Star Spangled Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Star Spangled Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

Today is star spangled indeed, as it’s Canada Day! So Happy Canada Day to everyone in Canada, and Happy Fourth of July to everyone in the U.S. this weekend. Which is even better for being a 3-day weekend this year. And next year too, so plan ahead!

So this hop celebrates patriot holidays for two countries, even if one of them – Canada – doesn’t actually have a star on its current flag. Although it has in the past.

But these are both patriotic holidays celebrating the birth/consolidation of separate parts into a semi- or somewhat unified whole. Sometimes like a family complete with table-pounding and shouting at family reunions. And the occasional insults hurled either across the table – or to the picnic table next door, meaning in this analogy, each other.

I remember fireworks where I grew up, the tiny suburb of Golf Manor in Cincinnati. It looks like they still do fireworks, just not this year. That’s probably true a lot of places this year.

But it’s still a time to celebrate – wherever you are. And in celebration of this bloghop I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a book, up to $10 in value, from the Book Depository. This giveaway is open, not just in the US and Canada as they are celebrating this month, but everywhere that the Book Depository ships.

So have a happy Canada Day, or Independence Day, or whatever and whenever your country celebrates its birth!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more star spangled celebrations, 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: Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory

Review: Party of Two by Jasmine GuilloryParty of Two (The Wedding Date #5) by Jasmine Guillory
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Wedding Date #5
Pages: 320
Published by Berkley Books on June 23, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A chance meeting with a handsome stranger turns into a whirlwind affair that gets everyone talking.
Dating is the last thing on Olivia Monroe's mind when she moves to LA to start her own law firm. But when she meets a gorgeous man at a hotel bar and they spend the entire night flirting, she discovers too late that he is none other than hotshot junior senator Max Powell. Olivia has zero interest in dating a politician, but when a cake arrives at her office with the cutest message, she can't resist--it is chocolate cake, after all.
Olivia is surprised to find that Max is sweet, funny, and noble--not just some privileged white politician she assumed him to be. Because of Max's high-profile job, they start seeing each other secretly, which leads to clandestine dates and silly disguises. But when they finally go public, the intense media scrutiny means people are now digging up her rocky past and criticizing her job, even her suitability as a trophy girlfriend. Olivia knows what she has with Max is something special, but is it strong enough to survive the heat of the spotlight?

My Review:

Once upon a time, a guy and a girl got stuck in an elevator together. He needed a fake date to his ex’s wedding, and she wasn’t interested in dating but thought he’d be fun for a fling, so “why not?” But the chemistry that began in that elevator led to their very own HEA – and four more lovely books – at least so far.

That was The Wedding Date, the author’s debut novel, which I still can’t believe. But when Alexa Monroe and Drew Nichols tied the knot, they started a chain reaction, one that is still going strong.

After stories about his best friend (The Proposal), her two best friends (The Wedding Party) and one of those same best friends and her mother (Royal Holiday), the series has come back around again.

Not to Alexa, but to her sister Olivia, meeting and clicking with a guy in a hotel bar in LA. He has a house in LA, but he has also had a plumbing disaster, hence the temporary hotel stay. She doesn’t have a house yet, but she’s looking for one. Olivia and her best friend Ellie are in the process of setting up their own law firm together because they’re both tired of working for big law firms, having no say in their work and no life outside it.

Ellie wants to have time for her husband and kids while still being able to do work that she loves. Olivia has been too busy climbing the ladder to partner to even have a life, and she’s ready for a life outside it – once the firm is off the ground, that is.

There is definitely a “meet cute” between Olivia and Max, that guy she meets in the hotel bar. But they don’t exchange last names, phone numbers or bodily fluids during that one meeting, so Olivia chalks it up to experience, albeit a good one, and gets on with her life.

Only to discover that the terrific guy she exchanged banter and chemistry with was the seriously hot junior senator from California, Max Powell. She never expects to see him again, but their meeting makes for a really EXCELLENT story.

Until they meet again, almost as accidentally as the first time. She knows she’s coming to hear him speak, but he has no idea she’ll be in the audience. She has little expectation that he’ll recognize her, and none that anything will come of this second meeting, but she’s just as surprised as he is when he finds her in the crowd.

This time they do exchange enough information to find each other. Or at least enough for Max to send Olivia cake instead of flowers, because that’s one of the many (many, many) things they talked about in that bar.

Cake leads to flowers, both lead to dates, dates lead to more dates lead to weekends spent in each other’s houses and outings with Max in a fairly lame disguise. But it’s enough. Until it’s not – at least for Max. Until Max wants to go public, and Olivia lets herself get pulled along for the ride.

While dating Max was fun, dating a famous senator is something else all together. And as much as Olivia loves him, it’s not something she can live with. She could live with Max just fine, but the reporters following them around and digging into every tiny detail of her past push her way outside her comfort zone.

To the point where she pushes Max out the door.

Escape Rating A-: The story of Party of Two feels a bit like the movie The American President crossed with the real-life story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (which was sorta/kinda touched on in Royal Holiday). Complete with all of the racist overtones and thinly veiled threats and insults that Princess Meghan has had to deal with. The stories do parallel more than a bit – at least on the surface.

But this felt like a story about opposites attracting, and as is wonderfully usually for this author, the ways in which they are opposite and the difficulties those differences lead them to felt organic and real. This is a romcom without a heinous misunderstandammit. Yes, they did need to work on their communication, but the problem isn’t simple and the fix isn’t either.

Max is rich, white and very, very privileged. While he has become aware of his privilege and is doing his best to both make up for some of the dudebro assholish things he did before he knew better and use his position to do some good in the community and in the world, he is still privileged in the way that only a white, rich, heterosexual man can be in America. And that perspective has shaped his personality in ways that, while not bad in and of themselves, clash directly with Olivia’s perspective of the world.

Basically, Max’s whole outlook is to leap and assume that the net will appear. Because in his life, at least so far, it always has. So he can be very impulsive, even in public situations, because so far at least his mouth hasn’t written any checks that his body can’t cash – or at least can’t cash with the help of his staff, his money, or both. This doesn’t make him a bad person, but it does make him speak or act before he thinks things through. Fairly often.

As a black woman, Olivia’s experience is very different. She’s never impulsive, because her entire life experience is that if she leaps, she will fall. The net will not appear for her and she will never get the benefit of the doubt. (This is true for women in general and is doubly or triply true – if not more – for her) Olivia goes through life with a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C and all the way up to Plan Z. She tries her best to never act before she thinks things through. She did that once in high school with what could have been catastrophic results. The results weren’t exactly catastrophic, but they were plenty disastrous and it took her years to get past them.

It’s not that Olivia and Max can’t have a relationship, in spite of Olivia being certain from the get-go that it can’t work. It’s not that they don’t love each other enough to make a relationship work. But they have a fundamental difference in how they see the world, and while they can work past that difference, it’s going to take compromise on both their parts. And it’s going to take talking about it openly and honestly to get there.

And that’s where they stumble. And it felt real and true to the characters and the story. Which goes back to why I love this series so much.

If you want to read a romcom that works deliciously for readers who don’t generally fall for romcoms, this entire series is a delight. You could start with this book, because it doesn’t rely on knowledge of the previous books in the series, but they’re wonderful and if you love one you’ll love them ALL!

Review: The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

Review: The Angel of the Crows by Katherine AddisonThe Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: gaslamp, historical fiction, historical mystery, steampunk, urban fantasy
Pages: 448
Published by Tor Books on June 23, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting.
In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings under a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.
Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.

My Review:

The Angel of the Crows is the second book by Katherine Addison, after her completely, totally, utterly awesomesauce The Goblin Emperor. And this second book is nothing like the first book – except that both are terrific.

But they are terrific in completely different ways. Goblin Emperor was a political thriller of epic fantasy, featuring assassination plots, deliberately mislaid heirs and a young man’s desperate attempt to learn how to rule a kingdom he was never supposed to inherit. It’s marvelous and thrilling and fantastic.

The Angel of the Crows, very much on the other hand, is urban fantasy, with several fantastic twists. This is steampunk and gaslamp and a bit of supernatural horror set in an alternate version of Victorian London where vampires have a pact with the Queen, werewolves are both legal and respectable, and every old building has its very own Angel to watch over the flock of humans that inhabit their domiciles.

It’s also a world where Dr. J.H. Doyle of the (British) Imperial Armed Forces Medical Service was wounded in Afghanistan in a war where the opposing forces were led by the Fallen. Fallen Angels, that is. A wound that has left him with a painful limp and a desperate need to turn into a hellhound every night.

A world where the self-styled Angel of London, an Angel called Crow so often he became one, solves mysteries that the police find too difficult to master. Including a series of bloody murders in Whitechapel.

The blurb turns out to be both right and wrong. Because these are not the characters the reader thinks they are. Yet they so very much are. And it’s surprising and wonderful from beginning to end.

Escape Rating A: In spite of the author’s claim, and the many, many differences between this world and the world we know, calling The Angel of the Crows a Holmes pastiche is right on the money.

But it’s the kind of Holmes pastiche that combines Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald (collected in the author’s Fragile Things among other places) with Lyndsay Faye’s Dust and Shadow. By that I mean that this alternate world is invested – or infested – with a high quotient of the supernatural, but that this variation includes the detective and his friend desperate to solve the Whitechapel Murders. As they would have been if they had existed in real life, but that Conan Doyle probably couldn’t touch with the proverbial barge pole as that crime spree was probably too close to recent memory to be a fit subject for fictional crime-solving. But Holmes and Watson were operating at the same time as “the Ripper” and more than enough time has passed for historical mystery writers to have a field day looking into their investigation, as is the case in Dust and Shadow.

This variation is also genderbent and genderfluid in ways that fit within the world the author has created, and yet come as a complete surprise to the reader. Dr. J.H. Doyle reveals himself to be Joanna Henrietta Doyle when Miss Mary Morstan crosses his path. That Doyle has managed to not merely continue to live as a man but actually blackmailed the I.A.F. into allowing him to keep both his medical license AND his army pension turns out to be quite the story.

And ALL the angels are female – at least as much as celestial beings have gender. But humans have assumed them to be male, so that’s how they’re addressed and perceived. Only Doyle knows the truth of just how Crow managed to keep himself from becoming either Fallen or Nameless – as he so definitely should have.

(I continue to refer to Crow and Doyle as “he” because that is how they refer to themselves and to each other. They seem to have decided on their preferred pronouns, and I comply with their preferred form of address.)

The story of this book is a combination of many of the most famous cases in the original Holmes canon, notably A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles, among MANY others, with their continued investigation into the Whitechapel Murders. While it is inordinately fun to spot the differences between the original version of those famous cases and this one, it is not required to be familiar with the Holmes stories to enjoy these versions. But if you are, the mystery that needs to be solved is often a bit anticlimactic as the resolutions aren’t generally THAT different. Even though James Moriarty turns out to be a vampire.

However, their exploration of how this version of the world works is fascinating, and their constant – and constantly frustrating – attempts to figure out who is – or who are – committing the Whitechapel Murders AND the Thames Torso Murders is definitely a new piece of both that puzzle and theirs.

The Angel of the Crows straddles, or perhaps that should be hovers over, a whole bunch of different genres. There’s historical mystery mixed with alternate history leavened with urban fantasy which includes more than a touch of the supernatural. And if any or all of that appeals to you as much as it does to me, The Angel of the Crows will sweep you away.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 6-28-20

Sunday Post

I kind of scrapped the last part of this week’s schedule. I wanted to get lost in a good book, and the books I had scheduled are supposed to be good, but I couldn’t reach the lostness. Hence the turn towards comfort reading.

And I have an adorable picture of George. Not that all pictures of George aren’t utterly adorable. But this time George is swearing that he’s up to no good while he’s sleeping on a throw of the Marauder’s Map.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the June of Books Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Daddy Shark Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card (or $10 Book) in the Gift Card Giveaway Hop
$20 Amazon Gift Card from Lisa Kessler

Blog Recap:

A Review: Ghostrider by M.L. Buchman
B- Review: Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings
B Review: Pirate’s Persuasion by Lisa Kessler + Giveaway
A- Review: No Cats Allowed by Miranda James
A- Review: Dead Man’s Chest by Kerry Greenwood
Stacking the Shelves (398)

Coming This Week:

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison (review)
Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory (review)
Star Spangled Giveaway Hop
The Lost Princess Returns by Jeffe Kennedy (review)
The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty (review)

Stacking the Shelves (398)

Stacking the Shelves

Today’s picture is Lucifer. He is seriously in a mood, as if you can’t tell from the expression on his face. The reason he’s in such a disgruntled state is, as usual, George. Who is hiding behind my back in this picture playing with Lucifer’s tail. Lucifer’s consent is definitely begrudging, but it is consent. When I tried to protect his tail he whipped it out and batted George with it – again. And again. For all we humans know, this might be Lucifer’s “I’m having fun” face. But probably not.

And I have books. In fact, I have several books I’ve been waiting for, as well as a few that caught my interest by surprise. I’m also wondering just how badly the traditional publishing industry is imploding. I have books not due out until well into next year. It feels like the publishers are trying to guesstimate when things will be back to normal, but they’re all using differently calibrated prediction apparatus.

Clearly we are living in, among other things, a prime example of why “May you live in interesting times” is considered a curse and definitely not a blessing.

For Review:
Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children #6) by Seanan McGuire
All the Colors of Night (Fogg Lake #2) by Jayne Ann Krentz
And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall
Better Than People by Roan Parrish
Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
Cat Me If You Can (Cat in the Stacks #13) by Miranda James
Chance of a Lifetime (Providence Falls #1) by Jude Deveraux and Tara Sheets
A Dark and Stormy Knight (Victorian Rebels #7) by Kerrigan Byrne
The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Forgotten Daughter by Joanna Goodman
Jackie and Maria by Gill Paul
Jane in Love by Richel Givney
The Killings at Kingfisher Hill (New Hercule Poirot Mysteries #4) by Sophie Hannah
King of the Rising (Islands of Blood and Storm #2) by Kacen Callender
The Lost Princess Returns (Uncharted Realms #5.5) by Jeffe Kennedy
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz
The Night Swim by Megan Goldin
Space Station Down by Ben Bova and Doug Beason
Spiteful Bones (Crispin Guest #14) by Jeri Westerson
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
With or Without You by Caroline Leavitt
The Worst of All Possible Worlds (Salvagers #3) by Alex White

Review: Dead Man’s Chest by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Dead Man’s Chest by Kerry GreenwoodDead Man's Chest (Phryne Fisher, #18) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #18
Pages: 259
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on November 9, 2010
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Dot unfolded the note. "He says that his married couple will look after the divine Miss Fisher...I'll leave out a bit...their name is Johnson and they seem very reliable." Phryne got the door open at last. She stepped into the hall. "I think he was mistaken about that," she commented.
Traveling at high speed in her beloved Hispano-Suiza accompanied by her maid and trusted companion Dot, her two adoptive daughters Jane and Ruth, and their dog Molly, The Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher is off to Queenscliff. She'd promised everyone a nice holiday by the sea with absolutely no murders, but when they arrive at their rented accommodation that doesn't seem likely at all.
An empty house, a gang of teenage louts, a fisherboy saved, and the mystery of a missing butler and his wife seem to lead inexorably toward a hunt for buried treasure by the sea. But what information might the curious Surrealists be able to contribute? Phryne knows to what depths people will sink for greed, but with a glass of champagne in one hand and a pearl-handled Beretta in the other, no one is getting past her.

My Review:

“Miss Fisher was about to happen to someone again.” That’s according to Dot, Phryne Fisher’s companion/lady’s maid, when Miss Fisher, Dot, Phryne’s adopted daughters Jane and Ruth, and their dog Molly, arrive in Queenscliff, a lovely little holiday-by-the-sea town in Australia.

But Dot’s bit of internal monologue could easily serve as the opening for every book in the series, as well as every episode of the TV series that was based on it. Because the gist of pretty much everything is that Miss Fisher happens to someone, shenanigans ensue, and one or two bodies turn up.

A good time is had by all, including the reader and/or viewer as Phryne saves the day – or several days – in her own inimitable fashion, and then she swans off to happen to someone else.

That would be the very short version of the story. The details in the slightly longer version are what make this entry in the book series so much fun.

At first, the mystery in this entry is uncomfortably on the domestic side. Phryne has rented a house in Queenscliff from a casual acquaintance, expecting to arrive and find the house fully staffed and ready to welcome her and her entourage.

Instead, the house is empty, and not merely the staff are absent but so is all their furniture, the cupboard is completely bare and the back door is swinging open along with the back gate. But there’s no blood, no bodies, and it seems like nothing missing that didn’t belong to the staff, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson.

But there is one thing extra. The Johnson’s little dog, Gaston, is piteously searching through garbage trying to find enough scraps to survive on. The Johnsons doted on the tiny terrier as if he were their child, but somehow he got left behind. It doesn’t add up.

And the local constabulary doesn’t want to even attempt to make it add up. The Johnsons are gone, their effects are gone, the bitter old gossip at the end of the street witnessed the removal van come and take away all their furniture. Case closed.

But not for Phryne. Even before she gets her household organized, she’s on the trail of the missing couple. Along the way she finds a new member for her eclectic household, a scrum of unruly boys, a smuggling ring – and a surprisingly well-guarded pirate’s treasure.

Escape Rating A-: Just like yesterday, this was simply a case of the right book at the right time. I was looking for comfort reads so dipped into two series that I know will reliably pull me into their worlds and out of my own with a sigh of relief.

Phryne always delivers – a mystery, a bit of derring-do, a dead body – and a surprising amount of commentary on the world in which she lives – along with her honest contempt for a fair number of people in it.

I said in my review of Riviera Gold a few weeks ago that I’d love to be a fly on the wall at a meeting between Phryne and Mary Russell. They are contemporaries, both operating during the pre-Depression 1920s, both living in the same upper class circles – when they are not undercover on one mystery or another – and both women who are seldom shy about saying what they think, operating independently and not caring beyond the minimum necessary about what most other people think.

This particular entry in the series feels very domestic, for lack of a better word. Phryne and her family are on their own in Queenscliff, without the support of the redoubtable Butlers, the able assistance and occasional guard duty provided by Bert and Cec, or the sometimes reluctant assistance of the Melbourne CIB in the persons of Jack Robinson and Hugh Collins.

Not that Hugh doesn’t turn up before the end. But he’s not the one who saves the day – or as it turns out, night. That’s Phryne. That’s always Phryne. It’s her series, after all.

But in spite of the “walk on” role of the pirate’s treasure, most of what happens in this one is wrapped around the various households involved.

Not just Phryne’s, where they take to being on their own without any staff with a great deal of fun. It’s easy to forget that none of these women, Phryne, Dot, Jane or Ruth, began their lives in easy circumstances. Phryne may have money now, but she spent a lot of years dirt poor and has never forgotten. So, while it’s a lark to be on their own, it’s still streets above where any of them started.

And it does give Ruth a chance to try out her skills as a cook, something she wants to make a career out of. She does so well that the reader will salivate at the description of all the things she makes. There are even recipes in the back for those who want to try it for themselves.

But all of the households have a toehold in this particular mystery, from the Mason family next door, where a gang of upper class bullying hooligans is running around cutting girls’ ponytails and selling the hair, to the Greens at the end, where the local doctor’s house is ruled by the iron fist and screeching voice of his nasty, busybody mother-in-law – at least until she drops dead.

And then there’s the disorganized house of Surrealists, who may or may not know something about the various crime sprees in Queenscliff, but certainly know plenty about all the other goings on.

But no one expects that the local legend that the pirate Benito dropped a load of gold in the harbor is really true. And Phryne is certainly not planning to tell. After all, part of her scheme to find the missing Johnsons and out the smugglers involves faking the discovery of the pirate’s hoard. Letting out the secret that it’s real after all would mess up all of her plans.

One final note. I’ve had an absolute ball reading this series. I also loved the TV show. But by this point in the books it’s excruciatingly clear that the one has very little to do with the other when it comes to even the broadest details of any story. Readers will enjoy the books more if they keep them firmly separated in their minds from the TV series. They’re each marvelous, but in their own, very separate ways. Even if they both do start with the same story, Cocaine Blues.

Review: No Cats Allowed by Miranda James

Review: No Cats Allowed by Miranda JamesNo Cats Allowed (Cat in the Stacks, #7) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #7
Pages: 275
Published by Berkley on February 23, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Springtime in Mississippi is abloom with beauty, but the library’s employees are too busy worrying to stop and smell the flowers. The new library director, Oscar Reilly, is a brash, unfriendly Yankee who’s on a mission to cut costs—and his first targets are the archive and the rare book collection.   As annoying as a long-overdue book, Reilly quickly raises the hackles of everyone on staff, including Charlie’s fiery friend Melba—whom Reilly wants to replace with someone younger. But his biggest offense is declaring all four-legged creatures banned from the stacks.   With enemies aplenty, the suspect list is long when Reilly's body is discovered in the library. But things take a turn for the worse when a threatening e-mail throws suspicion on Melba.   Charlie is convinced that his friend is no murderer, especially when he catches sight of a menacing stranger lurking around the library. Now he and Diesel will have to read between the lines, before Melba is shelved under “G” for guilty…

My Review:

I pulled this out of somewhere deep in the virtually towering TBR pile because I was looking for a comfort read. I needed a book I could get into instantly. I just got the latest book in the series from Netgalley, and was sorely tempted to start it. Then I remembered that there was one of the earlier books I hadn’t read, so here we are, back in Athena Mississippi with Librarian Charlie Harris and his large and in charge Maine Coon cat Diesel.

And I dove right into this story with a sigh of relief – in spite of the murders – and didn’t emerge until I finished, feeling like my reading mojo was refreshed and that, if all is not right with the world, at least I could dive back into the reading pool from here.

One of the things I really liked about No Cats Allowed is just how true-to-life Charlie’s situation is in this book. Charlie Harris is a 50-something librarian in tiny Athena. After a career at the Houston Public Library, Charlie inherited a sprawling house in his home town and returned to his roots.

Between his inheritance and his pension, Charlie doesn’t need to work for a living. But he certainly does need to keep himself – and Diesel – mentally occupied. And that’s where his work for Athena College comes in, where he serves as the Rare Books Cataloger and maintains the archives. And also how he seems to find himself involved in solving murders.

But this particular case is absolutely steeped in the atmosphere of working in a library, and everything about solving this case is very much involved with the way that libraries work, and the way that they go wrong when they don’t.

In other words, the situation at the library and the college rang very true-to-life, even though the resulting murders were definitely fictional.

Not that the victim didn’t deserve it – although maybe not quite the way it happened.

When the bastard of an interim library director’s dead body is discovered crushed between the compact shelving in the library’s basement, it’s easier for Charlie to determine who didn’t want to kill the man than who did, because it seems like the entire library staff, and possibly a significant number of staff in the college as a whole, wanted him dead. And with good reason.

But nothing about the crime seems to add up. And neither do the library’s accounts – which may just be the motive after all.

Escape Rating A-: I had too much fun with this. It was just the right book at the right time, so I was all in from the first page and stayed in to the end. This was the only book in the series I hadn’t read, so it also answers a bunch of questions about situations that came up later, like the biggie about just how and why Charlie ended up as the interim library director, a job he definitely did not want, while the search for a new director was ongoing. And why they needed a new director in the first place.

Athena, like Cabot Cove and Midsomer County, has a terribly high murder rate for its population. It might be a very nice place to live but it seems like visiting can be a bit too deadly.

What was fun for this reader was the insight into the way that the library worked. All of Charlie’s colleagues reminded me very much of people that I worked with over my own career – including, I have to admit, both the murderer and the victim. As Charlie points out, neither management nor budgeting are skills taught in library school, so there’s a lot of “winging it” on both counts. Sometimes on VERY stubby wings.

The author of this series is a real-life librarian, and that experience certainly shows in Charlie’s working life in every book. He’s “one of us” and it reads as accurate. I’ve always said that Charlie is someone I’d love to have coffee with at a conference – when we get back to having in person conferences, that is.

As is usual with a cozy mystery series, part of what makes reading this so much fun is seeing where Charlie’s team is at in their lives. What’s lovely about Charlie’s team is that they are also his family, whether they are family by blood or family of choice. They’re just a lovely bunch of people, and that definitely includes Diesel.

Unlike some other felines in cozies, Diesel is just a cat. A very big cat, and an extremely well-behaved cat, but definitely a cat. (Diesel weights 36 pounds, approximately the weight of all four of our cats combined!) He’s a comfort – and a comfortable – animal. And in spite of being very chatty, as cats can sometimes be, he doesn’t speak in English. Not that he can’t make himself perfectly understood by his human, but that’s a talent that all cats have.

But Diesel is utterly adorable in his very cat-ness, and the series, as well as the life of its protagonist, is richer for his presence. He’s a scene-stealer in the best possible way.

This is a series I love, and turn to whenever I need a comfort read. I’ll be back when the urge strikes, probably sooner rather than later considering just how uncomfortable 2020 has been so far, when Cat Me If You Can comes out later this summer.

Review: Pirate’s Persuasion by Lisa Kessler + Giveaway

Review: Pirate’s Persuasion by Lisa Kessler + GiveawayPirate's Persuasion (Sentinels of Savannah #4) by Lisa Kessler
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #4
Pages: 280
Published by Entangled: Amara on June 22, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Immortal pirate Drake Cole has a reputation in Savannah for his custom woodworking and historical restorations, but his work has grown into an obsession. He's become a stranger to his crew since the Sea Dog sank in 1795. None of them know his painful secret. A young stowaway went down with the ship, one that Drake swore a blood oath to protect.
The ghost of a young boy, lost at sea over two hundred years ago, leads local medium, Heather Storrey right to Drake’s door. He saved her life before, and now she has a chance to return the favor, but how can she protect him from a curse that no one can see?
A dark coven possesses the figurehead from the Flying Dutchman, and if Heather and the immortal Sea Dog crew don't locate the relic soon, Drake may be lost to them forever. Heather has seen the passionate man behind the veil of guilt, and she's determined to free him from his self-imposed prison, and persuade this pirate to love again.

My Review:

Pirate’s Persuasion is the 4th book in the Sentinels of Savannah series, which began with Magnolia Mystic. And that’s probably where you should start if you haven’t already met the crew of the Sea Dog. (You don’t really HAVE to, but you probably should read at least the first one first!)

You would think a story about pirates would be historical romance, but this isn’t. And you would think that a series about immortals still living in a haunted city would be about vampires, but that’s not what’s happening here either.

Instead, the crew of the Sea Dog managed to miss their scheduled trip to Davy Jones’ Locker back in 1795 by having drunk from the Holy Grail not long before their ship went down off the coast of Savannah.

Yes, that Grail. It’s been around. And it still is, as the events of this series have shown.

Over the centuries immortality has turned out to be as much of a curse as blessing, although not so much of a curse that any of them are willing to give it up – at least not without a greater blessing to counterbalance the effects of mortality.

As this book opens, three of the members of the Sea Dog’s crew have found their happily ever after with women tangentially connected to the paranormal and supernatural community of Savannah. Some of the couples have chosen immortality together, while others have chosen mortality together.

The together part being the entire point.

Ship’s carpenter Drake Cole has found immortality more of a burden than the others, but still chose not to give it up when faced with the choice in Pirate’s Passion. But Drake left too much behind in 1795 to live easily in the 21st century, and both come back to haunt him, literally and figuratively, in the course of this story.

The old Sea Dog had a stowaway back in 1795, Drake’s nephew Thomas. When the ship went down, Drake believed that they would die together, only for Drake to wash up on shore with the rest of the crew, and for the boy to meet Davy Jones alone. Drake has never gotten past his guilt for bringing the child aboard – and for not dying with him.

He also left the woman he loved behind in England when the Sea Dog set sail, and he’s never gotten over that loss.

His past catches up with him and tries to drag him under when a beautiful woman who talks to the dead tells him that his nephew asked her to pass on the message that his uncle was in danger, here and now, from someone very much alive.

Someone with seriously nefarious plans to ruin both Drake and the woman who has always held his heart – life after life after life.

Unless death manages to come for them both.

Escape Rating B: The premise behind this series is still an absolute hoot. On the one hand we have those immortal pirates. And who doesn’t love a good pirate romance? On the other hand, we have, well, the 21st century in which they are still living. On my third hand (call me an octopus for this one) we have not just the Holy Grail that gave the crew their immortality, but also other ancient and extremely powerful artifacts, like Pandora’s Box featured in Pirate’s Pleasure, and the figurehead of Davy Jones’ ship, The Flying Dutchman, in this story.

And on my fourth hand, we have Agent David Bale of Department 13, the government agency that deals with the paranormal, the legendary, the supernatural, and all of the other dangerous objects that need to be locked up in Warehouse 13 or Area 51. Last, but not least, we have the Digi Robins, a group of sometimes white hat but mostly black hat hackers who comb the dark web looking for priceless objects to steal – so that they can use the proceeds to help people with expensive medical problems who are all out of options.

Five points make a pentagram, which is pretty apt for this story, as it mixes the immortals with a beautiful medium who can talk to the dead and a coven of witches who plans to use the figurehead of Davy Jones’ ship to control the spirits of the dead. And at the center, a witch who will use any means available to get her revenge on everyone she thinks owes her – especially her sister and the pirate she loves.

Like the previous entries in this series, there’s a lot going on between all of the various elements. But the center of this one is medium Heather Storrey. She thinks she’s just taking a warning from a ghost to the family he left behind, only to eventually figure out that she’s been at the center of a dastardly plot all along.

I have to admit that while I love this series and it’s blend of the historical, the contemporary and the supernatural, Heather’s part in this story gave me a bit of a fit. I liked her as a person, I loved her relationship with Drake, and I’ve always enjoyed the camaraderie of the Sea Dog’s crew, but it felt obvious at least to this reader that her sister was the evil witch (literally) at the heart of the whole plot, that she had been after Heather all along, and that Heather was way too naive about their entire relationship. It may have been a case of hope over experience, but I really wanted to hit Heather with a clue-by-four a little too early on. And that spoiled the suspense aspects of the plot for me.

So, while I did enjoy the story, and I liked the way it moved the entire arc of the Sea Dog’s crew forwards, Heather is not my favorite of the heroines so far. That doesn’t mean I won’t be back, waiting on the dock for the next time the Sea Dog comes to port – because I definitely will.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings

Review: Flyaway by Kathleen JenningsFlyaway by Kathleen Jennings
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Dark Fantasy, horror
Pages: 176
Published by Tor.com on July 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In a small Western Queensland town, a reserved young woman receives a note from one of her vanished brothers—a note that makes question her memories of their disappearance and her father’s departure.
A beguiling story that proves that gothic delights and uncanny family horror can live—and even thrive—under a burning sun, Flyaway introduces readers to Bettina Scott, whose search for the truth throws her into tales of eerie dogs, vanished schools, cursed monsters, and enchanted bottles.
In these pages Jennings assures you that gothic delights, uncanny family horror, and strange, unsettling prose can live—and even thrive—under a burning sun.
Holly Black describes as “half mystery, half fairy tale, all exquisitely rendered and full of teeth.” Flyaway enchants you with the sly, beautiful darkness of Karen Russell and a world utterly its own.

My Review:

Flyaway is seriously creepy and extremely weird. It also proves that a place doesn’t need to be dark, gloomy and cold in order to generate plenty of shivers and chills. There’s plenty to be scared of in the hot, dry and sun parched, and there are just as many lonely places in the Australian Bush as there are in the dark castles of Europe or the ghost towns of the American West.

And family is everywhere. If most people are killed by someone they know, and most accidents occur in or near the home, it makes entirely too much creeptastic sense that your relatives are the ones you need to be afraid of the most, especially in an isolated place like Inglewell. Because Bettina Scott has more reasons to be afraid of her entire family than any one young woman ever should.

At first I thought Inglewell was going to turn out to be a kind of Brigadoon. Was I ever wrong!

Also at first, I thought the problem was that Bettina Scott was being drugged by her mother. There was certainly something wrong with Bettina and that relationship. And in the end there definitely was – just not exactly what I thought at the beginning.

Actually nothing about this story was exactly what I thought. Flyaway is as grim as any of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in the original versions, without the moralizing lesson at the end.

There’s a saying that the world is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we CAN imagine. But the world this author has imagined is way stranger than anywhere I’d ever want to be. Maybe that’s the point of that saying after all.

Escape Rating B-: This was weird. I know, I’ve said that already. But it was – very creepy and extremely weird. It’s also the darkest of dark fantasy, the kind that falls right over the border into horror.

It’s also the kind of horror that sort of, I think spirals out might be the best phrase, from a beginning that doesn’t seem too outre. Not that Bettina’s relationship with her mother doesn’t feel wrong from the very beginning, but at first it’s the kind of wrong that could have a logical explanation – or at least as logical as brainwashing, or drugs, or Munchausen syndrome by proxy. All horrible but not supernatural.

But as the story goes on, the story of Bettina breaking away from her mother, it’s interspersed with stories of supernatural horror that all take place in Inglewell, in the not too distant past. At first those stories don’t seem related, but as those stories catch up to Bettina’s “now’ we learn just how isolated, insular and downright creepy the area really is.

It’s like the isolation distilled the creep factor into something that really, really shouldn’t be running around in this world – but is. A something that every once in a while sucks in a new victim, and that entirely too many residents seem to accept as just part of life there.

But I left this book extremely glad that I don’t have to. I’m still creeped out. I really need a cocoa and a lie down after this one. This is not a way I ever want to pass again.

Review: Ghostrider by M.L. Buchman

Review: Ghostrider by M.L. BuchmanGhostrider (Miranda Chase NTSB #4) Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #4
Pages: 354
Published by Buchman Bookworks on June 23, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An AC-130J “Ghostrider”—the latest variant of America’s Number One ground-attack plane for over fifty years—goes down in the Colorado Rockies. Except the data doesn’t match the airframe.

Air-crash savant Miranda Chase and her NTSB team are sent in to investigate. But what they uncover reveals a far greater threat—sabotage.

It could be a prelude to a whole new type of war; this time one far too close to home.

My Review:

The more I read this series, (I’ve read them all so far and loved every one of them, including this one), the more they remind me of Tom Clancy. Not the politics. Clancy’s viewpoint was all over his books, his political agenda was fairly clear. But the competence porn aspect of Clancy’s work, that all of his operatives knew what the hell they were doing and were heroes because of it, that part is certainly present in Miranda Chase and her series. Along with the smart banter and back-and-forth asides that pepper Clancy’s work.

Miranda Chase and her team are just plain fun to be with, and they are damn good at their jobs. In fact, they are the best team that the NTSB has. It is great watching them work.

Also nail-bitingly tense when they get just a bit too involved with that work, as they do in Ghostrider.

Miranda Chase is a savant when it comes to determining the cause of airplane crashes. She’s also extremely intelligent as well as autistic. And all of her gifts are a part of making her who and what she is – which is totally awesome if not always socially aware. In fact she’s seldom socially aware, but it is NEVER played for laughs.

The Ghostrider in this particular instance is certainly NOT the Marvel character, but rather, like the titles of all the books in this series, an airplane, specifically a military airplane, the Lockheed AC-130J Ghostrider, that has crashed near Aspen. And, like all of the other planes – and plans – that have crashed so far in this series, there’s something “off” about this particular crash and Miranda and her team are called in to investigate.

An investigation that turns up a whole bunch of red flags and something completely weird that would normally take the incident off of Miranda’s docket. She became an NTSB investigator in order to figure out what caused each crash she investigates so that it can’t happen again.

But this crash wasn’t a mechanical or technical failure. It wasn’t even pilot error. It was a deliberate crash caused by the pilot. Miranda can help make planes safer, but she has zero insights in making humans less stupid or insane – or whatever this mess might be attributable to.

She’s about to sign off when a second Ghostrider crashes, this time in California, also due to sabotage, while Miranda is closing out the Colorado investigation. It becomes clear that there’s something bigger and much more dangerous going on.

A something that Miranda and her team find themselves literally in the middle of. And something that some of them might not get out of alive.

Escape Rating A: The previous story in this series, Condor, had a lot to do with the emotional baggage that Miranda’s team is carrying. The series begins with Miranda’s baggage, that she became an NTSB investigator in order to prevent other children from losing their parents in plane crashes. But that story had a lot to do with Holly’s baggage, with the reasons that she left the Australian SAS. This story deals with other people’s baggage. Whole truckloads of it. Or perhaps that should be cargo loads?

The Ghostrider crashes that the team investigates aren’t random, aren’t mechanical, aren’t technical, aren’t pilot “error”. But they certainly are pilot-caused, just that the pilots acted deliberately and not accidentally.

Like many of the stories in this series – and OMG just start with Drone and be prepared for a fantastic binge-read – the reasons for both the crashes involve a whole lot of skullduggery at the highest levels.

Along with a retiring general who wants to go out, not exactly in a blaze of glory, but with the satisfaction of a necessary job done. Alternatively with the satisfaction of taking a whole bunch of bastards that need killing out with him. It’s all a matter of perspective.

One is left with the feeling that his cause is righteous, but his methods create way too much collateral damage and have the potential to create a whole lot more. It’s a question about whether the ends justify the means in a case where there are no easy answers – and there shouldn’t be.

That the heroes and the sorta/kinda villains in this one turn out to be, not exactly on the same side, but not exactly on opposite sides, makes for an edge-of-the-seat thriller that will have readers white-knuckling through the middle and gasping at the end – while still thinking about where the big picture went wrong and what different actions might have made it go right. Or at least right-er.

So a great story, fantastic characters, thrilling action and some thought provoked in the end. A job very well done, both for Miranda’s team and for the author of this terrific series. May there be many, many more!