Stacking the Shelves (368)

Stacking the Shelves

This is going to be one of my weird STS posts, where I have books without covers. Well, presumably books without covers yet, at any rate. This is in service of the Thanksgiving holiday, as we’ll be away this week so I’m putting things together early – or at least as early as possible. Or too, early in the case of most of these books.

For Review:
Automatic Reload by Ferrett Steinmetz
The Four Symbols (Black Sun #1) by Eric Giacometti & Jacques Ravenne
Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams
The Ranger of Marzanna (Goddess War #1) by Jon Skovron
The Sin in the Steel (Fall of the Gods #1) by Ryan Van Loan

Black Friday Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Black Friday Book Bonanza Giveaway Hop, hosted by yours truly, Reading Reality, and the Caffeinated Reviewer!

Today is Black Friday, so named because in times past, the day after Thanksgiving marked the day that retail stores finances tipped from red ink (receipts not matching expenses) to black ink. It’s also the unofficial start of the Holiday season – and the equally unofficial start of the Xmas shopping season – hence that red ink to black switch. Even though stores don’t exactly use paper ledgers and ink to do their accounting, the principle is still true. Today is the day when retail starts to turn a profit.

That this year Thanksgiving is relatively late in the calendar has more than a few of them hoping that there’s enough time to get enough people in their stores – whether physically or virtually – to make the magic happen again this year. (Next year it’s a tinge earlier. C’est la vie)

This is not a day when a lot of blogging happens. People are either out shopping or still recovering from yesterday’s turkey coma. Still, I’m going to do my little bit to help you with your holiday shopping, even if it’s just a present for yourself.

The rafflecopter below is your chance at either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository to treat yourself – or someone else.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Black Friday Giveaway Hop Participants

1. Reading Reality (INT)
2. Caffeinated Reviewer (INT)
3. Angel’s Guilty Pleasures (INT)
4. Read Your Writes Book Reviews (US)
5. Samantha The Book Disciple
6. Nicci @ Sunny Buzzy Books (INT)
7. Tanya @ Girl Plus Books
8. Gretl@ Goldilox and the Three Weres (US)
9. Ilovebooksandstuffblog
10. Beauty Info Zone (US/Can)
11. The Mommy Island
12. Dashing Bling Read
13. The Attic Girl
14. Maureen @ Maureen’s Books
15. For What It’s Worth
16. Suzie Olsen (US)
17. Tabatha @Broken Soul Reviews
18. Carol’s Notebook (Int)
19. Readeropolis (US)

Learn more about Black Friday Giveaway Hop here.
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Thanksgiving 2019

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Alternatively, Happy Turkey Coma Day. Or even Happy Parade Day.

Possibly even Happy semi-official start of the Xmas Season.

Last year, Galen posted a reading list along with a picture of tiny, bitey Miss Hecate, who was thankful for her timely rescue the month before. So I’ll leave you this year with a picture of the full-grown Miss Hecate, still grateful for that timely rescue, just as we are grateful for her playful advent into our lives. And as you can see from her picture below, she’s expecting someone to be grateful that she brought him a mousie.

 

Review: Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

Review: Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anna WaterhouseMycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Mycroft Holmes and Sherlock #3
Pages: 336
Published by Titan Books on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The new novel by NBA All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, starring brothers Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes.

It is 1873, and as the economies of Europe threaten to crumble, Mycroft Holmes finds himself in service to the Crown once again. A distant relative of Queen Victoria has been slain by the Fire Four Eleven killer, a serial murderer who leaves no mark upon his victims, only a mysterious calling card. Meanwhile, Sherlock has already taken it upon himself to solve the case, as his interest in the criminal mind grows into an obsession.

Mycroft begrudgingly allows Sherlock to investigate, as Ai Lin—the woman he is still in love with—needs his aid. Her fiancé has been kidnapped, and the only man who might know his fate is a ruthless arms dealer with a reputation for killing those who cross him. Mycroft persuades his friend Cyrus Douglas to help find the young man, but Douglas himself is put in harm’s way.

As Sherlock travels the country on the hunt for the Fire Four Eleven murderer, both he and Mycroft will discover that the greed of others is at the root of the evil they are trying to unearth…

My Review:

In this third book in the Mycroft Holmes and Sherlock series – after the marvelous Mycroft Holmes and Mycroft and Sherlock – we have the portrait of the bureaucrat as a young and still surprisingly slender and exceedingly insufferable young man alongside the portrait of the detective as an even more insufferable young man. We also see their sibling rivalry at full flower – and it’s not a pretty sight.

Absolutely fascinating, but not pretty at all. Mycroft is enough years older than Sherlock that he expects to be respected and obeyed by his younger brother while Sherlock is both intelligent enough to know his own mind and already detached enough from his own emotions and any thought of social consequences to respect little and obey no one unless it serves his still developing ends.

And in their relationship in this story as well as the previous we see the seeds of what is known of that relationship in the canonical Holmes stories – two men, tied by blood but not affinity, of extreme intelligence but with few emotions, acknowledging their relationship and sometimes using it while having virtually no sympathy for each other.

We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. At the point in their lives when this story takes place, Mycroft is in his mid-20s and Sherlock is nearing 20 – and attempting to escape the confines of academia at Oxford.

As was true in Mycroft and Sherlock, there are two cases in this story. As it is Mycroft’s series rather than Sherlock’s, Mycroft’s case is both more important and takes up more of the story, while Sherlock’s, although important, doesn’t have quite the same consequences.

As fits the lives they are growing into, Mycroft’s case has international ramifications, while Sherlock’s is entirely local to England and fits more into his canon of detective stories. Sherlock is after a diabolically clever serial killer, a case that it not out of his later line but is currently stretching both Mycroft’s patience and Sherlock’s growing abilities.

Mycroft, on the other hand, is after an international arms dealer who is trying to start a war between China and Japan. The stakes are much higher for Mycroft, and not just because his beloved Britain will inevitably get dragged into any conflict on one side or the other if only to protect their power in India and the subcontinent.

But the part of the plot that twists Mycroft into knots is the danger to the woman he loves but cannot have. Her fiance is either a catspaw or conspirator in the plot. Mycroft thinks he’s caught on the horns or a dilemma between love and duty – only to find that the place he’s truly caught is between conflicting hells.

Escape Rating A-: Unlike the previous two books in the series, this is one that I listened to all the way through. I believe that the narrator, Damian Lynch, is intended to represent the older, calmer, and more dispassionate voice of Cyrus Douglas in his narration, and he does an excellent job representing Douglas as narrator and chronicler as well as voicing the considerably younger and more excitable Holmes’ Brothers.

Not that Douglas doesn’t have his own important part to play in this case – among his other duties he acts as Mycroft’s conscience. A conscience that Mycroft definitely needs but listens to less and less. Which is part of him becoming the man we know from his first appearance in the canon, The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter – at least in personality if not in physical aspect.

Sherlock’s case, while being as convoluted as any in the Conan Doyle stories, is a relatively straightforward case of investigation. The fascination in observing Sherlock in this story is in watching as he is in the process of developing the methods we are familiar with. He is young, he is still learning, and he is almost certainly making it up as he goes along. He’s already traveled a good way towards becoming the persona we’re familiar with, but he’s still in the process of creating the methodology that made him famous. He also still makes a lot more mistakes.

But the heart of this story, in more ways than one, is the case that Mycroft is pursuing. We see him on his way to becoming the spider at the heart of Britain’s web of intelligence and operation. His entree into this case is through the young Chinese woman Ai Lin, a woman that he loves but knows that he cannot marry – and vice versa. They would be cast out of both of their cultures in ways that neither is willing to risk.

So he is resolved to do his best for her, to find her fiance who has become embroiled in the arms trade and is being offered as a sacrifice so that his employer can continue to deal with both sides of the current Sino-Japanese conflict. Mycroft begins the case somewhat blinded by his affections, and gulled into believing in his own intellectual superiority – only to discover that he’s been mistaken about the later while deciding that he needs to ignore the former – if he can.

His conclusions in the end put him squarely in the midst of this week’s theme, whether or not the ends justify the means, and who gets to decide the answer to that question. Mycroft makes a decision that is arguably the best for the country that he loves and serves, knowing that the cost of that decision will be borne by others who had no part in making it. He believes he is doing the right thing, but there is no one to whom he is accountable.

And the cost is excruciatingly high, and will be paid in ways that Mycroft only becomes aware of as the story closes. Yet we know that he would not change his decisions.

In the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, this is the central core of Mary’s estrangement from Mycroft. That he believes he sees all, knows all, and makes the best decisions for all, but there are no checks and balances on his decisions and he never has to answer for his actions to anyone. Mycroft has maneuvered himself into a hidden position of absolute power, and everyone knows the saying about about absolute power and the inevitability of it corrupting absolutely.

At the end of Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage, Mycroft is left to deal with the painful consequences of his actions – consequences that I expect to ripple through future books in this series. Books that I eagerly await.

Review: Mission: Her Freedom by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Freedom by Anna HackettMission: Her Freedom (Team 52 #6) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Team 52 #6
Pages: 220
Published by Anna Hackett on November 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

A badass combat medic will do anything to save her friend and teammate, but on the run from some very bad guys, she starts to look at her tattooed tech geek friend in a very different way…

Former Naval Intelligence officer Brooks Jameson might have lots of muscles and ink, but he’s a proud geek. He loves computers and his job—taking care of all things tech for his covert, black ops team of badasses—Team 52. But when he finds himself snatched off a Las Vegas street and in the hands of some very bad people who are after a powerful, dangerous artifact, he knows he’s in a fight for survival. Then his teammate Callie Kimura—gorgeous and way-out-of-his-league—strides through the door to rescue him…

Callie’s childhood and career in the Air Force taught her to never risk loving anyone, because losing them leaves you bleeding. She has everything she needs as the medic for Team 52, and when Brooks gets abducted, she’ll do anything to get her friend back. But when they end up on the run together, Callie starts to see the hunky geek in a very different light.

As Callie and Brooks battle to stop a deadly artifact being used in an evil plan, they ignite a scorching desire that shocks them both. But some scars—and the demons that made them—run deep, and Brooks knows he’ll need all his intelligence, patience, and love to convince the beautiful combat medic to let her heart be free.

My Review:

This is a very different take on whether the ends justify the means than yesterday’s book. Although there are other similarities.

Both are in the romantic suspense/action adventure vein, so in both stories the romance is fast and adrenaline fueled from the very beginning.

But Brooks Jameson and Callie Kimura’s romance, while it happens fast and furious, doesn’t come out of complete left field. Well, it does to them, but not to the reader. Because these two people know each other, maybe not intimately as the story opens, but certainly well, as both are members of the elite covert black ops Team 52.

So this is a friends-into-lovers story, and very much so. Team 52 is a very tight-knit group of mostly former elite military operatives and by this point in the series its clear that they’ve been working together very successfully for quite a while.

It’s just that Brooks and Callie have rather different roles in the team, roles that mean that they don’t interact as much as Shaw and Claudia do in Hell Squad, for example. Brooks and Callie are not both operatives at the pointy end of the Team 52 spear.

Instead, Brooks is their tech guru and Callie is the team medic. She goes out with the team while Brooks stays back at the bunker and coordinates the ops. Not that he’s not just as ripped as the rest of the guys, but he’s not really trained to take down baddies with a gun – only with a keyboard.

So when Brooks gets kidnapped, Callie is the one who rides to his rescue. When they both end up captured, they each discover new and interesting facets of a person that they thought they knew and already liked. Being forced to depend on each other and only each other changes their relationship in ways that neither expected – and neither is completely sure is a good idea.

But the case that Team 52, and especially Brooks, have been dragged into is one that they can’t ignore – since it keeps reaching out to get them. Whether Brooks and Callie will have a chance to explore the spark between them has to take second place to a crazy woman with an artifact that can draw not just sparks, but thunder and lightning out of the sky on command.

Lightning that she’s aiming straight at Team 52.

Escape Rating B: There were parts of this one that I really liked, and parts that didn’t work quite as well. Overall, I had a good reading time. I just have quibbles. I often have quibbles.

I love a good friends-into-lovers romance, and Mission: Her Freedom is definitely that. (I can’t figure out how this has anything to do with Callie’s freedom exactly but then I generally find the titles in this particular series a bit cheesy.)

I think that where this one drove me a bit batty was in the early stages. That some baddies go after Brooks so that he can hack into his own security to retrieve an artifact makes sense. The baddies in this series are usually very bad so this is a very plausible opening. That the team needs to rescue him because there are just so damn many of them also works.

But when Callie manages to locate where Brooks is being kept, she goes in alone to rescue him. If she’s as good an operative as the Team usually is, that shouldn’t happen unless there’s an imminent threat to Brooks’ life – which there isn’t. All she does is spook the baddies into taking them both away to someplace that the team doesn’t have a bead on – making the rescue take longer and giving those baddies something to threaten Brooks with – and vice versa. She made the situation more dangerous by going in half-arsed and should have been dressed down for it – but wasn’t.

So this one went off the rails for me a bit at that point even though everything that came after worked really well. Your reading mileage may vary.

One of the differences between the Treasure Hunter Security series that spawned Team 52 and Team 52 itself is that the THS baddies were all about the money. Not that there wasn’t plenty of crazy, but money was at the heart. After all, the love of money is the root of all evil and those evildoers had plenty of roots.

This particular entry in Team 52 isn’t about the money at all. It’s about the crazy, which goes back to my comment at the beginning about the ends justifying the means. There’s always an artifact on the loose at the center of a Team 52 story. In this case, the artifact is the wind jewel that can call storms – deadly storms.

It’s the reason – for really, really loose definitions of the word “reason” – that brings the crazy into this particular entry into the series. Because the person who is conjuring storms in the worst possible places is doing it to “cleanse” the world of what she thinks of as unworthy people – so that the rest can live in what she thinks of as utopia. But will undoubtedly be anything but.

She’s convinced that her “ends”, her goal of making the world a “better” place filled with only the “best” people, justifies her means, by which I mean mass murder on a global scale. It could be said that she means well, at least if one squints (a LOT) but she certainly doesn’t do well. Making this a much simpler question about ends and means than yesterday’s book.

She’s crazy, she has to be taken down – and the wind jewel locked away – and there’s no question about it being the right thing for Team 52 to get the job done!

Review: The Cost of Honor by Diana Munoz Stewart + Giveaway

Review: The Cost of Honor by Diana Munoz Stewart + GiveawayThe Cost of Honor (Black Ops Confidential, #3) by Diana Munoz Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Black Ops Confidential #3
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on November 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He gave up everything to escape his family

The only male to be adopted into the notorious Parish family, Tony Parish always did right by his vigilante sisters. But when an attempt to protect one of them went horribly wrong, he had to fake his own death to escape his fanatical family. Tony set sail and ended up in Dominica―face to face with the woman of his dreams...

Now he must give up Honor to save her

After the death of her mother, Honor Silva moved to Dominica, where her family could help her heal and move on. But her activist mother left her more than money, she left her proof that could take down one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.

Tony gave up everything he thought he knew when he fled his family. But when a threat too dangerous for Tony and Honor to fight on their own closes in, he has no choice but to go to them for help. Problem is, they'll demand something in return―something that could cost Tony not just Honor, but also the love that changed him forever.

My Review:

Through a certain lens, all three of this week’s books are wrapped around the question about whether the ends justify the means – and who gets to make that decision.

The way that this is worked out in The Cost of Honor, and in the entire Black Ops Confidential series, makes this both a harder and a deeper story than the events on its surface. And a fitting conclusion to the story arc begun in the awesome I Am Justice. (The book is awesome and so is the character of Justice Parrish.)

While some readers have said that this book can be read as a standalone, I’m not totally sure that’s true. Because this story brings full circle the events of that first book, and also adds new layers to the question that was asked in the second book, The Price of Grace.

It’s the question of whether the Parrish family and its League of Warrior Women is just a tight-knit family of adoption – or if it’s actually more of a cult.

That’s an answer I’m not quite sure of by the end of the story. I actually think the question is even more wide open now than it was at the beginning.

The story in The Cost of Honor is the story of one of the few men adopted into that League of Warrior Women – Tony Parrish. A Tony Parrish who either betrayed the family or tried to protect it at the beginning of I Am Justice – and who let his family believe he was dead rather than face the music of that seeming betrayal.

By this point in Tony’s story, he’s been on the run for months. The family he left behind has finally discovered that he didn’t die after all – and they are pissed.

It’s not all about the lie. Well, it is about the lie about him being dead, and the depths of everyone’s grief. But it’s really about the schism that his departure has created in a family that has prided itself on its rock-solid unity for the past 40 years. A unity that has been protected by their ability to erase inconvenient memories and emotions – like the emotions that led to Tony’s disappearance and his memories of a family that acts as judge, jury and executioner on those who have avoided, evaded or co-opted the law.

Because Tony has been found just as he’s found someone worth keeping ALL his memories intact for. But Honor Silva in just the kind of trouble that his family is expert at fixing. Bringing them in will mean that they will “fix” him in return for their help.

The cost of Tony’s honor may be the loss of her. It’s a price that he may be willing to pay – but Honor definitely is NOT.

Escape Rating B: I leave this book, and this series, with a whole boatload of mixed feelings. About the size of the boat used in the “big finish” rescue that concludes the action of this story.

There were three parts to this story, the romance between Tony and Honor, Tony’s very real fears of being found by his family and having his memory erased, and the equally real danger that Honor finds herself in just as Tony enters her life.

The romance was sweet and very hot. Extremely hot. While the romantic element of romantic suspense like this series are often fast and adrenaline fueled, the hot-sex-into-love relationship between Tony and Honor feels almost too fast for their characters and has more than a whiff of insta-love to it.

The danger that Honor is in is very real, but felt at first like it came a bit out of the blue. And then the story digs into Honor’s past, and her mother’s past, and keeps on digging. Until it finds itself very near something like the Harvey Weinstein case, only even longer lasting and with even deadlier consequences. This got deeper and darker than I expected, and I mean that in the best way possible.

But then, on my third hand, there’s Tony’s story. He wants to help Honor. He needs to help Honor. And he needs to run from his family who mean well in the broadest sense but may not mean the best for him. In order to protect their secret operations, operations which really, really need to be protected, they’re going to fuck with Tony’s mind and memories.

I don’t know about you, but I’d run too. While the theory behind what they plan to do is something I’ve run across before, it still feels like something that no one should do, particularly in the name of “love” the way that it’s presented here. Even though this does manage to get to a happy ending I found that part extremely troublesome. Every organization needs people who ask hard questions. And we are the product of who we’ve been, both the good and the bad parts. That everything manages to work out in the end felt like someone got let off the hook in a way that sticks in my mind with very troublesome thoughts.

The Parrish family have decided that the end result of protecting their operations justifies the means of messing with their own people’s minds and memories. And I’m troubled by that being the happy ending. Your reading mileage may definitely vary.

This is one to read, and ponder. And keep right on pondering. I still am.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Cost of Honor to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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 11-24-19

Sunday Post

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I seem to be having one of those weekends where my sh*t and I are not only not together, we’re not even speaking to one another!

Thanksgiving is this week, which feels, I don’t know, not exactly early but not exactly on point somehow. It’s like it snuck up on me when I wasn’t looking. Or that even after five years back in the South I still expect Thanksgiving to be accompanied by winter weather. Which it isn’t here. But then, I usually don’t feel like winter here really FEELS like winter. Not that it’s exactly warm, but it’s never below zero and only occasionally below freezing, so how can that be winter? Of course, that’s one of the reasons I love living here.

Like I said, my sh*t and I are not together this weekend. On the other hand, there’s a kitten sleeping under my chair, so things are definitely looking up! Well, at least things are looking up if I’m looking down – at the kitten.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop (ends TUESDAY!!!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Gratitude Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

A+ Review: The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss
A- Review: Permafrost by Alistair Reynolds
B Review: The Pawful Truth by Miranda James
A Guest Review by Amy: Accidentally Yours by Bettye Griffin
A- Review: Drone by M.L. Buchman
Stacking the Shelves (367)

Coming This Week:

The Cost of Honor by Diana Munoz Stewart (blog tour review)
Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareen Abdul Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse (review)
Mission: Her Freedom by Anna Hackett (review)
Black Friday Giveaway Hop

Stacking the Shelves (367)

Stacking the Shelves

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m having the damnedest time wrapping my head about Thanksgiving being this coming week. I know it’s not too early, but my brain keeps expecting it to be colder if it’s really Thanksgiving. Which it really is – no matter what I think of the subject.

For Review:
An Alaskan Christmas (Wild River #1) by Jennifer Snow
Country Strong (Painted Pony Creek #1) by Linda Lael Miller
Hanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery by Sharon Ibbotson
How to Be A Movie Star (How to Be #2) by TJ Klune
The Last Tourist (Milo Weaver #4) by Olen Steinhauer
Sea Change by Nancy Kress
Who Speaks for the Damned (Sebastian St. Cyr #15) by C.S. Harris

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Upon the Flight of the Queen (Ring-Sworn Trilogy #2) by Howard Andrew Jones (audio)

Review: Drone by M.L. Buchman

Review: Drone by M.L. BuchmanDrone Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #1
Pages: 422
Published by Buchman Bookworks on November 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

China’s newest stealth J-31 jet fighter goes missing. A C-130 Hercules transport plane lies shattered in the heart of America’s Top Secret military airbase — Groom Lake in the Nevada Test and Training Range.

A supersonic drone flies Black Ops missions from the most secure hangar in the nation.

The CIA, the military, and the National Reconnaissance Office are all locked in a power struggle.
One woman is trapped in the middle. Miranda Chase, lead crash investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, becomes a pawn in a very dangerous game. Burdened with a new team, she must connect the pieces to stay alive. And she must do it before the wreckage of her past crashes down upon her.

My Review:

Drone was nothing like I expected – and that turned out to be an excellent thing. (I’m also thinking that there’s a pun in here somewhere, as a drone was nothing that anyone in the story expected – excellent or otherwise.)

Instead of the military romance or romantic suspense that this author is well-known for – and deservedly so – Drone is much more like a spy thriller. And it feels a whole lot closer to Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games than M.L. Buchman’s The Night is Mine. Or it would if Jack Ryan were more than a bit like Temperance Brennan in Bones.

I’m not mixing metaphors, I promise. And I’ll explain in a bit.

The main story in Drone, the part that leads to the spy thriller aspects, mixes the seemingly mundane with the possibly outre – as exemplified by the location, Groom Lake Nevada, otherwise known as Area 51 – at least in part.

There’s been a plane crash. When there’s a civilian plane crash, the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) is called in to determine the reason for the crash. While there the potential element of searching for who to blame, the true purpose is to discover if the crash was preventable and make necessary changes so that it doesn’t happen again – at least not in the same way. But this isn’t a civilian crash.

This particular crash is just weird, as it seems like this military helicopter has crashed in the midst of a secure installation it had no business being in. Jurisdiction has the potential to get very confused – and it does. Along with the usual fighting over turf.

NTSB agent Miranda Chase finds herself diverted from her trip home in order to take charge of the investigation, along with a new team of agents that she has never even met before. Only to find herself facing the business end of a military revolver as the commander of the base does not want her, the NTSB, or anyone else poking around his base.

He has good reason. Figuring out just what that reason is becomes the heart of this book. And it nearly rips out the heart of the investigator, as well as the brains of more than a few pilots along the way.

And it’s the start of what looks to be a fascinating series.

Escape Rating A-: I’ll admit that at first I wasn’t too sure what direction this story was going to take. I mean that in the sense that all of the previous books by this author that I have read (and there have been LOTS) all have a romantic element. So I was expecting that and when it didn’t manifest I wondered whether I was in the right place – so to speak. Once I realized that this was all suspense and no romance, it flew me away at supersonic speeds.

The story rests on the character of Miranda Chase, and she’s certainly an interesting choice for point of view. At the top, I likened Chase to Temperance Brennan (as portrayed in the TV series Bones and not the Kathy Reichs’ books) Like Brennan, Miranda Chase is extremely intelligent, laser-focused, detail-oriented and generally not cognizant of human dynamics in any way. To the point where both women seem to be neuro-atypical, although in what way is never defined. But it makes Miranda an unconventional heroine – and I liked her a lot.

As the first book in the series, Drone also has a strong element of putting the team together. Miranda can’t do it alone – and even if she could, she shouldn’t. At the same time, she has a difficult time bonding with people – or even figuring out why people would want to bond. So the team that coalesces around her, who begin as strangers to her and to each other, need time to gel and find their places. That’s a process that has definitely begun by the end of Drone but still has a long way to go and should provide interesting viewpoints as the series progresses.

But the case that Miranda and her team find themselves in the middle of felt to me as if it came straight out of some of Tom Clancy’s less convoluted – and less long-winded – Jack Ryan stories.

When Miranda and her team arrive at Groom Lake, it’s already clear that something isn’t quite kosher about the crash. Not because it doesn’t look right – although that’s certainly true – but because the base commander is behaving strangely and the military version of NTSB is not investigating the crash site. It’s obvious that there’s a whole lot being hidden, but Miranda only sees the anomalies in the crash itself – which are plenty anomalous. Along with the fact that neither she nor her team have any idea who got them called into investigating this mess – or why.

Even when she figures out how the plane crashed – she still doesn‘t know what made the plane crash. Then she goes to DC to consult with a friend and mentor. And discovers that whatever physically made the plane crash it looks a whole lot like politics was the real cause.

That and the CIA left hand making sure that the Joint Chiefs of Staff right hand did not know what the CIA was doing with military assets and military personnel. This isn’t just a turf war – it’s a turf war with a coverup on top. A coverup that the CIA wants to bury Miranda Chase under – literally if necessary.

That the wheels within wheels turn out to include some truly epic spy games is just icing on a very tasty cake. And does a fantastic job of whetting the reader’s appetite for more books in this series.

I’m very glad that the second book of Miranda Chase’s adventures, Thunderbolt, is coming next month!

Review: The Pawful Truth by Miranda James

Review: The Pawful Truth by Miranda JamesThe Pawful Truth (Cat in the Stacks #11) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #11
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When Charlie Harris decides to go back to school, he and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, find themselves entangled in a deadly lovers quarrel on campus in the latest installment of the New York Times bestselling series.

In addition to his library duties and his role as doting grandad, Charlie has enrolled in an early medieval history course offered by young, charismatic professor Carey Warriner. Charlie feels a bit out of place- his fellow classmates are half his age- except for Dixie Bell Compton, another 'mature' student. When Charlie hears an angry exchange between her and their professor, his interest in piqued. He's even more intrigued when she shows up at his office asking for a study partner. Charlie turns her down and is saddened to learn just a few days later that Dixie has been killed.

Charlie wonders if Professor Warriner had anything to do with Dixie's death. Warriner is married to a fellow professor who happens to be a successful author. There are rumors on campus that their marriage was on the rocks. Was Dixie's death the result of a lovers' triangle gone bad? Charlie soon discovers that the professor's wife may have some secrets of her own and his suspect list is only getting longer.

As he and Diesel step further into the tangled web of relationships, someone else is viciously killed. Whose jealousy finally erupted into murderous rage? Was it a crime of passion or is there another more sinister motive? Charlie races to unravel this mystery: and to draw out the culprit, he may just have to put his own life on the line...

My Review:

I was looking for a comfort read this week. I’ve been reading too much fanfiction and haven’t been able to just dive into anything that I could write a review for. And the cats have been particularly adorable this week, which led me to Charlie Harris, his large and in charge Maine Coon cat Diesel, and the Cat in the Stacks series. As if that wasn’t enough of a reminder, I just picked up an eARC of the next book in the series!

Charlie Harris is the rare books librarian and archivist at Athena College in the cozy little small town of Athena Mississippi. Charlie, an alum of Athena College, spent most of his professional life in Houston, but returned home at the beginning of the series in Murder Past Due, when he inherited a lovely old house from his Aunt Dottie. (A far northerly version of this opening occurs in Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who series.)

By this 11th book in the series we’ve gotten to know Charlie, his friends and family, and the denizens of Athena fairly well. Especially Charlie’s large and colorful cat, Diesel. Maine Coons are generally large and fairly placid cats, but Diesel is exceptional even for his breed, as Charlie comments that he’s 37 pounds or so with the bone structure to carry that weight. Diesel can afford to be fairly laid back, as he is bigger than even some medium sized dogs.

Diesel is often a common sight around town, as he accompanies his person nearly everywhere that Charlie goes. But Diesel, for all his size and empathy, is never portrayed as anything more than just a very large cat who is smart on the feline intelligence scale. He doesn’t solve murders.

Yes, I want a Diesel of my own. Maine Coons are handsome and very well behaved.

Which is more than one can say for Ramses, the kitten that Charlie and Diesel adopted at the end of Six Cats a Slayin’.

If you’re getting the impression that I read this series more for the cat than his human, you might be right.

Nevertheless, Charlie Harris is an interesting sleuth, and the author, a real-life librarian, has done an excellent job of making Charlie read like “one of us” while still allowing the other characters to lampshade Charlie’s unfortunate resemblance to TV small town sleuth Jessica Fletcher.

Too many dead bodies seem to turn up in both of their wakes – to the point where one might wonder – as some of the other characters frequently do, whether Charlie’s luck is good or bad and whether or not it is safe to be in his orbit.

This particular case combines the character’s loves of both English literature and history with that oft-quoted quip by Henry Kissinger, the one that goes, “The reason that university politics is so vicious is because takes are so small.”

Only Charlie Harris could manage to audit a college class that results in not just one but two dead bodies. And ends with the killer’s hands wrapped around Charlie’s own throat.

Escape Rating B: I read this series for fun – and I certainly had fun reading The Pawful Truth. In spite of the terribly punny title.

This entry in the series provided a light read that instantly swept me back into the little town of Athena and Charlie Harris’ terrific family, whether those family members are by birth or by “adoption”.

(I’ll admit that I would also love to audit that class that Charlie does – Plantagenet and Tudor England was also my favorite period of history.)

But the mystery in this one was also interesting in the way that it spins out from what seems like a relatively simple case of love triangle gone wrong to something that in the end surprisingly resembles Shakespearean tragedy. A particular Shakespearean tragedy in fact – that of Othello.

It was fun to watch the case morph from the simple to the increasingly complex, even as Charlie did his usual job of digging into something that he should never have been part of in the first place – only to find himself in the middle yet again.

That this case looked to be based in the insular world of academia added yet more red herrings while also providing a semi-credible excuse for Charlie to involve himself way more than he ought to have. Not that Charlie ever needs much of an excuse.

And I was too busy catching up with all my friends in this series to spot who the murderer was, which just added to the fun.

I’ll definitely be back for the next book in the series, Careless Whiskers, whenever I need a little reading vacation in Athena.

Reviewer’s Note: As much as I always love Diesel, his behavior with the tiny and precocious kitten Ramses brought a smile to my face and reminded me very fondly of feline behavior in my own household. When Hecate was a tiny kitten Freddie used to “let” her chase him and “pretend” that she had thrown him to the ground. At the time, Hecate weighed 1.5 pounds (maybe) and Freddie about 12 pounds. Cats who want to play with each other in spite of a significant size difference will play just the way that Diesel and Ramses do and it’s utterly adorable.