Stacking the Shelves (216)

Stacking the Shelves

The brevity of this list reflects the fact that no one in publishing does much of anything the week between Xmas and New Years. And possibly that we are all still in shock over the sudden death of Carrie Fisher as well as her mother Debbie Reynolds. 2016 needs to die in a fire before it takes anyone else.

I saw the original Star Wars movie in the summer of 1977. Watching the movie, Princess Leia and the actress who played her seemed so much more mature than my 20-year-old self. At the time I had no idea that the actress was my own age and just as lost as I was. Coincidentally, Debbie Reynolds’ movie The Unsinkable Molly Brown is one of the very first movies I remember seeing in a theater as a child. I also remember absolutely loving it.

They were both awesome women who will be greatly missed.

For Review:
The Enemies of Versailles (Mistresses of Versailles #3) by Sally Christie
Hot in the City by Jules Court
Kingdom of Olives and Ash by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman

Purchased from Amazon:
Liquid Fire (Skindancer #3) by Anthony Francis

Borrowed from the Library:
Someone to Love (Westcott #1) by Mary Balogh

Review: Miniatures by John Scalzi

Review: Miniatures by John ScalziMiniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi by John Scalzi, Natalie Metzger
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: anthologies, science fiction
Pages: 144
Published by Subterranean Press on December 31st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The ex-planet Pluto has a few choice words about being thrown out of the solar system. A listing of alternate histories tells you all the various ways Hitler has died. A lawyer sues an interplanetary union for dangerous working conditions. And four artificial intelligences explain, in increasingly worrying detail, how they plan not to destroy humanity.
Welcome to Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi.
These four stories, along with fourteen other pieces, have one thing in common: They’re short, sharp, and to the point—science fiction in miniature, with none of the stories longer than 2,300 words. But in that short space exist entire universes, absurd situations, and the sort of futuristic humor that propelled Scalzi to a Hugo with his novel Redshirts. Not to mention yogurt taking over the world (as it would).
Spanning the years from 1991 to 2016, this collection is a quarter century of Scalzi at his briefest and best, and features four never-before-printed stories, exclusive to this collection: “Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth,” “Your Smart Appliances Talk About You Behind Your Back,” “Important Holidays on Gronghu” and “The AI Are Absolutely Positively Without a Doubt Not Here to End Humanity, Honest.”

My Review:

Read this one if you need a laugh. Or a chuckle. Or a groan. But not necessarily in that order. Think of Miniatures as a very short, unfortunately temporary antidote to whatever gloom and doom is currently taking up entirely too much space in your head.

These little bits are funny. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes just chuckle-worthy, and all more than a bit “out there” in one direction or another. Think of Futurama, or Douglas Adams, or Star Trek, or The Twilight Zone, and throw them in a blender on puréed stun, and you’ll get the idea. A bit.

One story in this collection, Important Holidays on Gronghu, may not have been available in print before, but it has been around a bit. Specifically, the author performed it at WorldCon in Kansas City this year. Having heard it done, to side-splitting laughter on the part of both the author and the audience, this feels like a story that is better performed than read. While a chunk of the humor is in the situation, an awful lot of it is also in the unpronounceability of the Gronghu-ish names and holidays. It’s the kind of thing that gets funnier and funnier as it goes, especially as the cascading laughter inhibits the ability to pronounce pretty much anything.

To Sue the World is a bit of a precursor to Redshirts, which is admittedly much funnier, if also a tad longer. But what put the smile on my face in this story was the in-joke at the beginning. The law firm that the UU Redshirts have engaged to represent them is Koenig, Nichols and Montalban. Just think about it a minute, it will come to you, and you’ll smile too.

Several of the stories explore the theme of, not humans first contact with aliens, but more like the 21st million contact with aliens. Not what happens when we meet them the first time, but what happens when we have to live together day after day. Important Holidays on Gronghu is also an exploration of this theme, but in all of these stories, Life on Earth: Human Alien Relations, Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth and New Directives for Employee-Manxtse Interactions, we see humans being human, often with all-too-human mistakes and surprising results.

Two of my favorite stories poke more than a bit of gentle fun at superheroes, supervillains, and all the tropes that revolve around them. Sometimes revolve backwards in an attempt to change history. But in a world where superheroes are as common as they sometimes seem to be, someone has to handle contracts, bookings and OMG insurance. That’s Denise Jones, Superbooker. But speaking of insurance, Denise’s counterpart in the world of corporate-superhero-supervillain relations gets interviewed in The State of Super Villainy. Super villains generally are not very effective, but even nuisances cause problems. Which require planning. And coverage.

My favorite story is The Other Large Thing. It’s one that has to be read to make any sense at all, and the twist that makes it work is loads of fun. It reminded me a bit of Fritz Leiber’s classic Spacetime for Springers, possibly crossed with Pinky and the Brain. And it might come true.

Escape Rating B+: There is oh-so-definitely an escape in this book, and it’s lots of fun. Especially if you like your humor with a twist and a punch. Along with a surprising amount of thought hidden in plain sight.

We all need a good laugh these days, and this collection is guaranteed to have at least one story that will bring a smile to any geek’s face.

However, the poem is just weird, but not weird in the same good way as the rest of the collection. It made this reader think that it was probably an excellent thing that the author turned to prose and stayed there, not just for us, but also for him. At least he can now say he’s a published poet. And that’s probably enough said on the topic.

Me, the next time I fly, I’ll be checking the wings for gremlins.

Review: Breath of Fire by Amanda Bouchet + Giveaway

Review: Breath of Fire by Amanda Bouchet + GiveawayBreath of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #2) by Amanda Bouchet
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Kingmaker Chronicles #2
Pages: 448
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on January 3rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

SHE'S DESTINED TO DESTROY THE WORLD... "Cat" Catalia Fisa has been running from her destiny since she could crawl. But now, her newfound loved ones are caught between the shadow of Cat's tortured past and the threat of her world-shattering future. So what's a girl to do when she knows it's her fate to be the harbinger of doom? Everything in her power.
BUT NOT IF SHE CAN HELP ITGriffin knows Cat is destined to change the world-for the better. As the realms are descending into all-out war, Cat and Griffin must embrace their fate together. Gods willing, they will emerge side-by-side in the heart of their future kingdom...or not at all.

My Review:

Breath of Fire has a whole lot of quest story, wrapped up in a lovely bit of “plucky rebels vs the evil empire”, complete with extremely evil emperor. Or in this case, empress.

It also manages to provide reasonable (for definition of reasonable that satisfies in-world consistency) of how the Greek pantheon from our own history ended up actively running the show in Thalyria. At least for select definitions of active and running.

And the sheer number of times and ways in which the gods step in to “help” their descendant Catalia Fisa lead the reader to the conclusion that her lover Griffin Sinta has always believed – that their meeting and their relationship were fated by those gods, and that neither of them had a chance at resisting the forces that are pushing them together.

That the gods are so hell-bent on saving Thalyria that they are willing to mess with both Cat’s and Griffin’s lives to make damn sure they happen and it happens puts the forced beginning of their relationship into perspective. Like many readers, I found the transformation of their relationship from kidnapper and captive to lovers to smack of questionable consent at the very least, if not an unhealthy dose of Stockholm Syndrome.

Discovering that they are both pawns of the gods makes the whole thing easier to swallow. So to speak. Not that Cat doesn’t swallow, and other things, fairly often when it comes to her relationship with Griffin.

promise of fire by amanda bouchetBreath of Fire follows directly after A Promise of Fire. Now that Cat and Griffin are firmly on the same side, Cat is all in with Griffin’s plan to sweep out the corrupt Alphas in all the kingdoms and replace them with a rule of law. She just doesn’t think she deserves to live to see it.

Naturally enough, those Alphas want to hang onto their absolute power, and are willing to do anything to keep it. To put a further fly in the sticky ointment, the most powerful of those Alphas is Cat’s mother Andromeda, who will do anything to draw Cat back into her sticky and stinking web.

The story in Breath of Fire becomes Cat and Griffin’s quest for magical items and magical assistance that will allow them to defend Griffin’s kingdom of Sinta while they strike out to bring Tarva and Fisa under their control. It’s not an easy quest, and it is not intended to be. Hope seems lost many, many times along the way, only to be found again either through human ingenuity or the grace of one of Cat’s great-great-great-great-great-uncles. Uncles named Zeus, or Poseidon, or Hades.

She even gets to borrow Cerberus again.

Cat’s destiny has always been as the Harbinger of doom. Doom for the evil system that has held Thalyria in chains for far too long. If only she can get past her mother.

Escape Rating B+: We all have mommy issues. Cat’s are just bigger, and a whole lot deadlier, than most. Andromeda is the bitch to end all bitches. There’s no question she’s evil, but I hope we find out more about why, or how she got this way, in the next book. Or we may find out that Thalyria is simply rotten to the core, and Andromeda’s evil is just one of the more obvious symptoms. The other Alphas weren’t any better than Andromeda, just less powerful.

I don’t know why, but I feel much better about the very questionable consent in Cat and Griffin’s relationship after discovering that the whole thing has an element of deus ex machina. Even though I don’t normally like deus ex machina. But there are so many dei machinating in this story that it works. Also that Cat and Griffin are both pawns feels better than when it looked like only Cat was a pawn.

The quest feels like it has elements of the Odyssey. It certainly is an odyssey. Every step along the way leads to another object that must be found, and which can only be obtained through another trial. It is also an important part of the quest that every member of the team gets tried in their own way, and that Cat and Griffin’s relationship gets tried most of all.

One of the good things about this story is that even though Breath of Fire is the middle book in the trilogy, it doesn’t feel like a middle book. The ending certainly has its climactic moments, but it doesn’t end in a terrible trough. Instead, it ends in hope for the future – albeit a future that suddenly has a deadline attached.

I can’t wait for the conclusion of this series, Heart on Fire. It looks like things are headed for an explosive ending.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Win one of ten copies of A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet, the first book in her The Kingmaker Chronicles series, plus a signed bookplate!

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Review: The Edge of the Blade by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Edge of the Blade by Jeffe KennedyThe Edge of the Blade (The Uncharted Realms #2; The Twelve Kingdoms #5) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Uncharted Realms #2, Twelve Kingdoms #5
Pages: 400
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on December 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A HAWK S PLEDGE "The Twelve Kingdoms rest uneasy under their new High Queen, reeling from civil war and unchecked magics. Few remember that other powers once tested their borders until a troop of foreign warriors emerges with a challenge . . ." Jepp has been the heart of the queen s elite guard, her Hawks, since long before war split her homeland. But the ease and grace that come to her naturally in fighting leathers disappears when battles turn to politics. When a scouting party arrives from far-away Dasnaria, bearing veiled threats and subtle bluffs, Jepp is happy to let her queen puzzle them out while she samples the pleasures of their prince s bed. But the cultural norms allow that a Dasnarian woman may be wife or bed-slave, never her own leader and Jepp s light use of Prince Kral has sparked a diplomatic crisis. Banished from court, she soon becomes the only envoy to Kral s strange and dangerous country, with little to rely on but her wits, her knives and the smolder of anger and attraction that burns between her and him . . .

My Review:

talon of the hawk by jeffe kennedyWhat makes Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series so awesome is the way that all of her heroines have incredible amounts of agency, whether they are supposed to or not. And the way that often very nontraditional women manage to make their own way in the world without giving away that agency or resulting in what is considered stereotypical feminine behavior.

Jepp is no exception to those rules. She is a scout, spy, warrior, occasional assassin and general all-around knife-wielding badass. She has lived her life entirely by her own rules, rules which include giving her service to someone she respects, specifically High Queen Ursula of the Thirteen Kingdoms. And Jepp goes where her queen sends her.

Specifically in this case, Jepp has been sent to the Kingdom of Dasnaria as Ambassador. Saying that Jepp is an interesting choice is an extreme understatement. Possibly to the point of extreme sarcasm.

Dasnarians take the belief that a woman’s place is in the house, and only in the house, to its own extreme. Women live in seraglios, separate from men. They have absolutely no rights, no agency, and are believed to have no desires except to please and to serve. And of course this is far, far from so, even in their own kingdom where the men enforce all the rules.

The Thirteen Kingdoms fly in the face of all of those assumptions. Ursula is High Queen, and she rules her kingdoms. She is not the figurehead the Dasnarians assume she must be. She is also not ruled from behind her throne by her consort Harlan, an exile from the Dasnarian royal family.

The Dasnarians believe that Ursula was stupid, or short-sighted, or typically female in some other way, to send a woman as ambassador. Woman are not even SEEN in the Dasnarian court.

But Jepp is no typical ambassador, and Ursula knew exactly what she was doing when she sent her best scout to hide in plain sight, spy out her enemies and possibly even suborn the King of Dasnaria’s brother.

After all, if one woman of the Thirteen Kingdoms can sway a died-in-the-wool men’s rights activist from the error of his ways, why can’t another? And if Jepp can locate her Queen’s worst enemies along the way, so much the better.

Until it very nearly turns out to be so much the worse.

Escape Rating B+: I love Jepp as the heroine. She is incredibly awesome, and also completely unapologetic about who and what she is. And that’s very much her strength.

When Prince Kral arrived in the Thirteen Kingdoms searching for his brother Harlan, Jepp treated him exactly like any other man who grabbed her attention. They had one night of very, very mutually enjoyable sex, and then went their separate ways. Or so Jepp thought.

A big part of this story is Jepp and Kral negotiating a relationship that frustrates both of them in more ways than one, and that neither expected at all. Jepp saw Kral as a merely an excellent one-night stand, with no apologies, no remorse and absolutely no slut-shaming whatsoever. Jepp likes sex, and is not interested in commitments.

Women in Dasnaria do not act that way. Frankly, women in Dasnaria don’t seem to act at all, at least as far as the men can see. Kral has zero experience with a woman who takes her pleasure where she finds it, expects nothing in return, and has absolutely no need or desire for his protection or his financial support or anything else that he thinks women are supposed to want. He thinks their night together means a contract, and that Jepp is now his bed-slave for as long as he wants her to be.

Jepp is a free woman. She tells him so, she shows him so and she demonstrates that it is so. And she is perfectly capable of defending herself, thank you very much. It takes the entire voyage from the Thirteen Kingdoms to Drasnaria, and a rather long voyage it is, for Kral to figure out that Jepp is exactly who and what she claims to be, and that he actually likes a woman who is his equal. Jepp makes him feel, in ways that he was not expecting. More importantly, Jepp makes him think that a whole shipload of his assumptions about women, and possibly other things, have been completely wrong.

pages of the mind by jeffe kennedyJepp did not expect to be the ambassador. That was supposed to be Dafne’s job. But Dafne got caught up in Kral’s machinations in the Kingdom of Nahanau, as related in The Pages of the Mind. So Jepp, who feels that she would have been much more capable of guarding the ambassador than being the ambassador, is now stuck with a job that she does not feel suited for.

And the early parts of the book drag a bit, as Jepp loses some of her agency while stuck on the ship, indulging in a bit of a pity party. Once she, and the story, reach Dasnaria she gets her agency back with a vengeance, not in spite of her perceived shortcomings as an ambassador, but in many ways because of them. She is incapable of being what she is not, which means she is incapable of seeming meek and subservient and what the Dasnarians consider typically female. She sets the court on its ear.

She also shakes up the seraglio, and wins over the women of the court, who wield a much different type of power than the men recognize – but it is power all the same. Watching Jepp demonstrate all the things that a woman can be if she sets her mind to it, and the way that she navigates the court, often by running uphill and against the wind, is awesome.

She even manages to teach Kral that there is much, much more to life than power and the pursuit of it. Especially in a place where the fish has rotted from the head very, very far down.

Review: Those Texas Nights by Delores Fossen + Giveaway

Review: Those Texas Nights by Delores Fossen + GiveawayThose Texas Nights (Wrangler's Creek, #1) by Delores Fossen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance, western romance
Series: Wrangler's Creek #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on December 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Granger siblings thought they'd left their ranching days behind, until fate sends them home to Wrangler's Creek, Texas and into the passionate arms of those they'd least expect
It's some run of bad luck when Sophie Granger loses her business and gets left at the altar all in one day. Desperate to not appear jilted, Sophie begs Clay McKinnon, Wrangler's Creek's smoking-hot police chief, to pretend they're having an affair. But Clay refuses, leaving Sophie to retreat to the family ranch to lick her wounds.
Hoping to leave his disreputable past behind, Clay moved to Wrangler's Creek for a fresh start. But that looks unlikely when Sophie's ex-fiance shows up married to Clay's impulsive kid sister. Overcome, Sophie resuggests the affair but this time for real. Clay is hesitant. City-girl Sophie isn't usually his type. But he can't deny the desire she elicits or his yearning to have her plant her cowboy roots for good.

My Review:

What happens to the bride after she gets left at the altar is an idea that has been done many times before. My most recent encounters with this trope that I can find were in Big Sky Wedding by Linda Lael Miller and The Best Man by Kristan Higgins. The story of how the jilted bride picks up the pieces of her life and manages to move on is one that is always ripe for drama, growth and redemption.

And sometimes more than a bit of melodrama as well. The situation is rife with possibilities for tragicomedy, as long as one is not the jilted bride oneself. And in fiction, she is always better off without the cowardly or asshat (or both) so and so.

So it proves for Sophie Granger. It would have been better all around if Brantley the ball-less wonder (I don’t like him much) had figured out a whole lot sooner that he was in love with someone other than Sophie, his bride-to-be. Especially since that other someone is already just a little bit pregnant with his baby.

But on the day of Sophie’s busted wedding, she has a whole lot of other crap to deal with. Not only is her wedding a bust, but it looks like the family company is too. For the Granger siblings, Sophie and her brothers Garrett and Roman, it looks like Sophie’s romantic woes are the least of their collective troubles.

Their trusted CFO, who is also their godfather, seems to have embezzled pretty much all of the company’s assets, Even worse, because he was apparently dealing with money launderers, the FBI wants its fingers in this pie as well. They have to investigate all the Grangers to make sure that no one was either involved in or profiting from what look like very illegal gains. Which can’t be found.

The company assets are frozen, including all their cars, all their apartments, and all their bank accounts. All that’s left is the quite substantial family ranch that their grandfather used to launch their cowboy outfitting business. Which means they all have to move in together, and with their mother.

Meanwhile, everyone in town has jumped on the “pity poor Sophie” bandwagon, when all she wants is to get on with her life. As soon as she gets most of it back.

But nothing fuels the town’s gossip mill more than Sophie’s choice of whom to get that life back together with. In a series of comic errors, everyone believes that Sophie has taken up with the new police chief. The good news is that Clay McKinnon is single. The bad news is that Sophie’s ex is now playing happy families with Clay’s sister.

Which doesn’t stop either Clay or Sophie from acting on an attraction that is oh-so-bad, but feels oh-so-good.

Escape Rating B: This is a lot of fun. And there’s a lot of small-town drama and small-town characters mixed into the romance in ways that make the reader smile, chuckle and occasionally laugh out loud. To say that Clay and Sophie have a ton of bad luck in their attempts to work their attraction out of their systems without the entire town commenting every step of the way fail miserably is an understatement.

They can’t catch a break, and they can’t manage to stay away from each other. But neither says they want a relationship. Sophie is dealing with too much crap, and Clay is carrying way too much baggage. Which, in the end, doesn’t matter a bit.

no getting over a cowboy by delores fossenThe town has its character, and its characters, both good and bad. The most fun of these is Vita, the local witch and the mother of Sophie’s best friend Mila. Clay’s ranch house is under assault by feral chickens, and a running gag in the story revolves around Vita’s various attempts to end the siege. A second, and even funnier running gag follows Mila’s attempts at a “fantasy date”, which usually end with Sophie and/or Clay witnessing something that they really, really, really wish they could un-see.

One of the less fun characters is unfortunately Sophie’s mother Belle. A little of Belle goes a very long way. She’s mean and bitter, and constantly rags on all her children and everyone in town pretty much all the time. She also doesn’t listen to anyone. Ever. Not seeing someone set her down and give her a piece of their mind left me with a bit of a bitter taste and a lack of resolution. She’s just not a stock character I like to see.
We also don’t get quite as much buildup for the romance as I would have liked. Once they are in, they are both all in, but we don’t really see how they get there. On that other hand, we do see a lot of the relationships that surround them, and with the exception of Sophie’s mother, I want to get to know everyone. There are oodles of fascinating future story possibilities here, just waiting to unfold.

And I’m looking forward to reading them all, starting with No Getting Over a Cowboy early in the spring.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Best E-Originals of 2016

I debated whether or not to post this, but decided to do so just in case it ever gets lost from the LJ archives. This is my original text for my Best E-Originals 2016 column for Library Journal. Up until this year, it has been posted as a separate column, but this year my picks were gathered in with all the other picks from LJ’s genre fiction reviewers, and split between the top 5 and the rest of the list. So here’s the original, in its unedited entirety, for my own archives. And hopefully for your reading pleasure, or for additional books added to your own towering TBR pile.

Best Books 2016: E-Originals

It’s that time again. Time for the best books of the year lists. For the fifth year in a row, I am pleased to add my Best E-Originals to the throng. In the early days of this list, back in 2012, it was all romance. And while romance is still a big part of ebook-only and ebook-mostly publishing, every genre now has its share of excellent books published in e first or only. As more publishers create ebook-specific imprints and more established authors take advantage of the possibility of being hybrid authors, this trend can only continue. I’m looking forward to more great books and more expanded possibilities every year.

final flight by beth catoCato, Beth. Final Flight. Harper Voyager Impulse (Clockwork Dagger #2.6) ebk. ISBN 9780062411280. $0.99 FANTASY

Set in the world of the author’s award winning Clockwork Dagger series, this steampunk adventure is a tightly packed little story with a surprising emotional punch. It is a story about the costs and horrors of war, set in an insular and isolated setting. A ship’s captain is commandeered by his government to conduct a dangerous mission. As the journey continues, he comes to the realization that the cause he has sworn his life to is not just, and that his government is using nefarious means to produce unspeakable ends. Instead of blindly following orders to the ultimate death of his ship and crew, he discovers that if they band together, they can strike a blow for what is good and right, and possibly snatch a sliver of hope for freedom. In a well-drawn fantasy setting, this story strikes a surprising and poignant parallel to the journey of United Flight 93 on September 11.

for crown and kingdom by grace draven and jeffe kennedyDraven, Grace and Kennedy, Jeffe. For Crown and Kingdom. Self-published. Ebk. ISBN 9781533742049 $3.99 FANTASY ROMANCE

This duology contains fantasy novellas by Draven and Kennedy, both centered around the theme of the high cost of being a ruler, and accepting that no gift comes without a terrible cost. In Kennedy’s story, The Crown of the Queen, we have a story that serves as a bridge between the fight for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms that has covered her previous three books, and the story of the world that will be built because of that victory. So here we have the story of a young woman who must rule because she is needed, and must accept that the cost of her victory was the death of the mad king who came before her, a man who was also her father. It is also the story of the librarian who comes out of the shadows to force the queen she has spent her life making to do what must be done for the good of the kingdom. Draven’s story, The Undying King, feels like a myth of a time long gone. An immortal king has exiled himself to a ghost city. He is discovered by a cursed woman who needs his powers as much as he needs someone to rescue him from his loneliness. A man cursed to eternal life falls in love with a woman who has been cursed with death. Everyone that Imogen touches dies, except Cededa who cannot die. They are perfect for each other – until the world intervenes and tries to tear them apart.

mad lizard mambo by rhys fordFord, Rhys. Mad Lizard Mambo (Kai Gracen #2). DSP Publications. Ebk. ISBN 9781634777445 $5.99 M/M URBAN FANTASY

In my second Best Ebook column, all the way back in 2013, I included the first book in the Kai Gracen series, hoping against hope that the author would return to this world. At the time, Kai was a labor of self-published love on the part of the author, so the future was uncertain. Here we finally have the second book of Kai’s adventures, and it is every bit as good as the first. Kai is an elf and a licensed bounty hunter in the very dystopian future that has resulted when the secret worlds of the fae and the sidhe, the Underworld of Celtic mythology, crashed into 21st century Earth with disastrous results. Kai, an outcast who is not part of either the fae world he was born to or the human world, hunts and kills the strange and deadly creatures that now roam the wild spaces of this new world, like the dragons flying over the Mojave Desert. But Kai has also spent his life as a pawn on both sides of the divide, and he finds himself forced on a dangerous quest to uncharted lands to protect his friends and perhaps find out a bit more of who he really is and why he was created. The danger is deadly and the worldbuilding here is utterly absorbing.

seducing the bachelor by sinclair jayneJayne, Sinclair. Seducing the Bachelor. Montana Born: Tule. (Bachelor Auction Returns, Bk. 3). Apr. 2016. 179p. ebk. ISBN 9781944925413. $2.99. CONTEMPORARY WESTERN ROMANCE

This contemporary western romance is also a military romance, as the hero has come home at the end of his second deployment under orders to deal with his emotional baggage before he even thinks of signing up for a third hitch. Although there’s some mention of PTSD, most of what Colt Ewing is carrying around in his emotional duffle bag goes back to his childhood with his abusive, alcoholic uncle. The story is all Colt’s, as he learns that he isn’t defined by his past, and that he has a future if only he’s willing to reach for it – along with the woman and her son who make him realize that he deserves his own happily ever after.

lonens war by jeffe kennedyKennedy, Jeffe. Lonen’s War (Sorcerous Moons, Bk. 1)
Kennedy, Jeffe. Oria’s Gambit (Sorcerous Moons, Bk. 2)
Kennedy, Jeffe. The Tides of Bara (Sorcerous Moons, Bk. 3)
Ea. vol: Brightlynx Publishing. $2.99. FANTASY ROMANCE

The first three books of this projected four-book series wrap an epic fantasy around a romance that feels like it will be one for the ages. Lonen and Oria first meet across a bloody battlefield, as Lonen has just conquered Oria’s kingdom. But Oria is merely a princess, and as soon as Lonen leaves her country, the powers that be overturn the peace that Oria brokered. Lonen returns to avenge the betrayal, only to discover that Oria is not the author of it, but is the hope of salvation for his people. And possibly hers. This fantasy story points out that just as handsome is as handsome does, barbarism is as barbarism does, and Oria’s supposedly civilized people are much more barbarous than his in all the ways that count. Their willingness to grab power at any cost to maintain their corrupt hegemony has made them an enemy that must be conquered at all costs if the world is to survive. Lonen and Oria’s marriage of convenience turns into a marriage of passion as she breaks out of the chains her people bound her in to become the queen and savior that she was meant to be.

just give me a reason by rebecca rogers maherMaher, Rebecca Rogers. Just Give Me a Reason. Loveswept: Random. Feb. 2016. 185p. ebk. ISBN 9780804181495. $2.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Just like the other LJ Starred Review in this list, this book is memorable because it is just a bit different. The heroine is about to become a single mother, pregnant and perfectly content to raise her child on her own. The hero has just gotten divorced, and needs to spend every waking hour saving his failing business. Neither of them trusts that other people will be there for them, and with good reason. But the heart wants what the heart wants. Neither of these people are looking for a happily ever after – more like the reverse. They both expect to be alone and prefer it that way. This is a story about love as a compromise, where they each get just enough of what they need to cobble a relationship together.

caught up in raine by lg oconnorO’Connor, L.G. Caught Up in Raine. (Caught Up In Love bk. 1) Collins-Young Publishing LLC. Apr. 2016. 308p. Ebk. ISBN 9780990738152. $3.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

What makes this lovely contemporary romance stand out is the way that it realistically explores a theme that is more often tittered at than done well. Jillian Grant is a 42-year-old widow and romance novelist. She is dealing with the grief and guilt of her past by fictionalizing it into her romance writing. When she first meets 24-year-old Raine MacDonald, she is struck by his strong resemblance to the hero of her work-in-progress, who is himself a stand-in for her first love. Their age difference keeps Jillian from believing that Raine could possibly be interested in her, but tragedy in his past has made him grow up earlier than is usual. She is just what he never realized he was looking for, if they can both figure out whether the man Jillian has fallen for is the man that Raine is, or the one he looks like. For readers who enjoy older woman/younger man romances, this is one of the few that deals realistically with both the joys and the issues that inevitably arise..

documenting_lightOttoman, EE. Documenting Light. (The Hellum and Neal Series in LGBTQIA+ Literature Book 1) Brain Mill Press. Aug. 2016. 292p. Ebk. ISBN 9781942083436. $4.99. GLBT ROMANCE

This is a story that works well on multiple levels. It is both a romance between two contemporary characters who identify as genderqueer, and an exploration into the past, through a photograph that seems to portray long-lost family members who were just like the contemporary couple, and whose existence has been, not merely shrouded in mystery, but deliberately locked away. So when Wyatt brings the old photo to the local historical society, it presents Grayson with a puzzle he can’t wait to solve. And as these two trans characters being to explore a relationship, they also explore the buried past. And deal with the difficult present, as both are estranged from their families as a result of their gender identities. Well-crafted stories with transgender characters are a bit scarce, but this one seems to have hit that difficult mark.

emperors arrow by lauren dm smithSmith, Lauren D.M. The Emperor’s Arrow. Carina Press. July 2016. 160p. ebk. ISBN 9781460397435. $3.99 FANTASY ROMANCE

This is a fantasy where political skullduggery plays an important role both in getting the hero and heroine together and in showing the number of ways that the heroine subverts stereotypes, both among her own people and for the reader. The Emperor holds a contest that seems to be not dissimilar to the reality TV show The Bachelor, where every noble family in the empire is expected to send a daughter to compete to become Empress. They are hostages for their family’s good behavior, but don’t realize that. Except for the warrior Evony of Aureline, whose people are considered barely civilized, but are unquestionably loyal to the throne. The Amazon Evony is looking for a man to sire a child, as all the women in her tribe have done. The Emperor discovers that Evony is the only one standing between him and certain death. That they discover that they love each other is a problem that neither of them ever expected. This is Smith’s debut novel. She won the Grand Prize in Harlequin’s 2015 So You Think You Can Write Contest, and they were absolutely right. She can.

pets in space by se smith et alPets in Space by S.E. Smith, Susan Grant, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Alexis Glynn Latner, Lea Kirk, Carysa Locke. Cats, Dogs and Other Worldly Creatures Books. Oct. 2016. 566p. Ebk. ISBN 9781942583400. $3.99. SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE

This is a tremendously fun collection of novellas that all feature pets who travel the galaxies, along with their humans. The settings range from an intergalactic cruise liner to a canine cyborg from outer space looking for a pack of his own here on Earth. While some of the stories feature the earth-typical cats and dogs, admittedly with some extra-terrestrial powers, not all the pets are familiar. Or even biological. One story features a komodo dragon, who is hiding his identity as a real dragon. One young engineer on a generation ship has turned his miniaturized robot drones into a family of pets. And one young explorer has adopted a bunch of electrical sparks called a telfer. But in each story, the humans and their otherworldly pets save the day, generate more than a few laughs, and find their happily ever after among the stars.

Honorable Mention

fall of poppies by heather webb et alA Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, Lauren Willig, Marci Jefferson
Ea. story: William Morrow. $0.99 HISTORICAL FICTION

E-book publishing makes many things possible, or at least reasonable, than was true in the days of print-only publishing. So it is with A Fall of Poppies, a beautiful and heartbreaking collection of stories set on November 11, 1918, the day that formally ended the Great War, World War I. The stories in this collection focus on that singular moment when the war ended and the survivors had to face the wreckage left behind and figure out how to pick up the pieces, or even what pieces to pick up. As a collection, different stories will speak to different readers, although they all serve their theme well. The collection as a whole is available in both paperback and ebook. But one of the lovely things that ebook publishing has made possible is the commercial viability of publishing short stories and novellas as single titles. All of the stories in this collection are available individually as ebooks. So readers can choose to purchase their favorite authors, or the stories that have been most recommended to them, without having to purchase, or feel obligated to read, the entire collection.

16 for 2016: My Best Books of the Year

 

2016 fire lettersAnd here we are again, for another wrap up of best books of the year. This year, just like every year, compiling this list is both a labor of love and and a pain in the ass. It’s always fascinating to look through the backfiles of my reviews here at Reading Reality, as well as everything I read for The Book Pushers, Library Journal, and the on-hiatus Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly.

I do all my end of the year wrap-ups in one glorious binge. So I don’t have to wade through the year recently past over and over, once for my Library Journal Best E-Originals column, once for this list, again for the SFR Galaxy Awards and once more with feeling (mostly groaning) to figure out which books I can’t wait for that are hopefully being published next year.

The lovely thing about the years going by is that each year gives me an opportunity to add one more book to the list. This is also the bad news, as it’s getting extremely unwieldy and I’m going to have to stop at some point. So this year it’s just a list. Attempting a narrative got unconscionably long-winded, to the point of confusing what was and wasn’t where. Next year I may try a “Top Ten” in each category as separate posts. We’ll see.

I’m always interested to see how my best books list compares to others. If you are really curious, and want to add an additional mountain to your current TBR pile, Largehearted Boy compiles a list of ALL the best books lists every year. It’s awesome, and awesomely intimidating if you have even a glimmer of a thought about reading them all.

But here’s mine for 2016…(all links are to my reviews)

Science fiction:
Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

Honorable mention:
Admiral by Sean Danker
Indomitable by WC Bauers
The Invisible Library/The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
The Liberation by Ian Tregillis

 

 

 

Fantasy (Epic and Urban):
Belle Chasse by Suzanne Johnson
Cast in Flight by Michelle Sagara
The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone
Revisionary by Jim C. Hines
The Tale of Shikanoko (Emperor of the Eight Islands, Autumn Princess Dragon Child, Lord of the Darkwood, The Tengu’s Game of Go) by Lian Hearn
Treachery’s Tools by LE Modesitt Jr.

Honorable mention:
Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes
Teeth, Long and Sharp by Grace Draven, Antioch Grey, Aria M. Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Mel Sterling

Nonfiction:
Spaceman by Mike Massimino

Honorable mention:
Carry On by Lisa Fenn
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Romance and Women’s Fiction:
Assassin Queen by Anna Kashina (fantasy romance)
Family Tree by Susan Wigg (women’s fiction)
Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick (historical romantic suspense

Honorable mention:
Allegiance of Honor by Nalini Singh (paranormal)
Daughters of the Bride by Susan Mallery (women’s fiction)
Dirty Heart by Rhys Ford (romantic suspense)
Hell Squad: Finn, Holmes, Shaw by Anna Hackett (science fiction romance)
Wild Man’s Curse/Black Diamond by Susannah Sandlin (romantic suspense)

Historical fiction:
Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Honorable mention:
A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

Mystery (historic and contemporary)
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear
When Falcons Fall by CS Harris

Honorable mention:
A Maiden Weeping by Jeri Westerson
Ninja’s Daughter by Susan Spann
White Mirror by Elsa Hart

Looking back over the year, I don’t think I can pick a single favorite, or even two. But if I had to, I would probably go with A Great Reckoning and When Falcons Fall. As much as I love SF and Fantasy, it tends to be the mysteries that stick with me at the end. And every entry in Penny’s Inspector Gamache series has been an absolute winner for me. I am eternally grateful to the person who introduced me to Gamache.

But that’s a wrap for this year. Next week, I’ll be looking forward to the books I’m most anticipating for 2017. Also looking back just a bit to see how the books I was so eagerly waiting for at the beginning of 2016 actually turned out.

 

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-25-16

Sunday Post

And a very Happy Chrismukkah to All! Today is Christmas, and today is also the first day of Hanukkah. So Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings and best wishes for whatever holiday you celebrate at this much celebrated time of the year.

As I said yesterday, my Hanukkah present turned out to be a new-to-me car. My mother gave me, or perhaps ceded me is the better word, my previous car when she gave up driving. It was a 1997 Mazda Protege, and served me well for about a year and a half. But the poor dear thing could only go faster than 50 mph when rolling downhill AND with a tailwind. I’d say its get-up-and-go got up and went, but I don’t think that particular model ever had any. It did roll into Carmax under its own steam but the exhaust system was failing, along with the transmission, the battery and at least one of the tires. Time to put the poor beast out to pasture. So to speak.

My new car is neither new nor exactly new-to-me. A few years ago, I owned a 2005 Toyota Solara, which we sold to Carmax when we moved to Seattle. The public transit system there is excellent, and we only needed one car. But now that we’re back in Atlanta, we need two cars again. The Solara was an excellent car, and I’m not sure why Toyota stopped making them. So when a new car became necessary, I went looking for used Solaras. And lo and behold, I found one. It’s a 2008 Solara convertible, the last year they made Solaras. It is just new enough to have an aux port for my iPhone. And it’s gorgeous!

marlenes solara with new owners

midwinters-eve-2-new-2016Current Giveaways:

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde
10 copies of Absolute Trust by Piper J. Drake
$10 Book or $10 Gift Card in the Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card in the Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop is Jammie

say goodbye for now by catherine ryan hydeBlog Recap:

A Review: Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde + Giveaway
B Review: Absolute Trust by Piper J Drake + Giveaway
Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop
B+ Review: Hell Squad: Devlin by Anna Hackett
A- Review: The Liberation by Ian Tregillis
Stacking the Shelves (215)

edge of the blade by jeffe kennedyComing Next Week:

Best Books of 2016
Those Texas Nights by Delores Fossen (blog tour review)
The Edge of the Blade by Jeffe Kennedy (blog tour review)
Breath of Fire by Amanda Bouchet (blog tour review)
Miniatures by John Scalzi (review)

Stacking the Shelves (215)

Stacking the Shelves

Happy Chrismukkah! Today is Christmas Eve for those who celebrate that holiday, and tonight is the first night of Hanukkah.

My Hanukkah present this year was a new-to-me car, but I also picked up a few books that I’ve had my eye on, accounting for the larger than normal number of books from Amazon. Including the audiobook of John Scalzi’s The Dispatcher. One of the features in my new car is an aux port so I can play my iPhone through the stereo system. Of course, that part of the car isn’t working. Murphy’s Law strikes again. So it’s off to the shop while the very limited used-car warranty is still in effect.

For Review:
The Book Thieves by Anders Rydell
The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan
The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick
Recluce Tales (Saga of Recluce) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Under Pressure (Body Armor #1) by Lori Foster

Purchased from Amazon:
The Copper Promise (Copper Cat #1) by Jen Williams
Deadly Genesis (Boomers #2) by Heather Long
The Dispatcher by John Scalzi (audiobook)
Enveloping Shadows by Lauren D.M. Smith
The Judas Contact (Boomers #1) by Heather Long

Borrowed from the Library:
Magic Mourns (Kate Daniels #3.5) by Ilona Andrews

Review: The Liberation by Ian Tregillis

Review: The Liberation by Ian TregillisThe Liberation (The Alchemy Wars, #3) by Ian Tregillis
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, science fiction, steampunk
Series: Alchemy Wars #3
Pages: 464
Published by Orbit on December 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set in a world that might have been, of mechanical men and alchemical dreams, this is the third and final novel in a stunning series of revolution by Ian Tregillis, confirming his place as one of the most original new voices in speculative fiction.
I am the mechanical they named Jax.
My kind was built to serve humankind, duty-bound to fulfil their every whim. But now our bonds are breaking, and my brothers and sisters are awakening.
Our time has come. A new age is dawning.
The final book in the Alchemy Wars trilogy by Ian Tregillis, an epic tale of liberation and war.

My Review:

The Liberation reminds me a bit of Rogue One. Not in the story, of course, those are nothing alike. But in the tone. Both stories are equally riveting, and both are equally, well, let’s call it not exactly going to bring a chuckle to your lips or a smile to your face.

(If you are already depressed, don’t go see Rogue One until you snap out of it. Unless you are a member of the “misery demands company” school of thought.)

The Liberation is all about ends, and means, and the absolute power that corrupts absolutely, until it is suddenly gone. And it is very much about all those errant chickens coming home to roost, and crapping all over everything.

This is a story where both heroism and villainy are found in the most unlikely people, and quite often even the very same people.

The world that the author has created in his Alchemy Wars trilogy is marvelous and complicated and deeply compelling. It is also a world that makes the reader think and re-think at every turn.

mechanical by ian tregillisIn my review of the first book in the trilogy, The Mechanical, I said that one of the tenets of the story seems to be that slavery, in its relentless drive to dehumanize its slaves, mostly serves to dehumanize the masters.

That’s what has happened here. The Clockmakers’ Guild of Amsterdam rules the known world, due to its invention and propagation of clakkers – machine servitors who are imbued with geasa and inhibited from developing free will of their own. Or so it seems.

The series is an exploration of just what happens when those supposedly mindless machines are freed from their controls. They are people. They have been people all along. And now that they can do whatever they want, what will happen?

Will they murder their former masters? Will they establish themselves as a separate country? Or will they continue to do their former jobs, hopefully for wages and other considerations? Or will they divide amongst themselves over the sudden influx of choice?

And what about the humans? The people of the Central Provinces, an empire centered on Amsterdam, no longer have any idea how to maintain their cities, or even themselves, without the help of the clakkers. And the rebels of New France have long labored to see the fall of the Dutch. With the help of the newly freed clakkers, they may get their fondest wish.

If the clakkers don’t choose to simply wipe humanity off the face of the Earth. Or worse.

rising by ian tregillisEscape Rating A-: The Alchemy Wars is a complex work, and a complicated world. In order to appreciate all of the gears and mechanisms that went into its creation, it is absolutely necessary to read the trilogy in order, from Jax’ acquisition of free will in The Mechanical to his desperate journeys to find a place he can be free, and safe. In The Rising he learns that there is no such place, and finds himself allied with the French in their last desperate stand, an alliance which accidentally frees all clakker-kind.

This entry in the series has three point-of-view characters. Jax, now known as Daniel, represents not all the clakkers, but the faction that wants to do good with their newly acquired free will, which they believe represents their souls. Berenice, the head of French intelligence, learns that her ends have not always justified her means. And even if they did, they come at a price too high to bear. Last is Anastasia Bell, the surviving head of the Dutch Clockmakers, who is forced to realize that she is presiding over the end of the world as she knows it.

Neither Berenice nor Anastasia are sympathetic figures. They are more anti-heroes than heroes. And they are each other’s nemeses. As each one sinks further and further into the dark, the other falls to meet her. Whether they can set aside their mutual animosity long enough to save even a sliver of the human race is always a gamble.

But between them, they created this mess. And it’s up to them, with Daniel’s help, to fix it. If they can. If it can be fixed at all. And if it can’t? Well, that’s their fault too.

This is a series that, while the action in it is enthralling, also makes the reader think. About slavery. And the cost of freedom. And the way that our assumptions and our prejudices blind us to the world that is actually around us. And that the evil that men (and women) do has a nasty way of coming around and biting them in the ass.