Stacking the Shelves (529)

I was expecting a short stack this interstitial week between Xmas and New Year’s and that’s certainly what I got. When I had a regular day job where I had to be at work this week I always had grand plans for just how much I was going to get done with so many people out for the holidays. But the reality was that it turned out to be a quiet and relaxing week – even at the office. The lack of new books or cover art for books whose ARCs are already out leads me to believe that scenario still holds true.

Still, I have plenty to read to kick off the new year with, so a short stack is welcome.

Happy Holidays to you and yours and here’s hoping for a safe, happy and healthy New Year for everyone!

For Review:
A Disappearance in Fiji by Nilima Rao
Evergreen (Japantown Mystery #2) by Naomi Hirahara
A Likely Story by Leigh McMullan Abramson

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
The Cloud Roads (Books of the Raksura #1) by Martha Wells


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:

Best Books of 2022

This is the closest to a “Top Ten” list I’ve ever managed to get – and that only by being fairly ruthless about the whole thing. Even so, the best I can do is a “Baker’s Dozen” plus three honorable mentions.

Trends continue to trend. Most of the books on my list are fantasy and/or science fiction. The rest are mystery/thriller of various types and stripes, along with one horror because, well, T. Kingfisher.

About those three honorable mentions, Steel Fear should have been on last year’s list. I skimmed it then and didn’t get into it but this year I did and WOW! So I’m a bit late to the party but still just so good. And Remarkably Bright Creatures because it just goes so well with The Mountain in the Sea that I couldn’t resist including it. (Some of the folks in my reading group thought Mountain spoiled Bright Creatures but I thought they made each other better, and it’s my list. So there.) And last but not least, except in length, The Jade Setter of Janloon by Fonda Lee because I loved the world of the Green Bone Saga so damn hard and just can’t let it go.

Over all the books from this year, my favorite is still Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree. It was just a lovely story, it cast all its stock fantasy players against type, it told a fun and entertaining story without violence but with lots of love. It was the warm, comforting hug of a book that this year simply cried out for. Not that The Circus Infinite wasn’t equally wonderful in its SFnal way. Not to mention all the others.

(I had a LOT of A+ reads this year. So many wonderful books!)

All the links for the titles listed are to my reviews, wherever they might be located. Take a look and see if any of them belong on your TBR pile for the coming year.

It’s fitting that on this last next-to-last day of the year to take a moment to take stock of the reading year now passing. On Monday, a look ahead at the books I’m most looking forward to in 2023.

Happy New Year!

Bindle Punk Bruja by Desideria Mesa
The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong
Cold Fear by Brandon Webb and John David Mann
Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen
Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree
Look Closer by David Ellis
The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Naylor
Silver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco
The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal
To Each This World by Julie E. Czerneda
Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden
What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb

Honorable Mentions:
The Jade Setter of Janloon by Fonda Lee
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
Steel Fear by Brandon Webb and John David Mann

Review: The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Review: The Atlas Six by Olivie BlakeThe Atlas Six (The Atlas, #1) by Olivie Blake
Narrator: Andy Ingalls, Caitlin Kelly, Damian Lynch, David Monteith, James Patrick Cronin, Munirih Grace, Siho Ellsmore, Steve West
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dark academia, fantasy
Series: Atlas #1
Pages: 384
Length: 16 hours and 59 minutes
Published by Macmillan Audio, Tor Books on March 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

The Alexandrian Society is a secret society of magical academicians, the best in the world. Their members are caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity. And those who earn a place among their number will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. Each decade, the world’s six most uniquely talented magicians are selected for initiation – and here are the chosen few...

- Libby Rhodes and Nicolás Ferrer de Varona: inseparable enemies, cosmologists who can control matter with their minds.
- Reina Mori: a naturalist who can speak the language of life itself.
- Parisa Kamali: a mind reader whose powers of seduction are unmatched.
- Tristan Caine: the son of a crime kingpin who can see the secrets of the universe.
- Callum Nova: an insanely rich pretty boy who could bring about the end of the world. He need only ask.

When the candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they must spend one year together to qualify for initiation. During this time, they will be permitted access to the Society’s archives and judged on their contributions to arcane areas of knowledge. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated. If they can prove themselves to be the best, they will survive. Most of them.

My Review:

This dive into the inner workings of a very dark academia begins with Atlas Blakely, Caretaker of the Alexandrian Society, visiting the six most powerful mages of their generation and making each of them an offer that they can refuse – although he knows that none of them will.

It’s the opportunity of a lifetime and they all know it. Even if, at the beginning, they don’t realize that it will absolutely be the end of at least one of theirs.

In this alternate version of our world, magic has taken the place of science, and is treated, studied, and advanced much as science is in the world we know. Magic has created the equivalent, if not the better, of the technologies that power our world. Magic is known, it is respected, and it is feared.

Magic is power every bit as much, if in a somewhat different way, as power is magic.

Those six powerful mages are being recruited to join the Alexandrian Society, the secret inheritors of the knowledge and power that was once held in and by the Great Library of Alexandria. Membership in the Society confers prestige, which, on top of their already considerable magical power, is certain to bring them wealth and yet more earthly power as well.

But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every powerful and secret society, there is at least one, if not two or six, rivals searching for a way to take that power and add it to their own.

The six mages who have been recruited by Atlas Blakely have one year to suss out all the secrets held by the Society, by its enigmatic caretaker, and by each other. It’s not enough time to even scratch the surface of that labyrinth.

But it’s all that one of them has left.

Escape Rating B: I have extremely mixed feelings about The Atlas Six. So mixed that the blender of my feelings hasn’t stopped whirling even a week after I finished the damn thing.

At the top of the column labeled ‘good’ feelings, the book is compelling as hell. Once the story gets past Libby and Nico’s barely post-adolescent sniping and swiping at each other, the whole thing is off to the races in a way that both commands and demands the reader’s attention.

I finished at 4 o’clock in the damn morning because I just couldn’t put it down – and when I tried it gnawed at me until I picked it back up again. Over and over until finally I fell out at the end, as exhausted and spent as the characters.

Howsomever, at the top of the column labeled ‘bad’ feelings is the fact that not a single one of these characters is on the side of the angels. There ARE NO angels here. There are no innocents to serve as heartbreaking collateral damage. Saying that no one is any better than they ought to be doesn’t nearly cover it. More like they are all worse than each other in a Möbius strip of turning their backs on anything that could be classified as “light” and diving straight for the bottom.

If you need to like at least one character to follow a story, even if that character is an anti-hero rather than a hero or a lovable or even just a redeemable rogue, there is absolutely no one in this story who remotely qualifies. Every single character, even the ones that at the beginning you might think will turn out to be a bit corrupt but not too awful, seems to have had their moral compass surgically removed at birth or shortly thereafter.

At the same time, for most of its length The Atlas Six seems to sit squarely on the intersection between “power corrupts” and “some gifts come at just too high a price.” And those certainly are elements of the story. But, just as we think we know what’s going on, the centrality of those two tropes is knocked off that center. Or rather, we learn that believing that those are the central tenets also centers characters who may not actually be IN that center.

Which admittedly does ramp up the tension VERY dramatically for the second book in the series, The Atlas Paradox. Which, thank goodness – or more likely badness in this case – is already out so I’ll be starting it as soon as I recuperate from the first book.

The thing is that I’m not sure there’s anything honestly new in The Atlas Six. It’s fascinating, it’s compelling, it’s stomach turning at points, but the whole corruption of dark academia thing is not exactly new under the sun. (Recent examples include Babel by R.F. Kuang, and The Scholomance by Naomi Novik to name just a couple). For this reader, the way that all the arcs, at least so far, are trending so deeply downwards means that I’ll be diving into the second book more to see just how far down into hell these people and this situation can go. I suspect it’s pretty damn far. I don’t actually care about ANY of the characters.

So, if you need to like someone, anyone in a story to want to make your way to its end, The Atlas Six may not do it for you as a reader. I’m very much of two minds about the whole thing.

Howsomever, while I may have had a ton of mixed feelings about the story, but absolutely none whatsoever about the full cast narration. The way the book was narrated was truly what both made it possible for me to read and compelled me to finish. The perspective on the events is batted around between seven first person narrators, the Atlas Six themselves plus Libby Rhodes’ boyfriend Ezra Fowler. In the narration, the actor changed when the perspective did, and the actors did a fantastic job of making each other their characters distinct and easy to recognize.

Because voice acting fascinates me, and this group did such a damn good job of it (and because I had to do a fair bit of digging and listening to figure out who played who), here’s almost the full cast list: (I think I got this right but if I didn’t or if someone knows who Damien Lynch voiced PLEASE let me know)

-Libby Rhodes voiced by Caitlin Kelly
-Nico de Varona voiced by James Patrick Cronin
-Reina Mori voiced by Siho Ellsmore
-Parisa Kamali voiced by Munirih Grace
-Tristan Caine voiced by David Monteith
-Callum Nova voiced by Steve West
-Ezra Fowler voiced by Andy Ingalls

One of the reasons that I plan to listen to the second book, The Atlas Paradox, just as I did The Atlas Six is because this stellar cast is returning for the second book, along with three additional players whose identities I have yet to discover.

However I end up feeling about the second book, even if those feelings turn out to be as mixed as they were for this one, I already know the performance is going to be riveting.

Review: The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna

Review: The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu MandannaThe Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, paranormal romance, relationship fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on August 23, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A warm and uplifting novel about an isolated witch whose opportunity to embrace a quirky new family--and a new love--changes the course of her life.
As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don't mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she's used to being alone and she follows the rules...with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.
But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and...Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he's concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.
As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn't the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn't know she was looking for....

My Review:

What would happen if people discovered that there really were witches in the world, and that magic really did work – if only for a privileged few? Most of the urban fantasy/paranormal stories that use this premise in the world we know tend to look at how witches were treated historically – whether the women (and it was almost always women) – who got burned, stoned or drowned could actually practice magic or not and take the Harry Potter option of a Statute of Secrecy or equivalent prohibitions.

It’s not an unreasonable fear. Even without the possibility of witchcraft, humans already find plenty of reasons to persecute each other over perceived differences that mostly total up to some people hate and fear others and will latch on to any excuse to practice that hate in the hopes of putting that fear to sleep. People who are different because they have actual, real, mysterious powers? The line to pick up torches and pitchforks forms on the right. Please maintain an orderly queue.

In The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, the witches in question, irregular or otherwise, have taken that very reasonable fear and run a bit too far with it. Pretty much running away from each other into the mixed results at best bargain.

Mika Moon is a witch. And she’s lonely. She is forced to live a secret, and fears staying anywhere long enough to put down roots or develop friendships for fear that if people get to know her they’ll figure out what she’s hiding. Or they’ll simply decide that she’s just not worth their time, their care or their friendship.

Her entire life is a sad song of just not being enough to make anyone want to stay. Unless, of course, they have a USE for her powers.

So she’s sure that the advertisement she’s seen on the interwebs, that someone is searching very specifically for a witch, is probably a scam of some kind – at best. Howsomever, between losing her most recent job, not having enough money to pay rent and feeling like it’s time to move on from her current location, Mika is at loose ends.

The job, if it really exists, comes with room and board – along with the mystery of why someone is looking so specifically for something and someone that isn’t supposed to exist. That the location of this puzzling offer is called “Nowhere House” adds to the sensation that Mika is probably being pranked.

At least until she gets there, and meets the job head on. Three little witches, all gathered together in a way that Mika’s been taught is never supposed to happen, need an adult witch to teach them how to do magic. And more importantly, how and when NOT to do it.

Mika’s never been a teacher before. She’s been taught that witches are NEVER supposed to gather together – and certainly never to practice magic together. But the girls need her, and Mika needs a refuge where, for once in her life she can be exactly who and what she is without having to keep so many secrets.

That the adults in the house all know about magic, and seem to have a Mika-shaped hole in their lives and their hearts is the icing on a cake that Mika never thought she’d even get to taste.

Everything about Nowhere House seems like it’s made of magic. The answer that Mika has to discover for herself is whether or not it’s real – or just another illusion.

Escape Rating A-: The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches was absolutely charming – and I was utterly charmed by it. It’s a heartwarming read with just the right touch of magic to keep you turning pages, both to be part of this wonderful if extremely irregular household and to see what happens next.

It’s also a story that sits very comfortably on the border between cozy fantasy, paranormal romance and relationship fiction, snuggled right next to The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune – with both Witch, Please by Ann Aguirre and Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck looking on with stern disapproval.

By that I mean that the magical household is centered around the care of the children, in this case the three young witches. Their caretakers are not magical themselves, but they obviously love the children very much, and have gone more than a bit overboard in protecting them. They are, for the most part, an utterly delightful gang, including the young, grumpy librarian, Jamie, while the madcap Ian felt more than a bit like an homage to Tom Baker’s Doctor Who, particularly in his later incarnation as “The Curator”.

And just as in The House in the Cerulean Sea, there is more than the possibility of a romantic relationship in the air – which Ian is delightfully encouraging with mad abandon – to the consternation of Jamie, Mika and his own husband Ken.

But amongst the joy of Mika finding her place in the world, the girls learning magic and the adults making an eclectic but warm and loving home for the children and each other, there are clouds on the horizon. Just as in Witch, Please and Small Town, Big Magic, the forces of official witchdom, in the persons of the elderly ladies who have overshadowed Mika’s life as a witch from childhood, are ever present as the voice in Mika’s head telling her that everything she is doing is wrong and will be punished. Severely. Because she is breaking ALL THE RULES.

At the same time, it’s obvious fairly early on that a secret is looming over the entire household, and that secret, with all of its accompanying chickens, must come to roost before the story can reach anything like a happy ending.

So the Sword of Damocles casts a long shadow over everything – at least until it crashes down and cuts through all the hidden issues and agendas, including all the secrets standing in the way of pretty much everything. And, while it may seem like everything wraps up just a bit too neatly, by this point in our investment in the story that’s kind of what we want.

And in the end, that happy ever after, for the girls, for Mika and Jamie, and quite possibly, eventually, for witches everywhere, is utterly magical.

Review: The Gingerbread Cat by Stephanie Osborn

Review: The Gingerbread Cat by Stephanie OsbornThe Gingerbread Cat by Stephanie Osborn
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: holiday fiction
Pages: 52
Published by Stephanie Osborn on December 21, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Santa's cat, the Gingerbread Cat, has been around as long as Santa and knows a few things; a magical cat, he's one of Santa's oldest and most important helpers.

So when Ginger tells the elves a story about one Nikolai Kristoffsen and his involvement with the Magi at the first Christmas, there's more in the story than meets the eye.

How did Kristoffsen find the Anointed Child? What is his relationship to Santa? And how did the Gingerbread Cat help?

My Review:

It’s all the cat’s fault. Both in the story and that I’m reading the story. I don’t read a lot of Xmas stories, but, well, it’s all about the cat and told from the cat’s perspective. And I read it on Xmas Day. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

But about this story, it’s also all the cat’s fault. As things so often are. That’s why they call them CATastrophes. Or, as often occurs in so many households with one or more cats in residence, “CAT-ass-trophies”.

(Sorry, there’s a cat clawing the chair behind my head as I type this. She’s reminding me to talk about the cat IN the story. She’ll get her due later, I’m sure.)

The Gingerbread Cat takes a bit of historical fantasy stirs in more than a smidgeon of magical realism, a hint of romance and a heaping helping of wish fulfillment, and cooks up a sweet story about the man who was supposed to have been the FOURTH magi.

His name was Nikolai Kristoffsen and he had come from the frozen Northlands to Ur of the Chaldees to study magic with the great mages and sages of that famous Biblical city. After many years of study, Nikolai and his teachers read the coming of the Child in the stars, and planned to greet the prophesied one with gifts upon his birth.

They intended to follow the star. They also intended to all travel together. BUT Nikolai’s cat, Ginger, who was still very much a kitten at the time, spooked Nikolai’s animals. Over and over again.

Nikolai was late to the meeting and the rest of the expedition set out without him.

This turned out to be the story of both Nikolai’s journey AND Nikolai’s life. He spent decades hunting for that Child, well into the Child’s adulthood, and had always just missed him. Over and over and over.

It was fate. His, the Child’s, and as it turned out, Ginger the cat’s as well. How that tale of always arriving after the “nick” of time led to Nikolai becoming the Santa we all know and love, with the help of Ginger, of course, well, that’s the rest of the story.

Escape Rating A-: This may not be my holiday, but I still found The Gingerbread Cat to be a lovely little holiday story. And it is all because of Ginger the cat. Not that the rest of the story isn’t entirely cute, because it is. This is such a completely different origin story for the being we know as Santa Claus that it is hard not to fall in love with this tale of the patient but sometimes exasperated man who spends his life in pursuit of both a dream and a calling, only to find it fulfilled in the most surprising way imaginable – at least from his perspective.

But what made this story shine for me – and brought a tear to my eyes at the end – was the way that Nikolai’s entire found family was granted the gift of long life so that they could help him in his appointed task. There are entirely too many Santa stories where Santa loses an endless series of Mrs. Clauses and that’s just so sad.

Ginger gets not one but two gifts. As someone who has been owned by a series of cats, the gift of speech is absolutely a gift for Ginger’s benefit. (I know cats judge us, I’m just not all that willing to hear said judgment every day.) The other gift is a long life to match that of his person, a gift that feels like it’s a bit more for Nikolai than just for Ginger. And that’s what’s putting dust in this review right now.

It’s just the kind of holiday miracle that every pet person would give ALL their presents, forever, to receive.

George standing in for Ginger

Boxing Day 2022 and the detection of tsunamis

‘Poetry’s unnat’ral; no man ever talked poetry ‘cept a beadle on boxin’-day, or Warren’s blackin’, or Rowland’s oil, or some of them low fellows; never you let yourself down to talk poetry, my boy. Begin agin, Sammy.’

On this Boxing Day, I will take the advice of Mr. Weller from the Pickwick Papers and not deliver even a single stave of poetry. Instead, I’ll focus on the natural topic of the day: early warning systems for tsunamis.

The earthquake and tsunami of 2004 in the Indian Ocean took place on December 26th and thus is also known as the “Boxing Day Tsunami”. It killed roughly 230,000 people, making it one of the worst natural disasters of all time.

The epicenter of the earthquake was off the northwestern coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. The resulting tsunami hit coastlines throughout the Indian Ocean, with. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand suffering the most loss of life.

While it took the tsunami between 15 minutes and several hours to reach various coastlines, unfortunately, most areas had little or no warning that it was coming. A few communities benefited from local knowledge of past tsunamis (or from schoolchildren who happened to remember their geology classes) and evacuated their beaches, but there was no system for detecting tsunamis and broadcasting warnings that covered the Indian Ocean. (And unlike the Pacific Ocean, tsunamis are not particularly common in the Indian Ocean).

Needless to say, after 2004 there were a lot of international efforts to set up a warning system.

Representation of a tsunami detection and warning system. Image credit: GITWES

UNESCO’s Indian Ocean Tsunami Information Center‘s website describes the warning infrastructure that has been put in place since 2004.  As of today, the three centers of the system (or Tsunami Service Providers (!)) are in Australia, India, and Indonesia. A combination of sensors, 24/7 operations centers, procedures, bureaucracy, and exercises have improved the chances that a tsunami will be detected and warnings relayed in enough time to allow people to flee to higher ground.

And yet: it is a hard problem to not only detect tsunamis but to keep up the effort year after year. The 2018 earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi, Indonesia killed about 4,400 people. While the the Indonesian meteorological agency (BMKG) did issue warnings, a number of problems led to fewer people actually getting the warning than planned. These problems included:

A lot more to do, clearly, and I hope that the people of Indonesia will be better served in the future. However, I want to emphasize that this is a difficult problem: laying all the blame on the BMKG would ignore a lot of structural factors.

Let conclude by circling back to Boxing Day. Traditionally it includes distributing alms to the poor; certainly, when the next tsunami disaster occurs, donating to relief funds would be a good thing to do. However, I can’t say I know where you could effectively donate to improve tsunami warning systems; it may not be the sort of problem that really lends itself to individual charitable giving.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-25-22

Whether or not you believe that this is “the most wonderful time of the year”, today is Christmas. If this is your holiday, then Merry Christmas. If all you’re celebrating is a day off, like this household, then that can be plenty to celebrate. If you’re celebrating that you have heat and power and in your house after this week’s weather, that’s something pretty big to celebrate!

A tree fell on our house in the middle of the night on Xmas Eve Eve, so we’re definitely celebrating that last bit. The tree hit the back stairs and managed to do nothing more than barely scrape the side of the house and deck. But that sudden impact made for quite the shock at 3 something in the dark of the a.m.

It didn’t wake either the cats or myself, although Galen was up and about trying to see what the damage was in the middle of a rather interrupted night.

Something to celebrate on a very cold and wintry holiday.

p.s. The boys say Happy Holidays!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Holiday Ho Ho Ho Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Dashing December Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter 2022-23 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Fall 2022 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop is Kelly
The winner of the Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop is Susan S.

Blog Recap:

B Review: Shenanigans by Mercedes Lackey
A+ Review: Look Closer by David Ellis
Winter 2022 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop
A- Review: Sentinel Security: Striker by Anna Hackett
A Review: Eversion by Alastair Reynolds
Stacking the Shelves (528)

Coming This Week:

Boxing Day (guest post by Galen)
The Gingerbread Cat by Stephanie Osborn (review)
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna (review)
In the Shadow of Lightning by Brian McClellan (review)
Best Books of 2022

Stacking the Shelves (528)

I was expecting this week and next week to be slow on the book front so I’m rather surprised that I have so many book “presents” to share with you this Christmas Eve – which is also the sixth day of Hanukkah. I still think that next week is going to be not so much a “Silent Night” as an entire silent week as far as new books are concerned, but we’ll see. With the actual holiday days being on the weekends fewer people may have days off this week than usual.

But whatever you celebrate, Happy Holidays to you and yours and a safe, happy and healthy New Year!

For Review:
The Cleaving by Juliet E. McKenna
The Echo of Old Books by Barbara Davis
Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries (Emily Wilde #1) by Heather Fawcett
Not of This World (Gideon Sable #4) by Simon R. Green
Remember Me (Ravenswood #2) by Mary Balogh
Scarlet (Scarlet Revolution #1) by Genevieve Cogman
A Thousand Recipes for Revenge by Beth Cato
The Wager by David Grann
Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Etc.:
The Gingerbread Cat by Stephanie Osborn
In the Shadow of Lightning (Glass Immortals #1) by Brian McClellan (audio)
Other Covenants: Alternate Histories of the Jewish People edited by Andrea D. Lobel and Mark Shainblum (Kickstarter)


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: Eversion by Alastair Reynolds

Review: Eversion by Alastair ReynoldsEversion by Alastair Reynolds
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 308
Published by Orbit on August 2, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

From the master of the space opera, Alastair Reynolds, comes a dark, mind-bending SF adventure spread across time and space, Doctor Silas Coade has been tasked with keeping his crew safe as they adventure across the galaxy in search of a mysterious artifact, but as things keep going wrong, Silas soon realizes that something more sinister is at work, and this may not even be the first time it's happened.
In the 1800s, a sailing ship crashes off the coast of Norway. In the 1900s, a Zepellin explores an icy canyon in Antarctica. In the far future, a spaceship sets out for an alien artifact. Each excursion goes horribly wrong. And on every journey, Dr. Silas Coade is the physician, but only Silas seems to realize that these events keep repeating themselves. And it's up to him to figure out why and how. And how to stop it all from happening again.

My Review:

Humans process ideas, events and catastrophes through stories, whether by telling them, making them or being swept away by them. It’s why things like Aesop’s Fables and the Arthurian legends, the Greek tragedies and Pride and Prejudice have all lasted so very long yet still change in interpretations and retellings as society changes. Those stories still have universal things to say about the human condition, so we keep telling them.

This is a story about processing a tragedy by telling stories around and about it until it can be approached directly. So the reason the story is told, and re-told, very nearly ad infinitum, is to give the protagonist enough time and distance to process something that he can’t bring himself to face.

No matter how much he needs to.

The way he does it is to put himself inside a story. It’s the story of a doomed exploratory ship, at the edges of the known world, searching for a possibly mythical ice fissure that will lead to an epic, world-shaking, discovery.

First, it’s a sailing ship in the Arctic. Our hero is the ship’s surgeon, who is also writing a fictional tale of adventure in the vein of Jonathan Swift and Robert Louis Stevenson. And when the doctor’s tale went awry, and he effectively rebooted his story, moving it forward to the age of steam and erasing the disaster that killed all his passengers, I was lulled into thinking this was about the story he was writing.

And it sort of is, but it really isn’t.

As the doctor successively retells the tale, it moves forward in time, from the age of sail to the age of steam to outright steampunk and into the stars. Always with the same crew, always relating the same events, getting just a little further and going just a little deeper each time.

It’s only then that he, and we, discover what looks like the truth. And that it’s even worse than anything he ever imagined.

Escape Rating A: The author of Eversion is best known for his epic, space opera type science fiction, but if that’s what you’re looking for you’re not going to find it in Eversion. Very much on the other hand, if you enjoyed the small-scale, small-cast, intimate story of his Permafrost, which I most definitely did, there’s a LOT to love in Eversion.

In the first iteration, the reader, or at least this reader, gets caught up in the story of the sailing ship Demeter’s expedition to the Arctic fjords of Scandinavia to find a mysterious ruin, or artifact, or both, referred to as the edifice. There was more than enough creeping dread, combined with the hunt for treasure and the details of sailing ship life to make me think this was a very strange but compelling combination of The Route of Ice and Salt, the Aubrey and Maturin series (Master and Commander) with Dr. Silas Coade as Maturin, and something like Indiana Jones and the Edifice of Doom. At least until Coade is forced to rewrite his story after a catastrophe kills off all the characters.

And that’s the first inkling that they might be HIS characters, part of the adventure story he’s writing.

At least until it happens again. And then again. At which point I thought I’d wandered into Groundhog Day. or to use more genre-appropriate references, the Stargate SG-1 episode Window of Opportunity or the Star Trek Next Gen episode Cause and Effect.

Along with one fascinating variation on Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

As I said at the beginning, stories are one of the ways that humans process, and Eversion reminded me of more and more stories, also more and more SFnal stories, as it went through its iterations, or versions.

Until we finally get to the point of “eversions” and discover that everything we thought we might be reading isn’t quite right at all. Although in a very peculiar way it is at the heart of all of the stories.

And that even though the heart they have isn’t quite the one we thought it was, it still manages to break ours. If you’re looking for the kind of SF that will blow your mind and break your expectations, Eversion is a gem.

Review: Sentinel Security: Striker by Anna Hackett

Review: Sentinel Security: Striker by Anna HackettStriker (Sentinel Security #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sentinel Security #3
Pages: 276
Published by Anna Hackett on December 17, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
Goodreads

He's a hot British billionaire.
The rich, muscled, former special forces soldier.
He's a temptation she doesn't want and can't afford, but now she's working undercover in his company to catch a rogue arms dealer.
Former MI6 agent Hadley "Striker" Lockwood found a new life in New York working for Sentinel Security. Her work fills a tired, jaded hole inside her. Life is just how she likes it, and she definitely has no desire for a man to mess that up.
When her next assignment sends her back to London to hunt a dangerous arms dealer, she finds herself not only face to face with a darkly tempting billionaire, but going undercover as his newest employee.
Bennett Knightley left the SAS with dark scars scratched on his soul and a determination to help in different ways. His successful company Secura makes high-tech gear for soldiers around the world, but now it's under attack. Shipments are going missing, and his people are being targeted.
Enter Hadley-intelligent, stubborn, beautiful, and with walls a mile thick. Bennett's never been tempted to mix business and pleasure, but with Hadley in the office he's torn between their mission and claiming the maddening woman for himself.As Hadley and Bennett close in on their enemy, they fight hard against their overwhelming attraction. She's been burned before but the hot billionaire is getting under her skin. With Hadley, Bennett feels parts of himself coming back to life-now he has to not only convince her to trust him, but convince himself he deserves her.

My Review:

Once a member of Britain’s elite SAS (Special Air Service (the UK’s equivalent – more of less – of the US SEAL Teams), when Bennett Knightley retired from service he took his skills and determination from the front lines and created a highly profitable, high-tech company that specialized in the business of making the best protective equipment on the market for the military and the people who support them who are fighting the same good fight that he once did.

It’s also his way of exorcising his own demons. In honor of the friends he couldn’t protect in the past, because there was never enough good equipment to go around, he’s providing the best protection he can in the present and the future and making sure it goes where it will do the most good.

But someone has Bennett’s company in their sights, diverting his shipments and corrupting his people, putting that same protective gear in the hands of the very forces that Bennett is desperate to protect people from.

And swaying the court of public opinion to make it seem like Bennett is just another money-hungry capitalist selling out to the highest bidder no matter how dirty their money might be.

That’s where Sentinel Security, in the person of Hadley Lockwood, codename Striker, comes into the picture. And into Bennett’s company Secura, working undercover as a communications executive so she can see where the place has been infiltrated and hopefully get a lead on who has a serious desire to hang Bennett out to dry in as many ways as possible.

They’re supposed to work together. And they do. Entirely too well and not just in the office. But Hadley refuses to trust any man with her heart, while Bennett is still paying penance for all the people that he could not save.

All the while, there’s clearly someone out there who thinks Bennett hasn’t paid nearly enough. In spite of the threat, neither Hadley nor Bennett can resist reaching out for a present neither of them ever expected – even though they both know that any future is far from guaranteed.

Escape Rating A-: The two types of this author’s stories that I like best, whether they are science fiction romances like her Galactic Kings series or action adventure romances like Sentinel Security. The first, and the one I always await eagerly, is the romance that features the leader of whatever group the series is following. In the case of Sentinel Security that’s Killian “Steel” Hawke and his book is up NEXT! YAY!

But the other type, and one that manages to happen more than once in each series – after all, when it comes to leaders there can usually be only one – are the romances where the female half of the impending duo is every single bit the elite operator that the male half is – if not a bit more so as in The Medic.

Those elite operators who are so deliciously often the hero of her romances are just so kickass and badass that any woman who tangles romantically with them who is not just as badass in her own right sometimes gets a bit damselfied. Not because she really is, but because in comparison she really does need protection and a lot of it for whatever fix she’s stuck in.

Sentinel Security agent, formerly of MI6, Hadley “Striker” Lockwood does not need protection. She’s an expert either in providing that protection or in making sure that the villains wish they had a whole lot more of it than they actually do.

So Hadley doesn’t need Bennett to protect her from danger just as he doesn’t need Hadley to protect him. But they each are more than capable of watching each other’s backs in the middle of an operation as well as stealing each other’s hearts in their all too brief downtime.

Which makes Striker just the kind of romance of equals that I always enjoy. In this story, they’re both equally capable of taking down the villains. And they are both equally wary of putting their hearts on the line.

So if you love the kind of romance where everyone kicks ass, takes names and puts down the villains on their way to a well-earned happy ever after, Striker is a winner.

And I’m utterly thrilled that the head badass at Sentinel Security, Killian Hawke, is going to be forced to acknowledge that he’s met his match in every possible way in Steel, coming in January. That’s next month. YAY!