February Favorites Giveaway Hop

 

Welcome to the February Favorites Giveaway Hop, hosted by  The Mommy Island & The Kids Did It!

That’s certainly open-ended, isn’t it? February Favorite what? I ask you? (Seriously, I do, that will be the question for the rafflecopter.)

It could mean anything, couldn’t it? Your favorite day in February? Your favorite event? Your favorite memory? In my particular case, the first thing that comes to mind would be my favorite book coming out this month. (If you’re curious it’s Never Too Old To Save the World edited by Alana Joli Abbott and Addie J. King. Because reasons which will become apparent when I post the review later this month.)

What’s your favorite thing in, or about, or connected to the shortest month of the year? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at Reading Reality’s regular blog hop prize, the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in books.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more fabulous February prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

Heart 2 Heart Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Heart 2 Heart Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

My heart is certainly in THIS hop’s theme, particularly after a whole string of winter-themed hops. I’m so happy to think of something besides snow and cold. We moved down here to get away from all that freezy skid-stuff.

It’s the first day of February, which means that the favorite holiday of florists and greeting card companies is almost here.

Which made me take a look at the members of our household we absolutely will not get either cards or flowers for, our cats. I’m not sure what they’d do with card, but I am sure about the flowers. They’d eat them. Petals everywhere. And water all over the place because they’d either have to knock the vase over to get at the flowers or would just knock the vase over because, well, cats. It’s what they do.

Maybe we’ll get them a nice, empty box to play in. Because that’s also what cats do.

Do you get Valentine’s Day gifts or presents for your furry friends? Or just for your humans? What’s your favorite thing to give or to get? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at Reading Reality’s usual giveaway hop prize, the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in Books.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more prizes to love, 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: Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen

Review: Vampire Weekend by Mike ChenVampire Weekend by Mike Chen
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, horror, paranormal, vampires
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on January 31, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Being a vampire is far from glamorous...but it can be pretty punk rock.
Everything you've heard about vampires is a lie. They can't fly. No murders allowed (the community hates that). And turning into a bat? Completely ridiculous. In fact, vampire life is really just a lot of blood bags and night jobs. For Louise Chao, it's also lonely, since she swore off family ages ago.
At least she's gone to decades of punk rock shows. And if she can join a band of her own (while keeping her...situation under wraps), maybe she'll finally feel like she belongs, too.
Then a long-lost teenage relative shows up at her door. Whether it's Ian's love of music or his bad attitude, for the first time in ages, Louise feels a connection.
But as Ian uncovers Louise's true identity, things get dangerous--especially when he asks her for the ultimate favor. One that goes beyond just family...one that might just change everything vampires know about life and death forever.

My Review:

Vampires don’t sparkle. Everybody knows that’s a complete fabrication. Totally fictional. Also slightly ridiculous.

As Louise Chao has discovered over the decades, most of the things that people thought they knew about vampires are every bit as mythical as that sparkle. And Louise ought to know. She’s been a vampire for those same decades. For her, being a vampire isn’t remotely glamorous, nor is she accumulating wealth. She certainly doesn’t have super-strength or any other super-senses.

She’s absolutely not draining innocent – or even not so innocent – victims dry every night. Not only is that frowned upon – with extreme prejudice – by the vampire community, but honestly it’s not nearly as easy as it looks to bite someone in the carotid artery. The angles are just all wrong and the fangs aren’t nearly as sharp as fiction would have one believe.

For Louise, being a vampire is an endless search for night jobs to pay the bills while scrounging for safe sources of blood to stave off starvation. Her only solace is the best dog in the world, Lola.

Her best human friend died in a car crash just before COVID really sunk its teeth into the human population and psyche. Her Aunt Laura, the only family who ever accepted her as her punk rock, non-conforming self, died years ago and left her the house they shared in San Francisco.

It’s a lonely life. When the local blood supplies start running low, literal starvation is just a metaphor – although a gnawing, achingly, empty metaphor – for the starvation of the heart and spirit that Louise is already living in.

Until her self-imposed isolation is invaded by her long-lost family. Two of them. A middle-aged man who seems vaguely familiar, and a teenage boy who reminds Louise so very strikingly of the young, rebellious music loving rebel she used to be. And deep in her bruised heart, still very much is.

Ian needs a refuge from his mother’s impending death that will give him just a bit more distance and perspective than the bad attitude he’s currently fronting as his defense against the world. Louise isn’t able to admit it, even to herself, but she needs somebody to connect her to the world that might otherwise pass her by. She needs more than just a shitty job and a refrigerator full of blood bags.

All she has to do is let herself connect. To this teenager who needs a safe place to be himself. To the self that she left behind. And to the community that is willing to make her life a whole lot easier – and just a bit closer to some of those powers she thought were myths – if she’ll just let all of them in.

Escape Rating B+: Louise’s journey in Vampire Weekend is a combination of “no matter where you go, there you are” and “who do you want to be when you grow up?” Because Louise hasn’t. Grown up, that is. And that not-grown-up self has been dragging behind her and holding her back for decades. When Ian drops into her life – and all the landmines in her past that he unwittingly brings with him – she’s forced to reckon with who she once was and the baggage she’s still carrying from that person.

(One thing about all those vampire myths to get out of the way before anyone gets skeeved about Louise’s relationship with Ian. Vampires in Louise’s world are all asexual. The genetic and biological change of human to vampire kills off all the chemistry that creates both arousal and sexual gratification. Another vampire myth shot down.)

What makes Louise’s journey interesting is that her vampiric existence has meant that she hasn’t had to move on from the traumas of her family of origin. She hasn’t grown up because she hasn’t had to. So everything she took with her from her parent’s house when she left is still festering. When Ian and his grandfather drop into her life, because they’re part of the family that rejected both her and her beloved Aunt Laura, she has to finally process her shit because Ian is tangential to it and his grandfather is a bigger part of it than she even recognizes.

While the heart of this story is Louise’s growing relationship with Ian and her reconciliation with her own past, there’s another story woven into its edges that moves toward center stage as it progresses.

When there are vampires, it seems as if there are always politics and this story is no exception. At first the larger vampire community is on the periphery of Louise’s life – and that’s where she wants them to stay. But the blood supply is suddenly dwindling and she needs that network of support to locate supplies. And they need her – but not in any of the ways that she is worried about or that the reader expects.

That political angle felt a bit tacked on, to the point where its resolution seemed like a bit of a deus ex machina for the issues that brought Ian into Louise’s life in the first place. Not badly, and it made a certain kind of sense for the resolution of the whole story, but it just wasn’t as solid as Louise’s journey and Ian’s impending grief – although it does eventually tie into both.

This is not the first time that vampires have been into music, and not even the first story mixing vampires with some variety of rock and roll. The book The Vampire Lestat features the titular vampire fronting a rock band. And the WVMP series (starts with Wicked Game) by Jeri Smith-Ready (which took me forever to dig out of memory) is all about a radio station where the DJs are vampires who only play the music of the era when they were turned.

There is also a real band named Vampire Weekend. This isn’t about them, although there are a couple of in-jokes that refer to the real band, just as there are in-jokes featuring Louise’s beloved punk rock and rock music in general. I would imagine that an appreciation of those jokes and knowledge of that scene in general would add just that little something extra to the reader’s appreciation of the story. Howsomever, as someone who was not into punk in particular the story is still terrific. I’m not sure you need to be a fan of any genre of music in particular, as the heartbeat of the story is about loving music, particularly live performances, and needing it to be a part of your life. YMMV.

In the end, Vampire Weekend was a delightful surprise. It wasn’t any of the things I was expecting, much in the way that the author’s Light Years From Home wasn’t quite any of the things that I expected when I picked it up (and loved it!) either. But both stories are about families and making peace with them as well as yourself. Both have just the right touch of bittersweetness to tug at the heartstrings. And both are are terrific reads!

Review: The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz

Review: The Terraformers by Annalee NewitzThe Terraformers by Annalee Newitz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: hopepunk, science fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Tor Books on January 31, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

The Terraformers is an equally heart-warming and thought-provoking vision of the future for fans of Becky Chambers, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Martha Wells.
Destry is a top network analyst with the Environmental Rescue Team, an ancient organization devoted to preventing ecosystem collapse. On the planet Sask-E, her mission is to terraform an Earthlike world, with the help of her taciturn moose, Whistle. But then she discovers a city that isn't supposed to exist, hidden inside a massive volcano. Torn between loyalty to the ERT and the truth of the planet's history, Destry makes a decision that echoes down the generations.
Centuries later, Destry's protege, Misha, is building a planetwide transit system when his worldview is turned upside-down by Sulfur, a brilliant engineer from the volcano city. Together, they uncover a dark secret about the real estate company that's buying up huge swaths of the planet―a secret that could destroy the lives of everyone who isn't Homo sapiens. Working with a team of robots, naked mole rats, and a very angry cyborg cow, they quietly sow seeds of subversion. But when they're threatened with violent diaspora, Misha and Sulfur's very unusual child faces a stark choice: deploy a planet-altering weapon, or watch their people lose everything they've built on Sask-E.

My Review:

The Terraformers – the story – is a story about legacy, every bit as much as the planet Sask-E (elided over the centuries to Sasky) is the living, breathing legacy of the terraformers who helped to make it.

But terraforming as a process is long and expensive, so even though the action of the story takes place over centuries, that’s just a drop in the bucket of the planet’s own time. But more than long enough for the reader to fall in love with the place and its people.

Because of the length and expense of that terraforming process, along with what seems to be the tendency of governments everywhere and everywhen to believe – or at least pretend to believe – that private enterprises will do a better, more efficient or at least less obviously costly job of doing things that should be the province of government, Sask-E was developed, owned and operated by the Verdance Corporation.

And thereby, quite literally, hangs our tale. And eventually theirs.

The underlying ethos of terraforming is itself a legacy, the legacy of the Environmental Rescue Teams were created to clean up the vast ecological mess that Earth became during the anthropocene era – which is right now, BTW.

When we first visit Sask-E its terraforming phase is just about at an end, and its commercial exploitation phase is just about to begin. Network analyst Destry, one of the members of Sask-E’s corporate-owned Environmental Rescue Team – which is every bit the oxymoron one might think it would be – discovers that at least one of the things she’s always been taught isn’t remotely true.

There are already people living on Sask-E, the direct descendants of the early terraforming teams who were supposed to have all died off hundreds of years ago when the planetary atmosphere became too oxygen-rich for their engineered biology. They didn’t die, they adapted – as humans do.

Verdance wants to eliminate them. Destry wants to make sure they get to remain right where they are. The compromise she makes, the clandestine treaty she brokers between the warring factions, is definitely a case of lesser of evils – one for which Destry pays the highest price.

But in the end, that compromise – along with Destry’s adopted grandchild, an intergalactic reporter in the shape of a genetically engineered cat and a whole host of creatures great and small, mechanical and biological, humans both H. sapiens and H. diversus, reach out to grasp the freedom they should have had all along.

The corporate bigwigs would say that it’s still all Destry’s fault.

Escape Rating A+: This is going to be one of those “all the thoughts” kind of reviews because WOW this thing wrapped me up, took me away and made me think – all at the same time.

At first, there’s the adventure aspect of the whole thing. Destry and her friend Whistle (an intelligent, genetically engineered moose) have this whole planet to explore and they love every inch of it. And there’s a lot of hope to be had even in Destry’s early part of the story. For one thing, it seems that humanity did manage to rescue this planet before we killed it completely along with ourselves. That’s hope right there.

There’s also plenty to love in the way that her position and her work integrates the contributions of both humans and non-humans, and that anyone or anything can be considered a person and a citizen.

And that’s where the dark underbelly gets exposed. Not just that we exported megacorporations and their endless greed along with humanity, but rather that the whole nature of the work and the enterprise has brought back slavery on a galactic scale. Destry doesn’t just work for Verdance, it created her and it owns her. And everyone else working on Sask-E.

Just as Under Fortunate Stars recalls the Star Trek Next Gen episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, The Terraformers brings to mind “The Measure of a Man” in all of its shining possibilities AND its potential horrors. Everyone on Sask-E is genetically engineered and created in a lab, just as Data was – whether they are biological like Destry, mechanical like the many bots or a mixture of the two.

And the horror of all of that is a dubious gift that keeps on giving throughout the story. The underlying tension of the whole thing is that humanity has a future that has so many wonderful possibilities in it. At the same time, it’s more than a bit of a “we have met the enemy and he is us” story because we bring all our shit with us into the future.

(Or drag it back into the past. Verdance’s advertised goals for Sask-E were to recreate the ecology of Earth’s supposedly pristine Pleistocene era. The disconnect between the propaganda and the company’s actual intentions brought back to mind Julian May’s Saga of Pliocene Exile which had not dissimilar goals leading to surprisingly similar results. In other words, a world, whether past, present or future, is only pristine until you introduce humanity into the situation and then, well, shit literally happens.)

The Terraformers moves forward from Destry’s discovery that both her past and the past on Sask-E are both a lie. But it doesn’t end there. We move to a new era of exploration and exploitation when we follow Destry’s adopted son as he becomes the recipient of all the corporate ire that can no longer be visited on Destry because she’s dead and gone. And through his eyes we see just how far those rapacious corporations are willing to go in order to create the kind of thoughtless consumers of both goods and propaganda that will serve them best.

But the story ends in hope with a story of revolution and courage that may remind more than a few readers of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, as what the corporations want is very much not what they get when people – no matter how broadly “people” is defined – manage to reach for their own destinies in spite of all the roadblocks dropped in their way.

If you’re looking for the kind of hopepunk SF featured in The Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers – traveling down a different road but with equally compelling characters – mixed with more than a touch of the corporate skullduggery of Martha Wells’ Murderbot, The Terraformers is a thought-provoking delight from beginning to end.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-29-23

The results of the Zoom marathon two weeks ago will become available late this afternoon as part of the RUSA Book & Media Awards at LibLearnX in New Orleans. (The conference formerly known as ALA Midwinter.) Which means that tomorrow I’ll be able to clear out all of my request queues at NetGalley and Edelweiss and get ready to start all over again with a different committee. It’s a bit of a shock every year to see just how many books I received just for whatever committee I happen to have been on and how much those queues get cut down when they’re all gone.

Now that this committee is over, I’ve been looking at some of my other queues and slotting reviews in for books that I always intended to read but never found the round tuit. So some old stuff will be getting mixed into the new to start cleaning up some of that – like my Highly Anticipated Shelf at Edelweiss and a few other places.

And there’s a cat picture. There’s always a cat picture. This is Luna cuddled up to Galen’s hand giving her very best “upside-down kitty face” – a pose she is particularly adorable at. And she certainly does know it! Just look at that sweet but slightly conniving little face!

 

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter Wishes Giveaway Hop (ENDS TUESDAY!!!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter 2022-23 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Welcome Winter Giveaway Hop is Brigette

Blog Recap:

B Review: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
A Review: Don’t Open the Door by Allison Brennan
A- Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett
A- Review: Sentinel Security: Steel by Anna Hackett
A- Review: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa
Stacking the Shelves (533)

Coming This Week:

The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz (review)
Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen (blog tour review)
Heart 2 Heart Giveaway Hop
February Favorites Giveaway Hop
The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly (review)

Stacking the Shelves (533)

Looking at this list, I’m seriously trying to remember how it got to be quite so tall. Some of it is carryover because I don’t put titles in this post until I have something like a cover. After all, part of the point is to display the pretty cover. But it’s also clear that the holiday lull is very much over in the publishing world to the point that not just the spring books have ARCs, but even the stuff from fall is arriving.

Which leads to a couple of books in this stack that I’ve already been looking forward to, notably Contrarian by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. and Seven Girls Gone by Allison Brennan.

For Review:
And Put Away Childish Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Battle Drum (Ending Fire #2) by Saara El-Arifi
The Blighted Stars (Devoured Worlds #1) by Megan E. O’Keefe
Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle
Capture the Sun (Starlight’s Shadow #3) by Jessie Mihalik
Contrarian (Grand Illusion #3) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
The Evergreen Heir (Five Crowns of Okrith #4) by A.K. Mulford
The Little Italian Hotel by Phaedra Patrick
Masters of Death by Olivia Blake
The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw
The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen (Doomsday Books #1) by KJ Charles
Seven Girls Gone (Quinn & Costa #4) by Allison Brennan
The Seven Year Slip by Ashley Poston
The Sword Defiant (Lands of the Firstborn #1) by Gareth Hanrahan
The Wayward Prince (Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #7) by Leonard Goldberg
World Running Down by Al Hess

Borrowed from the Library:
Tempests and Slaughter (Numair Chronicles #1) by Tamora Pierce


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: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

Review: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke NatsukawaThe Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa, Louise Heal Kawai
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: books and reading, coming of age, fantasy, magical realism
Pages: 198
Published by HarperVia on December 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A celebration of books, cats, and the people who love them, infused with the heartwarming spirit of The Guest Cat and The Travelling Cat Chronicles.
Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat named Tiger appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for—or rather, demands—the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and Tiger and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners. 
Their mission sends this odd couple on an amazing journey, where they enter different mazes to set books free. Through their travels, Tiger and Rintaro meet a man who leaves his books to perish on a bookshelf, an unwitting book torturer who cuts the pages of books into snippets to help people speed read, and a publishing drone who only wants to create bestsellers. Their adventures culminate in one final, unforgettable challenge—the last maze that awaits leads Rintaro down a realm only the bravest dare enter...

My Review:

When we first meet Rintaro Natsuki, he has come to a fork in his road, at the point where he’s going to have to take it whether he wants to or not. He’s just been orphaned for the second time. When his parents died, he was still a child, and packed off to his grandfather without any choice or protest on his part.

At his grandfather’s death, Rintaro is in high school, even if he skips class a lot. He’s old enough to have a voice in his future – if he can come to terms with the reality of his loss. And if he can manage to reach out of his own social isolation to take it.

His legacy from his grandfather is a beautiful, marvelous and just barely profitable second-hand bookstore. A place that Rintaro has no desire to leave, but he seems to have no option to stay. At least not until the talking cat Tiger the Tabby swaggers out of the back of the bookstore and demands that Rintaro come with him on a journey to save books.

Rintaro loves books and reading. He also has nothing better to do and no motivation to do it. So he follows the cat through the suddenly endless book stacks and emerges into a labyrinth of wonder and danger. He’ll need not just courage and a bit of cunning, but every single drop of his love of reading to save the endangered books – and himself along the way.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this one up for the cat and the books, in that order. Which reminds me that the cat pictured on the US cover does not do Tiger the Tabby justice. The UK cover (pictured at left) does a much better job of giving Tiger his due.

But the story, of course, isn’t really about the cat. It is, however, at least in part about the way that cats – or any companion animals – can save us even from ourselves if we just let them. And the way that books and reading can give us time and space and tools to save ourselves if we let them into our minds just as the cats do when we let them into our hearts.

It’s also a bit of magical realism that leads into a very modern type of fairy tale. Tiger leads Rintaro into a series of labyrinths where books and reading are under assault in the guise of the love of books combined with bowing and scraping to market pressures and other distractions of modern life to save books by means that will, in the end, destroy them.

I think the story does conflate the love of the container – the physical book – with the love of what it contains and the experience of reading. I’m a bit concerned about that as I’m mostly an ebook reader because the genres I read are not widely represented in large print. If I were confined to the physical artifact I’d miss out on the thing I really want out of reading – the immersion in the story that the physical AND the electronic article contain and present for my enjoyment.

I digress just a bit.

What makes The Cat Who Saved Books such a lovely little read, however, is the totality of Rintaro’s journey. Not just the thoughtfully scary labyrinths where books go to die in the name of loving them, but Rintaro’s first steps on that path to adulthood. Because the story is about Rintaro’s chance to choose his life. To stay a socially withdrawn hikikomori, always dependent on someone else to deal with the world he has retreated from, or to take up the reins of the bookstore and his own life and learn to stand on his own. And that’s the part of the story that grabs the heart in its sharp, feline claws.

Because this is a book about books and reading, I can’t resist leaving this review without including a couple of readalikes. Any reader of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld will recognize that the way the back of the bookstore opens into endless shelves means that the store connects to ‘L’ space, the liminal place where all great libraries connect. The Discworld is not at all like The Cat Who Saved Books but that love of reading certainly exists in both places. The Girl Who Reads on the Métro by Christine Féret-Fleury is another lovely story about someone looking for a purpose who finds it in books and reading and loving them and the people she associates with them. And last but not least, more in tone than in specific, “All the World’s Treasures” by Kimberly Pauley, included in Never Too Old to Save the World, a story about a young woman inheriting a shop from her grandmother and discovering that there are connections to more places and infinitely more treasures than she ever imagined.

Review: Sentinel Security: Steel by Anna Hackett

Review: Sentinel Security: Steel by Anna HackettSteel (Sentinel Security #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sentinel Security #4
Pages: 272
Published by Anna Hackett on January 26, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

His skills and ruthlessness made him a legend.

The dark, dangerous former spy.

Now the operative turned billionaire known as Steel collides with fiery agent Hellfire when they discover they’re both on the kill list of a deadly assassin.

CIA agent Devyn “Hellfire” Hayden came from nothing and made herself into one of the CIA’s best deep-cover agents. She’s dedicated to her country. She’s always on the move. She’s a loner. Just the way she likes it. Letting people close is a weakness and she’ll never be weak again.

But when she finds herself under attack by an assassin targeting the world’s best intelligence agents, it sends her straight into the path of the only man who tempts her. The dark, lethal Killian “Steel” Hawke.

Killian Hawke rose through the ranks of the CIA, and knows his name is whispered in fear by his enemies. But when his sister needed him, he left and started Sentinel Security. He protects all those he considers his: his sister, his friends, his employees, and his clients.

But there is one stubborn redhead he also wants to claim.

As Devyn and Killian work together to unmask the assassin hunting them, they are forced to confront their white-hot attraction and their violent need to protect each other. Killian is tired of dancing around what he feels for her. Now that she’s in danger, he’ll do whatever it takes to make her safe, claim her heart, and possess her soul.

My Review:

Lovers of the Sentinel Security series have been teased with the inevitability of this story from the very beginning of the series, every bit as much as Killian “Steel” Hawke and Devyn “Hellfire” Hayden have been teasing each other from the first time they met. Back in the day when they were both among the CIA’s best agents.

But when they first laid eyes on each other, Hellfire was an agent on the rise, and Steel was all too aware that he was on the edge of burnout and that his days with the agency were numbered. He didn’t need the temptation, and she couldn’t afford the distraction. Or the other way around. Or both.

Definitely both.

So he turned away and went on his way, out of the CIA and into building his own top-flight, high-end, security business, Sentinel Security. While she continued her rise through the ranks of the CIA to become the best of the best – just as he once was. And still very much is, just in a slightly different and frequently adjacent sphere.

Every time they’ve run into each other – occasionally just about literally – since the Sentinel Security series began, they’ve drawn the kind of sparks off of each other that were bound to lead to one hell of a fire.

If they can just get out of their own ways. As long as they can get themselves out of the sights of an assassin who only thinks he can claim to be the best by taking down the best.

He thinks he can prove he’s in their league. Hellfire and Steel are about to show him just how much he’s not.

Escape Rating A-: First and foremost, I adore this author and her work and am always thrilled to have a new story in whichever series she happens to be working on.

Second, I always love the romance that features the leader of whatever group that series happens to be featuring, so I’ve been waiting for Killian’s story since the series began. (I’m just grateful I didn’t have to bite my nails through quite as many stories as in some of her previous series.)

Third, while I was always intending to read Steel this week I had one book absolutely disappointingly fail, so I was both thrilled and grateful to pick up Steel and dive right in. I knew I would enjoy it, but it turned out to be the perfect book at the perfect time.

Just as Killian Hawke turned out to be, not the perfect man but the perfect man for Hayden. Someone she could trust to have her back in a firefight, who would pull her up when she needed it instead of beating her down when she was already there. Someone who loved her and appreciated her for the kickass woman she was instead of trying to make her be less than in any way, shape or form.

Because she’s perfect for him just as she is. If she was anything less or anything different, she wouldn’t be the woman, the person he needed at his side.

But it isn’t ever going to be easy – and neither is this operation. Someone has a list of the top agents for every spy agency around the world and is planning to assassinate the “Top Ten” on the list. A list that Hellfire and Steel are both on.

The assassin has already eliminated two of their colleagues, had a go at a third, and now they are next. Which means that they are following the trail of their would-be assassin while he’s trying to pull them into his trap. The stakes are the highest, the tension is off the charts and the pages are turning as fast as the reader can flip them.

It’s a race to the finish; either his – or theirs. But together they can conquer anything. Even each other’s doubts, fears and demons. It’s a wild ride from beginning to end. Yet another terrific action adventure romance from an equally terrific author.

As always, I’m already looking forward to her next book, Knightmaster, the first in the Oronis Knights series. I’m always up for good science fiction romance and I know that’s just what I’ll get in March. And Sentinel Security will be back in April, and I’m sure it will be another pulse-pounding romantic adventure!

Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather FawcettEmily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries (Emily Wilde, #1) by Heather Fawcett
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, fantasy romance, historical fantasy
Series: Emily Wilde #1
Pages: 336
Published by Del Rey Books on January 10, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A curmudgeonly professor journeys to a small town in the far north to study faerie folklore and discovers dark fae magic, friendship, and love, in this heartwarming and enchanting fantasy.Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world's first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party--or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.
So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily's research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.
But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones--the most elusive of all faeries--lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she'll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all--her own heart.

My Review:

Emily Wilde is writing/compiling an encyclopedia of all the faerie species in the world. That’s not exactly a spoiler as the title does rather give it away. But what is a surprise and a delight is the story that she tells about herself and her world in the process of researching what will be a weighty reference tome.

Emily’s story isn’t weighty or tome-like at all – even if it does very nearly lead her to her own tomb as she finds herself in the midst of one of the stories of the fae that she intended to merely tell and most definitely not participate in.

Although, considering the vast amount of research she has done in her speciality, she certainly should have known better.

Emily Wilde, PhD, MPhil, BSc, DDe is an Adjunct Professor of Dryadology at Cambridge in this slightly alternate, early 20th century story of fantasy and academe. The alteration to the world is that the study of faeries and the fae has become a real academic discipline, similar in many ways to anthropology and/or sociology, because the fae are real in this world. Hidden, elusive, all-too-frequently dangerous, but entirely real.

Studying them has been Emily Wilde’s lifework for half her life, since she arrived in Cambridge at 15 and is now 30. But the academic tropes feel all too real, as Emily’s trip to remote, frozen Ljosland to add one last chapter to the Encyclopedia on the subject of the equally remote and equally frozen native fae, the Hidden Ones.

The encyclopedia is not just a labor of love, or even just labor. The whole point is for Emily to publish what will be the foundational reference work of her speciality and gain tenure in the process so that she can, in future, remain comfortably in her rooms at Cambridge and study to her heart’s content.

She’s tired of field work, she’s tired of being the lowest person on the academic ladder (adjuncts still get no respect) and she’s tired of dealing with people outside of academic circles. So she goes off to Hrafnsvik, the remotest village in remote Ljosland to finish the work. Alone.

Really alone because she offends the villagers almost as soon as she arrives. Not intentionally, but she’s just not good with people. Or small talk. Or letting anyone help her.

Which is when her best friend, chief nemesis and fellow dryadology scholar, Wendell Bambleby, appears unannounced on her rather Spartan doorstep in very chilly Hrafnsvik and proceeds to turn both her world and her research upside down.

He’s there to protect her from his kin. His dangerous and deadly fae kin. As well as, more than a bit, from herself. And does she ever need it!

Escape Rating A-: Whether readers will fall in love with Emily Wilde’s story depends a lot on whether they fall in love with the meticulous, misanthropic genius that is Emily Wilde herself. This is her diary, so we view nearly all of the events from Emily’s sometimes-blinkered point of view. So if you like her voice, you’ll like her book.

Emily seems a LOT like Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series. Both in her obsessive desire to learn ALL THE THINGS, her preference for getting lost in her books and her research, and especially for her inability to even see the real-life consequences of her actions – which I fully admit may come a bit more from fanfiction than from the actual books. But still, Emily is very much a Hermione grown up and slightly oblivious about other people.

Emily is also a bit of Regan Merritt from yesterday’s book, in that she’s not traditionally feminine and for the most part is totally okay with that. She’s used to taking care of herself and finding solutions for herself and most importantly, rescuing herself. She doesn’t fit into any of her society’s boxes that are labeled “female” and she’s at peace with that – if not always with her inability to deal with the unwritten social rules that provide a whole lot of lubrication in dealing with other humans.

It’s obvious from the beginning that Wendell is following Emily because he loves her – even if it’s not obvious to her. At all. On that other hand, it’s been obvious to Emily for quite some time that Wendell is probably fae and in hiding. What makes their interactions so much fun to watch is that he charms everyone – and she resents just how easily people fall for his charm – but he never attempts to charm her. Their relationship, in all its push-pull banter, mutual annoyances and attraction to the opposite, is grounded in who they each really are and not a charmed or better version of themselves.

I particularly loved that this is an academic fantasy that isn’t about dark academe the way that The Atlas Six and Babel are – even though Emily would probably make an excellent ‘Babbler’. At the same time, the story is rooted in some of the darker things about academia in the real world, that place where the politics are so vicious because the stakes can be so damn small. That her world’s academia feels rooted in the real even though the world is not grounds the whole story and lets the reader fully get aboard its flight of dark fantasy.

Because there is darkness here. Not in academia, but in the way that the fae intrude upon and exploit Emily’s real world and the real people within it. What makes Emily’s journey into dark places drag us along with her is that the mistakes she makes that get her into so much trouble are so very human and so much a part of her personality.

So many characters in fiction literally seem ‘Too Stupid to Live’. That’s never Emily. What makes her so easy to empathize with, at least for this reader, is that she believes she’s too smart to be taken in. And she’s almost, but not quite, right.

I adored this as I was reading it. I was charmed from the very beginning and that charm didn’t leave me when I turned the final page. Howsomever, now that I’ve had some time to think about it I’m wondering a bit about exactly how Emily’s and Wendell’s relationship is going to work in the future. He’s essentially immortal and she’s absolutely not. Whether he’s remotely capable of being faithful is a seriously open question. There’s a significant power imbalance just on the academic side even without him being fae. So I’m left with a whole encyclopedia full of questions.

Which means that I’m very pleased that this is billed as the first book in an Emily Wilde series. Hopefully I’ll get to find out the answers to those questions in the not too distant future.

Review: Don’t Open the Door by Allison Brennan

Review: Don’t Open the Door by Allison BrennanDon't Open the Door (Regan Merritt, #2) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Regan Merritt #2
Pages: 384
Published by Mira on January 24, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

“Downright spectacular. A riveting page turner as prescient as it is purposeful.” —Providence Journal on Tell No Lies
A child is shot while playing video games at home. His mother will stop at nothing to find out who did it—and why.
After their ten-year-old son, Chase, was senselessly murdered, Regan's life unraveled. Her corporate lawyer husband, Grant, blamed the death on Regan’s work as a US marshal. Unable to reconcile their grief, they divorced, and Regan quit her job and moved away.
Now she's back after a voice mail from her former boss Tommy said he had important news to share about Chase’s killing. Regan is stunned to learn Tommy is dead too. When she reaches out to Grant, his panicked reaction raises her suspicions. Then a lawyer with ties to her ex also turns up murdered, and the police make Grant their top suspect.
Unsure of his guilt or innocence, Regan risks everything to find Grant before the police do so she can finally get the answers to all that has haunted her since losing Chase. But the truth is not even close to what she imagines—and now she fears she has no one to trust.

My Review:

Former U.S. Marshall Regan Merritt seems to have turned “making lazy and/or corrupt investigators look bad” as her new life’s work. It’s a pity that the cases that bring her skills to bear on her former colleagues come from being much too close to a victim that someone has paid to have whisked under a rug.

Like her 10-year-old son Chase. And now her dead former partner, still a U.S. Marshall, who was looking into her son’s murder. A little too closely for someone else’s comfort.

When we first met Regan Merritt in The Sorority Murder it was a way of easing the reader into the recent tragedies of her life, just as she was easing herself out of the blackest depths of her grief after her little boy’s murder and her subsequent divorce. (Although, honestly, there are PLENTY of reasons why Regan Merritt’s marriage to Grant Warwick was over long before the death of their son – and every single one of them is on display in Don’t Open the Door. OMG the man is a douche. And for once I’m not digressing much at all. Although…my reading group has a metaphorical vat of acid we throw especially asshole-ish characters into on a regular basis. This jerk belongs in that vat!)

We got to know Regan over a case that didn’t have anything to do with her son’s death or the way that the F.B.I. closed it, in her mind very prematurely and with a TON of questions still unanswered. The same thing happened with The Sorority Murder – but as a private citizen Regan is able to turn over rocks and tilt at seeming windmills that finally result in seeing justice done.

So when Regan’s friend and mentor Tommy Granger is murdered after unofficially reopening the case of little Chase Merritt’s murder, Regan is certain – very nearly dead certain, in fact – that Tommy’s death is related to Chase’s, and that she’s not going to let the same damned F.B.I. agents take the easy way out yet again. She’ll just have to retrace Tommy’s steps and rerun his entire search to discover just which rock he turned over and exactly who and what crawled out from under it.

Even if – or perhaps a bit of especially because – it might turn out that her ex-husband is in this mess up to his neck. That perhaps when he blamed Regan’s job for their son’s killing that he already had a sneaking suspicion that it was really all about his own.

Escape Rating A: I read Don’t Open the Door in a single evening for the very same reason I got caught up in The Sorority Murder. I loved following Regan Merritt in her methodical but still compelling investigation. She’s careful, she’s even cautious to a certain extent, but she goes where the evidence takes her – even if she’s not supposed to be the one collecting it and even if it hurts.

I also empathized with the way that she painstakingly processes situations and presents solutions with logic and without much emotion interjected. And I found most people’s – read that as men’s – reactions to that all too realistic. Especially her ex-husband, who always wants everything to be all about him and expects her to have asked for his inclusion at every turn – even in situations where she has all the expertise and he has none. This is just the icing on the shit cake of reasons why their marriage failed.

The other thing that makes Regan such a terrific investigator is that while she trusts her gut instincts, she also verifies those instincts with solid technique. Trust, but verify applies in all sorts of situations, including situations where the person you need to trust is yourself.

The case Regan is attempting to piece together from scattered fragments keeps the reader’s attention – and not just because Regan’s whole heart is in it. It’s clear that Tommy died because he uncovered someone’s dirty secrets. More to the point, he was on the trail of exposing the kind of dirty secrets that are worth killing a U.S. Marshall over – which means they are very dirty, very costly, or more likely both.

Regan’s ex is a high-powered corporate attorney. It is WAY more likely that he saw or heard something that made somebody very important very nervous than that their son’s killer acted alone out of revenge. Somebody paid someone to make a problem go away and that’s not anything of what the F.B.I. decided to believe in order to close a messy case.

Unless someone at the local office is in on it too. Which just means more money and an even messier trail to follow.

So this case starts out personal for Regan, and only gets more so as it goes along. But what keeps us reading is her dogged determination to look out for herself and keep looking for the truth – no matter how many people try to get in her way – or try to get her out of theirs.

In the end, this was a compelling mystery thriller that also had a huge, heaping helping of closure embedded within it. Regan gets her answers – even if they’re not always the answers she wants. She doesn’t get over her son’s death – because one just can’t. (She’s already way past over her divorce.) But she’s turned a HUGE corner, and is looking forward and not just back. It feels like her story is done. I would love to see her in another mystery, because I enjoy the character. But if that never happens, her journey does feel like it has come to an appropriate conclusion and I’m happy with that ending for her.

My first introduction to this author was through Tell No Lies, the second book in her Quinn & Costa series. While we may, or may not, see Regan Merritt again, I’m really looking forward to the next Quinn & Costa thriller, Seven Girls Gone, coming this April.