Review: Confessions from the Quilting Circle by Maisey Yates

Review: Confessions from the Quilting Circle by Maisey YatesConfessions from the Quilting Circle: A Novel by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin HQN on May 4, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

"Yates weaves surprises and vivid descriptions into this moving tale about strong and nurturing female family bonds."—Booklist on Confessions from the Quilting Circle  
The Ashwood women don’t have much in common...except their ability to keep secrets.
When Lark Ashwood’s beloved grandmother dies, she and her sisters discover an unfinished quilt. Finishing it could be the reason Lark’s been looking for to stop running from the past, but is she ever going to be brave enough to share her biggest secret with the people she ought to be closest to?
Hannah can’t believe she’s back in Bear Creek, the tiny town she sacrificed everything to escape from. The plan? Help her sisters renovate her grandmother’s house and leave as fast as humanly possible. Until she comes face-to-face with a man from her past. But getting close to him again might mean confessing what really drove her away...
Stay-at-home mom Avery has built a perfect life, but at a cost. She’ll need all her family around her, and all her strength, to decide if the price of perfection is one she can afford to keep paying.
This summer, the Ashwood women must lean on each other like never before, if they are to stitch their family back together, one truth at a time...

My Review:

I usually say there are two variations on stories about home. One is the Thomas Wolfe version in the title of the book, You Can’t Go Home Again. One is the Robert Frost version, “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Now I have a third version, Addie Dowell’s combination of hope, prayer and hard-lived experience, that “you can never go so far that you can’t come back home.”

This is a story about coming home. Not just about Mary Ashwood and her three daughters, Avery, Hannah and Lark, but also the journey of Mary’s mother, Addie, and all of the Dowell women that came before her, starting with Anabeth Snow Dowell, the widow who boarded a Conestoga wagon to make the long and arduous journey from Boston to Bear Creek Oregon after the loss of the husband who planned it – and who found love and hope along the way.

It’s also a story about starting over in the place where you began, whether you ever left it or not. Because as much as we all sometimes want to leave our pasts behind, we carry them with us wherever we go, with the weight of the things left unsaid and undone dragging us back at every turn.

Escape Rating A: I don’t often have a playlist for books, but I do this time. It’s Stevie Nicks’ Landslide on endless loop, because it feels like her story reflects all the journeys in this book. And now the damn thing is an earworm and I can’t get it out of my head.

The story here is on two tracks, although it isn’t time slip. It’s not about seeing the whole of the lives of the characters in the past, rather about the Ashwood women seeing the way that, in spite of how much the trappings of life have changed over the centuries, the experiences of the women who came before them have profound resonances in their lives in the present.

Which is a long way of saying that history repeats, specifically that history has repeated through the generations of the Dowell/Ashwood family. And that a big part of the history that keeps repeating is the way that each generation of the family – at least on the distaff side – does their best to keep what each believes are damning secrets to themselves. Even at times and places where the reveal would be the best thing for everyone involved.

It’s a lot of women hiding away their hurts and disappointments and sins in order to keep what is often a very dubious – and sometimes destructive – peace.

So Mary pretends to be stoic and Avery pretends to be perfect and Hannah pretends to be obsessed with her career while Lark pretends to be an irresponsible drifter. But even though there are aspects of truth in those pretenses, at the heart of them is a very big secret that each of them is forced to reveal to the others believing that the cost of stepping out of each other’s comfort zones will be too high to pay.

But none of them have gone so far that they can’t come back home to each other. Which is what makes this story such a lovely read.

Review: The Bodyguard by Anna Hackett

Review: The Bodyguard by Anna HackettThe Bodyguard (Norcross Security #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Norcross Security #4
Pages: 306
Published by Anna Hackett on April 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble

For a princess with a deadly stalker, the only place she feels safe is in the arms of her big, tough, and very off-limits bodyguard.
Princess Sofia of Caldova is in San Francisco to spearhead a fabulous royal jewelry exhibition and raise money for her charity...but danger has followed her. With an unhinged stalker hunting her, a dangerous international ring of jewel thieves targeting her exhibition, and her own secret task no one can know about, she's in need of security.
Enter big, grumpy, ex-military bodyguard Rome Nash. A man who's guarded her once before, and who she embarrassed herself by kissing...a kiss he didn't return.
After years on a covert special forces team, Rome Nash thrives on working for Norcross Security as its chief bodyguard. Driven by the losses of his past, he needs to help keep people safe. But guarding a beautiful, elegant princess who surprises him at every turn, and who he knows is hiding secrets, is testing his legendary self-control.
For months, all he's thought about is Sofia, and now that she's in danger, Rome's willing to cross all the lines to keep her safe.
As the exhibition draws closer, jewel thieves attack, Sofia's stalker strikes, and infamous thief Robin Hood enters the picture. Rome and the men of Norcross Security step in, and Rome will risk everything to protect his princess, no matter the risk, no matter the cost.

My Review:

The title for this one is a dead giveaway – meaning that there is, just occasionally, truth in advertising. The Bodyguard, the fourth book in the terrific action adventure romance Norcross Security series, is, indeed, definitely, absolutely, a bodyguard romance.

So if bodyguard romances trip your trope meter, then this is definitely the book for you – not that the entire Norcross Security series isn’t a whole lot of fun, and not that there isn’t an element of somebody guarding somebody’s body in every single story.

After all, that’s what Norcross Security does – secure, protect and guard precious things and even more precious people. Especially when they discover that those people are especially precious to them.

There’s a certain pattern to bodyguard romances, and that pattern is very much in evidence in this story – with just a few of this author’s signature twists and turns.

We met Rome and Sofie – and more to the point they met each other – in the previous book in the series (my personal fave so far), The Specialist. And they struck plenty of sparks off each other then, even though they weren’t the main event – more like the preview of coming attractions – pun fully intended.

Now that those attractions are very definitely here – the UST is such a big thing in the room that it just can’t remain unresolved for long. But the heart of this story is not about the conflict between Rome’s duty to remain objective so that he can put all of his focus on protecting Sofie.

For one thing, his focus is shot the minute she steps back into his life – and neither of them can step away in spite of the gulf of differences between them.

Not just because Sofie is Princess Sofia of Caldova is a real-life royal, but also because she’s also a real-life thief bearing the nom-de-plume Robin Hood – a secret that she can’t afford to let go of.

But whether she’s the princess or the thief, she is also caught in the cross-hairs of a stalker who plans to kidnap her, rape her and murder her while his gang steals the jewelry collection she plans to auction for charity. A charity that benefits abused women – women like the best friend that her stalker also kidnapped and raped.

Sofie’s out to make someone pay. And pay, and pay some more. The same someone who is very, very definitely out to get her. Rome can’t stop this collision course – no matter how much he tries – but he can be there to make sure that evil gets punished and Sofie walks away more-or-less unscathed.

If she’ll let him.

Escape Rating B: I have some pretty mixed feelings about this book. I’m kind of all over the map about it.

For one thing, if you like the bodyguard trope this is an outstanding example of it. Howsomever, if it’s not your fave – and I have to admit that it isn’t mine, at least in a contemporary setting – the patterns necessary to fit the trope are inherently too obvious for my taste.

But, as I said, if this is your jam it’s a very jammy jam indeed. It’s hard to do a contemporary bodyguard story well – and this is definitely done well.

On my other hand, I personally love the “it takes a thief to catch a thief” concept and pretty much have since the TV show all the way back in the 1970s – I watched it in syndication, so not the original run, but still a damn long time ago.

It’s just that, in this particular story, it jerked at my willing suspension of disbelief because Sofie was so damn good at it with not nearly as much training as it seemed like she would need. But mostly because the idea of breaking out of the house where you’re being protected from your extremely creepy and dangerous stalker in order to break into secure buildings where you might get into even more or worse trouble, when you know that your stalker is watching your current location seems somewhere past foolish.

I like my heroines with agency, but not the kind of agency that makes them look like idiots in desperate need of rescuing.

On my third, or perhaps fourth, hand – how many hands am I up to this time? – I do enjoy the setup of Norcross Security and I’m on tenterhooks waiting for the boss of this crew of ex-military badasses, Vander Norcross, to finally take the fall into romance that he’s watched his brothers (and sister) and his crew plunge into. I loved getting a glimpse of what the folks at Treasure Hunter Security are up to these days, and I liked watching the heat rise – and pretty much combust – between Rome and Sofie – so I’m still happy I read this one.

But, upon reflection, I think that this just wasn’t the right book at the right time for me. If you’re in the mood for an action adventure romance in general, or a bodyguard romance in particular, it might be the right book at the right time for you!

Review: The Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R Green

Review: The Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R GreenThe Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R. Green
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Gideon Sable #1
Pages: 192
Published by Severn House Publishers on April 6, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Welcome to London, but not as you know it. A place where magics and horror run free, wonders and miracles are everyday things, and the dark streets are full of very shadowy people . . .

Gideon Sable is a thief and a con man. He specializes in stealing the kind of things that can't normally be stolen. Like a ghost's clothes, or a photo from a country that never existed. He even stole his current identity. Who was he originally? Now, that would be telling. One thing's for sure though, he's not the bad guy. The people he steals from always have it coming. Gideon's planning a heist, to steal the only thing that matters from the worst man in the world. To get past his security, he's going to need a crew who can do the impossible . . . but luckily, he has the right people in mind. The Damned, the Ghost, the Wild Card . . . and his ex-girlfriend, Annie Anybody. A woman who can be anyone, with the power to make technology fall in love with her. If things go well, they'll all get what they want. And if they're lucky, they might not even die trying . . .

My Review:

Speaking of having the snark turned up to 11 – or at least something turned up to 11, so far this week we’re one for tension and two for snark with two books left to go – the snark is absolutely turned up to 11 and even past it in The Best Thing You Can Steal.

Even if snark isn’t exactly what this crew is out to nab. Then again, they don’t need any extra as they all have PLENTY of their own.

Considering the title, it’s not going to surprise anyone that this is a heist story. As the first book in a projected series, it’s the story of a man with a plan, in this case con man Gideon Sable, putting together a crew of “experts” to steal from the biggest and baddest collector who ever lived.

If that description sounds kind of familiar, it should. It’s the TV series Leverage, just set in a version of our world that’s hiding more than a few of the things that go bump in the night – even if none of them, so far, are any of the usual suspects.

So it’s Leverage, crossed with Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere – or really, definitely, mostly the author’s own Nightside. And possibly, eventually, every single other series Green has ever written.

Because he does that. Brings bits and pieces from everywhere and everywhen his imagination has ever been and cross-pollinates his other worlds with them. So even though this is the first book in a new series, there’s more than a bit of deja vu for anyone who has ever read any of the author’s previous work.

After all, Gideon Sable used to be someone else. So even though all of the author’s previous series except one all crashed, burned and ended together in a smoking pile at the close of Night Fall, the official last book of his Secret Histories, Nightside and Ghost Finders series, it’s entirely possible that Gideon Sable – and his on again/off again girlfriend Annie Anybody – used to be someone we used to know.

I can’t wait to find out.

Escape Rating A-: I’m inclined to believe that Simon R Green is an acquired taste. It’s just that it’s a taste I acquired a long time ago and never even tried to get over.

So even though this is the first book in this series – to the point where a reader who loves urban fantasy but has never read this author could start here and not feel like they missed anything. At the same time, it also FEELS like it could be dropped into any of his previous series. And quite possibly will be if it goes on long enough.

So this book is both different from his previous work and very much a piece of it all at the same time.

Like the protagonists in many, I think most of Green’s previous series, Gideon Sable isn’t so much telling the story from his first person perspective as he is narrating the story of his own life. Which in this case makes perfect sense, because he’s clearly playing a role rather than actually living a life.

Sable is as much an archetype as he is a character, but then so are all the members of his crew. The woman who is always pretending to be someone else because she can’t face herself, the man who has committed an act so evil that neither heaven nor hell will have him, the one who has taken the red pill but still lives in a blue pill world, and the ghost who can’t let go of his unfinished business.

And all of that is part of the way that this author creates and fills in the colors of his worlds. Where some series, like Murderbot for example, are so much fun because of the voice of a particular character, Green’s worlds all reflect the voice of the author himself. No matter who or what his characters are, all of Green’s protagonists speak in his very singular voice.

Although, while this story is filled to the brim and overflowing with the author’s trademark snark, I found the ending to be a bit more hopeful than his usual – along with the even lovelier promise of more to come.

So if you like the idea of a snark-sparked team coming together in order to pull off the caper of the century, Gideon Sable might just be your jam. It certainly is mine. At least until he steals it.

Review: Havoc by M.L. Buchman

Review: Havoc by M.L. BuchmanHavoc (Miranda Chase NTSB #7) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #7
Pages: 374
Published by Buchman Bookworks on April 27, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

When one of their own is threatened—the nation’s #1 air-crash investigation team enters a race to survive.

An airliner downed on a Pacific atoll. A CIA covert strike team sent in to “clean it up.” An old enemy seeks revenge. This time, the NTSB’s autistic air-crash investigator, Miranda Chase, and her team are in the crosshairs. The action races around the globe as US military airbases become shooting galleries and their lives are placed on the line.

And hidden from sight? A treacherous plan to grab political power and start a new war with Russia in the Middle East. Only Miranda’s team stands in their way, if they can survive.

My Review:

As Miranda Chase’s team has pulled together over the course of this marvelous series, each person that has joined has occupied a specific and necessary niche.

Necessary for the team to function at its incredibly high peak of capability, and necessary for Miranda to be able to manage her world. She needs every person in their proper place so that she can concentrate on why the downed aircraft in front of her abruptly stopped being in its proper place – flying safely through the sky.

But in Havoc, the seventh book in this awesome series, one of the key members of Miranda’s team has gone, not exactly walkabout, as much as Australian Holly Hunter wishes she truly were.

Holly was on her way to tie up the loose ends left by the deaths of her parents in remote Tenant Creek, a tiny town in the middle of Australia’s Northern Territory. The place that Holly left at 16, half a lifetime ago, and tried never to look back at through her military career in her country’s special forces and her secondment from the Australian TSB to Miranda’s team in the US NTSB.

Holly has always occupied the “lancer” position in Miranda’s now-larger-than-5-man band. Holly’s the muscle and she handles security. She’s also Miranda’s truest friend in a way that neither woman has much experience with.

So the team is off-kilter and a bit off their game when Holly is away. An absence that gets extended when Holly’s flight “home” is forced to crash on a remote Pacific atoll. That crash scene is barely squared away when a high-profile crash drags Miranda and the rest of the team to Syria. It’s only after she finally reaches Australia that Holly discovers the reason for both crashes.

It’s not paranoia if someone really is out to get you. When that someone is a pissed-off, psychotic Russian elite operative who has been locked in a box for a year and is willing to start a real honest-to-badness war in order to make sure you go down, even Holly’s extreme paranoia isn’t nearly enough.

But Holly is. No matter what it takes to save Miranda and the rest of the team she calls “home”.

Escape Rating A: The plot of Havoc is a story where all of the chickens from a previous adventure in this series, Condor, all come home to roost. I’m not sure you need to have read the ENTIRE series to get into Havoc as much as I did – although it’s awesome and I don’t know why you wouldn’t – but I don’t think it would work at all to start with Havoc. In this case, to get up to speed quickly you’d need to read both the first book, Drone, and Condor before Havoc.

But the whole series is totally awesome and well worth a read. Truly.

Back to those chickens coming home to roost in this story. There are two elements of Condor that come back to haunt this time around

The first is that Miranda’s friends-with-benefits relationship with Major Jon Swift of the US Air Force Accident Investigation Board comes to an abrupt end with the shock of a Taser. Literally. Deservedly. And oh-thank-goodness finally. Back in Condor it seemed like the relationship might actually work, but Major Swift turned into Major PIA (Pain in the Ass) long before Miranda slapped him in the face early in this story. He won’t be missed by anyone. Not even Miranda.

The second, biggest and baddest of those “chickens” is the Russian Zaslon operative, Elayne Kasparak that the team beat in the earlier story. Holly turned out to be the nemesis that brought Kasparak down. Once she was captured, Holly made a deal with Miranda’s rival-turned-frenemy, CIA Director Clarissa Reese because Miranda didn’t like the idea of just killing her. No matter how much she seriously deserved it..

Kasparak was supposed to spend the rest of her life locked up in one of the CIA’s infamous Black Sites. When she learns that Kasparak has somehow managed to escape the inescapable, Holly knows that Kasparak is responsible for both recent plane crashes and that she’s gunning for Holly with everything she’s got.

Which is 10-pounds of crazy in a 5-pound sack with knives and guns pointed at everyone and everything Holly holds dear. As far as Kasparak is concerned, any collateral damage she racks up along the way is just icing on her crazycake.

As this story was going on, and the stakes just kept getting higher and higher, and I started to get a bit desperate to see what happened next, I still found myself stopping in the middle for a bit. Not because it was bad, but because it was so good and I was so caught up in it and I discovered that I cared about Holly so damn much that I couldn’t bear to read her pain.

And it just kept getting more and more painful as it goes, as we learn both about what made Holly who and what she is – and what she’ll go through to take care of everyone she has claimed as her own.

This is one where the tension just ramps up past 11 and keeps right on going. Even a bit past the end.

Not that the story of Miranda’s team has ended when the reader closes Havoc. Which left me with a terrible book hangover. I don’t merely want, I absolutely NEED to find out what happens after the end of this book. But the next book in the series, White Top, won’t be out for a month or two, and I don’t even have an ARC yet, so I’ll have to wait.

My fingernails may not survive.

Review: Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Review: Fugitive Telemetry by Martha WellsFugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries, #6) by Martha Wells
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Murderbot Diaries #6
Pages: 176
Published by Tordotcom on April 27, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.
When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?)
Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!

My Review:

If you like characters who have their snark-o-matic turned up to 11 ALL THE TIME you’re going to love Murderbot. Because it’s snarktastic to the max and we get to spend the entire story inside its head as it thinks about just how much it would like to shove all the humans around it out the nearest airlock – or at least tie and gag them all so they stop getting in its way.

Because we’ve all felt that way from time to time. And we all come to the same conclusion that Murderbot does, that we really can’t indulge in those particular desires because the consequences would be too damn much trouble.

Not that Murderbot couldn’t handle the trouble, but then there’d be even more trouble, and it would all take time away from watching bad space opera on downloaded media. And haven’t we all been exactly there – or close enough?

What’s interesting about this particular entry in the Murderbot Diaries, at least from the perspective of a Murderbot fan (and Murderbot would be oh-so-pissed to know it had fans!), is that this is a story about Murderbot adapting to its new circumstances rather than a story about dealing with one evil corporation’s desire to get revenge for Murderbot’s favored humans’ successful scotching of their extreme version of corporate skullduggery.

Not that the result of this entry isn’t ALSO the scotching of extreme corporate skullduggery, it’s just that it’s a different corporation so the skullduggery isn’t PERSONAL. Now that Murderbot is starting to adjust – after its own fashion – to being a person. Not a human, Murderbot has no desire to be human – thank you very much.

But Murderbot is not merely an individual but is acknowledged by the powers-that-be on Preservation Station – if not most of the residents – that it is a self-willed entity responsible for its own actions. That it is not owned or fostered or infantilized by the humans it has chosen to consort with.

Most of the humans on the Station are having a bit of a problem with that. Mostly because the popular media image of SecUnits – the hybrid human/AI beings that Murderbot was programmed to be – have a bad reputation to say the least. Technically Murderbot is a “rogue SecUnit” who has hacked its own programming. From the perspective of the corporation that did the original programming and thinks it OWNS Murderbot, that perspective is kind of correct. Except that it mostly isn’t.

Everyone expects Murderbot to run around and start murdering people. Its self-selected name designation does not exactly help it counteract that image.

It also doesn’t help when it finds a dead body on a station that has such a low incidence of murder that entirely too many humans want to blame the murder on Murderbot. Murderbot just wants to do what it does best, investigate this extremely anomalous incident in case it might have something to do with the evil corporation that is still chasing the humans it has taken under its protection.

After all, it needs to deal with the possible threat so that it can return to viewing the next episode of its favorite space opera serial.

Escape Rating A: If you love Murderbot as much as I do, Fugitive Telemetry is a terrific opportunity to get back in touch with its snark. If you have not yet met Murderbot, this is not the place to begin your acquaintance. Start with All Systems Red to understand just what makes Murderbot so much deliciously snarky fun and to get an insight on just what made this series a nominee for the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Series as well as garnering nominations for last year’s Murderbot outing, Network Effect, for Best Novel in both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Fugitive Telemetry is a story about Murderbot doing the job that it was originally programmed to do, just doing it for itself and for the job’s own sake and not because someone ordered it to do so. Murderbot is a very noir detective solving a murder in a place that doesn’t even have any mean streets – although it certainly has plenty of mean people.

One of the things that makes Murderbot so fascinating is that it most explicitly has zero desire to be human. It’s not Data, it doesn’t think humans are “better” in any way and does not aspire to be one of us. It thinks we’re stupid and useless and full of shit in more ways than one – and it’s right.

So even when it’s trying to blend in, it’s not because it thinks we’re better, it’s because it thinks we’re worse but that we’ll get out of it’s way more easily if it can make us a bit more comfortable – or at least a bit less upset with it.

The only thing it seems to think we’re actually good for is producing media with which it can while away its actually copious free time.

At the same time, as much as it finds humans irksome – often in the extreme – it is also saying to itself all the things that we’ve said to ourselves about other people and never our ownselves. Murderbot thinks all the kinds of things we wish we’d said and its internal voice is wry and snarky to the point of chortles and chuckles and even the occasional LOL.

So if you like your detectives über-competent and ultra-snarky, pick up Fugitive Telemetry or any of the Murderbot Diaries and take a walk inside Murderbot’s head. It’s a fun place to spend an afternoon.

Also a much more survivable place than being the person or corporation that Murderbot has in its sights. Meanwhile, I have Murderbot – or at least its diaries – squarely in my reading sights. It’s just been announced that the author has a new contract with Tordotcom for three more books in this fantastic series. Go Murderbot!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-25-21

Sunday Post

First, here’s an absolutely gorgeous picture of Hecate to brighten up your Sunday. She just rolled over and showed off all the pretty colors she normally hides on her underside in order to demand some scritches! (In case you’re wondering, of course her demands were successfully met!) Could anyone resist all that cute?)

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Rain Drops on Roses Giveaway Hop
An Invincible Summer by Mariah Stewart

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the April Showers Giveaway Hop is Rose S.

Blog Recap:

B Review: The Three Mrs. Greys by Shelly Ellis
B Review: The Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert
A Review: An Invincible Summer by Mariah Stewart + Giveaway
A Review: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine
A+ Review: A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein
Stacking the Shelves (441)

Coming This Week:

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Walls (review)
Havoc by M.L. Buchman (review)
The Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon $. Green (review)
The Bodyguard by Anna Hackett (review)
Confessions from the Quilting Circle by Maisey Yates (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (441)

Stacking the Shelves

The size of the stacks in recent weeks reminds me of the videogame I’ve been playing. You’re probably wondering how that works. Recent stacks, between committee assignments and other commitments have turned into book hauls. I’m playing Diablo III while I wait for the Mass Effect Trilogy Remaster to arrive. Diablo III is the kind of game that is sometimes referred to as a “Monty Haul” or “Monty Hall” after the late game show host. In other words, it’s a game where the player accumulates a LOT of loot. The mantra is “Stay awhile, and loot the place.” An instruction I’m generally happy to follow in game.

IRL, books make the BEST loot.

For Review:
Basil’s War by Stephen Hunter
The Bodyguard (Norcross Security #4) by Anna Hackett
The Bright and Breaking Sea (Captain Kit Brightling #1) by Chloe Neill
The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin
Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill
The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu
Eternal by Lisa Scottoline
Girl One by Sara Flannery Murphy
Hang the Moon by Alexandria Bellefleur
The Heiress Gets a Duke (Gilded Age Heiresses #1) by Harper St. George
Her Scottish Scoundrel (Diamonds in the Rough #7) by Sophie Barnes
How to Survive a Scandal (Rebels With a Cause #1) by Samara Parish
The Last Guard (Psy-Changeling Trinity #5) by Nalini Singh
Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford
A Man Named Doll by Jonathan Ames
Maybe One Day by Debbie Johnson
Mrs. Wiggins by Mary Monroe
The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner
The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano by Donna Freitas
The Ninth Metal (Comet Cycle #1) by Benjamin Percy
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
The Return of the Pharaoh by Nicholas Meyer
Sleeping Bear by Connor Sullivan
So We Meet Again by Suzanne Park
Thirty-One Bones by Morgan Cry
We Hear Voices by Evie Green
What a Happy Family by Saumya Dave

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Gray Hair Don’t Care (Never Too Late #1) by Karen Booth
Paladin’s Strength (Saint of Steel #2) by T. Kingfisher
Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers #3) by Becky Chambers
The Year of the Cat: A Cat of Artistic Sensibilities edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch & Dean Wesley Smith

Borrowed from the Library:
A Court of Frost and Starlight (Court of Thorns and Roses #4) by Sarah J. Maas
The Law of Innocence (Mickey Haller #6) by Michael Connelly

Review: A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein

Review: A Tip for the Hangman by Allison EpsteinA Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: espionage, historical fiction, historical mystery, thriller
Pages: 384
Published by Doubleday Books on February 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Christopher Marlowe, a brilliant aspiring playwright, is pulled into the duplicitous world of international espionage on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I. A many-layered historical thriller combining state secrets, intrigue, and romance.

England, 1585. In Kit Marlowe's last year at Cambridge, he receives an unexpected visitor: Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, who has come with an unorthodox career opportunity. Her Majesty's spies are in need of new recruits, and Kit's flexible moral compass has drawn their attention. Kit, a scholarship student without money or prospects, accepts the offer, and after his training the game is on. Kit is dispatched to the chilly manor where Mary, Queen of Scots is under house arrest, to act as a servant in her household and keep his ear to the ground for a Catholic plot to put Mary on the throne.
While observing Mary, Kit learns more than he bargained for. The ripple effects of his service to the Crown are far-reaching and leave Kit a changed man. But there are benefits as well. The salary he earns through his spywork allows him to mount his first play, and over the following years, he becomes the toast of London's raucous theatre scene. But when Kit finds himself reluctantly drawn back into the uncertain world of espionage, conspiracy, and high treason, he realizes everything he's worked so hard to attain--including the trust of the man he loves--could vanish before his very eyes.
Pairing modern language with period detail, Allison Epstein brings Elizabeth's privy council, Marlowe's lovable theatre troupe, and the squalor of sixteenth-century London to vivid, teeming life as Kit wends his way behind the scenes of some of Tudor history's most memorable moments. At the center of the action is Kit himself--an irrepressible, irreverent force of nature. Thrillingly written, full of poetry and danger, A Tip for the Hangman brings an unforgettable protagonist to new life, and makes a centuries-old story feel utterly contemporary.

My Review:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” Whoops. Wrong book. Right concept, but very much the wrong book. Much too early.

Elizabethan England only seems like a Golden Age because we’re looking back at it. Because history is written by the victors, and in this case the victor was Elizabeth Tudor, Gloriana herself.

Anonymous 16th century portrait, believed to be Christopher Marlowe

What history glosses over are the dirty deeds done, whether or not they are dirt cheap, by unscrupulous men in dark places who pretend they are working for the good of their country – even if they are just out for the main chance.

Christopher Marlowe, often referred to as Kit, was a comet blazing across the English stage just as William Shakespeare was getting his start. It’s even possible, although unlikely, that Marlowe actually was Shakespeare. He’s got the credentials for it and the timing is possible.

On the condition that Marlowe faked his own rather suspicious death in a barroom brawl. We’ll probably never know.

But this book, this story wrapped around not one but several tips for any number of hangmen, leads the reader – and Kit Marlowe – to that suspicious barroom brawl by a road that is surprising, circuitous and shrouded in secrets. The kind of secrets that brought one queen to her end and saved another’s kingdom.

Escape Rating A+: A Tip for the Hangman is the best kind of historical fiction, the kind where the reader feels the dirt under their fingernails, the grit under their own feet – and the smells in their own nostrils.

It’s also the kind that immerses the reader in the era it portrays. We’re right there with Marlowe, a poor scholarship student at Cambridge, as he becomes Doctor Faustus to his own personal Mephistopheles a decade before he wrote his most enduring play.

Depiction of Sir Francis Walsingham, principal secretary to Elizabeth I, Queen of England.

It’s hard to get past that image, even though we only see it in retrospect, as the Queen’s Spymaster and Secretary of State, Francis Walsingham, recruits the young, impoverished and most importantly clever Marlowe into his network of agents and informants with one aim in mind.

To bring down Elizabeth’s great rival, Mary, Queen of Scots.

A recruitment which ultimately becomes Mary’s end. But eventually also Marlowe’s as well.

Marlowe spends the entire book dancing on the edge of a knife, trying to forget that he’ll be cut no matter which way he falls and ignoring the forces around him, along with his own increasing world-weariness, that guarantee he will fall sooner or later.

There’s something about this period, the Tudor and Stuart era of English history, that has always captivated me. This book does a fantastic job of drawing the reader into the cut and thrust not of politics so much as the skullduggery that lies underneath it.

As I was reading A Tip for the Hangman, my mind dragged up two series that I loved that feature the same period and have many characters that overlap this book. Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age puts an urban fantasy/portal twist on this period and includes both Marlowe and Shakespeare as featured characters, while Dorothy Dunnett’s marvelous Lymond series focuses on a character who spies on many of the same people that Marlowe does here, most notably Mary, Queen of Scots. Lymond’s frequent second, third and fourth thoughts about the life he has fallen into echo Marlowe in the depths of regret and even despair.

A Tip for the Hangman is a fantastic book for those looking for their history and historical fiction to be “warts and all” – to immerse the reader in life as it was lived and not just the deeds and doings of the high and mighty. Because when it comes to conveying a more nuanced version of life as a hard-scrabbling playwright living hand to mouth and fearing that the hand would get cut off this feels like an absorbing story of fiction being the lie that tells, if not THE absolute truth then absolutely a certain kind of truth.

I would also say, “Read it and weep” for Kit Marlowe and what he might have been if he’d lived. Instead, I’ll just say “READ IT!”

Review: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

Review: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady MartineA Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan, #2) by Arkady Martine
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Teixcalaan #2
Pages: 496
Published by Tor Books on March 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass - still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire - face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Their failure will guarantee millions of deaths in an endless war. Their success might prevent Teixcalaan’s destruction - and allow the empire to continue its rapacious expansion.

Or it might create something far stranger....

My Review

I mostly listened to A Desolation Called Peace, and because I don’t have quite as much listening time as I did pre-COVID, it took about three weeks before I got impatient and started finishing chapters in the ebook and then just losing all patience completely and switching to the ebook because I just had to find out what happened.

This matters because the length of the total listen divided by the amount of time I listened each day compared to the amount of time post-listening each day, when combined with the sheer denseness of the story and the worldbuilding meant that I had a lot of time to think about the story in between listening to the story.

And I had a LOT of thoughts. Maybe not enough to fill the entirety of Teixcalaan, but more than enough to fill Lsel Station. And so we begin.

We begin not terribly long after Mahit Dzmare returned to her home, tiny, independent(ish) Lsel Station, after the tumultuous events of A Memory Called Empire. And everything that happens in A Desolation Called Peace is a result of those events.

Meaning don’t start here. Start with A Memory Called Empire, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2020 because it was so incredibly awesome. It’s even more of an achievement when you realize that Memory was the author’s debut novel. WOW! Whatever you’ve heard about just how good it was doesn’t even come close.

For Mahit, the results of that eventful, impactful week – and it all took place in just a week – have left her back home in a state that Mahit refers to as “fuckedness” with damn good reason. She’s screwed no matter which way she turns.

The powers-that-be on her station didn’t expect her to come back home. Now they all want to use her as a wedge against the rapaciousness of Teixcalaan. Except for the Councilor for Culture, who just wants to slice her up to see what makes Dzmare and her imago, the machine that holds the memories she carries of her late predecessor Yskandr Aghavn, work. Because they weren’t supposed to.

Mahit knows full well that she won’t survive the slicing. She wasn’t meant to survive Culture’s previous efforts to sabotage her but those were at a bit of a remove. If she is unable to outmaneuver her enemy she’ll be directly under the Councilor’s knife. Literally, and certainly fatally.

And that’s where the war that Mahit traded her station’s freedom for at the end of the previous story reaches out and physically grabs Mahit out of Lsel Station in the person of Three Seagrass, her former cultural attache – and potential lover – during Mahit’s hell week on Teixcalaan.

Three Seagrass, now the Third Undersecretary in the Ministry of Information, has sent herself as a special envoy to the Teixcalaan fleet prosecuting that war. The Fleet needs a diplomat and a translator. Three Seagrass needs to get out of her office before she molders there. She needs an adventure and a challenge. Most of all, she needs Mahit Dzmare, even if she can’t quite admit it to herself.

Out of the frying pan and very much into the fire, Three Seagrass sweeps into Lsel Station, whisks Mahit away from the imminent threat of the Culture Ministry’s surgical suite, and takes her to the flagship of the Teixcalaan fleet to help her translate the speech of the enemy, an enemy who doesn’t so much speak as make mechanical sounds that seem to be designed to make humans, whether Teixcalaanlitzlim like Three Seagrass or barbarians like Mahit Dzmare, involuntarily perform the technicolor yawn past the point where they have any cookies, or anything else, left to toss.

When the aliens aren’t making all the humans ride the “vomit comet”, their ships are regurgitating acidic spit that eats its way through both Teixcalaanli ships and pilots. It’s up to Three Seagrass and Mahit to get the aliens talking instead of shooting – or spitting – before it’s too late.

All the while, political forces within the Fleet are attempting an end run around both the Fleet’s commander- and the Emperor.

No pressure – well, at least no more pressure than last time. The bloody results of which no one is likely to forget.

Escape Rating A: A Desolation Called Peace is an absolutely excellent example of science fiction as the romance of political agency. Not that plenty of Earth-shaking, or perhaps that should be Teixcalaan-shaking, events don’t happen, and not that Mahit and Three Seagrass aren’t using every scrap of agency they have so that they, the fleet and the empire – and Lsel Station – all survive more or less intact. But all of pretty much everyone’s actions in this story have their roots in the convoluted politics of the empire, both from within and from without.

As much as I fell into A Desolation Called Peace and could not stop thinking about it, I have to say that it isn’t quite as good as A Memory Called Empire. On my other hand, the first book was SO DAMN GOOD that it set a very high bar. Not quite reaching that bar means that this second book is still a great read.

I said at the top that the time I spent between immersions in this story meant that I had a lot of time for thinking about the story. And did I ever have thoughts!

So much of what makes both books so deeply layered is the way that everything revolves around context. Stories about context, about the use of context to convey “otherness” and the way that lack of context inhibits communication, for me circle back to the classic Star Trek Next Gen episode Darmok, where the Federation has to learn to communicate with people who ONLY speak in cultural context, so the entire episode is about the two captains creating a joint context where none existed before so that they can understand each other.

Teixcalaan is an old empire that has been what they call “civilized” for a long time. From their perspective, everything that is important to say or do is shrouded in layers and layers of context from history, literature and poetry. Out of that perspective arises the foundational belief that Teixcalaan, the jewel at the heart of the world, is their planet, their empire, and the only world that matters. This belief is so ingrained in their culture that the words for their planet, their empire, the world at large AND the right and proper way of doing things are all the same word.

A belief that leads to a state of constant microaggression against everyone and everything that is not Teixcalaanli. Those thoughtless and constant microaggressions form the heart of the conflict between Mahit and Three Seagrass – and also lie deep within Mahit’s own heart in conflict with itself.

Mahit, as an outsider, can see the rapaciousness of Teixcalaan as both an empire and as a culture, while at the same time she loves that culture, wants to be a part of it, and knows that she can’t truly. Not ever.

But her love for Teixcalaan, even if it is unrequited, has made her an outsider in her own home as much as she is a barbarian in Teixcalaan. Perhaps even more so. Mahit always makes me think of the Psalm that begins “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning…” Mahit’s heartbreak is that for her, both Teixcalaan AND Lsel are Jerusalem and she cannot truly return to either of them.

I could go on. In fact, I’m sorely tempted to do so because there is so much to unpack in this world – which still and above all tells a cracking good story.

One last thought before this review rivals the book for length. I began by listening, and probably listened to about 2/3rds of the story. BTW, the reader does an especially good job with Mahit’s voice and Mahit’s perspective.

But as I said, in Teixcalaan, context is everything. Listening rather than reading provided some surprising differences in context. The name of the flagship of the fleet, like the names of all of the fleet’s ships, has meaning in Teixcalaan history and literature. When the ship was first introduced, I heard her name as “Wait for the Wheel”, conveying a sense of patience before action – at least to this listener. When I cracked open the ebook and saw the name of the ship in text, I discovered it was “Weight for the Wheel”, as in the weight that pushes the wheel forward. And more in line with the purpose that both the ship and her commander have in the story.

In Teixcalaan, context is everything. And in that context, the way that A Desolation Called Peace ends allows for a third book but does not require one. If the story ends here, the ending is certainly satisfying. But if we get the chance to see what fire Mahit and Three Seagrass are thrown in – or throw themselves into – next, it would make me a very happy reader.

Review: An Invincible Summer by Mariah Stewart + Giveaway

Review: An Invincible Summer by Mariah Stewart + GiveawayAn Invincible Summer by Mariah Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Series: Wyndham Beach #1
Pages: 378
Published by Montlake on May 1, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

It was a lifetime ago that recently widowed Maggie Flynn was in Wyndham Beach. Now, on the occasion of her fortieth high school reunion, she returns to her hometown on the Massachusetts coast, picking up right where she left off with dear friends Lydia and Emma. But seeing Brett Crawford again stirs other emotions. Once, they were the town’s golden couple destined for one another. He shared Maggie’s dreams—and eventually, a shattering secret that drove them apart.
Buying her old family home and resettling in Wyndham Beach means a chance to start over for Maggie and her two daughters, but it also means facing her rekindled feelings for her first love and finally confronting—and embracing—the past in ways she never thought possible. Maggie won’t be alone. With her family and friends around her, she can weather this stormy turning point in her life and open her heart to the future. As for that dream shared and lost years ago? If Maggie can forgive herself, it still might come true.

My Review:

It’s not that summer is invincible, even if it sometimes feels that way. It’s that during this particular summer Maggie Flynn, along with her besties Lydia and Emma, discover that their friendship, tried and tested and true, makes them invincible.

Not in spite of, but because of, the 50+ years it has been supporting and sustaining them. Although definitely in spite of all the challenges that life has thrown their way.

The story begins in the summer of their 40th high school reunion, making all three women 58 give or take a few months. Lydia and Emma have lived in tiny Wyndham Beach Massachusetts all their lives, while Maggie left to work in Philadelphia and ended up staying there for 30 years, through marriage, two daughters – and the still recent death of her beloved husband.

When Maggie comes back for the reunion, she discovers that in spite of the years and the miles and the tragedies, Wyndham Beach is still – or again – the place that she thinks of as home. Even though both of her adult daughters live in the Philly area, and she loves them and sees them often, Wyndham Beach, where she grew up and where Lydia and Emma still live, is the place that calls her heart.

Even if she has to face the heartbreak she left behind all those years ago in order to stay.

Escape Rating A: This is EXACTLY the kind of story I think of as “women’s fiction”. And as much as I dislike that phrase, I LOVED this book.

One of the things I loved was Maggie. It was terrific to see a story centered on a woman near my own age that focused on her and not on her 20something daughters. Not that Maggie’s daughters aren’t important to the story and not that they don’t get their share of pages, or of Maggie’s attention. And certainly not that they don’t have their own issues to deal with over the course of the book.

But the focus here is on Maggie. She’s the person at the center, it’s about her friendships, her adult relationships with her daughters and her possibilities for romance. She’s the one turning a corner in her life and she’s the one who has to make decisions about her future.

A future that the story dives into from all sides with the acknowledgement that at not-quite-60 Maggie still has plenty of life to live and love to give and that she’s not ready to step back from life. The same is also true of her friends Emma and Lydia.

In other words, Maggie may be a grandmother, but that is far from the entire focus of the rest of her life. It doesn’t have to be and it probably shouldn’t be.

The terrific thread that runs through the story is the way that all of the women, Maggie, Lydia, Emma and Maggie’s daughters Natalie and Grace are ALL at inflection points in their lives. And that all of them grasp their respective bulls by their horns and wrestle their lives into the shapes that they want to live. If romance happens for any of them, it’s the icing on a cake they’ve baked themselves with help from each other.

Also, the issue in Maggie’s past that was holding her back, while the shape of it, so to speak, was obvious early on, the exact nature of the original issue and the way it got resolved was both surprising and lovely.

Honestly, the whole book was just a lovely, charming read from beginning to end.

This is one of those cases where a story turned out to be the right book at the right time. I fell into the lives of Maggie, her friends and her daughters with a contented sigh, and was sorry to fall out of Wyndham Beach at the end. So I’m very happy to see that there will be a second book in this series, Goodbye Again, just in time to pull me out of the winter doldrums next February. That beach is going to sound awfully good about then!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am really, really pleased to be able to give a copy of An Invincible Summer away to one very lucky US/CAN winner. I loved this book and hope the winner will too! (As far as the question in the rafflecopter, I haven’t been to a single reunion since the 10th. I wasn’t close to anyone in high school haven’t had the urge to go and probably won’t. YMMV)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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