complete instructions on how to perform one big piece of magic – telekinesis. That’s basically the ability to move sh*t with your mind. (A book came out earlier this year with that in the title, and I want to read it for the title alone!)

Not everyone can do magic. Just like any other talent. Not everyone can paint a masterpiece – or even draw a straight line. Not everyone can be an Olympic swimmer or gymnast. Not everyone can be Einstein or Da Vinci. Not everyone can even carry a tune in a bucket, let alone sing opera.

The CIA has found a video, also on the internet (isn’t everything, sooner or later?) of a woman who can move a car with her mind. They haven’t found anyone within their own ranks who can move more than pencil – and they want her.

It doesn’t matter what she wants. It never does. And it doesn’t matter what the agent they bring in from the cold of Vermont wants, either. Nor does it matter to them what they did to said agent to force him into that cold and out of the bureau.

It does, of course, matter to him. And to her. So Ben Zolstra, who is supposed to bring Eila Mack over to the CIA’s side – takes her side instead. And takes her out of the “safe house” where the CIA has her imprisoned.

From that point it’s off to the races on this thrill-a-minute ride, as the supposed “good” guys, the actual “bad” guys, and some even more terrible guys, for loose definitions of good, bad and guys, all chase after Ben and Mack.

In either the hope or the fear of putting the “magic” genie back in its magic bottle before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A-: For readers looking for a spy thriller with an interesting twist, American Magic is a hell of a lot of fun. Anyone expecting the emphasis to be on the “magic” in the title is probably going to be disappointed – because this is not a fantasy.

American Magic is very much in the spy thriller tradition. Magic in this story is treated as if it were a weapon of mass destruction. It the reader substitutes a bioterrorism weapon for “magic” the story works just as well.

And that’s part of its charm. What would happen if the secret of magic were suddenly revealed, and some people discovered that they suddenly had the power to move things with their minds. Or teleport. Or throw fireballs.

First the secret wouldn’t remain secret. Second, chaos. With the internet, no information can be kept completely secret for very long. And once something is known, it can’t (usually) become unknown – at least not overnight.

Would it be weaponized? Of course. Would some people and organizations want to use it for nefarious purposes? It’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t. Would governments try to restrict the use of this new power to only their own side? History has the answer for that and it’s yes. If you don’t think so, look at the history of the ability to build an atomic bomb.

It’s from that spy thriller genre, however, that we get most of the actual plot of this story. Ben Zolstra is the epitome of the “rogue agent” who wants to serve his country but refuses to kowtow to the idiots in charge of it. He’s a quintessential lone wolf who is willing to do what needs to be done – but only if his bosses are willing to get out of his way.

And they don’t, because those same idiots can never let go of the illusion of control. And thereby hangs one thread of the story, as what should be the side of good chases down their own agent because he isn’t playing by their rules.

The most interesting characters in the story are Eila Mack, the young woman trying to claw her way back to a decent life who suddenly discovers she has magic, and Desdemona Heaton, an elderly and disgraced scholar who discovers that the myths and legends she has always believed in, the research in those legends that has destroyed her academic career – was right all along.

There is magic in the world, and there are people determined to keep that secret at all costs. Including the lives of anyone who gets in their way.

The fun in this one is watching this unconventional trio, the agent, the scholar and the mage, find a way to get that genie back in its bottle – and get everyone, both good and bad, off their backs. All the want is to put the world back together – even if none of them are quite together themselves.

Review: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

Review: The Dragon Republic by R.F. KuangThe Dragon Republic (The Poppy War, #2) by R.F. Kuang
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, grimdark
Series: Poppy War #2
Pages: 672
Published by Harper Voyager on August 6, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.

With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.

But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance

The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.

My Review:

I thought that the first book in this series, The Poppy War (also the series title) was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t wait for this second book to come out. Now that I’ve read The Dragon Republic, I have to say that it’s even better than its predecessor. And I can’t wait for book 3, whatever it turns out to be called and whenever it appears.

The action in The Dragon Republic begins in the opium-clouded, blood-soaked aftermath of The Poppy War. (This is a series that desperately needs to be read in order, and as close together as you can manage – which makes waiting for book 3 absolute hell.) Our heroine, Rin, is leading a small remnant of the Cike, the ragtag unit of Shamans used by the Imperial Army.

But the Cike are on the run from their former masters. Or would be if anyone knew that some of them were still alive. Not that their incognito status is going to last long. Because whenever a situation is working in Rin’s favor – it NEVER lasts for very long.

Rin is supposedly their leader, after she got their last leader killed at the end of the first book. Well, at least that’s how everyone seems to see it, and their loyalty to her seems to be tempered by that condition. None of them seem to be sure whether she’s making good decisions or determined to get them all killed in her mad quest for vengeance.

That she spends the first part of this story in an opium-induced haze does not help them put their trust in her, does not lead her to making remotely sensible decisions, and makes the opening moves in this very long game seem as murky as Rin’s thought processes, which are disjointed at best and nightmarish at worst.

Just when it looks like their current employer is finally going to give Rin the weapons she needs to take her war back to the empire – and empress – that betrayed them, she is sold out. But then, that’s what pirate queens do – and what Rin should have expected if she were operating in the present even half the time.

That betrayal, the latest in a long, long line of betrayals that Rin has suffered and survived, is nearly the breaking of her. But she’s been broken before, and just like each of those previous times, Rin rises from her own ashes, only to fall and rise again.

Just like the phoenix that she is. She really, really is. And she’s finally ready to set her world on fire.

Escape Rating A+: I loved The Poppy War, and I loved The Dragon Republic every bit as hard. I say hard because this military epic fantasy is very dark.

I mean dark to the point where in order to call this series grimdark it would actually need to lighten up a bit. This is one of those stories where the light at the end of the tunnel is always the local equivalent of an oncoming train, and where things are always darkest just before they turn completely black.

And yet, Rin always keeps moving forward. Or sideways. Or through. She is relentless, even if, or sometimes especially because, she is heading in the wrong direction.

While the over-story of The Dragon Republic is the story of the doomed Dragon Republic, the underlying story is all about Rin fighting with her demons, trying to find a balance between using those demons, giving into those demons, or becoming those demons, in a scenario where giving into and becoming are manifestly not the same things.

Also there’s an actual demon. Or god. It depends on one’s perspective.

This is also one of those stories where nothing is remotely the way it seems – although many people seem to be aware of that. Just not Rin. She’s trying to avoid or avert her destiny, and one of many methods of avoidance is to allow herself to become someone else’s tool – not that she isn’t often perceived as a tool in other senses of that word.

And certainly not that there are not plenty of tools around. But Rin’s desire to not be responsible for her own actions allows her to be used by the biggest tool around – not that he isn’t also being used by even bigger tools.

It’s tools all the way down.

But Rin blazes at the center of this story, even when her own fires are banked – against her will. Burning is who she is and what she does. She is the living avatar of the Phoenix, and her fire is meant to consume everyone, including herself.

This is the story of her learning to master that fire – and learning to turn that destruction outward and away from herself – to the destruction of her enemies. Even if it’s only at the end that she finally figures out at least some of who those enemies really are.

And that she has the power – and finally the will – to take that fight to them. But not until OMG the next book. AAARRRGGGHHH!

TLC
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