Review: Black Box Inc by Jake Bible

Review: Black Box Inc by Jake BibleBlack Box Inc. by Jake Bible
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Black Box Inc #1
Pages: 216
Published by Bell Bridge Books on October 20th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Need to hide something from the fae?Got a tricky trans-dimensional delivery to make?Need a big ball of magic that can destroy the world?Call Black Box Inc.

The world as we know it is gone. Since the “extradimensional happening,” every creature, monster, and fairy tale goblin has turned Asheville, North Carolina, into their personal playground. An uneasy truce exists between the races, but Chase Lawter’s unique ability puts him squarely in the crosshairs of treachery, feuds, and monsters looking to make a buck on black market goods. Chase is the only known being who can pull material from between dimensions and shape it into whatever he likes—like boxes. Like boxes in which folks hide smoking guns and severed heads. Only Chase can hide the boxes, and only Chase can recover them from the Dim. All for a tidy sum, of course.

His crack team—a yeti, a zombie, and a fae-trained assassin—have his back. What could possibly go wrong?

My Review:

I picked Black Box Inc to read for Halloween both because it looked interesting (which turned out to be true), fun (which definitely turned out to be true) and because the author is best known for his horror stories – even though Black Box Inc didn’t look exactly like horror – which was a good thing for this reader.

In that sense, I got what I expected. Black Box Inc is more like horror-adjacent, and that’s about the way I like it. It’s urban fantasy, in a universe where the things that go bump in the night do come out to play, as well as many of the other standard character groups that populate urban fantasy as well as horror.

And it’s a road novel. The gang, quite literally has to take the road to Hell. The caper, as there often is in urban fantasy, in this case is to steal the soul of Lord Beelzebub. Who both is and isn’t who you are thinking of.

And Hell kind of looks like Detroit – in all of its Motor City heydays. And yes, I meant that as a plural.

The set up of the universe is, while not unique, certainly interesting. Like the break in the wards around New Orleans after Katrina in Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans series, or the mashing together of the fae and human dimensions in Kai Gracen’s world (by Rhys Ford), there was an extradimensional happening in the quite recent past of Chase Lawter’s version of our world.

All the dimensions have become connected through portals. Earth’s portals, not very surprisingly, are in places where the veil between dimensions has always been a bit thin. Places like New Orleans, and San Francisco, and, Asheville NC, where Chase and his gang at Black Box Inc operate their extradimensional business.

Chase was among the many humans who picked up interesting powers in that happening. But Chase is unique, not just among the humans, but seemingly among the many other species who have suddenly acquired connections to our world. Chase can manipulate the “Dim”, the stuff that exists between dimensions. He can create weapons from it. But mostly, Jake makes boxes – hence the name of the company, Black Box Inc.

Because Jake makes “dim boxes” big and small, that allow him to hide things that people don’t want found, or lost, or stolen, in the dim, where only he can retrieve them.

It’s a living. Sometimes a very good living. Sometimes a very dangerous living. But it’s a living that keeps Jake and his colleagues busy and pays the bills.

About that gang…Jake’s friends and colleagues are an assortment of beings and personalities that could only have existed after the happening. His transportation manager is a Yeti, his business manager is a zombie, and his bodyguard is definitely human – but a human who learned to be an assassin while she was a fae changeling. Oh yeah, his lawyer is a banshee. It seems like ALL the lawyers are now banshees.

And Jake needs every hand on deck – even the ones that he doesn’t know he has – when he and his friends find themselves caught in the middle of a manipulative game between Daphne, the Queen of the Fae, and Lord Beelzebub, the ruler of a dimension that Jake calls hell.

Daphne wants Beelzebub’s soul so that she can get past his defenses and conquer his dimension. Beelzebub wants to use his soul, which he doesn’t really need anyway, in order to trap Daphne and as many of her warriors as he can so that she will stop trying to take over his dimension.

And everyone seems to think that threatening Chase and using Chase and manipulating Chase is the best way to get what they want.

They might even be right. But when both sides are playing you, you kind of get to choose which one you’re playing with, and which one you’re playing against. And it feels really weird that the Lord of Lies is on the right side of anything.

After all, all is fair in love and war, and this is definitely war.

Escape Rating B+: Black Box Inc is a hoot and a half from beginning to end. Sometimes complete with actual hoots – because the snarkitude exhibited by all the characters, but especially Chase, is often laugh out loud funny.

But Black Box Inc basically is urban fantasy of the snarky anti-hero school. While we don’t see nearly as many of those as we used to (Harry Dresden has gotten pretty damn serious over his last few books), it is a familiar trope. Black Box Inc is a damn good example of that trope, but it is familiar territory.

Part of what makes this particular book so much fun is the way that the author pokes at some of the craziness in the real world by holding up the post-happening changes as pointers to how things really are anyway, no matter how they are dressed up in real life. That all the law firms on Earth have been taken over by banshees is clever and feels right – but in some ways it doesn’t feel different from popular perceptions of real-world lawyers.

The best part, however, as with all urban fantasy when it works, is the gang. It’s not just that everyone is smart and everyone is interesting and everyone cracks wise at the drop of a hat, but that they are all different and likeable (even when they aren’t supposed to be) and that the author shows both how smart they are and how much they care about each other.

And just enough things get stood on their heads to make it seem fresh.

The worldbuilding also holds up quite well. While this is not a version of Earth I’d actually want to live in, as a construct, it makes sense and hangs together. Well done.

In a week where real life was going completely insane, Black Box Inc was marvelously diverting. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next book in the series. I definitely hope there are lots more!

Review: Beast by Anna Hackett

Review: Beast by Anna HackettBeast (Galactic Gladiators #7) Formats available: ebook
Series: Galactic Gladiators #7
Pages: 160
on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Abducted by alien slavers and taken to a lawless desert world, the last thing starship pilot Mia expects is to find herself in the protective, brawny arms of a wild, blue-skinned alien.

Rescued by gladiators on the alien world of Carthago, Mia is working to find other abducted humans who are still lost. But someone else also needs her help—the untamed alien who’s saved her twice. Rescued from vicious fight rings he’s fought in since he was a child, Vek is prone to losing control in aggressive fits of rage…and Mia discovers that she is the only who can calm him. As she finds herself drawn to the man beneath the beast, she knows that with his enhanced senses, Vek can help her find her friends.

For years, all Vek’ker has known is death, darkness, and killing. Despite his newfound freedom, he is struggling to control his rages and withdrawal from the drugs his captors used on him. Only one scent soothes him, one voice calms him, and one woman is his light in the dark. Vek will do anything to protect Mia and make her happy…including vowing to find her friends.

With the gladiators from the House of Galen, Vek and Mia follow mysterious clues into a dangerous part of the desert on the trail of the missing humans. They are drawn closer together but as they enter the deadly Illusion Mountains, they have no idea of the dangers lying in wait for them, or how far they will both be pushed to their limits in order to survive.

My Review:

Whenever I’m having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, I can always trust one of Anna Hackett’s action-packed science fiction romances to sweep me away from whatever is going wrong. (She even got me through election night, and that’s seriously saying something!)

So I spent part of one day with a big, blue Beast and the woman who has captured his heart – every bit as much as he’s captured hers.

We met Vek’ker and Mia earlier in the Galactic Gladiators series. Vek’ker and Mia bonded at least somewhat when they were both trapped in the horrific Srinar fight rings. Even high on aggressive fight drugs, Vek protected Mia as best as he could. Once they were rescued by the House of Galen, she helped him begin to adjust. When she and two of her friends were recaptured in Champion and Mia was rescued in Barbarian, it was Vek’s abilities that helped bring Mia back “home”.

But there are still two human women missing, and there have been rumors of a third who doesn’t seem to have been part of the original group captured by the intergalactic slavers. They have a lead, but it’s a slim one. The women have been taken to the Illusion Mountains, and that illusion is no joke.

People see things, people lose things and people lose themselves, way out there where no one dares to go. But they must, if they are to rescue Ryan and Dayna.

And get their revenge on the people who have raided the House of Galen yet again, and killed more of its gladiators in their desire to keep the twisted, underground fight rings running – and to keep the profits from those rings flowing.

It’s a dangerous trek across deserts filled with death borers (think sandworms on steroids with a taste for live meat) into the elusive Illusion Mountains.

And once there, a deadly race to elude the slave traders and rescue their friends. A race that is being streamed live to a galaxy of sick “sports” enthusiasts, and nearly costs Vek and Mia everything they have just barely found.

Escape Rating B+: I love this series. It’s a fascinating set up, and each of the stories exposes more of this side of the galaxy in general and the dangers of the planet Carthago in particular, while still telling a rollicking adventure tale and a sexy romance.

Each of the human women (and one man) who have found themselves on this distant world after the horrors of their capture also reaches for a different kind of future and a different kind of partner. Mia’s talent is in her voice, music that quite literally seems to have charms that soothe the savage beast – and the savage plant as well.

Vek’ker, on the other hand, is about as alien as it gets. The rest of the gladiators, with the exception of Thorin, seem to be more-or-less human. They are larger, and some have some special talents, but one gets the impression that they don’t look much different than the average NFL player in his prime. Vek, on the other hand, is blue. Not sad, although that too, but blue like sky, or like the cover picture.

He’s also just about as lost as Mia is. Mia, at least, knows who she is and where she’s from. She may not be able to get back there, but her identity is solid. Vek’ker was captured by slave traders so young that he has no memories of his home planet. He doesn’t even remember where he’s from.

Vek and Mia save each other, over and over again. At different times and in different ways, but she saves him just as often as he saves her.

And while she may have the security of knowing who she is and where she came from, she’s always felt just a bit inadequate. Her family back home consisted of a bunch of hard-charging, aggressive, ambitious, over-achievers. Mia always felt like she didn’t fit. With Vek she’s finally part of a whole that loves her, needs her and wants her exactly as she is.

She feels the same about him. It’s not his exotic nature that draws her, it’s his essential sweetness and protective nature, hidden under a dangerous persona. They work together, even though on the surface they shouldn’t.

In addition to the basic story, where one romance arrives at its HEA and one more human woman is rescued from something terrible, one final element of each story in this series is that the newly rescued human and one of her rescuers strike some serious sparks from each other in one way or another.

I think that by the end of Beast we saw the opening moves of not one but possibly three future romances. And I can’t wait!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-29-17

Sunday Post

By the time you read this we should have spent the first night in our new home. We probably can’t find a damn thing, and I’ll bet we’re exhausted, but we’ll have moved and be trying to figure out where amongst all the boxes are enough supplies and equipment to make breakfast and some morning caffeine.  And of course locate a good book to read over that breakfast.

Let the unpacking commence!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop
3 copies of Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Howl-O-Ween Giveaway Hop is Katie

Blog Recap:

A- Review: The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby
Joint Review: Discovering the Mammoth by John J. McKay and Woolly by Ben Mezrich
A- Review: Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway
B+ Review: Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods
A- Review: The Women of Baker Street by Michelle Birkby
Stacking the Shelves (259)

Coming Next Week:

Beast by Anna Hackett (review)
Black Box Inc. by Jake Bible (review)
November Book of Choice Giveaway Hop
Wilde In Love by Eloisa James (blog tour review)
A Daring Arrangement by Joanna Shupe (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (259)

Stacking the Shelves

It’s a short stack this week, and that’s probably a good thing, because this has been the week from hell.

Mellie-cat, our very own Clown Princess, had to be put to sleep on Thursday. She was 17 1/2 years old, and I watched her being born. The docs discovered a tumor at the base of her heart, and her lungs were filling up with fluid. It was just her time. She ran through all the extra lives left to her when her daddy-cat, mommy-cat and sister went on before her. And now she is at peace and with them. We’re all heartbroken, even poor Freddie who can’t figure out where his aunty-Mellie has gone.

And as you read this, the movers will be putting our stuff on a truck and taking it about three miles away to our new house. One chapter has ended, and another is beginning.

For Review:
Beast (Galactic Gladiators #7) by Anna Hackett
The Unmourned (Monsarrat #2) by Thomas Keneally and Meg Keneally
The Upside / You Changed My Life by Abdel Sellou

Purchased from Amazon:
Hooked (Fandom Hearts #3) by Cathy Yardley
The Women of Baker Street (Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson #2) by Michelle Birkby (review)

Borrowed from the Library:
Hue 1968 by Mark Bowden

Review: The Women of Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

Review: The Women of Baker Street by Michelle BirkbyThe Women of Baker Street (A Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson Investigation, #2) by Michelle Birkby
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson #2
Pages: 368
Published by Pan Macmillan on February 9th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

As Sherlock and Watson return from the famous Hound of the Baskervilles case, Mrs Hudson and Mary must face their own Hound, in the swirling fog of Victorian London . . .

When Mrs Hudson falls ill, she is taken into a private ward at St Barts hospital. Perhaps it is her over-active imagination, or her penchant for sniffing out secrets, but as she lies in her bed, slowly recovering, she finds herself surrounded by patients who all have some skeletons in their closets. A higher number of deaths than usual seem to occur on this ward. On her very first night, Mrs Hudson believes she witnesses a murder. But was it real, or just smoke and mirrors?

Mary Watson meanwhile has heard about young boys disappearing across London, and is determined to find them and reunite them with their families. As the women's investigations collide in unexpected ways, a gruesome discovery in Regent's Park leads them on to a new, terrifying case.

My Review:

I read The House at Baker Street last weekend, and I loved it so much that when I discovered that the second book in the series was already available in ebook, I immediately grabbed it. Then I discovered that I simply couldn’t wait to read it, so here we are again, returning to Victorian London and 221b Baker Street.

The Women of Baker Street is a direct follow up to The House at Baker Street. Events that occurred in that first book are definitely still resonating by the time this second book opens a few months later. And dogged Inspector Lestrade is still investigating the rather incendiary ending of that first story.

Much to the dismay of both Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock Holmes.

But the story in The Women of Baker Street opens in a decidedly different place, as Martha Hudson is whisked off to St. Bart’s Hospital after collapsing at home. She’s been ill for weeks, and also been successfully concealing her illness from Holmes after his return from Dartmoor, where he was off investigating the legendary Hound of the Baskervilles.

Mrs. Hudson was afraid she had cancer, and just didn’t want to know. In the 19th century, there was no hope of a cure, just suffering and death. But her problems, while serious, were much less desire. An intestinal blockage, fixed with quite survivable surgery followed by bedrest.

That’s not all there is to the case. Dr. Watson takes advantage of both his position at the hospital and Mrs. Hudson’s bent for investigation and installs her in a semi-private women’s ward where odd things have been happening. He’s not convinced that there is really anything going on, but one of the nurses whom he respects is convinced. Of course, he doesn’t believe he’s putting Mrs. Hudson at risk – his concern is to set the nurse’s mind at ease.

However, the pattern in this series is that the women’s instincts are much more accurate than the men’s logic. There IS something strange going on in that particular ward. On her very first night, Mrs. Hudson thinks she witnesses a murder. Then she chalks off her experience to pain and medication.

Until it happens again.

The first part of this case is rather quiet. Mrs. Hudson doing what she does best, sitting (or in this case mostly lying) and listening while other people expose their foibles and their secrets. The small ward is a hotbed of gossip, pain and seething resentment, all exposed to her expert’s eye over the long days that the women are all cooped up together in this single room.

When the tide of strange deaths nearly overtakes Mrs. Hudson herself, Watson and Mary whisk her back home, to continue the case, and her recovery, in a less dangerous location. At least it seems less dangerous, until Martha’s case, and the even more tragic situation that Mary has been investigating on her own, collide within the precincts of 221b. With nearly disastrous results.

The game is afoot. Until it very nearly isn’t.

Escape Rating A-: The story in The Women of Baker Street gets off to a much slower start than the previous entry in the series. Mrs. Hudson has turned out to be the prime mover and shaker in these stories, and as this entry begins, she is temporarily down for the count.

And also quite shaken. She is used to being the mistress of herself and her own domain, but as the story begins she is an invalid, stuck in a place not of her choosing and unable to take care of herself. And, of course, she hates it.

Until Dr. Watson presents her with his little bit of investigation. While she’s still not happy with her surroundings, now she has purpose – even if a part of her believes that this case has been invented to keep her at least mentally occupied.

Not that the various denizens of the ward aren’t fascinating. Especially Emma Fordyce, who was once one of the grandes horizontales of her day. She was a celebrated courtesan, lover of the rich, famous and influential, and she has never told any of the secrets that were whispered in her ears. Rumor has it she’s planning to talk.

When she dies unexpectedly, even for someone staying the hospital, it throws suspicion on anyone whose secrets she might have exposed – and on the woman who seems to have been installed in the ward solely to watch her – or to watch over her.

There were plenty of reasons still around who might want Emma Fordyce dead. But once Mrs. Hudson is home and able to take a slightly more dispassionate view of the case – all she runs into are dead ends. Including the buried bodies of a group of young boys who seem to be tied into, not the case of Emma Fordyce, but to a ghost story.

As Holmes discovered on Grimpen Mire – at the heart of all too many ghost stories lies a kernel of very nasty truth. And it is Mrs. Hudson’s dangerous investigation into the nasty truth of the so-called “Pale Boys” that brings them face-to-face with death.

Again.

The two intertwining cases turn out to be intensely chilling – to the point where The Women of Baker Street would make a good Halloween story. The creepy factor is very high, especially when added with the layers of misdirection and manipulation. And the crimes that Martha and Mary find themselves investigating just add to the chills, as does Lestrade’s continued investigation into the remnants of the case from the previous book.

No ice cube got left undribbled down my back by the end.

This is a series where I seriously want more stories, but don’t see any listed on the horizon. Which does not keep me from hoping that the author will return to Mrs. Hudson and Mrs. Watson. Soon, I hope.

Review: Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods

Review: Lilac Lane by Sherryl WoodsLilac Lane (Chesapeake Shores #14) by Sherryl Woods
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Series: Chesapeake Shores #14
Pages: 352
Published by Mira Books on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

No one writes about friends, family and home better than Sherryl Woods. Told with warmth and humor, Lilac Lane is a brand-new story in her beloved Chesapeake Shores series, one readers all over the world have waited two years to read!

At the heart of Lilac Lane is Keira Malone, who raised her three children alone after her first marriage broke apart, and who, after years of guarding her heart, finally finds love again. But that love is short-lived when her fiancé suffers a fatal heart attack. Grieving and unsure of what’s next, Keira agrees to move from Dublin to Chesapeake Shores, Maryland, to spend time with her daughter, Moira, and her new granddaughter, Kate, as well as to help her son-in-law, Luke, with his Irish pub, O’Briens

Not wanting to live underfoot, she rents a charming cottage on Lilac Lane, replete with views of the ocean and her neighbor’s thriving garden—not to mention views of the neighbor himself. The neighbor is none other than Bryan Laramie, the brusque and moody chef at the pub, with whom Keira is constantly butting heads. But things get real when Bryan’s long-lost daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since she was a baby, shows up out of the blue. As Bryan and Keira each delve into their pasts, reopening wounds, the rest of the town is gearing up for the Fall Festival Irish Stew cook-off, and making no bones about whose side they’re on. It’s Kitchen Wars meets This is Your Life—a recipe for disaster…or a new take on love?

You won’t want to miss this epic return to Chesapeake Shores, a place we’re betting you’ll want to stay forever.

My Review:

Chesapeake Shores sounds like an absolutely magical little town, at least if you don’t mind a whole town full of nosy and interfering neighbors. Not that the collective O’Brien clan doesn’t mean terribly well, and not that they don’t seem to generally do well in their meddling, but Keira Malone is used to being the boss of her own life, thankyouverymuch.

Which doesn’t mean that her life doesn’t get a much needed makeover when she arrives from Dublin to visit her father, her daughter, and her new grandbaby. The ostensible reason for her visit is to help take care of her new (and only) grandchild, and to “consult” for her son-in-law about the authentic “Irishness” of the traditional Irish pub he’s opened in Chesapeake Shores.

Keira has spent her entire adult life working in and managing Irish pubs in Ireland, so she certainly has the right experience for the job. But it’s a made-up job. Her daughter and her father, both now living in Chesapeake Shores, fear that Keira will turn in on herself after the death of her fiance.

After all, that’s exactly what Keira did after the breakup of her marriage. She turned inward and pretty much stayed inward – and exhausted, raising three children on her own with zero help from her drunken ex-husband. And just when she finally let herself open up – boom, another disaster.

So the family, not just Keira’s daughter Moira and Keira’s father Dillon, but the entire O’Brien clan that they have both married into, plots and schemes to get Keira to Chesapeake Shores. And once she’s there, and they all observe the sparks that fly between Keira and the pub’s resident chef Bryan Laramie, they all keep right on scheming, with an eye towards matchmaking between the chef and the “consultant” who seems to question his every move. Or at least he feels that way.

Bryan is just as alone as Keira, and the whole town seems to be more than willing to conspire to get these two together – from manipulating Keira into renting the cottage next door to Bryan’s house to cooking up a cooking contest to finish off the local Fall Festival – a cooking contest that pits Keira’s authentic Irish Stew recipe against Bryan’s hand-me-down version.

The winner of their contest will take all, not just the prize, but also the other’s heart. If they can both figure out what it really, truly means to “win”.

Escape Rating B+: Lilac Lane is a sweet and savory mix of contemporary romance, women’s fiction and small town magic.

Not magic as in Harry Potter, but just the magic that seems to permeate so many small town romances. Chesapeake Shores is just a lovely little town where good things happen to good people – and where there don’t seem to be any bad people – if maybe a few misguided ones – who do not appear in this story. Chesapeake Shores is just a great place to live.

Keira Malone and Bryan Laramie are an interesting and slightly different protagonists for a romance. Both are a bit older – while it’s not specified precisely, both have adult children and seem to be on either side of 50 – with Keira a few years older than Bryan.

They are both people who have been seriously wounded by life and love, and in ways that are similar underneath some rather startling surface similarities. Keira left her husband because he was an alcoholic, Bryan’s wife left him because he was ambitious, self-absorbed and absent. But Keira kept in touch with her ex – not directly, but enough that he could have visited his children anytime he wished – if he wished. Bryan’s wife, on the other hand, just disappeared with their daughter. She vanished. He’s spent years, and countless thousands of dollars, trying to locate them both. It’s not that he wants the marriage back – and who would, but he wants to regain contact with the daughter he still loves.

Neither of them is good at letting people in. Keira because her two attempts at romance have ended in disaster, and Bryan because he’s never bothered to divorce his missing ex.

Both of them need resolution in their lives – and there’s something about the way that they spark each other that makes them both reach for it.

The romance is of the squeaky-clean variety (the hero and heroine have only a few kisses between them when he proposes) but it works for this story and setting. Both Keira and Bryan are tentative about love, and that hesitation is expressed wee in their non-courtship, two-steps-forward-one-step-back relationship.

Although, speaking of two-steps-forward-one-step-back relationships, Keira’s relationship with her daughter Moira, and Moira’s relationship with her husband in specific and with the universe in general feels just a bit “off”. As a reader, I couldn’t figure out why Moira acted the way she did, and in real life I’d feel more than a bit sorry for her husband and her mentor.

Chesapeake Shores does seem like an absolutely marvelous place. The large O’Brien clan is deeply interwoven into the fabric of the town, which seems to have been created by one of them as a tourist destination – and it has flourished.

O’Briens seem to be everywhere. Keira’s father has remarried into the family, as has her daughter. The other women of the O’Brien family both meddle in Keira’s life with abandon and become the circle of sisterhood that she never had – and dearly appreciates now.

Lilac Lane is the 14th book in the Chesapeake Shores series. I’ve not read the earlier books, but was able to get into the story easily. Enough of the family’s previous connections and romances were explained in a way that meant I didn’t feel left out. It probably helped that Keira herself comes in as an outsider, so things have to be explained a bit to her – and we get the benefit of that.

But I certainly enjoyed Lilac Lane more than enough that I’ll be happy to visit Chesapeake Shores again soon!

TLC
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Review: Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

Review: Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper + GiveawayHighland Dragon Rebel (Dawn of the Highland Dragon, #2) by Isabel Cooper
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Dawn of the Highland Dragon #2
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Madoc of Avandos is on a journey to cement alliances. Targeted by an assassin, he needs a companion who can fight. When dragon shifter Moiread MacAlasdair returns from war, he knows she's the best woman for the job. Duty and political strength compel Moiread to agree, but when they cross into the otherworld and Madoc's life is threatened, Moiread jumps into protection mode-and will do whatever it takes to keep the man of her dreams alive.

Dawn of the Highland Dragon Series: Highland Dragon Warrior (Book 1)Highland Dragon Rebel (Book 2)Highland Dragon Unleashed (Book3)

My Review:

I have a t-shirt that says, “I’m done adulting, let’s be Dragons!”

Moiread MacAlasdair has been an adult for three centuries, but she still gets to be a dragon. Putting it another way, Moiread has lived three centuries because she’s a dragon. A dragon shifter, at least. And that’s a pretty awesome thing to be.

But being a dragon, and a member of the MacAlasdair clan of dragon-shifters, means that Moiread, along with the rest of her family, spends a lot of time away from home, fighting to keep her home, her clan, and her country safe from predators, both human and not-so-human.

In the early 14th century, when the Dawn of the Highland Dragon series takes place, those enemies, as was true so often in Scottish history, were the English. As this story opens, peace has just broken out between Scotland and England with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton at the close of the First War of Scottish Independence.

It’s a peace that no one expects to last. And it doesn’t. But the resumption of hostilities just a few short years after this story ends is not part of the action in this book – not that I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in a later entry in this series.

At the moment, Moiread is not technically a rebel. However, the man she is set to guard certainly is.

Diplomacy has been labeled as “war conducted by other means”. But Madoc of Avandos hasn’t traveled from his native Wales all the way to the remote MacAlasdair stronghold just to conduct a bit of peacetime diplomacy.

Instead, Madoc plans to conduct his bit of war through much more arcane means. Madoc is a sorcerer, and he has come to the MacAlasdairs to invoke the ancient alliance between their families. He has devised a rite that he needs to conduct in places of power, including one such place on the MacAlasdair lands. And he requires a bodyguard to protect him on his quest to raise the ancient powers of the lands, and equally ancient alliances with other magical families, in order to safeguard dangerous treasures of the Welsh people that he dares not let fall into English hands.

The Welsh subjugation by the conquering English is already inevitable. Wales as a separate kingdom ceased to exist two generations ago, and Madoc knows that his homeland may never be independent again – and that it will certain not happen within his lifetime. But, as a powerful sorcerer, there are things he can do and rites he can perform that will make the hand of the conquerors fall less heavily on his people.

His quest is to do what he can. Moiread’s charge is to keep him alive while he does so. While they are increasingly aware that they have a sorcerous enemy dogging their every step, the greatest threat to their mission turns out to be the secrets of their own hearts.

Escape Rating A-: Highland Dragon Rebel reminded me of just how much I loved the author’s first Highland Dragons series. Highland Dragon Rebel really re-captured the magic.

I also have to say that Highland Dragon Rebel, in spite of being the second book in this series, has a completely different pace and feel from the first book, Highland Dragon Warrior. Because the members of the MacAlasdair clan seldom spend a great deal of time together, there is very little crossover between Warrior and Rebel, to the point where it doesn’t feel as if it matters if you’ve read one before reading the other.

They are also very different kinds of books. Warrior is paced rather slowly, and that pace matches the way that the heroine’s alchemical experiments come together. Everything takes time.

Rebel, on the other hand, is a road story. Moread and Madoc’s relationship occurs completely within the context of his quest to visit all the sites of power across Scotland, England and Wales, perform the necessary rituals, dodge the persistent assassins, and then move on down the road.

Lots of stuff happens, it happens relatively quickly, and then they move on. While Madoc’s quest doesn’t have a time limit per se, he does need to move at a quick pace. Even being guarded by a very capable dragon shifter, he can’t dodge endless waves of assassins indefinitely. He has to succeed before they eventually do.

One of the things that I loved about Highland Dragon Rebel was the character of Moiread. She is just so imminently practical. She’s lived three centuries, she’s seen a lot of change, and she knows that she’s going to live long enough to see a lot more. She’s also very grounded in who she is and what she believes, and there’s a certain amount of emotional drama that she is just impervious to.

She’s also very, very aware that Madoc’s quest comes first and always, and whatever she feels for him, and whatever he feels for her, she firmly believes that duty comes before personal happiness. And she is also very cognizant of the fact that whatever they might have together, happily ever after is not an option. Not that they might not want it, and not that his magic does not give him a much longer lifespan than average, but, barring a epically catastrophic mishap, she will outlive him by centuries.

But even within those constraints, it is still clear that they love each other and want to try for whatever future they can manage, assuming they survive the present danger.

There are older and more fell things in Moiread and Madoc’s world than dragons, and there are dragons older and more powerful than the MacAlasdairs. It would not be a true quest, after all, if there wasn’t a real possibility that our hero and heroine had bitten off just a bit more than they can chew – even with dragon-sized jaws.

The third book in this series, Highland Dragon Master, is coming out next spring. I can’t wait to see where the Highland Dragons fly next.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Joint Review: Discovering the Mammoth by John J. McKay and Woolly by Ben Mezrich

Format read: hardcover provided by the publisher
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genre: science history, nonfiction
Length: 264 p.
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Date Released: August 8th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Today, we know that a mammoth is an extinct type of elephant that was covered with long fur and lived in the north country during the ice ages. But how do you figure out what a mammoth is if you have no concept of extinction, ice ages, or fossils? Long after the last mammoth died and was no longer part of the human diet, it still played a role in human life. Cultures around the world interpreted the remains of mammoths through the lens of their own worldview and mythology.

When the ancient Greeks saw deposits of giant fossils, they knew they had discovered the battle fields where the gods had vanquished the Titans. When the Chinese discovered buried ivory, they knew they had found dragons’ teeth. But as the Age of Reason dawned, monsters and giants gave way to the scientific method. Yet the mystery of these mighty bones remained. How did Enlightenment thinkers overcome centuries of myth and misunderstanding to reconstruct an unknown animal?

The journey to unravel that puzzle begins in the 1690s with the arrival of new type of ivory on the European market bearing the exotic name “mammoth.” It ends during the Napoleonic Wars with the first recovery of a frozen mammoth. The path to figuring out the mammoth was traveled by merchants, diplomats, missionaries, cranky doctors, collectors of natural wonders, Swedish POWs, Peter the Great, Ben Franklin, the inventor of hot chocolate, and even one pirate.

McKay brings together dozens of original documents and illustrations, some ignored for centuries, to show how this odd assortment of characters solved the mystery of the mammoth and, in doing so, created the science of paleontology.

 

Format read: eARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science history, nonfiction
Length: 304 p.
Publisher: Atria Books
Date Released: July 4th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Science fiction becomes reality in this Jurassic Park-like story of the genetic resurrection of an extinct species—the woolly mammoth—by the bestselling author of The Accidental Billionaires and The 37th Parallel.

“With his knack for turning narrative nonfiction into stories worthy of the best thriller fiction” (Omnivoracious), Ben Mezrich takes us on an exhilarating true adventure story from the icy terrain of Siberia to the cutting-edge genetic labs of Harvard University. A group of young scientists, under the guidance of Dr. George Church, the most brilliant geneticist of our time, works to make fantasy reality by sequencing the DNA of a frozen woolly mammoth harvested from above the Arctic circle, and splicing elements of that sequence into the DNA of a modern elephant. Will they be able to turn the hybrid cells into a functional embryo and bring the extinct creatures to life in our modern world?

Along with Church and his team of Harvard scientists, a world-famous conservationist and a genius Russian scientist plan to turn a tract of the Siberian tundra into Pleistocene Park, populating the permafrost with ancient herbivores as a hedge against an environmental ticking time bomb. More than a story of genetics, this is a thriller illuminating the race against global warming, the incredible power of modern technology, the brave fossil hunters who battle polar bears and extreme weather conditions, and the ethical quandary of cloning extinct animals. Can we right the wrongs of our ancestors who hunted the woolly mammoth to extinction—and at what cost?

When I started reading Woolly, I remembered that I had another book about the same subject in my TBR pile. I thought about reading both, but couldn’t quite manage the time. Then I had a brilliant idea – why not have Galen read the other mammoth book and then do a joint review? The two books are not as close in content as I originally thought, but they do dovetail quite nicely. And here’s the result.

Our Review:

Ossip Shumachov’s mammoth—the first pulled mostly intact from the Siberian permafrost and deposited in a museum, represents the culmination of centuries of debate about the meaning of the strange, large bones found in all the places modern elephants do not live. John J. McKay’s book, Discovering the Mammoth: A Tale of Giants, Unicorns, Ivory, and the Birth of a New Science, explores how the process of scientific discovery is often not so much about seeing something for the first time—but figuring out how to name it and where to place it in its historical setting.

As McKay explains, the story of discovering the mammoth is in part the story of remembering them. After all, there was a time when humans drew pictures of living mammoths and mastodons. However, a few centuries ago it was not at all clear (except, presumably, to a handful of hunters ln Siberia) that mammoth fossils came from anything resembling an elephant that had become extinct. Various explanations were tried over the years. For example, mammoths bones were sometimes thought to have come from human giants of biblical myth or Roman legends. Alternatively, it was thought that they were scattered by the Biblical Deluge or left behind by invading armies (though there was a big objection to the latter: why would armies bury dead elephants in such quantity but never think to hang on to the ivory?).

In the course of exploring the rediscovery of the mammoth, McKay covers a lot of ground, including the development of the sciences in a westernizing Russia; how the discovery of mastodons with unexpected teeth in the Americas unsettled a nascent consensus that Eurasian mammoths were just elephants out of place; and how scientific communication developed over the centuries. Unfortunately, an unusually high number of typographical errors mar the text.

McKay also acknowledges the part that people who were not scientists, diplomats, and monarchs had to play in his tale. Mammoth bones are often found not fully mineralized; when an unearthed bone crumbles, it is so very often the unnamed workmen who get blamed. Ossip Shumachov was the Eveki hunter who found the thawing carcass the mammoth that is more commonly known as Mikhail Adam’s, after the botanist who collected it and sent it on to St. Petersburg. While Adam’s role in helping to describe should not be discounted—we should also not discount the fact that due to his high-handed way of impressing local labor to pack it up during an important hunting season, the Evenki never forgot—and became much more reluctant to share knowledge of their finds.

McKay closes his book with an expression of gratitude to the mammoth:

We followed mammoths. We learned from them. We learned about them and created a new science. We miss them so much that we want to resurrect them from extinction more than any other animal.

So we are.

And that’s the story in Ben Mezrich’s Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures.

There are currently multiple efforts going on, in different countries using different methods, to de-extinct the woolly mammoth, and bring back the ultimate in charismatic megafauna.

Woolly does its level best to turn a story of sleep-starved post-docs, chilly laboratories far-fetched cloning and meticulous gene splicing experiments into edge-of-the-seat adventure, and it very nearly succeeds.

The quest to rescue one of the most iconic of extinct species from the dustbin of history is certainly worthy of a great story. And like any great story, it needs heroes. In the case of Woolly, that hero is Dr. George Church, the leader of an ever-expanding cadre of researchers who are fully invested in the number one rule at Church Labs – that nothing is impossible.

The story of the quest to de-extinct the mammoth travels from the death of the last remaining mammoth herd on remote Wrangell Island over 3,000 years ago to a point about four years from now, when Church’s experiments have succeeded. The quest also shifts in time from George Church’s earliest years to the present day, and all over the globe from Harvard to Wrangell to Siberia to Seoul.

It’s a dizzying ride, moving back and forth in both time and space over the life of the project, its quirky and charismatic director, and its possibilities for saving both the mammoth, and ourselves.

But as fascinating a story as Woolly is, and as good a job as the author does in breaking its cutting edge science down into chunks that a non-scientist can understand, it also has plenty of frustrations.

The narrative sweeps back and forth in time, from that misty point four years from now to the 1950s and every point in between – and not in any order that the reader, or at least this reader, can discern. Each of the building blocks of this story are individually compelling, but they don’t gel together into a whole. Just as I got invested in one person or one project, the perspective would shift and we would suddenly be years earlier – or later.

The device of setting both the beginning and ending of the tale in that misty “four years from now” adds a nice bit of dramatic framing to a story that already has plenty of drama in it. But it also detracts from its veracity. That frame is science fiction, where the rest of the book purports to be science fact. And most of it is. But I can’t help but wonder where that dividing line really is.

Galen’s Reality Rating for Discovering the Mammoth: B

Marlene’s Reality Rating for Woolly is also a solid B.

Review: The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

Review: The House at Baker Street by Michelle BirkbyThe House at Baker Street (A Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson Investigation #1) by Michelle Birkby
Formats available: paperback
Series: Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson #1
Pages: 368
Published by Harper Perennial on October 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBook Depository
Goodreads

When Sherlock Holmes turns away the case of persecuted Laura Shirley, Mrs Hudson, the landlady of Baker Street, and Mary Watson resolve to take on the investigation themselves. From the kitchen of Baker Street, the two women begin their enquiries and enlist the assistance of the Baker Street Irregulars and the infamous Irene Adler.A trail of clues leads them to the darkest corners of Whitechapel, where the feared Ripper supposedly still stalks. They discover Laura Shirley is not the only woman at risk and it rapidly becomes apparent that the lives of many other women are in danger too.As they put together the pieces of an increasingly complicated puzzle, the investigation becomes bigger than either of them could ever have imagined. Can Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson solve the case or are they just pawns in a much larger game?It is time for Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson to emerge from the shadows and stand in the spotlight. Readers will discover they are resourceful, intelligent and fearless women, with a determination to help those in need . . .

My Review:

This is not the first re-imagining of the life of Sherlock Holmes’ imperturbable housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, to emerge in recent years, but it is the one that tears the fabric of its canon the least. (The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King posits a much, much different life for the Great Detective’s landlady!)

Instead, like Carole Nelson Douglas’ series featuring Irene Adler as the protagonist, The House at Baker Street show the world of 221b through the eyes of its female inhabitants and habitués as they take up a case that Holmes rejects. And they carry it off with aplomb, if not without more than their fair share of danger and intrigue.

Just like Holmes himself, Martha Hudson also has the assistance of her very own Watson. Mrs. Hudson is aided and abetted by Mrs. Watson – the former Mary Morstan that was. In addition to calling on the aid of many of Holmes’ own allies, including the ever-present and ever-helpful Irregulars.

And when Hudson and Watson find themselves in need of an expert housebreaker, they turn to Holmes’ very own nemesis, Irene Adler herself.

The case in The House at Baker Street feels very much like something that Holmes would reject out of hand – and one where the female Hudson and Watson would understand the circumstances so much more intimately than the male detectives.

At a time when an unsullied reputation was a woman’s most precious possession, a whisper campaign of tireless malignity filled with descriptions of unspeakable acts could bring down the highest of the elite – and could wreck a formerly happy marriage. It could even end a life.

Or two. Or ten. Or possibly a hundred.

But whisper campaigns are insidious, and women, even more so then than now, we’re not supposed to even think of the things that were being hinted at. Never accused, because an accusation requires proof. But whispered about in an undertone in a crowded ballroom, or a smoky club room. And, as always, it is impossible to prove a negative. How does one prove that one hasn’t ever done something, especially when no one will directly speak of it?

Laura Shirley is a victim of just such a campaign. Holmes rejects her incoherent plea for help, both impatient with her frightened mannerisms and certain that she must be lying about something relevant. He’s certain that there’s no smoke without at least a little fire.

Martha Hudson and Mary Watson know better. Laura Shirley’s fear is real. Whether Hudson and Watson have learned enough of the detective business to solve her case is anyone’s guess – including their own.

But in a fit of daring – or perhaps insanity – they decide to try. And discover that they have inserted themselves into a web much darker than they, or even Sherlock Holmes himself, ever imagined.

Escape Rating A-: This story feels like it fits almost seamlessly into the Holmes canon. It’s not just that the reader can feel the pea-souper fog and almost smell the smells – especially the unsavory ones. It’s that this story feels like something that could have happened under Holmes’ very nose – not because he didn’t notice but because he often does not seem to care what happens to other people. In the stories, and especially in some of the portrayals of Holmes on TV and in the movies, he frequently seems like a fairly selfish bastard.

And a genius, of course. But still, quite often, a bastard who cannot admit that he does, in fact, care about at least some of the people around him. Like Watson. And Mrs. Hudson, and the Irregulars. And even, in an unspecified and undefined way, Irene Adler.

But it is all too easy to seem him dismissing Laura Shirley in irascible impatience. And even today, we are all much too aware that a woman’s testimony about her abuse, because that is what was happening to Laura Shirley, is always discounted, often down to nothing. That men in general and Holmes (and her husband) in particular would write her story off to either hysterical imaginings or a guilty conscience feels like the way of the world. Not just hers, but ours.

That Martha Hudson and Mary Watson take her seriously because they both know better also feels entirely too plausible. But what makes this book is that they choose to do something about it – and in the doing uncover great danger – but also discover that they, every bit as much as Holmes and Watson, rise to the thrill of the chase and the danger of the hunt for evil.

Hudson and Watson, but particularly Mrs. Hudson, jump off the page. The story is told from Martha Hudson’s perspective, and we are with her as she reaches outside of herself and pushes out of her “comfort zone” to face this challenge. We are with her as she stumbles and fumbles and most importantly, learns how to expand herself into this new role that she has taken on. And it is the making of her.

That Hudson and Watson discover in the end that evil, is in fact hunting them makes for the perfect ending – and effectively slots the first case of Hudson and Watson into the greater arc of Holmes and Watson’s long-running battle with the greatest criminal mastermind of their generation.

If you love Sherlock Holmes’ stories, The House at Baker Street is a marvelous addition to your addiction. It certainly was to mine. There is a second book in this series, titled The Women of Baker Street, which I can’t wait to immerse myself in.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-22-17

Sunday Post

As tempted as I am, I’m not going to repeat the Kermit flail gif from yesterday’s Stacking the Shelves. We’re moving this week. The packers are coming on Friday, and the movers on Saturday. I’m trapped between YAY! and OMG! and YAY! and OMG! on endless repeat.

Mellie the cat already knows that something is up, and she’s even grumpier than usual. Freddie is going to love the new place – he’ll have more room to zoom around, and even stairs to careen up and down. But Mellie is a little old lady cat and we’re worried the stairs might be a bit much for her at her advanced age – she’s 17 1/2 and well into senior cathood.

And I have plenty of reviews coming up this week. As usual. I have to admit that I’ll kind of be seeing what happens with Wednesday’s and Friday’s reviews. Both books look really good, but possibly a bit more serious than I’ll be able to cope with in the chaos. We’ll see.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Howl-O-Ween Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop
10 Paperback copies of Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card in the Stuck in a Good Book Giveaway Hop is Isa

Blog Recap:

A Review: Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh
B+ Review: Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt + Giveaway
B+ Review: Wild Justice by M.L. Buchman
B Review: Best Laid Plants by Marty Wingate
B+ Review: Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
Stacking the Shelves (258)

Coming Next Week:

Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper (blog tour review)
The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby
Woolly by Ben Mezrich (review)
Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods (blog tour review)
A History of the United States in Five Crashes by Scott Nations (review)