Review: A Matter of Death and Life by Simon R. Green

Review: A Matter of Death and Life by Simon R. GreenA Matter of Death and Life (Gideon Sable #2) by Simon R. Green
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Gideon Sable #2
Pages: 192
Published by Severn House Publishers on March 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads


Master thief, rogue and chancer Gideon Sable is back for another fast-paced supernatural heist - and this time he has the vault of a Las Vegas casino in his sights

Judi Rifkin is one of the world's most successful collectors of the weird and unnatural. In a London underworld filled with criminals with very special talents, Judi is a force to be reckoned with.
And Gideon Sable - thief, rogue and chancer - owes her a very large favour.
Judi makes him an offer he can't refuse: steal her the legendary Masque of Ra, tucked up safe in a Las Vegas casino, and she'll wipe the slate clean.
This isn't Gideon's first heist by a long shot. But with old grudges threatening to cloud his judgment, an unpredictable crew who don't entirely trust each other and a formidable supernatural security team guarding his target, this job might be a gamble too far . . .
A Matter of Death and Life is the sequel to The Best Thing You Can Steal, and is the second supernatural heist thriller featuring master conman Gideon Sable from British SFF veteran and New York Times bestselling author Simon R. Green.

My Review:

The snark is turned up past 11 and all the way to 13 in this second book in the author’s Gideon Sable series. But don’t let the indication that this is the second book in the series fool you into thinking that all you need to read to get completely up to speed is that first book, The Best Thing You Can Steal.

Not that it isn’t a whole lot of snarky fun.

But the thing about the author of this urban fantasy series – along with several others, a couple of paranormal series and some epic space opera – is that all of his stories are told in the first person singular voice of the main character – in this case Gideon Sable.

Whether that featured antihero – because honestly, none of them are exactly heroes in any classic mold whatsoever – is John Taylor (Nightside), Eddie Drood (Secret Histories) or a whole host of others, the truth is that the voice of the protagonist reads like its the voice of the author. Because they all more or less the same voice – with just a few minor variations.

Not that that’s a bad thing, because I like my snark dial turned all the way up. This is an author who always makes me laugh out loud because his snark – and his characters – are clever in their actions and especially in their way with words. And those characters are more often archetypes than actual individuals. For readers who are familiar with the author’s previous works, they are archetypes that seem very, very familiar. Like old friends that you can’t totally trust not to either break your heart or your bank account. Or both.

Most likely both.

All of the above means that he’s an acquired taste. He just happens to be a taste I acquired a long time ago. Just like my nostalgia for Cincinnati Chili. It’s not something I’d want all the time, or even too often too close together, but when I have a taste for it, nothing else will do.

And I definitely had a taste for it – the author, not the chili – this weekend.

The story in A Matter of Death and Life is a direct followup to the events in the first book, The Best Thing You Can Steal. Gideon and his girlfriend, Annie Anybody, are roped into committing a heist for the person they cheated in the earlier book.

This time, they have to steal a supernatural and extremely creepy mask from a Las Vegas casino. The mask is supposed to grant eternal life and youth. Gideon’s, well, let’s call her his patron, wants the mask in order to get one up on her ex-husband. Gideon wants to get his own back from the current owner of the mask. His patron also wants to get one up on him – and it sure seems like someone is manipulating them both.

It’s going to be the job from hell. And it might just send them all there – and possibly back again – before it’s over. One way or another.

Escape Rating B+: This is a story where I don’t have any mixed feelings. I had a cracking good time with Gideon Sable and his more-misfit-than-usual crew as they took on Las Vegas. Calling this book a fantastic, slightly supernatural version of Ocean’s Eleven – complete with ALL the wisecracks – would be more accurate, and more fun, than anyone might have expected.

Clearly, I had fun. In fact, I had laugh out loud fun. It helps that Las Vegas as the public sees it, the casinos, the glitz and the fake glamor hiding a rapacious money machine, is a setting that is just ripe for all of the snarkitude that Gideon Sable can muster.

It’s also a wheels within wheels within wheels kind of story. As much as the setting reminds me of Ocean’s Eleven, the caper itself just screams Leverage – but with a twist. With multiple twists, some with lime and some with cyanide – or something worse, creepier and deadlier.

Under the supernatural gloss, this is a story about power, greed, paranoia and revenge all tied up in a great big ball of wrong. It’s also a cat and mouse game where each character believes they are one of the cats – only to discover that they are one of the mice after all. And that the real cat has been preparing them for dinner the entire time.

But the characters, especially Gideon and his crew, are also more than a bit of an in-joke. A joke that the reader only gets if they are familiar with at least the author’s previous urban fantasy series. Because Gideon Sable used to be someone else, before the real Gideon Sable died and our protagonist assumed his identity. The author closed out all of his previous urban fantasy series with Night Fall back in 2018. But Gideon and his crew sound an awful lot like many of his previous bands of misfits. So it’s possible that Gideon in particular used to be part of one of those other stories – until he had to find another identity.

Which means that the whole setup of Gideon Sable’s twisted version of our world could be one we’ve already seen, and Gideon himself could be someone we’ve already met. A possibility that teases me no end. But probably would not resonate with someone who had not been previously exposed to this author’s brand of Gordian Knot worlds within worlds and shadows hidden behind shadows.

But when I’m in the mood for extreme snarkitude, there’s none better. Gideon Sable, and all of this author’s characters, have refined smart-assery into a fine art – and sometimes that’s just what a reader needs to get through. So I hope Gideon Sable will be back in the not too distant future.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 2-27-22

Galen’s Presidents’ Day post is a gem. We don’t think of the ‘Founding Fathers’ as being either witty or petty, but they were human and the info that Galen found certainly makes that point clear. Reading Washington’s comments made him laugh hard enough that I made him share. I figured that Monroe couldn’t have had an easy time of it as I knew he had not just one but two hard acts to follow in the persons of Benjamin Franklin AND Thomas Jefferson, but I didn’t realize it was quite that hard.

Speaking of unexpected things, It’s seems insane that March is not just around the corner – it’s practically here! I understand why the calendar had to be reconciled to the sun, but couldn’t they have just made January and March into 30 day months so that February was a respectable length? Seriously…

The Wish Big Giveaway Hop ends tomorrow (Monday) and the Lady Luck Giveaway Hop starts on Tuesday, March 1. I don’t know about where you are, but it sure seems like Spring has sprung here in the Atlanta area.

Speaking of things springing, this picture was taken just moments before George and Hecate sprang at each other and started a running rumble all around the house!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Wish Big Giveaway Hop (ENDS TOMORROW!!!)

Blog Recap:

Presidents’ Day 2022: Marginalia (by Galen)
Spotlight + Excerpt: The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery
A- Review: Sisters of the Forsaken Stars by Lina Rather
B Review: The Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison Michaels
A Review: Down a Dark River by Karen Odden
Stacking the Shelves (485)

Coming This Week:

A Matter of Death and Life by Simon R. Green (review)
Lady Luck Giveaway Hop
The Detective by Anna Hackett (review)
Lost Worlds and Mythological Kingdoms edited by John Joseph Adams (review)
Engines of Empire by R.S. Ford (review)

Stacking the Shelves (485)

I’m a bit puzzled as to why this stack ended up being almost entirely at the front of the alphabet. I did not plan it that way.

All of these books look fascinating! Of course they do or I wouldn’t have picked them. But seriously, there are a couple I really want to highlight. First, literally as it was published first, The Black Company by Glen Cook. It’s part of the awesome Tor Essentials line. The Black Company is just the kind of gritty fantasy I usually like, but I bounced hard off it when I tried it way back when. Cook was a friend of a friend so I wanted to read his work and couldn’t get into it at the time. Now that it’s back out we’ll see.

Second book I want to push at people is Down a Dark River. I want to shove that into the hands of anyone who likes historical mysteries because it is AWESOME. It’s also currently on sale for $1.99 on Kindle, so if you’re looking to take a flyer at a book this weekend it’s both marvelous and cheap and I highly recommend it!

For Review:
All the White Spaces by Ally Wilkes
August Kitko and the Mechas from Space (Starmetal Symphony #1) by Alex White
The Berlin Exchange by Joseph Kanon
The Black Company (Chronicles of the Black Company #1) by Glen Cook
The Bodyguard by Katherine Center
Book Boyfriend by Kris Ripper
Bookish People by Susan J. Coll
Box 88 (Lachlan Kite #1) by Charles Cumming
Boys Come First by Aaron Foley
D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding by Chencia C. Higgins
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Detective (Norcross Security #7) by Anna Hackett
Down a Dark River (Inspector Corravan #1) by Karen Odden (Grade A REVIEW!)
The Final Strife (Final Strife Trilogy #1) by Saara El-Arifi
Flying Solo by Linda Holmes
Harlem Sunset (Harlem Renaissance Mystery #2) by Nekesa Afia
Icebreaker by A. L. Graziadei
Invisible Things by Mat Johnson
Love in the Time of Serial Killers by Alicia Thompson
Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan
Seasonal Fears (Alchemical Journeys #2) by Seanan McGuire


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

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Review: Down a Dark River by Karen Odden

Review: Down a Dark River by Karen OddenDown a Dark River by Karen Odden
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Inspector Corravan #1
Pages: 328
Published by Crooked Lane Books on November 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

In the vein of C. S. Harris and Anne Perry, Karen Odden’s mystery introduces Inspector Michael Corravan as he investigates a string of vicious murders that has rocked Victorian London’s upper crust.
London, 1878. One April morning, a small boat bearing a young woman’s corpse floats down the murky waters of the Thames. When the victim is identified as Rose Albert, daughter of a prominent judge, the Scotland Yard director gives the case to Michael Corravan, one of the only Senior Inspectors remaining after a corruption scandal the previous autumn left the division in ruins. Reluctantly, Corravan abandons his ongoing case, a search for the missing wife of a shipping magnate, handing it over to his young colleague, Mr. Stiles.
An Irish former bare-knuckles boxer and dockworker from London’s seedy East End, Corravan has good street sense and an inspector’s knack for digging up clues. But he’s confounded when, a week later, a second woman is found dead in a rowboat, and then a third. The dead women seem to have no connection whatsoever. Meanwhile, Mr. Stiles makes an alarming discovery: the shipping magnate’s missing wife, Mrs. Beckford, may not have fled her house because she was insane, as her husband claims, and Mr. Beckford may not be the successful man of business that he appears to be.
Slowly, it becomes clear that the river murders and the case of Mrs. Beckford may be linked through some terrible act of injustice in the past—for which someone has vowed a brutal vengeance. Now, with the newspapers once again trumpeting the Yard’s failures, Corravan must dredge up the truth—before London devolves into a state of panic and before the killer claims another innocent victim.

My Review:

This first book in the Inspector Corravan series begins in the middle in a way that just plain works. For one thing, Corravan is 30 or thereabouts, meaning that he had not just a life but an adult life for years before this story begins. Howsomever, the book does a terrific job of telling the reader enough about his previous life AND his previous cases for us to get a feel for the man as a character as well as how good he is at his job and how often he rubs his superiors the wrong way.

It’s also a bit in the middle when it comes to the circumstances of Scotland Yard and the London Metropolitan Police Department. The situation that the department is in when we first meet Corravan is taken from history. The corruption trial that rocked the Met and still influences the public’s acceptance or lack thereof towards the police really happened. The man who is in charge of the newly formed CID (Criminal Investigation Department) that Corravan serves is a fictional avatar of the real C.E. Howard Vincent who held that position at the time this book takes place..

So the story is grounded in the real a bit more deeply than the usual historical mystery, and that’s part of what makes the story so fascinating. But the truly compelling part of this story is the mystery itself. As it should be.

It all starts with the discovery of a woman’s body floating down the Thames in a lighter, a small boat used to carry cargo along the river. She’s relatively young, blond, pretty and appears to have been well-off if not outright wealthy based on her clothing and her physical condition. She wasn’t raped, but the skirt of her dress was cut open, her wrists were slashed post-mortem and there were flowers in the boat.

Whoever killed her, whyever they did it, the dead woman left behind a fiancé, parents and friends who loved her and are devastated by her death. Corravan begins an investigation, under pressure from his superiors, who are under pressure from theirs. Everyone wants the murder solved before the public loses even more confidence in the police.

A week later there’s a second body. Then a third who the mysterious killer lets go, possibly because she’s pregnant. Corravan is out of his mind, losing his temper, and losing his battle against the demon drink all at the same time.

Because the victims seem to have nothing in common save their gender, station and appearance. He’s not making any headway and the powers-that-be are losing patience – although not as fast as Corravan is.

Just when he’s at his wit’s end – and about to be demoted for it – a key witness steps out of the shadows. He learns just how heinous this crime really is – and just how hard it will be to bring absolutely everyone responsible to any kind of justice.

Escape Rating A: I picked this up because I read and enjoyed two of the author’s previous books, A Dangerous Duet and A Trace of Deceit, also Victorian-set mysteries. And also books that center women’s stories and women’s lives even though much of the investigation is driven by a male protagonist.

So when I learned this book existed, I was happy to set aside the books I’d bounced off of this week and dive right in. Especially as I was even more tempted by the description of the story appealing to readers of C.S. Harris and Anne Perry, as I loved both authors’ 19th century-set mystery series.

While Down a Dark River resembles C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr series in the way that it is so firmly grounded in its time and place, and the way that it borrows from real history using real people as secondary characters, the true resemblance is to Anne Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series and her William Monk series. Corravan’s background – and his temperament – resemble Monk, but the time period in which this series is set makes him contemporaneous to the Pitts. A time when the world was obviously changing as a result of the Industrial Revolution, both for good and for ill.

This case, as Corravan himself remarks, feels like a new kind of crime. He’s chasing a serial killer – someone organized but with a deranged mind or at least worldview. Not someone who kills in the heat of the moment, but someone who plans meticulously and seeks out victims who make sense for reasons that exist only in his own head.

The process of the investigation, and the way that Corravan nearly loses not just control of it but control of himself, gives us a window into a fascinating character who does not want to adapt to the times or the circumstances, only to discover that the cost of not doing so is greater than he is willing to pay.

Earlier I said that this book centers women’s stories and lives in spite of its male protagonist. And the way that is worked out in the story made for a compelling twist that carries the reader, the detective and eventually his department along to a stunning conclusion that satisfies in one way but can’t possibly do so in another.

Nor should it, which is what made this so very good.

I expected to like this, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I most definitely did. So I’m very happy that Inspector Corravan’s investigations will continue later this year in Under a Veiled Moon.

Review: The Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison Michaels

Review: The Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison MichaelsThe Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison Michaels
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Secrets, Scandals, and Spies #2
Pages: 457
Published by Entangled: Amara on February 14, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He wants justice
Underestimating Marcus Black is the last thing his enemies ever do. After all, the respected Earl of Westwood is a deadly threat… when her Majesty needs him to be. And his only goal is to avenge his brother’s murder. Which would be much easier if the viciously-skilled Lady Kaitlyn Montrose wouldn’t swoop in, knee him in the bollocks, and then run off with his only lead…
She wants revenge
Kat is determined to avenge her beloved uncle’s murder and nothing will stop her. Especially not the devastatingly handsome, and equally lethal Marcus Black. The fact that he’s after the same target is a complication she hadn’t planned on. And as much as she enjoys taunting him, she has a job to do—one that doesn’t include sparring with the infuriating man at every turn. Except Kat has a new plan… one that Marcus will just hate.
Now they’ll have to work together… if they don’t kill each other first
Individually, Marcus and Kat are deadly. If they worked together, they could be unstoppable. But when attraction gets in the way of vengeance, it’s more than hearts on the line. And only one person can win...

My Review:

There are three threads to this story. The part of that braid that we are introduced to first is the revenge story, as Kat Montrose watches her guardian and beloved uncle die on the street after an attack by a foreign agent known only as “The Chameleon”. The second strand of that braid is the instant attraction between Kat and Marcus Black – an attraction that is as inconvenient and inappropriate as it is irresistible.

Last but not least, the central thing that ties those two pieces together is the “Great Game” of power, politics and general one-upmanship that was conducted between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in places and with proxies all around the world, but most especially in Central and South Asia.

It’s the playing of this game of lives, fortunes and futures that eventually resulted in World War I. But at the point of this story in 1884-85, it’s mostly a spy game. A spy game in which Kat, Marcus, Kat’s late uncle AND the Chameleon have all played their parts.

Kat, formally Lady Kaitlyn Montrose, is a spy, a member of Her Majesty’s War Office. So is Marcus Black, the Earl of Westwood. Both were trained by her late uncle in the work. When he was killed, Kat began her search for the Chameleon, intending on taking “an eye for an eye”, the Chameleon’s life for her uncle’s.

But the Chameleon has been avoiding people like Kat for years, all too successfully. No one has ever been able to discover the identity of the elusive assassin. Kat needs a bit of assistance in tracking the Chameleon down. Assistance that she expects to garner in the form of the Earl of Westwood, who should want to avenge her uncle – his mentor – as much as she does.

Westwood has been hunting the Chameleon for far longer than Kat has been looking, and Victor’s death only adds to the reasons for his pursuit. He doesn’t want Kat getting in his way – or honestly working the case at all. Nor does he have any hope of stopping her.

Which doesn’t keep him from trying for entirely too long.

But the Chameleon is working through a hit list of the highest echelons of the War Office. Kat and Marcus will have to work together to stop the decimation of Britain’s intelligence services while war looms on the horizon.

Too bad they’re spending so much time fighting a war with each other to find the source of the threat before it’s nearly too late.

Escape Rating B: I loved the opening of this. The whole idea of a female spy in Victorian England had the potential to be so much fun! And the first scenes, with Kat burgling some papers then decimating the thugs who try to stop her  – was fantastic. That Kat has a burning line of snark for such circumstances was icing on the cake.

But the cake turned out to be more of a cupcake.

Kat is still an utterly fascinating character, and she does continue to kick ass and take names throughout this story. I especially loved her friendship with Livie (heroine of the first book in the series, The Bachelor Bargain) and Etta, and their joint publishing venture to take down the unrepentant asshole noblemen who abused women and didn’t think they’d have to pay for their perfidy. That was excellent. (I haven’t read the first book – yet – but didn’t feel like I’d missed anything essential. Just that I might have missed a good reading time!)

And I can’t say that I didn’t like her budding relationship with Westwood, because that certainly had oodles of passionate potential, which it mostly fulfilled. What fulfilled less, at least for me, was the degree to which he just plain refused to accept that Kat was NEVER going to submit to his protection and was not under any circumstances going to hold herself back from the investigation. Marcus wants Kat to be safe, and takes much too long to acknowledge that safety was about the last thing that Kat was built for.

If he hadn’t been aware of how she was raised and trained – and intimately aware at that because he was trained by the same person – it would have made more sense. His behavior would have been the expected thing for that time and place. But he went into this mess knowing that Kat was absolutely NOT the expected thing so treating her as if she was was going to get him nowhere but an argument. The repetition went on too long, and Kat in particular was a bit too angsty about her developing feelings. She was portrayed as a person of action at every turn and the moody angst just didn’t “feel right”.

On the other hand, the case was a cracking good one – and the solution was nothing like I expected at all. The Chameleon was both clever and totally unexpected, adding a frisson of danger and temptation to the scenario that made the whole thing that much more diabolical and entertaining.

In other words, mixed feelings. The way the romance worked didn’t quite fit the characters of Kat and Marcus as they were drawn, but I was certainly sold on them being meant for each other. I certainly liked this more than enough to consider picking up the previous book in the series, The Bachelor Bargain, the next time I’m in the mood for a romantic spy story.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. For more reviews and features follow the tour!

Features:

Monday, February 14th:  @nerdy_book_lover_1987
Tuesday, February 15th: @readinginfairyland
Wednesday, February 16th: @nsiabblog
Thursday, February 17th: @angelareadsbooks
Friday, February 18th: @barr_bookworm
Saturday, February 19th: @a_bookish_dream
Sunday, February 20th: @everlasting.charm

Reviews:

Monday, February 21st: @1bookmore
Monday, February 21st: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, February 23rd: @bookworm.struggles
Thursday, February 24th: Reading Reality
Monday, February 28th: @kingarthurof_cat_onsville
Wednesday, March 2nd: @reading.with.rylanne
Thursday, March 3rd: What is That Book About – spotlight
Friday, March 4th: @temmathomas
Monday, March 7th: @andkellyreads
Wednesday, March 9th: @aparanormalromance
Friday, March 11th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Sunday, March 13th: Subakka.bookstuff Blog
Monday, March 14th: The Romance Dish – spotlight
Monday, March 14th: @lowkey.bookish
Wednesday, March 16th: @plottrysts
Friday, March 18th: @loveofmuse
Sunday, March 20th: @shopcoffeekids

Review: Sisters of the Forsaken Stars by Lina Rather

Review: Sisters of the Forsaken Stars by Lina RatherSisters of the Forsaken Stars (Our Lady of Endless Worlds #2) by Lina Rather
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Our Lady of Endless Worlds #2
Pages: 192
Published by Tordotcom on February 22, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

The sisters of the Order of Saint Rita navigate the far reaches of space and challenges of faith in Sisters of the Forsaken Stars, the follow-up to Lina Rather's Sisters of the Vast Black, winner of the Golden Crown Literary Society Award.
“We lit the spark, maybe we should be here for the flames.”
Not long ago, Earth’s colonies and space stations threw off the yoke of planet Earth’s tyrannical rule. Decades later, trouble is brewing in the Four Systems, and Old Earth is flexing its power in a bid to regain control over its lost territories.
The Order of Saint Rita—whose mission is to provide aid and mercy to those in need—bore witness to and defied Central Governance’s atrocities on the remote planet Phyosonga III. The sisters have been running ever since, staying under the radar while still trying to honor their calling.
Despite the sisters’ secrecy, the story of their defiance is spreading like wildfire, spearheaded by a growing anti-Earth religious movement calling for revolution. Faced with staying silent or speaking up, the Order of Saint Rita must decide the role they will play—and what hand they will have—in reshaping the galaxy.

My Review:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

The quote is from W.B. Yeats’ poem The Second Coming. I went looking for the source of the line “the center cannot hold” and found this glorious thing and was absolutely gobsmacked. In a rather poetic nutshell, this is the story of Sisters of the Forsaken Stars writ even more gloriously than the book itself – which was pretty damn good indeed.

The overarching story of this duology (at least so far) that begin with the wonderful Sisters of the Vast Black, is the widening gyre that turns around the center of this Earth-based hegemony turned empire is that that very center that wants to be a control nexus for an entire galaxy, is not going to be able to hold. No matter how hard it tries and how much damage – both direct and collateral – it causes along its way.

The remaining sisters of the Order of Saint Rita have spent the past several months hiding on a series of backwater planets, hoping to put the tumultuous events of their rescue mission at Phoyongsa III behind them. That story is told in Sisters of the Vast Black. They are desperately hoping that Earth Central Governance has lost interest in finding them.

Even though they know that hope is in vain, because the secret they are keeping is just too big to hide.

On Phoyongsa III the sisters discovered that the ringeye plague that is the scourge of the colonial planets is not a naturally occurring disease. Instead, ringeye is the actual blood-dimmed tide from the poem, and Earth Central Governance releases it deliberately on colony planets that have become either desirable or rebellious to the central authority they are intent on re-establishing.

It’s a secret that carries within it the seeds for rebellion. A rebellion that will be planted on fertile ground, as the remote colony planets have zero desire to submit to Earth Central Governance again after decades of relative freedom and independence.

It’s a rebellion that the sisters of St. Rita have neither the desire nor the conviction to become a part of. But there are plenty of others, full of passionate intensity, eager to fan the flames of war.

Escape Rating A-: What is making this series so special is a bit more in the implications than in what is actually on the page, which may not quite make sense but nevertheless feels true. On the surface, this is still OMG nuns in space, but not done for laughs any more than last year’s We Shall Sing a Song into the Deep took the idea of a monastery on a submarine for laughs. There be kraken hidden in both stories.

The crisis of faith among the nuns, especially the new Abbess of their little breakaway order sometimes take away from the action and yet feel necessary to the development of the story. At the same time, the mundanities of keeping a ship on the run from authority will remind readers of Firefly while the liveship feels like a taste of Farscape.

And the scenario of the central governance reasserting control and the colony planets’ reluctance manages to take a page from A Memory Called Empire while also reading very much like every real world scenario of a central organization with branches. Because the thoughts and opinions in that familiar set up ring very true. People at the center think they are superior by virtue of being at the center; people in the colonies are certain that the central authority is irrelevant at best, tyrannical at worst, and utterly clueless about what life outside the center is like. (If this sounds like it echoes recent political discourse about “flyover states” that’s probably not accidental.

Sisters of the Forsaken Stars, and its predecessor Sisters of the Vast Black, are stories that fascinated me in all the ways they take the surprising set up and project it out into a far flung star empire while the individual characters didn’t get quite enough development for me to be hooked into them as individuals – only into the story they told as a whole.

But that hook into the story as a whole set deep. This story ends much as the first one did, the immediate crisis has been dealt with – mostly by being escaped from – but with their long term course and consequences still very much in doubt.

I hope there’s a next book, because I want to see where those consequences lead.

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Summer Getaway by Susan MalleryThe Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Hqn on March 15, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

One woman takes the vacation of a lifetime in this poignant and heartwarming story about the threads that hold a family together from #1
New York Times
bestselling author Susan Mallery.
Single mom Robyn Caldwell needs a new plan for her future.  She has always put her family first.  Now, with her kids grown, she yearns for a change. But what can she do when her daughter has become the most demanding bride ever, her son won’t even consider college, her best friend is on the brink of marital disaster and her ex is making a monumentally bad decision that could ruin everything?
Take a vacation, of course. Press reset. When her great-aunt Lillian invites her to Santa Barbara for the summer, Robyn hops on the first plane to sunny California.
But it’s hard to get away when you’re the heart of the family. One by one, everyone she loves follows her across the country. Somehow, their baggage doesn’t feel as heavy in the sun-drenched, mishmash mansion. The more time Robyn spends with free-spirited Lillian, the more possibilities she sees—for dreams, love, family. She can have everything she ever wanted, if only she can muster the courage to take a chance on herself.

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery. I’ll be reviewing this book next month as part of another tour, but in the meantime, here’s a teaser to whet ALL of our reading appetites!

Excerpt from The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery (continued from Monday’s Excerpt at Books, Cooks, Looks)

“She also found a couple of early Dutch strongboxes,” Mindy added. “Those sell for at least thirty K.”

Mindy, along with her three sisters, owned an exclusive antique shop in Naples. None of the other sisters lived in Florida, so Mindy was in charge of retail. Her sisters traveled extensively, keeping the shop well-stocked with unique and expensive items.

Robyn and Mindy had met in the store. Robyn was a frequent client, although her taste was slightly less upscale than much of Mindy’s inventory. They’d quickly moved to having lunch every month. When a part-time position had opened up, Robyn had applied. It was only a few hours a week, but Robyn enjoyed working with the other clients, as well as checking out whatever was new in the store. The selling wasn’t her favorite, but learning about different eras and the history of each piece enthralled her.

Mindy set down her glass. “How goes the wedding?”

Robyn did her best not to grimace. “So far we’re just talking generalities.”

“You’re still not happy they’re engaged?”

Robyn again resisted the urge to chug her wine. “Kip’s great. He adores Harlow, and doesn’t every mother want that in a future son-in-law? I just wish…”

She placed her hands flat on the table. “She’s barely twenty-two. They’ve known each other less than a year, and getting married is such a big step. Why can’t they live together for a few years? Take off for Paris or go hiking in Chile? Why get married so quickly?”

Mindy tried to hide her amusement. “And how old were you when you married Cord?”

“Nineteen.” Robyn sighed. “Which is my point. I had a two-year-old when I was Harlow’s age. Sure, I had my kids early, but what if I hadn’t? What if I’d gone to college or spent six months in Australia or done something other than what I did?”

“So is your concern about what Harlow might miss out on or what you gave up?”

A very valid question, Robyn thought. “How can you be insightful? That’s your third glass of champagne.”

“Liquor brings out my best qualities.”

“I don’t regret my life. I love my kids. I wouldn’t wish them away.”

“But?”

“I want her to have options.” She picked up her fork. “Not a conversation my daughter wants to have with me.” She and Harlow had managed to survive the teen years with hardly a cross word, but lately, they seemed to be fighting all the time.

“Would you have listened to your mother?” Mindy asked.

“I’m not sure. She died when I was eleven.”

Mindy’s brown eyes widened. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It’s okay. As for talking to her when I was Harlow’s age, I probably wouldn’t have listened, either. I want to say I would have been mature and interested in her opinion, but it seems unlikely.”

Mindy touched her hand. “It’s your past, Robyn. You rewrite it however you’d like.”

“Thanks. The last time Harlow mentioned the wedding, she said something about wanting to dye the pool to match the bridesmaids’ dresses.”

“Can you even do that?”

“No idea, and I really don’t want to know.” She could only hope that her daughter’s wedding plans became a little more normal as time passed. Or that she decided to elope. Or hey, postpone.

“Want to play tennis next week?” Mindy asked brightly.

Robyn eyed her. “I’m not interested in meeting your fantasy guy.”

“Why not? Once you see him, you’ll have to admit he’s totally worth the risk.”

Robyn gave in to the inevitable and swallowed the rest of her wine. “Mindy, you make me crazy. You have a perfectly good penis at home. One is enough. Forget about Derrick.”

“Dimitri.”

“Whatever. Don’t risk your marriage and your family. He’s not worth it.”

“But I’m not doing it for him. I’m doing it for me.” She smiled dreamily. “At least let me see him naked.”

“See a therapist instead.”

Mindy assumed Robyn was kidding and burst out laughing. Robyn faked a smile, even as she told herself to stop trying to convince her friend of anything. Based on how her children were behaving lately, she had no skills at persuasion. Oh, for the days when she could bribe them with a Popsicle.

Excerpt Tour continues tomorrow at Susan Loves Books) Follow the tour for more exciting excerpts:

Excerpt tour:

Monday, February 21st: Books Cooks Looks

Tuesday, February 22nd: Reading Reality

Wednesday, February 23rd: SusanLovesBooks

Thursday, February 24th: Kahakai Kitchen

Friday, February 25th: From the TBR Pile

Friday, February 25th: View from the Birdhouse

Sunday, February 27th: Subakka.bookstuff

Monday, February 28th: Laura’s Reviews

Tuesday, March 1st: Bookchickdi

Wednesday, March 2nd: The Bookish Dilettante

Thursday, March 3rd: What is That Book About

Friday, March 4th: The Romance Dish

Sunday, March 6th: The Cozy Book Blog

Monday, March 7th: Girl Who Reads

Tuesday, March 8th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, March 9th: Helen’s Book Blog

Thursday, March 10th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Friday, March 11th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy

Sunday, March 13th: Novel Gossip

Monday, March 14th: Books and Bindings

About the Author:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives: family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages. Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

Presidents’ Day 2022: Marginalia

Portrait of George WashingtonPortrait of James Monroe

The 1790’s was a complicated period for U.S. diplomacy, with the young republic having to navigate relations with two great powers, Great Britain and France. Washington’s neutrality proclamation of 1793 expressed a desire to stay out of European wars, but neutrality did not mean that there were no choices to be made. The American Revolution was still in living memory, of course, and pro-French feelings were often strong. On the other hand, Great Britain was the biggest trading partner of the U.S. and was perhaps culturally closer to the U.S.

How to treat with France and Great Britain became a fault line in early partisan politics, with the Federalists leaning toward’s Great Britain and the Democratic-Republicans towards France. James Monroe was nominated by Washington to be the U.S.’s chief diplomat to France in 1794. He was a Democratic-Republican.

Things did not go well, at least from Washington’s point of view. After the Jay Treaty with Great Britain was announced, France expressed its displeasure. No particular surprise there. However, Monroe also made his displeasure known, and subsequently was perceived as being a bit too much in France’s court.

Washington had Monroe recalled in 1796. Monroe came back home, nearly got into a duel with Alexander Hamilton, then in 1798 published A View of the Conduct of the Executive of the United States as a defense of his actions. Washington was out of office by then, but arranged to get a copy of Monroe’s book.

I can imagine Washington reading it with an ever-growing fury. Why I can I imagine this? Because he wrote in its margins.

Here’s a taste. The first sentence of the book is “In the month of May, 1794, I was invited by the President of the United States, through the Secretary of State, to accept the office of Minister Plenipotentiary to the French republic.”

Washington’s annotation: “After several attempts had failed to obtain a more eligable [sic] character.

And it goes on like this for many more annotations well worth reading in full. Who knew that Washington had a snarky side?

Here’s your reminder that the Founders were not plaster saints.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 2-20-22

I’m gearing up to be away for a week, and it’s already stressing me out more than a bit. I won’t have much internet access while I’m gone, so I’m trying to get everything done ahead of time – which means a LOT of non-stop reading. Which actually isn’t such a bad thing – nor is it all that much different from the rest of the time!

It is very nice to have giveaways again! Mama the Fox, who organizes giveaway hops every month on the 1st and the 16th, does a wonderful job of putting stuff out there, and I’m always happy to participate in her hops. But the calendar worked against me in January as both 1/1 and 1/16 were on the weekends. Things get MUCH better from here!

Speaking of things getting better, no Sunday Post is complete without a kitty picture. Here are George and Lucifer. I want to say they are cuddling, but that doesn’t seem to quite be it based on the expression on Lucifer’s face!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Wish Big Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Heart 2 Heart Giveaway Hop is Molli

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Mickey7 by Edward Ashton
B Review: Fires of Edo by Susan Spann
Wish Big Giveaway Hop
B Review: Ten Rules for Marrying a Duke by Michelle McLean
A+ Review: Sword and Shadow by Michelle Sagara
Stacking the Shelves (484)

Coming This Week:

The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery (Spotlight + Excerpt tour feature)
The House of Cats and Gulls by Stephen Deas (review)
The Bachelor Betrayal by Maddison Michaels (blog tour review)
Sisters of the Forsaken Stars by Lina Rather (review)

Stacking the Shelves (484)

There are, as always, LOTS of interesting looking books on this week’s Stacking the Shelves. But the one I want to bring your attention to, especially if you are a science fiction and/or fantasy reader, is the one I picked up from Amazon this week. It’s the annual Some of the Best of Tor.com collection, and the ebook is FREE from the etailer of your choice. So if you like the things that Tor and Tor.com publish, this is a real treat – in more ways than one!

For Review:
Dirty Work (Dirty Deeds #1) by TA Moore
Eclipse the Moon (Starlight’s Shadow #2) by Jessie Mihalik
Eyes of the Void (Final Architecture #2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky
A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys
Kalyna the Soothsayer by Elijah Kinch Spector
The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston
The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope
One Foot in the Fade (Fetch Phillips #3) by Luke Arnold
Peril at the Exposition by Nev March
The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Some of the Best of Tor.com 2021 by G. V. Anderson, ‘Pemi Aguda, Elizabeth Bear, Kate Elliott, A. T. Greenblatt, Glen Hirshberg, Kathleen Jennings, Cheri Kamei, Jasmin Kirkbride, Matthew Kressel, Usman T. Malik, Sam J. Miller, Annalee Newitz, noc, Sarah Pinsker, Daniel Polansky, Peng Shepherd, Cooper Shrivastava, Lavie Tidhar, Catherynne M. Valente, Carrie Vaughn, E. Lily Yu


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: