Review: Strange Love by Ann Aguirre

Review: Strange Love by Ann AguirreStrange Love (Galactic Love #1) by Ann Aguirre
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Galactic Love #1
Pages: 304
Published by Ann Aguirre on January 20, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

He's awkward. He's adorable. He's alien as hell.Zylar of Kith Balak is a four-time loser in the annual Choosing. If he fails to find a nest guardian this time, he'll lose his chance to have a mate for all time. Desperation drives him to try a matching service but due to a freak solar flare and a severely malfunctioning ship AI, things go way off course. This 'human being' is not the Tiralan match he was looking for.
She's frazzled. She's fierce. She's from St. Louis.Beryl Bowman's mother always said she'd never get married. She should have added a rider about the husband being human. Who would have ever thought that working at the Sunshine Angel daycare center would offer such interstellar prestige? She doesn't know what the hell's going on, but a new life awaits on Barath Colony, where she can have any alien bachelor she wants.
They agree to join the Choosing together, but love is about to get seriously strange.

My Review:

“We like someone because. We love someone although.” Or so goes the quote. Another way of putting it as far as Strange Love is concerned, wraps around the question about where does love spring from? Does it come from the heart, from the brain, or from somewhere below the waist?

Is it possible for Beryl Bowman and Zylar of Kith Balak to fall in love with each other and make a strong partnership, although they are not from the same planet, they don’t breathe the same air, and their anatomical parts do not line up AT ALL?

Their people even took different evolutionary paths. Humans evolved from mammals and share common ancestors with the great apes, way, way, way back when. Zylar’s people seem to have evolved from something insectoid, also way, way, way back when. And on the other hand, or grabber, or limb, or whatever other species call it, Zylar’s people managed planetary unity and intergalactic space flight quite some time ago, while we’re definitely not there yet.

Garrus Vakarian from Mass Effect

I went into this story because I wanted to see that happy ever after in spite of all the factors that would argue against it even being possible. That predisposition to see them make it work can be laid at the door of the Mass Effect trilogy and the possible romance (if you chose it) of a female Commander Shepard and the Turian Garrus Vakarian. Whose people also evolved from their planet’s insectoids, and who may give great voice (he really does) but otherwise isn’t anatomically compatible with the human Shepard.

And yet, it’s the sweetest romance in the game (IMHO) and I wish they’d gotten their HEA (There is no HEA no matter which romance you choose because reasons.) So I went into Strange Love hoping for a vicarious happy ending for that epic tragic romance.

I got EXACTLY what I was hoping for. With bells on!

Escape Rating A: The romance in Strange Love combines a “meet cute” – for intergalactic definitions of that phrase – with a version of the TV shows The Bachelor AND The Bachelorette combined into a multi-day gladiatorial contest. A contest which it is possible to “win” but still lose at the same time.

To mix SFnal metaphors even further, it’s as if the Vulcan mating ceremony from the Star Trek Original Series episode Amok Time or the Next Generation episode Code of Honor involved multiple potential couples in a competition for both parties rather than only one side of the potential partnership being decided by a fight to the death.

The Strange Love that arises between Beryl and Zylar is also a romance between a “beta” male who has been told all of his life by his family that he is just not good enough in any possible way – especially in comparison to his alphahole sibling Ryzven. Zylar has HUGE confidence issues – and understandably so.

Beryl, on the other hand, is one of those people who feels the fear and does it anyway. She leaps and hopes the net will appear, but even if it doesn’t, she’ll survive. Not that life hasn’t also beaten her down, but her reaction to that metaphorical beating has been to pick herself up, dust herself off, and survive. She fakes it till she makes it, and if she doesn’t really think she’s made it no one else has to know.

It’s a confidence she can pass to Zylar – if he’ll let her. If his family will let them try. And that’s the story – the two of them trying to survive the Choosing, together, and win his family’s grudging acceptance if not approval. If they can.

That they manage to give his alphahole sibling the comeuppance he so richly deserved is the icing on the cake. Bittersweet icing, as the douchecanoe manages to do a LOT of damage along his selfish, self-centered, spoiled and self-indulgent way.

That Zylar and Beryl learn that love can be found in the strangest places with the strangest people makes Strange Love a strange and wonderful story. That Beryl’s “bestest boy” dog Snaps learns to talk and becomes part of their strange little family made the story, which was already lovely and exactly what I was hoping it would be – just that much better.

Strange Love is the first book in what looks to be a marvelous series. I bought the whole thing, and now I can’t wait to start reading the next book, Love Code, the minute I get the chance!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-30-22

Giveaway hops are back! YAY! Not that they actually went away, just that I didn’t have any in January. I tend not to do them on weekends, and the ones I normally participate in were all on weekends in January. So YAY for February. And March, too.

My last committee ended, I’ve volunteered for a new one but haven’t received my assignment yet, so I’m in that very brief window where I can read whatever I want – without guilt. Not that the guilt always stops me – even when it should. We’ll see what happens.

Today’s picture is George being especially winsome under the dining room table. He likes to rest his chin on the bottom chair rail, but as I walked towards him with my iPad outstretched, he looked up at me to see what on Earth I was doing. The perfect shot is always 2 seconds before you get in position, but any picture of George is adorable.

Blog Recap:

A+ Review: Obsidian by Sarah J. Daley
B Review: Mr. Donahue’s Total Surrender by Sophie Barnes
A- Review: The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf
B- Review: The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
A Review: Light Years from Home by Mike Chen
Stacking the Shelves (481)

Coming This Week:

Strange Love by Ann Aguirre (review)
Heart 2 Heart Giveaway Hop
A Lullaby for Witches by Hester Fox (blog tour review)
Four Thousand Days by M.J. Trow (review)
Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose by T.A. Willberg (review)

Stacking the Shelves (481)

We have company this weekend, which is definitely a YAY! It’s the first time since the “before times” we’ve had someone come to stay for the weekend.

The book in here that I’m most looking forward to is The Jade Setter of Janloon. I wasn’t ready to let go of that world when I finished Jade Legacy, and honestly I’m still not. My curiosity bump itches something fierce over the Ann Aguirre books, so I’ll be reviewing one this coming week.

For Review:
Age of Ash (Kithamar Trilogy #1) by Daniel Abraham (audio)
The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne
The Bridesmaids Union by Jonathan Vatner
The Bruising of Qilwa by Naseem Jamnia
By Her Own Design by Piper Huguley
Flirting with Fifty by Jane Porter
The Jade Setter of Janloon (Green Bone Saga #0.5) by Fonda Lee
January Fifteenth by Rachel Swirsky
Our Last Days in Barcelona by Chanel Cleeton
Sugar and Salt by Susan Wiggs
Ten Rules for Marrying a Duke by Michelle McLean
Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon
The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle by Jennifer Ryan

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Love Code (Galactic Love #2) by Ann Aguirre
Strange Love (Galactic Love #1) by Ann Aguirre


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

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Review: Light Years from Home by Mike Chen

Review: Light Years from Home by Mike ChenLight Years From Home by Mike Chen
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, science fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Mira on January 25, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Every family has issues. Most can’t blame them on extraterrestrials.
Evie Shao and her sister, Kass, aren’t on speaking terms. Fifteen years ago on a family camping trip, their father and brother vanished. Their dad turned up days later, dehydrated and confused—and convinced he'd been abducted by aliens. Their brother, Jakob, remained missing. The women dealt with it very differently. Kass, suspecting her college-dropout twin simply ran off, became the rock of the family. Evie traded academics to pursue alien conspiracy theories, always looking for Jakob.
When Evie's UFO network uncovers a new event, she goes to investigate. And discovers Jakob is back. He's different—older, stranger, and talking of an intergalactic war—but the tensions between the siblings haven't changed at all. If the family is going to come together to help Jakob, then Kass and Evie are going to have to fix their issues, and fast. Because the FBI is after Jakob, and if their brother is telling the truth, possibly an entire space armada, too.
The perfect combination of action, imagination and heart, Light Years From Home is a touching drama about a challenge as difficult as saving the galaxy: making peace with your family…and yourself.

My Review:

Every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, but there are few families that are unhappy because one of the adult children has been abducted by aliens and recruited to fight in an intergalactic war.

Not that the Shao family was exactly happy BEFORE Jakob Shao joined the intergalactic fleet – but back then they were unhappy in ways that would be a bit more familiar. Now, not so much.

Light Years from Home isn’t quite the story we’re expecting from the blurb, because it’s not really about Jakob or his alien abduction at all. Not that he’s not part of it, but the story isn’t about him.

The story is about collateral damage, specifically the collateral damage of the Jakob-shaped hole in the Shao family. A hole that has only opened wider in the 15 years since Jakob left his family and his planet behind.

He comes back to Earth believing that nothing will have changed in his absence, and that it won’t matter if he leaves again. After all, he has a mission to complete and a universe to save. Healing the hole in his family’s heart is way above the level of feckless incompetence he left behind.

But Jakob Shao isn’t that man any longer. Not that his family will EVER let him forget it. Or them.

Escape Rating A: Light Years from Home is one of those stories that’s much greater than the sum of its parts. Parts that initially seem so far apart that they might as well be from different planets – if not galaxies.

This story is also very much what my book group has been calling “sad fluff”. Although this is sad fluff with spaceships.

By sad fluff I mean that this story is, in spite of the science fictional trappings, relationship fiction. It’s not about Jakob and the epic space battles. We believe they exist, but they’re not actually the point of the story. The point of the story is Jakob’s relationship with his family, and their relationships with each other.

This could be a story about any family dealing with the lack of closure wrapped about the disappearance of a family member. They all know Jakob left them behind. Their late father died believing Jakob had been abducted by aliens, but that’s a pretty far-fetched conclusion for the rest of the family. Except for Jakob’s younger sister Evie, who has made a career of investigating UFO sightings and the possibilities of extraterrestrial contact with Earth.

It’s much easier for Kass and their mother to believe that Jakob – charming, irresponsible, feckless Jakob – just wanted to get away from his parents’ endless expectations that he “live up to his potential” and “not waste his education,” etc., etc., etc. He has a history of that kind of behavior – he’s just been gone a whole lot longer this time.

And there are plenty of times in the story when Kass has nearly everyone convinced that Jakob has returned because he’s having a psychotic break. She nearly convinces both their younger sister Evie – who does believe in UFOs and alien abductions – AND THE READER! It’s only when Evie finds actual proof that Kass begins to believe that the thing that tore her family apart is real – and that she can’t blame Jakob for everything. That she has to start looking inside herself for answers.

As I was reading Light Years from Home, in spite of pretty much ALL the names of all the characters coming from the Assassin’s Creed videogame series, the things this story actually reminded me of came from other places.

While Jakob’s intergalactic experiences are mostly off stage, the setup reminded me more than a bit of The Last Starfighter – without that slam bang ending because Jakob’s story doesn’t get that kind of unabashed happy ending – nor should it.

Jakob’s personality and some of his story had echoes in Fergus Ferguson, the protagonist of The Finder Chronicles. If you’re wishing that Light Years from Home focused more on Jakob’s travels, try Finder.

But the thing this made me think of the most was Elton John’s song Rocket Man. Because this reads like it’s that song told from the point of view of the people that the Rocket Man has left behind back home.

If that’s not enough of a gut punch, the conclusion of Light Years from Home reached back into the ending of one of SF’s classic stories, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. And it’s every bit as much of a heartbreaker in Light Years from Home as it was back then.

Review: The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Review: The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn SolomonThe Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Pages: 338
Published by Berkley on January 26, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Shay Goldstein has been a producer at her Seattle public radio station for nearly a decade, and she can't imagine working anywhere else. But lately it's been a constant clash between her and her newest colleague, Dominic Yun, who's fresh off a journalism master's program and convinced he knows everything about public radio.
When the struggling station needs a new concept, Shay proposes a show that her boss green-lights with excitement. On The Ex Talk, two exes will deliver relationship advice live, on air. Their boss decides Shay and Dominic are the perfect co-hosts, given how much they already despise each other. Neither loves the idea of lying to listeners, but it's this or unemployment. Their audience gets invested fast, and it's not long before The Ex Talk becomes a must-listen in Seattle and climbs podcast charts.
As the show gets bigger, so does their deception, especially when Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other. In an industry that values truth, getting caught could mean the end of more than just their careers.

My Review:

I went into this book predisposed to love it, because the description reminded me so much of a book with a very similar premise that I utterly adored, Turn It Up by Inez Kelley. (It’s been ten years since I read Turn It Up and I still remember it fondly. It was delightful and it’s still available in ebook.)

And I did enjoy reading The Ex Talk. I had a great time with the reading of it and the characters. But I also didn’t like it, because part of the underlying premise doesn’t hold up to even a cursory examination.

This dichotomy results in the following very mixed feelings review.

The best parts of the story revolve around the “insider baseball” aspects of Public Radio, as seen through the eyes of Shay Goldstein. Shay has her dream job of being a producer on her hometown Seattle station, and has been there for a decade when the story begins.

Shay loves her job, she loves the station, she loves working in public radio. It’s been her dream since childhood, when she and her dad bonded over listening to and acting out programs like Car Talk as they did all sorts of wonderful things together. Those memories are the golden parts of Shay’s childhood.

When her dad died suddenly, those memories got trapped in amber, until working in public radio became her dream. And once she achieved that dream, it became her life. Or swallowed her life. Shay’s not very good at downtime, so she’s perfectly suited to being in a job that won’t let her have any.

But, as we know in real life, public radio lives on pledge drives and ratings and grants and sponsors that aren’t exactly called sponsors. And that radio isn’t the media powerhouse it used to be and public radio in particular often has a tough time with ratings and dollars.

That’s where the plot of this story really kicks in – and also where it kicks out a bit.

In the race for ratings, Shay’s slimy boss concocts a scheme that Shay isn’t on board with at all. Or wouldn’t be if her job, any job at the station, wasn’t directly on the line.

Because the scheme is wrapped around a big fat lie – a lie that gets harder and harder to tell with each passing day and each download and each encouraging tweet. The lie is a huge hit for the station – and a huge mess for Shay and her partner-in-not-exactly-a-crime, Dominic Yun.

And thereby hangs a tale, as the saying goes. Also, thereby ends up hanging Shay and Dominic.

Escape Rating B-: The lie that Shay and Dominic end up telling is a doozy. That they are exes who parted in a friendly enough fashion that they are able to co-host a radio talk show about relationships that banks on their supposed status as exes.

As a romance, this is an enemies to lovers story. When we first meet Shay and Dominic, they are rivals. Dominic is the new “golden child” because their station manager is a misogynistic douchecanoe.

Shay, naturally, resents that Dominic has walked into a privilege and status that she’s worked ten hard years for and not managed to achieve. Not because she’s any less good at the job, but because he has one bit of anatomical equipment that she lacks.

Their relationship is prickly (pun slightly intended) because Shay resents Dominic for his easy access to privilege and he envies her for her in-depth knowledge of public radio in general, the station in specific, and just how to get things done and where the bodies are buried.

But they have chemistry that comes through even over the radio, which is what hatches the scheme to lie to the entire city of Seattle and anyone listening to the podcast of the program.

And that’s the part that makes the story fall down. Not that their romance in spite of themselves isn’t a whole lot of fun, but the way that they got there. Specifically the way that Dominic gets there.

Dominic is all about becoming an investigative reporter and ethics in journalism. Seriously. All about it – at least until he lets himself be talked into this program with Shay. The fundamental lie at the heart of their success is something he doesn’t even seem to interrogate himself about much, as he’s spending much more energy dealing with his feelings for Shay – feelings that he’s not supposed to have because in public their relationship is supposed to have already been there and done that.

There’s so much going for this book. Really. So much. But its central premise based on that big lie took it from “willing suspension of disbelief” to “unwilling to suspend disbelief” for this reader just as much as it did for their audience. It’s not so much that I can’t imagine it happening as that I’m not on board with it happening with this particular character. If Dominic weren’t such a stand-up, straight-arrow kind of guy, we wouldn’t understand what Shay sees in him. But the person he’s represented as at the beginning wouldn’t be part of this mess without a whole lot more guilt and angst than we get to see.

That the douchecanoe station manager doesn’t get nearly as much of a comeuppance as he deserved is kind of the scraped off icing on this not quite properly baked cake. But it’s still a fun read. As I said at the top, mixed feelings. Very.

Your reading mileage may definitely vary.

Review: The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf

Review: The Overnight Guest by Heather GudenkaufThe Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row on January 25, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A woman receives an unexpected visitor during a deadly snowstorm in this chilling thriller from New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf
She thought she was alone
True crime writer Wylie Lark doesn’t mind being snowed in at the isolated farmhouse where she’s retreated to write her new book. A cozy fire, complete silence. It would be perfect, if not for the fact that decades earlier, at this very house, two people were murdered in cold blood and a girl disappeared without a trace.
As the storm worsens, Wylie finds herself trapped inside the house, haunted by the secrets contained within its walls—haunted by secrets of her own. Then she discovers a small child in the snow just outside. After bringing the child inside for warmth and safety, she begins to search for answers. But soon it becomes clear that the farmhouse isn’t as isolated as she thought, and someone is willing to do anything to find them.

My Review:

This is a book to be read with all the lights on under a pile of warm blankets, because this is a story that will make you shiver with chills – both from cold and from the creeps. Because the terrors in this book are all too real – and because you can feel the winter storm howling around the story.

At the start, there are three stories braided through this book. The first story, the one that seems to be the most obvious – at least on the surface – is Wylie Lark’s story. Wylie is a true crime writer, and she’s in tiny, remote Burden, Iowa to research and write her latest true crime thriller. She’s come to Burden – or rather to a somewhat dilapidated farmhouse outside Burden – because that house was the scene of the horrific crime she’s researching.

That crime is the second story. We’re reading her manuscript as she does her final edits. And the story she’s telling is pretty damn awful. Back in the summer of 2000, the family that lived in the house that Wylie is renting was murdered – while one girl survived and one went missing, presumed dead.

But then, there’s a third story that at first we’re not sure is fixed in either time or place, about a woman and her daughter being held in perpetual hostage by a man who regularly rapes the mother and beats and abuses them both mentally and emotionally as well as physically. It’s a story that should be over the top, but as we know all too well is not. Which just adds to the chills of horror and dread.

As those three stories weave together, a winter storm howls through Burden, piling up snow and ice, cutting off communication and power. Wylie is all alone in her rented house with her creepy story – until she goes out to bring the dog back in and discovers a young boy nearly frozen to death in the yard.

She brings him in and warms him up, even though he’s scared out of his wits – or at least out of his voice – by something or someone that Wylie doesn’t yet understand.

As the snow piles up and the power shuts down, Wylie and the child learn that they are not alone in their little oasis of safety – and that it’s not safe at all. And that’s where all the stories come together – and finally come to an end.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I got all wrapped in This Is How I Lied and hoped for more of the same. Did I ever get exactly that!

I’m not a big thriller reader, but when I’m in the mood for it I’m hooked, perched on the edge of my seat and turning pages frantically to see how all the tense situations of the story manage to work themselves into a catharsis – if not exactly a happy ending. The Overnight Guest was no exception.

But I was also turning pages frantically trying to figure out how the three stories fit together and where they were placed in time. It seemed like Wylie’s narrative was in a present, maybe not exactly 2022 and possibly just before COVID times but at least recent. The story told in her book was dated August 2000 so that was the only fixed point. For the longest time I wasn’t sure where the part of the story about the woman, her daughter and the abusive bastard keeping them prisoner fit into things. In the end all three narratives come together in a single point, but I was lost there for a bit.

Especially as the story of the woman being held prisoner was such a hard read because it was both terrible and terribly plausible, as the real life stories of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard (among others) attest.

The way that the three stories came together was both suspenseful and moving at the same time. It’s only as Wylie reveals the cliffhanger ending of the original crime that we begin to see how her present just might possibly connect with the horrific crime in the past.

As the story unfolds the reader gets caught up in trauma and/or danger on every side. Wylie fled to Burden to get away from her teenage son who has decided he’d rather live with his father than Wylie. (Personally, this was the least interesting part of the story because we don’t get enough of that situation to be truly invested.)

The crime that Wylie is investigating is both sensational and bloody. Her manuscript, relating the details puts all that old trauma and heartbreak on display for a hopefully eager audience of Wylie’s readers. It’s a story that is all the more brutal because it is rooted in just how awful human beings are.

Then there’s the storm. We feel it blow, we shiver in the wind, our toes curl up in the rising piles of snow. Wylie’s alone, the power is out, the house is cold and then her nerve-wracked solitude is invaded by ill-equipped, desperate people fleeing something or someone that they refuse to name. Whatever it is, they’ll run right over Wylie to escape it – no matter how much she tries to help them.

And that’s when the crisis finally breaks, and we put together all the pieces that have previously refused to fit. Pieces that have to break anew in order to finally heal – and we’re there for it all.

Review: Mr. Donahue’s Total Surrender by Sophie Barnes

Review: Mr. Donahue’s Total Surrender by Sophie BarnesMr. Donahue's Total Surrender (Enterprising Scoundrels #1) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Enterprising Scoundrels #1
Pages: 230
Published by Sophie Barnes on January 25, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Calista Faulkner had a plan: go to England, get married, and save her father from ruin. Instead, she’s now stuck in London, penniless and without the husband she’d pinned her hopes on. Desperate to return home, she seeks employment at a hotel – as a scullery maid – a far cry from the social status she has otherwise been accustomed to. But when a chance encounter with the hotel’s owner, Mr. Donahue, leads to a change in fortune and her acquaintance with him deepens, a new problem arises. For Calista knows she must return home and marry a man she hates in order to save her family’s reputation. But how can she leave behind the man she's falling in love with? How can she marry anyone else?

My Review:

There’s plenty of surrendering to go around in this charming Victorian-era historical romance. Mr. Steven Donahue AND Miss Callista Faulkner both eventually surrender to their happily ever after. But they certainly don’t start there. Or anywhere close.

As the story begins, Donahue is the owner and operator of what would today be called a boutique hotel that is desirably close to the newly built halls of Parliament. Considering that this is a romance, there’s a very apropos joke that applies here. “What do kissing and real estate have in common? The three most important things in both instances are, ‘Location, location, location.”

It’s been a ton of work to rehabilitate what was a dilapidated building, and Donahue has invested a significant amount of money in the endeavor, but the Imperial is a success that he’s rightfully proud of. As the third son of an Earl, it’s up to him to make his own way in life – even if he was born with a bit of the silver spoon in his mouth. He’s turned that silver into something that provides him with an excellent livelihood and a purpose.

Because Donahue isn’t just interested in making money for himself – although he certainly is interested in that. He also prides himself on the well-compensated jobs in excellent working conditions that his hotel – and the others he plans to build around the country – will provide for all the people necessary to make his hotels shine in every way.

That’s where Miss Callista Faulkner steps into the story – very much to her own surprise. She came from her native New York City to marry a gentleman who died while she was en route. She was fleeing a forced marriage to a despicable villain who just might possibly have gotten her father in debt for that very purpose. But her late, would-be bridegroom seems to have been marrying Callista in order to get out from under the unwelcome marriage that his own family was trying to arrange for him. So they didn’t know Callista was coming and wouldn’t have agreed or approved if they had.

Callista has run through or been relieved of the money she came to London with – and she needs to get home. Broke and desperate, she’s applied for jobs all over London only to be rejected at every turn. The Imperial offers her one last chance, but there’s a catch.

There are several catches. The manager is about to turn her down when Donahue intervenes and forces the man to offer her any job that he believes she will suit. Said manager takes his comeuppance out on Callista by offering her a position as a scullery maid, absolutely no training or introduction to the work at all, and refuses to give her a room in the hotel’s generously provided and reasonably appointed staff quarters. She has a cot in the pantry, no lock on the door and is the butt of every joke and blamed for every spilled drink and broken plate that occurs – even when she’s not near the incident. She consoles herself with the money she’s saving for her passage home.

But her mistreatment at the hands of the staff forces Donahue to intervene. He becomes her knight in well-tailored armor, giving her room, board and spending money while thoroughly cleaning out the staff who were much too willing to harass and abuse one of their colleagues. He also pays for her passage back home and even provides her with chaperons for the journey.

While they are both waiting for that journey to take place, however, they have time. Perhaps a little too much of it. More than enough time to discover that they LIKE each other. Not just that they are attracted to each other, but that they are developing a friendship along with possibly more.

Which they don’t have quite enough time to be sure of – at least not if they’re being sensible. And then there’s that odious toad waiting back in New York to claim Callista as payment of her father’s debts.

Donahue has always been sober and sensible – but this is looking like the one time in his life when he’ll be much better served if he throws caution to the winds.

Escape Rating B: Mr. Donahue’s Total Surrender is a light and frothy historical romance with just enough dark undertones to keep the reader – and the characters – on their toes.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this story is that it is a romance of thoughts and feelings and not body parts. Some of that is the period in which it is set, but I loved the way that the protagonists fall in love through spending time together, talking with each other, and just enjoying each other’s company. I did feel the romance, and we did see them fall for each other, but they’re not using sex to cement the relationship and that worked well.

I also liked that Donahue is someone who works for a living. Not that he isn’t rich, and not that his family didn’t give him a damn good start with education and money, but he’s not among the idle rich. We’re seeing more of that in historical romance and I like the trend very much.

The thing that kept this book from being a grade A read instead of a B has to do with comeuppances. There weren’t nearly enough of them. There are several circumstances in the story with villains. Not just the staff of the hotel who harass and abuse Callista, but also a titled brother and sister who are just awful and, top of the ugly pile, the odious schemer who hatched the plan to force Callista to marry him. He’s slime. The hotel staff do get their just desserts, but that was too easy. I would want to see the sour expressions on the part of those awful siblings at the wedding, and I especially wanted to know that Mr. Odious New York got at least a sliver of what should be coming to him. That we don’t discover what happened to him or even just his reaction at getting thwarted felt like a missed opportunity for a bit of catharsis.

But I had a ball – even if there is no actual ball – with Mr. Donahue, Miss Faulkner, and their total surrender to each other.

Review: Obsidian by Sarah J. Daley

Review: Obsidian by Sarah J. DaleyObsidian by Sarah J. Daley
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Pages: 400
Published by Angry Robot on January 25, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Shade Nox is a fiend, a rogue, and a wanted murderer, though her only true crime is that she chooses to dress like a man. Proud and defiant, she wears her tattoos openly as any bloodwizard would, and carries obsidian blades at her hips. Those who laughingly call her a witch to her face soon learn an unfortunate lesson: Shade Nox might be an abomination, but she wields her blades with devastating precision, gleefully shedding blood for elemental magic that matches any man’s.
Shade scratches out a dangerous living in the broken Wastes, but now that they are growing more unstable and dangerous, Shade and her people need their own Veil to protect them. She vows to raise one—a feat not accomplished in over a hundred years. But the Veils are controlled by the Brotherhood, who consider them sacred creations. They would sooner see all the Veils collapse into dust than allow a witch to raise one.
With the help of her friends and allies, and her own indomitable will, Shade stays one step ahead of her enemies. Her zeal is only tempered when she learns the true sacrifice required to raise a Veil—a secret even the centuries-old Brotherhood has forgotten. It is too high a price to pay. Nevertheless, she must pay it, or she will lose everything and everyone she loves…

My Review:

Obsidian is just WOW! There, I’ve said it. Now I have to attempt to be articulate – and it’s not going to be easy.

Think of this as a post-apocalyptic story, but this is NOT our world, so this wasn’t our apocalypse. Just that there’s a point in the past that’s distant enough that civilization has regrouped while still present enough that effects are still being felt.

Or felt again.

While the story opens with a somewhat disgraced former Captain of an Imperial Army, Raiden Mad is not our main character. That position is reserved for Shade Nox, who cuts her way into this story with her obsidian knives and holds onto the center of the narrative with hands dripping with blood – not all of it her own.

But some of it is, because the magic of this world is blood magic – blood magic that Shade, as a woman is not supposed to have or be able to wield. And doesn’t that sound all too familiar?

Especially since Shade seems to be much better at it than the blood wizards of either the corrupt church known as ‘The Brotherhood’ or the criminal ‘Capomaji’ who read like a protection racket run by Mafiosi – with magical enforcers along with the usual legbreakers.

Those traditional mages are losing their power – and, as the powerful often do – refusing to admit that loss while covering it up with even more repression of anyone of whom they do not approve.

Shade Nox is number one on all those lists.

But Shade has a secret. Of course, she has several, but one is big. HUGE. The size of an entire city. Or at least it will be IF she can manage to pull it off. And that’s where Raiden Mad and his Emperor come in – and why the Brotherhood is so desperate to take them all out.

Because at the same time the magic seems to be dying, the reason for that magic is becoming that much more of a threat.

Whatever the apocalypse was – it killed the ecology of the planet. The Brotherhood gained their power and their near-monopoly on so much more because their bloodmagic was the only thing that could carve out a safe bit of territory where life could thrive.

But power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Brotherhood has been so invested in maintaining their power that they’ve corrupted the way it is used for their own ends. Now it’s destroying them, the cities their power made possible, and the land that surrounds them.

Mother Nature bats last, and in this world she has a very big bat studded with thorns. So to speak.

Shade Nox has the power, most of the knowledge and all of the will to create a new, safe territory that won’t owe a damn thing to the Brotherhood. Who are bound and determined to stop her at all costs.

But not nearly so determined as Shade Nox is to beat them.

Escape Rating A+: If you’ve ever wondered what Dune would have looked like if someone took that climate catastrophe combined with precious resource planet and re-wrote the thing so that planet-native Chani was the protagonist instead of “white” imperial savior Paul you’d get something like Obsidian – although it probably wouldn’t be nearly as good. (I’m saying this and I loved Dune – at least the book versions.)

I think this is also going to remind readers more than a bit of the “Sapphic Saffron Trifecta” of 2021, The Jasmine Throne, She Who Became the Sun and The Unbroken, with their female-centered epic stories although Obsidian does not include much romance at all, queer or otherwise, until the very end.

There’s actually a bit of the Mage Winds of Valdemar series, in that the chaos magic that has wrecked most of this world seems to sweep in and alter everything it touches – people, plants and animals alike, with dangerous and deadly results. And it’s getting worse.

There’s also a bit of the blood magic of the Dragon Age series, although sideways a bit. Shade, and the magic she controls with her obsidian knives, is powered by her own blood willingly sacrificed. It does sound a bit bonzo when you read it, but it is self-limiting and those limits are dealt with. She can’t go too far or she’ll lose control, consciousness and die. She’s also not sacrificing anyone else to achieve her ends – which is one of the places where that Brotherhood has gone off the rails more than a bit.

The story here is about power, as epic fantasy so often is. The Brotherhood wants to keep the power they have. The Empire that Raiden Mad represents isn’t really a threat to local power, although they could be in the future. They just want to deal with some reasonable people – which the Brotherhood most certainly is not.

The empire could be a threat to local power later, but at this point, they’re at “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” stage of things. The Brotherhood has made itself the empire’s enemy. The Brotherhood is most definitely Shade’s enemy. So they are friends of expediency. The future may be different, but first they have to get there.

The heart of this story is Shade’s quest for the hidden knowledge that she needs to raise a protected territory of her own, and then making the sacrifices necessary to raise it. It’s a journey that takes her through a lot of dark places and even darker hearts – including her own.

And it’s not over when Obsidian ends. This feels like the start of a truly epic saga. I certainly hope so and am looking forward VERY MUCH to where the author takes us next!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-23-22

So, I spent last weekend plus Monday and Tuesday in all day Zoom meetings. The meetings were great, and we’ll probably do it that way again next year because it works better from so many angles. Lucifer seemed to think the group was his fan club and popped in several times per day to get oohed and aahed over. (We saw everyone’s pets and children over the course of the meeting)

George, on the other paw, tried to excavate the top of my desk, then chewed the cord for my primary monitor, which dropped me out of the meeting and started shooting sparks out of the cord. It got a little too exciting there for a while. The picture below is, of course, George, looking very proud of himself for all the disruption he caused.

But speaking of the meeting, somewhat indirectly…I’m on a book judging committee for the American Library Association called The Reading List, which picks the best books in eight genres of adult fiction. The awards ceremony is tonight so I’ll finally be able to get all the books I picked up for the committee that I ended up not having to read out of my NetGalley and Edelweiss queues.

Followers of the Stacking the Shelves post regularly comment on the number of books I get and wonder how I manage to read them all. Whatever committee I am on in any given year is generally the cause of a lot of the books I get. This year there were 14 of us all throwing books into the committee hopper. We have to read the books we ourselves suggest, and then we have an upvoting and winnowing process. We have to read anything that gets upvoted, no matter who suggested it. By the time something reaches the upvoting process it’s usually well past its pub date and no longer available on NetGalley or Edelweiss. As I much prefer to read ebooks, I request books from NG and EDW as they are put on the suggestion list so I’ll have them if they get upvoted. It’s quite the process.

So we had 96 books to discuss over those four days. Someone referred to it as the “Overachiever’s Book Club” and that’s about right.

Blog Recap:

Martin Luther King. Jr. Versus the Insurance Companies (guest post by Galen)
B Review: Servant Mage by Kate Elliott
A- Review: Emperor by Anna Hackett
A- Review: Lightning in a Mirror by Jayne Ann Krentz
B Review: Shady Hollow by Juneau Black
Stacking the Shelves (480)

Coming This Week:

Obsidian by Sarah J. Daley (review)
Mr. Donahue’s Total Surrender by Sophie Barnes (blog tour review)
The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf (blog tour review)
Light Years from Home by Mike Chen (blog tour review)
The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon (review)

Stacking the Shelves (480)

Looking at this list made me check to see what’s the furthest out book on my calendar. And it’s The Last Dreamwalker, which won’t be published until late September. And yet, it’s done and I have an eARC. Who knows what the world will be like in September? So far, very little in the last couple of years has gone as planned, so why would this coming year be any different? But still, that’s three whole seasons from now, which is INSANE!

For Review:
The Bladed Faith (Vagrant Gods #1) by David Dalglish
The City Inside by Samit Basu
From Below by Darcy Coates
Hearts of Briarwall by Krista Jensen
Island Time by Georgia Clark
It Could Be Anyone by Jaime Lynn Hendricks
The Last Dreamwalker by Rita Woods
Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly
Madwoman: Nellie Bly by Louisa Treger
A Mirror Mended (Fractured Fables #2) by Alix E. Harrow
Remember Love (Ravenswood #1) by Mary Balogh
The Ruins by Phoebe Wynne
Summer at the Cape by RaeAnne Thayne
Three Miles Down by Harry Turtledove
The Wolf Den (Wolf Den #1) by Elodie Harper


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

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