Valentine’s Day Giveaway from BookTrib

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, BookTrib is spreading the love with a huge giveaway. One winner will have the chance to win 14 different romantic reads from a variety of fantastic authors like Jill Shalvis, Eva Leigh, Jennifer Ryan, Sally Thorne and more! U.S. Entries Only.

p.s. Dare to Love a Duke by Eva Leigh is definitely a lovely read. This prize pack has oodles of romantic reads for the lucky winner!

To enter: https://booktrib.com/booktrib-giveaways/

Review: Dragon Age Library Edition Volume 2 by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, Carmen Carnero, Fernando Heinz Furukawa

Review: Dragon Age Library Edition Volume 2 by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, Carmen Carnero, Fernando Heinz FurukawaDragon Age Library Edition Volume 2 by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, Carmen Carnero, Fernando Heinz Furukawa
Format: eARC, hardcover
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover
Genres: fantasy, graphic novel
Pages: 232
Published by Dark Horse Books on December 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Journey to the world of Thedas in these canonical comics from BioWare and Dark Horse!

Tessa and Marius are mercenary partners who eliminate those using magic to hurt others. When they betray a powerful patron intending to kill them, they're forced to flee and join the Inquisition. Later, they're taken captive during a mission and it's up to an unwitting agent to rescue them: elven squire Vaea, who's just arrived in Kirkwall for a lavish party thrown by Varric Tethras. A talented thief, Vaea takes on an easy side job . . . but when she chooses to change the terms of the deal mid-heist, she is entangled in this dangerous recovery mission that is surely above her pay grade.

Featuring work by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, Carmen Carnero, and Fernando Heinz Furukawa, this oversized hardcover edition collects Dragon Age: Magekiller #1-#5 and Dragon Age: Knight Errant #1-#5 and features creator commentary and behind-the-scenes material!

My Review:

I just started a new play-through of the whole Dragon Age saga, which made this a perfect time to review this. The title is a rather unhelpful mouthful of not very informative. What this big little volume is is a hardcover compilation of two Dragon Age graphic stories, Magekiller and Knight Errant.

I knew I was going to get to this eventually – I even picked up an eARC from Edelweiss. But in the end, I bowed to the inevitable and purchased the hardcover. While graphic novels CAN be read on my iPad, that doesn’t mean they SHOULD be read on my iPad – unless I’m really desperate and away from home. The hardcover is large and awkward – but fun reading at the table.

The interesting thing about the two stories in this book is that they both take place in the interstices of the plot of Dragon Age Inquisition. This means three things:

  1. These stories only make sense if you are already a fan of the video game series
  2. They feel/read like short stories that just so happen to be illustrated. I’m not saying that the graphics aren’t terrific – because they are – but both of these stories would work equally well as short stories without the lovely, additional graphics.
  3. The stories are canonical – nothing in them conflicts with the game story canon. A fan can imagine them taking place around the edges of the game(s) actually played. These events happened while your Inquisitor was somewhere else being, as Varric Tethras might say, “all Inquisitorial”.

The first story begins a bit before the game starts, with a pair of mercenary magekillers (hence the title) who have been coerced into killing known cult members before the cult manages to murder the Divine and kick off the whole thing. They find themselves working for the Inquisition, alongside many of the other side characters in the story.

What’s fun about Magekiller is that the male/female mercenary partners are work partners without being romantic partners – nor is there a will they/won’t they vibe to the story. It was pretty neat that the romantic pairing in the story turns out to be between the female mercenary and one of the Inquisition’s better known spies. Who is also female.

That the hero of Magekiller has a very similar vibe to one of my (and many people’s) favorite characters in Dragon Age II is icing on a surprisingly tasty cake.

Knight Errant also feels like it has some callbacks to Dragon Age II, as well as to the game that started it all, Dragon Age Origins – which I’m playing again now.

But the story is all about the power of stories. There’s a quote from Varric Tethras, the author of Hard in Hightown and the premiere storyteller in the series: “There’s power in stories, though. That’s all history is: the best tales. The ones that last. Might as well be mine.”

Varric writes fiction, but he also fictionalizes the heroic deeds of his friends – including himself as a secondary character. It’s a practice that causes him no end of trouble, and makes him an interesting but extremely unreliable narrator.

In Knight Errant, Varric is a secondary character in someone else’s unreliable narration – and he’s more than willing to play along. But under this seemingly simple tale about a has-been knight who travels the world on the strength of the stories he tells about himself, there’s a lot to unpack about why we tell the stories we tell, and how much of ourselves we invest in those stories.

And if you don’t finish this story hearing the original cast of Hamilton singing “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story” you weren’t paying attention.

Escape Rating B: If you’re a fan, this collection is a lot of fun. Possibly even more fun than Hard in Hightown. There are a ton of in jokes scattered throughout both stories, and we get a chance to see a different bit of this world and different facets of characters we have come to know and love.

There are also some informative annotations from the creators on the process of both the story and the graphics.

While I can’t think that anyone else would be interested, for those of us who are working through our hundredth play-through of the series and trying to keep from chewing our nails waiting for Dragon Age 4 (which probably won’t be out until 2021 at the earliest!) it’s a fun way to pass some time in Thedas.

Review: Oria’s Enchantment by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Oria’s Enchantment by Jeffe KennedyOria's Enchantment by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #5
Pages: 166
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on January 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A Narrow Escape

With her secrets uncovered and her power-mad brother bent on her execution, Princess Oria has no sanctuary left. Her bid to make herself and her new barbarian husband rulers of walled Bára has failed. She and Lonen have no choice but to flee through the leagues of brutal desert between her home and his—certain death for a sorceress, and only a bit slower than the blade.

A Race Against Time

At the mercy of a husband barely more than a stranger, Oria must war with her fears and her desires. Wild desert magic buffets her; her husband’s touch allures and burns. Lonen is pushed to the brink, sure he’s doomed his proud bride and all too aware of the restless, ruthless pursuit that follows…

A Danger Beyond Death…

Can Oria trust a savage warrior, now that her strength has vanished? Can Lonen choose her against the future of his people? Alone together in the wastes, Lonen and Oria must forge a bond based on more than lust and power, or neither will survive the test…

My Review:

This series began back in Lonen’s War with Princess Oria being betrayed by her own brother, an event that echoes down the entire length of the series so far.

In this latest book in the series, events have almost, but not quite, come full circle, as this title is named for Oria, but the events that it encompasses revolve around Prince Lonen’s brother and his betrayal of Lonen.

But a whole lot of things have happened along the way. Oria, the princess-bird freed from her gilded cage, will have to come into the power that she does not even believe she has in order to save both of their kingdoms – and both of themselves, as well.

Lonen has to grasp his duty and his destiny – even if, or especially because – he needs to leave Oria behind in order for her to be able to leap ahead and save them both.

If she survives a testing process directed by dragons. Either she finally masters her power – or they will destroy her before she destroys everything around her – including herself.

Escape Rating B+: Oria’s Enchantment is the fifth book in what was originally listed as a trilogy – and the story isn’t done yet. It’s turning out to be “trilogy times two”. So a Hexology, or a dual-trilogy, or a sextet.

Sextet feels appropriate, as the Sorcerous Moons series, whatever you call it, is a fantasy romance that does some very interesting things with sex and seduction. Lonen and Oria’s marriage begins as a marriage of convenience because her magic will not allow anyone else to touch her skin-to-skin without causing her tremendous pain. That their relationship changes from cautious allyship to a true marriage in spite of that limitation – and just how far and how sensuously they manage to skate the edge of that restriction, has been steamy as well as fascinating.

About the story as a whole – the story is a whole. By that I mean that the Sorcerous Moons “series” feels like one long story rather than a series of even slightly separate books. Like the Lord of the Rings, where the story that begins in Fellowship ends in Return of the King. The ending of Fellowship is merely a pause as that book does not tell a complete story in and of itself.

So it is with Sorcerous Moons, This is one story from its beginning in Lonen’s War to what looks like will be its ending in the next book, Lonen’s Reign. So start at the beginning and not anywhere in the middle. The individual books are relatively short – so the compilation of the whole is only a moderately sized tome.

The part of the story that takes place in Oria’s Enchantment is a rise from the “waiting game” that occurred in the previous book in the series, The Forests of Dru. That book felt like the trough of the entire story arc, and now we’re on the rise that leads to the conclusion.

Things finally happen here, although mostly in the second half of the book. The first half is a “road story”, of which there have been many in this series. Lonen and Oria do a LOT of travelling, in order to fix what’s wrong in either one kingdom or another – and to give them time to bond as a marital partnership.

It’s in the second half of this story that events begin to ramp up, as Oria finally takes control of her power and her destiny while Lonen forces himself to do the right thing for the kingdom he never expected to rule.

I can’t wait for what should be the epic conclusion to this series in Lonen’s Reign. Because Lonen and Oria are going to have to make a lot of war to fix everything that’s wrong in both Bara and Dru!

Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff + Giveaway

Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff + GiveawayThe Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Park Row on January 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances

My Review:

The story told in The Lost Girls of Paris is absolutely fascinating, all the more so for being rooted in history.

In some ways it’s a lot like the nonfiction stories in Hidden Figures, Code Girls, and other books that have brought the hidden contributions of women to recent events in history out of the shadows and into the light.

During World War II, women stepped up to do all the jobs that used to be reserved for men before the war, because there were few men left at the homefront. This was true in the U.S. and it was especially true in Britain and France as men were either in the armed services, conscripted into labor camps in France, or dead.

As the Allied forces prepared for what we now know as D-Day, the Allies needed the French Resistance to step up their sabotage and misinformation efforts. War is, as always, a very dirty business.

When it became nearly impossible to place any more male agents in France, the Special Operations Executive created a women’s section, run by Eleanor Trigg (based on real-life SOE Officer Vera Atkins), to place female agents in France. By that point, there were so few young, able-bodied men around that male agents were unmasked almost as soon as they hit the ground.

It was hoped that women would be able to blend into the remaining population. They were trained to do the dirty work needed to bring that hoped for invasion to fruition – even if they didn’t personally live to see it.

The story of The Lost Girls of Paris is about those female British agents, and the story is told from three perspectives. Eleanor Trigg, the creator of the women’s section, the designer of their training and the person who chose each and every woman who entered the program; Marie Roux, one of the women she recruited who went to France in those dark days, and Grace Healey, a young widow in the immediate aftermath of the war, who discovers a suitcase full of photographs under a bench in New York’s Union Station, and finds herself drawn into a quest to reveal the truth.

Not just the truth of what those women endured, but the truth about their betrayal by their own government – and that same government’s willingness to bury their history along with their bodies – whether their actual corpses can ever be found – or not.

Escape Rating B+: I have mixed feelings about this book. The story it tells is both compelling and harrowing, but some parts more than others.

I found Eleanor Trigg to be a fascinating character. (She reminds me a bit of the character of Hilda Pierce in Foyle’s War – a woman who also served in the SOE.) A Jewish refugee from Poland, Eleanor and her mother have reinvented themselves as Englishwomen – but Eleanor is never quite accepted as “one of us” by the government bureaucracy – or its bureaucrats.

She began as a secretary to the Director of the SOE, became his unofficial right hand, and then the chief of the women’s section – only to be unceremoniously discarded even before the end of the war – and set up to be a scapegoat for the dirty deeds done by her agents on behalf of the government and by the government TO her unsuspecting agents.

Eleanor seems like a one-woman representative of all the ways that women were distrusted, disrespected, successful in spite of systemic misogyny, and then betrayed and discarded when they were no longer needed.

Grace’s perspective from the post-War United States is a reflection of that misogyny and betrayal. Her husband died in an auto accident before he deployed, leaving her a widow but not exactly a war widow. She comes to New York City searching for work and purpose in a country that wants all its women to go back to home and hearth and pop out babies. But the soldier who should have returned to her after the war can’t, and she’s not ready to move on.

Putting herself into the middle of Eleanor’s search for truth gives her purpose and new life. As someone who was not a part of the original events, she is both an unimpeachable witness and empathetic searcher.

I’ll admit that I had problems with Marie. The parts of the story that covered her recruitment and training were absorbing – and the story of her capture and torture were harrowing beyond belief, but I stopped being interested in her as a character when she got captured. Not because she was captured, but because of the way it happened. She literally brought it on herself by being TSTL (too stupid to live). Her capture and subsequent torture became inevitable – when they shouldn’t have been. Many of the female agents were captured, tortured and killed through betrayal, bad luck or just circumstance. It wasn’t necessary for Marie to be a fool for love to show the terrible fate of so many of these brave women. For this reader, the spark of romance in this part of the story was unnecessary and detracted from their courage and sacrifice.

On my other hand or hands, the entire story is compelling from beginning to end. I finished it in one day and could not put it down – although I had to pause at points while Marie was being tortured. Those parts of the story are not for the faint of heart – but they are an important part of the story all the same.

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

I am giving away a copy of The Lost Girls of Paris to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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

Review: Forged in Blood II by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Forged in Blood II by Lindsay BurokerForged in Blood II (The Emperor's Edge, #7) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, steampunk
Series: Emperor's Edge #7
Pages: 422
Published by Lindsay Buroker on July 17, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Amaranthe Lokdon survives her reckless plan to destroy the enemy’s weapon-filled super aircraft only to learn that thousands of people perished when it crash landed. Half of her team is missing...or dead. Meanwhile, the fighting in the capital has escalated, the Imperial Barracks have been taken by a pretender, and a deadly new danger threatens the populace. Amaranthe’s hopes of returning Emperor Sespian to the throne and bringing peace to the empire are dwindling by the hour.

To make matters worse, her strongest ally—and closest friend—has been captured and is under a powerful wizard’s control. If she can’t figure out a way to free Sicarius, he may kill them all when next they meet...

My Review:

Forged in Blood I ended at maximum cliffhanger, so I dove into Forged in Blood II the moment I finished it. It’s kind of impossible to stop at that point.

(Fair warning, this review will contain spoilers for Forged in Blood I. It would be equally impossible to talk at all about this book without talking about that book. They are pretty much one story, and everything that happens here is dependent on what happened there. Also, Captain Obvious being very obvious, don’t start the series here!)

Forged in Blood I ended at two parallel points with opposite results. Amaranthe has just crashed the Behemoth and wrecked untold destruction pretty much everywhere. She feels guilty beyond measure at the deaths she feels she is responsible for. And she might share in that responsibility but she certainly isn’t solely responsible – particularly considering that she never had any personal ability to control the airship/spacecraft in the first place.

But she walks away from the wreckage, believing all of her team are dead, only to shortly discover that so far, everyone she truly cares for managed to be someplace else.

On that other hand, Sicarius enters the ruins of the ship and finds what he believes are the remains of Amaranthe’s charred corpse. He believes that everyone he cares about, including Amaranthe and his son Sespian, are all dead in or under the crash. He tries to commit suicide-by-enemy in a grand fashion, only to be captured and mind-slaved by one of the many, many forces that is attempting to take control of the capital.

He doesn’t care – at least not too much. If his would-have-been-lover and his son are both dead, he is not unwilling to kill as many of those responsible for the situation as possible (he is an assassin, after all) before he finds a way to at least get himself killed if not take out the wizard controlling him in the process.

As Forged in Blood II opens, Amaranthe is working on multiple plans – as she always is – to eliminate the alien spaceship before even more nefarious things can be done with it, find a way to get some of their enemies to eliminate each other, and find out what happened to Sicarius and rescue him if necessary.

Sicarius has been given a list of people to kill, and he’s working his way down the list.

I would say that things go pear-shaped at this point, but they have been pear-shaped so long that the pear is starting to rot. This is a series where saying that our heroes jump out of the frying pan and into the fire doesn’t go nearly far enough. The entire series is pretty much fires and frying pans all the way down.

But this book is the end of the main story arc of the ENTIRE Emperor’s Edge series. They have to find the bottom in order for things to come to an appropriate close, and for all of the many, many threads to get tied up in a relatively neat bow.

Not nearly as neat a bow as Amaranthe the cleanliness obsessed would have liked. And the butcher’s bill needs to get paid. But in the midst of absolutely epic chaos, our heroes have to find a resolution that gets all of the many, many opposing forces out of the capitol.

And lets them midwife the birth of the republic that they having been aiming towards for much longer than any of them imagined.

Escape Rating A-: This is so obviously labeled book 2 of 2 that anyone who starts here needs to have their head examined. Just don’t. A part of me is wondering why Forged in Blood wasn’t simply published as one extremely long book – but there’s nothing stopping anyone from reading it that way now that both parts are available.

By this point in this long-running series a reader either loves the characters and the world enough to want to see how it all ends, or they don’t. Obviously, I did.

What made this series work for me was its play on the “five-man band” trope, even as Amaranthe’s little band of outlaws/rebels/revolutionaries grew past the original five. To the point where some of the roles are occupied by two or more members of her band of misfits.

Part of the fun in Forged in Blood II is that Amaranthe runs into someone who is even better at being the “leader” of such a group than she is. It’s both relaxing and unnerving for her to find herself again following someone else’s orders.

That the person whose orders she ends up following is someone who someone in his 60s and clearly still extremely badass is icing on the cake for any readers of a certain age, like moi. It’s always good to see evidence that heroes don’t need to be young to be extremely effective. Age and skill beats youth and stupidity all the damn time, and it’s fun to watch.

I also loved the way that the romance was handled in this series finale. It’s taken a year for Amaranthe to “humanize” the assassin Sicarius to the point where he might be able to have a relationship with anyone, Amaranthe included. At the same time, it was necessary for the events of that year for Amaranthe to have her bright, shiny, law-abiding edges tarnished a bit for her to be able to accept not just the person that Sicarius has become, but also the elements of the weapon that he was made to be that remain. Their romance has been excruciatingly slow-building throughout the series, but it needed to be. And the series couldn’t end without that thread being tied up – even if that tying literally included tying one or both of them to a bed. (Actually I’d pay money for that scene!)

Realistically, it would not be possible for a series that had this much adventure – including misadventure, in it without a butcher’s bill to be paid by the company. That price that they paid felt right, proper and necessary – and provided a much needed bit of poignancy to the ending.

This was a book where as I got nearer to the end I found myself slowing down. I wanted to find out how it ended, but I didn’t want to leave this world or these people. Lucky for me, the author didn’t either. There are two (so far) books set in this world after the end of Forged in Blood II. I’ll be picking up Republic the next time I have a long flight to read through. It’s 572 pages long – and I’m betting they’re all fantastic!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 2-3-19

Sunday Post

First of all, I did a thing. On January 31, 2019 the winners of the SFR Galaxy Awards were announced. We had a terrific fleet of winners this year – as we do every year. I’ve already added stuff to the virtually towering TBR stack. If you like science fiction romance, or action adventure romance, this year’s winners will be a real treat. And if you’re new to the genre or just want to see what all the fun is about, the list of ALL the award winners, from this year and previous years, should provide you with plenty of places to start. (Full disclosure, I’m one of the judges).

Second thing, as in previous years, I have been appointed to one of the American Library Association committees that produces a “best books of the year” list. This year it’s The Reading List, which judges genre fiction in the categories of Adrenaline, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction and Women’s Fiction. Almost all of the categories are my jam to one degree or another, so I’m really looking forward to this year’s selections. Which will never be highlighted on any of my Stacking the Shelves posts or in my reviews – but they will be there.

Third, speaking of ALA, I just got back from the Midwinter Conference. The committee I served on this past year, the Carnegie Medals, announced the winners at this year’s conference.

And I picked up what would be an actual metric buttload of books at the conference – if I got print ARCs instead of eARCs. That list is in yesterday’s Stacking the Shelves.

It’s great to be home. The cats really missed us – to the point where they seem to be clinging to us all night and underfoot all day – at least when they’re not cat napping!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the February of Books Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Hats Off! Giveaway Hop is Cassandra D.

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Target of One’s Own by M.L. Buchman
B Review: Connections in Death by J.D. Robb
A- Review: Cast in Oblivion by Michelle Sagara
A- Review: Forged in Blood I by Lindsay Buroker
February of Books Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (325)

Coming This Week:

Forged in Blood II by Lindsay Buroker (review)
The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff (blog tour review)
Duchess by Deception by Marie Force (review)
The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons (review)
Oria’s Enchantment by Jeffe Kennedy (review)

Stacking the Shelves (325)

Stacking the Shelves

This is the post-ALA “OMG what have I done” stack. OMG it’s a lot.

Before anyone starts thinking about book hoarding and/or taking ARCs that should be reserved for librarians who are still working in libraries, all of these were eARCs. A few were for books that popped up on NetGalley or Edelweiss after I closed out last week’s Stacking the Shelves in order to go to the conference, but most are books I saw or heard about at the conference that looked and/or sounded like good reads for me. The proof of that will be in the reading, of course.

And for anyone wondering when on Earth I’ll get around to all these books, the answer is that I probably won’t. In the end, for very long definitions of end, I ultimately review about half of what I get, which is one of the reasons I get eARCs. I read about 250 books a year. Some things I try and they just fail me – or I’m just not feeling it at the time and forget to go back. Or life happens. Doesn’t it happen to everyone?

So many books, so little time!

For Review:
Aftershocks (Palladium Wars #1) by Marko Kloos
Aloha Rodeo by David Wolman and Julian Smith
American Moonshot by Douglas Brinkley
American Pop by Snowden Wright
Anything But a Duke (Duke’s Den #2) by Christy Carlyle
The Binding by Bridget Collins
The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
Black Leopard, Red Wolf (Dark Star #1) by Marlon James
The Bride Test (Kiss Quotient #2) by Helen Hoang
Cowboy to the Core (Gold Valley #6) by Maisey Yates
Dangerous Waters (First Responders #7) by Radclyffe
The Deepest Blue (Tales of Renthia #1) by Sarah Beth Durst
Glory Road by Lauren K. Denton
It Never Goes Away by Anne L. Koch
No Ordinary Texas Billionaire (Devil’s Rock at Whiskey River #3) by Eve Gaddy
Ransom (Benson Security #4) by Janet E. Henderson
Sentinel of Darkness (Darkness #8) by Katie Reus
Slow Ride (Road to Love #2) by Lori Foster
Spindle’s End by Jessica Marting
The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung
This Heart of Mine by C.C. Hunter
Today We Go Home by Kelli Estes
Traitor’s Codex (Crispin Guest #11) by Jeri Westerson
Where Oblivion Lives (Los Nefilim #1) by T. Frohock

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
Minimum Wage Magic (DFZ #1) by Rachel Aaron
Oria’s Enchantment (Sorcerous Moons #5) by Jeffe Kennedy
River of Stars (Under Heaven #2) by Guy Gavriel Kay
Star Crossed: 7 Novels of Space Exploration, Alien Races, Adventure, and Romance by Christine Pope, C. Gockel, Carol Van Natta, Lindsay Buroker, Greta van der Rol, Alexis Glynn Latner, Pauline Baird Jones
Under Heaven (Under Heaven #1) by Guy Gavriel Kay
White Fragility by Robin J. DiAngelo

February Of Books Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the February Of Books Giveaway Hop, hosted by It Starts at Midnight and Flylef!

The question, as always, is what book or books are you most looking forward to this month?

Special case for the Midwest, what books are beside your nest during this winter’s deep freeze? I looked up the weather for both Chicago and Anchorage – because I’ve lived in both during the winter – and Anchorage is supposed to be more than 30° warmer than Chicago on Thursday. That’s just wrong. I’m happy to be in Atlanta where it’s a sunny 50° as I write this post.

Just because I’m not about to freeze my extremities off does not mean that there aren’t plenty of books I’m looking forward to this month. I’ve been reading lots of SF and fantasy recently, and the books I’m most looking forward to this month are in those genres.

Particularly The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons, The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, and of course, Mission: Her Defense by one of my fave authors, Anna Hackett.

What about you? What books are you most looking forward to this month? Answer in the rafflecopter for your choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository.

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

Review: Forged in Blood I by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Forged in Blood I by Lindsay BurokerForged in Blood I (The Emperor's Edge, #6) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, steampunk
Series: Emperor's Edge #6
Pages: 378
Published by Lindsay Buroker on May 27, 2013
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The emperor has been ousted from the throne, his bloodline in question, and war is descending on the capital. Forge, the nefarious business coalition that has been manipulating the political situation from the beginning, has the ultimate weapon at its disposal.

If it was difficult for a small team of outlaws--or, as Amaranthe has decided they should now be called, rebels--to make a difference before, it's a monumental task now. If she's to return idealistic young Sespian to the throne, earn the exoneration she's sought for so long, and help her closest ally win the respect of the son who detests him, she'll have to employ an unprecedented new scheme...preferably without destroying the city--or herself--in the process.

My Review:

And now I remember why I stopped reading this series back in 2013. Not for any bad reasons, I assure you!

But back then, I raced through the first four books in the series (The Emperor’s Edge, Dark Currents, Deadly Games and Conspiracy), loving every one. I think I was about to pick up book 5, Blood and Betrayal, when I noticed that this book, book 6, was titled Forged in Blood I with the obvious implication that there would be a Forged in Blood II – as there turned out to be. But the titles strongly implied that this book wasn’t exactly complete in and of itself, and I decided that I didn’t want to read this until its second part came out.

Then I ran headlong into the “so many books, so little time” conundrum, and didn’t get the round ‘tuit for several years. I picked up Blood and Betrayal a few weeks ago, got right back into everything, loved it, and decided to read Forged in Blood on the long flight back home from Seattle.

It turns out that I assumed correctly. While Forged in Blood I does come to a logical conclusion, that conclusion is a screaming cliffhanger. I was still in mid-flight (Seattle to Atlanta is a LONG flight) and started in on Forged in Blood II with barely a pause for breath.

What we have here is what looks like the beginning of the end of this terrific saga. The story at this point is careening towards the conclusion of its original quest. Way, way back in The Emperor’s Edge, Corporal Amaranthe Lokdon of the Imperial law enforcers was given the assignment to hunt down the Empire’s most dangerous assassin, Sicarius.

It was intended to be a suicide mission. It certainly turned out to be a suicide mission for her career on the “right” side of the law.

But when she failed to capture Sicarius, she found herself a wanted criminal, at the core of a band of criminals, all of whom have bounties on their heads for crimes they either didn’t commit or acts of self-defense. Not that there isn’t a bit of criminality mixed in there, but for the most part, they aren’t guilty – or at least not guilty of much until they all end up on the run.

With both the assassin and the Emperor in their midst. But then, the Emperor hired them to kidnap him to save his from the so-called advisers who planned to have him assassinate. As a result, the people who wanted him dead are now after the entire gang – as well as the Empire itself.

So Forged in Blood I is the beginning of the end. Start with The Emperor’s Edge and get to know this amazingly awesome – just ask some of them – band of big damn heroes. And end this part of the story on pins and needles, not merely wondering but actively worrying whether all of them will get out of this caper alive.

Escape Rating A-: This is not the end. The, well, let’s call it an interim ending, is a hella cliffie. What makes it so gut-wrenching is that by this point in the series we know and love all of these people, and the way this book ends we fear for all of them in one way or another. It’s terrible, and wonderful, and you won’t be able to keep from diving into part 2 immediately.

At the beginning of the series, we had a band of petty criminals and wrongly accused political victims desperately trying to find a way to survive the many and various attempts on their lives and, most importantly, figure out a way to get pardoned by the Emperor.

Well, most of them want to get pardoned. Sicarius is guilty of every single thing he’s been accused of, and a few hundred more. He was, after all, the previous Emperor’s pet assassin – and he was damn good at his job.

He’s also, unbeknownst to everyone at the beginning, but an open secret by this point, the biological father of the current Emperor. The young and idealistic Emperor is having a difficult time processing it all – but his enemies plan to use the information to keep him from ever taking back his throne.

Because they want to install a puppet emperor and wring the kingdom dry.

There’s a lot of story to unpack by this point. Amaranthe, in particular, still wants a pardon but also wonders if there’s any way back from where this journey has taken her. As a law enforcer, she never believed the excuses of the ends justifying the means, but has discovered that when the ends are her own survival, discussions of means get left by the wayside until afterwards – when the guilt descends.

The young Emperor, Sespian, has been forced to grow up in a hurry while dodging bullets, bombs and even exploding airships. With him, and his idealism, among their party, the purpose of their journey has changed from pardons to revolution. Getting a close up view of just how screwed up the empire is for anyone not in power has inspired them all to invent a new form of government – a Republic. All they have to do is get enough power to push their reforms through – and then be willing to let that power go when they’re done.

Not an easy job. It’s what made the American experiment such a chancy thing at the time. That we have, at least so far, had regularly scheduled and orderly changes of power built into the system. (We’ll see how that goes in the future.)

What makes this series so much fun is the way that the band of misfits manages to work together, both because and in spite of their differences. This is a series where the snark, of which there is a lovely lot, is based on our knowledge of the characters and their knowledge of each other – not on jokes per se. A lot of that humor is gallows humor, because even at the best of time they are only one step out of the frying pan and one jump away from the fire.

This is a series where the worldbuilding has gotten deeper as it goes, as have the chasms that our heroes must leap across in order to stay alive and one step ahead of their many, many pursuers. The pace never lets up – leaving the reader breathless with anxiety and anticipation at the end.

I couldn’t wait to start Forged in Blood II, and so far it’s every bit as good as the rest of the series. We’ll see for certain in next week’s review!

Review: Cast in Oblivion by Michelle Sagara

Review: Cast in Oblivion by Michelle SagaraCast in Oblivion (The Chronicles of Elantra, #14) by Michelle Sagara
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Chronicles of Elantra #14
Pages: 544
Published by Mira on January 29, 2019
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POLITICS ARE HELL

Kaylin wasn't sent to the West March to start a war. Her mission to bring back nine Barrani might do just that, though. She traveled with a Dragon, and her presence is perceived as an act of aggression in the extremely hostile world of Barrani-Dragon politics. Internal Barrani politics are no less deadly, and Kaylin has managed--barely--to help the rescued Barrani evade both death and captivity at the hands of the Consort.Before the unplanned "visit" to the West March, Kaylin invited the Consort to dinner. For obvious reasons, Kaylin wants to cancel dinner--forever. But the Consort is going to show up at the front door at the agreed upon time. The fact that she tried to imprison Kaylin's guests doesn't matter at all...to her.A private Barrani Hell, built of Shadow and malice, exists beneath the High Halls. It is the High Court's duty to jail the creature at its heart--even if it means that Barrani victims are locked in the cage with it. The Consort is willing to do almost anything to free the trapped and end their eternal torment. And she needs the help of Kaylin's houseguests--and Kaylin herself. Failure won't be death--it's Hell. And that's where Kaylin is going.

My Review:

Things are like other things. The stories we’ve read in the past affect how we view the stories we read in the present. There was a point in Cast in Oblivion where one of the characters describes Ravellon as the spike that is holding all of the parallel worlds together and I had an OMG moment and realized that Ravellon might be Amber. In Roger Zelazny’s incredible epic/urban fantasy series, beginning with Nine Princes in Amber, Amber is the one true world and all the other worlds, including ours, are mere shadows of it.

Ironically, in Elantra, Shadow seems to come out of Ravellon. But the analogy might still hold. Or hold enough to serve as metaphor. Which is an often raised topic in Cast in Oblivion, as so much of what Kaylin experiences is described as being a metaphor. She doesn’t see the world the way the others in her life – and even in her house  – even the house itself – see it. And while her metaphors are frequently frustrating to her companions, and often not strictly true, they usually turn out to be right.

For select values of right. Generally right enough to fix whatever has recently gone wrong – even if, or occasionally especially because, Kaylin is at the heart of what went wrong in the first place. At least she often feels like it is. And that idea, like Kaylin’s metaphorical view of her circumstances, may not be strictly true, they are also usually right – or at least point her in the right direction.

Sometimes like a knife.

The Chronicles of Elantra by this point, 14 books in, is a densely packed epic fantasy. Packed to the point where no reader could possibly start here and have any of it make sense. Because this book in particular feels very insular – in the sense that the events and issues that are at the forefront in Cast in Oblivion have been bubbling along since book 8, Cast in Peril – if not before. In fact, much of the action in every book since Cast in Peril has its roots in the journey that begins in that book.

In other words, don’t start here. If any of the above or below sound interesting, start with either the prequel novella, Cast in Moonlight, or the first book in the series, Cast in Shadow.

At the beginning of the series, it felt like urban fantasy, albeit urban fantasy set in a high fantasy world. As the series, and Kaylin, have evolved, it has become an epic fantasy, with Kaylin Nera, human, mortal, flawed, young and “Chosen” as the point of view into a world that is run by “people” much more powerful than she. Kaylin is always operating way above her weight class and suffering through impostor syndrome at every turn.

She’s awesome, not because she’s powerful, but because she never stops trying – no matter how scared she is or how many of those powerful people either underestimate or overprotect her at every turn.

In the end, this is a story about friendship, and the heights and depths that people can and will reach in its name. It’s also a story about family-of-choice and the ties that one chooses to bind oneself with.

And it’s about the power of truth and honesty. And especially about the dangerous nature, and painful truth, of the power of choice.

Escape Rating A-: I love this series, but you can’t get into it here. And I’ll confess that it takes a while each year to get back into it. The story is like a spider’s web, sticky and interlocked at every turn.

It’s also difficult to review. I can say that I love this series, and I do, but that’s not informative. Trying to say why I love this series is awkward. But I’ll try.

I do love a highly convoluted political fantasy, and this series has certainly become that. The Barrani, who are this series equivalent of elves (sorta/kinda) are immortal. They hold grudges for millennia. As do their ancestral enemies, the dragons. Who are also immortal. And currently ruling the empire the Barrani are part of.

The part of the story that we are in revolves around family politics and a sibling rivalry that has literally gone on for centuries. But even though the Barrani are immortal, it has not made them wise – not in any way.

Kaylin is in the position that she is in because one Barrani hoped against all hope that she might be able to save his brother. The brother that he became outcaste for – and that word means exactly what you think it means. And this in a society where people are much more likely to kill their siblings than either love or trust them.

This series also has its roots in urban fantasy, complete with the requisite snark – although that snarkitude has become oddly similar to that in both J.D. Robb’s In Death series and Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series. It’s the kind of smirky and sometimes gallows humor that draws its rueful chuckles from how much we have come to know, and care for, these characters. They aren’t telling jokes, they are telling on each other – with honest love, honest regard and occasionally an honest desire to put one over on their friends and frenemies.

But in the end what draws me back to this series is the character at its heart, Kaylin Nera. She began the series in Cast in Moonlight attempting to commit a really grand suicide by cop, only to find herself adopted instead of imprisoned.

She is a character who has broken far, far out of her original setting in the crime and shadow riddled fiefs – where she learned to keep her head down and became one of the criminals. At first, she seemed as if she was just plain grateful to have become a very young and very immature Hawk, one of the law enforcers of this world. But her circumstances keep forcing her to become more, and her internal voice is the scared, uncertain yet determined voice of anyone who has ever come so far and so fast from where they began that they are just certain that it all not merely can be taken away, but should.

And she tries anyway.

One final note, one of the interesting themes in this particular entry is about the power, and the responsibility of choice, and just how different that perspective of choice is depending on where the chooser stands on any scale of wealthy, poverty, power and responsibility. Kaylin knows that in her early life, even her terrible decisions were her choice. Her alternative choice to committing the crimes of her early years was death, but it was still her choice. The Adversary of this story is not, strictly speaking, evil. Instead, it offers choices to people who choose to take a path that seems evil in pursuit of power. But the choice, and the offering of that choice, is not evil in and of itself – only the result.

I’m still thinking about that, and probably will be when the untitled 15th book in this series comes out, hopefully this time next year. And not nearly soon enough.