Review: Blackmailing Mr. Bossman by Anna Hackett

Review: Blackmailing Mr. Bossman by Anna HackettBlackmailing Mr. Bossman (Billionaire Heists #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Billionaire Heists #2
Pages: 292
Published by Anna Hackett on June 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

To save my best friend’s husband, all I have to do is blackmail a billionaire.
My friend’s husband was abducted by a gang of white-collar criminals. These guys are bad, and they want her to spy on her boss—a man who owns half of New York. She’s falling apart and she needs my help.
My name’s Aspen. I’m a private investigator, and I’m usually doing surveillance on cheating spouses or insurance scammers, but now I’m going undercover.
I’m trading my jeans for skirts, and playing assistant at Kensington Group so I can get up close and personal with Liam Kensington—the owner of a multibillion-dollar construction and property empire.
Not to mention a tall, lean, golden-haired god with a sexy British accent.
The white-collar thieves have Liam in their sights and in return for my friend’s husband, they want me to blackmail a billionaire. Aw, hell.
But I didn’t count on how Liam would make me feel, or my crazy need to keep him safe, or our incendiary attraction.
Now I have to save a man’s life, catch some bad guys, and stop myself from falling in love with a billionaire who’s way out of my league.

My Review:

I was looking for something a bit lighter than yesterday’s book. You know, something with not quite so many deaths and dismemberments. Or at least not so many gruesome descriptions of the dismemberments. Fictional deaths, if they’re of the right people, aren’t so bad.

There are certainly more than a few people who need to die – or at least be removed from their ability to make trouble one way or another (and possibly from the gene pool), in the Billionaire Heists series. Not to mention, the billionaires are gorgeous, the women who manage to win their hearts have plenty of moxie and especially agency, and there’s always a happy ever after waiting in the wings.

After evil gets its just desserts, of course.

In the first book in this series, Stealing from Mr. Rich, the first of the “Billionaire Bachelors” found himself falling for a woman who set out to rob him blind. Not that Monroe O’Connor actually wanted to steal anything from Zane Roth, except possibly his heart. But Monroe was in over her head with some really evil dudes who had kidnapped her way-more-immature-than-he-thinks-he-is younger brother, and, well, needs must because the devil is certainly driving.

The situation in Blackmailing Mr. Bossman does have some familiar vibes from that first story, and not just because Zane and Liam Kensington, the titular Mr. Bossman, are besties. Or would be if billionaires would be caught dead using that term.

Like Monroe in that first story, Aspen Chandler has no desire of her own to blackmail Liam Kensington – not that he doesn’t spark plenty of other desires in Aspen and every other straight woman with a pulse in New York City.

Aspen is a licensed private investigator. She’s working on behalf of a client – one of her own best friends – who happens to work at Liam’s megacorp headquarters. Her friend’s husband has been kidnapped, and his “ransom” is delivering the blackmail material to Liam. A task that Aspen has taken over on her behalf in the hopes of finding a way to take down the bad guys behind this mess.

But she has to go through with the blackmail in order to get all the goods on everyone involved. Or, at least she thinks she does. So she goes undercover at Kensington Group in order to get close to Liam and let the real blackmailers believe she’s on their side and under their thumb.

And that’s where everything starts to go very, very wrong – at least as far as Aspen’s ability to keep her work compartmentalized from her heart. It’s also where things start to go very, very right for the possibility that the P.I. and the billionaire might have a chance at an HEA.

They just have to survive a crazy mobster first. Make that two crazy mobsters, one in the here and now, and one reaching from beyond the grave with his hands full of diamonds.

Escape Rating A-: I have to admit that I’m not all that crazy about the cover of this book, and I kind of hate the title – but I really LOVED the story. So definitely don’t judge this book by anything you see on its cover except the author’s name. Because Anna Hackett delivers and this one is definitely no exception.

I’m really loving this Billionaire Heists series quite a lot after merely liking a couple of the Norcross Security series – although there was one book in that series (The Specialist) that I absolutely adored. For a good reading time call Anna.

The thing about this series in particular is that the women are all very, very good at taking care of themselves, thankyouverymuch. Neither Monroe nor Aspen ever needs to be rescued by their billionaires. It’s not just that they are in control of their own lives before their current problem landed in their laps, it’s that they are working the problem that has landed in their laps – and doing a damn good job at it.

Where Aspen doesn’t so much fall down on the job as change her plans for the job is that she can’t continue the undercover aspects of the mess once both hers and Liam’s emotions get involved. Once she stops pretending to be either a PR assistant or a blackmailer, their working relationship becomes fairly equal, and that’s something I always like to see in a romance, because relationships that are not equal don’t work in the long run.

The inequality in their relationship, and there certainly is quite a bit, can be set aside if they’re both willing to work at it, and that’s where the push-pull tension comes into play fairly realistically for a story that has a high quotient of real-world-type-fantasy mixed in. Liam is, after all, a multi-billionaire, as are his friends. Aspen works hard to support herself, her twin sisters and her mother. She’s doing okay most of the time, but Liam is in a whole other stratosphere.

Aspen’s certain that the gap can’t be bridged, while Liam is certain that it can. They’re the best thing that ever happened to each other, if they can just manage to hang on to what they’ve almost got.

The case that brings them together is a scream. Both in the sense that Liam, Aspen and the reader all want to scream at Liam’s douchebag father who is the real target of the blackmail. There aren’t words for how vile he is. The ransom is an even bigger scream, in the sense that it’s fascinating and historical and, in the end, plenty scary. It reaches all the way back to Prohibition and features a dilapidated warehouse, a notorious gangster and a too-well-hidden cache of priceless gems.

All in all, I had a terrifically good reading time with this one, and I can’t wait for the final book in this trilogy, when the last billionaire bachelor takes his fall in Hacking Mr. CEO, coming in late July to a kindle near you. Or rather definitely, to an iPad near me!

Review: The Abduction of Pretty Penny by Leonard Goldberg

Review: The Abduction of Pretty Penny by Leonard GoldbergThe Abduction of Pretty Penny (Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mystery, #5) by Leonard Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #5
Pages: 352
Published by Minotaur Books on June 15, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A continuation of USA Today bestselling author Leonard Goldberg's Daughter of Sherlock Holmes series, The Abduction of Pretty Penny finds Joanna and the Watsons on the tail of an infamous killer.
Joanna and the Watsons are called in by the Whitechapel Playhouse to find Pretty Penny, a lovely, young actress who has gone missing without reason or notice. While on their search, the trio is asked by Scotland Yard to join in the hunt for a vicious murderer whose method resembles that of Jack The Ripper. It soon becomes clear that The Ripper has reemerged after a 28-year absence and is once again murdering young prostitutes in Whitechapel.
Following a line of subtle clues, Joanna quickly reasons that Pretty Penny has been taken capture by the killer. But as Joanna moves closer to learning his true identity, the killer sends her a letter indicating her young son Johnny will be the next victim to die. Time is running out, and Joanna has no choice but to devise a most dangerous plan which will bring her face-to-face with the killer. It is the only chance to protect her son and rescue Pretty Penny, and save both from an agonizing death.
The Abduction of Pretty Penny is a wonderful new entry in a series that the Historical Novel Society calls “one of the best Sherlock Holmes series since Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books."

My Review:

The Abduction of Pretty Penny falls prey to a temptation that has proven irresistible to more than one writer of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, just as Pretty Penny herself seems to have fallen victim to one of the most notorious serial killers in history.

It looks like the star of the Whitechapel Playhouse, the Pretty Penny of the story’s title, has been kidnapped by a criminal who is notorious – not for kidnapping his victims, but for murdering and dismembering them, leaving their mutilated corpses to be found in the alleys of Whitechapel.

Of course, I’m referring to Jack the Ripper, and therein lies both the terror and the multiple conundrums of this story. Because Joanna Blalock Watson is the daughter of Sherlock Holmes. She has certainly inherited her father’s prodigious talents – but she is manifestly not his contemporary.

Joanna plies her inherited trade in the early years of the 20th century, while Jack committed his best-known crimes between 1888 and 1891. The heyday of Joanna’s famous father, and before her own birth.

It’s been 28 years since the Ripper stalked Whitechapel, but in addition to Pretty Penny’s abduction, Jack has been leaving his calling cards, the mutilated corpses of Unfortunates, as prostitutes are called, all over Whitechapel.

While sending especially terrifying notes to Joanna. And seemingly holding Pretty Penny captive until he can display her fresh corpse as part of his grisly “final act”.

So what begins as the search for a kidnap victim turns into a deadly contest between Jack the Ripper and, in a peculiar way, Sherlock Holmes. It’s clear from the Ripper’s actions that in his mind his antagonist is the Great Detective himself, even if the person he is taunting is Holmes’ daughter – and her son.

Escape Rating B+: So the story here is really Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper – only once removed, sort of like cousins, as in “first-cousin once-removed”.

Which only serves to highlight the thing about this story that drove me absolutely freaking bananas.

Many writers have succumbed to the temptation to write the case that never was but should have been, that of Sherlock Holmes investigating the Ripper. If Holmes were factual rather than fictional, this is a case that would certainly have happened. The Ripper’s spree occurred between 1888 and 1891, while Holmes’ first case, A Study in Scarlet, was published in The Strand in 1887, so presumably took place in that year or the year before.

Holmes and Moriarty had their presumed fatal encounter at Reichenbach Falls in 1891, so if Holmes had truly been operating during the Ripper years, he would have either been called in by Scotland Yard or would have been drawn in by his own irrepressible curiosity. (If you’re curious, the best accounting that I have ever read of Holmes investigating the Ripper is still Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye.)

As this series features Holmes’ daughter Joanna, her husband (and chronicler) Dr. John H. Watson, Jr., AND his father, Holmes’ friend and chronicler Dr. John H. Watson, Sr., now retired, I kept expecting to see some references by the senior Watson to either Holmes’ own investigation of the Ripper or the reason that Holmes didn’t involve himself with the Ripper case. The lack of such a reference was annoying. In the extreme.

I ended up with a lot of mixed feelings about this entry in the series – although the series opener, the appropriately titled The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, is still the best.

The progress of the case itself provided plenty of thrills and chills, to the point where some of the gruesome descriptions caused me to stop reading at bedtime. Some people have no problems sleeping after reading the details of human dismemberment but I’m not one of them.

So the investigation, and the hunt for Pretty Penny, had me riveted from the beginning to the surprisingly real sensation of relief at the end.

But it’s the things not said or not fully explained that keep this from true excellence.

As noted above, there should have been a reference either to Sherlock Holmes’ own investigation of the Ripper or an explanation of why such an investigation never took place. The lack was frustrating – infuriating even, like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Likewise there seemed to be a bit of a lack of explanation of why the Ripper went dormant for 28 years only to suddenly reappear at this particular juncture. Reasons were implied but not well explained. This may be the result of a desire not to mess with the known history – that the Ripper was never identified. This story does a surprisingly good job of having its cake and eating it too in that particular regard. But in order to make that part work, explanations of his long hiatus and his “resurrection” felt a bit scant.

So, lots of mixed feelings. I got instantly caught up in the story and was riveted to the end. But at that end, the link to Sherlock Holmes that I come to these stories for, fell just a bit short.

Review: The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

Review: The Witness for the Dead by Katherine AddisonThe Witness for the Dead (The Goblin Emperor, #2) by Katherine Addison
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, mystery, steampunk
Series: Goblin Emperor #2
Pages: 240
Published by Tor Books on June 22, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Katherine Addison returns at last to the world of The Goblin Emperor with this stand-alone sequel.
When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had set the bombs that killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his father’s Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it. He lost his place as a retainer of his cousin the former Empress, and made far too many enemies among the many factions vying for power in the new Court. The favor of the Emperor is a dangerous coin.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly. As a Witness for the Dead, he can, sometimes, speak to the recently dead: see the last thing they saw, know the last thought they had, experience the last thing they felt. It is his duty use that ability to resolve disputes, to ascertain the intent of the dead, to find the killers of the murdered.

Celehar’s skills now lead him out of the quiet and into a morass of treachery, murder, and injustice. No matter his own background with the imperial house, Celehar will stand with the commoners, and possibly find a light in the darkness.

My Review:

I read this because I absolutely adored The Goblin Emperor – and I’ve liked many of the author’s books written as Sarah Monette as well. So if you like the one there’s a fairly good chance you’ll like all the others and vice versa.

There’s irony in the above as I picked up The Witness for the Dead because I was hoping for more like The Goblin Emperor. But The Witness for the Dead, in spite of the titular witness being one of the characters introduced in the first book, is absolutely nothing like the first book.

Which doesn’t mean that it isn’t marvelous and well worth reading in its own right, because it’s both. But if you’re expecting another story about high-level political shenanigans and corruption at the heart of the empire wrapped around a coming of age or coming into power story, check those expectations at the door before opening this book.

The Witness for the Dead is a murder mystery, with Thara Celehar, the titular witness for the dead who witnessed for the young emperor’s dead in the earlier story, reaping the “fruits” of his labor in a far-flung corner of the empire that the young goblin emperor Maia now rules.

And that’s as much as there is to the connection between the two stories, meaning that you do not have to have read The Goblin Emperor to get right into The Witness for the Dead. Because court intrigues are pretty much the last thing that Thara Celehar wants to ever be involved with ever again and quite possibly the last thing that anyone with any power whatsoever will ever let him get near even with someone else’s bargepole.

The clerical intrigues he’s stuck in the middle of are quite enough. More than enough. From his perspective, more than annoying and infuriating enough, too, but he’s stuck with those.

Celehar has been assigned to remote Amalo in order to serve his calling as a witness for the dead. Because that’s what he does. He legally serves as a witness for whatever messages or entreaties or truths – especially for the truths – that the recently – make that the very recently – dead are able to transmit through him before they leave all their worldly concerns behind along with their bodies.

He doesn’t hear them speak, not exactly. What he does is witness, as in watch and listen to, their final sights, sounds, impressions and thoughts. And then he acts upon what he has witnessed, whether to bring justice to the dead – or to bring justice or restitution to those the recently departed has wronged.

Some people seek out his services. Some people are not happy with the answers he gives or the results he gets. Some people are frightened to see him coming, while some are grateful that he did.

The cases that find Celehar as he witnesses for the dead in Amalo are a mix of all of the above. A dead opera singer whose murderer should be brought to justice. A grieving family searching for the burial site of their missing sister. A wealthy family caught in the turmoil left behind by their late patriarch and his two contradictory “last” wills and testaments.

It’s Celehar’s job as well as his calling to find answers for the friends and families left behind. Even if those answers are not the answers they wanted. And no matter what Celehar has to go through – or whom – in order to find them.

Escape Rating A+: Based on the blurb, this wasn’t exactly what I expected. And it doesn’t matter because I absolutely loved it.

For one thing, in spite of the fantasy setting, Celehar’s story mostly reads very much like a historical mystery. The past is as much another country as Amalo is. But people are still people, and murder is still murder. Some of the investigative techniques may be different, but the principles are still the same. “Who benefits?” is an investigative concept that is equally applicable no matter what language it is in.

In the case of the duplicate wills, benefit is the easiest to determine, but the most difficult to bring about. Money, after all, talks, and when the competing sides of this case start using theirs to talk to the powers-that-be, each trying to influence the ultimate decision in their favor, Celehar is caught in the middle – with nearly catastrophic results. Not for the rich beneficiaries, but for poor Celehar whose only interest is in a truth that no one expected to hear.

There is a common element among all three cases. They are all about money. The opera singer was also a blackmailer, and the woman whose burial site was hidden was married for her money – and possibly murdered for it. (There’s that not-so-old saying about money being the root of all evil and every woman needing roots. In these two cases perhaps not so much.)

While there is plenty of satisfaction in the resolution of his cases, what makes this story such a pleasure to read is Celehar’s exploration of this city and the people in it in his pursuit of the truth, as well as the character of Celehar himself. Who is humble, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, and yet supremely talented and more intolerant than is safe or politic of the way that most people are treated – even as he bites his tongue and seems to just accept the way that people in power treat him.

He’s also someone who is bearing up under a load of guilt that he can’t let go of, but as he helps and befriends the people along his path we see that load begin to let go of him. He’s fascinating in his contradictions and I hope we see him again.

Even though this story is part of the world of The Goblin Emperor, the story it reminds me of is not its own predecessor but rather the saga of Penric and Desdemona by Lois McMaster Bujold. Penric and Celehar have a surprising amount in common, as both find themselves in the midst of situations and investigations through the offices of a being who expects them to get on with their work on his behalf without much material assistance. These are both worlds where the supernatural of one type or another is not mythical but actual, and where gods expect work as much as if not more than worship and are not shy about manifesting in one way or another to nudge their agents when needed.

While Penric is considerably less self-effacing than Celehar, I think they’d have as much in common as their stories feel like they do. They also share the fact that I’d very much like more of both!

In the end, The Witness for the Dead was just a story that worked for me on pretty much every level. I loved the protagonist, enjoyed exploring his world, wanted to hang with his friends and punch out his enemies – even though he wouldn’t – and had a grand time following him as he investigated his cases and witnessed for the dead as well as the living who would otherwise have no voice in the world. A fantastic read all the way around!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 6-20-21

Today is Father’s Day. I still miss mine, even after 30 years. If yours is still around, and your relationship is halfway good, it’s a day for a visit or a phone call. If yours isn’t still around, or if your relationship isn’t, it’s a day for reflection – or however you deal with that loss whether it’s through death or otherwise.

Now back to our regularly scheduled discussions of books and cats. Speaking of which, here’s a picture of both. Folks often mention that my Stacking the Shelves posts are quite huge, or the stacks are VERY tall, or put it some other way that makes it clear that people wonder how it happens. The picture above illustrates how. This is one week of UPS deliveries and I have to believe that the UPS person HATES me. George T. Cat included for scale – and giggles.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card from TA Moore and Shiftless
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Dad-O-Mite Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Berry Good Giveaway Hop is Nina L.

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Shiftless by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway
A Review: The Summer of No Attachments by Lori Foster
Dad-O-Mite Giveaway Hop
C Review: Reality and Other Stories by John Lanchester
B- Review: Inside Man by K.J. Parker
Stacking the Shelves (449)

Coming This Week:

The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison (review)
The Abduction of Pretty Penny by Leonard Goldberg (review)
Blackmailing Mr. Bossman by Anna Hackett (review)
White Top by M.L. Buchman (review)
Someone to Cherish by Mary Balogh (review)

Stacking the Shelves (449)

Today is Juneteenth! And for the very first time, it’s a federal holiday. While it’s about time for the holiday, it is kind of amazing that it got signed into law this week and immediately went into effect. Next year, Juneteenth will be on the same Sunday as Father’s Day.

For Review:
Blackmailing Mr. Bossman (Billionaire Heists #2) by Anna Hackett
Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie
Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
The Devil You Know (Mercenary Librarians #2) by Kit Rocha
The Free Bastards (Lot Lands #3) by Jonathan French
The Heart Principle (Kiss Quotient #3) by Helen Hoang
The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston
Reality and Other Stories by John Lanchester
The Scholars of Night by John M. Ford
The Starless Crown (Moon Fall #1) by James Rollins
Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo
Sword & Citadel (Book of the New Sun #2) by Gene Wolfe
White Top (Miranda Chase NTSB #8) by M.L. Buchman

Borrowed from the Library:
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan
Life’s Too Short (Friend Zone #3) by Abby Jimenez
The Power Couple by Alex Berenson
The Survivors by Jane Harper
The Unwilling by John Hart


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: Inside Man by K.J. Parker

Review: Inside Man by K.J. ParkerInside Man by K.J. Parker
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, horror
Series: Prosper's Demon #2
Pages: 128
Published by Tordotcom on June 15, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

K.J. Parker returns to the amoral world of
Prosper's Demon
with a wry, sardonic novella that flips the eternal, rule-governed battle between men and demons on its head.
An anonymous representative of the Devil, once a high-ranking Duke of Hell and now a committed underachiever, has spent the last forever of an eternity leading a perfectly tedious existence distracting monks from their liturgical devotions. It’s interminable, but he prefers it that way, now that he’s been officially designated by Downstairs as “fragile.” No, he won’t elaborate.
All that changes when he finds himself ensnared, along with a sadistic exorcist, in a labyrinthine plot to subvert the very nature of Good and Evil. In such a circumstance, sympathy for the Devil is practically inevitable.

My Review:

I picked up Inside Man because I was tempted by Prosper’s Demon.

No seriously. I wanted to read this book because I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the first book in what I really didn’t expect to be a series that seems to have begun anyway with Prosper’s Demon.

This series is set in an alternate universe to our own, in an era that is more-or-less like our Renaissance but isn’t exactly – because it isn’t exactly our world.

It is, however, a world where the angels and demons that people believed in during the Renaissance in our own world – and that many still believe in to this day – are quite, quite real. And are competing for the souls of, well, pretty much everyone.

The story in Prosper’s Demon turned out to be a kind of “greater good” story, where the definition of “good” and “evil” really did depend on where you happened to be sitting. Particularly on whether you happened to be the demon living inside Prosper giving him the genius to be his world’s da Vinci, or whether you happened to be the demon-extractor who was supposed to remove the demon if it killed Prosper. And especially even if removing the demon removed Prosper’s genius, which it certainly would, making him normal and depriving his world of everything their da Vinci equivalent would produce in his lifetime.

The story in Inside Man is quite a bit different, and it didn’t work quite as well, at least not for this reader. Even though its combination of Good Omens with The Screwtape Letters was kind of inspired.

There were points where I had to double check to be sure that I hadn’t accidentally downloaded The Screwtape Letters instead. If you’re not familiar, Screwtape is a senior demon straight out of the mind of C.S. Lewis – and dedicated to his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien, which I how I first made Screwtape’s acquaintance.

The book consists of a series of letters from Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter. Screwtape is giving Wormwood pointers on the best methods for tempting humans to sell their souls to the devil. While the whole thing addresses the Christian theological issues that Lewis wrestled with for a significant chunk of his life, the letters themselves are wry, frequently humorous, and have a lot of very true things to say about human nature.

The story in Inside Man does invoke the same kind of “sympathy for the devil” that Screwtape did, but the story feels like it owes a lot more to Good Omens than even it’s predecessor did. Or at least to that part of Good Omens that illustrated the concept that angels and demons have more in common with each other than either of them do with their respective “head offices” back home – whether home is above or below.

Inside Man also plays, and plays hard, with another bit from Good Omens – the bit where both Crowley and Aziraphale find themselves questioning whether either Heaven or Hell really has that ineffable plan that they keep proclaiming they do. And just like in Good Omens, the demon protagonist of Inside Man figures out that they don’t. Have a plan, that is.

But he does.

Escape Rating B-: I loved Prosper’s Demon so I expected to love Inside Man and I was disappointed that I didn’t. Although Prosper borrowed bits from Good Omens, it really did take them in its own direction. It also worked well that the human whose soul is being contested, while he isn’t exactly Leonardo da Vinci, was close enough to da Vinci to ground the story in a sense of the real.

We could appreciate the consequences of the demon vs. demon-extractor debate because we had a pretty clear picture of what those consequences would be. Leonardo da Vinci, any version of da Vinci, would be sorely missed in any world where he existed.

Inside Man made the not-our-world setting more obvious and a bit harder to get past – or perhaps into – by not giving us as clear a frame of reference. Meanwhile, the whole concept of “The Plan” and the lack thereof felt like it borrowed too heavily from Good Omens without giving us Crowley and Aziraphale to root for.

On my third hand, Inside Man is really, really short. I didn’t have any problems finishing it. I just kept wishing it was as good as its predecessor.

Review: Reality and Other Stories by John Lanchester

Review: Reality and Other Stories by John LanchesterReality and Other Stories by John Lanchester
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Genres: horror, short stories
Pages: 192
on March 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Ghost stories for the digital age by the Booker Prize–longlisted author of The Wall.
In 2017, inspired in part by Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, the acclaimed English novelist John Lanchester published a ghost story in The New Yorker. "Signal," an eerie story of contemporary life and the perils of technology, was a sensation among readers—and since then Lanchester has written several more.
Reality and Other Stories gathers the best of these, taking readers to an uncanny world familiar to fans of The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror. Household gizmos with a mind of their own. Mysterious cell-phone calls from unknown numbers. Reality TV shows and the creeping suspicion that none of this is real…
Reality and Other Stories is a book of disquiet that captures the severe disconnection and distraction of our time.

My Review:

If you like the kind of horror that is featured in The Twilight Zone, those stories where it doesn’t exactly feel like horror until that sudden twist at the end – “It’s…it’s a cookbook!”

So rather than being in your face – or in your roiling stomach – this is a collection where the stories kind of sidle up to their horror aspects, give it a nod, nod, wink, wink, and then wham just before you turn the page to the next story.

And a couple lay an egg. But then that’s true for any collection where even when the concept as a whole has a lot of appeal to a lot of readers, one or two stories don’t work for everyone. And usually not the same one or two stories either.

The first story, “Signal”, was one of my favorites in the set. It’s kind of a haunted house story, and it manages to be both creepy and sad at the same time. The ending was kind of Sixth Sense in more ways than one, and also, I just love stories where it seems like it’s going one way but then the sadness just slaps you at the end, as it does here.

“Charity”, the last story in the collection, was the one that contained the most outright horror aspects, and also felt like it threw itself back to some of the classics like Lovecraft. At the same time, it’s a bit more like revenge on Lovecraft rather than homage, as the cursed object that forms the center of the story is an instrument of revenge by people who Lovecraft would never have given the time of day. “Charity” is also a story whose plot is fairly easy to predict from the opening but still manages to chill the reader at the end.

The story that is sticking with me is “We Happy Few” because it honestly scared me twice, once in its implications and then again in its result. Howsomever, from other reviews of this book it seems that this story did not resonate with a lot of readers, and I kind of understand why. The characters in the story are extremely unlikeable. At the surface level, this is about a bunch of junior academics sitting in a coffee shop complaining about absolutely everyone around them. Their observations are, for the most part, no deeper than a teaspoon. And yet, when one of them posits that the reason that the world seems to be getting crazier – and it really is if you consider things like Trump, Brexit and the COVID mask deniers and the anti-vaxxers – is that social media is designed as a system to appeal to the worst part of human nature and to ultimately make people less clear thinking and less intelligent. Which is a very scary thought in real life. In the story, the implications were instantaneous. And kind of awful.

While on the one hand it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch of people, on the other, it’s more than a bit chilling.

Escape Rating C: Out of a collection of eight stories, the three listed above were the ones that I either enjoyed or that stuck with me or a bit of both. Of the other five, I thought that “Coffin Liquor”, “The Kit” and the title story “Reality” were okay but not more than that. Also “Reality” absolutely confirmed my conviction that reality TV shows are one of the circles of Hell.

I think that a lot of people are going to find “Cold Call” really chilling, but I got annoyed with it, or with the actions of the characters in it, at the very beginning and just couldn’t stick with it. “Which of These Would You Like?” didn’t have enough setup or enough detail to work for me. It’s weird rather than horrifying and there just wasn’t enough there, there.

Everyone’s reading mileage is going to vary on this one, so if you like Twilight Zone-esq horror, give this a try.

Last but not least, the UK cover at left has a completely different vibe from the US cover. The US cover feels like it touches more on the SFnal aspects of the stories, while the UK cover has more of a horror feel to it. And your mileage may vary about that as well.

Dad-o-mite Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Dad-O-Mite Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

Father’s Day is celebrated on the third Sunday in June, not just in the U.S. but in plenty of other countries around the world. It looks like most if not all of the countries in the world have a celebration dedicated to fathers at some point in the year – just not necessarily the SAME point in the year. It’s not JUST a Hallmark holiday, although it must help the greeting card company’s bottom line even today.

And I’m reminded that once upon a time, my own father was in the greeting card business, as the accountant for a small company based in Cincinnati that eventually got swallowed by Hallmark’s rival American Greetings a long time ago. Time flies.

This year’s Father’s Day (this very Sunday!) is going to be special for lots of folks. While our fur-children have been with us every day, there are a lot of families for whom this will be the first time it will be safe enough to travel and to gather in large groups and share those backyard barbecues with friends and loved ones in person to celebrate the day and the dads.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more terrific prizes for dads – or for yourself – 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.

Review: The Summer of No Attachments by Lori Foster

Review: The Summer of No Attachments by Lori FosterThe Summer of No Attachments by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Summer Friends #2
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on June 22, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Summer flings with no strings mean nobody gets hurt.At least, that was the plan…
After putting the brakes on her dead-end relationship, local veterinarian Ivey Anders is ready to soak up this summer on her own terms. The way she sees it, no dating means no disappointment. Why complicate life with anything long-term? But when she meets Corbin Meyer—and his troubled young son, Justin—Ivey’s no-strings strategy threatens to unravel before she can put it into practice.
Trust doesn’t come easy for Ivey’s best friend, Hope Mage, a veterinary-clinic assistant who’s affected by an incident that’s colored every relationship she’s had. Though Hope’s happy for Ivey, she can’t quite open her own heart to the possibility of love. Not just yet… Maybe not ever. Soon, however, she’s faced with a dilemma—Corbin’s older brother, Lang. He’s charming, he’s kind…and he may just be the reason Hope needs to finally tear down her walls.
And as the sweet summer months unspool, the two friends discover love won’t give up on them so easily.
"Brimming with heart, heat and humor."—Jill ShalvisNew York Times bestselling author, on Worth the Wait

My Review:

The irony of The Summer of No Attachments is that the first thing that Ivey does after declaring that she isn’t going to get attached to anyone this summer is that she immediately gets attached to someone.

However, as Ivey is a veterinarian, that she finds herself instantly attached to a slightly skittish rescue dog named Daisy – along with all of the puppies that Daisy gave birth to practically in Ivey’s lap – is not all that big a surprise.

But Daisy and her puppies are all adorable, so we all do fall right along with her. That Daisy is the first Jack-A-Bee dog I’ve heard of or read about made her extra cute. (A Jack-A-Bee is the result of mating a Jack Russell Terrier with a Beagle and the whole idea just oozes cuteness.)

Ivey’s romance with Daisy would have been an adorable story, but that’s not what we’re here for. And honestly, that’s not what Ivey is there for, either. Okay, it is part of what she’s there for, but not ALL of it.

As the story opens, Ivey finds Daisy and Daisy has her puppies at the end of what has already been a very long day for Ivey and her best friend and veterinary assistant Hope Mage. When Ivey finally makes it home, her boyfriend of two years is lounging on her couch bitching about her being home late.

It’s the latest in a string of disappointments in that relationship, and it’s the last. Ivey kicks Geoff to the curb and vows to have a summer of hookups with no need to fall into another relationship.

Haven’t we all made those kinds of vows?

Ivey’s promise to herself turns out to be about as successful as you might expect. The meet cute in this story isn’t between Corbin Meyer and Ivey Anders, although they certainly do meet. But the real cute in that meeting is the one between Corbin’s son Justin and Daisy and her pups.

There’s something about Justin, scared, shy and uncertain, that reaches out to Daisy – and surprisingly vice-versa for the boy and the dog. That the dad and the vet can’t resist seeing the two fall in love and help each other heal makes this a lovely story with a lot of heart.

And doggie kisses!

Escape Rating A: I just plain fell in love with these characters, this place and this story, to the point where I was up until 4 am because I couldn’t resist reading just a little longer – all the way to the very heartwarming conclusion with its happy ever afters all around. HEAs for everyone turned out to be just what I needed.

The primary story is in not just the romance between Corbin and Ivey, but in the way that they both fall in love with Justin and build a family together out of some pretty shaky circumstances.

As the story begins, Corbin and Justin are still walking on eggshells around each other. Justin’s mother dumped him on Corbin, after telling Corbin that the child she never bothered to inform him existed was his and it was time for him to take over childcare full-time while she ran off. As the truths about Justin’s circumstances are slowly revealed – not just to the reader but to Corbin – the scope of the tragedy-in-the-making becomes both clearer and wider.

So Corbin is adjusting to having a pre-teen son he never knew about. He hasn’t really got the time or the energy for a relationship and Ivey is more than a bit gun-shy about diving into a relationship with anyone at all. (Not that her ex was evil or anything, but she feels like she just climbed out of a rut and is worried about climbing into another one.)

But they do it anyway, in spite of themselves, two steps forward and one step back, while Corbin’s family rallies around and life goes on.

The secondary characters were icing on a very tasty cake, especially the romance between Corbin’s brother Lang and Ivey’s bestie Hope. That could have been a whole romance all of its own, and it would have been a great one even by itself, but the story was even better in the contrast between the kind of second chance that Corbin, Ivey and Justin are reaching for and the much more difficult one that Hope needs to let herself have after trauma and betrayal.

The depth of the friendship between Ivey and Hope was beautiful, and added something special to the whole story. A story that was just plain special all the way around.

Goodreads says that this book is the second book in The Summer Friends series that begin with The Somerset Girls, which I have but have not read. Although now that I’ve visited Sunset, Kentucky, I’m sure I’ll find my way back!

Review: Shiftless by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Shiftless by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayShiftless (Night Shift #3) by T.A. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Night Shift #3
Pages: 112
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on June 19th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Night Shift is the city's thin, silver line- and some nights it's thinner than others.

It isn't the fact he almost died last night that's thrown Night Shift officer Kit Marlow. He's used to that. It's the fact that instead of a werewolf trying to rip his throat out, it was his friend and colleague who tried to put him in the ground.

Well, 'friend.'

Now Marlow's been framed for a murder he didn't commit by a man who's committed more than his fair share. Half the cops in San Diego want to see Marlow behind bars for what he's supposedly done, and the other half want him dead before he can tell his side of the story. The problem is that he can't tell them apart.

There's only one person in town that Marlow can trust, even though he knows he shouldn't drag Cade Deacon into his problems. The sharp-tongued CEO of a private security firm might have gotten close to Marlow over the last few weeks, but taking on the SDPD is a lot to ask.

Marlow doesn't have much choice, though. If he can't clear his name before the last full moon of the month sets, he might not see another one. That'd be a shame since Marlow would really like to spend the night with Cade without needing protective gear.

My Review:

The one thing I knew going into this book was that she couldn’t do it to me again. Thank goodness.

Shiftless is the final novella in the Night Shift trilogy, which meant that the author simply couldn’t end the book on a damn cliffhanger the way that she did the first two books, Shift Work and Split Shift.

Honestly, if she’d managed to do it again anyway I’d have figured out a way to reach through the screen and deliver a Howler from up close and personal because damn that would have been the absolute limit.

Not that I won’t be riveted, again, if the author ever returns to Marlow and Cade’s world. Because it’s fascinating and they’re snarky, hot and a whole lot interesting to follow.

Escape Rating A-: First of all, the Night Shift series isn’t so much a “series” as it is a single story split into three bite-sized pieces. So if you love paranormal romance, if you enjoy enemies-into-lovers, if a world where even though it isn’t quite ours the story still captures your attention from the first page, takes you away and still manages to say quite a bit about our world into the excellent bargain, start with Shift Work and settle in for a compelling ride – and read.

This is a world where werewolves rule, and the laws are bent to fit them, because they have all the power and it seems like a fair amount of the money. One of the things that makes this world a bit different is that being a werewolf also seems to be completely normal – it’s the so-called “nulls” that are weird.

If you’ve ever heard of the 80/20 law, it’s kind of like that, only the proportions aren’t nearly so even. Some people, not a big percentage at all, can’t be turned. They don’t “wolf out” the three nights of the full moon and can’t be changed to do so.

Kit Marlow is one of those nulls. He’s a police officer, a member of the “Night Shift” who works those three nights. Because someone has to serve and protect the people who don’t have an inner wolf – and sometimes even the werewolves need to be protected from themselves or each other.

The problem Kit has – well, he has two, come to think of it. He can’t trust his fellow officers at his back. Too many of them are tied in with the dirty cop he sent to prison a few years ago – and the rest looked the other way. The one person he can trust is the one person he really shouldn’t. Because three nights of the month, Cade Deacon thinks Kit Marlow is dinner – and not in any good way from Kit’s perspective.

But Kit has been framed, and Cade is his only hope of something. Whether that’s rescue, protection or the opportunity to clear his name is to be determined. What they’ll be at the end of it all, if Kit will still be anywhere at all, is anybody’s guess.

So a big part of this story is Kit trying to clear his name. An important part of the story is Kit and Cade trying to figure out what they are to each other, as neither of them has any experience with relationships to begin with – and theirs has the possibility of being especially fraught. The occasionally-partially-resolved sexual tension between the two of them heats up the entire story.

The third part is, in its way, even more interesting. Because Marlow needs to figure out who he’s going to be when this whole mess comes out the other side. Unless he’s dead or in prison and then dead which is still a possibility. He trusts a person who’s supposed to be an enemy way more than anyone who is supposed to be at least a colleague if not a friend. There’s a whole lot wrong with that picture and what that says about the Night Shift in specific and possibly about the real world in general is still keeping me thinking.

I’m going to miss Marlow and Cade and their very fascinating world. While they seem to have reached as much of an HEA as either of them is capable of, I’d love to explore this place more. Lots, lots more.

Guest Post from TA Moore + Chapter 2 of the Night Shift short (check out Chapter 1 at Love Bytes)

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Shiftless by TA Moore, which completes the Night Shift trilogy! I believe it is still technically a novella, although it’s the novella that kicked the other novellas out of the nest and ate all the food!

For the blog tour I’ve written a short story set in the Night Shift world. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter Two

Warden Brunell stepped back from the door and waved Marlow into the hut. He glanced over at the crowd of people still stuck behind red tape and reminded himself that there was only one way to find out what he needed to know.

Or only one he could think of.

Associate Warden Brunell’s office was warm and faintly ripe with the odor of old sweat and recent fear. There was no shame in that. Brunell spent the full moon with only pre-fab walls and chains between him and a few dozen hungry wolves, and not even a single silver bullet for emergencies.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it? The quiet echo of Piper’s voice bounced around inside Marlow’s skull. Shouldn’t there be a level playing field?

It sounded reasonable, but Piper always did. That was why Marlow was here and not at the bar with the rest of the squad. He wanted to make up his mind before Piper made it for him.
Brunell extended his hand. “Officer…?” he trailed off, one eyebrow raised expectantly.

“Marlow.”

“First or last?”

“Yes.”

There was a pause, and then Brunell laughed. It sounded scratchy and exhausted, but genuine.

“There it is,” he said. “Never met a Night Shift officer who wasn’t an asshole. No offence. Midnight under the full moon, that’s a survival instinct. Sit down. How can I help you?”

Brunell waved Marlow to one of the chairs—metal and folding. Like everything else in the hut, it was portable and cheap… just in case—as he went back behind his desk. There was a stack of folders by his elbow, intake forms that needed to be matched with the release forms being signed right now, and a glass of something that probably wasn’t water by one hand.

“Kit,” Marlow provided as he sat down. “Thirsty work running the Crate?”

“It is,” Brunell agreed, unphased, as he took a drink. If it was liquor—and Marlow would put money on it that it was—Brunell didn’t flinch as it hit the back of his throat. “But while I can’t leave until the last inmate has gone through their exit interview, my shift ended at the same time as yours. So, technically, I’m not drinking on the job. Want one?”

It was tequila, and it wasn’t good tequila. Marlow recognised the bottle that Brunell pulled out of a drawer. The idea of it made Marlow’s mouth twist in a confused mixture of parched and revolted. He might want a drink after last night, but the idea of getting cheap tequila drunk didn’t appeal.

“I’ve plans for the day I need to be upright for,” Marlow said. “At least, for part of the day.”

Brunell chuckled and winked at Marlow. “Enjoy it while you can. Night Shift don’t die in bed, so make the most of the time you do spend there, that’s what I say.”

He raised his glass in a toast. Marlow didn’t have the heart to disillusion him.

Night Shift could get laid, that was true. Sleep was more elusive. Given a choice between the two…

Okay, most of the time they’d pick sex. On the second day of the Full Moon? An empty mattress, cool sheets, and no-one who needed anything from you? Then it was a harder question.
Marlow’s only plans for his bed involved him, slightly more Tylenol than recommended on the bottle, and a good six hours of not doing anything at all. He didn’t want any company. If it got Brunell onside, though, let him think that Marlow had a much more Piper-like life.

“Doctor Ben Crenshaw,” Marlow said.

“Who?” Brunell asked, head cocked to the side.

“Could you check your records?” Marlow asked. “See if someone by that name checked out last month?”

Catch the next chapter tomorrow at Book Gemz and follow the tour for the rest of the story!

 

About the Author:

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sector before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

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