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.

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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)

Stacking the Shelves (344)

Stacking the Shelves

This is the pre-ALA stack, which quite frankly means that I split what should be this stack into two so I can prep posts ahead. I will be tied up in meetings next weekend, possibly literally. Sometimes literarily, but definitely meetings.

So this week’s stack and next week’s stack are both a bit short, to be followed by the post-ALA stack which tends to be ginormous. We will see.

Lead me not into temptation; I can find it myself – at least when it comes to books!

For Review:
The Art of Theft (Lady Sherlock #4) by Sherry Thomas
Careful What You Wish For by Hallie Ephron
Dom (Hell Squad #17) by Anna Hackett
Missing Person by Sarah Lotz
The Mythic Dream edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe
Say You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H. G. Parry
Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
For the Killing of Kings (Ring-Sworn #1) by Howard Andrew Jones (audio)
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (audio)
The Sentence is Death (Hawthorne #2) by Anthony Horowitz (audio)

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Click here to enter


Hello Summer Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Hello Summer Giveaway Hop, hosted by The Review Wire and Chatty Patty’s Place!

Spring is Sprung
Fall is Fell
Here comes Summer
And it’s hotter than…
Last Year!

There are plenty of other poems about Summer, but that one is still my favorite.

There are also lots of songs about Summer, songs that when you hear them, you instantly think of hot days, warm nights, staying up late and school vacations, no matter how far in the past your schooldays might be.

I know that if I name a song, I’ll give you an earworm. Or I’ll date myself. Or both. What about you? What song or what activity makes you think SUMMER! Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository.

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For more summery prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!


Review: Finder by Suzanne Palmer

Review: Finder by Suzanne PalmerFinder by Suzanne Palmer
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Pages: 391
Published by DAW Books on April 2, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From Hugo Award-winning debut author Suzanne Palmer comes an action-packed sci-fi caper starring Fergus Ferguson, interstellar repo man and professional finder

Fergus Ferguson has been called a lot of names: thief, con artist, repo man. He prefers the term finder.

His latest job should be simple. Find the spacecraft Venetia's Sword and steal it back from Arum Gilger, ex-nobleman turned power-hungry trade boss. He'll slip in, decode the ship's compromised AI security, and get out of town, Sword in hand.

Fergus locates both Gilger and the ship in the farthest corner of human-inhabited space, a gas-giant-harvesting colony called Cernee. But Fergus' arrival at the colony is anything but simple. A cable car explosion launches Cernee into civil war, and Fergus must ally with Gilger's enemies to navigate a field of space mines and a small army of hostile mercenaries. What was supposed to be a routine job evolves into negotiating a power struggle between factions. Even worse, Fergus has become increasingly--and inconveniently--invested in the lives of the locals.

It doesn't help that a dangerous alien species thought mythical prove unsettlingly real, and their ominous triangle ships keep following Fergus around.

Foolhardy. Eccentric. Reckless. Whatever he's called, Fergus will need all the help he can get to take back the Sword and maybe save Cernee from destruction in the process.

My Review:

June is Audiobook Month, and Finder is one of those books that I picked up in audio and couldn’t wait to get into it. It’s one of those wild ride, thrill-a-minute stories that kept me sitting in my car in all sorts of places, just so I could hear just a bit more of whatever it was that Fergus managed to get himself into this time. Every time.

In the end I finished up with the book-book, or rather the ebook, because I just couldn’t start anything else until I discovered if/how Fergus finally managed to get himself out of both frying pan AND fire – and complete his self-imposed mission – without racking up too much more collateral damage along the way.

This is also a fantastic space opera, but not of the conquering star empires variety, which is cool and neat and different.

Fergus is the finder of the title. He’s kind of a repo man, but not exactly. He doesn’t repossess something because someone has missed a payment or ten. He finds things, big expensive things, that have been stolen and returns them to their rightful owners.

He’s at the ass-end of human-inhabited space, a collection of small-to-middling sized habitats strung out on power cables, named Cernee. The big thing he’s come to collect is a ship. Arum Gilger stole it from the shipbuilders, using an equally stolen ID, and the shipbuilders want it back. And it turns out that the locals are generally happy to help Fergus – up to a point – because they don’t like Gilger having that ship.

Fergus thinks the job is going to be easy. Get in, find the ship, steal the ship, fly it home to the Pluto shipyards, collect his pay. Get another job. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Instead, Fergus gets caught in the middle of a civil war. Arum Gilger wants to take over Cernee, and pretty much everyone and everything stands in his way. (Hence the reason that the locals are willing to help Fergus steal back the ship and get it the hell out of their space.) Especially the family Vahn, living on a remote habitat called “The Wheels”. It shouldn’t be Fergus’ business, but Gilger fires the opening salvo in his little war at the cable car that Fergus is sharing with “Mother” Vahn, and Fergus’ job has suddenly become personal.

Being nearly killed just for being in the same cable car as a seemingly inoffensive old lady is plenty of reason to get scared, to get angry, and to get to the bottom of everything that’s wrong in Cernee.

At least until everything that’s wrong in Cernee, including the mysterious alien ships that watch, and wait, and scare everyone three-quarters to death, decide that Fergus is their “true North” and all their ships start pointing towards him – wherever he goes, whatever he does – all the time.

Fergus may be the Finder, but something much bigger and much, much scarier has suddenly found him.

Escape Rating A-: First of all, this is one of those stories that naturally lends itself to audio. The story is told in Fergus’ first-person perspective, so hearing it in his voice from inside his head works well. The narrator does an excellent job of capturing Fergus’ world-weary (maybe that should be universe-weary), slightly deadpan voice. Fergus isn’t someone who gets really excited – because he’s been there and done that and is much too busy running away from the things that reach deeply into his emotions.

This doesn’t mean that the people around Fergus don’t get plenty excited, because the adventures that Fergus drags them into are generally frightening to the point of being downright life-threatening. Following Fergus is like being on one of those amusement park rides that barrels toward the edge of its track, to the point where you think the car is going to stop and you’re going to be thrown out of it, only to sharply turn – extremely sharply and very suddenly – and throw you against the sides as it madly careens towards the next near-disaster. (This ride in my childhood amusement park was the Wild Mouse, but yours undoubtedly had one too. They all did!)

Finder is very much one of those “out of the frying pan into the fire” stories. Fergus seems to be both a trouble and chaos magnet. They say that no plan survives contact with the enemy. It seems like no plan survives contact with Fergus, not even Fergus’ own plans. And yet, they generally manage to work in the end – for select definitons of “generally”, “work” and especially “end”. Either he has the devil’s own luck, as they say, or Cernee is connected to the Discworld, where “million-to-one” shots always come in.

There’s something about the way this story works, or perhaps in Fergus’ universe-weary voice, that reminds me of John Scalzi’s space operas. Especially The Android’s Dream, but generally the Old Man’s War universe. Fergus and John Perry would have plenty to talk about. That there’s a brief part of Finder that echoes Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is totally fitting, considering the number of reviews that label Old Man’s War as Heinleinesque.

I digress just a bit, but not completely, as I think that Scalzi’s readers will also like Finder – very much. This one certainly did!

Review: The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery

Review: The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan MalleryThe Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Hqn on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Baxter sisters come from a long line of women with disastrous luck in love. But this summer, Sunshine and Margot will turn disasters into destiny...As an etiquette coach, Margot teaches her clients to fit in. But she's never faced a client like Bianca, an aging movie star who gained fame--and notoriety--through a campaign of shock and awe. Schooling Bianca on the fine art of behaving like a proper diplomat's wife requires intensive lessons, forcing Margot to move into the monastery turned mansion owned by the actress's intensely private son. Like his incredible home, Alec's stony exterior hides secret depths Margot would love to explore. But will he trust her enough to let her in?Sunshine has always been the good-time sister, abandoning jobs to chase after guys who used her, then threw her away. No more. She refuses to be "that girl" again. This time, she'll finish college, dedicate herself to her job as a nanny, and she 100 percent will not screw up her life again by falling for the wrong guy. Especially not the tempting single dad who also happens to be her boss.Master storyteller Susan Mallery weaves threads of family drama, humor, romance and a wish-you-were-there setting into one of the most satisfying books of the year!

My Review:

As part of the tour for this book, last week I posted an excerpt from The Summer of Sunshine and Margot. Now we’re back for the rest of the story!

Like so many of this author’s standalone titles, The Summer of Sunshine and Margot revolves around two sisters, Sunshine and Margot. While they are fraternal twins, they don’t seem to be much alike. Margot is tall, willowy and just a bit of an ice queen. Sunshine is short, curvy and more than a bit of a good time girl.

This is all about the summer where both of them plan to make changes in their lives. Those changes have a lot to do with their family’s legendary bad luck with men. Sunshine has picked the wrong men, pretty much over and over, instead of making something of her own life. Now she’s 31 and starting over again.

Margot keeps getting back together with the same wrong man over and over, and it’s past time for her to be done. It would help a lot if her friends would support that decision instead of sabotaging her by giving the jackass her address and phone number each time she cuts him off and changes her contact info.

Summer works as a nanny, but she never sticks – because some guy comes along, sweeps her off her feet, and she leaves. This time she’s fallen in love with her charge, little Connor, and wants to be around for him and his ant farm. She’s started college and make something of herself and stay away from men. Except for little Connor of course. And his lonely and extremely yummy dad.

On the surface – actually on several surfaces – Margot’s job is the more interesting of the two. Her job is to help people fit into new and unfamiliar surroundings. Usually those surroundings involve changes in status or business in foreign countries. Her current client is a free-spirited actress who plans to marry the love of her life, a foreign diplomat. In order to tone down some of Bianca’s wilder tendencies, Margot will live with her and her adult son, a man who makes both Margot’s intellectual side as well as her hidden passionate side sit up and take notice.

Nothing about either of their situations runs smoothly. The only thing that does is the rock solid love and support the sisters give to each other. And that’s enough to see them through.

Escape Rating A-: This was just a sweet and delightful read. From a certain perspective, not a lot happens – or at least not in a big way. At the same time, it just reads so well. I started it at dinner and finished later that evening because I couldn’t put it down.

Not so much because I needed to see what happened next as because I just enjoyed spending time with Sunshine and Margot. Their lives were very, very different, but they managed to maintain a close and loving relationship – something that isn’t always easy between sisters.

Often when I read family relationship stories, I find myself grateful to be an only child. But not with this author. Many of her stories wrap around sisterhood, and her portraits of sisters who manage to pull together or stay together and be there for each other makes me a bit envious.

The romantic relationships that Sunshine and Margot find in this story, and unsuccessfully resist, are as different as they are. But are both equally romantic and equally interesting to follow. And they both earn their happily ever afters, but in completely different ways.

The wild card character in this one is the wild child actress Bianca. It’s so obvious from early in the story that Bianca has both a story of her own, and an agenda that she keeps carefully under wraps. The revelation of what made her the person that she is is heartbreaking, and the reason she finally lets the secret go is reaffirming, both of love and of the ability to set yourself free of the past – at any age.

And it ties in to both Sunshine’s and Margot’s journeys, as they all are in the process of becoming their best selves. Journeys that are marvelous to follow every halting step of the way.

For a good reading time, pick up anything by Susan Mallery. You’ll be glad you did!

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Review: Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillan

Review: Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillanMurder in the City of Liberty (A Van Buren and DeLuca Mystery #2) by Rachel McMillan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Van Buren and DeLuca #2
Pages: 336
Published by Thomas Nelson on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Hamish DeLuca and Regina "Reggie" Van Buren have a new case--and this one brings the war in Europe dangerously close to home.

Determined to make a life for herself, Regina "Reggie" Van Buren bid goodbye to fine china and the man her parents expected her to marry and escaped to Boston. What she never expected to discover was that an unknown talent for sleuthing would develop into a business partnership with the handsome, yet shy, Hamish DeLuca.

Their latest case arrives when Errol Parker, the leading base stealer in the Boston farm leagues, hires Hamish and Reggie to investigate what the Boston police shove off as a series of harmless pranks. Errol believes these are hate crimes linked to the outbreak of war in Europe, and he's afraid for his life. Hamish and Reggie quickly find themselves in the midst of an escalating series of crimes that seem to link Boston to Hamish's hometown of Toronto.

When an act of violence hits too close to home, Hamish is driven to a decision that may sever him from Reggie forever . . . even more than her engagement to wealthy architect Vaughan Vanderlaan.

My Review:

Luca Valari is still the man of mystery behind the shady goings on in this second book in the Van Buren and DeLuca series. But Reggie Van Buren and Hamish DeLuca are definitely front and center in this atmospheric story of pre-WW2 Boston.

Although, just as in Murder at the Flamingo, it’s almost halfway through the book before the dead body turns up, there’s already plenty of shady goings on.

Nate Reis, Hamish’ roommate and the unofficial Jewish prince of the city’s immigrant North End, is hiding something – not that the increasing amount of Antisemitism and anti-immigrant fury is hiding anything from him.

Hamish and Reggie find themselves in multiple kinds of trouble when they investigate what looks like a potential housing development that plans to create substandard housing on land that is certain to be not merely unsuitable but actually unstable – and not with the consent of the current owner.

The situation gets even dicier when a figure from their past with Luca Valari and his Flamingo Club appears in the shadows – and someone pushes Reggie into the freezing waters of Boston Harbor.

The client they do manage to retain is the Black minor league baseball player Errol Parker, better known as Robin Hood for his base-stealing prowess. Parker has been the victim of an escalating series of so-called pranks, and he wants Van Buren and DeLuca to get to the bottom of it before someone roughs up his 16-year-old nephew. Again.

When the boy turns up dead in the locker room wearing his uncle’s jersey, they are left to investigate whether his murder was due to the color of their client’s skin, the shady people the boy was doing errands for, the rise of racial tension in general – or something else all together.

Something that might lead back to Luca Valari.

Escape Rating B: There’s something about this entry in the series that feels much darker than the previous book. Not that there isn’t plenty of mystery in both, but it feels like there were more lighthearted moments in Murder at the Flamingo – at least before said murder – than there are in Murder in the City of Liberty. Or it may be that Reggie Van Buren and Hamish DeLuca were just a lot more naive in the first book than they are, three long years later, in the second.

Some of that is the time period. While Flamingo takes place during the Depression, which was no picnic, this book is set in 1940. By this point in history, World War II had already begun in Europe, Hamish’ home country of Canada was already involved, and people in the U.S. were dealing with the sense that they would be caught up in the war, whether they wanted to be or not, sooner or later. Most likely sooner.

Which doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of isolationists doing their level best – or should that be absolute worst – to keep the U.S. out of the war as long as possible. And a lot of their reasoning revolved around their disgusting propaganda campaigns to keep America white and Christian and to denigrate, persecute and even murder anyone who was not. A propaganda campaign – with its associated violence – that has both Hamish and Reggie’s client Errol Parker and their friend Nate Reis squarely in its sights.

The threats hanging over Parker and Nate are part of the darkness that permeates the story, as is shadowy presence of Hamish’ cousin Luca – who is up to his neck in something shady yet again. Someone is following Hamish, but whether it’s Luca’s agents attempting to keep Hamish safe, or Luca’s enemies trying to get at Luca through Hamish is all part of the puzzle. A puzzle that keeps Hamish – and the reader – guessing until the very end.

Speaking of that end, at the end of Murder in the City of Liberty Hamish is brought face to face with his parents’ past – a past that has been hidden from him all of his life. However, that past is not hidden from the reader – or at least not the readers of the author’s Herringford and Watts historical mystery series, which features Hamish’s mother and her bestie – and eventually leads to the events which led to the “falling out” between Hamish’ parents and Luca Valari’s.

It seems like everything in Hamish’ life comes back to Luca, one way or another. But the Herringford and Watts series looks scrumptious! So it looks like the first book, The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder, will be going on my TBR pile as something to tide me over until the next installment in the Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries!

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Review: Wrath of the Goddess by Lauren Dane

Review: Wrath of the Goddess by Lauren DaneWrath of the Goddess by Lauren Dane
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Goddess with a Blade #5
Pages: 336
Published by Carina Press on June 10th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Rowan Summerwaite is back—and more than a little pissed off—in
Wrath of the Goddess
, the fifth installment in
New York Times
bestselling author Lauren Dane’s Goddess with a Blade series.

You can’t keep a vengeful woman down for long.

Rowan Summerwaite, elite hunter and human vessel to the goddess Brigid, has returned home to Las Vegas—and she’s mad as hell. It seems someone thought they could eliminate Rowan and everyone she holds dear.

That someone was dead wrong.

With tensions between paranormal factions at an all-time high, Rowan and her crew, along with her sexy Vampire Scion husband, Clive Stewart, have their work cut out for them. The Vampire Nation has at least one traitor in their midst, leaving them extremely vulnerable…but if it’s a war they want, Rowan’s prepared to bring the pain like never before.

Rowan knows her duty is to those she’s sworn to protect, but it seems the harder she fights, the more barriers she hits…and the more friends she loses.

With even her closest alliances in question, Rowan will have to accept that sometimes the path toward the greater good means making heartrending sacrifices along the way…

One-click with confidence. This title is part of the
Carina Press Romance Promise
: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

And see how Rowan’s fight began in Goddess with a Blade, Blade to the Keep, Blade on the Hunt and At Blade’s Edge, available now!

This book is approximately 82,000 words

My Review:

I feel as if I’m in a pre-existing relationship with this book that I need to disclose – even though I only just finished it. I know that sounds a bit (possibly more than a bit) odd.

You see, the first book in this series, Goddess With a Blade, was one of the first books I ever got from NetGalley, eight long years ago. I still remember sitting down at my kitchen table to read it, and finished it in one sitting. (To be fair, it’s only 200 pages, for me that’s not a long book.) Goddess With a Blade was also one of my picks for “Best Ebook Romance” of 2011 in Library Journal.

A couple of years later, after we’d moved to Seattle – and after Blade to the Keep was published – I was riding the bus home from work and saw an ad for Goddess and Keep on the side of a city bus, and as it flashed by I realized that I was being quoted on the side of the bus! It was one of those total “squee” moments.

I mean, I was a fan of the series before – but WOW!

I do love this series. Very Much. And I would even without the side-of-the-bus squeeing.

But it’s been FOUR very long YEARS since the previous book in this series, At Blade’s Edge. A book that left series readers hanging over the edge of a nasty and brutally epic cliffhanger. A cliffy that feels like it has only just begun to be resolved by the end of Wrath of the Goddess.

That Goddess is plenty wrathful – and she has every right to be.

Wrath of the Goddess begins where At Blade’s Edge left us hanging – with Rowan Summerwaite, vessel of the Goddess Brigid, in Europe for her wedding to the Vampire Scion of North America, Clive Stewart. One of her friends back home in Las Vegas is sending her congratulations, live over the Internet, when seriously evil dudes break into her headquarters and kill the man – on camera – then taunt her with the information that they are coming for everyone she loves.

From that gruesome point, the story is off to the races. Rowan, with a little help from her friends and a lot of help from Clive, rushes home to Vegas to investigate the death of one of her family-of-choice – as well as the disappearance of another.

Only to discover that both her own organization, Hunter Corp., and Clive’s, the Vampire Nation, still have traitors at the very top who have betrayed them both to some nefarious someone who is out for his – or her – own evil ends.

It’s up to Rowan – and her Goddess – to stop them. Again. Because the evil that Rowan has battled before is a multi-headed beast and it’s her duty to lop off all the heads. In order to save her friends, her family, and perhaps humanity itself.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this, and found it a great read from beginning to end. But, and at this point it gets to be a bigger “but” all the time, this is no place to start this series. (Also not the end of this series, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

The world created in this series has become intensely convoluted. There’s Rowan, and her Goddess. There’s the Vampire Nation, to which Rowan has multiple ties, and not just her new husband. Rowan’s foster-father Theo is “The First” of the Vampire Nation, the oldest, the most dangerous, and the most ruthless of them all. And he’s the one in charge.

Rowan works for Hunter Corp., an organization that defends humans without magic or paranormal abilities. That defense is wrapped around a Treaty between the Hunters and the Vampires. Preservation of that treaty is a big part of Rowan’s job. In spite of the number of times that Hunter Corp has misused and betrayed her. Repeatedly and often.

There are also witches – one of whom plays a big part in Wrath of the Goddess, and other paranormal beings. It’s a big world, as big as our own non-magical world, and it has layers within layers – layers that a newbie coming into the series at this point will probably drown in.

If this all sounds fascinating, start back at the beginning with Goddess With a Blade, because this is a series that is building on each book – they don’t stand alone.

If this is your jam, and you get to this point, this particular entry in the series adds more of those layers, both in the form of the witch who joins with Rowan and in the sense of Rowan’s character development.

Readers who are also fans of J.D. Robb’s In Death series will find a lot of similarities between Rowan Summerwaite and Eve Dallas. Both are blunt to the point of rudeness, have little patience with fools or bureaucrats, and hide their soft gooey centers under layers and layers (and layers) of epic snarkitude.

Back to Wrath of the Goddess – before she gets more wrathful. In spite of Rowan’s extreme distaste for bureaucracy, there’s a lot of, not exactly bureaucracy, but certainly a lot of “hurry up and wait” in this one. It makes sense for the story, as a huge piece of it necessarily follows the investigation into the murder that Rowan and Clive witnessed online.

That investigation turns out to be much bigger than merely “whodunnit” as Rowan discovers that someone staked out her headquarters for weeks before the hit, and timed it “just so”, to make it perfectly devastating for Rowan.

So there’s lots of magical forensics in this one, and lots of unraveling layers and unspooling of possibilities of suspects and traitors on all three sides – Hunter Corp, the Vampire Nation and the witches’ Senate, because there are traitors in the (high) ranks of all three.

In the end, there’s plenty of kickass action for everyone – along with the heartbreaking realization that the rot that Rowan thought she weeded out in At Blade’s Edge has already spread farther than she wanted to believe.

Her job is not over, and neither is this series. Book 6, Blood and Blade is scheduled for release in December. I have ALL my fingers crossed that we really won’t have to wait longer than that to see what happens next!