Review: The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

Review: The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil GaimanThe View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 544
Published by William Morrow on May 31st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

An enthralling collection of nonfiction essays on a myriad of topics—from art and artists to dreams, myths, and memories—observed in Neil Gaiman’s probing, amusing, and distinctive style.
An inquisitive observer, thoughtful commentator, and assiduous craftsman, Neil Gaiman has long been celebrated for the sharp intellect and startling imagination that informs his bestselling fiction. Now, The View from the Cheap Seats brings together for the first time ever more than sixty pieces of his outstanding nonfiction. Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and the title piece, at turns touching and self-deprecating, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards in Hollywood.
Insightful, incisive, witty, and wise, The View from the Cheap Seats explores the issues and subjects that matter most to Neil Gaiman—offering a glimpse into the head and heart of one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and influential artists of our time.

My Review:

“Fiction is the lie that tells the truth” – This is a quote that Neil Gaiman seems to have adapted from Albert Camus’ version: “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

A good bit of this collection is about the creation of that fiction, not just his own, but also other people’s. So we get a look into how the writer does his craft, but even more of a peek at what the writer thinks about other writers’ books that he has known and loved. And sometimes that’s about the books, and sometimes that’s about the writer, and most often it’s about the love.

As a librarian, I have to say that the entire first section of this collection just warms the proverbial cockles of my book-loving and book-pushing heart. Because in it, Gaiman basically lays out his love of books and bookstores and libraries for the entire world to see. And his expression of that love is absolutely lyrical. It’s a paean to libraries and a clarion call to save them all wrapped into one beautiful ball.

He also talks a lot about the books that shaped him, both as a person and as a writer. If the “Golden Age of science fiction is twelve” or thirteen, as the age varies depending on what story he is telling, then Gaiman was exposed at just the right moment. But even if you are not a lover of science fiction, his story of escaping into books as a child will resonate for any adult who has spent their life escaping from it in books. We all started out young.

As a writer, Gaiman began as a journalist (not unlike his friend, the late, much lamented Terry Pratchett) and moved from writing for other people to writing the stories that, as he says, he couldn’t keep inside. And the stories that he wanted to read. Along the way, he passed through comic books, fantasy, science fiction and horror. As many of the languages of myth-making as he could manage. In various pieces of this collection, there are essays that speak to one or more of those interests, with digressions into movies and music.

But whatever he is, or was, writing about (or in some cases speaking about) the author’s voice shines through. And that love. Love for the genre, love for the medium, and especially love for the power of words and the worlds they create.

Escape Rating A: Because this is a collection of essays and whatnot, I don’t actually need to read the entire thing to write a credible review. But I had so much fun reading it that I could not make myself stop.

Also, I recently listened to the beginning of Neverwhere, read by the author. As I read The View From the Cheap Seats, I could hear the author’s voice in my head, especially reading the speeches. It’s a very distinct authorial voice, and a surprisingly excellent voice for reading.

(Some authors are notoriously bad at reading their own work. Gaiman is emphatically not one of them.)

trigger warning by neil gaimanAs an essay collection, while I wouldn’t say that it is uneven the way that last year’s short story collection, Trigger Warning, was, I would say that the appeal of the collection will depend on how closely the reader’s interests match the author’s.

Anyone who loves books and reading AT ALL will enjoy the first section, Some Things I Believe. Because the author believes A LOT about the joy of reading to move us and the importance of bookstores and libraries and of simply READING.

But other parts of the collection reflect different tastes and interests. As someone who reads a lot of science fiction and fantasy, the essays in those sections, including the speeches, had plenty of resonance for this reader. The stories within the stories, the tropes that are referred to, the people being honored, are all ones that I am not just familiar with, but frequently also love. And occasionally have my own stories about.

And his writing about science fiction and fantasy and being both a reader and a writer echo my own experiences in the SF fan community.

His speech about Tulip Mania as it relates to the Comic Book Industry (Good Comics and Tulips: A Speech) should probably be read by anyone interested in the economics of fads and/or the bursting of false-demand economic bubbles.

At the same time, the sections where I’m not as invested, aren’t as interesting to me. My taste in music is different from the author’s. So while I find his essays on music interesting, they don’t move me in the same way that the ones on SF and fantasy do. They are excellently written, but don’t touch a place in my heart.

But so much of this collection does.

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

Memorial Day 2016

civil war marker

This Memorial Day, as for every Memorial Day and Veterans Day, the village where I live has posted memorial markers along all of the major streets in town to commemorate those related to this place who fought in the service of this country, and died either in conflict or later, after their service was done.

While I expected to see markers for those who served after this place was founded (1876), I recently discovered that there are few markers from even earlier wars, as seen in the above photograph. There is also a marker for someone who fought in the Revolutionary War, at least according to the list published by the village, but the marker itself doesn’t show the war.

Because this whole thing fascinates me, I finally looked up the process for getting one of these markers. A family member for any deceased service member, if that family member now lives here, can get a marker for their relative. Considering the rules on establishing both kinship and the proof of service, I do wonder how much paperwork it took to get that Revolutionary War marker placed. The Civil War marker was probably quite a bit easier.

Long story short, I could get one for my father. I live here, and he served in the Army Air Corps after World War II. He was still in high school during the war. Admittedly, he didn’t serve long. Not that anything terrible happened, and in any other branch of the service it wouldn’t have mattered, but my dad, who had 20/20 vision, had no depth perception. He could fly the plane just fine, but he couldn’t land very well on visual flight. The story was that he never dealt the runway the “glancing blow” that you were supposed to, but rather dropped the plane onto the tarmac from just slightly too high off the ground. Planes don’t bounce terribly well, and flight instructors are not very happy with being bounced – especially over and over by the same person. He was honorably discharged in less than a year. In 1946, the services didn’t need more people, they had plenty of WWII veterans returning who found civilian life not quite what they remembered.

But I could get him a marker. And I’ve thought about it. But in order to do so, I’d have to make him a test case. (He might like that, he did always love tilting at windmills). All the markers are crosses, and the regulations state that “Markers will be constructed in a uniform fashion.” That uniform fashion is a cross. The use of this religious symbol presumes that all the honorees have been and will always be Christian. My father was a Jew. And he served. But for him, a cross is not an honor. It’s a denial.

On this Memorial Day, and every Memorial Day, it is important to remember, and to honor ALL who served.

memorial day duluth

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-29-16

Sunday Post

Last week’s schedule suffered epic fail. I had really been looking forward to reading Jane Steele, and I came out of it extremely disappointed. I also came out of it extremely fast. The story is in the first-person singular, and the voice of the main character did not resonate with me at all. Since my resolve last week was to only read books I really, really wanted to read, I picked up the copy of Treachery’s Tools by L.E. Modesitt, even though I can’t publish the review until October. But I’m much happier, and able to go in to this week’s books with a much lighter heart. And I can tell myself I’m working ahead. Way, WAY ahead.

But I really am couple of days ahead, since I published one of Amy’s marvelous guest reviews on Friday, and tomorrow is the Memorial Day holiday here in the U.S.

lifeabeachhop3Current Giveaways:

$10 Book or $10 Gift Card in the Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop (ends TONIGHT!)
$10 Book or $10 Gift Card in the Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop
Texas West handbag and wallet set courtesy of Victoria Vane

Winner Announcements:

The winners of the Blue Apron Giveaway are Bonny B. and Taylor C.

undiscovered by anna hackettBlog Recap:

B- Review: The Pages of the Mind by Jeffe Kennedy
Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop
B+ Review: Saddle Up by Victoria Vane + Giveaway
B+ Review: Undiscovered by Anna Hackett
B+ Guest Review: The Shadow Matrix by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Stacking the Shelves (186)

view from the cheap seats by neil gaimanComing Next Week:

Memorial Day 2016
The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman (blog tour review)
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (review)
He Will Be My Ruin by K.A. Tucker (blog tour review)
The Yid by Paul Goldberg (review)

Stacking the Shelves (186)

Stacking the Shelves

I was ecstatic when Treachery’s Tools popped up on Edelweiss this week. the Imager Portfolio is one of my absolute favorite fantasy series, and I can’t resist a new book in it. So much so that when my Friday book just failed, I started Treachery’s Tools that night. In spite of not being able to post the review until OCTOBER. I couldn’t hold back, and had to read it now. And it’s every bit as much fun as I hoped.

Lucky for me, my friend Amy left me a couple of guest reviews to use “whenever” I needed one. I needed one this week so I could read something awesome!

For Review:
The Daredevil Snared (Adventurers Quartet #3) by Stephanie Laurens
Downtown Devil (Sins in the City #2) by Cara McKenna
Lord of the Darkwood (Tale of Shikanoko #3) by Lian Hearn
Rediscovering Raine by L.G. O’Connor
The Tengu’s Game of Go (Tale of Shikanoko #4) by Lian Hearn
Treachery’s Tools (Imager Portfolio #10) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Purchased from Amazon:
Legends: Fifteen Tales of Sword and Sorcery by K.J. Colt, David Adams, Lindsay Buroker, Michael G. Manning, C. Greenwood, Daniel Arenson, Megg Jensen, Michael J. Ploof , Morgan Rice, Nick Webb, M.S. Verish, Annie Bellet and K.F. Breene


Guest Review: The Shadow Matrix by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Guest Review: The Shadow Matrix by Marion Zimmer BradleyThe Shadow Matrix by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Darkover #25
Pages: 556
Published by DAW Books on September 1st 1997
Publisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

After spending her youth in the Terran Empire, Margaret Alton returns to Darkover, the planet of her birth. There she discovers she has the Alton Gift--forced rapport and compulsion--one of the strongest and most dangerous of the inherited Laran gifts of the telepathic Comyn--the ruling families of Darkover. And even as she struggles to control her newfound powers, Margaret finds herself falling in love with the Regent to the royal Elhalyn Domain, a man she has been forbidden to marry, for their alliance would irrevocably alter the power balance of their planet!

Guest Review by Amy:

Margaret Alton, now holder of the Shadow Matrix, must return to Darkover and learn how to control and use her newly-enhanced laran gifts. But the culture of the Towers is difficult for her; she feels like an outcast, and would much rather be with her beau, Mikhail Lanart-Hastur. Mikhail, for his part, has been handed a difficult job–test the remaining sons of the mad Elhalyn clan, to see if any of them are suitable to be the next king. It’s a small comfort that the Elhalyn king is a figurehead; the real power lies in the Hasturs. The last adult woman of the clan is clearly insane, and under the influence of a rogue laran user, but Mikhail soldiers on, trying to do the job his uncle tasked him with as the Regent of the Elhalyns. He’d much rather be with Margaret–but that alliance has been forbidden, as it would tip the balance of power on the Comyn Council, and that just won’t do. As both of them struggle with doing what they must do, they begin hearing voices in their dreams, voices that would send them on an adventure far, far into Darkover’s past. Their return from that adventure will change the future of Darkover.

darkover landfall by marion zimmer bradleyEscape Rating: B+. I’ll say it right up front: If you’ve not read a lot of other Darkover novels before this one, The Shadow Matrix will be almost incomprehensible to you. There’s backstory a-plenty: the politics of the Comyn, the madness of the Elhalyn family, laran and everything that goes with that, the Darkovans’ experiences with the Terrans, Lew Alton himself, the Shadow Matrix, and so, so much more. Names and terminology are thrown around willy-nilly, and you’re supposed to just know all that stuff. Darkover Landfall or even Thendara House are much better entry points for the Darkover novice.

With that caveat, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover very much is the definition of “epic fantasy milieu,” for me. The world and its people are rich and complex, and every action, every plot line, has multiple complicated angles to it, that the reader can really sink their teeth into. I don’t read a lot of fantasy, really, as I’m pretty fussy about how much brain-power I’ll put into my relaxing reading, and Darkover can soak up a lot of it. But Darkover can capture me, in a way that some other fantasy worlds just don’t, and for me the capturing element is that the culture of Darkover, static for a thousand years, is facing a tectonic shift, with the return of the Terrans to Darkover–suddenly, Darkover isn’t the only world there is, and Earth’s interest in the lost colony is not entirely benign. Darkover’s rulers must cope with this, and deal with the introduction of technologies that have never been seen on Darkover.

For me, this struggle of a society in flux almost echoes the one that our own society is dealing with. Marion Zimmer Bradley died in September of 1999, but in so many ways, her Darkover works portend the struggle of a society trying to learn new things that fly in the face of generations of tradition, and struggling to learn new technologies, and new ways of thinking. Consider this: When I was a child in the 1970s, I could possibly tell you a very small list of facts about a couple of countries other than my own–we did a brief survey of the history of Japan, one year, as I recall. But in the 21st century, our world has gotten so much smaller: I not only have access to all the information I could want and more, I can also connect with someone who is living there without too much difficulty, and learn it from them. That sudden shift is the kind of struggle Darkover’s leadership must deal with–and it keeps Regis Hastur up at night, for sure!

In The Shadow Matrix, Zimmer Bradley sends two young people off on an adventure that will solve one of Darkover’s great unsolved mysteries, and let them meet figures from Darkover’s distant past. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but along the way to begin that adventure, we finally get to understand more about the Elhalyns, something I couldn’t quite wrap my head around in my earlier Darkover reads. The love story between our two protagonists is very well-executed, though stereotypically, for quite a lot of the book, Mikhail has to be the “strong one,” and reassure his more-frail fair maiden Margaret that things will be okay. This strikes a bit of an out-of-tune note for me, as Margaret is an accomplished scholar in her own right. It’s not that she’s a naturally faint-hearted woman, at all; it’s just that, with her growing powers, she’s thrown into circumstances that she does not understand or want. Mikhail is a very old-school Darkovan man, and tut-tuts about it with her. Surprisingly to me, this doesn’t anger her.

When our couple returns from their time apart to the Comyn Castle in Thendara, they’re immediately embroiled in the political intrigues of the Comyn. Margaret, having no background for this, spends time with her mentor’s wife, who has recently come to Darkover to see her. Mikhail, as Elhalyn Regent, is struggling with the unfortunate fact that none of the children of the clan are at all suitable to sit as the King, and he does not want to do it himself! Meanwhile, the lovely (but vapid and scheming) Gisela Aldaran is trying to plot her way into a marriage with Mikhail, as she and her family thinks it would benefit the outcast Aldaran family to be closer to the throne. It’s all very normal (for Darkover), until the height of the Midwinter Ball, when a deep voice suddenly booms out in their mind, and Mikhail and Margaret begin their grand adventure. In true epic-fantasy fashion, it takes us well over 300 pages to get to the beginning of the “real” story!

This book is very much an “amazing adventure.” A lot of my reading has to do with ordinary people, who do interesting things–like, fall for each other–but in this book, we have epic people, doing epically awesome things, that can reshape a world. It’s a different kind of escape, to be sure, but Darkover is a world you can easily escape to, and enjoy.

Marlene’s Note: I discovered Darkover in the mid 1970s, and read (and occasionally re-read) the entire series available in the 1970s and 1980s. At the time, I loved them. The world creation is both completely absorbing and felt realistic. It felt like something that could have happened. The culture clash mirrored society in the 1960s and 1970s, and still does today. Those themes are evergreen. But after Zimmer Bradley’s death I became aware of the documented history of child physical and sexual abuse that occurred in her household, and which she certainly enabled and likely participated in. Knowing now what I did not know at the time, I have a difficult time separating the art from the artist.

For a summation of the case and sources for more information, see Jim C. Hines post titled “Rape, Abuse, and Marion Zimmer Bradley”

Review: Undiscovered by Anna Hackett

Review: Undiscovered by Anna HackettUndiscovered by Anna Hackett
Formats available: ebook
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #1
Pages: 202
Published by Anna Hackett on May 22nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

One former Navy SEAL. One dedicated archeologist. One secret map to a fabulous lost oasis.
Finding undiscovered treasures is always daring, dangerous, and deadly. Perfect for the men of Treasure Hunter Security. Former Navy SEAL Declan Ward is haunted by the demons of his past and throws everything he has into his security business—Treasure Hunter Security. Dangerous archeological digs – no problem. Daring expeditions – sure thing. Museum security for invaluable exhibits – easy. But on a simple dig in the Egyptian desert, he collides with a stubborn, smart archeologist, Dr. Layne Rush, and together they get swept into a deadly treasure hunt for a mythical lost oasis. When an evil from his past reappears, Declan vows to do anything to protect Layne.
Dr. Layne Rush is dedicated to building a successful career—a promise to the parents she lost far too young. But when her dig is plagued by strange accidents, targeted by a lethal black market antiquities ring, and artifacts are stolen, she is forced to turn to Treasure Hunter Security, and to the tough, sexy, and too-used-to-giving-orders Declan. Soon her organized dig morphs into a wild treasure hunt across the desert dunes.
Danger is hunting them every step of the way, and Layne and Declan must find a way to work together…to not only find the treasure but to survive.

My Review:

Somewhere, in the dim, dark reaches of the Phoenix Brothers’ family tree, lurk Declan Ward and Layne Rush. Not that having those two as ancestors would be a bad thing AT ALL. It’s much more that having met these two contemporary heroes, it’s impossible not to see their descendants thriving hundreds of years later, and carrying on the family business – treasure hunting.

The situation reminds me of the early years of Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz’s Arcane Society series, along with her Harmony books as Jayne Castle. I just knew that someday, somehow, those two series were going to connect – as they eventually did.

at stars end by anna hackettSo thinking of Declan and Layne as 21st Century versions of Dathan Phoenix and Dr. Eos Rai from At Star’s End doesn’t seem all that implausible. But every bit as much fun.

The story is a familiar one. Dr. Layne Rush is a professional treasure hunter – well, not exactly. Rush is an archaeologist who seems to have a knack for finding buried treasure – and recently dead bodies where she’s expecting to find only centuries-dead ones. Her dig is investigating a previously undiscovered tomb, and is trying to determine exactly who is buried there, as well as what might have been buried with them. When she is attacked and her discoveries stolen by a gang of well-armed thugs, her university calls in some security experts to keep her, her team and their finds safe.

Enter Declan Ward and the men and women of Treasure Hunter Security. Declan’s father is also a well-known historian, and his mother is a famous and intrepid treasure hunter. Declan himself is an ex-SEAL, and he heads a team of men and women who learned how to fight and survive in some of the deadliest places on Earth, against some of the nastiest people that you never want to meet.

Including Rush’s attacker. Anders is a former SAS officer with a penchant for torture and murder. He likes to toy with his victims, and he kills for fun. It seems as if stealing treasures is just a way of funding his sadistic life, and it puts him in faraway places where policing isn’t top notch and a few people from the lowest classes won’t be missed – not even when they turn up dead and dismembered.

Declan and Anders have met before. Declan exposed Anders’ depravity, but was too busy trying to save his victims to gather enough evidence to prosecute the bastard. Now Declan feels responsible for every fresh kill. He wants to get Anders and save Rush.

Mostly he just wants Rush. So Declan and Layne find themselves on a hunt for a long-lost treasure, with Anders and his goons hot on their heels.

It’s a race for survival – with love, fame and fortune if they win, and death in the desert if they lose. In this case, winning really isn’t just everything, it really is the only thing.

Escape Rating B+: There are a lot of similarities to the first Phoenix Adventures story, At Star’s End. There is also more than a bit of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series in here as well. And for those who miss that series, the callback to The Last Camel Died At Noon brings back some terrific memories. The whole story along with the series titles, also reminds me more than a bit of the Uncharted video game series. Nathan Drake would fit right into Declan Ward’s crew.

In both Undiscovered and The Last Camel Died at Noon, the search is for a mythical lost Egyptian city that is supposed to be filled with treasure. And turns out to be rather different from what the seekers believe they are seeking. Along with a whole lot of interesting debate about who the ancient Egyptian gods really were and what their stories meant.

There was a moment in Undiscovered where I feared that the author might take the easy way out and make Rush’s professionally jealous male colleague into either the scapegoat or the villain. I was glad to see that not happen. Also grateful that his jealousy was purely professional.

On that other hand, Anders comes off as “bwahaha” evil. He seems to be evil for evil’s sake. And there is something about the way that he revels in his evilness that came off as more SF monster than sociopathic human. Your mileage may vary.

uncharted by anna hackettBut this story is all Declan and Layne. He keeps her alive on an unexpected desert trek, and she pulls her own weight AND figures out all the puzzles. He knows just enough to provide the occasional clue, or more often just an intelligent listener to bounce things off of. But the archaeological mystery is all her show. As it should be.

I’m looking forward to meeting (and falling for) the rest of Declan’s team in the upcoming books in this series. Next up is his brother Callum’s story in Uncharted, and I can hardly wait.

Review: Saddle Up by Victoria Vane + Giveaway

Review: Saddle Up by Victoria Vane + GiveawaySaddle Up (Hot Cowboy Nights #4) by Victoria Vane
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Hot Cowboy Nights #4
Pages: 320
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on June 7th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Award-winning author Victoria Vane lets loose the fourth in the Hot Cowboy Nights series
WILD HORSES COULDN'T BRING THEM TOGETHER...With exceptional talent and looks, cowboy "horse whisperer" Keith Russo once had the world at his feet - until his career was unwittingly destroyed by an aspiring filmmaker. After being rejected by his family for exploiting his Native American heritage, Keith has no choice but to turn back to his humble beginnings as a wild horse wrangler.
BUT MAYBE THEIR PASSION CAN...Miranda Sutton always dreamed of making films, until wild mustangs captured her heart. But turning her grandmother's Montana ranch into a wild horse sanctuary proves harder than she thought. She needs someone who knows wild horses. Keith and the mustangs need each other. And while working together to save the herd, Keith and Miranda discover a passion as wild as the mustangs they love.
Praise for Slow Hand "Scorching...witty...a red-hot cowboy tale...their sexual chemistry crackles." -Publishers Weekly

My Review:

Saddle Up, just like a book I reviewed a few weeks ago (Doing It Over by Catherine Bybee) is also a meditation on two different literary visions of “home”. For Keith Russo, home is the Thomas Wolfe version, “You can’t go home again.” For Miranda Sutton, it’s the Robert Frost version, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

But of course it isn’t nearly as simple as that.

Keith and Miranda first meet a year before the story really begins. At that point, Keith is on top of the world, and Miranda is a lowly and very much put upon intern in Hollywood. Keith, marketing himself as ‘Two Wolves’, is a celebrity horse trainer. Miranda is finishing up her degree in cinematography while interning with an absolute bitch of a film producer. As is not atypical during internships of all types, Miranda does most of the work, and Bibi takes ALL of the credit.

But the filming where they meet Keith is one where Miranda should be glad that Bibi takes all the credit, and gets all the blame for what it does to Keith’s life. When Keith turns down Bibi’s persistent sexual advances, she exposes him as a fraud, using Miranda’s not quite thorough enough research to back up her claims.

Keith’s life in the fast-lane is over, and he and his ignominy go back to the reservation to hide. And to work out his guilt at selling out his heritage for a fast buck. In spite of Miranda’s research, Keith really is half Native American. His paperwork doesn’t show it because his mother tried to pretend that her brief affair with his activist father never happened. But his father’s parents claim him as their own, no matter how unhappy they might be with him at any given moment. Often very.

When they meet again, Keith is at the bottom, and Miranda is on the upswing – even though that upswing is a bit precarious.

No longer an intern, Miranda is now working for Bibi, and doing projects on the side and in secret. Bibi is still a bitch. Keith is part of a wild mustang gather in Wyoming, and Miranda comes to film the project in the hopes of making a documentary. They still have lots of chemistry together, along with a whole lot of mistrust.

In spite of Bibi taking the credit, Keith still blames Miranda for a whole chunk of his problems. Miranda just wants to save the horses. She isn’t sure whether she wants to explore their explosive chemistry – especially when Keith pushes her away in one minute and pulls her in closer the next.

Neither of them is sure what they want to do – not with the horses and certainly not with each other.

While Keith continues drifting around what he wants to do with his life, Miranda takes charge of hers. She leaves behind the Hollywood that has never fit her and goes back home to her grandmother’s ranch, determined to make a go of the place by providing sanctuary for as many wild mustangs as the place can hold.

And a life of purpose for her and for Keith, if he’s willing to accept everything she offers. If he can let himself.

Escape Rating B+: Miranda and Keith are two people who only meet by chance, and probably shouldn’t have much in common. They just have a hell of a lot of combustible chemistry, and an unshakable love for the mustangs that power this story at a gallop.

slow hand by victoria vaneAnd even though this is the fourth book in the Hot Cowboy Nights series, it also stands completely alone. (As someone who has read the whole series, I’ll confess to not even being certain where this story falls in the timeline. It seems as if the romance in Slow Hand hasn’t happened yet.)

One thing that Miranda and Keith do both have in common – both of them have found their homes of the heart with their grandparents. Miranda’s parents are dead, and Keith’s want nothing to do with him. It’s their grandparents that give them each sanctuary and a sense of belonging.

But Keith’s grandparents know that Keith’s real home is not with them. He’s straddled two worlds all of his life, even if he didn’t always know it. While his grandparents love him dearly, they both see him as meant for a place that both sides of his heritage can call home.

Miranda goes back to her grandmother’s ranch, because it’s the one place where she receives unconditional support. She is rethinking her whole life, and her grandmother Jo-Jo provides just the right amount of hard work and tough love for Miranda to work through her issues. And Miranda is happy to give back to the woman who has always helped her. Jo-Jo is in her early 70s, and now a widow. The ranch is too big for her to run alone, but she doesn’t want to leave her home. Together they can make it work – if Keith is willing to help.

This is also a sex-into-love romance. Miranda and Keith have hot chemistry from the beginning, but she doesn’t want to be just another notch on his metaphorical bedpost, and he doesn’t think he’s capable of forming a real relationship. Of course they are both wrong.

There’s no villain here, although Miranda’s aunt and uncle make a brief attempt at filling that role. This romance is all about Miranda and Keith finding their way towards each other, with a whole lot of pushing from a herd of wild mustangs. Not that there isn’t an equally big herd running in Keith’s head, pulling them apart. The “come here go away” that Keith emotionally pulls on Miranda drives both her and the reader just a bit batty – with good reason.

The horses steal the show, and the reader’s heart. (Mine was already gone at the beginning, with the utterly marvelous shout-out to Romancing the Stone!)

Saddle Up graphic


As part of the tour, Victoria is giving away a Texas West handbag and wallet set.

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Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop, hosted by The Kids Did It and The Mommy Island.

I think all readers have their secret list of “desert island” keeper books. You know the ones that I mean – the books that you would desperately want to have, to re-read over and over again, if you were marooned on a desert island. And we all think of ways to “cheat” on the numbers.

For example, if I could only have 10 books, would The Lord of the Rings count as 3 or 1? I would say one, because I have an edition where all three books are shoehorned into one gigantic volume. Would Harry Potter be 1 or 7? Would I want to take books I’ve already read and know I’ll love, or would I be willing to take one or two things that I haven’t read yet.

If they could count as a single book, it might be the perfect time to finally read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time mega-book. I might even finish this time.

What about you? What would be on your “desert island keeper” bookshelf? Tell us your contenders for a chance at either a $10 Gift Card from Amazon or B&N, or international contestants, a $10 Book from the Book Depository.

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And for more chances to win more great prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop:

Review: The Pages of the Mind by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Pages of the Mind by Jeffe KennedyThe Pages of the Mind (The Uncharted Realms #1; The Twelve Kingdoms #4) by Jeffe Kennedy
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Twelve Kingdoms #4, Uncharted Realms #1
Pages: 432
Published by Kensington on May 31st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

An Orphan's Throne
Magic has broken free over the Twelve Kingdoms. The population is beset by shapeshifters and portents, landscapes that migrate, uncanny allies who are not quite human…and enemies eager to take advantage of the chaos.
Dafne Mailloux is no adventurer--she's a librarian. But the High Queen trusts Dafne's ability with languages, her way of winnowing the useful facts from a dusty scroll, and even more important, the subtlety and guile that three decades under the thumb of a tyrant taught her.
Dafne never thought to need those skills again. But she accepts her duty. Until her journey drops her into the arms of a barbarian king. He speaks no tongue she knows but that of power, yet he recognizes his captive as a valuable pawn. Dafne must submit to a wedding of alliance, becoming a prisoner-queen in a court she does not understand. If she is to save herself and her country, she will have to learn to read the heart of a wild stranger. And there are more secrets written there than even Dafne could suspect…
Praise for The Mark of the Tala
"Magnificent…a richly detailed fantasy world." --RT Book Reviews, 4½ stars, Top Pick
"Well written and swooningly romantic." --Library Journal, starred review

My Review:

crown of the queen by jeffe kennedyI have, for the most part, adored Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms series. Ami’s book, The Tears of the Rose, was the lone exception, because Ami spends the first half of the book as a spoiled princess bitch. While she gets much, much better, the first half of the book drags a bit.

As much as I loved the bridge novella featuring librarian Dafne Mailloux, The Crown of the Queen, Dafne’s own story in The Pages of the Mind drove me batty. I loved the beginning, and liked the end, but in this case it’s the middle that gave me fits.

Let me explain…

Dafne has been the librarian at Castle Ordnang for decades. Her family held the land and castle that formerly sat on the same spot, but when High King Uorsin decided that Castle Columba would be the seat of his new throne, the end was inevitable. He conquered the castle, razed the building, and built his capital in its place. Daphne was the only member of her family to survive the siege. While she may be, as she says, “ a demon on documents” in her early years it was her ability to hide in plain sight that saved her life over and over.

That and the fact that Queen Salena charged her with caring for her daughters, the princess Ursula, Ami and Andi. Ursula is now High Queen, after the events in The Talon of the Hawk and The Crown of the Queen. It is Daphne’s task to be Ursula’s adviser.

talon of the hawk by jeffe kennedyDafne has always been an observer and recorder. That’s what librarians do. So Daphne is more surprised than anyone when Ursula tasks her with the position of ambassador, first to the island kingdom of Nahanau, and then to the court of Dasnaria. Nahanau has been damaged by the movement of the magical barrier that formerly surrounded the Tala, and Dasnaria is the home of Ursula’s lover Harlan. His people might ally with the Twelve, now Thirteen Kingdoms, or might attempt to conquer them instead. The Kingdoms are still recovering from the late King’s treachery and tyranny, Ursula needs to stave off that possible war.

So off Dafne goes, with Harlan’s older brother Prince Kral as escort and guide.

We expect treachery, or at least some double-dealing on Kral’s part. It seems to be what the Dasnarians are known for. So when Kral essentially hands Dafne over to King Nakoa KauPo as either a hostage, sex slave or unwilling bride, readers are not totally surprised.

But the twists and turns that overtake Dafne’s fate from that point forward change the course of her life into directions she never expected. And is never sure that she wants or can even accept.

Escape Rating B-: I loved the beginning. Dafne’s life as librarian turned adviser fit right in with the snippets of her character we have seen in the earlier books. She has been working all of her life towards seeing Ursula crowned High Queen. And she not only expects the job of Royal Adviser, but is totally prepared and qualified for it.

She enjoys being the power behind the throne, and doesn’t see herself as powerful at all. She is merely an instrument of Ursula’s power. And she’s very, very good at it.

But when she is effectively abandoned at the Nahanau court, the story, along with Daphne’s personality, went temporarily off the rails for this reader. Because the story devolved into both the fated mate trope and the magic peen fallacy. That it turns out that both of these issues are actually manipulated into being by a third party redeems things somewhat, but not completely.

Dafne seems to become completely enslaved to sex with King Nakoa, to the point where she loses all her sense at many points. Yes, this sometimes happens when people discover how good sex can actually be, but that level of crazy usually happens earlier in their lives. Dafne is old enough that she believes she is no longer capable of bearing children. Becoming that mushy-headed just didn’t feel right.

For a significant part of the story, Dafne understands little to nothing of the language around her. The Nahanaus speak a language that is not derived from any of the several that Dafne knows. So there is a big portion of the story where a person who is only comfortable when in full possession of all the knowledge available has none to work with. It feels off-character when Dafne is forced to resort to stereotypical feminine wiles that she has never relied upon in order to get information felt wrong.

There is also a huge power imbalance in this relationship. Nakoa essentially kidnaps Dafne and keeps her prisoner. That she falls for him in these circumstances where she is totally dependent on him smacks of Stockholm Syndrome. Which does get called out later in the story, and then all too easily dismissed.

It turns out that everyone in this situation is being manipulated by a third party, one whose eventual advent into the story is explosive enough to kick the story back on track.

One of the things that I liked best about the previous entries in this series is that the princesses did not need to change who they were to find fulfillment and happiness, or to find their equal in love. Dafne has to change completely to get through most of her adventures. It’s only at the end where she goes back to being the intellectual powerhouse that is her true self.

At the end of this story, there are several people still on the loose who seriously need to get their comeuppance, particularly Kral. While events turned out for the best, his duplicity still needs to be accounted for. And I look forward to reading all about it in The Edge of the Blade.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-22-16

Sunday Post

I think I’ve rigged things so that this week I only have to read books I really, really want to read. As opposed to reading books I only sorta/kinda want to read. I think I’m in a bit of a slump and need a bunch of books that are mostly just for fun. The sort of books where I leapt onto the tour because I already adore the author or series, as opposed to the type of books where I get on the tour because the book looks like it might be interesting.

And I’m also not doing any books that my only reason for reading them is an obligation. I need a break.

This past week, I posted one rather unusual entry. I’ve had so much fun with Blue Apron that I just couldn’t resist sharing. I’ve had that post on the back burner, waiting for a week where things just failed, as happened this week. I bounced off two books so hard that I had to scramble for Friday’s review. But seriously, discovering all over again that cooking can be fun has ben an absolute blast.

And while we still don’t like sweet potatoes, there’s a dog that really, really loves them. If you have never read “I Has a Sweet Potato” over at littera abactor, you are in for a side-splitting treat. Be sure not to have anything in your mouth while you read, because you are guaranteed to spray your monitor in explosive laughter. (I just re-read it for the umpteenth time, and it still made me laugh so hard that I have tears in my eyes.)

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop
2 Blue Apron Dinner Kits

Winner Announcements:

The winner of A Front Page Affair by Radha Vatsal is Nadine S.

final flight by beth catoBlog Recap:

B Review: The Drafter by Kim Harrison
Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop
C- Review: Death at a Fixer-Upper by Sarah T. Hobart
I Only Have a Sign Because It Came With the Kitchen + Giveaway
A Review: Final Flight by Beth Cato
Stacking the Shelves (185)




lifeabeachhop3Coming Next Week:

The Pages of the Mind by Jeffe Kennedy (blog tour review)
Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop
Saddle Up by Victoria Vane (blog tour review)
Undiscovered by Anna Hackett (review)
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye (review)