The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-31-21

Happy Halloween!

I want to say that this is a picture of George in a costume, but it’s not nearly that well planned. This is George, attempting to “help” his people sort the laundry. He dove into the pile and then burrowed his way back up from the bottom. This picture is the result. George is one of those cats who doesn’t quite get the whole point of “hiding”. He slinks under the bed as if he’s hiding from us, but his tail is so long it’s practically in another zip code, so he forgets that at least half of it is still sticking out where we can see.

Upcoming Events:

SAVE THE DATE! Thankful for Books Giveaway Hop begins November 24th

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Brothers of the Wind by Tad Williams
B Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva Devon
A Review: All the Feels by Olivia Dade
A- Review: A Peculiar Combination by Ashley Weaver
A- Review: Grave Reservations by Cherie Priest
Stacking the Shelves (468)

Coming This Week:

Thanks a Latte Giveaway Hop
Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill (audiobook review)
The Riverwoman’s Dragon by Candace Robb (review)
A Lot Like Adios by Alexis Daria (review)
Miss Moriarty, I Presume? by Sherry Thomas (review)

Stacking the Shelves (468)

I swear, on Wednesday it still felt like summer. On Friday, as I type this, it’s cold and damp and feels like winter blew in all at once. We even got out the flannel sheets last night! I wasn’t expecting that. I had to get out a jacket this morning and I discovered that the cats have been sleeping on it since last spring. I know because the jacket was just extra, extra furry, but not in a way that provided me with any warmth.

It’s going to be a GREAT weekend to snuggle in and READ!

For Review:
The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
And Then I Woke Up by Malcolm Devlin
The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
Dating Dr. Dil by Nisha Sharma
The Echoes (Kinship #4) by Jess Montgomery
Fated Blades by Ilona Andrews
The Key to Deceit (Electra McDonnell #2) by Ashley Weaver
Last Exit by Max Gladstone
A Marvellous Light (Last Binding #1) by Freya Marske (audio)
Noor by Nnedi Okorafor (audio)
Outcasts of the Wildwood by Rachel Atwood
Seven Mercies (Seven Devils #2) by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May
Sisters of Night and Fog by Erika Robuck

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Walk the Wild with Me by Rachel Atwood


If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

Please link your STS post in the linky below:


Review: Grave Reservations by Cherie Priest

Review: Grave Reservations by Cherie PriestGrave Reservations by Cherie Priest
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery, paranormal, thriller, urban fantasy
Series: Booking Agents #1
Pages: 304
Published by Atria Books on October 26, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A psychic travel agent and a Seattle PD detective solve a murder in this quirky mystery in the vein of Lisa Lutz’s The Spellman Files and Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series.
Meet Leda Foley: devoted friend, struggling travel agent, and inconsistent psychic. When Leda, sole proprietor of Foley's Flights of Fancy, impulsively re-books Seattle PD detective Grady Merritt’s flight, her life changes in ways she couldn’t have predicted.
After watching his original plane blow up from the safety of the airport, Grady realizes that Leda’s special abilities could help him with a cold case he just can’t crack.
Despite her scattershot premonitions, she agrees for a secret reason: her fiancé’s murder remains unsolved. Leda’s psychic abilities couldn’t help the case several years before, but she’s been honing her skills and drawing a crowd at her favorite bar’s open-mic nights, where she performs Klairvoyant Karaoke—singing whatever song comes to mind when she holds people’s personal effects. Now joined by a rag-tag group of bar patrons and pals alike, Leda and Grady set out to catch a killer—and learn how the two cases that haunt them have more in common than they ever suspected.

My Review:

Grave Reservations is a “no good deed goes unpunished” kind of story. Or a “may you live in interesting times” kind of story. With a heaping helping of karma being a bitch and being careful what you wish for because you just might get it.

Although not all of those things are visited on Leda Foley. It’s more like she sets all of them in motion with one surprising act. Leda Foley is a travel agent. She’s also a somewhat erratic psychic. Those two things combine when she gets a really bad feeling about one of her (very) few client’s upcoming flight from Orlando back home to Seattle.

She has a really bad feeling that if Grady Merritt makes his originally planned flight from Orlando to Seattle that he’s not going to make it home. Ever. Leda doesn’t know exactly what’s going to happen, only that it’s going to be fatal – at least for Grady.

So she rebooks him through Atlanta. (Leda’s not wrong, if you die in the south your corpse really will have to go through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.) Grady would have missed his flight anyway thanks to accident-delayed traffic on the way to the airport, but Leda rebooked him before he missed that plane. Which has Grady angry and yelling at her on the phone right up until the point where the plane he should have been on catches fire on the runway.

Leda’s relieved. Grady is too – but also a bit spooked. Once he gets over the shock and the gratitude, he turns up in Leda’s tiny office hoping that her psychic powers, the ones that saved his life, might also save this murder case that he can’t get out of his head.

Grady Merritt is a detective in the Seattle Police Department, and he’s got a multiple murder to solve that has been at a dead end for over a year and made very little sense even when it was all fresh. Asking Leda for help is pretty much the equivalent of grasping at straws, but he hasn’t had any better ideas – or actually even any worse ones – for months of digging.

He’s desperate. She’s wary but game. Very wary and not very game at all, so she tries her level best to lower his expectations as much as possible. Like all the way to the ground.

Only to hit paydirt on their very first try. Not much, and not something that he can take to a judge or even to his lieutenant, but enough to give him a place to start looking again.

Leda can’t resist helping – even when she shouldn’t – because her “spidey senses” are telling her that Grady’s case is linked to another unsolved murder – the murder of Leda’s fiancé. But the closer that Grady and Leda get to a solution, the more death follows in the wake of their investigation.

Leda has clearly found Grady a lead that someone else wants to close off – by turning as many investigative possibilities into “dead ends” as possible – before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A-: This was fun. In fact, this was a whole lot of fun. It hits just the right note of seriousness – after all, they are investigating not just one murder but a continuing series of murders – but the tone is still fairly lighthearted. It reminds me a bit of the early Stephanie Plum books with its lighthearted mayhem and quirky cast, while having more of a beating heart – and a few more brain cells – than it seemed like the later books in that series did. (While the blurb compares this to Charlaine Harris’ Aurora Teagarden series, it reminded me more of Harper Connelly. Your reading mileage may vary.)

The beating and broken heart of this story is Leda’s still healing (sometimes badly) trauma over the murder of her fiancé. Her life has gone on, but it’s not the same, it’s not going to be the same. Even if she gets her questions finally answered, her world has gone down a different path than it otherwise would have, and the scene of her in their storage locker still hunting for his scent among his old clothes was heartbreaking. As it should be.

At the same time, the life that Leda has cobbled together, while it isn’t quite working in a financial sense – at least not yet – does give her the emotional support that she needs and she is healing in that heartbreaking two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of way.

Even through her tears, her thoughts and actions are often funny as hell. I’m still laughing about Princess Pookie and Mr. Wiggles, felines who were discovered to be the opposite genders of their names when Princess Pookie got Mr. Wiggles pregnant. The entire scene was just a perfect explanation of cats and their owners and how much we love them and they tolerate us. It was a literal laugh out loud moment that gave just the right amount of lift in the story when it was needed, as Leda reactions often did.

But the story manages to follow the conventions of a cozy mystery – even as it deals with situations that are far from cozy. Leda’s found family among the denizens of the bar Castaways, where she does her “Psychic Psongstress” (the manager’s name for it) act of “Klairvoyant Karaoke” (Leda’s name for it) are sweet and funny and affirming of a talent that Leda used to hide but is learning to use.

There was so much about this story and the people in it that I just fell in love with. It also does a terrific job of representing the Seattle that I used to live in, which made for a much more fun blast from the past than my actual residence there. I was just about ROFL at the description of the downtown Seattle library building where I used to work. It is exactly as the author described. Including the neon and the vertigo.

Main Seattle Library (photo from Wikipedia)

But I will also confess that the conflation of the King County Library System with the Seattle Public Library drove me nuts. They are two separate entities. Not that plenty of residents don’t totally mix up the two, because libraries. But still, it read wrong because I knew better.

That being said, now that my personal pet peeve is out of the way, I have to say that I loved Leda’s story and this opening chapter in a series that looks like it’s going to be Leda’s journey. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Review: A Peculiar Combination by Ashley Weaver

Review: A Peculiar Combination by Ashley WeaverA Peculiar Combination (Electra McDonnell, #1) by Ashley Weaver
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: espionage, historical fiction, historical mystery, World War II, mystery
Series: Electra McDonnell #1
Pages: 296
Published by Minotaur Books on May 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The first in the Electra McDonnell series from Edgar-nominated author Ashley Weaver, set in England during World War II, A Peculiar Combination is a delightful mystery filled with spies, murder, romance, and the author's signature wit.
Electra McDonnell has always known that the way she and her family earn their living is slightly outside of the law. Breaking into the homes of the rich and picking the locks on their safes may not be condoned by British law enforcement, but World War II is in full swing, Ellie's cousins Colm and Toby are off fighting against Hitler, and Uncle Mick's more honorable business as a locksmith can't pay the bills any more.
So when Uncle Mick receives a tip about a safe full of jewels in the empty house of a wealthy family, he and Ellie can't resist. All goes as planned--until the pair are caught redhanded. Ellie expects them to be taken straight to prison, but instead they are delivered to a large townhouse, where government official Major Ramsey is waiting with an offer: either Ellie agrees to help him break into a safe and retrieve blueprints that will be critical to the British war effort, before they can be delivered to a German spy, or he turns her over to the police.
Ellie doesn't care for the Major's imperious manner, but she has no choice, and besides, she's eager to do her bit for king and country. She may be a thief, but she's no coward. When she and the Major break into the house in question, they find instead the purported German spy dead on the floor, the safe already open and empty. Soon, Ellie and Major Ramsey are forced to put aside their differences to unmask the double-agent, as they try to stop allied plans falling into German hands.

My Review:

I just got the pun in the title. Electra McDonnell is a safecracker – among all sorts of other thievery. In this WW2 era mystery thriller, Ellie is recruited, just short of press-ganged, by the agency that will be better known as MI6, in order to do what she does. That is, the Secret Intelligence Service requires her to serve her country by cracking a safe containing classified documents that a traitor plans to turn over to the Nazis.

Yes, they could just barge in, blow the safe, and arrest everyone involved, but that’s not going to put misinformation into enemy hands. Cracking the safe, substituting false documents for the real ones, does have that potential. IF they can open the safe without the traitors being the wiser.

That’s where Electra McDonnell and her Uncle Mick, small-time thieves and safecrackers trying to supplement their honest income as locksmiths, come into the picture. They get set up by MI6 and get nabbed by the police, but instead of going to jail, they get an offer they really can’t refuse.

If they do the job, they’ll be placed on the government payroll. If they refuse, they’ll get placed in one of His Majesty’s Prisons instead. All Electra has to do is crack a safe while her Uncle is held as “collateral”.

Sneaking in goes off without a hitch, except for a couple of small problems that are definitely going to turn out to be big ones. When Electra arrives to open the safe – it’s standing wide open and clearly, obviously, unfortunately – quite, quite empty. While the man that MI6 believed was the traitor is lying on the floor – quite, quite dead.

Electra and her uncle could get out at this point. They’ve done the job they were coerced into doing, they’re not obligated for anything more. But knowing that the “Service” will be watching them makes their income supplementing housebreaking even dicier than normal. And they both want to do their bit for king and country – if not exactly in the usual fashion.

Not to mention, Electra just can’t let it go. Eventually the documents will be found, and Electra’s services as a safecracker might still be needed. The ability to keep cool in danger and under pressure that makes her a good housebreaker and safecracker is also excellent training for a covert operative.

If only the handsome Major with the stick up his ass who is in charge of the operation can manage to get his head unwedged from the same location long enough to see just how much of an asset Electra can be.

Escape Rating A-: World War II, the war years, the years immediately before it and its aftermath, provide plenty of fodder for absolutely oodles of stories. The war years are particularly fruitful for stories with female protagonists – the war created thousands of opportunities for women to have a great deal of independent agency in the absence of so many men at the front. There have also been several books that feature civilians getting roped into the secret services, and A Peculiar Combination reminded me more than a bit of several of them, including The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan, Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees and Death in Focus by Anne Perry. So if you liked one of those you’ll probably like this too, and vice versa.

But Ellie McDonnell is a bit different from the usual run of such heroines because she begins the story not exactly operating on the side of the angels. She’s a thief. In fact, her entire family, her uncle and her two cousins, are all housebreakers although only Ellie and her uncle are safecrackers. Breaking and entering is the family business and it’s a business that Ellie seems to have few, if any, moral qualms about.

They’re very careful housebreakers, after all. They only steal from people who can clearly afford it, and they only break in when they are certain no one is at home – or is going to be at home for some time. It’s also not in any way, shape or form remotely glamorous. It’s a living. Not exactly a respectable living, but a living. It’s a job, not an adventure. Ellie and her uncle may get a thrill out of it, but it isn’t about the thrill. It’s about a roof over their heads and food on the table and making sure there’s enough money coming into the household when legitimate jobs are scarce.

Not that both Ellie and Mick don’t get caught up in the thrill of helping Major Ramsey figure out who the traitor is, and the race against time to switch the documents before they’re handed off to the Nazis.

There’s an element of out of the frying pan into the fire as Ellie and Ramsay move one or two steps forward in their hunt for the enemy agent only to discover themselves back where they’ve started because they’ve swallowed a red herring instead of an actual clue. Or because the actual clue led, as it does at the opening, to an actual dead body. The reader finds themselves misdirected every bit as much as they are. The person who is acting against them seems to be at least one step ahead of them throughout the entire chase – and for excellent reasons which the story does an equally excellent job of concealing.

Returning to Major Ramsey, the man with both a stick and his head up his fundament, there is actually a second “peculiar combination” in this story. A romantic triangle – if that’s what it eventually turns out to be as the series progresses. Ramsay may be romantically interested in Ellie – there certainly are hints in that direction. Ellie is at least attracted to Ramsay, as he’s more than handsome enough, but she’s wary of his imperious manner and his upper-crust background. Meanwhile, there’s another man vying for Ellie’s heart, a childhood friend who is, as the saying goes, no better than he ought to be. But then, neither is Ellie. I hope that this conundrum is eventually resolved with as deft a hand as the spy case is wrapped up in this first book in the series, because as much as I’ve loved the adventure and the misdirection so far, I would be even happier with this story without the potentially messy romantic entanglements. YMMV

But I really did love the spy games, and I like Ellie as an unconventional protagonist quite a lot, so I’m looking forward to the second book in this series, The Key to Deceit, coming out in May, 2022.

Review: All the Feels by Olivia Dade

Review: All the Feels by Olivia DadeAll the Feels (Spoiler Alert, #2) by Olivia Dade
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Spoiler Alert #2
Pages: 385
Published by Avon on November 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Following Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade returns with another utterly charming romantic comedy about a devil-may-care actor—who actually cares more than anyone knows—and the no-nonsense woman hired to keep him in line.
Alexander Woodroe has it all. Charm. Sex appeal. Wealth. Fame. A starring role as Cupid on TV’s biggest show, God of the Gates. But the showrunners have wrecked his character, he’s dogged by old demons, and his post-show future remains uncertain. When all that reckless emotion explodes into a bar fight, the tabloids and public agree: his star is falling.
Enter Lauren Clegg, the former ER therapist hired to keep him in line. Compared to her previous work, watching over handsome but impulsive Alex shouldn’t be especially difficult. But the more time they spend together, the harder it gets to keep her professional remove and her heart intact, especially when she discovers the reasons behind his recklessness…not to mention his Cupid fanfiction habit.
When another scandal lands Alex in major hot water and costs Lauren her job, she’ll have to choose between protecting him and offering him what he really wants—her. But he’s determined to keep his improbably short, impossibly stubborn, and extremely endearing minder in his life any way he can. And on a road trip up the California coast together, he intends to show her exactly what a falling star will do to catch the woman he loves: anything at all.

My Review:

I was really looking for some fanfiction to read, but I’ve reread my faves so many times that I’ve practically memorized them. So I picked up the next best thing, even though it won’t be published until mid November and I really shouldn’t post the review until late October but here I am anyway. It’s early June and I’m reading All the Feels and loving every minute of it.

When I say it’s the next best thing to fanfiction, it’s way closer (literally as well as figuratively) than the old Ma Bell commercial about “long distance is the next best thing to being there”. Which honestly might have been true at the time, but does not preclude a huge gap between the two experiences. It just means that there wasn’t anything better sitting in that gap.

Which is pretty much how I felt when I started All the Feels, so that I could get, well, all the feels.

But speaking of spoilers, and Spoiler Alert, and kind of giving you a spoiler alert, All the Feels doesn’t so much take place after Spoiler Alert as it does in parallel with it. It takes place at the same time, during those nine months between closing out the filming of the last season of God of the Gates and the broadcast of the final episode.

So the stories spoil each other just a bit if you read them in order and a whole lot more than a bit if you read All the Feels first.

Consider yourself warned. Then go ahead and read them anyway because they are both marvelous!

Escape Rating A: This was, totally, absolutely and screamingly obviously, the right book at the right time for my reading – even if it really messed with my posted schedule. I needed the feels from this book, so I dove right in and wasn’t sorry I spent the whole day with it glued to my face.

One thing I keep wondering about is how well these books will “wear” over time. Because the TV series that Marcus (Spoiler Alert) and Alex (All the Feels) are starring in, caught up in the filming and promoting of and regretting more than a bit at many points, is all too clearly a poke in the eye with a sharp stick at the final season of Game of Thrones. A poke that works really well right now but may date the whole thing in the future. I really hope these stories hold up though because they have awesome things to say about romance and fake life in Hollywood and the real people who are caught up in it and loving yourself as you are and accepting yourself and accepting that you are worthy of love and consideration as you are and standing up for yourself and just SQUEE.

I want to hug this book so hard – and hug Lauren along with it.

Ironically, this story has one of the same elements as the book that I was rage-reading just beforehand that made me pick this up (I think that book was Someone to Cherish but I didn’t write it down at the time and now it’s driving me crazy trying to remember.). Lauren begins this story believing that everyone in her life is more important than she is, that everyone else’s feelings are worth all the consideration and hers are worth none, and generally being a doormat. (Unlike the other book, Lauren has given these people power over her not because law and society have decreed that she must but because she’s been brought up to be that way by a family that doesn’t realize they are abusing her and honestly each other.

Lauren has to learn to stand up for herself – and she finally does and that’s part of what makes this one so good.

On the other hand, Alex, who on the surface looks like he has it all and is acting out like a spoiled brat, turns out to be nothing of the sort. Much of the story is Lauren taking up more space in the world while Alex learns to, not so much take up less space as to get out of his own damn way.

That they fall into “like” long before they fall in love is what makes the romance work. They need to like each other – and they need to learn to like themselves – before they have a chance at love. When they finally both get there, it’s obvious that there’s still a lot of work for both of them to do, but they are on the right path.

Relationships take work, so the ending of this story had, pardon me, all the right feels. They love each other, they want to make it last and they know they have a lot of work to do both separately and together in order to make a go of it. We see them take the first steps and it’s just lovely.

And OMG I hope this series continues, because the entire thing is just plain marvelous and I want MORE!

Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva Devon

Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva DevonThe Wedding Wager by Eva Devon
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 317
Published by Entangled: Amara on October 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

All Lady Victoria Kirby wants is to dig in the dirt, take notations, and record history, thank you very much. Bumbling through ballrooms and getting disdained by the ton for her less than ideal looks, on the other hand, is the last thing she wants. But her reckless father has a different idea for her future when he puts up the ultimate ante—her hand in marriage—and loses. Over her dead body.
The Duke of Chase cannot bear to see a woman misused. After all, he saw that often enough as a child. So when he’s witness to a marquess gambling away his daughter to a lecher of a man, he has no choice but to step in and rescue her. Lady Victoria has a reputation for being as tart as a lemon and as bitter as one, too. So, he may have just found the perfect wife to keep a promise he made to himself long ago--to never have an heir. With her, surely, he'll never be tempted to take her to bed and break that promise.
But when he meets the wild, witty intelligent young lady he’s bound to marry, he knows trouble is headed his way... And everything he ever swore to uphold may very well come undone, especially his heart.

My Review:

Once we get to know the Duke of Chase, it seems as if he’s a bit too good to be true. Even if at the beginning he seems a bit too bad to be trustworthy.

However, I loved Victoria from her very first appearance – as did Chase although he was much less willing to admit that even to himself.

But Chase is absolutely right about Victoria’s father. He is utterly irredeemable. There are no such thing as best intentions when one is wagering one’s daughter’s hand in marriage on a roll of the dice – even if it’s best two out of three and the dice are rigged.

That’s where we meet our hero, and our villain. Not that Victoria’s father turns out to be all that effective – or energetic – in that particular endeavor. The Marquess of Halford is determined to find his bluestocking daughter a husband before she’s permanently on the shelf – even though that’s exactly where his older daughter wants to be.

Victoria is a dedicated archaeologist, who has served as her father’s lead assistant ever since she was a child. She enjoys her work, and indeed pretty much any intellectual pursuits. She also hates the ton and the feeling is very, very mutual. She thought her father understood that, and he certainly encouraged her work.

Until the night he wagers her future, allowing her hand to be won by the scandalous rakehell otherwise known as Derek Kent, the Duke of Chase. A man whose reputation is hard-earned, hard-won, and utterly false.

Chase seems to have more than a bit of “white knight” syndrome, and Victoria is the latest in a long line of damsels he has rescued – generally by helping the world to think that they are not damsels at all.

Victoria doesn’t want the usual lot of high born women, marriage, motherhood and never allowed a thought in her head about anything serious, important or intellectual. Chase is caught on the horns of a dilemma, he needs a wife to keep the predatory mamas of the ton at bay, but he gave his word that he would never father an heir to the dukedom. Marrying Victoria, with her reputation as a plain-faced shrew should solve all of both their problems. He’ll give her the respectability of being his duchess, and the freedom to do whatever she likes. He’ll never desire her enough to bed her, so there will be no danger of an heir.

All’s fair in love and war, and the best laid plans of mice and men often go very far astray. While it’s true that Victoria’s caustic wit and sharp tongue are quite capable of disemboweling a man with a single phrase, she is beautiful. The ton’s narrow definition of beauty simply can’t encompass a woman who is meant to stride through the world like a goddess.

But by the time they’re each past admitting, at least to themselves if not each other, that they both want a marriage in full and not merely a platonic friendship, they’re both so deep in lies and misconceptions that they may not be able to wade across the chasm that they’ve dug between them.

Escape Rating B: The Wedding Wager is deliciously frothy and a quick and utterly lovely read. I liked Victoria so very much as a character, and I loved Chase’s response to her. He does think she’s beautiful, but the attraction between them is as much about her intellect as it is about her appearance. Nor does the story dwell on every detail of her appearance, and I really liked that. It felt like we got way more of the female gaze, Victoria’s appreciation of Chase’s charms, than we did the other way around.

And yet we still got that sense that she is beautiful and that the ton’s rules have become so narrow that they just can’t see it. Victoria doesn’t have to change anything about her physicality to become a “success” with the ton, she just has to own her authentic self.

One of the parts of this story that really sings is Victoria’s forthright nature and her unabashed cultivation and use of her own intellect. She’s smart, she’s thoughtful, she finds the restrictions of the ton unbearably frustrating, finds the entire thing a stupid but stupidly painful farce and does her best to ignore it as much as possible. I particularly enjoyed the scene at the theater where the older woman, Lady Gannet, enjoys Victoria and matches her in intelligence and agreed that the girls of the ton were generally forced to be stupid. Yes, Lady Gannet believed that Victoria’s prime duties as duchess were to take care of her husband and provide him with children, but she also used her brain and missed a time when other women did as well and wasn’t in the least bit shy about saying so.

I loved Victoria and Chase’s intelligent banter, although he seemed a bit too good to be true in his appreciation and support of her goals and ambitions. I wanted him to be, it makes the romance work, but at the same time it felt a bit too easy.

Speaking of easy, Chase’s secrets were too easy to figure out, so I’m glad that he revealed them to Victoria relatively early on. In the end, the conflict between them wasn’t about the secrets, it was about his clinging to the past that created those secrets.

And he gives very good grovel when he finally figures it out.

One final note. Something about the way the story was set up gave me the niggling feeling that this was part of a series. I think it was in the depth of Chase’s friendship with Brookhaven. It felt like there was prior history that was known but not present in this book. That might be true, but this is not – at least so far – part of a series. Howsomever, if it turned out to be, particularly if the next book were about Brookhaven himself, I’d be EXTREMELY interested!

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

Review: Brothers of the Wind by Tad Williams

Review: Brothers of the Wind by Tad WilliamsBrothers of the Wind by Tad Williams
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Osten Ard
Pages: 272
Published by DAW Books on November 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set in the New York Times bestselling world of Osten Ard, this short novel continues the saga that inspired a generation of fantasists
Pride often goes before a fall, but sometimes that prideful fall is so catastrophic that it changes history itself.
Among the immortal Sithi of Osten Ard, none are more beloved and admired than the two sons of the ruling family, steady Hakatri and his proud and fiery younger brother Ineluki -- Ineluki, who will one day become the undead Storm King. The younger brother makes a bold, terrible oath that he will destroy deadly Hidohebhi, a terrifying monster, but instead drags his brother with him into a disaster that threatens not just their family but all the Sithi -- and perhaps all of humankind as well.
Set a thousand years before the events of Williams's The Dragonbone Chair, the tale of Ineluki's tragic boast and what it brings is told by Pamon Kes, Hakatri's faithful servant. Kes is not one of the Sithi but a member of the enslaved Changeling race, and his loyalty has never before been tested. Now he must face the terrible black dragon at his master's side, then see his own life changed forever in a mere instant by Ineluki's rash, selfish promise.

My Review:

It’s hard to believe that The Dragonbone Chair was published over 30 years ago. A whole lifetime ago. I read it as it was published, and I remember loving it and waiting impatiently for each book but don’t remember anything about the story. I DO remember attempting to read one of the author’s later series (Otherland) and failing miserably.

But that was a long time ago, and the past is another country, so when this book popped up on Edelweiss I thought, “Why not?” As this is a prequel to Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, the trilogy that began with The Dragonbone Chair, I figured that I didn’t NEED to remember anything at all to get into this one.

And I was right. The writing was as lush and descriptive as I sorta/kinda remembered, but I didn’t need to look up anything about the plot of the original books to get into this one – because none of those events had happened in this world. Not yet anyway.

So the story here stood alone. And thankfully didn’t stand nearly as long as the original trilogy, which I may remember fondly but also remember as doorstop-sized. Each. (Also, don’t worry about the designation of this book in some places as following or being part of the Last King of Osten Ard series. Last King is a sequel to Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and Brothers is a prequel.)

Brothers of the Wind is, as it says right there on the label, a story about brothers and brotherhood. But the brothers are immortal princes in their world, so the family dynamics and family squabbles and sibling rivalries are both neverending and potentially world-shattering in their impacts.

A shattering that is still being felt a thousand years later.

Escape Rating A-: More than anything else, Brothers of the Wind is a story about overweening pride going before a very big fall. And it’s a story about the difference between pride and honor. It’s also, playing into that pride, a story about the braying of privilege and the horrifying results of its exercise.

As I was reading, I found myself wondering if Ineluki was what we would call bipolar or something much too similar. He doesn’t have much of a brain-to-mouth filter, but that reads like a consequence of his overwhelming privilege. When Ineluki has a tantrum, which he does, frequently and often and with terrible consequences, he gets placated and indulged because he’s a prince which makes him powerful in his own right. He doesn’t face the consequences of his actions because everyone, especially his brother Hakatri, cleans up after him. Which just makes Ineluki resent him all the more.

But Ineluki really reads like someone who has a gigantic dose of impostor syndrome. He never seems to feel like he’s equal to his brother Hakatri in the hearts of either their parents or their people. The way that the brothers’ actions play out over the course of the story read very much like the dynamic between Thor and Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and wasn’t that a surprise?

I think it fits though. Hakatri, like Thor, is the golden favorite, the older brother who is beloved by absolutely everyone and seems utterly perfect to everyone he meets. While Ineluki is dark and always trying to make his own mark in a world where it seems like his older brother has already taken all the best bits. Ineluki is a resentful second son who nurses his grudges and his temper like a spoiled child.

A spoiled child whose tantrums remake the face of the world, and not for the better, with consequences that will ring down through the ages in the tolling of funeral bells.

But this isn’t just the story of the two brothers, because the perspective of the story is told by Hakatri’s faithful servant, Pamon Kes. While Brothers of the Wind isn’t quite as epic as The Lord of the Rings, The Dragonbone Chair and the whole of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn definitely are. Which means that this book reads very much as if The Lord of the Rings had been written by Sam Gamgee entirely from his first-person perspective. A perspective that shows that even the compassionate, golden Hakatri took a tremendous amount of advantage of the goodwill and hero worship of an awful lot of people, whether his motives were pure or not.

So Brothers of the Wind can be read on more than one level. It’s a story about brothers who can’t manage to escape the roles that have been ordained for them. It’s certainly a story about a whole lot of pride going before a huge, world-shattering fall. And it’s a fascinating prequel for one of the modern classics of epic fantasy, a story that will take lovers of the original straight back to Osten Ard, and will hopefully carry a new legion of readers off to those faraway shores.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-24-21

It’s only Sunday and it’s already one of THOSE weeks. Nothing terrible, just another epic book hangover and a late night followed by not nearly enough sleep. Some worlds are just too fascinating to leave in the middle and too traumatic to get over at the end. C’est la reading vie.

There might not be any giveaways going on this week, but don’t forget to save the date (NOVEMBER 24) for the Thanksgiving Week Giveaway Hop!

This week’s cat picture is George posing as “the most interesting cat in the world” in imitation of “the most interesting man in the world” meme. I think George wears it very well.

 

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Howloween Giveaway Hop is Rochelle

Blog Recap:

B+ Review: A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz
B Review: Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner
A Review: Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman
C Review: Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn
A- Review: Insurrection by Nina Croft
Stacking the Shelves (467)

Coming This Week:

Brothers of the Wind by Tad Williams (review)
The Wedding Wager by Eva Devon (blog tour review)
All the Feels by Olivia Dade (review)
A Peculiar Combination by Ashley Weaver (review)
Grave Reservations by Cherie Priest (review)

Stacking the Shelves (467)

Every once in a while, the daily deal from Audible provides me with a real winner. I’m in the middle of Day Zero right now, and so far, it’s awesome. It’s certainly WAY more awesome than the $2.99 it cost me, so I’m considering it a serious win.

This week’s stack is fairly short. I have more new books in the hopper, but I tend not to post them here until I get covers. After all, oohing and aahing over the pretty covers feels like a big part of the point of STS. (That and keeping me organized, but that’s not half so interesting.) So here’s what I have that I have covers for. The supply chain seems to be wrecking havoc in all sorts of places!

For Review:
A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari
The Hookup Dilemma by Constance Gillam
Nightwork by Nora Roberts
A Taste of Ginger by Mansi Shah
When Blood Lies (Sebastian St. Cyr #17) by C.S. Harris

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill (audio)


If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

Please link your STS post in the linky below:


Review: Insurrection by Nina Croft

Review: Insurrection by Nina CroftInsurrection by Nina Croft
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera, vampires
Series: Dark Desires Origins #3
Pages: 384
Published by Entangled: Amara on October 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Malpheas is one of the most powerful demons from Earth, but when he wakes up from cryo on the other side of the galaxy, he notices something is wrong—he’s human. Oh, hell no. In order to get his powers back, he must remove the sigil on his arm by carrying out three good deeds. But acts of kindness aren’t exactly his strong suit. Working undercover as a security officer investigating a suspicious death, he’s assigned to work with Hope, the most softhearted woman he’s ever met. If she can’t teach him how to be good, no one can.
Hope is in a pot of trouble, and if anyone finds out what she did, that pot would quickly boil over. She just needs to lay low until she can figure out a way to fix this mess. But when she’s ordered to show Mal the ropes and introduce him to everyone, sorting out her problems becomes impossible. Mal is sexy as sin, broody as hell, and believes she can help him change his bad-boy ways. Fine. If that keeps him from discovering her ties to the rebellion, she’ll teach him how to be a perfect angel.
As they work together, though, it becomes clear that Hope isn’t the only one with a hidden agenda, and their irresistible attraction to each other just adds fuel to the fire. When secrets are exposed, they must make the impossible choice between doing what’s right and doing what’s necessary.
Light meets dark, good meets evil…and love can hurt like Hell.

My Review:

At the end of Insurrection, it feels a bit like the circle just got squared. Or it feels like the series has either come to a conclusion or is headed for one. It kind of depends on whether you boarded the ship on the way to the Trakis system at the beginning of the Dark Desires Origins series in Malfunction, or whether you’ve been aboard for the whole wild ride starting at the very beginning in Break Out.

Because at the end of Insurrection, while we aren’t exactly where we were at the opening of Break Out, we can certainly see that beginning from here. The pieces that we picked up then are just about in place now, which makes a certain kind of sense as the Dark Desires Origins series, which began with Malfunction and was followed by Deception, seems to be heading towards its conclusion here in Insurrection.

Break Out, the first book of the Dark Desires series, takes place several centuries after the events in Insurrection. Events that are so far back in the rearview mirror that they’ve taken on the patina of myths and legends – even though Rico Sanchez lived through it all, as we’ve seen in this prequel series.

But then Rico has lived through a LOT of human history – even though he is no longer exactly human himself, and hasn’t been since the Spanish Inquisition. While no one expects the Spanish Inquisition in the first place, even less do they expect to meet a vampire who began hunting the night at that same time.

The premise behind the entire Dark Desires and Dark Desires Origins series is that Earth was well on its way to becoming uninhabitable, so a fleet of sleeper ships left the dying planet for what would hopefully be greener pastures.

Or at least pastures less fucked up by humans. At least not yet.

In the series that seems to conclude with Insurrection (I could be wrong about this being the conclusion but it feels close) we watched the maneuvering and the finagling, the bribery and the theft, as the places that should have been assigned by lottery were instead filled with the rich and the powerful. While Rico Sanchez bought, bribed or murdered his way into filling half of one ship with his own people. Not just vampires, but also shapeshifters and other things that go bump in the night, including one warlock (his story is in Deception) and one of the seven lords of the Abyss, more colloquially called Hell.

The demon Malpheas just so happens to be the warlock’s father. True to his demonic nature, Malpheas is used to getting his own way, reigning from the top of the heap, and killing anyone who gets in his way. In other words, he’s an entitled alphahole with the power to back it up.

Power he has been cut off from by the time Rico wakes him from cryosleep at the beginning of Insurrection. Malpheas has to commit three “good deeds”, definition rather nebulous, before he’ll have access to all his powers again. The curse he has to labor under is one last “present” from his old frenemy Lucifer.

All Mal has to do is figure out what “good” means, keep the humans on the other ships from discovering just what Rico has been hiding aboard his own ship, and plot and scheme to take over everything once he’s managed to beat the curse.

Unless Mal learns the lesson that his curse is trying to teach him, first.

Escape Rating A-: Now that I’ve finished Insurrection I have the strongest urge to go back and reread the expanded version of Break Out again. It feels so much like this story puts all the pieces in place for that one, and I want to check just how well it did.

This also feels like a great place to end the Dark Desires Origins prequel series, as we’ve seen in detail just how much the humans of the Trakis expedition brought humanity with them, very much warts and all. Readers who began this journey with Malfunction will leave Insurrection primed and ready to see where things have ended up by the time of Break Out, while readers who boarded this flight there will be sorely tempted to see how well the ends meet.

I’m not sure that readers who start here will be completely satisfied. On the other hand, their appetites may be whetted well enough to tempt them to read the entire series from start to finish!

In addition to all of the historical and human – or human-ish – pieces being put in place for the story to continue in that already explored future, one of the reasons that this story read like so much a part of the original book was that both deal explicitly with the problems not of mortality but of immortality.

The process that is discovered on Trakis Seven makes people practically immortal, just as Rico’s vampirism does. People who have gone through the process CAN be killed – decapitation is always an option – but don’t die from disease or accidents or even extreme old age.

The problem with immortality is that the human lifespan is meant to be finite. Psychologically, we need purpose and surprise and a whole bunch of other things that stop being important if one knows one literally has all the time in the universe. Time enough to have been there and done that for every possible thing one could be or do. It gets boring.

In Break Out, Rico may be a bit bored, but the people who have gone through the Trakis immortality treatment are getting really, really bored. And jaded. Just as the immortal demon, Malpheas has gotten bored and jaded with his already extremely long life.

So the romance in this story is wrapped around Malpheas experiencing the old curse of “may you live in interesting times.” As an immortal demon with all his powers, he can make whatever and whoever he wants happen. Nothing is interesting. With his powers locked away, he’s just human. A big, strong, and very sexy human, but human nonetheless. Everything is frustrating. Everything is weird. Everything is fascinating. His times are suddenly very interesting indeed in a way that he hasn’t experienced for a very long time. For Malpheas, the curse has become a blessing.

And the biggest part of the blessing is Hope Featherstone. Not just because she’s nice and she’s pretty, but because she’s real and so are all her emotions. She may want the big, sexy beast, but she doesn’t actually like him all that much. She also finds him surprisingly resistible, and that’s something Mal has never experienced in his life. He has to become a better person to have a chance with her.

That he discovers that she’s not nearly as good as she appears makes them perfect for each other. Now they just have to survive the mess that both their secrets have gotten them into. And get themselves as far away as possible from the brave new world being established – because it’s already every bit as FUBAR’d as the old world they left behind.

Because of the situation on Trakis Four at the end of this book, this feels like the end of the Dark Desires Origins series. But it may not actually be the end. It was great fun to go back to the beginning, to see how the situation we saw in Break Out came to be, with paranormal beings from Earth flying spaceships in a far-flung corner of the galaxy. I never expected to read about vampires in space but I’m certainly glad I did.

This was a fitting sendoff for the whole thing, as not only do we see how things got to be the way they were, but the ending puts a fair amount of focus back on the character most of us fell for at the beginning, vampire and captain Rico Sanchez. It’s been an exciting ride from beginning to end, and I’m glad I took the trip.

If the author ever chooses to return to this universe I’ll be right there.