Review: Phoenix Rising by Corrina Lawson

phoenix rising by corrina lawsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Institute #1
Length: 230 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Date Released: November 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, All Romance

“He was born to be a weapon. For her, he must learn to be a hero. ”

Since birth, Alec Farley has been trained to be a living weapon. His firestarter and telekinetic abilities have been honed to deadly perfection by the Resource, a shadowy anti-terrorist organization the only family he has ever known. What the Resource didn t teach him, though, is how to play well with others.

When psychologist Beth Nakamora meets Alec to help him work on his people skills, she s hit with a double-barreled first impression. He s hot in more ways than one. And her first instinct is to rescue him from his insular existence.

Her plan to kidnap and deprogram him goes awry when her latent telepathic ability flares, turning Alec s powers off. Hoping close proximity will reignite his flame, she leads him by the hand through a world he s never known. And something else flares: Alec s anger over everything he s been denied. Especially the passion that melds his mind and body with hers.

The Resource, however, isn t going to let anything or anyone steal its prime investment. Alec needs to be reminded where his loyalties lie starting with breaking his trust in the woman he s come to love.

Warning: Contains telekinetic sex, nuclear explosion sex hot enough to melt steel, and various and sundry swear words.

My Review:

Phoenix Rising is a fairly popular title. I mean that literally, there are a slew of books with the title “Phoenix Rising”. The first time I thought I was reading this book, I discovered after I finished that I had read the wrong book titled Phoenix Rising. (It was still good. And also steampunk, so somewhat germane).

I digress.

The Phoenix Rising by Corrina Lawson is a “making of the superhero” book, especially if you parse that word as “super” and “hero”. Alec Farley was born a powerful telekinetic with the ability to control fire. He doesn’t just start fires, he can also stop them and direct them. It is an extension of his TK, he just makes the molecules move faster and faster, until they burn.

At the beginning of the story, while Alec may be super, he isn’t a hero. It’s not that he’s a villain (there is one in the story) but that he isn’t in control of his own life enough to be a hero for anyone else.

There is an element of Pinocchio becoming a real boy (a real man, Alec is 23). Alec is being manipulated and controlled by his foster father Richard Lansing, who is very definitely the villain of the piece.

Alec just thinks of Lansing as someone who plays mind games, without realizing that a big part of those mind games is controlling Alec’s entire life and convincing him that it is for his own good. Lansing has a contract with the CIA to investigate powers like Alec’s, and quite a few government military contracts to use Alec and his team of excellent ex-military soldiers to fight terrorism and criminals that need Alec’s special gift. Alec doesn’t realize that his team are also his minders.

Until Beth Nakamora enters his life. Beth is a counselor for troubled teens, particularly those with anger-management issues. The difference with Alec is that if he loses control of his temper, he also loses control of his fire. The CIA is worried that Alec is on the road to causing more collateral damage than any of his ops repair or prevent actual damage.

But Beth has a secret. Beth has several secrets, but her biggest secret is that Beth also has a gift – she is a telepath. However, her power is suppressed as a result of an extreme childhood trauma. Her other secret? Her foster father is a CIA agent who manipulated his contacts to get Beth assigned to work with Alec, because he knows Richard Lansing is keeping Alec a virtual prisoner, even if Alec doesn’t know enough about real life to figure that out.

Putting Beth together with Alec turns out to be explosive, in more ways than one. They have off-the-charts sexual chemistry, something that neither of them is quite prepared to deal with. Alec has some experience of sex, but none of real relationships. And Beth is too scared of revealing her secrets to have let many people into her life.

Their chemistry is explosive in another way – something about Beth’s telepathy amps up Alec’s power, and vice versa.

But the real explosion is the dismantling of all the secrets surrounding Alec’s life and his manipulation by Lansing. As Alec starts to see, not just what he’s been missing, but what an adult life is supposed to be, Lansing turns up the screws on Alec, Beth, and Beth’s mysterious foster father, Philip Drake.

Lansing is playing for ultimate power at any cost, and he won’t let anyone stand in his way – not even his sons.

Escape Rating A-: Phoenix Rising reminded me quite a lot of the X-Men movies. Phoenix Rising would be roughly equivalent to the story of the start of Professor Xavier’s Academy, but with Xavier as a firestarter instead of a telepath. There’s definitely that sense of the creation of the Phoenix Institute out of the ashes of “The Resource” in order for Alec to have the opportunity to give people like him a better start than he had.

Also the universes have a similarity in that so far, the gifted are born and not made in laboratories. There is some genetic engineering going on, but even that starts with at least one, or possibly two, parents with gifts. Also one of the gifted is 200 years old, born in a time when the genetic engineering necessary to produce a “super” from not much would have been pure fiction.

As an origin story for the Institute and Alec, it works very well.

One of the fascinating subplots is the relationship between fathers and their children, and how that can go both wrong and right, whether the children are born to the one who parents them, or whether that responsibility is taken on voluntarily.

In this particular circle of life, we have four people with gifts; Richard Lansing, Philip Drake, Alec Farley and Beth Nakamora. Lansing is a self-healer, and he’s over 200 years old and has gone nutso. He’s convinced that he is a superior being, and that superior beings should rule the world, under his direction, of course. He also has a large dose of Victorian era “white man’s burden” imperial racism just to make him even more intolerant (and intolerable).

Philip Drake is Lansing’s biological son, but Lansing rejected him because his mother was part Native American. It wasn’t until after Drake reached adulthood that Lansing discovered Drake had inherited his gift for self-healing. But they couldn’t come to terms because Lansing couldn’t get past his racism.

On the other hand, Lansing adopted Alec Farley and raised the firestarter as his son. He was a distant, manipulative and emotionally abusive father, but he actually did his best. It just wasn’t very good in the nurturing sense. Lansing raised Alec to be a living weapon, and it is a testament to Alec’s innate good nature that Lansing failed.

There’s a third hand in this one. Beth Nakamura is Drake’s foster daughter. He rescued her from a lab when she was 8, and he’s watched over her ever since. Now that Beth is 23, their relationship has changed a bit, but it is obvious in every scene they have together that they love each other and would do anything for each other. Even though Drake is not Beth’s biological father, he is her real father in a way that Lansing never was to him or Alec. Drake learned from Lansing, as well as from an abusive step-father, what not to do. So he did the opposite and raised a marvelous woman who is definitely her own person.

Phoenix Rising also lays the groundwork for the worldbuilding in this series, and it does an excellent job while still telling a heart-pounding adventure with a sweet, sexy romance.

sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

14 for 14: My Best Books of the Year


2014 digital numbers

I do three different “best of the year” lists in different contexts. This is my personal list, but…I also do a Best Ebook Romances of the year for Library Journal, and I’m one of the judges for the SFR Galaxy Awards, which is effectively a best SFR of the year list.

So there are repeats. After all, if it was one of the best in one context, there’s an awfully good chance it will be one of the best in another if applicable. Even so, when I looked at my A+, A and A- reviews for the year, I had too many choices.

That being said, I have wondered whether I could (or should) keep going with the theme of “besting” the same number of books as the year. So far, it is working all too well.

bollywood affair by sonali devIn the romance category, I have three that stood out from the other terrific books I read this year. A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev was an absolute standout. (It’s also on my LJ list). Dev’s book is a slow burning romance and an introduction or exploration into Indian-American and Indian culture. Her heroine is a good girl with a little bit of defiance, and her hero is a bad boy who discovers how much fun it can be to be good.

Jeffe Kennedy’s Mark of the Tala is a great fantasy romance and the first book in her Twelve Kingdoms series. In this one, what I loved was the number of different ways that the road to hell gets paved. Her hero and heroine want to do the right thing for both their peoples, and are lucky enough to fall in love in the process. But this is a story about the fight for the soul of two kingdoms, and a lot of men do evil in the name of either good or power. This one goes surprisingly well, if sadly, with Maleficent.

Robin York, better known as Ruthie Knox, told one of the best New Adult stories I have read so far in the genre in Deeper and Harder, the story of Caroline and West. These are real people facing real problems, including a “wrong side of the tracks” type of love story. They overcome a lot of obstacles, with a lot of love, but also quite a bit of heart-rending pain.

No Place to Hide by Glenn GreenwaldI read a bit more nonfiction than usual this year, and two titles have stuck in my head long after I finished. Partially for the topics they cover, and also significantly for the marvelous writing style. No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald reads like a spy thriller, but it is a cautionary tale about the case of Edward Snowden, the NSA papers he released, and the subsequent persecution of the reporter who covered the story. It will make you look at everything you read that purports to be true with a much more critical eye.

Forcing the Spring by Jo Becker reads like a legal thriller, but it tells the story of the fight for marriage equality using the lens of the case against Prop 8 in California. Becker was embedded with the legal team during the five years that this case wound its way to the Supreme Court, and her “you are there” style of reporting will keep you on the edge of your seat.

ryder by nick pengelleyTwo books don’t fit into categories at all well. Ryder by Nick Pengelley is action/adventure, with a heroine who is a combination of Indiana Jones, Lara Croft and Robert Langdon from The DaVinci Code. Ayesha Ryder kicks ass, takes names and discovers secrets that weren’t meant to be revealed in a delightful thriller.

The Bees by Laline Paull feels like a bit of an allegory – it is social commentary about human behavior disguised as bee behavior. But it is also a story about listening to your own inner voice and absolutely NOT blooming where you are planted. You will find yourself rooting for the bee, and laughing at some of her observations that hit close to home about both bees and us.

The urban fantasy series Mindspace Investigations by Alex Hughes continues to wrap me in its web. This year’s entries in the series are Marked and Vacant, and the one word titles represent something in the life of the series protagonist, Adam Ward. Adam is a recovering drug addict, a police consultant, and a telepath. He’s also in love with his equally damaged but otherwise normal police partner. The layers created in this post-apocalyptic but still mostly functioning version of suburban Atlanta are fascinating. It is just close enough to now to recognize what is still going right, and what went wrong.

queen of the tearling by erika johansenIn epic fantasy, my favorite this year was The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. This is in the classic mold of the hero who is raised in obscurity to become the ruler, but the hero is a heroine. This one has the feeling of the King Arthur story, but with a Queen instead. So Queen Kelsea is a fish very much out of water who has to learn fast to save her kingdom. Unlike so many retellings of the Arthur story, Kelsea operates in shades of grey; good choices can have every bit as costly an outcome as bad choices, sometimes more costly. She is learning by the seat of her pants while attempting to preserve her kingdom and fighting with everyone on all sides. A marvelous coming-of-age epic fantasy on a grand scale.

But this year, so many of my memorable reads were in my first love, science fiction.

Two books that I am not going to say a lot about because it’s all been said. These were bestsellers and were covered everywhere.

ancillary sword by ann leckieJohn Scalzi’s Lock In is a murder mystery wrapped in a near-future science fiction setting that, as is usual for Scalzi, has as much to say about our current society as it does about the future in which the book is set. This one works on multiple levels, and has a surprising twist that will tell you a bit about yourself as well. Great fun and an awesome read.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie is a worthy sequel to the “sweeping all the awards winner” Ancillary Justice. This series is fantastic space opera with a unique point-of-view character from a galaxy-spanning empire with a fascinating culture and a very different way of managing its far-flung holdings. Whatever you might have heard about how good this series is – it’s even better than that.

damnation by jean johnsonJean Johnson’s Theirs Not to Reason Why series concluded this year with two books, Hardship and Damnation. Johnson’s series, like Leckie’s, is epic space opera, but Johnson is firmly in the military SF camp with this series. Her heroine rises through the ranks of the Space Force as the story is told, while she fights an interstellar war, first as a grunt, but eventually as Commander of the Armies. The thing that makes this series unique is that her heroine, Ia, is a precognitive who knows what has to happen, but still has to move heaven, earth, the central command, and everyone she ever meets into the right place at the right time to save the universe in a future that she will never live to see. Awesome from beginning to end.

Soulminder by Timothy Zahn was a complete surprise. Zahn is probably best known for his Star Wars fiction, but this is something completely different. As with Scalzi’s Lock In, Soulminder is SF of the laboratory type, where it is a scientific discovery that fuels the story arc. Also as with Lock In, there is a definitely plot thread about the way that humans will take something potentially good and pave the road to hell with it. (Soulminder was published before Lock In, so any resemblance is unintentional). For hard science SF, Soulminder has a surprising amount of story concerned with keeping one’s soul. It is a tale that embodies the principle “for evil to flourish, it is only necessary that good men do nothing.” It’s also about what happens when those good men stop doing nothing.

forever watch by david ramirezLast but not least, The Forever Watch by David Ramirez. If you threw Gorky Park, Blade Runner, one of Robin Cook’s medical thrillers and Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang into a blender, along with spice from The Matrix and Madeline Ashby’s Suited, you might come up with a story that has some resemblance to The Forever Watch, but it wouldn’t be nearly as good. The Forever Watch is epic SF of the generation ship type, and it was one of those books that I shoved at people because I was so captivated. And it has one of those ending plot-twists that makes you re-think the entire story.

And that’s my top 14 for the year. 2014 was a wild ride, and I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store! What were your favorites of 2014? Do share! We all need more awesome books to read!

Review: Mercenary Instinct by Ruby Lionsdrake

mercenary instinct by ruby lionsdrakeFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Mandrake Company #1
Length: 248 pages
Publisher: self-published
Date Released: October 10, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Skulking around in the ruins on a planet swarming with treasure hunters, slavers, and bounty hunters isn’t good for one’s health. But Ankari Markovich needs a few archaeological samples for her latest business venture, a venture that might prove lucrative enough to move her family off the impoverished planet where she grew up. Unfortunately, she has no sooner collected her samples than she’s captured by a band of brawny mercenaries. The captain might be handsome, but he’s intent on turning her over to some finance lord who has, for reasons unknown, put a bounty on her head, a ridiculously large one at that. If she can’t figure out a way to escape before she’s delivered to the lord’s home world, she could be forced into a life of indentured servitude—or worse.

Captain Viktor Mandrake doesn’t usually take on piddling bounty hunting gigs, but when his intelligence officer informs him of a criminal on a nearby planet, he decides it wouldn’t hurt to take a shuttle down to collect the woman. But Ankari Markovich is trouble from the start, nearly eluding his elite forces, then fighting and tricking his people left and right. He finds himself admiring her spirit, but according to her warrant, she’s a criminal. The safest thing is to keep her in the brig and ignore her until she can be handed off to the man who wants her.

But the situation grows more complicated when other bounty hunters show up, wanting to claim Ankari for themselves. Thanks to this woman, Viktor’s ship is in danger, his crew members are going missing, and he’s fighting enemies he never asked for in a jungle in the middle of a hurricane. He’s either going to strangle Ankari… or fall in love. Either scenario could get him killed.

My Review:

Some of the reviews compare Mercenary Instinct to Firefly, and it’s a pretty fair starting point. Possibly an alternate universe Firefly. It’s not that Mal Reynolds couldn’t end up as cynical and universe-weary as Victor Mandrake (he pretty much did) but that I can’t imagine Mal creating or leading a successful mercenary company with 200+ people on its payroll. He wasn’t that organized, nor did he want to be in charge of quite that much. (Zoe, on the other hand, possibly yes)

But Mal would certainly have pulled the same stunt that Viktor does – taking a bounty for someone who seems criminal, only to change his mind when he discovers that the supposed criminals are every bit as much victims of intergalactic politics and chicanery as he is.

Upon which change of heart, trouble comes hunting him and his. So yes, Firefly.

Back to the actual book in hand (or on ereader), Mercenary Instinct. This is a combination unlikely love story and poke in the eye at intergalactic mercantile empires wrapped up in a fun package.

Viktor Mandrake is the Captain/Commander/Leader of Mandrake’s Company, a successful mercenary company with a fairly decent sized payroll and quite a bit of good space-faring equipment. He’s also a deserter from the GalCom Special Forces. GalCom isn’t a government or a planet, it’s a corporation. A universe spanning corporation that operates as a government. It’s also the entity that wiped out the entire population of Mandrake’s home planet because they didn’t want to join the company.

Only one other planet ever suffered the same fate, and for the same reason. GalCom also wiped Ankari Markovich’s home planet of Spero off the face of the universe. No other planet failed to heed those heart-breaking examples. But it does give Viktor something in common with Marcovich, the woman he is supposed to turn over to one of the more secretive Lords of Commerce on brutal but rather flimsy charges.

Ankari Markovich is the owner of a small biotech firm that plans to use ancient alien gut-bugs (try to say that three times fast) to make people healthier through gut-bug treatments. (As they are formally called, microbiota are real and research on changing or fixing them through injections from people with healthy microbiota is currently ongoing in our 21st century, which makes this plot not as far-fetched as it first appears)

Lord Felgard creates a “Most Wanted” poster for a very nasty crime using very shaky, almost “photoshopped” evidence so that he can put a very hefty bounty on Ankari and her two partners, Jamie and Lauren. All women in their early to mid-20s who have never even heard of Lord Felgard.

Their capture, in fact, the wanted posters themselves, come as a total surprise to Ankari and company. So much of a surprise that Viktor Mandrake starts to question the purpose of this bounty he has hunted. When Felgard double-crosses him, Viktor is certain there is more to this story than appears, in spite of, or perhaps because of, Ankari’s repeated escape attempts.

She may be trouble, but she isn’t a cold blooded killer. So what is she and why does Felgard want her in such a huge, expensive hurry?

And why can’t Viktor manage to resist letting her trouble all the way into his formerly regimented life?

Escape Rating B+: In spite of, or perhaps because of, its similarity to Firefly, Mercenary Instinct is a whole lot of fun. It has that same blend of space opera combined with rooting for the underdog that made Firefly so much fun.

In the science fiction side of this book’s roots, we have two themes that make for an interesting “man and woman against the evil corporation” plot work. The idea of an intergalactic corporation becoming the effective government is unfortunately all too easy to believe. After all, corporations now have rights to free speech in the U.S. Also, considering the current mess between Sony and North Korea, we have a corporation that either hacked, was hacked, and censored or was censored or refused to bow to censorship in the face of an actual government. The future where corporations are as big and powerful as countries may already be here.

And we’ve already talked about the gut-bugs. As funny as they sound, there’s real science hiding in those microbiota.

Markovich and her friends make an interesting bunch of would-be entrepreneurs. Lauren is the scientist who focuses on her work to the exclusion of everything else, including self-preservation. Jamie is a self-taught pilot and engineer desperate to escape her home planet, and Ankari is the brains and guts of the outfit. She’s the one who keeps going when it would be logical to stop trying. She rescues herself, over and over.

The double-cross by Felgard creates a dramatic tension as every mercenary company in the area swoops in to attempt to re-kidnap Ankari and her friends from Mandrake. The more odds that are stacked against them, the closer that Ankari and Viktor become.

I’ll confess to not being 100% sold on their romance. While it made sense that they banded together in the face of so much opposition and danger, it smacked a bit too much of insta-love to sell me. I could see insta-lust in this situation but not true love. YMMV.

Felgard was a bit of a cookie-cutter villain, if the cookies were made out of man-eating plants. He’s a bit bwahaha at the end, and seemed to exist mostly to create the situation rather than have real motives of his own.

trial and temptation by ruby lionsdrakeBut I still had a ball with this book, and have the entire series so far on my iPad waiting for the next time I need a treat. Trial and Temptation is already tempting me.

Reviewer’s note: Ruby Lionsdrake is possibly one of the cheesiest pen-names I have ever giggled over. But when I discoverd that Ruby is actually Lindsay Buroker, author of the marvelous fantasy/steampunk Emperor’s Edge series, I couldn’t resist seeing how she did in a new genre. I’m very glad I did.


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-28-14

Sunday Post

I reserve the right to change my mind. I thought I was going to get to the Best of 2014 post last week, but well, I gave myself a present for the holidays and read a couple of books just for fun instead of diving through the backfile to figure out which books this year were best. So this week instead. Because of the holidays, there isn’t much going on in general this week. No tours because this is probably not a good week for traffic for anyone.

Even though Xmas is over, there are still a few days left to enter the Christmas Wonder Giveaway Hop.

Life returns to normal, or what passes for normal around here, next week.

christmas wonderfinalCurrent Giveaways:

$10 Amazon or B&N Gift Card in the Christmas Wonder Giveaway Hop (ends 12/31)

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Amazon Gift Card in the Winter Warm Up Hop is: Linda T.
The winner of the ebook copy of Vacant by Alex Hughes is: Rhianna W.

damnation by jean johnsonBlog Recap:

A- Review: Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright
B+ Review: Butternut Lake: The Night Before Christmas by Mary McNear
A+ Review: Damnation by Jean Johnson
Chrismukkah 2014
B- Review: The Quick and the Undead by Kimberly Raye
Stacking the Shelves (115)



secret history of wonder woman by jill leporeComing Next Week:

Mercenary Instinct (Mandrake Company #1) by Ruby Lionsdrake
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore (review)
Best Books of 2014
Most Anticipated Books of 2015

Stacking the Shelves (115)

Stacking the Shelves

This may be my shortest stack in recorded history. I would say it’s because nothing is published this time of year, which is true, but I think it’s because the publishers who put up ARCs on NetGalley and Edelweiss are aware that most people are too busy to check. And it’s not that I don’t have plenty to read, but…oooh new book…shiny!

Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings to every one!

For Review:
Mantle of Malice (Tudor Enigma #3) by April Taylor
Obsession in Death (In Death #40) by J.D. Robb
Tales from the Nightside by Simon R. Green

Review: The Quick and the Undead by Kimberly Raye

quick and the undead by kimberly rayeFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: Tombstone, Texas #1
Length: 158 pages
Publisher: ImaJinn Books
Date Released: November 26, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Kobo, Book Depository

Welcome to Tombstone, Texas, where anything is possible, even your wildest fantasy. Once a haven to outlaws, Tombstone is now a tourist town that gives travelers a taste of the old West. What visitors don’t realize, however, is that the super-hot cowboys, gunslingers, and lawmen walking the streets aren’t actors—they’re originals. These ancient vampires claimed Tombstone two centuries ago.

So step right up, folks, and book your trip today! The outlaws of Tombstone will be waiting . . .

Travel blogger Riley Davenport loves her job, travelling to the most exotic places in the world. Even better, it keeps her one step ahead of her stalking ex. The last thing she wants in her life is a strong alpha male. But that’s exactly what she gets when she comes face-to-face with Sheriff Boone Jarrett, a hero right out of her most erotic fantasies.

Boone isn’t just the law in Tombstone, Texas. He’s also an ancient vampire and the target of a crazed killer. He certainly doesn’t have time for romance. But a temporary fling? Now that he can handle.

Unfortunately, their first night together ends in disaster when Riley witnesses a murder. And to protect her, Boone forces her into hiding. Only her “captivity” ends up becoming the realization of her wildest, most carnal fantasies. Still, Riley’s not going to fall for him, at least that’s what she tells herself.

But as she gets to know him—the man and the vampire—she starts to wonder if she can hold out . . .

My Review:

220px-Tombstone_year_1891The town of Tombstone that you’re probably thinking of, the one with the O.K. Corral? That’s in Arizona. Not that I’m not pretty sure that the name Tombstone isn’t designed to blend your memories of that Tombstone with this Tombstone. Using such a familiar name in popular Old West legends brings a whole lot of atmosphere to this new one, and it makes perfect sense both from the author’s standpoint and in the context of the story.

In this new Tombstone, some old gunfighters are bringing in tourists for a taste of the real West. The one that they lived in 150 years ago, when they were all feared outlaws. Becoming vampires back in the day made them faster, stronger and of course, virtually immortal.

There were 10 of them, but in this modern day, there are only nine. Nine men and women who remember the west as it was, because they lived it. They should have scattered to the four winds, but in this particular version of vampirism, the vampires have to return to the place where they were turned on the anniversary of that life-changing event. For all of them, that place is Tombstone.

In the 21st century, they have become entrepreneurs of an expensive and exclusive Wild West resort (Think of Westwood without the rampaging androids). The Tombstone Ten (minus one) need the money from the resort to buy the land they need for their annual pilgrimages – and just plain because Tombstone is home and they want to preserve it.

The Quick and the Undead, while it sets up the scenario of Tombstone and gives us peeks at the previous lives of the vampires who run the show, is also a romance between a travel blogger and a man she thinks is just an actor plying the part of Sheriff Boone Taggart. It’s also the setup of a long-term suspense plot about the certainty that other vampires know who they are and where they are, and that the old vampire who made them is on his way back with unknown and probably unwelcome intentions for the gang he created and the town they made.

Back to that travel blogger, Riley Davenport, and Boone. Riley has been on the run for three years from an abusive ex. Her travel blog keeps her moving, and therefore difficult to track. She posts on a time delay, so by the time her posts on location X are being run, she’s already at location Y or even Z. She lives out of suitcase but it makes her feel safe. Also tired.

Boone and his vampire friends (and enemies) upset all of Riley’s carefully made plans. Tombstone offers as real an Old West experience as they can make, so there is no electricity and no internet. Which doesn’t mean that the vampires running the show don’t have all the modern technology available to track their very modern business, but that tech is NOT available to the guests.

Riley has avoided relationships while she’s been on the run. She’s lonely but afraid of finding herself attracted to another alpha male who will take over her life and kill her personality if not her actual self. While she is attracted to Boone from the moment she sees him, it takes her a lot of story to figure out that while he may be as alpha as they come, he doesn’t want to control her.

Especially since his drive to keep her safe from a crazed killer vampire is to lock her up in a cave until things are safe.

Escape Rating B-: I love the setup of the town and the series, but I’m not so certain about the romance between Riley and Boone.

The idea that they might experience a whole lot of insta-lust and decide on a short-term fling for the time she’s in Tombstone makes sense. That she decides she really loves him while she is trapped in a cave, even if it is definitely for her own safety, smacks a bit of Stockholm Syndrome. That she calls herself on it doesn’t make it any less true.

Riley’s ex is also a bit of a failed ‘Chekhov’s Gun’. She has lived her entire life for the last three years in rightful fear of this bastard, but he’s neither the big baddie nor even the little baddie in this story. He’s swept out with the trash in a brief mention at the end that he’s in prison for battering some other woman. (The irony is that this feels ‘real’ in a real world sense while at the same time being disappointing in a story sense.)

The suspense angles of the story, the question about who is after the vampires and why, worked well both as suspense and as a way of illuminating a whole lot more about Boone’s character and his past. The way that his closure gets delivered worked well for me.

I will say that the all-inclusive tourist town run by vampires setup reminded me a lot of Nina Bangs’ Castle of Dark Dreams series. Bang’s series is lighter and Raye’s is spookier/darker, but the idea of vampires creating fantasies for tourist consumption is fun either way.


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Chrismukkah 2014


Today may be Christmas as well as the last day of Hanukkah, but there are plenty of holidays to celebrate in late December.

And if none of the others appeal, there’s always Festivus.

But seriously, whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Solstice or simply that the days have started getting longer again, have a happy whatever you are having, and a safe and prosperous New Year.

Review: Damnation by Jean Johnson

damnation by jean johnsonFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook,
Genre: military science fiction
Series: Theirs Not to Reason Why #5
Length: 385 pages
Publisher: Ace
Date Released: November 25, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

It began with a terrible vision of the future. Compelled by her precognitive abilities, Ia must somehow save her home galaxy long after she’s gone. Now Jean Johnson presents the long-awaited epic conclusion to her national bestselling military science fiction series…

With their new ship claimed and new crewmembers being collected, Ia’s Damned are ready and willing to re-enter the fight against the vicious, hungry forces of their Salik foes. But shortly after they board the Damnation to return to battle, a new threat emerges. After several centuries of silence, the Greys are back, and the Alliance must now combat both a rapacious, sadistic enemy, and a terrifying, technologically superior foe.

Ia has asked nothing of her crew that she herself has not been willing to give. But with two wars to bring to an end—and time running out—Ia must make and execute the most terrible choice of all…

My Review:

There are two themes that have resonated, at least for me, in SF in the last couple of decades. They have both been said before with slightly different words and in different circumstances, but the SF versions are the ones that stick in the mind. Both play out in the interwoven themes of Jean Johnson’s Theirs Not to Reason Why series, and especially in the final book in the series, Damnation.

One is the admonishment that Ben Parker recites to his young nephew Peter, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Just as Peter Parker is grounded by the reminder that his superpowers come at a great price, so Ia in Damnation, and all the previous books in the series, is confronted with cost that will be exacted by her use of both the power invested in her high military rank and the superpower of her near-perfect precognitive abilities. She never loses sight of that ultimate cost, even as she struggles to ensure the tiny-percentage future of sentient survival that she sees in the timestreams.

The other theme is Spock’s quote from Vulcan philosophy in The Wrath of Khan. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one.” Spock gives his own life, so that the crew of the Enterprise will survive. Their many outweighs the cost to himself, even though it is the ultimate cost. Ia has spent the last twelve years of her life weighing that same dilemma, writ large. She must sacrifice some so that the greater majority can be saved from extinction. Because Ia is working on a galactic scale, even the few she knows must be lost are relatively large numbers. She feels the weight of her decisions, and of all the deaths that will be laid at her door. But for her, the only right choice is always Spock’s.

soldiers duty mediumIa has spent this series working toward a very long future that she knows she will not live to see. If she can navigate the sentient races of the galaxy through the next two wars, in 300 years they have a slim chance of surviving the third war that is coming. When she begins her work in A Soldier’s Duty (reviewed here) at the age of 15, the chance is very slim. She devotes her life to making that slim chance become a reality.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, Ia’s ability to see all possible futures in the timestreams, she herself suffers from a constant lack of time throughout Damnation. She is still only human, and it takes her finite amounts of real time to nudge history. Also, her nudges often rely on her ship and crew being in a specific place at a specific time to fight a particular battle. Even with FTL and OTL (faster-than-light and other-than-light) speed capability, the ship still needs time to get from system to system, time that Ia is forever running out of.

The decisions Ia makes are always hard ones. She operates in the shades of grey that allow her to sacrifice an entire race to save all the other sentient races. It is never easy, and her own thoughts show how much of her humanity she loses sight of along the way. Also how much she keeps, with the help of her friends and crew.

Ia is brilliant, in the way that the brightest stars flare just before they go out. Her story, from beginning to end, is utterly captivating. I never wanted this series to end, but the way it ended was absolutely stunning.

Escape Rating A+: This entire series, but especially Damnation, gave me incredible book hangovers every step of the way. I am still having a difficult time pulling back from my immersion in the world that Johnson has created with this series.

If you enjoy military SF, I can’t recommend this series highly enough. Ia is a fascinating heroine who commands every scene and every page. It shouldn’t work, having a heroine who knows all the possible futures. You would think that she would be all-powerful and that there would be no dramatic tension. But the tension increases throughout the series, as Ia has more and more to accomplish and less and less time to finish her own tasks and lay the groundwork for what she knows will come.

Her humanity is sometimes sacrificed by the duty she has taken onto herself, but it shines in scenes where the necessary hits close to home. She cuts off her own home planet and her family in order to save the future, and it cuts deep, for both Ia and the reader.

I am not revealing the ending. It is something that needs to be experienced after the fullness of reading the series.

Above, I said the ending was absolutely stunning. I am still stunned.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Night Before Christmas by Mary McNear

night before christmas by mary mcnearFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: holiday romance, contemporary romance
Series: Butternut Lake #2.5
Length: 112 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Impulse
Date Released: December 9, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Butternut Lake is so beautiful at Christmas—from the delightfully decorated shops, to the cozy homes with their twinkling lights outside, to the lake itself. And this year so much is happening!

A wedding: Caroline meticulously plans her perfect Christmastime dream wedding to Jack, remarrying him after many years apart.

A baby: Allie and Walker are expecting the best Christmas gift of all—their first baby together.

A reunion: Daisy, Caroline and Jack’s daughter, is returning home after a long semester away at college.

But what’s Christmas without complications? Walker smothers Allie with worry; Daisy pines for her true love, Will, away in the army. And then the unthinkable happens—and Caroline’s wedding plans are ruined.

And just when it seems all is lost, the people of Butternut Lake come together to give their friends the greatest gifts of all. . . .

My Review:

This particular night before Christmas is a holiday story about sharing the joy of the season with the family you make. It’s also a love story that is mostly about what happens after the happily ever after.

up at butternut lake by mary mcnearIn the first two books of the Butternut Lake series (Up at Butternut Lake and Butternut Summer) we saw the women who formed a Girl’s Night Out group all find, or cement, or re-forge, the relationships with the men in their lives.

Although the side-stories are about Jax and Jeremy finding a way to continue their marriage past the revelation of a long-past lie, the focus in the series has been on Allie and Caroline.

In Up at Butternut Lake, Allie returns to her childhood home at Butternut with her young son in order to start a new life for herself after the death in combat of her husband. She finds a new life and new love with Walker Ford, the new owner of the local customized boat (and sometimes yacht) store. By this particular Christmas, Allie and Walker are expecting their first child together. But as much as Walker longs for this child, he can’t get past the tragedy of his first wife’s miscarriage and the subsequent death of their marriage. He is smothering Allie out of fear that if he doesn’t take care of each tiny detail, something will happen to the baby – again.

butternut summer by mary mcnearIn Butternut Summer (reviewed here), Caroline discovers that her ex-husband is not the gambling, cheating alcoholic that she divorced 18 years ago. Jack has stopped gambling, he’s certain that he will never cheat again, and he’s been clean and sober for two years. He comes back to Butternut in the hopes of establishing a new relationship with their daughter Daisy, and with a tentative prayer that he has a chance with Caroline again. At this particular Christmas, Jack and Caroline are planning to marry each other – again. But this time Caroline gets to plan the wedding she wants, and she’s nervous but having the time of her life.

Jack and Caroline’s daughter Daisy is home from college for the holidays, and to be her parents’ maid of honor and best woman. It’s not every child of divorced parents that is able to realize the dream of her parents getting back together. In many cases, it’s a downright bad idea, but for Jack and Caroline, it is finally right.

But in the midst of all this love and happiness, Daisy is pining for her own love, away in the Army.

In this holiday season, everything finally manages to work itself out the way it should, but not until after Murphy’s Law throws a big monkey wrench into everyone’s plans for a festive holiday and wedding celebration.

Escape Rating B+: I enjoyed this holiday story so much because I read the first two books and was familiar with all the characters – and all the reasons why their particular love stories were so deserving of happy endings. I don’t think that coming into this one cold (so to speak) would get half as much pleasure out of the resolutions to the various issues.

The story is wrapped around Caroline planning for her wedding. While she is not obsessed, and certainly never strays into BrideZilla territory, she really does have her heart set on a real ceremony and reception with all their friends and getting everything just so, even if a bit scaled down for a small town AND the second-time around with the same guy. Their first wedding was a registry ceremony and no family. She’s determined that this one be better – that it feel permanent because this time it is.

When the hall they have reserved suffers fire damage the day before the wedding, Caroline is slightly crushed, but plans to soldier on. Jack is the one who brings the whole town together to give her the reception she wanted, even if it isn’t the way she planned. It’s actually better this way.

Jack shows how far he has come from the jerk who left her 18 years ago by surprising both Caroline and Daisy with exactly what they wanted for Christmas, even if it was something they believed was out of reach.

All in all, a delightful holiday story with just the right sprinkling of romantic and family love.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright

thirteen days in september by lawrence wrightFormat read: hardcover provided by the publisher
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: political history
Length: 345 pages
Publisher: Knopf
Date Released: September 16, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

A gripping day-by-day account of the 1978 Camp David conference, when President Jimmy Carter persuaded Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to sign the first peace treaty in the modern Middle East, one which endures to this day.

With his hallmark insight into the forces at play in the Middle East and his acclaimed journalistic skill, Lawrence Wright takes us through each of the thirteen days of the Camp David conference, illuminating the issues that have made the problems of the region so intractable, as well as exploring the scriptural narratives that continue to frame the conflict. In addition to his in-depth accounts of the lives of the three leaders, Wright draws vivid portraits of other fiery personalities who were present at Camp David––including Moshe Dayan, Osama el-Baz, and Zbigniew Brzezinski––as they work furiously behind the scenes. Wright also explores the significant role played by Rosalynn Carter.
What emerges is a riveting view of the making of this unexpected and so far unprecedented peace. Wright exhibits the full extent of Carter’s persistence in pushing an agreement forward, the extraordinary way in which the participants at the conference—many of them lifelong enemies—attained it, and the profound difficulties inherent in the process and its outcome, not the least of which has been the still unsettled struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

In Thirteen Days in September, Wright gives us a resonant work of history and reportage that provides both a timely revisiting of this important diplomatic triumph and an inside look at how peace is made.

My Review:

It is fascinating to read history about something you remember, and discover new truths and new insights on events that still feel familiar – especially when those events are still shaping the world today.

Ostensibly, this is the story of the negotiations at Camp David in 1977 between the U.S., Israel and Egypt to provide at least a framework for peace in the Middle East, something that was not achieved and has not yet been achieved. From the perspective of 2014, it seems as if the issues in the Middle East are more intransigent than ever.

A goodly part of this book tells why things haven’t shifted much, or at least not shifted in a good direction, as a result of the events of these thirteen (not an auspicious number) days.

The author does this by interweaving the specific events at Camp David with a look into the contemporary histories of both Israel and Egypt, particularly in the 20th century. He looks behind the myths that both sides have created about the way that politics and history shaped and partitioned the area that is holy to three religions, and how that background of religious warfare has impacted contemporary events.

A critical part of the mix is the author’s triple biography of Carter, Begin and Sadat, to outline the ways in which their personal histories brought them to the summit, and kept them from reaching the kind of over-arching peace that they are claimed they sought. Some of the problems that they brought to the table were rooted in their own pasts, and that they each defined peace, and how that peace might be defined, from radically different perspectives.

Not all the baggage at Camp David came in suitcases – quite a lot of it was embedded into the psyches of the three principals. In many ways, it is amazing that they managed as much as they did.

On top of the personal, this story was also impacted by the three political landscapes at the time – Jimmy Carter staked the prestige of his presidency on Camp David, and probably lost his second term at least partially because he blocked out all other issues in his attempt to make a lasting peace. Begin was head of a coalition party in Israel that had multiple agendas, while Sadat was very much out on a limb politically from the other Arab nations, who viewed his attempt to negotiate with Israel as traitorous.

And yet, the accords signed at Camp David have not been broken in nearly 40 years. It may sometimes be a fractious peace, but there is peace between Egypt and Israel. But for how long?

Reality Rating A-: This historical narrative seemed like a perfect choice for this season that hopes for “peace on earth and goodwill to all” because it highlights a time when peace in a troubled region might have been within reach. That the attempt was made at all is a testament to the desires of people of good will, and yet, that they fell short is also a testament, not just to their human frailties, but also to the drumbeat of ancient as well as modern grievances.

If those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, then the story of Camp David is about the unwillingness or inability of a whole lot of people with the best intentions in the world who could not let go of a past that everyone remembers differently but all too well.

One of the things that makes this history accessible to the reader, is the way that the author set the negotiations into their historical and personal contexts. It wasn’t just about these thirteen days, but about the histories of the Middle East and the negotiators. Each part had a profound influence on all the others.

But the skill in which the past is interwoven into the day-by-day account of the negiations makes a gripping story, as well as a revealing triple-portrait of Carter, Begin and Sadat, as well as the members of their teams.

This is a work of living history for anyone who is interested in the issues in the Middle East.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.