A- #BookReview: Summers End by Juneau Black

A- #BookReview: Summers End by Juneau BlackSummers End (A Shady Hollow Mystery, #5) by Juneau Black
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy fantasy, cozy mystery
Series: Shady Hollow #5
Pages: 288
Published by Vintage on July 9, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

A unique take on dark academia, featuring everyone's favorite vulpine sleuth, Vera Vixen.

It's late August in Shady Hollow, and the heat has intrepid reporter Vera Vixen eager to get away. She agrees to chaperone the annual field trip to Summers End, an ancient tomb built by an early woodland culture, along with her good friend Lenore Lee to come with her.

But when the two enter the tomb, they find bones that are distinctly more...modern. Digging a little deeper, Vera and Lenore discover that the deceased was involved in a recent excavation at the site, and very unpopular with their colleagues. Now the fox and raven have to delve into the dark world of academia and archaeology to determine which creature thought they were clever enough to get away with the perfect murder.

My Review:

Shady Hollow is just the kind of small town that makes small-town cozy mysteries so very cozy. Which makes it very similar to Elyan Hollow in yesterday’s book. But with a singular difference.

All the characters in Shady Hollow are animals. Which doesn’t mean that they aren’t people – because they absolutely are. Even if, or especially because, their species and its characteristics allows the story to overtly display certain facets of their personalities that have to be revealed a bit more obliquely in, let’s call them more traditional, cozy fantasies.

Take Vera Vixen for example. Vera is our protagonist, our amateur detective, and an ace investigative reporter for the local newspaper, the Shady Hollow Herald. The inquisitiveness and cunning of her fox species are assets in her chosen profession – no matter how much her boyfriend, Shady Hollow Police Chief Orville Braun – an actual bear – would prefer she be a bit more mouse-like and keep herself out of trouble.

Part of the magic of the series and the immersion in the place and the characters is that after the first few pages the human reader’s mind glosses over speculation about any details of how a romantic relationship between a fox and a bear would actually work – and what any resulting children would look like if there were any.

(I’ve always pictured those potential children as resembling the Cratchit Family in The Muppet Christmas Carol; the boys took after dad (Kermit) and the girls took after mom (Miss Piggy) – but your imagination may take you down other paths.)

This entry in the series – after the Halloween short Phantom Pond – takes Vera out of her familiar Shady Hollow setting and away from her police bear beau and takes her – along with her best friend, Lenore Lee and a whole, literal, actual boatload of students up the river to Summers End to observe the phenomenon for which the famous archaeological and astronomical site was built back in the Woodlands’ equivalent of prehistory.

So this is supposed to be an educational trip for the students. Vera and Lenore are along as chaperones – and to get a bit of a vacation in a picturesque little town as well. Vera even has a student of her own, as she’s agreed to mentor a budding reporter for the week.

Vera felt a bit out of her element trying to take care of – and ride herd on – a bunch of tweens and teens. But she finds herself needing all of her investigative skills when the group’s sunrise view of the Summers End phenomenon is obstructed – by a corpse.

Naturally – at least for Vera – she can’t stop herself from bringing her reporter’s eye and investigative mind to the grisly sight – even though that’s the last thing that the local police want.

She’s sure she’s helping the investigation. But Police Chief Buckthorn acts an awful lot as if what Vera is really doing is interfering with his coverup. It looks like Buckthorn has already decided who the murderer was – or perhaps that’s will be. And Vera can’t let that miscarriage of justice stand, not when his prime suspect is her best friend’s sister.

Escape Rating A-: This series has always struck me as being a bit of the case of the bear dancing – and pardon the pun about Orville Braun. But seriously, although the series NEVER takes itself too seriously, the whole thing has always struck me as something that one is not surprised is done well but that it’s done AT ALL.

But in this case it very much IS done well. Not that there isn’t a touch – or sometimes more than a touch – of whimsy involved. Howsomever, the heart of the story is ALWAYS the mystery, and the animal natures of the characters are very well played to poke at the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of human behavior – which are, of course, legion.

This particular entry in the series also struck me as being at the intersection of two points that I never expected to see intersect.

Summers End, the archaeological, anthropological and astronomical site, is guaranteed to make readers think of Stonehenge, possibly combined with something like Sutton Hoo to pull in the ancient burial ground aspect.

That combination allows for a whole lot of fascinating story points. There is a thread of dark academia running through the mystery, as Summers End is a huge archaeological site, there are still plenty of digs going on. Which means that the professors at the local university are constantly fighting over sites and rights and theories and tenure.

At the same time, as with any archaeological site, there are always artifacts being uncovered along with the temptations towards theft and fraud that follow. As do tourists who both want to visit the site AND take home a souvenir – legal or not.

But the part of the story that sticks – as the entries in this series often do – is the bit at that strange intersection. Because what gets found in Summers End – besides the murder and the mystery and cleanup of a whole lot of good old-fashioned – but not that old – corruption, is an old story that combines the famous but probably apocryphal quote from Margaret Mead that the earliest sign of civilization is “A healed femur” and the quip a tour guide at Stonehenge once made that the monument was built during the “loony Neolithic” because of just how much of the gross domestic product of the civilization that built it had to be devoted to something that provided neither food nor shelter nor seemingly anything else that a really primitive society would have needed really, seriously badly every single day.

So on the surface this is a murder mystery, a murder that happens for very prosaic and common reasons. The way that Vera and her friends pull together for the investigation is, as always, a whole lot of fun with just the right touch of intrigue and danger.

But it’s the uplift at the end, the way that the stories and legends of Summers End – and of the species who came together to build it at such an early period, and what that meant for the future of the region – that raises the whole thing just that bit higher while not taking a single jot of compulsive, page-turning, edge of the seat reading tension from the mystery and its fitting resolution.

Which is a big part of what makes me love the Shady Hollow series and leaves me always looking forward to the next. As I am right this minute.

#BookReview: Chaos at the Lazy Bones Bookshop by Emmeline Duncan

#BookReview: Chaos at the Lazy Bones Bookshop by Emmeline DuncanChaos at the Lazy Bones Bookshop (Halloween Bookshop Mystery, #1) by Emmeline Duncan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, holiday mystery, mystery
Series: Halloween Bookshop Mystery #1
Pages: 256
Published by Kensington Cozies on July 23, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Bailey Briggs adores her year-round Halloween-themed town of Elyan Hollow, Oregon, but when she takes over her grandfather’s beloved bookshop, Lazy Bones Books, she accidentally discovers the town’s secret dark side . . .
Normally, spooky season is Bailey Briggs’ favorite time of year, and her Halloween-themed small town’s time to shine. But between managing Lazy Bones Books, working on her graphic novel-in-progress, and running the Spooky Season Literary Festival, Bailey hardly has a moment to enjoy Elyan Hollow’s spot-on seasonal vibes. Not to mention, at every turn she seems to be tripping over the contentious crew of Gone Ghouls, a ghost-hunting reality TV show currently filming around town. Bailey tries to stay focused on the Lit Festival, which is supposed to kick off Elyan Hollow’s annual Halloween Fair; instead, this year’s festival begins with a murder . . .
It’s bad enough Bailey discovered the victim, but now, as a lead suspect with some (admittedly) damning evidence pointing her way, she’s got to clear her name! With the help of her librarian friend, Colby, and Jack Skeleton, her world-class bookshop dog (and the absolute bestest boy ever), Bailey sets out to solve a murder . . .
As her investigation weaves through family secrets, professional rivalries, and town feuds, the list of suspects is growing fast . . . and unfortunately, so is the list of victims. If Bailey doesn’t find the killer soon, Elyan Hollow’s haunted reputation will get a little too real . . .

My Review:

Elyan Hollow, Oregon seems like just the kind of idyllic small town that makes people who read small town cozy mysteries – which this most definitely is – want to live in a small town just like it.

Elyan Hollow reads as if it’s exactly what you’d get if real towns like Frankenmuth, Michigan or nearby Leavenworth, Washington had decided to embrace The Nightmare Before Christmas all year round instead of, well, actual Christmas.

The town has truly embraced the ‘Spooky Season’, after a cozy horror movie was filmed there decades ago. The movie-set tourists brought so much to the town that Elyan Hollow decided to ‘lean in’ all year round.

Which explains both the name of Bailey Briggs’ bookstore, Lazy Bones Books, AND the theme of the town’s first annual literary festival, sponsored by Lazy Bones, of course, as part of the kickoff for this year’s Halloween season extravaganza.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, it also explains the town’s nearly magnetic attraction for horror authors (YAY!), paranormal romance writers (DOUBLE YAY!) and ghost hunting TV and streaming series (definitely not so yay).

Bailey has her hands full of the festival when all of those magnetic attractions collide in murder – with her shop and her festival at the center of a local detective’s suspicions and investigations.

Leaving Bailey, as the prime suspect in not one but two murders, desperate to clear her name. Which leaves her in precisely the situation that has put so many reluctant but innocent characters on the road to becoming amateur detectives.

Especially as Bailey has her own personal mystery to solve in the midst of this case. The first murder victim might very well have been the name that belonged in the blank spot on Bailey’s birth certificate labeled ‘father’.

Escape Rating B: There are a LOT of mysteries in Elyan Hollow – and the murder turns out to be the least interesting of them all. It’s also one of the few mysteries that gets resolved by the end of the book. Which is a good thing as this is the first book in a projected series.

On one side, there are the mysteries surrounding Bailey’s family – most of which do not get solved in this first book but absolutely do have an impact on Bailey and the story.

Bailey was raised by her grandparents because her teenage mother refused to let an accidental pregnancy spoil her plans to become a doctor. Which she did. Bailey grew up feeling like an afterthought in her mother’s life, well aware that the family her mother created at the proper time is her mother’s REAL family in seemingly all the ways that counts.

Bailey’s grandparents WERE her parents in all the ways that counted, but there are still plenty of holes in Bailey’s heart as well as in her knowledge of where she came from – such as the totally missing information about who her sperm donor might have been.

There are also plenty of current family secrets, as her grandfather has already deeded the family bookshop to Bailey but has not revealed that fact to Bailey’s uncle who is constantly scheming and digging for ways to wrest control of it for its prime downtown location. That’s a mystery that must be coming to a head later because it’s still VERY murky at the end of this book.

Then there’s the festival, the ghost program, and the returning hometown boys made more-or-less good who have come back for one or the other. Both men went to high school with Bailey’s mom, but neither have returned home in the intervening years. Both have secrets that may possibly have to do with Bailey – but it’s no secret that neither can stand the other.

Yet, when one of them is murdered, all the police suspicion falls on Bailey – which feels like more than a bit of a stretch on the part of an overwhelmed detective grabbing at straws and circumstances instead of anything remotely like a real investigation.

Which is where Bailey’s amateur efforts inevitably come in.

I fell in love with Elyan Hollow, and I REALLY liked Bailey and her ‘Scooby Gang’. It helps a LOT that Bailey has every reader’s dream job of owning and running a bookstore – and that it’s dreamy enough that she’s being VERY successful at it though dint of her own hard work. Her best friend is one of the librarians at the local public library, and their bonds to books and over books really shine through.

The mysteries that needed to get solved got solved, but the family mess is, well, messy and that looks like it will continue to be so in the books ahead.

In the end, this series starter reminded me a lot and fondly of Small Town, Big Magic (before the protagonist discovers that she’s really a witch) and Shady Hollow (only with human people instead of animal people). The small towns all have similar charms and the characters have similar and endearing quirks. (Check out my review of the latest book in the Shady Hollow series, Summers End, later this week to see if you agree.)

All of which means that I’ll be keeping my reading eye out for the second book in the Halloween Bookshop Mystery series whenever it appears out of the mist of anticipated reads.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-21-24

Last week’s cat pic was of Tuna and George on the stairs, so it seems fitting that this week’s picture be Luna, just being Luna – although she’s kind of wearing George’s concerned, serious face. (Luna contains multitudes)

Recent Stacking the Shelves posts have been rather short, but it sure looks like GIVEAWAY SEASON is in full swing. It’s sort of an Xmas in July thing all over the place! More encouragement – not that I need any – to stay inside out of the heat and READ!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Christmas in July Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Sip Sip Hooray Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book PLUS EVENT-WIDE AMAZON/PAYPAL PRIZE in the Late Summer Giveaway Event
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the SUMMER 2024 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of Reading Reality’s Early Summer Giveaway Hop is Elizabeth H.
The winner of the Sparkle Time Giveaway Hop is Shelly P.

Blog Recap:

A- #AudioBookReview: Earthlight by J. Michael Straczynski
Sip Sip Hooray Giveaway Hop
Late Summer Amazon/Paypal Giveaway Event!
A- #AudioBookReview: The Dallergut Dream Department Store by Miye Lee, translated by Sandy Joosun Lee
A+ #BookReview: Murder at the White Palace by Allison Montclair
Stacking the Shelves (610)

Coming This Week:

Chaos at the Lazy Bones Bookshop by Emmeline Duncan (#BookReview)
Summers End by Juneau Black (#BookReview)
Star Trek: The Original Series: Lost to Eternity by Greg Cox (#BookReview)
More Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawa, translated by Eric Ozawa (#AudioBookReview)
In the Shadow of the Fall by Tobi Ogundiran (#BookReview)

Stacking the Shelves (610)

Yet another short stack. ‘Tis the season, clearly. This is a stack that generates more curiosity and anticipation than it invokes pretty – at least for moi – but your mileage may vary. The two books I’m anticipating the most are Blood and Magic and The Hermit Next Door. The one that has my curiosity bump itching is Camp Jeff.

For Review:
Blood and Magic (Goddess with a Blade #8) by Lauren Dane
The Boy with the Star Tattoo by Talia Carner
Camp Jeff by Tova Reich
Heavyweight by Solomon J. Brager

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Etc.:
The Hermit Next Door by Kevin Hearne (ebook and audio)


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

Please link your STS post in the linky below:

A+ #BookReview: Murder at the White Palace by Allison Montclair

A+ #BookReview: Murder at the White Palace by Allison MontclairMurder at the White Palace (Sparks & Bainbridge, #6) by Allison Montclair
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Sparks & Bainbridge #6
Pages: 320
Published by Minotaur Books on July 30, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

In post-WWII London, the matchmakers of The Right Sort Marriage Bureau are involved in yet another murder.In the immediate post-war days of London, two unlikely partners have undertaken an even more unlikely, if necessary, business venture—The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. The two partners are Miss Iris Sparks, a woman with a dangerous—and never discussed—past in British intelligence and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge, a genteel war widow with a young son entangled in a complicated aristocratic family. Looking to throw a New Year’s Eve soiree for their clients, Sparks and Bainbridge scout an empty building—only to find a body contained in the walls. What they initially assume is a victim of the recent Blitz is uncovered instead to be a murder victim—stabbed several times.To make matters worse, the owner of the building is Sparks’ beau, Archie Spelling, who has ties to a variety of enterprises on the right and wrong sides of the law, and the main investigator for the police is her ex-fiancée. Gwen, too, is dealing with her own complicated love life, as she tentatively steps back into the dating pool for the first time since her husband’s death. Murder is not something they want to add to their plates, but the murderer may be closer to home than is comfortable, and they must do all they can to protect their clients, their business and themselves.

My Review:

Over the course of the Sparks & Bainbridge series, beginning with The Right Sort of Man, Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge have proven to have a very strange kind of luck. The sort of luck that has them tripping over murder victims – or in this case having a murder victim nearly drop on one of their heads. But that luck of theirs extends to not just finding the body – but also getting into the thick of the police investigation, involving themselves with the mob, AND, most importantly, figuring out whodunnit.

Up until this case, that luck has extended to emerging from each case with all of their friends, colleagues and hostages to fortune – as well as themselves – relatively unscathed at the end.

This case breaks the last bit of that streak, as the body that drops on Gwen’s head at the beginning leads to Iris’ mobster boyfriend near-death as the result of a gunshot in the middle. Center mass, in fact, but enough of a smidgeon of that luck kept that bullet from his heart. Not that recovery from a through-and-through shot to one lung is going to make his recovery a walk in the park – if he recovers.

Iris wants to murder whoever shot her man – but Gwen is there to keep her friend from going off half-cocked on a revenge spree. Leaving Gwen to do most of the investigation and surprisingly all of the derring-do in Sparks & Bainbridge’s very personal quest to figure out who murdered the body that dropped in the beginning AND who is doing their damndest to make sure that Archie Spelling is interred in a coffin beside him.

Escape Rating A+: I was up until 3 am finishing this, so an A+ it most definitely is. I tried telling myself I could finish AFTER breakfast, but myself wasn’t listening. I simply HAD to find out whodunnit!

This entry in the series represents a turning point, as well as a bit of trading places. Up ’til now, Iris Sparks, former spy or whatever secret things she did during the war for whatever secret agency, was always the intrepid and daring partner, rushing in where angels rightfully feared to tread.

Gwen Bainbridge, on the other hand, was the cautious and conservative half, fearing – rightfully so – that if they cocked too much of a snook at the conventions that she would be made to pay for it in ways that have hung over her head like the Sword of Damocles in the previous books in the series.

Their positions reverse here, as Gwen is now out from under the restrictions of both her late husband’s family AND the Lunacy Court, while Iris is searching for approval – or at least understanding – from her disapproving mother and Archie’s extended family – only one of which is EVER likely to be on offer.

The police don’t want to listen to either of them – which is par for the course. Not only do the coppers not enjoy being shown up by a couple of amateurs, but Iris’ relationship with a mob boss and Gwen’s partnership with Iris, her friendship with Archie, and the friendly relations she has with Archie’s gang, tar both women with the brush of criminality.

Also, the police don’t seem to be all that interested in investigating Archie’s shooting. They don’t care much if one mobster rubs out another – they’re only worried about the potential for mob warfare that seems likely to follow.

But the case itself isn’t so much about Archie as it is about Archie poking his nose in places that it doesn’t belong. It’s about the past – and not even Archie’s own. While Archie is fighting for his life in the hospital, and Iris Sparks is emotionally flailing about the potential loss of a future she wasn’t sure that she wanted until it was nearly snatched out of her hands – it’s up to Gwen Bainbridge to get to the bottom of the case that literally dropped on her head.

While the case does get wrapped, the story of Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge and the Right Sort Marriage Bureau screeches to a halt with the pop of a champagne cork as 1947 is ushered in on a tide of desperate hope and wild expectation.

This reader, at least, desperately hopes that the next entry in the Sparks & Bainbridge will drop on her head this time next year. It’s not merely a matter of expectation – I absolutely HAVE to know what happens next.

A- #AudioBookReview: The Dallergut Dream Department Store by Miye Lee translated by Sandy Joosun Lee

A- #AudioBookReview: The Dallergut Dream Department Store by Miye Lee translated by Sandy Joosun LeeThe Dallergut Dream Department Store by Lee Mi-ye, Sandy Joosun Lee
Narrator: Shannon Tyo
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via Libro.fm
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy fantasy, magical realism
Pages: 288
Length: 6 hours and 27 minutes
Published by Hanover Square Press, Harlequin Audio on July 9, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Before the Coffee Gets Cold meets Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore in this whimsical, poignant novel about the inner workings of a department store that sells dreams
THE #1 KOREAN BESTSELLER WITH OVER A MILLION COPIES SOLD
In a mysterious town that lies hidden in our collective subconscious, there's a quaint little store where all kinds of dreams are sold ...
Day and night, visitors both human and animal from all over the world shuffle in sleepily in their pyjamas, lining up to purchase their latest adventure. Each floor in the department store sells a special kind of dream, including nostalgic dreams about your childhood, trips you've taken, and delicious food you've eaten, as well as nightmares and more mysterious dreams.
In Dallergut Dream Department Store we meet Penny an enthusiastic new hire; Dallergut, the flamboyant owner of the department store; Agnap Coco, producer of special dreams; Vigo Myers, an employee in the mystery department as well as a cast of curious, funny and strange clientele who regularly visit the store. When one of the most coveted and expensive dreams gets stolen during Penny's first week, we follow along with her as she tries to uncover the workings of this wonderfully whimsical world.
A captivating story that will leave a lingering magical feeling in readers' minds, this is the first book in a bestselling duology for anyone exhausted from the reality of their daily life.

My Review:

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, part of the Chronicles of Narnia, one of the places that the Dawn Treader voyages to is the “Island Where Dreams Come True”. What made that part of their journey stick in my head hinges on the definition of “dream”. Because it doesn’t refer to daydreams, the things we think we might like to do or be or have, but rather to the things that our subconscious throws up at us at night.

Some of those dreams may be good, but a lot of them are not – and all of them have the potential to get very, very weird.

If there were a place like the Dallergut Dream Department Store, things would be so much different!

We see Dallergut’s through the eyes of Penny as she interviews with Mr. Dallergut for a job at his store. Through her eyes, we see how the store and the little corner of the world in which it lives and works, well, works.

It’s never called “Dreamland”, but that is what it is. The living, breathing, wide-awake residents seem to be relatively few – and not necessarily human. Whatever they are, their jobs are to either serve the people who work in the dream industry – or to serve the dreamers who pass through each night to buy their nightly dreams at Dallergut’s.

Penny doesn’t so much work her way UP the store’s hierarchy – because it’s a pretty flat organization – as she works her way IN to how the system works.

Dreamers don’t remember they were ever there. They don’t really remember their dreams – as one generally does not. But they do wake up feeling refreshed and with a lingering sense of whatever it was they were looking for within those dreams.

And it’s the lingering sense, that rising emotion, that powers the entire dream economy.

So, as Penny learns how the whole thing functions, we have the opportunity to see what a charming place it is, filled with (mostly) charming people and a whole lot of creativity – along with a strong sense of found family – that makes it a delightful read for a day when all you really want is to escape and (day)dream of a magical place that brings dreams to life!

Escape Rating A-: I’m going to use the word “charming” a lot here, because this story is absolutely that. What makes it work, and what pulls the reader across that hump of “but this isn’t the real world” is that we see the whole thing through Penny, and she’s a newbie at everything.

Not that she doesn’t seem to have grown up as a citizen of the little corner of magical realism – although that’s never really clear – but rather than she’s young and this appears to be her first real job post-graduation and she’s learning about how THE world works and how HER world works and we’re able to piggyback on her learning process.

And she’s just a really nice person to tag along with!

But in spite of the magical realism aspects of the story – what makes it interesting are the personalities of the people that Penny meets and works with, the structure of the dream economy and how it does and doesn’t mirror reality, and the way that the story gently explores the function of sleep and dreams for everyone.

So it’s a found family story and a coming of age story and a bit of a training montage and a lovely, thoughtful metaphor all rolled into a delightful ball of a sweet story that even manages to have a bit of the effect of the “Calm cookies” that Mr. Dallergut likes so much.

In short, The Dallergut Dream Department Store is utterly charming, and I was absolutely charmed – even in the places where I had to tell the logical side of my brain to go to sleep and just dream the whole thing.

This was, also and absolutely, the perfect book for the mood I was in and the frantic stuff going on in real life, so it was a terrific read for this week. It also fits into the same branch of magical realism, found family and cozy fantasy (or at least fantasy-ish) of Before the Coffee Gets Cold, The Kamagawa Food Detectives and Days at the Morisaki Bookshop – and I’m going to dive into the next book in all of those series pretty much immediately because I need more of this.

But I also need to confess that my impatience got the better of me a bit – so even though I was enjoying the audiobook I still had that urge to see the whole of Penny’s first year at Dallegut’s and switched to the ebook about halfway through.

It’s charming either way, lovely and oh-so-cozy a fantasy. Just perfect for days that you wish you could dream away.

Late Summer Amazon/PayPal Giveaway Event!

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Welcome to the Late Summer $100 Amazon eGift Card or PayPal Cash Giveaway Event hosted by Versatileer!

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Sip Sip Hooray Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Sip Sip Hooray Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

This hop is all about the drinks of summer. You know what I mean, the cold glass with the condensation dripping down the side, just full of the icy, thirst-quenching goodness of whatever means SUMMER! to you.

Living in the South, sweet tea is a LOT of people’s drink of choice. I do love iced tea, but prefer it unsweet. Or at least the doctor prefers that I drink it that way!

If I’m in the mood for something with a bit of a kick, hard cider is still my drink of choice. I never did like beer all that much – and now that cider is more readily available that’s what I’ll pick if it’s an option. Hard seltzer’s not bad either, but I really enjoy the crisp sweet-tartness of a good cider – apple or otherwise.

What about you? What’s your favorite summer libation, sweet or spiked or both or neither? Answer in the rafflecopter for a chance at the usual prize, the winner’s choice a $10 Amazon Gift Card or up to $10 in Books.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more thirst-quenching prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

A- #AudioBookReview: Earthlight by J. Michael Straczynski

A- #AudioBookReview: Earthlight by J. Michael StraczynskiEarthlight by J. Michael Straczynski
Narrator: Erik Braa, Pete Bradbury, Jonathan Davis, William DeMeritt, Robert Fass, Jeff Gurner, Ryan Haugen, David Lee Huynh, Mars Lipowski, Saskia Maarleveld, Kathleen McInerney, Brandon McInnis, Sean Kenin Elias Reyes, Stefan Rudnicki, Salli Saffioti, Kristen Sieh, Christopher Smith, Marc Thompson, Will Watt, Michael Ann Young, Beka Sikharulidza, Stephanie Walters Montgomery, Robin Atkin Downes
Format: audiobook
Source: supplied by publisher via Libro.fm
Formats available: audiobook
Genres: military science fiction, political thriller, science fiction
Length: 2 hours and 54 minutes
Published by Penguin Random House Audiobook Original on July 9, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

International tension is rising as the Russian military forms an Eastern Alliance to create a new age of Russian supremacy. The rest of the world is scrambling for a united response.
Enter Project Earthlight.
Earthlight is a NATO operation under U.S. command based in the ultimate military high ground: space. A group of the best fighter pilots is handpicked from around the world to fly the first generation of advanced planes capable of maneuvering in the vacuum of space and inside the atmosphere.
Learning how to fly experimental planes while learning to trust their new squadron, our pilots are plunged into a high-stakes life-and-death mission with everything at risk. Can Commanding Officer Colonel Scott Dane get the other pilots on the same page in time to prevent World War III?
With cutting-edge soundscapes and an action-packed plot, EARTHLIGHT will keep listeners on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

My Review:

Even when there is something that pretends to be peace on Earth – there’s brinkmanship and stepping up to the terrible line that leads to World War III. So far, we’ve always stepped back – but someday we won’t.

The story in Earthlight posits a near future – possibly too damn near – when the U.S. and its NATO allies step up to that line because a post-Putin Russia is already there. What makes Earthlight just a bit different from similar stories by Tom Clancy and M.L. Buchman is that the brinkmanship takes place – not somewhere on Earth, or at least not exclusively somewhere on the planet – but in space.

Not “outer space” but somewhere a LOT closer to home. Specifically Low Earth orbit – or LEO. Far enough out to see an entire hemisphere of the planet – and close enough to strike anywhere on it – especially from planes that can go faster than MACH 20.

Those planes have the advantage – the literal high ground – as long as they don’t overshoot their targets.

Project Earthlight is a secret – because of course it is. And of course it’s been leaked – because big secret projects are incapable of staying secret for very long – especially once they go into production.

And Project Earthlight – and its space-borne aircraft carrier, the Alexander – is very much in production, on-line, and waiting for its first mission and its first squadron of pilots. Which is where this story begins, as Colonel Scott Dane of the U.S. Air Force is on a recruiting mission to sign the best, the brightest, and the most out-of-the-box thinkers from ALL of the NATO forces to fly the first planes assigned to the Alexander.

He hopes they’ve got time for all the training they’ll need – but he knows they don’t. Because those plans did leak, and the Russians have a space carrier of their own – the Gagarin. And they have a bunch of fanatics in the Kremlin – all promising a return to Russia’s glory days.

The path to which leads straight through a NATO allied Eastern Europe, and to a head to head dogfight with the Alexander for the highest stakes of all.

Escape Rating A-: There’s a whole lot of SQUEE in this review because WOW what a ride.

Although I have to admit that for a good chunk of the story, as much as I was totally caught up in it I was desperately worried that it was all a tease. There just didn’t seem like enough time left in the recording to come to anything like a satisfactory ending. (I was half-heartedly looking for the reading equivalent of ‘coitus interruptus’ because it sure seemed like the story was heading that way.)

But fear not, Earthlight does come to a satisfactory conclusion – although it is still more than a bit of a tease as most listeners will want to know what happens afterwards. At least the story certainly does make clear that there IS an afterwards and that’s a gigantic relief.

The elements that make up the story are familiar to readers of military SF. There’s a recruitment phase, a training phase, a getting-to-know-each-other phase, and there’s the inevitable potential romance that runs into the military frat regs (shades of Stargate).

The process of the squad pulling itself together is jam-packed and doesn’t give all the characters the time needed for readers – or their squadmates – to really get to know them. And of course the characters who are mostly reduced to (admittedly well done) accents are the ones that get lost early.

But in spite of that necessity, we do get a good feel for the leaders, and we do feel like “we are there” because we’re not just reading this story – we’re in the thick of it by listening to their distinct voices.

Laid on top of the military side, there’s also the side that gives us the historical and political side. The part that’s going to remind lots of listeners of Tom Clancy or M.L. Buchman because the shenanigans, including the brinkmanship, the short-sightedness, the glory-seeking to the exclusion of common sense and the epic levels of paranoia are all out of the political thriller playbook.

That part of the story works, even with a bit of necessary shorthand for the length, because we’ve seen them before – even in real life. That part of the story feels entirely too plausible.

This listening experience is edge-of-the-seat, you-are-absolutely-there, nail-biting compulsion filled with a surprising number of crowning moments of awesome. There were plenty of moments when my heart was literally in my throat even though I knew the worst-case scenario couldn’t possibly be the ending.

So the story of Earthlight, taken as a whole, is a fantastic experience even if many of the elements that make it so compelling are also just a bit familiar. It’s a great three hours of listening – I just wish there were a hell of a lot more.

But OMG I wish there was a text for this thing.

I NEED a text so I can hunt for quotes AND have a full list of characters, how their names are spelled and who played them in the audio. Because the cast was outstanding – every single one.

It is a pet peeve of mine that full cast or even multicast audio productions don’t generally tell the listener exactly who played whom – and I always want to know. But in this particular case, that lack of a list led to a bit of serendipity. To my ear, the political officer aboard the Russian ship sounded a LOT like the Romulan officer Tomalak in a couple of Star Trek: Next Gen episodes. When I checked out who portrayed Tomalak, I discovered that the character was played by the late Andreas Katsulas – who embodied Ambassador G’Kar on the author’s beloved TV series Babylon 5.

One reviewer opined that Earthlight could be seen as a very, very, very early prequel to B5 if one squinted a LOT. And it’s possible. Certainly it captured something of its spirit – without squinting at all. If it turns out that that spirit continues into another chapter of Earthlight – this listener/reader would be thrilled to be aboard for another mission.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-14-24

The belly is not a trap. I say again, the belly – at least the Tuna belly – is not a trap. The George belly, however, most definitely IS a trap. In fact, the whole entirety of the George is a trap as George easily gets over-excited and turns pointy-side out in all directions at the drop of a hat. A hat which George would probably eat if it were a real hat instead of a metaphorical topper.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Sparkle Time Giveaway Hop (ENDS TOMORROW!!!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book PLUS EVENT-WIDE AMAZON/PAYPAL PRIZE in the Early Summer Giveaway Event (ENDS TOMORROW TOOOOOO!!!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Christmas in July Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the SUMMER 2024 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

A- #BookReview: The Mummy of Mayfair by Jeri Westerson
Grade A #BookReview: Penric and the Bandit by Lois McMaster Bujold
A- #BookReview: This Great Hemisphere by Mateo Askaripour
B #BookReview: Daughters of Olympus by Hannah M. Lynn
A+ #BookReview: The Price of Redemption by Shawn Carpenter
Stacking the Shelves (609)

Coming This Week:

Earthlight by J. Michael Straczynski (#AudioBookReview)
Sip Sip Hooray Giveaway Hop
Late Summer Event Amazon/PayPal Giveaway!
Murder at the White Palace by Allison Montclair (#BookReview)
Yoke of Stars by R.B. Lemberg (#BookReview)