Review: Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker

Review: Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. ParkerSixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, military fantasy
Pages: 350
Published by Orbit on April 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This is the story of Orhan, son of Siyyah Doctus Felix Praeclarissimus, and his history of the Great Siege, written down so that the deeds and sufferings of great men may never be forgotten.

A siege is approaching, and the city has little time to prepare. The people have no food and no weapons, and the enemy has sworn to slaughter them all.

To save the city will take a miracle, but what it has is Orhan. A colonel of engineers, Orhan has far more experience with bridge-building than battles, is a cheat and a liar, and has a serious problem with authority. He is, in other words, perfect for the job.

My Review:

Usually it’s the plucky band of rapscallions who stage a breakout, and the plucky band of heroes who hold the defense. This time it’s the plucky rapscallions doing the defending! That’s the first, but far from the last, twist on pretty much everything you expect from this genre – and every other genre that it sends up, down or sideways during the course of the story.

At first, this reminded me in a very peculiar way of the Starfleet Corps of Engineers books. Like I said, it’s peculiar. But that series is quasi-military SF told from the perspective of the people who keep things running – and not the people who usually take those things into harm’s way.

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City is more-or-less military fantasy told from that same perspective. Orhan is the Colonel of Engineers for the military of an empire that has subjugated not just his people, but pretty much every people around that is not themselves – and then keeps them down while looking for more people to conquer and subjugate.

The Robur Empire sounds a lot like the Roman Empire. I don’t just mean the two words are similar, I mean that the two empires are very similar. And use similar sounding names and offices and officers and procedures and well, it actually drove me a bit batty. It all sounds so much like Rome that I half expected something to explain the similarity – which otherwise makes no sense.

I don’t mean that the similarities of systems make no sense – Rome makes a great antecedence for how to and not to run an empire, I mean that the constant congruence of names for things and people and places made no sense. Although on my other hand, Orhan is the most unreliable of narrators it has ever been my media consuming pleasure to run across. And I’m including Varric Tethras in that tally of unreliability. Varric is more lovable, but he’s a shade more reliable. Or a shade less shady. Or both.

The story in Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City can be taken in multiple ways. Looking at it from one angle, it’s the story of an extremely unlikely hero who rises up and defends the besieged capital of an empire that treats him as a fourth-class citizen at best.

The problem for Orhan is that as an engineer, he can’t resist trying to solve this biggest of all problems. And that his friends are on the inside of the city. He’s not so much defending it as defending them – whether they appreciate it or not.

Another way of looking at the whole thing is from the perspective that the siege of the capital, and the dismantling of the empire that precedes it, is just all of the empire’s chickens, its nasty and terrible treatment of all of the many, many people it has subjugated, all coming home to roost in one giant pile of chickenshit.

With a bit of accelerant, manure burns really, really well. The empire has been providing plenty of impetus and accelerant for centuries – now it’s time to watch the explosion. Unless Orhan can manage to stop it from happening – one underhanded way or another.

Escape Rating B: This is a very mixed feelings kind of review. I loved the opening scenes of the story. The over-the-top snarkitude of the narrator was terrific and terrifically funny as well. It’s the sort of thing that makes a reader snerk and chortle every page.

Orhan has spent his career finagling the system in order to get the job done – but his internal dialog about exactly what he has to do, why he has to do it, and how easy it is to get it done because the system is so stupid, are good for a seemingly endless supply of wry chuckles.

But once the siege begins, Orhan, in spite of himself, becomes the authority – not because he wants to be but because he just can’t see that there’s any other way to survive. He’s dead certain – and more than occasionally nearly just plain dead, that anyone else would just get it wrong. Wrong-er. More wrong.

And while his many and varied attempts at getting all the city’s warring factions to work together make an interesting exercise in social engineering, they just aren’t as interesting as when Orhan and his crew were on their own. By himself, things going wrong until the last minute were funny. As the person in charge, it’s not funny at all.

The ending of the story, or rather Orhan’s end to the story, completely blew me away. But for this reader the middle went on too long. Your reading mileage may vary – no matter what units you use to measure it.

Review: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

Review: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora GossEuropean Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, historical mystery
Series: Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #2
Pages: 720
Published by Gallery / Saga Press on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the sequel to the critically acclaimed The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Mary Jekyll and the rest of the daughters of literature’s mad scientists embark on a madcap adventure across Europe to rescue another monstrous girl and stop the Alchemical Society’s nefarious plans once and for all.

Mary Jekyll’s life has been peaceful since she helped Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve the Whitechapel Murders. Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Mary’s sister Diana Hyde have settled into the Jekyll household in London, and although they sometimes quarrel, the members of the Athena Club get along as well as any five young women with very different personalities. At least they can always rely on Mrs. Poole.

But when Mary receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped, the Athena Club must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue yet another young woman who has been subjected to horrific experimentation. Where is Lucinda, and what has Professor Van Helsing been doing to his daughter? Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, and Justine reach her in time?

Racing against the clock to save Lucinda from certain doom, the Athena Club embarks on a madcap journey across Europe. From Paris to Vienna to Budapest, Mary and her friends must make new allies, face old enemies, and finally confront the fearsome, secretive Alchemical Society. It’s time for these monstrous gentlewomen to overcome the past and create their own destinies.

My Review:

After absolutely raving about The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, I couldn’t resist picking up European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. I had so much fun with the first book that I couldn’t resist the second – and now I’m eagerly awaiting the third.

This story, and this series so far, is the story of all of the erased women in all of the classic monster and horror stories of the 19th century. It’s their voices that give this rollicking tale both its derring-do and its monstrous heart, and it’s marvelous from beginning to end.

As this story opens, Mary Jekyll (Dr. Jekyll’s daughter), Diana Hyde (Edward Hyde’s daughter), Catherine Moreau (Dr. Moreau’s daughter), Justine Frankenstein (Dr. Frankenstein’s daughter) and Beatrice Rappaccini (the Poisonous Girl) have banded together to form the Athena Club, which is both their home and their place of business.

And the heart of their quest to investigate the completely amoral Société des Alchemists, of which all of their fathers were members – if not necessarily in good standing. Under the auspices of the Société, their fathers experimented on all of them in one monstrous way or another. And they want the Société stopped.

So when Mary receives a letter from her former teacher and governess, Mina Harker (nee) Murray, the women of the Athena Club drop all their plans and race to Vienna. Why? Because Mina’s friend Lucinda van Helsing has gone missing, and Mina rightfully fears that Lucinda is being experimented upon by her father, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, and that Lucinda needs to be rescued. And Dr. Van Helsing needs to be stopped.

Of course they are right on all counts. And, come to think of it, Counts. With the help of Irene Norton (nee) Adler in Vienna, the Athena Club races to save the day – and rescue their newfound sister.

No matter what it takes.

Escape Rating A+: This is another book where I started with the audio, and had an absolute blast. Part of what makes the audios for this series so much fun is the way that the story is told. Catherine Moreau is writing the story, but she is writing it in the presence of all of the other women, who cannot resist adding their bits to just about every line.

All of the women have very distinct personalities, and those personalities come through both in their words and in the voicing of the excellent narrator, Kate Reading. If you have the time to take this series in via audio, it is well worth the time.

But I don’t have that much patience. I reached a point, about halfway, where I just couldn’t stand it anymore and had to finish in the ebook. I needed to know what happened next (and next and next) so badly that I just couldn’t wait.

The story hook for this series is just awesome. All I have to do is say “Jekyll’s daughter and Hyde’s daughter and Moreau’s daughter and Frankenstein’s daughter” and whoever I’m talking to (read as squeeing about this series to) is instantly intrigued and wants to know more. It’s terribly monstrous and terribly wonderful and absolutely fantastic.

Part of what makes this series so much fun is the “who’s who” of 19th century horror. All of the men of the Société des Alchemists were the heroes of their respective novels, but to the Athena Club they are all the villains. And their fathers. And doesn’t that make for a fascinating brew of love and guilt and horror and ultimately, adventure?

Every woman in this story – except Irene Norton – has daddy issues. And so they all should, because their daddies literally turned them into monsters. It’s the way that they cope with their monstrousness and rise above the restrictions placed on females that makes this series so very delicious.

About Irene, she’s the perfect “mentor” figure for this series. If her name sounded familiar, it should. Irene Norton, nee Irene Adler, was THE woman in the Sherlock Holmes stories, the only woman ever to get the better of him. Holmes is out of the action in this one – appropriately so – and it is time for a woman to take up the reins. Irene is perfect for this role because unlike Holmes, Irene is used to working from the shadows. The members of the Athena Club do not need someone to protect them, a role that Holmes and Watson constantly try to assume. Irene enables them and lets them do their work.

And she’s a marvelous character in her own right, in multiple senses of that phrase.

By the end of European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, the Athena Club has acquired more members – and more allies. Just in time to rescue Sherlock Holmes from Moriarty in their next adventure, The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl. I can’t wait.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 6-23-19

Sunday Post

As I said yesterday, while you read this I’m sweating to death in Washington DC at the ALA Annual Conference. Or maybe not. The weather report says cloudy, rainy, thunderboomy and in the mid 80s, so it might not be too bad. But climate’s what you expect and weather is what you get, so by the time I get there, it could be anything. Yes, I know that Atlanta is not exactly known for its cool summers but DC is semi-reclaimed swampland – it gets even muggier there than it does here. And the midwinter conference will be in Philadelphia. In January. I can hardly wait. I’d insert a sarcastic emoji here – but what would that look like?

Meanwhile, back on the blog, I may be out of town but I have plenty of stuff queued up and ready to roll while I’m away. Probably picking up more books.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Hello Summer Giveaway Hop
$20 (USD) Dreamspinner Gift Certificate from Rhys Ford

Blog Recap:

A Review: The Women’s War by Jenna Glass
B Review: Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter
B+ Review: Hell Squad: Dom by Anna Hackett
A- Review: Ramen Assassin by Rhys Ford + Guest Recipe! + Giveaway
A- Review: The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz
Stacking the Shelves (345)

Coming This Week:

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss (review)
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker (review)
Phaze by S.C. Mitchell (guest review by Amy)
Say No to the Duke by Eloisa James (blog tour review)
Someone to Honor by Mary Balogh (review)

Stacking the Shelves (345)

Stacking the Shelves

This is the during-ALA stack, which mostly consists of books held over from last week’s stack. Even so, there are a couple of books here that I’ve been looking for for quite some time, like The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl and The True Bastards. Both are followups to books I absolutely adored (see Monday’s review of European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman for plenty of squeeing about the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club and my A+ review of The Grey Bastards for more deets on both series)

While you read this, I’ll be at the American Library Association Conference in Washington DC, hopefully not sweating to death, and trying not to pick up many too many ARCs and eARCs after seeing all the bright, shiny new books on display! I’m not sure whether to ask you to wish me luck – or not!

For Review:
Gallows Court by Martin Edwards
Grave Expectations (Dickens of a Crime #2) by Heather Redmond
A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh
The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #3) by Theodora Goss
Steel Frame by Andrew Skinner
The True Bastards (Lot Lands #2) by Jonathan French

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder (Herringford and Watts #1) by Rachel McMillan
Conductor of Light (Herringford and Watts #2.5) by Rachel McMillan
A Lesson in Love and Murder (Herringford and Watts #2) by Rachel McMillan
Of Dubious and Questionable Memory (Herringford and Watts #1.5) by Rachel McMillan
A Singular and Whimsical Problem (Herringford and Watts #0.5) by Rachel McMillan
The White Feather Murders (Herringford and Watts #3) by Rachel McMillan

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Review: The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

Review: The Sentence is Death by Anthony HorowitzThe Sentence is Death (Hawthorne, #2) by Anthony Horowitz, Rory Kinnear
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Hawthorne #2
Pages: 384
Published by HarperAudio on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

8 hours, 36 minutes

Death, deception, and a detective with quite a lot to hide stalk the pages of Anthony Horowitz’s brilliant murder mystery, the second in the bestselling series starring Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne.

“You shouldn’t be here. It’s too late . . . “

These, heard over the phone, were the last recorded words of successful celebrity-divorce lawyer Richard Pryce, found bludgeoned to death in his bachelor pad with a bottle of wine—a 1982 Chateau Lafite worth £3,000, to be precise.

Odd, considering he didn’t drink. Why this bottle? And why those words? And why was a three-digit number painted on the wall by the killer? And, most importantly, which of the man’s many, many enemies did the deed?

Baffled, the police are forced to bring in Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, the author Anthony, who’s really getting rather good at this murder investigation business.

But as Hawthorne takes on the case with characteristic relish, it becomes clear that he, too, has secrets to hide. As our reluctant narrator becomes ever more embroiled in the case, he realizes that these secrets must be exposed—even at the risk of death . . .

My Review:

This series doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as hammer it down to the ground with a police truncheon – and extreme prejudice.

The Sentence is Death begins much the same way that The Word is Murder kicked off the series – with an unexplained death and ex-cop turned police consultant Daniel Hawthorne interrupting our author/his Watson in the midst of an important real-life event.

Anthony Horowitz was late to the set on the first day of shooting season 7 of Foyle’s War. Whether the day went exactly as outlined in The Sentence is Death, both the series and the episode are as portrayed in this book. You can still hear the echoes of the fourth wall shattering from here.

Horowitz, more explicitly Watson to Hawthorne’s not just misanthropic but often downright sociopathic Holmes, finds himself dragged into yet another one of Hawthorne’s strangely compelling cases. A case that has already cost at least one man his life, and might very well cost the author his career – if he’s not careful.

The problem for the author is that while he’s never sure that he actually likes Hawthorne – and it’s impossible to blame him for that judgment – the man only comes to “Tony” when he has a truly puzzling case to solve – over and above the fascinating case of Hawthorne himself.

“Tony” can’t resist getting dragged along in Hawthorne’s wake yet again. No matter how much he knows that he should.

Escape Rating A-: This was a rare case where I stayed with the audiobook all the way through. Not that I wasn’t impatient to see how it ended, but the audiobook was just SO GOOD. The narrator, Rory Kinnear, does an excellent job of voicing all the characters and differentiating them all. Each character in the story was very distinct in accent, in tone and in their manner of speaking.

And it’s also short enough of an audiobook that I didn’t have to play too much Solitaire to finish it in less than a week. (Which reminds me, the book is 384 pages, but there is a lot of white space and relatively big printing on those pages. It’s a breeze to read or listen to.)

The series in general, and this entry in particular, feels like a combination of whodunnit, whydunnit and Sherlock Holmes homage. The references to this being a Holmes homage, with Hawthorne as Holmes and Horowitz as Watson, are particularly explicit in this story, to the point where “Tony” (he hates it when Hawthorne calls him that and it differentiates the character IN the book from the writer OF the book – at least a little) tells Hawthorne just how much he dislikes being his Watson. Particularly since, just like the popular image of Watson, he never seems to figure out whodunnit ahead of his Sherlock.

Hawthorne is an extremely annoying character, and “Tony” is generally pretty annoyed at him. Hawthorne is always a disruption to his life – and it seems like working with Hawthorne puts “Tony” in danger of losing either his career or his life at every turn.

One of the mind-twisty parts of this story, in addition to the murder itself, is just how much of a nebbish the character of “Tony” turns out to be. There’s always a bit of a disjunct in my mind, as my mental image of the author bears a sharp resemblance to Michael Kitchen’s portrayal of Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War. Not that I have any personal knowledge, but Foyle’s War was my first serious exposure to the author and I recognize I’ve conflated him with the character he created. It’s not about how either of them looks, it’s that Foyle is both thoughtful and decisive, and it’s jarring to see “Tony” as a bit of a milquetoast. Hawthorne pushes him around – a LOT – and so do the police detectives assigned to the case.

But that case is intricate and absorbing and convoluted. The resolution is completely unexpected, not just by “Tony” but by the reader as well. At the same time, it thoroughly follows the conventions of the mystery genre, so that once you do know whodunnit, you can see that all the clues have been there all along – just like they are supposed to be – and that the solution was obvious IF you made the correct connections. As Hawthorne certainly did.

In the end, all is made tragically clear. But “Tony” is tired of playing Hawthorne’s bumbling Watson. He wants out. He wants to go back to Foyle’s War and his next “real” Sherlock Holmes book, Moriarty.

But we just know that he’ll be swept into Hawthorne’s orbit yet again, as soon as there’s another case worth writing about. And we’ll be sucked back in right along with him!

Review: Ramen Assassin by Rhys Ford + Guest Recipe! + Giveaway

Review: Ramen Assassin by Rhys Ford + Guest Recipe! + GiveawayRamen Assassin (Ramen Assassin #1) by Rhys Ford
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Ramen Assassin #1
Pages: 216
Published by Dreamspinner Press on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When life gives Kuro Jenkins lemons, he wants to make ponzu to serve at his Los Angeles ramen shop.

Instead he’s dodging bullets and wondering how the hell he ended up back in the black ops lifestyle he left behind. After rescuing former child star Trey Bishop from a pair of murderous thugs, he reluctantly picks his guns up again. It seems trouble isn’t done with Trey, and Kuro can’t quite let go… of either danger or Trey.

Trey never denied his life’s downward spiral was his own fault. After stints in rehab, he’s finally shaken off his Hollywood bad-boy lifestyle, but not his reputation. The destruction of his career and relationships was epic, and no one trusts anything he says, including the LAPD. When two men dragging a dead body spot him on a late-night run, then try to murder him, Trey is thankful for the tall, dark, and deadly ramen shop owner not just for rescuing him, but also for believing him.

Now caught in a web of murders and lies, Trey knows someone wants him dead, and the only one on his side is a man with dark secrets. Trey hopes Kuro will stick around to see what the future holds for them once the dust settles, but from the looks of things, neither of them may survive to find out.

My Review:

This book will make you hungry. For some good ramen. (The author has even sent a recipe to get you started!) And for more of this series and these characters. Consider yourself warned!

I want to say that the opening of Ramen Assassin reminds me more than a bit of Sinner’s Gin. But that’s not strictly true. What the initial scenes really remind me of is the opening of a James Bond movie, the part before the opening credits where Bond finds himself unexpectedly in the middle of a firefight and has to kill someone whose death seems coincidental but turns out to be critical to the main story.

And that is the way that Ramen Assassin opens. Kuro Jenkins is a covert (US) government agent, and he enters the story rescuing a bunch of kidnapped children, tearing up the streets in a bullet-riddled van only to crash through the gates of the American Embassy and smack dab into a crowd of international reporters covering a garden party.

With his cover completely, totally and utterly blown, and his body nearly as full of bullets as that van, Kuro hangs up his secret identity and opens a tiny noodle shop in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles.

Just because he’s hung up his secret identity doesn’t mean that he’s put away all the tools of his former trade. That turns out to be a good thing for washed-up former child star Trey Bishop, when Trey races past his closed shop in the middle of the night, chased by armed goons for no reason that Trey knows.

Except that he witnessed those goons transporting a very dead body – an act they clearly don’t want any witnesses for – whether those witnesses will be believed or not.

And this is the point where the opening starts reminding me of Sinner’s Gin. Because Trey needs protection – not just from the goons, but from his sister-the-cop, the dysfunctional rich family that he has disappointed at every turn, and his own demons.

In protecting Trey, Kuro discovers that he’s never lost the taste for the adrenaline rush of his old job – and hasn’t lost many of his skills either. He’ll need to be back on his A game to protect Trey from whoever is out to get him – because that dead guy was not the figment of Trey’s formerly drug-addled mind as the police in general and his sister in particular want to believe it was.

Someone is out to get Trey, and Kuro is the only thing standing in their way. If he’ll stick. Something that neither Trey nor Kuro have much practice in. But the goon squad is playing for keeps – and it turns out, so is Kuro. And surprising everyone who knows him, so is Trey.

If Kuro can keep both of them alive long enough to figure it all out.

Escape Rating A-: It’s not just that the relationship between Kuro and Trey reminds me more than a bit of the relationship between Miki St. John and Kane Morgan in Sinner’s Gin – although it does. It’s also that we discover very early on that Trey is a fan of Miki’s – so this is the same world and it’s possible they might overlap at some point.

I hope so, it’s always good to see how old friends are doing – and for many, many readers, the cast of the Sinner’s series have become very good friends indeed. However, the connection is extremely loose and there’s no NEED to read the Sinner’s series before Ramen Assassin, but if you like this you’ll like that and vice versa.

But back to Ramen Assassin, which has to be one of the great titles. It’s completely apt, brings a smile to the reader’s face, intrigues one to read more to figure it out – and it’s absolutely apropos. Kuro may not have exactly been an assassin, but he was a government agent with the proverbial license to kill, and he is currently a ramen shop owner and chef.

Ramen Assassin is romantic suspense, at least it’s that more than it’s any other genre. As romantic suspense, that means there are two primary plot threads, one is the budding romantic relationship between Kuro and Trey, and the second is figuring out who is after Trey and why so that our heroes can figure out whether they have a future together – after they deal with whoever is trying to prevent them from having a future at all.

Watching Kuro and Trey hesitantly work towards a relationship is beautifully torturous. They sorta/kinda knew each other before the alley shootout. They live in the same neighborhood, Kuro lives above his shop, and Trey is a semi-regular customer. They’ve been eyeing each other for a while, but they both have cases of the “I’m not worthys”, albeit coming from entirely different perspectives.

Kuro’s former occupation did not exactly lend itself to long-term relationships, as evidenced by any spy thriller or cop series where the operative has to remain unknown and undercover. Having to lie about who you are, what you do and where you go is not exactly conducive to any relationship longer than a brief fling.

Kuro’s just inexperienced and out of practice – not that he ever had much – at relationships. Trey, however, has a metric buttload of baggage dragging behind him. He doesn’t think he’s worthy of a relationship or capable of being part of one because he hasn’t been. He was a spoiled, indulged child star who descended into booze, drugs and entirely too many self-induced near-death experiences. He’s lied, cheated and stolen to get his next fix, and his family are the people he’s lied to the most. Hence his sister-the-cop’s complete distrust of anything he says or does.

But Trey’s been clean and sober for two years now – and beginning to be fed up with continuing to pay for his mistakes. Not that there weren’t plenty of them and not that he didn’t deserve to pay and pay plenty. But there has to be a point where the hard work that he’s done in the past two years earns him at least a tiny bit of “trust but verify” instead of suspicion and derision and only suspicion and derision.

With Kuro, Trey has a clean slate. Building a relationship is hard – it’s hard for both of them. But watching them work towards it is terrific. They earn their chance at happy.

The suspense plot starts with a bang. Honestly, lots of bangs. Initially, it seems very simple – two goons are transporting a dead body and try to clean up the only witness – Trey. But that simple beginning spirals out of control in every possible direction. The goons go after Kuro directly – big mistake. More goons come after Trey. That initial dead body is somehow tied to Trey’s uber-rich daddy and his very successful business. The cops are fixed in their belief that everything must be Trey’s fault. And it kind of is, but not anything like the way they think it is.

In the end, the mess goes into (I really want to say “goos” into, because it’s a big sploogy mess), some of the shadier parts of Kuro’s past and some of the murkier places of not Trey’s past but his dad’s. And finally explodes in a direction that felt like it came a bit out of left field – at least for this reader.

I loved Ramen Assassin. I enjoyed the developing relationship between Kuro and Trey, the beginnings of Trey’s redemption with his highly dysfunctional family, and peeks into Kuro’s secret history.

I’m hungry for more. Soon, please!

Guest Post from Rhys (and Recipe from Kuro!)

Hi! I am Rhys Ford and I would like to welcome you to this stop on the Ramen Assassin Blog Tour!

I am looking forward to introducing you a new series as well as two very fun characters I enjoyed writing, Kuro Jenkins and Trey Bishop. The first book, Ramen Assassin, came to me as a nebulous idea but then really pushed into the forefront of my brain while I was beginning to write Hellion, the third book in the 415 Ink series. Unfortunately, I scared TA Moore with a very bad habit of mine called staring into space while thinking. I was contemplating the ins and outs of a series called Ramen Assassin and she took my crazed, unfocused look as the possibility of a spider of the wall behind her.

There was no spider. But what did come out of it was a murder mystery about a former government operative turned ramen chef and the recovering drug addict, former child star he saves from certain death and eventually falls in love with.

This book allowed me to combine two things I love — killing people and cooking. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. On this blog tour, I’m going to be sharing a few of my favorite dishes as well as a how to throw together ramen with what you have in your pantry and refrigerator. Please be sure to hit up every single stop on the blog tour for a different recipe at each stop as well as that blog’s giveaway!

Be sure to enter to win a twenty dollar gift certificate from Dreamspinnerpress.com! One for every stop!

And now, onto the food…

Oyakodon

Ingredients

1⁄4 cup onions, peeled and sliced julienne
1  boneless chicken thigh cut into bite-size strips
1⁄8 cup kamaboko (fish cake) cut into strips (optional)
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons dashi, you can use scratch or instant. In a bind, chicken stock will work.
2 Eggs

Garnish
1 pinch sliced green onions
1 dash furikake optional / nori flakes will do

 Instructions

Break 2 eggs into a bowl, and lightly beat the eggs, make sure that the whites and the yolk are not completely incorporated. It should look partially separated.

Combine the onions, chicken, kamaboko, mirin, soy sauce, sake, and dashi in a 6 inch non stick pan and place over high heat. When the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 3 minutes, until the chicken cooks through. Move the pan around as it cooks.

While the broth is still lightly simmering, pour three-fourths of the egg mixture over the chicken, onions, and broth.

Leave the pan still and do not mix for about 1 minute.

Add the remaining one-fourth egg over the ingredients in the pan. Cover the skillet and cook for 30 seconds more.

Turn off the heat, and let the oyakodon rest, covered, for 1 minute.

While the oyakodon is resting, portion the rice into a bowl. Gently slide the Oyako into the bowl and garnish. Serve immediately.

About the Author

Rhys Ford is an award-winning author with several long-running LGBT+ mystery, thriller, paranormal, and urban fantasy series and is a two-time LAMBDA finalist with her Murder and Mayhem novels. She is also a 2017 Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Florida Authors and Publishers President’s Book Awards for her novels Ink and Shadows and Hanging the Stars. She is published by Dreamspinner Press and DSP Publications.

She’s also quite skeptical about bios without a dash of something personal and really, who doesn’t mention their cats, dog and cars in a bio? She shares the house with Harley, a grey tuxedo with a flower on her face, Badger, a disgruntled alley cat who isn’t sure living inside is a step up the social ladder as well as a ginger cairn terrorist named Gus. Rhys is also enslaved to the upkeep a 1979 Pontiac Firebird and enjoys murdering make-believe people.

Rhys can be found at the following locations:

Blog: www.rhysford.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/rhys.ford.author
Twitter: @Rhys_Ford
On Your Alexa device on the Alexa Skills at: https://www.amazon.com/Witlingo-Rhys-Ford-Casting/dp/B07N7MJ7C8/

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

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Review: Hell Squad: Dom by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Dom by Anna HackettDom (Hell Squad #18) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #18
Pages: 178
Published by Anna Hackett on June 17th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

As the battle against the invading aliens intensifies, a group of bad boy bikers and mercenaries will stand and fight for humanity’s survival…

Squad Three berserker Dom Santora has an ugly past he can’t forget. Born and raised in the darkness, he spent his life before the alien invasion as a Mafia enforcer. He’s found some meaning fighting against the aliens with his fellow berserkers, but he knows his soul is too stained to ever find redemption. And there is no way he’ll ever deserve the quiet beauty of a woman like Arden Carlisle.

When the raptors invaded, Arden lost her husband and children in the first horrible, bloody wave of the attack. Since that terrible night, she’s survived, but she hasn’t been living. Hollowed out by her grief, she’s found a way to keep going as the comms officer for Squad Nine. But lately, color has started to seep back into her world, and the person she sees most clearly is the dark, handsome, and lethal Dom.

Dom and Arden are two damaged souls who find each other in the darkness. But the Gizzida are putting the final pieces of their endgame into place. The aliens want the Earth and to wipe out the human survivors once and for all. As Dom, Arden, and the berserkers work to find a deadly alien bomb, they uncover the true horror of the aliens’ plans. To have any chance at love, life, and survival, Dom and Arden will have to fight harder than ever before.

My Review:

There can be a HUGE difference between real world time and book time, and that is certainly the case in the Hell Squad series.

The first (and absolutely awesome) book in the Hell Squad series, Marcus, was published in 2015. That was four years and 17 books ago. Having read the series as it was published from the very beginning, it feels like the Gizzida invasion of our Earth was a long time ago, unfortunately not in a galaxy far, far away.

In the books, it’s only been two years. Half the time. So, while the survivors of the invasion sometimes feel like they’ve been fighting with and hiding from the aliens FOREVAH, it hasn’t really been all that long for them.

Long enough that any relationships that develop between the survivors living in the Enclave don’t qualify as insta-love (although there’s a hint in Dom that something of that sort may happen later with a current non-resident of the Enclave). There just aren’t THAT many people hiding there. Enough to make a community, but not so many that everyone doesn’t have at least a nodding acquaintance with pretty much everyone else.

It’s also been three months since the previous book in this series came out, and I have to say that longer intervals work better for me in regards to reading this series. There are certainly patterns to all of the books in the series, but they are less obvious to this reader when I’ve had a bit more of a gap between books.

To put it another way, I like the individual books better when I’ve been away long enough to miss seeing all my friends in the series.

About this particular entry in the series…

The relationship that develops between Dom Santora and Arden Carlisle is a bit different from some of the other romances in this series, and it’s because of Arden. Dom is certainly one of the baddest of the baddasses that make up the squads, but even with his past as a Mafia enforcer, he’d still have a few other contenders in a battle for squad member with the darkest past and the worst emotional scars.

None of the Berserkers in Squad Three have ever made any claims to being white knights. And the women they fall in love with are never damsels waiting for said knight to rescue them. They are all more than capable of rescuing themselves, thankyouverymuch.

While Dom may not stand out as being any darker of past than any of the other Berserkers, Arden is a bit different from the usual heroines of this series. Why? Arden feels like the first heroine we’ve had in this series who was happily married with children before the invasion, and is the only survivor of her family. She was with her husband and two children when the attack came and she watched them die.

In the two years since the invasion, she’s had a lot to grieve, and has spent a lot of her time grieving. As this story opens, enough time has past that she is starting to see the light at the end of her own personal dark tunnel. She’s not quite there yet, but she’s at the point in her grief when she knows that she will get there, with the help of friends like Indy Bennett (heroine of the previous book, Griff) and her job as comms officer for Squad Nine.

And quite possibly with the hands-on assistance of her own personal dark knight, Dom Santora.

Escape Rating B+: Dom and Arden’s story was definitely better for the break from this series. While their relationship goes through similar situations to many of the others it’s their personalities, particularly Arden’s, that give this entry in the series that bit of different and interesting to make it shine.

The book ends with a rousing speech by General Holmes (military leader of the Enclave and titular hero of book 8) ties it in nicely with the overarching plot of the series – the fight to kick the Gizzida off our Earth and take back the planet. There have been setbacks in reaching that goal, but his speech felt like the kind of “once more unto the breach, dear friends” speech that the leader of the light gives just before the climactic battle – which they go on to win. I hope so, and I hope soon!

Review: Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter

Review: Summer by the Tides by Denise HunterSummer by the Tides by Denise Hunter
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 302
Published by Thomas Nelson on May 21, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of The Convenient Groom (now a beloved Hallmark Original movie) comes a heartfelt story of family secrets, forgiveness, and unexpected romance.

Following a painful betrayal, Maddy Monroe's love life is a wreck, and her restaurant career is in shambles. When her grandmother goes missing, she and her estranged sisters converge at the family beach house in Sea Haven, North Carolina. Being with uptight Nora and free-spirited Emma at the place where their family broke apart is a struggle, and undercurrents of jealousy and resentment threaten to pull the sisters under. In the midst of the storm, sparks begin to fly between Maddy and Gram's maddening neighbor, Connor Murphy.

As the sisters pack up the family belongings, memories of idyllic, slow-paced summers are resurrected. But long-buried secrets also come to light as Maddy discovers that all was not as it appeared that last summer in Sea Haven--nor today in the seemingly perfect lives of her sisters.

As family tensions rise and Connor causes tumult in Maddy's heart, the sisters must find a way to accept each other for the women they've become before the bitterness of the past destroys their hope for a future.

My Review:

The Monroe family turns out to be a living embodiment of the Anna Karenina principle. You know the one, it’s that quote that goes, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The Monroe sisters are all unhappy, and all of their unhappy leads back, in one way or another, to one summer 20 years ago when their lives were torn apart by betrayal. Actually, that should be betrayals, plural, because there were plenty to go around – including one that the sisters never knew about.

Secrets cast long shadows, and they hide lots and lots of baggage. Although, as one of the characters puts it very well, adult humans all have baggage. As we do.

Nora, Emma and Maddy are drawn back to the place where they spent that last fateful summer, the last time their family was all together, by their grandmother. Or rather, by their grandmother’s absence.

The feisty old lady isn’t dead – she’s just missing – and she’s still sharp as a tack so whatever has happened to her it isn’t Alzheimer’s. But she seems to have left her cottage on an extended outing of some kind without either cancelling her newspaper, taking her car or telling anyone that she planned to take a trip.

Her worried neighbor (and occasional volunteer handyman) calls the sisters when Gran doesn’t turn up after a few days. He’s not her caretaker – she doesn’t need one – but whatever happened is out of character enough to worry him – and in turn, all three of her granddaughters.

Maddy, at loose ends after discovering that her boyfriend was cheating on her with their boss in order to cheat her out of a promotion, leaves Charleston for the four-hour drive to the North Carolina coast as soon as she comes out of her much-deserved funk. She has nothing to do in Charleston, no idea where she’s going to turn next and welcomes the distraction of her grandmother’s disappearance although certainly not the cause of it.

She arrives at her grandmother’s cottage to discover that both her sisters are on their way – and that neither knows the other is coming. Maddy is stuck in the peacemaker role between her two much older sisters. Sisters who have been at war with each other for 20 years with no letup.

By the time they learn that their Gran is alive and well and set them all up in her cottage for yet one more attempt at family reconciliation, they have all settled into the job of fixing up the cottage and clearing out the attics. And none of them seem to be in any hurry to leave. Maddy knows she has nothing to go back to in Charleston, but has no clue why either of her sisters, both happily married with busy lives and/or careers (at least as far as Maddy knows) seem to be not merely willing but downright eager to stay in Gran’s cottage and fix it up – albeit not with each other – for an infinite amount of time. And neither seems to be calling home.

Very much on Maddy’s other hand, she hasn’t exactly said anything about her sudden lack of either a job or a love life – so who knows what secrets her sisters are hiding?

When all the secrets that all of the Monroe women have been hiding – including Gran! – they pull together to save themselves – and to save each other – as a hurricane rips through Gran’s coastal community – and finally stitches their hearts back together.

Escape Rating B: Fair warning, this is going to be a mixed feelings review. There were a lot of things about this story to love – and one that still makes my blood boil more than a bit.

While the circumstances are different, Summer by the Tides is the kind of story that works well in women’s fiction – and this is more women’s fiction than it is romance although there certainly is more than a touch of romance. There have been several recent books by Susan Mallery that have explored parts or all of this themes, the warring sisters who finally make peace and come together in a crisis, and the family healing that comes after. There’s also been a recent book (whose title I can’t remember and it’s driving me crazy) where three women in a family gather together because all of their love lives and/or careers have gone to hell in a handcart at the same time.

In spite of not having siblings of my own – or perhaps because of it – I generally enjoy these stories. It’s fun to see them putting what’s gone wrong in their relationships with each other behind them, and watching them move forward into a brighter future. Any new romantic relationships they form in the course of the story are icing on the cake and not the actual cake. That’s true in Summer by the Tides as well. Not all of the happy ever afters are romantic, but all finish the book in happier and more fulfilling places than they began it.

I love a good romance as much as the next reader, but particularly for books that feature women in the 21st century I like the story much better when the women find their own fulfillment, whatever it might be, so that any romance they find is an enhancement to that fulfillment rather than the fulfillment itself. People can’t find happiness together unless they have it within themselves.

My 2 cents and I’ll step away from my soapbox for a minute. I’ll be getting back up on it later.

So I liked the story, I enjoyed the relationships between the sisters, and even though I guessed some of what had gone wrong in the past, the revelation was still heartbreaking and there were certainly aspects revealed that I had not previously figured out. The events were devastating, that they left all three sisters with serious trust issues made so much sense. That Maddy first distrusts Gran’s neighbor Connor, and takes hesitant steps towards a relationship fits well into the way the story and characters worked.

Okay, soapbox time, because this seriously affected my enjoyment of the story. Although it doesn’t become blatantly obviously until somewhere close to the halfway point, the characters in this story are explicitly Christian, which shouldn’t have been a surprise to me as the book is published by Thomas Nelson, a noted Christian publisher. That being said, I’ve recently read several books published by Nelson, and those have not been overtly or even covertly religious, so I was lulled and didn’t expect it here.

That some characters are religious is not the issue. People – and characters – do and don’t have belief systems, and those beliefs or lack thereof do affect their lives. What disturbed me greatly occurred in reference to Maddy’s ex, who is an absolute douchecanoe. That’s not a spoiler, it’s his douchecanoe nature that kicks off Maddy’s part of the story. But, and for me it was a huge but, when Maddy talks about her breakup, she says that she should have known he was a douche because he wasn’t a Christian. There’s an implication there that I find disturbing and unnerving, that only Christians can be trusted and that non-Christians by default have no moral or ethical code and should not be trusted.

And now I really will get down off my soapbox.

To sum it up, as I said at the top, there were plenty of things about this story that I liked, elements that I’ve read before and enjoyed, so I was happy to see them again. And there was one element that disturbed the hell out of me and reminded me to be more careful about books from this publisher.

Your reading mileage, of course, may vary.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: The Women’s War by Jenna Glass

Review: The Women’s War by Jenna GlassThe Women's War (Women's War, #1) by Jenna Glass
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Women's War #1
Pages: 560
Published by Del Rey Books on March 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In a high fantasy feminist epic, a revolutionary spell gives women the ability to control their own fertility—with consequences that rock their patriarchal society to its core.

When a nobleman’s first duty is to produce a male heir, women are treated like possessions and bargaining chips. But as the aftereffects of a world-altering spell ripple out physically and culturally, women at last have a bargaining chip of their own. And two women in particular find themselves at the crossroads of change.

Alys is the widowed mother of two teenage children, and the disinherited daughter of a king. Her existence has been carefully proscribed, but now she discovers a fierce talent not only for politics but also for magic—once deemed solely the domain of men. Meanwhile, in a neighboring kingdom, young Ellin finds herself unexpectedly on the throne after the sudden death of her grandfather the king and everyone else who stood ahead of her in the line of succession. Conventional wisdom holds that she will marry quickly, then quietly surrender the throne to her new husband…. Only, Ellin has other ideas.

The tensions building in the two kingdoms grow abruptly worse when a caravan of exiled women and their escort of disgraced soldiers stumbles upon a new source of magic in what was once uninhabitable desert. This new and revolutionary magic—which only women can wield—threatens to tear down what is left of the patriarchy. And the men who currently hold power will do anything to fight back.

My Review:

There are books that become touchstones, not just in our reading lives, but in our real ones as well. The first explicitly feminist fantasy/science fiction book that I read was The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper, over 30 years ago. And I still remember just how shook I was by the ending.

But because that book is such a touchstone for me, my first impression of The Women’s War was just how much it reminded me of The Gate to Women’s Country. (Whether the older book wears well I have no idea – and no desire to find out. It meant what it meant to me at the time, and what I think now is about how it made me feel and what it made me think back then. I’m aware that time has (hopefully) moved on but that books are static, and I’ll leave it at that.)

At the same time, it also reminds me of the much more recent The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons, in that very little of what appears on the surface has more than a passing resemblance to what is going on underneath and behind the scenes. And that the best laid plans of mice, men and women go all too oft astray.

The Women’s War, both the book and the war that eventually engenders within the book, begin with hope – and death. Three women band together to create a spell that they hope in its aftermath will give the women of their world more agency than they currently have – which is none.

They are all willing to pay the ultimate price – they will all die in the hope that they give their sisters – in one case her actual, literal sister – a chance at a better life. Eventually. They know the price between now and then will be bloody – beginning with their own.

In a world where women have no voice, no agency, and no purposes except to either breed heirs or be sex slaves, the far reaching spell cast by three disgraced priestesses gives ALL the women in the world two powers. The first causes the most immediate damage. From that moment forward, a woman can only become pregnant if SHE truly wants the child.

A lot of women have miscarriages that night, as their children were conceived in either duty or rape. A lot of men are beyond furious at having lost “their” rightful heirs. A lot of women are also heartbroken – but their feelings have never counted in this world. Which is the point of the whole story, after all.

And those men all know who to blame. But the women they want to punish are dead and out of their reach. But every other woman can be punished in their place. Which gives rise to the second power. Women who are raped or otherwise abused acquire the ability to cast death spells, spells that used to be the province of men and only men.

The world is going to change, whether the men who make up the patriarchy like it or not.

One woman is the focus of that change, the adult daughter of one of those disgraced priestesses. Alys may have had nothing to do with her mother’s spell, but her vile and jealous half-brother does not care. Indeed, has never cared about anyone or anything besides himself.

As the newly crowned king, he can punish anyone he wants, in any way he wants. He’s just certain that if he beats enough women badly enough, and tortures and kills enough women to make him feel like he is in control of the situation – someone will fix it.

Unless someone fixes him.

Escape Rating A: Unlike most epic fantasy, this first book in the Women’s War series does not end in a happy or triumphant place. It’s more of a “things are always darkest just before they turn completely black” kind of a place. But it seems fitting for what feels like just the opening salvo in a very long and extremely dirty war.

The situation at the beginning of this one is dire, not just for our protagonists, but for every woman in every country in this world. The situation is so bleak that the reader completely understands why those women would give their lives in the hope that someday the situation might be better – even though they will not live to see it.

Which does not mean that one of them at least cannot envision the death and destruction that will inevitably occur in their wake.

This is still June, which means this is still Audiobook Month. The Women’s War is another book where I started in audio but finished in ebook. (Let’s just say that I did not hang around in the line when they were passing out patience.) But as much as I couldn’t wait to discover how this story ended, listening to the two female protagonists as they cope with – and sometimes don’t – all of the forces that are arrayed against them, gave their situations a sense of immediacy, and gave me as the reader a strong feeling of empathy.

Both their situations are dreadful, the plight of women in their world is dire, and it makes for a rough read. As readers we feel for them, want things to get better for them, but know all too well that whatever better world may be coming, it’s not there yet, it may never be there for either of them, and that their journeys through their own personal Mordors is going to be damn awful.

Speaking of damn awful, the villain of this piece goes well beyond embodying that term. He comes extremely close to being too far over the top. If he falls over that top without a bit more depth of explanation or personality, the series may reach villain-fail, but it hasn’t yet.

The Women’s War is intended as an explicitly feminist read, an eventual overthrow of the patriarchies that so often dominate epic fantasy. Some readers will question, and rightfully so, why in this story where women’s voices are predominate and particularly in some of the circumstances into which women have been forced, there are no queer women anywhere in the narrative. Just because men saw women’s only purposes as either sex slaves or brood mares does not mean that there wouldn’t be some women who turned to other women for comfort or who desired women exclusively whether any men knew or saw or cared – or most likely did not. In fact, in many of the scenarios described, I would expect to see such women, and there are none. Hopefully this will be addressed, because it’s just not logical at present.

In the end, I have to say that I loved this book. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two protagonists, the young Ellin who is expected to be Queen Figurehead of her country but who plans to be Queen Regnant, and middle-aged Alys, old enough to see just how wrong things are and just how hard it will be to change them – but tries anyway.

I can’t wait to read about the next battles in the Women’s War. I hope to see them both emerge triumphant!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 6-16-19

Sunday Post

If it wasn’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done. Or at least it certainly seems that way. We’re off for the American Library Association Annual Conference at the end of the week and it feels like there are suddenly a million-and-one things to do before we go. Only because there probably are.

The cats are NOT going to be best pleased. They never are when their human servitors abscond from their duties for any length of time longer than a catnap. Come to think of it, not even then. We’re obviously supposed to be at their beck and call even when they’re sleeping!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Hello Summer Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of Summer on Mirror Lake is Rita W.
The winner of the Fantastic Father Giveaway Hop is Lisa W.

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Wrath of the Goddess by Lauren Dane
B Review: Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillan
A- Review: The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery
A- Review: Finder by Suzanne Palmer
Hello Summer Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (344)

Coming This Week:

The Women’s War by Jenna Glass (review)
Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter (blog tour review)
Hell Squad: Dom by Anna Hackett (review)
Ramen Assassin by Rhys Ford (blog tour review)
The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz (review)