A Scoop of Luck Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the A Scoop of Luck Giveaway Hop, hosted by MamatheFox!

First, I’m going to ask that you all wish me a little luck. I’m having some minor surgery today, so all wishes for a speedy recovery are very much appreciated!

The theme for this bloghop is all about luck. It makes me think of the song from My Fair Lady, the one that goes, “With a little bit of luck…) We can always use a little bit of luck. Or a little scoop of ice cream to make us feel lucky! At least lucky that someone invented ice cream to have on a hot summer’s day.

Speaking of ice cream, if there’s a Creamistry near you and you haven’t tried it, pick a hot day and go! They don’t just put in your mix ins before your eyes, they actually freeze your ice cream with liquid nitrogen right there while you wait. It’s awesome stuff, and a neat concept all rolled into one.

But speaking of luck, you might get lucky here in this giveaway. I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 US Amazon Gift Card or a book from the Book Depository up to $10 US in value. This giveaway is open to anyone living anywhere that the Book Depository ships.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And for more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

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

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-15-18

Sunday Post

When I discovered that the publication of Hope Never Dies had been moved up from mid-August to early July I simply could not resist reading it – pretty much the way I could not resist picking it up in the first place. When I saw the blurb on Edelweiss, it struck me as a case of the bear dancing, where you’re not surprised it’s done well, you’re simply surprised that it’s done AT ALL. It was a boatload of fun. Possibly even a Trans Am trunkload of fun, as long as you fling your willing suspension of disbelief out the window before you start.

Don’t forget, today is your last chance to seize your chance at the prize in the Seas the Day Giveaway Hop. The hop ends tonight at midnight!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Seas the Day Giveaway Hop (ends TONIGHT!)
Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann
Taste of Seattle Gift Bag from Susan Mallery

Blog Recap:

B Review: Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann + Giveaway
B+ Review: Imperator by Anna Hackett
A+ Review: Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs
A- Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + Giveaway
B- Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
Stacking the Shelves (296)

Coming Next Week:

A Scoop of Luck Giveaway Hop
Kill the Farm Boy by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson (review)
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler (review)
Hunting the Truth by Beate and Serge Klarsfeld (review)
Lowcountry Bookshop by Susan M. Boyer (review)

Stacking the Shelves (296)

Stacking the Shelves

There are a couple of really interesting things in this week’s stack. Not that they aren’t all interesting looking books – or I wouldn’t have picked them up. But interesting in different ways from the usual.

First unusual thing, or first and second unusual things depending on how you count, is that Bayside Heat by Melissa Foster and Sweet Heat at Bayside by Addison Cole are essentially the same book. The steamy version is under Foster and the sweet, or at least sweeter version is under Cole. I’ll be comparing to see what difference that makes.

And Under the Table by Stephanie Evanovich currently holds the dubious achievement award for being the farthest out. The book won’t be published until April 2019!

For Review:
All That is Left is All That Matters by Mark Slouka
The Animal Gazer by Edgardo Franzosini
Bayside Heat (Bayside Summers #3) by Melissa Foster
Dagger’s Edge (Brute Force #2) by Lora Leigh
Entropy (Atrophy #4) by Jess Anastasi
Frenchman Street (Sentinels of New Orleans #6) by Suzanne Johnson
A Girl’s Guide to Missiles by Karen Piper
The Hollow of Fear (Lady Sherlock #3) by Sherry Thomas
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
The Poisoned City by Anna Clark
Sweet Heat at Bayside (Sweet with Heat: Bayside Summers #3) by Addison Cole
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam
Under the Table by Stephanie Evanovich
Witness by Ariel Burger

Purchased from Amazon:
Hunted (Iron Druid Chronicles #6) by Kevin Hearne (audiobook)

Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew ShafferHope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 304
Published by Quirk Books on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This mystery thriller reunites Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama for a political mashup full of suspense, intrigue, and laugh out loud bromance.

Vice President Joe Biden is fresh out of the Obama White House and feeling adrift when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues. To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” re-teams with the only man he’s ever fully trusted—the 44th president of the United States. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.

Part noir thriller and part bromance novel, Hope Never Dies is essentially the first published work of Obama/Biden fanfiction—and a cathartic read for anyone distressed by the current state of affairs.

My Review:

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

While I will not judge this book by its cover, I will say that I absolutely did pick this book up for its cover. Which I absolutely could not believe when I saw it, and couldn’t resist once I read the blurb.

Which is completely insane – but all too hilarious – both at the same time.

There is no doubt that this is a terrific piece of what is called “real person fanfic”, which is a thing in fanfiction circles. While fanfiction is usually written about fictional characters, no matter the source, just as there is fanfiction about movie and TV characters there is also fanfiction about the actors who play those characters. When it’s romance fanfic, that can seem a bit creepy and/or stalkerish and is frowned upon in some circles.

One thing that is common in fanfiction in general is the way that the stories often go places that the creator of the original work never intended, and generally the further afield those places are the more it adds to the fun.

This is the kind of story where you don’t so much willingly suspend your disbelief as throw it out the window of a speeding muscle car, like oh, say, the Trans Am that Joe and Barack end up powering through the streets of Wilmington Delaware in the course of this case.

Because this piece of real person fanfiction is a noir-ish murder mystery. And a fairly complicated one – with comic relief provided by this extremely amateur pair of occasionally bumbling wannabe detectives.

Admittedly “Amtrak Joe” Biden does most of the bumbling, while Barack Obama provides even more “cool” than he displays in real life.

The scene of Obama rescuing Biden from a motorcycle gang by casually firing a sawed-off shotgun while lying about Seal Team 6 waiting in the wings was absolutely priceless.

There is a mystery at the heart of this wild and crazy road novel, and it’s all about a good man gone wrong and a bad man hiding in plain sight finally brought low by a couple of past and possibly future politicians who are searching for a third act in their lives.

And who discover that their enduring friendship is the greatest gift of all.

Escape Rating B-: As mysteries go, this is no Murder on the Orient Express or even The Word is Murder. The red herrings are plenty tasty, but our amateur detectives do fumble and bumble a lot, even more than Inspector Clouseau.

And I can’t deny that the whole effort has a very strong whiff of the bear dancing, in that you are not surprised that it is done well, you are surprised that it is done AT ALL.

But it is done considerably better than the outrageous premise might lead one to believe.

What makes the mystery part of this work is that we see this fictional version of Joe Biden as an essentially honest man who wants to see justice done for a good friend – and who admittedly is uncertain where he goes next in his life.

His dilemma about what happens after you’ve been to the top, or at least to your own personal top, is pretty easy to identify with. We all get there sooner or later.

What makes the story work, and makes the reader willing to go along for the ride, is the combination of the sometimes over-the-top but occasionally spot on banter between Obama and Biden, and the first-person perspective of the story through fictional Joe Biden’s eyes.

If you are looking for an antidote to the political insanity in every newspaper and on every newscast, Hope Never Dies is a somewhat rueful, slightly nostalgic, always engaging treat.

Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + GiveawayWhen We Found Home by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by Hqn on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Life is meant to be savored, but that's not easy with no family, limited prospects and a past you'd rather not talk about. Still, Callie Smith doesn't know how to feel when she discovers she has a brother and a sister--Malcolm, who grew up with affection, wealth and privilege, and Keira, a streetwise twelve-year-old.

Callie doesn't love being alone, but at least it's safe. Despite her trepidation, she moves into the grand family home with her siblings and grandfather on the shores of Lake Washington, hoping just maybe this will be the start of a whole new life.

But starting over can be messy. Callie and Keira fit in with each other, but not with their posh new lifestyle, leaving Malcolm feeling like the odd man out in his own home. He was clever enough to turn a sleepy Seattle mail-order food catalog into an online gourmet powerhouse, yet he can't figure out how to help his new sisters feel secure. Becoming a family will take patience, humor, a little bit of wine and a whole lot of love.

But love isn't Malcolm's strong suit... until a beautiful barista teaches him that an open heart, like the family table, can always make room for more.

In this emotional, funny and heartfelt story, Susan Mallery masterfully explores the definition of a modern family--blended by surprise, not by choice--and how those complicated relationships can add unexpected richness to life.

My Review:

When We Found Home is an absolutely lovely story. In the same way that this author’s Daughters of the Bride was also a very lovely story. The two are not connected, but if you liked the one you’ll like the other and vice-versa.

When We Found Home is a story about family. The family in this book is a bit unusual, as they discover that they are family rather late into each of their lives.

To put it bluntly, the late Jerry Carlesso was a man-whore. He clearly could not keep it in his pants under any circumstances whatsoever. The only saving grace to the man was that he never married, so at least he wasn’t cheating on a wife while he traveled the country and left children behind in his wake.

Three of them, to be precise. And Jerry’s father, Alberto is determined to find them all and make them family.

Malcolm’s mother found them Alberto first, back when Malcolm was 12. Now he’s 34 and the heir to Alberto’s successful high-end mail-order Italian food empire, Alberto’s Alfresco. Alberto’s private detective found little Kiera a couple of months before the story opens. She’s 12 and her own mother is dead. Kiera was discovered in foster care.

Kiera’s adjustment from being lost in the foster system to being very nearly a fairy tale princess is not going well. She’s the only child in a houseful of adults, her world has shifted completely off its axis, and her big brother is keeping her at arm’s length because he doesn’t know what to do with this sudden influx of 12-year-old sister. And he doesn’t believe he’s any good at relationships.

The story begins with the introduction of the last sibling, 26-year-old Callie. Callie made a terrible mistake as a teenager, and took the fall for a very skanky boyfriend who committed armed robbery. Callie spent 5 years incarcerated, but in the three years since her release she has done her best to start a new life. A life that is sorta/kinda working when Alberto’s lawyer finally tracks her down in Houston.

It’s a very rough journey for this family-lost-at-birth to become a family-of-choice. While Keira and Callie bond fairly quickly, it takes a bit of work for Malcolm to work out his issues with their shared parent, get the stick out of his ass, and upgrade his original status from “asshole brother” to “jerky brother” to just “big brother”.

And they all need a little help along the way. Help that they manage to get, and eventually accept, from the second best thing that ever happens to any of them.

Becoming a real family is the first best thing.

Escape Rating A-: Just like when I read Daughters of the Bride a couple of years ago, When We Found Home was absolutely the right book at the right time. While yesterday’s book was just about perfect, it did turn out to be a bit angstier (and meatier) than I was expecting. When We Found Home had just the right amount of fun and froth while having a bit of meat on its bonesand plenty of heart.

There are two romances in this story, but the romances are not the point of the story. Rather it’s the other way around. The healing that becoming a family brings to the lives of both Malcolm and Callie allows them to accept and cherish the romantic love that enters both of their lives.

All of the adults in this story have plenty of baggage that they need to work through before any of them are ready to become a family or reach anything close to an HEA.

Callie’s past seems the most difficult. She made a huge mistake – and she paid for it. But even though she has theoretically paid her debt to society, that same society makes her keep paying for that mistake over and over and over. As much as she needs the helping hand of her family and her grandfather, she’s afraid to trust it will last – because she doesn’t feel like she deserves it.

Kiera and Callie bond because they have some of the same fears. Not that 12-year-old Kiera is a convicted felon, but that she’s been abandoned before and is afraid that all this good fortune can’t possibly last.

Malcolm seems like he has it all, but he is still recovering from a heartbreaking betrayal by those he trusted. It’s difficult for him to reach out to anyone, and he nearly loses his sisters because of it.

It’s not so much that they all grow up, as that their hearts all grow three sizes in the course of the story. They do a lot of self-examination, they lift each other up, and they figure out that they are a family after all.

And that’s how they earn their happily ever after.

For a taste of When We Found Home, please check out this excerpt!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Susan is still giving away a Taste of Seattle Gift Bag. The bag includes:
An “I [Heart] Happy Books” tote bag, Starbucks Pike’s Place ground coffee, Seattle Chocolates gift set (3 truffle jars), Cucina Fresca marinara sauce, Sahale Snacks (6 packs), Maury Island Farms jam (2 jars)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs

Review: Between You and Me by Susan WiggsBetween You and Me by Susan Wiggs
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on June 26, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Deep within the peaceful heart of Amish country, a life-or-death emergency shatters a quiet world to its core. Number-one New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs delivers a riveting story that challenges our deepest-held beliefs.

Caught between two worlds, Caleb Stoltz is bound by a deathbed promise to raise his orphaned niece and nephew in Middle Grove, where life revolves around family, farm, faith—and long-held suspicions about outsiders. When disaster strikes, Caleb is thrust into an urban environment of high-tech medicine and the relentless rush of modern life.

Dr. Reese Powell is poised to join the medical dynasty of her wealthy, successful parents. Bold, assertive, and quick-thinking, she lives for the addictive rush of saving lives. When a shocking accident brings Caleb Stoltz into her life, Reese is forced to deal with a situation that challenges everything she thinks she knows—and ultimately emboldens her to question her most powerful beliefs.

Then one impulsive act brings about a clash of cultures in a tug-of-war that plays out in a courtroom, challenging the very nature of justice and reverberating through generations, straining the fragile threads of faith and family.

Deeply moving and unforgettable, Between You and Me is an emotionally complex story of love and loss, family and friendship, and the arduous road to discovering the heart’s true path.

My Review:

Between You and Me is not quite what I was expecting. Much in the same way that neither Reese Powell’s nor Caleb Stoltz’ lives turn out quite the way that they – or anyone around them – expected.

The unexpected can turn out to be wonderful.

Reese Powell and Caleb Stoltz don’t seem to have much in common, at least not on the surface, and they certainly live lives that should never have intersected. But life is funny that way, and sometimes we meet the people we really need to when we really need them.

Even if, or especially because, they challenge us and everything we thought we believed. The best laid plans of mice, men and especially parents go oft astray.

Caleb’s nephew is injured in a tragic accident, and his tiny Amish farming community does not have the resources needed to keep the boy from bleeding out. His nearly severed arm is a lost cause, but the boy’s life isn’t – at least not yet. When the life flight helicopter comes to take Jonah Stoltz from Middle Grove to Philadelphia, Caleb rides along.

His first ride in a helicopter, something that he has always longed to do.

While Caleb may be Amish, his heart has always yearned for the wider world. When he went on his rumspringa, his version of going wild was to attend college. He had no plans to return to Middle Grove and his abusive father.

But when his older brother and sister-in-law were murdered, Caleb took up his duty and returned to care for his niece and nephew. Not just because he made a promise to his brother as he lay dying, but to prevent his father from abusing the two children who would otherwise be left in his care.

Jonah’s tragic accident gives Caleb a tiny, tempting chance to break away from his life for a brief moment, and in his care for the boy he lets himself take it.

Reese Powell is a fourth-year resident at the hospital where Jonah is taken. She’s part of the trauma team that preps the boy for surgery. And something in her heart reaches out to the boy whose life has just irrevocably changed, and to the lost, lonely man who is truly a stranger in a strange land in the urban setting.

Just as Caleb takes this brief opportunity to break free of the life he is expected to lead, in her friendship with him Reese discovers an opportunity to examine what she wants for herself, and to break free of the heavy weight of her parents’ expectation.

They expect her to become a pediatric surgeon so that she can become a partner in their high powered and highly successful OB/GYN IVF practice. A practice that produced Reese herself. But what they want for her is not what she wants for herself. Not that Reese does not want to be a doctor, but that she wants to be a different kind of doctor than her parents, or than her parents have planned for her to be.

And even though their attempts at any relationship beyond friendship seem doomed to failure, that they try gives both of them the courage to discover what they are truly searching for in life.

It might even lead them back to each other.

Escape Rating A+: Upon reflection, I don’t think that the blurb matches the book all that much, except for its final paragraph. Between You and Me is deeply moving and unforgettable, and it is an emotionally complex story of love, loss, family, friendship and just how difficult it can be to find your own true path and the people who you need to have walking that path beside you.

But this isn’t a story about faith, except possibly faith in oneself. It also is not a story about beliefs, at least not in the religious sense that feels implied in the blurb. Instead, it feels a story about the intersection of duty and commitment, about the weight of promises made and the guilt of promises broken. And how sometimes it’s necessary to break the literal meaning of a promise in order to keep the spirit of it.

Caleb is Amish, but he has never been baptised in the faith. In other words, he has always had plenty of doubts, and those doubts have kept him from becoming a full member of the community. He promised his brother that he would raise his children in Middle Grove, but he did not promise to make any religious commitments of his own to the community.

Caleb has always had a foot in both camps. He lives in Middle Grove, but he works for the English in nearby Grantham Park, as the lead horse trainer for the Budweiser Clydesdales as well as other big, beautiful horses. And he does accounting on the side.

Much of the clash of cultures in the story is about the clash within Caleb’s heart. He wants to leave. He’s always wanted to leave. A big part of this story comprises the circumstances that finally make him realize that he needs to leave, both for his niece and nephew’s sake and for his own.

It’s often a hard choice, and it’s one that we see Caleb struggle with every step of the way.

Reese’s problem often seem much easier, but that doesn’t mean that her difficulties aren’t real or that we don’t feel for her as well. Because we do.

There is a romance at the heart of Between You and Me, but this is not a romance in the genre sense. The story here revolves around Caleb’s and Reese’s separate journeys to find themselves and the truth of their own hearts – not in the romantic sense but in the finding true purpose sense.

The happy ending is their reward for taking the difficult path. And it’s the reader’s reward for following them on their journey.

TLC
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Review: Imperator by Anna Hackett

Review: Imperator by Anna HackettImperator (Galactic Gladiators #11) Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #11
Pages: 206
Published by Anna Hackett on July 10th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Space station security specialist Sam has done one thing since her abduction by alien slavers…fight to survive. But now one strong alien gladiator stands at her side and Sam knows she is no longer alone.

Thrust into a lawless desert arena, Sam Santos has done terrible things in order to stay alive. As the Champion of Zaabha, she’s been fighting to find a way out. Everything changes when the Imperator of the House of Galen sacrifices his freedom to help her. The hard-bodied, fierce man has vowed to help her escape, but getting out of Zaabha is only the first deadly task they face.

Galen was bred to be a royal bodyguard and protect his prince. With his planet now destroyed, he’s grown powerful and forged his wealthy gladiatorial House on the desert planet of Carthago. All Galen knows is honor, service, and sacrifice. Now his life depends on working with one battle-hardened woman of Earth as they fight together to survive. But Sam Santos is not what he expected. Tough, yes. A brilliant fighter, for sure. But there is a softer side to the woman as well. And Galen finds himself irrevocably drawn to all of Sam’s captivating facets.

Then they uncover a devious plot by the Thraxians that could bring down the foundations of the Kor Magna Arena and all they hold dear. Galen and Sam will stop at nothing to defeat the evil alien slavers, even if it means war. In amongst the fighting, Sam may finally show a man who lives for everyone else, that he deserves more than just honor and freedom, but love as well…if they survive the coming battle.

My Review:

Imperator is the culmination of all ten previous books in Anna Hackett’s marvelous, universe-spanning Galactic Gladiators series. It brings this story to a fantastic, heart-stopping doozy of a happily ever after for the humans stolen from Jupiter station and the gladiators (and a few select others) who take these refugees into their hearts.

Even in a couple of cases where those gladiators weren’t actually sure they still (or ever) had hearts.

The series began in Gladiator when the slave-trading Thraxians exploited a temporary wormhole that led from Carthago on the far side of the galaxy to our own solar system. The Thraxians, being the bloodthirsty and evil slave traders that they are, attacked the station and kidnapped as many humans as they could, skedaddling back through the wormhole before it closed.

There may be no place like home, but there’s no way back home for the kidnapped humans.

As the series progressed, one by one, those humans were rescued from the slave traders and their illegal fighting pits by the gladiators of the House of Galen, led by their leader, the Imperator Galen himself.

The House of Galen discovered that the Thraxians and their allies were operating an underground fight ring, using kidnapped, enslaved, tortured and experimented upon fighters. At first the ring was literally underground, but when the gladiators discovered that set of pits, the masters of Zaabha moved to a floating arena, one that flies over the more deserted parts of the planet.

Imperator opens on the heels of the final events of the previous book, Cyborg. Galen and his gladiators have managed to free all the human captives save one, but at tremendous cost. Galen himself is stuck on the floating Zaabha, along with the one human woman that he has not been able to forget.

Galen would say that he stayed on Zaabha because he promised the human mates of his gladiators that he would rescue their friend Samantha Santos from Zaabha. But the truth is that he wants to rescue Sam for himself.

In the end, they’ll have to rescue each other. Not just from Zaabha, but from all of the guilt and demons locked inside their own hearts.

Escape Rating B+: I have loved this entire series. While I’m a bit sorry to see it end, I’m glad that the author left a glimmer of possibility for future stories in this world. There could be other captured humans that they have not found. Yet.

But this part of the story is done. The House of Galen and their allies have all found their happily ever afters with humans from Earth. And it was fitting that Galen’s story was the last – because he couldn’t let his own guard down until every single person under his protection had been taken care of.

And now they have.

Imperator is the final story in this series. Even if more kidnapped humans do turn up, this story ends this section. As such, this is no place to start the series. I’m not totally sure that they have to be read strictly in order, but I would recommend starting with one of the first three books, Gladiator, Warrior or Hero. Once you’re hooked, you’ll want to read them all, but there’s a point in this series where things really build on the previous books – a point we’re well past by Imperator.

This book also includes a bit of, not exactly an epilog, but a few scenes where we see the present from each of the preceding couples’ points of view. And those scenes only have resonance if you know where everyone is coming from.

In all of the stories, and especially in this wrap up, those HEAs are very definitely earned.

And it’s fantastic!

Review: Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann + Giveaway

Review: Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann + GiveawayTrial on Mount Koya (Shinobi Mystery #6) by Susan Spann
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Shinobi Mysteries #6
Pages: 256
Published by Seventh Street Books on July 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Master ninja Hiro Hattori and Jesuit Father Mateo head up to Mount Koya, only to find themselves embroiled in yet another mystery, this time in a Shingon Buddhist temple atop one of Japan's most sacred peaks.

November, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo travel to a Buddhist temple at the summit of Mount Koya, carrying a secret message for an Iga spy posing as a priest on the sacred mountain. When a snowstorm strikes the peak, a killer begins murdering the temple's priests and posing them as Buddhist judges of the afterlife--the Kings of Hell. Hiro and Father Mateo must unravel the mystery before the remaining priests--including Father Mateo--become unwilling members of the killer's grisly council of the dead.

My Review:

One of the factors that makes historical mysteries so interesting is that the investigator, whoever they might be, is forced to rely on instinct and intelligence, as forensics as we know them today do not yet exist. At the same time, the investigator can’t let their instincts get too much in the way. To quote Will Rogers, who won’t be born for more than three centuries after Trial on Mount Koya takes place, “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

Shinobi (read ninja) Hiro Hattori is usually an excellent investigator. In his own society, mid-16th century Japan, he is an outsider on multiple levels. First he’s a master assassin. Second he’s the bodyguard and now friend of a Portuguese Jesuit priest. And third he is masquerading as a ronin, a masterless samurai. He’s normally on the outside looking in, even while appearing to be part of everything.

But in this particular case, while he is an outsider in this group of isolated people, he is unable to muster his usual clear-sighted lack of emotional involvement. He is still grieving the events of the the previous book, Betrayal at Iga, and his judgment is clouded because his friend is as threatened as everyone else in this remote killing ground.

And having just lost his lover in a murder that he believes he should have prevented, he is afraid of losing his closest friend as well. As a consequence he is jumping at shadows, unable to see or admit that his clouded judgment is causing him to miss vital clues and suspect people who he should have eliminated from suspicion – if he were operating as his usual, rational self.

Normally, between the Jesuit Father Mateo and the shinobi Hiro Hattori, Hiro is the level-headed one while Mateo rushes in where his religion’s angels would certainly fear to tread. And while Mateo still serves as our “Watson” in this outing, being the outsider to whom Hiro must explain the ins and outs of their purpose and location, in this particular story he is much more clear-sighted than his friend.

This story is also a variation on one of the classic mystery tropes. A relatively small group of people is isolated by a blizzard in a remote location. No one can get in, and no one can get out. There is a murderer amongst them who turns out to be a serial killer. And he must be one of them, because he can’t escape and no one could be hiding on the mountainside in the fierce and freezing storm.

It is up to Hiro, with the assistance of Mateo, to first get his head out of his own ass, and then to figure out whodunit. The setting is a remote monastery, where someone is methodically murdering the monks. As Hiro puts it, the usual methods for murder are love, money and power. They are in a monastery, a Buddhist monastery. It seems as if those motives could not possibly apply.

But of course one of them does. It is up to Hiro to figure out how and why before his best friend becomes the next victim.

Escape Rating B: This series is absolutely fascinating, both for its characters and for this recreation of a marvelous world that seems both incredibly exotic and extremely familiar. Exotic because I have little knowledge of the place and period it covers. Familiar because in the end, the characters are so very human, in all their muck and glory.

Human beings are, at heart, the same all over. While what constitutes money and power may vary from one society to another, the lengths that humans will go to in order to achieve or steal them are all too similar.

And, as always, that love is all there is is all we know of love. But what Hiro to his surprise grasps on the one hand, he loses track of on the other. Eros is not the only form of love. A strong enough version of any form of love could be a motive for murder.

Or the killer could simply be barking mad. Or both.

In its remote setting and isolated group of religious observers, Trial on Mount Koya reminds me just a bit of The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny. With one major difference. At the end of The Beautiful Mystery, while I certainly felt for the victims, I also understood why the particular events, the murders, happened. When completed, the story felt finished and I felt satisfied that all had been resolved, good had, if not triumphed in that particular case, at least lived to fight another day.

As much as I enjoyed Trial on Mount Koya, the deep dive back into Hiro and Mateo’s world, and the progress of the investigation, as well as learning more about 16th century Japan and its culture, the revelation of the killer and his reasons felt unsatisfactory. This is possibly because the killer was both utterly insane and completely organized at the same time. It may have been because his logic and his motives were so far outside my own perspectives that I just couldn’t understand them enough.

And it could be that there is more yet to discover, not about this killer in particular but about the outside events that set Hiro and Mateo on this particular journey in the first place. I’ve enjoyed every one of their adventures from the series’ beginning in Claws of the Cat, and if you love historical mysteries I highly recommend starting this series at the beginning.

I’ll be back to follow them on their journey. They are intending to take the road to Edo. I’m sure they’ll have more fascinating adventures along the way. And probably turn up a dead body, or two, or six.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am very happy to be giving away a copy of Trial on Mount Koya to one lucky US or Canadian commenter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-8-18

Sunday Post

It’s been an eventful week. Not as productive as it might have been on the blog front, but c’est la vie. Also c’est la view as I originally typed. We closed on the house on Friday, so now the fun begins. We’ll probably move around the end of July, as there’s a few things that need to be taken care of before we move in. We need to get the place that the dryer plugs into fixed before we can plug in a dryer. Also we need a dryer – and a washer. Lots of little things like that but nothing major and nothing else that prevents us from moving in. Before Worldcon in mid-August.

We moved so often, and we had our original clowder of cats for so long, that they all understood what it meant when the boxes started appearing everywhere. Freddie and Lucifer have no clue what’s about to upset their world – but they are going to love the giant catio in the new house!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Seas the Day Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

A Review: Night Fall by Simon R. Green
B+ Review: The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. Green
Fourth of July 2018
A- Review: Mycroft Holmes by Kareen Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse
B+ Review: Trapped by Kevin Hearne
Stacking the Shelves (295)

Coming Next Week:

Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann (blog tour review)
Imperator by Anna Hackett (review)
Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs (blog tour review)
When We Found Home by Susan Mallery (blog tour review)
Hunting the Truth by Beate and Serge Klarsfeld (review)

Stacking the Shelves (295)

Stacking the Shelves

I’m closing this out a day early. I normally put this post together on Friday, but this Friday we’ll be closing on our new house! We’ve held off on making too many concrete plans about what happens next for fear of jinxing the whole thing so as soon as the closing is over we’re planning to go to the new house and start planning.

For Review:
Burning Down the Haus by Tim Mohr
A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson
Imperator (Galactic Gladiators #11) by Anna Hackett
Insurrecto by Gina Apostol
Invisible by Stephen L. Carter
The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Guide #2) by Mackenzi Lee
Mecha Samurai Empire (United States of Japan #2) by Peter Tieryas
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfesh
Night Soil by Dale Peck
A Notorious Vow (Four Hundred #3) by Joanna Shupe
Phoenix Unbound (Fallen Empire #1) by Grace Draven
The Splendor Before the Dark (Nero #2) by Margaret George

Purchased from Amazon:
Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse (review)