Stacking the Shelves (158)

Stacking the Shelves

Not much of a haul this week. And that’s a good thing.

The really interesting book in this list is Dickon, at least as a concept. For one thing, it was originally published in 1929. It’s obviously taken a while to get the ebook rights figured out! But I picked it for the contents. It’s historical fiction about the Wars of the Roses, as seen from Richard III’s perspective. The author was a Ricardian, someone who believed that Richard III was nowhere near as black as Shakespeare painted him, so I’m hoping for as much for as my beloved Daughter of Time. We’ll see.

For Review:

Breton Wolfe (Wolves of Brittany #1) by Victoria Vane
Dickon by Marjorie Bowen
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Mercer Street (American Journey #2) by John A. Heldt
Thrill of the Chase (Dangerous Love #1) by Elle Keating
Unbuttoning the CEO (Suits Undone #1) by Mia Sosa

Review: Broadcast Hysteria by A. Brad Schwartz

Review: Broadcast Hysteria by A. Brad SchwartzBroadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News by A. Brad Schwartz
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 352
Published by Hill and Wang on May 5th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The enthralling and never-before-told story of the War of the Worlds radio drama and its true aftermath
On the evening of October 30, 1938, radio listeners across the United States heard a startling report of a meteor strike in the New Jersey countryside. With sirens blaring in the background, announcers in the field described mysterious creatures, terrifying war machines, and thick clouds of poison gas moving toward New York City. As the invading force approached Manhattan, some listeners sat transfixed, while others ran to alert neighbors or to call the police. Some even fled their homes. But the hair-raising broadcast was not a real news bulletin-it was Orson Welles's adaptation of the H. G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds.
In Broadcast Hysteria, A. Brad Schwartz boldly retells the story of Welles's famed radio play and its impact. Did it really spawn a "wave of mass hysteria," as the New York Times reported? Schwartz is the first to examine the hundreds of letters sent to Orson Welles himself in the days after the broadcast, and his findings challenge the conventional wisdom. Few listeners believed an actual attack was under way. But even so, Schwartz shows that Welles's broadcast became a major scandal, prompting a different kind of mass panic as Americans debated the bewitching power of the radio and the country's vulnerability in a time of crisis. When the debate was over, American broadcasting had changed for good, but not for the better.
As Schwartz tells this story, we observe how an atmosphere of natural disaster and impending war permitted broadcasters to create shared live national experiences for the first time. We follow Orson Welles's rise to fame and watch his manic energy and artistic genius at work in the play's hurried yet innovative production. And we trace the present-day popularity of "fake news" back to its source in Welles's show and its many imitators. Schwartz's original research, gifted storytelling, and thoughtful analysis make Broadcast Hysteria a groundbreaking new look at a crucial but little-understood episode in American history.

My Review:

This was scary all right, but not in the way that I originally thought. Then again, the original broadcast of the War of the Worlds in 1938 wasn’t actually as scary as anyone thought. At least not that night, 77 years ago today.

The newspaper coverage the next day had all the chills and thrills that anyone could possibly have imagined. And very little of it seems to have been true. Instead, the newspapers latched onto the sensational aspects and magnified them out of proportion, with each newspaper account adding more “details” to the one before, until the original incident became buried in an avalanche of sensationalized but fake news.

Today we would turn to to see if the whole thing was a hoax or not. But in 1938 the internet hadn’t been invented yet, and TV was in its infancy, if not still mostly in its gestational stage. Your news choices were the newspaper, the radio, or the rumor mill.

In the case of Orson Welles’ broadcast of the War of the Worlds, the newspapers amplified the rumor mill until the story reached the level of myth – we all believe there was a mass panic during the October 30, 1938 radio broadcast, when there wasn’t really a mass anything.

For one thing, Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air didn’t ever have a mass audience. It only had about a 3% share of the radio audience. Mercury Theatre ran opposite an extremely popular program, one that ironically starred a ventriloquist and his dummy, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

The story in Broadcast Hysteria is itself ironic. While it does provide background on Welles’ creation of the broadcast, the place where this story really puts its emphasis is on the aftermath. It also does a terrific job of explaining what it was that those people who did believe, even briefly, believed in, and why they believed it.

From the description of radio broadcasting techniques, and a look at world conditions at the time, a picture very different from the one of mass, uneducated panic emerges.

One of the aspects that fascinated this reader was the prevalence of re-enacted news events accepted as the truth. This was a standard practice in broadcast journalism at the time. To us it automatically sounds faked – a re-enactment is not the same as a recording of the same event. The re-enactment inevitably inserts some dramatic license to make its packaged story flow. That some of the same voice actors from the news re-enactments were part of the War of the Worlds did add to the verisimilitude.

But even more telling was what people believed. Based on information that has recently been pulled from various archives, it looks like only a third of the people who believed at all believed or even heard anything about Mars and Martians. In 1938, with World War II about to erupt and World War I still a very recent memory, a lot of people believed they were hearing about a perfectly terrestrial, albeit terrible, invasion of the U.S. by Germany or the growing Axis Powers. And most of the rest who believed something thought the problem was a meteor strike. Again, something quite plausible.

Like a lot of us who use television as the background soundtrack of our lives, many people who were listening to radio were not paying attention to every single word. It was on in the background, and they listened more intently when something grabbed their attention. So even people who were listening were not actively listening all the time. And without pictures, their minds filled in the blanks with things that made sense, like a European invasion or a meteor.

The story here is that the newspapers sold a lot of issues by playing up the sensationalism of the story. If it sounds like modern “clickbait”, it should. While there was some somewhat scientific research on the aftermath of the broadcast, the research seems to have been designed to confirm the biases of the researchers, and rejected any data that did not fit the result they wanted.

The fears at the time, in 1938, were that the mass panic supposedly created by the fake broadcast showed that America would be susceptible to mass propaganda in the same way that Germany and Italy had been. Instead, the data showed that propaganda didn’t really work that way, but the published reports ignored their own data.

So instead of a story about the mass panic, the one that I expected, instead we have a story about the rise of fake news, and we see just how seductive it can be. That’s actually more frightening than any invasion from Mars.

Reality Rating A-: The parts of this story that shine are the parts that get into the making of the broadcast and its aftermath. The world of radio broadcasting was different than we imagine, but in some ways the manner in which the news is made hasn’t changed all that much. The irony is that some of the worst changes are the result of War of the Worlds, not the non-existent panic of the broadcast, but the very real panic created by the newspaper coverage.

One of the reasons this book is sticking with me is that the comparisons to now are all too easy to make. In 1938, newspapers were tried and true, and radio was the new kid on the block. While that seems old fashioned now, it seems new again when the book describes all of the charges that were leveled at radio broadcasting at the time. Radio was new, it was immediate, it was available everywhere, and the drastic change in the way that people consumed media frightened people. All the same charges about corrupting morals and leading to violence that have been charged against TV, movies, video games and the internet in general were all leveled against radio at that time.

This is a fascinating study for anyone interested in mass communication and the uses and abuses to which it can be put.

One final note. As I said above, all the charges that every new media rots the mind were first leveled at radio. But one comment I found eerily prescient. A Tennessee publisher warned in 1932 that one day “newspapers will be nothing but a memory on a tablet…” And so they are.

Review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

Review: After Alice by Gregory MaguireAfter Alice by Gregory Maguire
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 288
Published by William Morrow on October 27th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

From the multi-million-copy bestselling author of Wicked comes a magical new twist on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Lewis's Carroll's beloved classic
When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice's disappearance?
In this brilliant new work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings — and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll's enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice's mentioned briefly in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late — and tumbles down the rabbit hole herself.
Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Euridyce can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is After Alice.

My Review:

alice in wonderland by lewis carrollAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (much better known as Lewis Carroll), was published in 1865. One hundred and fifty years ago. It is not surprising that one or more authors would tackle Alice in her anniversary year. Gregory Maguire, has made a career of tackling modern fairy tales as he does The Wizard of Oz in Wicked, is a natural choice to take a run at Alice.

And the run he takes is slightly sideways. Not that the whole of the original Alice isn’t completely sideways all by itself. Alice is, after all, one of the first and best examples of the literary nonsense genre. No one has done it better.

Instead of chasing after Alice head on, the author has introduced some new characters to literally chase after Alice into Wonderland – and back out again. Mostly.

In After Alice, instead of the real sisters of Alice Liddell, the author has provided a number of girls and women who are semi-concerned about Alice and her whereabouts while she is off in Wonderland.

While her sister Lydia has lost track of Alice and doesn’t care if the perpetually wandering child is temporarily mislaid – because she always comes back, others are not so calm about Alice’s disappearance.

Her best, and probably only, friend Ada arrives at the riverbank just in time to stumble down Alice’s rabbit hole after her friend. By this story’s end, it seems like half the countryside, or at least its female representatives, is chasing after one or both of the girls.

But Ada is in Wonderland, trying to find her best friend. And having her very own adventure of a lifetime.

Escape Rating B: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a book that we all remember reading, or seeing a movie. So we all feel familiar with the story, even if it has been a while. Even quite a while. And for those who want to re-acquaint themselves with one of Oxford’s most famous little girls, there is a 150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of The Annotated Alice. Alice’s Oxford is not quite ours, or even the Oxford that Tolkien and Lewis were familiar with. A guidebook to the world she (and Lewis Carroll) knew is lovely.

The attempt in After Alice is to somewhat imitate Carroll’s style while also commenting on both it and the story. After Alice, while it is literally chasing after Alice, also occasionally “breaks the fourth wall” and talks directly to 21st century readers, as though we are time travellers looking back at Alice in 1865 while knowing all of the other famous and fictional characters who knew and loved Oxford in the interim between then and now.

The story, while its main character is following Alice, is on a different adventure. In her real world Ada suffers from curvature of the spine, and wears a metal brace that sounds like an iron maiden without the spikes. In Wonderland, she can walk and even run unaided, while her abandoned brace leads a life of its somewhat diabolical own. The way that the brace restricts her and makes her an object of pity, fear and social ostracism takes real life when she no longer wears it.

Ada’s adventure is different from Alice’s. Ada is more self-aware than Alice, and she goes through her adventure with a mission – to rescue Alice before the girl gets into too much trouble. So there is less outright silliness in Ada’s journey, and that seems right.

The silliness in Ada’s journey comes into play with the people chasing her. Not just Alice’s sister Lydia, but also Ada’s governess. The interactions between the two women and their fears of bearing responsibility for the young girls’ disappearances takes some surprising peeks, and pokes, into the position of women in the Victorian Age.

after alice by gregory maguire UK coverLike Alice’s own journey, Ada’s contains a surprising amount of commentary into her time and place, disguised in the nonsensical, but not actually nonsense, journey through Wonderland.

Reviewer’s Note: The UK cover of After Alice is much, much cooler than the U.S. cover.

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

Spotlight/Excerpt: Scandal Takes the Stage by Eva Leigh + Giveaway

Spotlight/Excerpt: Scandal Takes the Stage by Eva Leigh + GiveawayScandal Takes the Stage (The Wicked Quills of London, #2) by Eva Leigh
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Wicked Quills of London #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on October 27th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Eva Leigh’s smart and sexy Wicked Quills of London series continues, with a playwright and a Viscount . . . together they may create a scandal worthy of the stage, but can their love last after the final curtain falls?
Successful playwright Maggie Delamere has no interest in the flirtations of noblemen like Cameron, Viscount Marwood. She once paid dearly for a moment of weakness . . . and vows to rebuff the wildly persistent—and irritatingly handsome—scoundrel at every turn. But when pressure to deliver a new play hampers her creativity, an invitation to use his country estate as a writer’s retreat is too tempting to resist...
For years, Cam has admired Maggie’s brilliant work, and he can’t pass up the opportunity to discover if the beautiful, mysterious playwright is as passionate and clever as the words that flow from her quill. He’s never offered a lady his bed without being in it, but if it means loosening Maggie’s pen—and her inhibitions—he’ll do exactly that.
But soon Cam’s plans for seduction become a fight for Maggie’s heart. He’s more than the scandalous, carefree rake society believes him to be . . . and she’s the only woman who has ever noticed.

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Both Ashford and his wife were elegantly attired for a night out. Lady Ashford, in particular, glowed in blue. Though she was a countess, she prided herself on being a working woman. Yet Cam felt certain that the substantial sapphires around her neck and hanging from her earlobes were placating gestures to her husband. Ashford tried to spoil her at every turn.
The couple stood unfashionably close. Ashford had his hand on the small of his wife’s back.

After kissing Lady Ashford’s gloved knuckles and giving his old friend’s hand a shake, Cam said wryly, “I’m older than I thought, since I’m certain that my eyes are failing. This can’t be Lord and Lady Ashford actually leaving their home. Joining those of us who haven’t found wedded bliss.”

“It’s not our fault that the female population of London considers you an irredeemable rogue,” Ashford said.

His wife smiled warmly. “To women, his reputation acts as a lure, not a deterrent.”

“And yet they’ll find themselves sorely disappointed,” Cam noted, clasping his hands behind his back. “Because this piece of beefsteak is not for sale at Smithfield market.”
Ashford shook his head. “Don’t tell your father. He comes to me almost once a fortnight, despairing of you ever finding a wife.”
Cam rolled his eyes. His father was also Ashford’s godfather, and ever since his friend had married, the efforts to see Cam settled and applying himself to the business of getting an heir had redoubled.

“So much labor,” Cam said with mock sorrow, “and for so little an outcome.”

“You are determined to remain a dedicated bachelor, then?” Lady Ashford pressed, ever the journalist. She used her matching blue fan to cool herself against the oppressive heat in the theater.
“I have a younger brother,” Cam noted. “He has three qualities in his favor that I do not.” Holding up his hand, he enumerated each aspect on his fingers. “One: he has already taken a bride of suitable lineage and fortune. Two: they have produced a child. And third: he has no compunction about assuming the role of Marquess of Allam should anything happen to me.”

Shrugging, Cam said, “There are no obstacles to me continuing to live my life as I so desire it. Free of entanglements.” Free of disappointment.

His parents had a remarkably happy marriage. Whilethey didn’t show affection in public the way the Ashfords did, at home, it was another matter. His mother and father were devoted to each other, brushing hands, exchanging looks, even—God help him—sequestering themselves in the middle of the day in the bedchamber.

It hadn’t been a love match, but it had become one, and Cam knew things like that occurred rarely. What had happened with a seasoned rake like Ashford was the exception, about as common as finding a pearl in an apple.

The only place where love happened consistently was on the stage. It wasn’t meant for the real world. Not meant for him. He’d only find disenchantment if he tried for what couldn’t be.
Which is why he always kept his amorous encounters temporary.

Enter to Win a
and a $25.00 eGift Card to choice Book Seller


The Wicked Quills of London Book One
Eva Leigh
Released Sept 29th, 2015
Avon Books
Hawke loves a good scandal. And readers of her successful gossip rag live for
the exploits of her favorite subject: Daniel Balfour, the notorious Earl of
Ashford. So when the earl himself marches into her office one day and invites
her to experience his illicit pursuits firsthand, Eleanor is stunned. Gambling
hells, phaeton races, masquerades…What more could a scandal writer want than a
secret look into the life of this devilishly handsome rake?
has secrets and if The Hawk’s Eye gets wind of them, a man’s life could be at
stake. And what better way to distract a gossip than by feeding her the scandal
she desperately craves? But Daniel never expected the sharp mind and biting wit
of the beautiful writer, and their desire for each other threatens even his
best laid plans.
when Eleanor learns the truth of his deception, Daniel will do anything to
prove a romance between a commoner and an earl could really last forever.


The Wicked Quills of London Book Two
Eva Leigh
Releasing Oct 27th, 2015
Avon Books


Successful playwright Maggie Delamere
has no interest in the flirtations of noblemen like Cameron, Viscount Marwood.
She once paid dearly for a moment of weakness… and vows to rebuff the wildly
persistent-and irritatingly handsome-scoundrel at every turn. But when pressure
to deliver a new play hampers her creativity, an invitation to use his country
estate as a writer’s retreat is too tempting to resist…
For years, Cam has admired Maggie’s
brilliant work and he can’t pass up the opportunity to discover if the
beautiful, mysterious playwright is as passionate and clever as the words that
flow from her quill. He’s never offered a lady his bed without being in it, but
if it means loosening Maggie’s pen-and her inhibitions-he’ll do exactly that.
But soon Cam’s plans for seduction
become a fight for Maggie’s heart. He’s more than the scandalous, carefree rake
society believes him to be… and she’s the only woman who has ever noticed.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



EVA LEIGH is the pen name of a RITA®
Award-nominated romance author who writes novels chock-full of smart women and
sexy men. She enjoys baking, Tweeting about boots, and listening to music from
the ‘80s. Eva and her husband live in Central California.

Review: Cruz by Anna Hackett

Review: Cruz by Anna HackettCruz (Hell Squad #2) by Anna Hackett
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Series: Hell Squad #2
Pages: 244
Published by Anna Hackett on August 10th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Battle-hardened soldier Cruz Ramos is running on empty. As second-in-command of the deadliest commando squad fighting the invading aliens, he doesn't know why he's fighting anymore. He's seen too much destruction, devastation, and far too much death. Still, every day he goes out to protect those humans left, and every day the growing numbness threatens to take over. Until a mysterious woman emerges from the ruins of destroyed Sydney and saves him from a pack of rampaging aliens. Santha Kade has one goal: revenge. The raptors who have devastated the Earth have taken everything from her: her team, her home, her beloved sister. Santha-a former police officer-has spent a year alone in the ruined city, waging her own guerrilla war. Sure, she might get lonely sometimes, but she doesn't have room for anything but vengeance. Not even for a sexy soldier with liquid brown eyes, a bone-melting accent, and a face designed to drive a woman wild. But as Cruz and Santha join forces to rescue human hostages from the aliens, their explosive attraction is impossible to resist. Can these two warriors survive long enough to find something worth living for?

My Review:

This was not the book I intended to read for today. Who knew that someone could possibly make a book titled The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse boring? When that fell with a thud, I turned to one of my go-to authors, Anna Hackett. She has never disappointed me.

marcus by anna hackettAnd certainly still hasn’t with Cruz, the second book in her post-apocalyptic Hell Squad series. A lot of the setup for this series is in the first book, Marcus, reviewed here. The brave new world that Hackett has envisioned in Hell Squad needs a whole lot of bravery, because the new world mostly sucks.

In this near-future, the apocalypse that the series is dealing with the aftermath of is an alien invasion. The Gizzida look a lot like a cross between the aliens in Alien and ancient Earth dinosaurs – chiefly the predatory kind. However, these reptilian invaders have a philosophy that owes more than a bit to Star Trek’s Borg. They intend to absorb the human race and make it stronger. The difference between the Borg and the Gizzida is that these invaders don’t wipe out their own individuality. Or at least not all of it. Or they may be even more like the Borg than we’re sure of at this point, having a queen who is an individual directing an army of drones.

But our story follows the human resistance. Who seem a lot more sympathetic than the invaders. The Gizzida wiped out all the human cities with bombs and raptors, but humanity fights back. The Hell Squad lives and works at Blue Mountain Base in Australia, far outside Sydney. In my head I see Blue Mountain Base looking an awful lot like the Cheyenne Mountain Complex outside Colorado Springs in Stargate SG1, crossed with that sense of last humans fighting back from Battlestar Galactica.

(There have been a lot of references to BSG this week. A good trope is a reused trope.)

In the first book, Marcus, we were introduced to the people who make up Squad Six of the resistance out of Blue Mountain. Squad Six is much better known to everyone except the base commander as Hell Squad. They go into hell and bring hell to their enemy.

At the very end of the first book, we met Santha Kade, a lone warrior who is fighting the aliens all by herself, and has been for a year. She’s a former SWAT officer, and is good at fighting and staying alive.

She also fascinates one of the members of Hell Squad, Cruz Ramos. There’s something about the woman warrior that keeps Cruz from descending into the unfeeling darkness of too many missions, too many deaths, and not enough hope that the fight is worthwhile.

Santha thinks that Cruz makes great eye candy, but she’s in this fight to avenge herself against the alien commander who murdered her sister right before her eyes, while Santha was paralyzed by an alien poisoned weapon. She’s not ready for the emotional confusion of a relationship. On the other hand, some life-affirming hot sex seems like an incredibly good idea. At least with Cruz.

Santha is not interested in being part of the hierarchy and orderly chain of command at Blue Mountain Base, in spite of the safety that comes with having a secure hideout. But they need her. The resistance has learned that the aliens have kidnapped a group of human scientists, and the resistance wants to mount a rescue.

But in order to rescue someone, first you have to know where to look for them. Santha has the best, in depth intelligence on the alien operations, because she’s spent an entire year observing them and searching for the alien commander. They need her intel, and when she is injured, she finally realizes that she needs them. At least a little bit.

Santha still burns for revenge. Blue Mountain wants a surgical strike, in, rescue the prisoners, out. Of course it all goes FUBAR.

Because in the best alien invasion tradition, the Gizzida aren’t just capturing scientists for their knowledge, they are grabbing humans of all types, ages and sizes so that they can conduct torturous experiments. The Gizzida want to see what makes us tick. Because, in best evil alien fashion, they want to make us all stop ticking.

The laboratories that Hell Squad uncovers show a hell that none of them imagined in their worst nightmares. But they will stop at nothing to get those people out. One way or another.

Escape Rating A-: This second book in the series gets a little more into the aliens’ motives. Not that there isn’t still more to come, but for the first time we hear one speaking to a human while thinking they are on top, and getting just a tiny bit into their outline for the subjugation of the human race. It begins to let us see that the Gizzida are not just evil for evil’s sake. They don’t see themselves as evil. They think they have a manifest destiny. We naturally think they are purely destructive.

Just like in the first book, there is a romance here. Cruz and Santha have fascinated each other from the first time they met. But Santha is totally invested in her revenge-motivated lone-wolf crusade, and Cruz is part of a team. He’s more than willing to open up that team to include Santha, but living in the base will mean submitting herself to the same rules and discipline as everyone else. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but while you are in the midst of pursuing it it’s damn hard to let go of.

Unlike the romance in Marcus, Cruz and Santha are coming from the same kind of place. They are both soldiers, and they have both always been soldiers. Cruz admires Santha’s strength and intelligence. Life in the resistance is a hard life likely to end in premature death. They both need someone who accepts the darkness in every survivor, and who has the strength to fight, often literally, to grab some joy from existence and fight to keep it.

They are also both people who have a lot of demons in them, and need a partner physically strong enough to hold them down when necessary, or spar equally with them until exhaustion moves to temporary oblivion.

It’s a very different relationship than the one between Marcus and Elle in the first book. Marcus needs a refuge, and Elle needs validation that she’s a capable partner. Cruz and Santha both need people who have been exactly where the other one is and understands the monsters they hold inside.

The plot of the story – discovering and rescuing the captives, is a heartbreaker from beginning to end. While this theme has been used before, here it was especially gut wrenching, because Hell Squad has to deal both with healing the ones who can possibly be healed, and making the unfortunate but necessary call that in some extreme circumstances, death can be a mercy, especially for those we love.

If you like your end of the world scenarios with a little bit of love and whole lot of fighting back, Hell Squad is a winner.

Review: The Lodge on Holly Road by Sheila Roberts

Review: The Lodge on Holly Road by Sheila RobertsThe Lodge on Holly Road (Life in Icicle Falls, #6) by Sheila Roberts
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Life in Icicle Falls #6
Pages: 368
Published by Harlequin MIRA on October 28th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

How Santa Gets His Christmas Spirit Back…
James Claussen has played Santa for years, but now that he's a widower, he's lost interest—in everything. So his daughter, Brooke, kidnaps him from the mall (in his Santa suit!) and takes him to Icicle Falls. She's arranged a special Christmas at the lodge owned by long-widowed Olivia Wallace and her son, Eric. And yet…Brooke wants Dad to be happy, but she's not ready to see someone else's mommy kissing Santa Claus.
Single mom Missy Monroe brings her kids to the lodge, too. Lalla wants a grandma for Christmas, and her brother, Carlos, wants a dog. Missy can't provide either one. What she'd like is an attractive, dependable man. A man like John Truman… But John's girlfriend will be joining him in Icicle Falls, and he's going to propose.
Of course not everything goes as planned. But sometimes the best gifts are the ones you don't expect!

My Review:

I pulled The Lodge on Holly Road out of the virtually towering TBR pile because I’m scheduled to review the 8th book in this series, Christmas on Candy Cane Lane, early in November. I totally forgot that Holly Road was last year’s Christmas book in the Life in Icicle Falls series. So I get two heaping helpings of Christmas spirit in time for the upcoming holidays.

Merry Ex-Mas by Sheila RobertsWhile Merry Ex-Mas is still my favorite Christmas book in this series, at least so far, The Lodge on Holly Road was definitely a tasty treat.

The first thing readers need to know about this series is that Icicle Falls is really Leavenworth, Washington, a small tourist town that really did change its look to make it seem like something out of an idealized Bavarian Forest. It is just this cute, and in the location relative to Seattle described in the book.

The Lodge on Holly Road is a bed and breakfast in Icicle Falls. In this story, the Lodge is open for its regular Christmas package, but the guests that arrive for this particular Christmas make the holiday a special treat for everyone involved.

Olivia Wallace owns the Lodge, and she and her oldest son Eric run the place. Her younger son Brandon drops in every once in awhile, especially at the holidays. Brandon is still making a way for himself, which currently involves traveling around the U.S. searching out the best ski resorts. He’s a teacher and trainer, but it does seem like a bit of an excuse to be a “ski bum”.

Olivia has been a widow for 14 years, and Eric, as much as he’d like to settle down and get married, hasn’t found the right woman in the small town he loves. And as he and his friends lament at the beginning of the story, most women who visit Icicle Falls from Seattle or wherever live in those other places because they don’t want to actually live in a small and sometimes remote place like Icicle Falls.

Brooke Claussen just wants her dad to recapture not just his Christmas spirit, but a little bit of his spirit in general. As James Claussen often spends the holidays as a department store Santa, he really needs a little Christmas, but has lost his heart. His wife (and Brooke’s mother) died last Christmas Eve after a long struggle with cancer. In his grief, James has turned inward and is shutting himself off from the world.

One of the really sweet things in this story is that Olivia and James are pretty much perfect for each other, and it is especially lovely to see their burgeoning romance take a chunk of the center stage in this multi-romance holiday treat. It’s also good that Brooke and Eric both have their own experiences with caretaking and jealousy, and need to figure out what their places are in their parents’ lives, and what place they might find in each other’s life as well.

But the heart of the story revolves around poor deluded John Truman, and Missy Monroe, the single mother he rescues on the way to Icicle Falls a couple of nights before Christmas.

John believes that his big city girlfriend, Holland, will just love Icicle Falls, the vacation he has meticulously planned, and the engagement ring he plans to present to her on Christmas Eve. It is pretty obvious to the reader and most of the other guests at Holly Lodge that John is seriously deluding himself, but as is so often said, “love is blind”. In Truman’s case, it’s even blind that what he feels is love.

Missy Monroe is a single mother with two young children by different fathers. She’s the first to admit that her choices in men have not been stellar, but her children are the light of her life and she is doing her best to raise them with much more love and care than she received from her alcoholic mother. Missy’s problem is money. It’s pretty clear that she isn’t collecting any child support, and her wages and tips at the low-end beauty salon where she does hair isn’t enough to make ends even wave at each other, let alone meet.

Missy has saved all year long to give her kids a beautiful Christmas someplace nice. But the presents that Carlos and Lalla want are beyond her budget and control. Carlos wants a dog that she’s not allowed to have in their apartment. And Lalla wants a grandma, which is even harder to magic up.

As John Truman finds himself more and more alone on what should have been a romantic holiday, he spends more and more time with Missy and her kids. Missy sees instantly that John is just the kind of man that she would love to be with – he’s caring, sincere, funny, willing to try new things and most of all, loyal. That he’s a stable accountant and not a flake doesn’t hurt either. But all the things that Missy likes about John, including his steadiness and his desire to settle down in a small town just like Icicle Falls, are all the things that his erstwhile fiance finds boring, if not downright low-class.

The Christmas miracle in this story is that everyone who comes to the Lodge on Holly Road this Christmas finds their happily ever after, no matter how remote a prospect it seemed at the beginning. There’s even a puppy and a grandma for Missy’s kids.

Escape Rating B+: Everyone gets what they need for this Christmas, even if (or especially because) it wasn’t what they thought they wanted. I also liked the way that Olivia and James’ romance was treated. We so seldom see romances that feature, frankly, anyone over 40, let alone anyone around 60. While both of their children have issues seeing their living parents with someone other than their dead parents, the fact is that 60 isn’t dead and they both have plenty to give a new partner that doesn’t take anything away from each of their happy first marriages or their relationships with their kids.

It was icing on the cake that when Eric and Brooke stopped squabbling over their parents getting together, they discovered that their parents had the right idea. The two families do belong together, and Eric has as much in common with Brooke as his mother does with her dad.

Icicle Falls is always lovely, and when John Truman’s would-be fiance Holland finally gets there and acts like the whole place is beneath her, we all know she’s evil and he needs to find someone who will love him as he is. Not wanting to go out clubbing every weekend is not a character flaw. And when he finally figures out that he was just Holland’s “starter boyfriend” in a new city and that now that she knows her way around she’s ready to trade him up for someone flashier, we know he’s WAY better off without her, whether he gets the clue to start a relationship with Missy or not.

While it is not necessary to have read the previous books in the series to enjoy The Lodge on Holly Road, the ambiance of Icicle Falls provides a nice backdrop for this story. We get to catch up with a few people that we’ve already met, but those old favorites are a side note to a story that is all about the newbies in town and in the story.

For a tasty bite of Christmas cheer, The Lodge on Holly Road is a lovely story. And Olivia’s mouth watering recipes for her Lodge will make you hungry for a holiday getaway of your own.

Review: Damage Control by Jess Anastasi + Giveaway

Review: Damage Control by Jess Anastasi + GiveawayDamage Control (Valiant Knox #2) by Jess Anastasi
Formats available: ebook
Series: Valiant Knox #2
Pages: 302
Published by Entangled: Select Otherworld on October 26th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon

In space, you can't hide from temptation...
Nick-named Hardass by the new recruits, Leigh Alphin is captain of the Fighter Force of the battleship Valiant Knox. He’s honorable, straightforward, and hard as nails – except for the soft spot he has for a young woman he rescued off a transport under attack. Now that she’s one of his new recruits, it’s imperative he stop thinking about her in that way.
Especially now that the Knox has been secretly infiltrated by the enemy.
Mia Wolf’s new commanding officer is icy, no-BS, and completely gorgeous. His glances send heat searing through her. Neither of them can afford to make this mistake, yet desire takes hold, consuming them. For the first time, Leigh’s iron sense of honor falters as his heart fights for love… and against an enemy trying to destroy everything they hold dear.

My Review:

Welcome to the Valiant Knox, a floating city in space. More like a flying city. Think Battlestar Galactica, with the long-running war being not quite as devastating. At least not yet.

The Valiant Knox is an Alliance space battleship, on the side of the good guys fighting the evil CSS. The CSS believes in bombing everyone back to a religious-based stone age, even as they use stolen Alliance space ships to get that job done.

escape velocity by jess anastasiThe CSS still strikes this reader as basic fundamentalist-type loonies, but they seem to be damn effective loonies. If space opera with a very strong romantic element is your thing, start with Escape Velocity (reviewed here) to read this series from its start.

While the setting of the Valiant Knox itself is very cool, the series as a whole still strikes me as gateway science fiction romance for readers who love military romance and just aren’t sure about the whole “space” thing.

A lot of the story, and an equal amount of the tension in the romance, will feel very familiar to readers of military romance. New recruit Mia Wolfe is rescued by Captain Leigh Alphin of the Valiant Knox. Wolfe needs a rescue because the CSS has infiltrated the Alliance hierarchy, and someone knew just when the shuttle carrying new recruits to the Knox would be the most vulnerable to enemy action. Her shuttle squeaks into the Knox cargo bay, with the engines about to explode. Instead, Alphin disobeys orders and board the fire ship all by himself. He barely makes it to the bridge controls to cut off the doomed shuttle’s engine in time. In time before he succumbs to smoke inhalation, and in time before the cargo bay is vented to space to prevent the shuttle from taking the Knox with her in a ball of flame.

Mia Wolfe is one of many in the ship of recruits, but her dogged determination to keep both her unconscious friend and herself alive with one gas mask during the fire snags at Alphin’s heart. A heart most people claimed he didn’t have.

He assumes that the raw recruit will be assigned somewhere else in the war effort, probably to the planet below. Which gives him a bit of license to let the young woman know how much he admires her courage, and lets him just be human for a minute in her company, instead of always sealing himself inside his hard ass, Captain Air Fighter Forces (CAFF) persona.

(His rank feels borrowed directly from BSG, as both Lee Adama and Starbuck served as CAFF on that series at different times. Leigh is high in the chain of command, serving as the commander of all the fighter squadrons on the ship.)

Of course, Murphy’s Law states that the one woman Leigh let his guard down in front of is assigned to the fighter squadron. Now she’s not just forbidden because she’s a recruit, but because she is his recruit and he will have the responsibility of judging her fitness for the squad or washing her out and kicking her planetside to the ground forces.

They are as stupid for each other as romance readers could want. They both know that any relationship is a career-killingly bad idea for both of them, but they can’t seem to resist. To make the situation fraught with even more peril, the ship’s commander, Kai Yang from Escape Velocity, is fighting for his career as he tries to ferret out just how many CSS moles are aboard the Knox, and he asks for Leigh’s help.

Leigh gets Mia Wolfe involved in his covert intelligence operation, which provides even more opportunities for them to be dangerously alone together. But as the attacks against them and the Knox escalate, their relationship also shows them just what they have to fight for.

If they survive.

Escape Rating B+: I like this series a lot. It reminds me of a cross between BSG and Stargate SG1, but in my book those are awfully good progenitors for a military SF series.

The relationship between Mia and Leigh is a slow burn that heats up fast. And that any relationship will be extremely damaging to both their careers just adds that luscious flavor of forbidden fruit to the whole thing.

It’s easy to see why their relationship is so dangerous. At the moment, he controls her future career. And by entering into a relationship with a recruit, he leaves himself wide open to charges of favoritism by any other recruit. And then there’s the power imbalance. This just shouldn’t happen.

But they have something for each other. Leigh is tired of having nothing in his life except his job. A good job will not love you back, as the saying goes. Mia has the potential to be his equal, given time and experience. But with a deadly war escalating, time is one thing they do not have.

There is a traitor in their midst. Leigh knows it, and so does Yang, but can’t figure out who among his trusted officers might be the moles. Mia has some mad computer skills, and is capable of ferreting out the truth, if Leigh can keep them both alive.

The tension ratchets up in every direction. Not just the romantic and sexual tension, but the tension of the situation. They need to find the moles and plug the leak. They need to keep their relationship under wraps. Yang needs to fend off the bureaucrats who want to end his career, and possibly the effectiveness of the Knox along with it. And the moles are out to get them personally, as well as get the Knox and the Alliance in general. (I have a sneaking suspicion that the political movement against Yang may turn out to also be a product of CSS moles, but only future entries in the series (please let there be some!) will tell me if I’m right)

The plot doesn’t let up for a minute.

As much as I’m enjoying this story, I still want to know a lot more about the crazy CSS. Because we see everything from the side of the Knox, we aren’t able to get deeply into their motives and operation. They still seem like lunatic fringe fundamentalists. For this story to move from B+ into the A’s this reader needs to see more explanation for why these bad guys have turned so bad.

But Damage Control (and Escape Velocity), the continuing adventures of the Valiant Knox, are still a marvelously fun ride.


Damage Control tour banner

So that new readers can get caught up with the Valiant Knox, Entangled is giving away two ebook copies of Escape Velocity to lucky commenters on this tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-25-15

Sunday Post

No winners this week. Winners last week, winners next week, but no winners today. Speaking of next week, there is still plenty of time to get in on the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop.

And speaking of all things spooky, Halloween is next Saturday. Which probably means that next Sunday every store that hasn’t already will haul out their Christmas decorations. In honor of Halloween, I’m reviewing Broadcast Hysteria on Friday. The book is about a very real Halloween, October 31, 1938, when Orson Welles broadcast The War of the Worlds on radio, and all too many people believed that it was a real news report and that Mars was invading the Earth. Which would be very scary indeed. Now if the only “Martian” invading the Earth were Matt Damon, I’m sure there would be more than a few people welcoming him with open arms.

Spooktacular2013Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop
$25 Gift Card and paperbackof Forever Your Earl by Eva Leigh
The Determined Heart by Antoinette May

grant park by leonard pitts jrBlog Recap:

C Review: The Determined Heart by Antoinette May + Giveaway
B Review: Forever Your Earl by Eva Leigh + Giveaway
A+ Review: Grant Park by Leonard Pitts Jr.
A- Review: Then Comes Marriage by Roberta Kaplan
A- Review: Sisters in Law by Linda Hirshman
Stacking the Shelves (157)




broadcast hysteria by a brad schwartzComing Next Week:

Damage Control by Jess Anastasi (blog tour review)
The Lodge on Holly Road by Sheila Roberts (review)
The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell (review)
After Alice by Gregory Maguire (review)
Broadcast Hysteria by A. Brad Schwartz (review)

Stacking the Shelves (157)

Stacking the Shelves

A short but hopefully interesting stack. I fully admit that I picked up The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu on the strength of the title, but it’s a true story about saving cultural treasures from ideological (and definitely physical) destruction. And I got Notorious RBG just before it dropped out of Edelweiss after reading Sisters In Law, which was just awesome.

Another interesting title on the list is Black City Saint by Rick Knaak. The book looks interesting – urban fantasy in Chicago – but I picked it up because I used to know the author. Once upon a time, when I lived in the Chicago area, there was a group that met every month for a party and to talk about SF and Fantasy. Knaak attended some of the parties, early in his career, and I remember teasing him because he brought copies of his books to the parties. He was doing just the kind of self-promotion that he needed to, but at the same time these were parties and not a con, so it seemed slightly out of place. Then again, it was a party of geeks and nerds and most of the time, we were all slightly out of place.

Good times.

For Review:
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer
Black City Saint (Black City Saint #1) by Richard A. Knaak
Eagle in Exile (Clash of Eagles #2) by Alan Smale
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Vorkosigan Saga #16) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Ice Moon (Moon #5) by Lisa Kessler
Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

Purchased from Amazon:
In the House of the Seven Librarians by Ellen Klages

Review: Sisters in Law by Linda Hirshman

Review: Sisters in Law by Linda HirshmanSisters in Law: Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the Friendship That Changed Everything by Linda Hirshman
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 320
Published by Harper on September 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The author of the celebrated Victory tells the fascinating story of the intertwined lives of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first and second women to serve as Supreme Court justices.
The relationship between Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—Republican and Democrat, Christian and Jew, western rancher’s daughter and Brooklyn girl—transcends party, religion, region, and culture. Strengthened by each other’s presence, these groundbreaking judges, the first and second to serve on the highest court in the land, have transformed the Constitution and America itself, making it a more equal place for all women.
Linda Hirshman’s dual biography includes revealing stories of how these trailblazers fought for their own recognition in a male-dominated profession—battles that would ultimately benefit every American woman. She also makes clear how these two justices have shaped the legal framework of modern feminism, including employment discrimination, abortion, affirmative action, sexual harassment, and many other issues crucial to women’s lives.
Sisters-in-Law combines legal detail with warm personal anecdotes that bring these very different women into focus as never before. Meticulously researched and compellingly told, it is an authoritative account of our changing law and culture, and a moving story of a remarkable friendship.

My Review:

After finishing Then Comes Marriage, I liked it so much that I decided I wanted more Supreme Court. So I picked up Sisters In Law, which is a kind of dual biography of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first and second women on the Supreme Court.

I think I was expecting there to be more about their actual relationship while they served on the court together, but that isn’t quite what I got.

Instead, this book flips from one woman’s history to the other, showing where their stories parallel, and where they differ. It also gives a strong sense of how much their shared experiences being among the first women to advance in the legal profession affected their perspectives. Because for two women who ended up being the first female members of a very exclusive and formerly all-male club, they also seem to have had some very different perspectives on the rights of women, and even whether they should be advocating for those rights from the bench.

What felt to this reader as a telling anecdote occurs at the beginning of each of their careers. Because they were both among the first women to succeed in the legal profession, they both faced a lot of discrimination early on, particularly when it came to getting their first jobs after passing the bar.

Ginsburg’s husband suffered from cancer while they were both in law school. He was not expected to survive, but he fortunately did. Still, the experience clearly left its mark. RBG faced very early on the possibility that her work and her career might have to sustain and support her and their children, emotionally and economically, if she were widowed. She seems to have been strongly affect by exactly what an uphill battle she faced as a woman, and how many roadblocks might be placed in her path.

She has continued throughout her career to champion women’s rights for equality, and in that championing has continued to recognize that not all women are fortunate enough to have the advantages that she had, not just economically, but also by having a husband who supported her career as equal to her own.

Sandra Day O’Connor’s story has a different ending. After being repeatedly turned down for a position as a lawyer, and being offered legal secretary positions instead, she took the step of working for free for a county attorney until he decided that she was, after all, worth her pay as a lawyer. Not many women, then or now, could afford to work for no wages until a man decided that she might be worth hiring.

She seems to have always seen herself as exceptional, and not necessarily been cognizant of the fact that many women are qualified and capable but just not lucky. And that the things that she, as an upper middle class white woman, did not find burdensome were issues that women without her advantages would find very burdensome indeed.

However, like the comment that “only Nixon could go to China”, only a woman who projected so much traditional femininity and rocked the boat so little could have been appointed as the First Woman on the Supreme Court by a Republican. It was only after O’Connor rocked the boat so little that someone like RBG could be appointed, even by a Democrat. Because Ginsburg’s entire career gave notice that she would be a member of the court’s liberal wing, as she has been.

There were lots of sayings in the midst of the women’s rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s that went something like “In order for a woman to be thought as capable as a man, she has to be twice as good. Fortunately that’s not difficult.” Remember, that this is also the same era that birthed the marvelous phrase, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” In the heyday of the women’s civil rights movement, it seemed like anything was possible. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was often at the forefront of the fight to make that “anything” come to pass, and she often succeeded. Now that she is on the bench, and the times have shifted from change to backlash, she often seems to be fighting a rearguard action to protect as many gains as she can, hoping that the pendulum will swing back.

Reality Rating A-: As is probably clear from the comments above, I found Ginsburg to be more interesting and more sympathetic. The legal positions that she took and the cases that she won are the ones that made my life as a career woman in the 1980s onward much better. Not necessarily easier in a lot of ways, but certainly better. I remember being asked in the late 1970s what my childbearing plans were at more than one job interview, even though that practice had already been ruled illegal. I was able to get credit in my own name during college, where I remember being with my mother when she was asked for the first time if she wanted an account in her name sometime in the 1970s. My mother worked, but her only access to credit was through my father.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped the world to change, often by her own actions and the positions she took. It was a deliberate act. Sandra Day O’Connor also helped the world to change, but it seemed like it happened more because of who she became than what she did. It seemed as though she felt her presence was enough to change the paradigm, which it certainly did. But it didn’t feel like she did nearly as much to extend the ladder to those coming up behind her unless they were just like her.

O’Connor’s position was extremely important, but I found myself not liking many of the stands she took. At the same time, the book acknowledges that she was very pragmatic about what would and wouldn’t work. I like the stands that Ginsburg takes, even when, or especially if, they are taken in dissent.

As a history of women in the legal profession from the mid-20th century and onwards, their joint history is fascinating. Who the reader finds themselves ultimately sympathizing with will depend a lot of the views they come in with. I found the sections on Ruth Bader Ginsburg so interesting that I picked up a copy of Notorious R.B.G., the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I can’t wait to read more.