Wish Big Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Wish Big Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

At this moment, I’m wishing for wellness – an excellent thing to wish for no matter what the season. I pulled my right hamstring about a month ago, and I’m finally at the point where it mostly doesn’t both me – although I’m still annoyed at the things I can’t quite get back to doing. I’m also just getting over the truly nasty cold that’s been going around. If there’s anything more annoying than being snotty all the time, I haven’t found it. Not that it’s life-threatening or anything terrible, but it’s one’s nose, and one just can’t away from one’s own nose no matter how much one might want to.

Also, whenever either of us sneezes, it scares ALL the cats half to death themselves. It’s like all them suddenly have 16 legs each, all madly scrambling in opposing directions, all at the same time!

So, what’s at the top of your wish list right now? Share in the rafflecopter for your chance at Reading Reality’s usual giveaway hop prize, the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in Books.

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If you’re wishing for more chances at more big prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

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

A- #AudioBookReview: What Feasts at Night by T. Kingfisher

A- #AudioBookReview: What Feasts at Night by T. KingfisherWhat Feasts at Night (Sworn Soldier, #2) by T. Kingfisher
Narrator: Avi Roque
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: horror
Series: Sworn Soldier #2
Pages: 160
Length: 5 hours and 2 minutes
Published by Macmillan Audio, Tor Nightfire on February 13, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The follow-up to T. Kingfisher’s bestselling gothic novella, What Moves the Dead .

Retired soldier Alex Easton returns in a horrifying new adventure.

After their terrifying ordeal at the Usher manor, Alex Easton feels as if they just survived another war. All they crave is rest, routine, and sunshine, but instead, as a favor to Angus and Miss Potter, they find themself heading to their family hunting lodge, deep in the cold, damp forests of their home country, Gallacia.

In theory, one can find relaxation in even the coldest and dampest of Gallacian autumns, but when Easton arrives, they find the caretaker dead, the lodge in disarray, and the grounds troubled by a strange, uncanny silence. The villagers whisper that a breath-stealing monster from folklore has taken up residence in Easton’s home. Easton knows better than to put too much stock in local superstitions, but they can tell that something is not quite right in their home. . . or in their dreams.

My Review:

It’s not mushrooms this time. Not that there isn’t something creeping around the old hunting lodge that retired soldier Alex Easton inherited from their family in the remoter parts of their native Gallacia. And not that Easton isn’t still experiencing PTSD and a whole, entire and entirely justified case of the collywobbles at even the thought of anything that might possibly have to do with mushrooms after the fungus-powered monstrosities in Easton’s first outing, What Moves the Dead.

In fact, after the events in What Moves the Dead, it’s not at all surprising that Easton is searching for a bit of peace and quiet. It’s just a surprise that they’ve gone home to Gallacia to find either of those things. Because it is clear from Easton’s opening remarks regarding this trip to their homeland, the whys and wherefores of the whole thing, and their thoughts and feelings about Gallacia and anything to do with it that they would much rather have stayed in Paris.

As Easton makes VERY clear on the way to that hunting lodge they haven’t visited in the past ten years, at least in the conversation they are having with themselves inside the confines of their own head, they are feeling very put upon by this whole trip. Their reluctance, at least, is apparent in the conversation they are having aloud, the one between themselves, their very good horse Hob, their batman and general factotum Angus, and Angus’ mustache, which seems to convey rather strong opinions of its own in spite of not actually being able to say a word.

Besides, it’s all Angus’ fault. Well, Angus’ fault as well as Easton’s own sense of propriety – no matter how much they’d like to let THAT go hang itself at the moment. Because Eugenia Potter, that redoubtable English mycologist who so ably assisted them with the fungal infestation in the House of Usher in What Moves the Dead, has been invited to Gallacia to observe the local fungi, with Easton as her ostensible host.

Honestly, it’s to further Miss Potter’s romance with Angus, but no one is admitting that. It wouldn’t be proper.

Easton planned to arrive at the lodge a few days ahead of Miss Potter, expecting to find the place in reasonable shape, just needing a bit of restocking and tidying up. That’s how Easton remembers it from the last time they were there. But Easton also remembers a caretaker taking care of the place, a caretaker that Easton has been paying a salary to for years and years, and as recently as the preceding month.

So, it’s obvious when Easton and Angus arrive that things are not quite what they expected. The house is a mess, the caretaker is a few months dead, and no one seems to be willing to be employed to help Easton and Angus get the place cleaned up and cleaned out, in spite of the good wages in hard currency that Easton is more than willing to pay in this poverty-stricken village where those things are seldom seen or even heard of.

Which is the point where Easton should have rescinded the invitation to Miss Potter and run back to Paris as fast as their horse’s legs could carry them. Because there’s something uncanny about the caretaker’s death, and there’s something dangerous haunting the old hunting lodge.

At least, this time, it’s not mushrooms.

Escape Rating A-: I’m not sure whether to say that What Feasts at Night isn’t quite as creepy as What Moves the Dead, or to say that it is even creepier. Let’s say I’m creeping along that fence and not sure which side I’ll fall off onto.

What Moves the Dead was a creepy story that turned out to be a bit more scientifically inclined than anything that happens within it might lead the reader to expect.

What Feasts at Night, very much on the other hand, reads much more like a fever dream story about pneumonia and PTSD. Or a ghost story about PTSD. Or a nightmare about a ghost that’s strangely cured or killed through PTSD that only masquerades as being about pneumonia. Or all of the above.

The fever dream aspects of the story, particularly as the pneumonia, or the wandering local vampire/ghost creeps its way into the dreams of both Alex Easton and the grandson of the bitter old woman they finally manage to hire to take care of the house, manage to both make the story even creepier AND slow it down at the same time. Because for the longest time not much happens except in dreams and that’s not a quick process until the end. Not helped at all by the fact that no one local will really EXPLAIN anything about what might be happened, and Easton clearly didn’t get told the right stories when they were growing up.

But at that point, where the dream and the ghost and Easton’s PTSD all emerge on the same battlefield, it’s chilling and riveting and every frightening thing the reader has been expecting all along. It just feels like it takes a while to get there. But then, that’s what dreams do.

One thing that does kick the story along, frequently, often, and with more than a bit of a rueful laugh, is that it’s clear from the volume of conversations that Easton has with themself that the author has never met a Fourth Wall she wasn’t more than willing to batter her way through head first, whether using her protagonist’s head or even her own.

Which is one of the things that made listening to What Feasts at Night so much creepy fun, as the narrator, Avi Roque, has a rough, smoky voice that is perfect for Easton as it lets us inside their wry, sarcastic, self-deprecating head even as they tell both themselves and us that they realize that they should have known better at so many points along the way of the story they are now telling, if only they hadn’t let their logic get in the way of observing what was actually happening around them.

I enjoy Alex Easton’s voice, even when I’m not nearly so certain about the story they are telling. Horror is not my jam, but in this case I’m here for the characters, and Easton’s perspective is compelling even when the story they are in the middle of is creeping me right the hell out.

A- #BookReview: At First Spite by Olivia Dade

A- #BookReview: At First Spite by Olivia DadeAt First Spite (Harlot's Bay #1) by Olivia Dade
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Harlot's Bay #1
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on February 13, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Bestselling author Olivia Dade welcomes you to Harlot's Bay in this delightfully sexy rom-com about a woman who buys the town's famous Spite House, only to realize the infuriating man she can't stand lives right next door--and their unwilling proximity might spark something neither can ignore.
When Athena Greydon's fiancé ends their engagement, she has no choice but to move into the Spite House she recklessly bought him as a wedding gift. This is a problem, for several reasons: The house, originally built as a brick middle finger to the neighbors, is only ten feet wide. Her ex's home is attached to hers. And Dr. Matthew Vine the Freaking Third (aka the uptight, judgmental jerk who convinced his younger brother to leave her) is living on the other side, only a four-foot alley away.
If she has to see Matthew every time she looks out her windows, she might as well have some fun with the situation--by, say, playing erotic audiobooks at top volume with the windows open. A woman living in a Spite House is basically obligated to get petty payback however she can, right?
Unfortunately, loathing Matthew proves more difficult than anticipated. He helps her move. He listens. And he's kind of...hot? Dammit.

My Review:

Today is Valentine’s Day, which means that today’s review absolutely had to be a romance.

So when At First Spite sashayed its way to the top of the virtually towering TBR pile, with a come-hither look and a sassy come-on, I didn’t even try to resist its siren song.

Welcome to Harlot’s Bay, Maryland, a place that really, truly, seriously – if laughably – leans into its salacious name – and history.

Athena Greydon thought she’d be moving in with her new husband, Dr. Johnny Vine, tanned, rested and refreshed after their picture-perfect, one month Hawaiian dream vacation, meticulously crafted and created by Athena herself and her innate desire to learn and experience ALL THE THINGS.

Instead, Johnny is off on that vacation alone, after he left her just about at the altar because his brother Matthew convinced him to dump her, while Athena is moving into Spite House, the tiny slice of house attached like a limpet to the side of Johnny’s row house in ‘downtown’ Harlot’s Bay. In the pouring rain, alone with a 10 foot-wide, four-story house that is now all she has left to her name.

It was supposed to have been a wedding present to her new husband, because he wanted to tear out the wall and expand his own house. Now it’s a refuge for Athena’s pride, sailing all alone on a sea of regret.

Athena needs help to get herself moved in, and the only person offering is the last person Athena wants to ever see again. Johnny’s older brother, Dr. Matthew Vine, the man with the stick up his ass and the endless number of reasons why Athena would make a terrible wife for Johnny.

And he’s absolutely right, as the story eventually proves, but not from the perspective through which Athena originally sees – or actually hears – the argument. It’s not so much that Athena would make a terrible wife for Johnny as it is that Johnny would make a terrible husband for Athena. Or honestly, that they are just so wrong for each other that Matthew can’t even articulate it – if only because he’s spent nearly all his life parenting his younger brother and can’t even let himself think that he doesn’t have enough spoons left to parent them both.

Even though it looks like that’s exactly what will happen if they make it to the altar. And Hawaii. And the not so happy ever after that would inevitably come after.

For all three of them. Because, as much as Athena and Johnny are wrong for each other, Athena is entirely too right for Matthew – and vice versa. Even if no one will ever forgive anyone if THAT scenario comes to pass. So, of course, Matthew can’t let that happen, either.

Until it does.

Escape Rating A-: It’s clear early in At First Spite that the narrow confines of Spite House aren’t nearly wide enough to handle ALL of the emotional baggage that Athena, Johnny, and Matthew have deposited there, in spite of Athena being the only person actually living within its walls.

Because they are all hot messes – but not the same kind of hot mess.

As often as the author’s trademark sassy humor and snarky banter trip the light fantastic across the pages of this romance, the story in At First Spite is absolutely NOT all fun and games. (If that’s what you’re looking for, I highly recommend Spoiler Alert and its sequels because WOW what a terrific ride that series is!) Which leads right back into the hot messes that the three – and yes, really, it’s all three of them and it is, sorta/kinda, just the type of romantic triangle that should have landed them all in a session with Dr. Phil – or even the late Jerry Springer.

The heart and the heartbreak of the story in At First Spite lives at the corner of parentification and depression, and it’s not a pretty place – but it certainly is a real one. Not that any of the characters are all that great at communicating what’s going on inside their heads.

I want to be glib and snarky here myself, and that is utterly the wrong mood to strike. This is serious stuff, and stuff that all of us at least brush against at some points in our lives – no matter how much we’re taught not to, well, talk about it.

Athena’s situation – and Matthew’s contributions thereto – cause her to finally hit an emotional bottom she’s been tap-dancing over the top of for most of her life. At the same time, Matthew’s reluctant acceptance that everything he’s said about Athena is way more about his relationship with his younger brother than it has anything directly to do with Athena herself is a struggle that he keeps losing – which is where the parentification part of the story comes in – and very nearly does them all in along with it.

While Johnny’s charmed life of charming everyone around him, getting mostly what he wants while knowing that Matthew will pick up the pieces has to come to an end – he has to figure that shit out for himself while Athena and Matthew are concentrating – as they should be – on each other.

So, on the one hand – possibly the hand with a whoopie-cushion in it – this first book in the Harlot’s Bay series (and YAY about THAT!) introduces us to this charming, quirky town and the equally charming and quirky people in it. Along with their seemingly endless love for broadcasting salacious audiobooks of monster porn from the literal rooftops.

And on the other, much more serious hand, there’s a beautiful story about two people helping each other stand on their own two feet, discover their own worth in their own selves and learn to stick to their own guns about it, and learn to grovel appropriately when necessary with the help of grand gestures that also involve – you guessed it – rooftop audiobook broadcasts of anatomically impossible monster porn.

Along with the beginning of the story of one irresponsible man-child finally manning up and getting out from under his brother’s overprotective shadow. The rest of which story will hopefully be told later in the series, but in the meantime the next book is titled Dearly Departed, a story which will somehow, both heartbreakingly and hilariously in equal measure, manage to lead to a happy ever after for the local supplier of all audiobooks monster porn. Because I can’t wait to find out the who, what, when, where and why of that whole, entire thing.

Grade A #BookReview: The Bezzle by Cory Doctorow

Grade A #BookReview: The Bezzle by Cory DoctorowThe Bezzle (Martin Hench #2) by Cory Doctorow
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: financial thriller, mystery, thriller
Series: Martin Hench #2
Pages: 240
Published by Tor Books on February 20, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

New York Times bestseller Cory Doctorow's The Bezzle is a high stakes thriller where the lives of the hundreds of thousands of inmates in California’s prisons are traded like stock shares.
The year is 2006. Martin Hench is at the top of his game as a self-employed forensic accountant, a veteran of the long guerrilla war between people who want to hide money, and people who want to find it. He spends his downtime on Catalina Island, where scenic, imported bison wander the bluffs and frozen, reheated fast food burgers cost 25$. Wait, what? When Marty disrupts a seemingly innocuous scheme during a vacation on Catalina Island, he has no idea he’s kicked off a chain of events that will overtake the next decade of his life.
Martin has made his most dangerous mistake trespassed into the playgrounds of the ultra-wealthy and spoiled their fun. To them, money is a tool, a game, and a way to keep score, and they’ve found their newest mark―California’s Department of Corrections. Secure in the knowledge that they’re living behind far too many firewalls of shell companies and investors ever to be identified, they are interested not in the lives they ruin, but only in how much money they can extract from the government and the hundreds of thousands of prisoners they have at their mercy.
A seething rebuke of the privatized prison system that delves deeply into the arcane and baroque financial chicanery involved in the 2008 financial crash, The Bezzle is a sizzling follow-up to Red Team Blues .

My Review:

When we met Martin Hench in the first book in his series, Red Team Blues, the ‘scam’ of the day that Marty needed to unravel – before it unraveled him – was all wrapped in the cryptocurrency shenanigans of its – and our – present day.

I say our present-day because Sam Bankman-Fried’s trial for his cryptocurrency-based fraudulent shenanigans had not yet come to pass when The Bezzle was written, but has between the point when The Bezzle was written and when it is being published next week.

So Red Team Blues was a story about now – or at least now-ish. The Bezzle is a story about then. Particularly the early 2000s, when the scam of the day was yet to be uncovered in the dot com boom that has not yet busted when we go back in time with Marty and whoever he is telling this story to. Which we never do find out and I surely wish we did.

Bezzle is a real term in economics that has never gotten the study it deserves. It’s related to the crime of embezzlement, but isn’t the embezzlement itself. Instead, it’s the time between two events; the commission of the crime and its discovery. It’s a weird sort of net-positive financial limbo, or an even stranger Schrödinger’s cat situation, where both the embezzler and their victim believe they have the money and act accordingly, only for one or the other or both to suffer a rude awakening when the crime is discovered.

Now that I’ve thought about it a bit, the story in The Bezzle is a bezzle within a bezzle in a kind of möbius strip of bezzling that doesn’t so much end as shift into a state of mutually assured destruction. A state that Marty, fortunately for him, is finally able to observe from the outside looking in, instead of either from the inside of a jail cell looking out the way that his friend Scott ends up, or up from six feet under, as the villain of this story certainly intended.

Very much like Red Team Blues, The Bezzle is a story about leverage. Not just in the financial sense, but mostly in the sense of who has power over whom, and how much they are willing to pay to exercise it.

Escape Rating A: The Bezzle is a LOT of things, all of which are fascinating and make for a compelling read, but absolutely none of which are remotely science fiction, whether it is marketed as such or not. And not that SF readers won’t enjoy The Bezzle, because they certainly will and I absolutely did.

On the surface, The Bezzle is a combination of 2000 aughts’ nostalgia, a metric buttload of social commentary about the state of the State of California and its seemingly deliberately FUBAR’d penal system, some surprisingly deep analysis of the socio-economic conditions in Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series, all wrapped inside a crunchy thriller coating, making it a tasty read from beginning to end.

It starts out deceptively simple, in what looks like a small time con on an equally small island. It’s even a bit silly, as no one in their right mind would think that trading in hamburgers could bring down an entire island’s economy. At least not until Marty Hench figures out that cornering the underground fast-food market on Santa Catalina Island – where fast food franchises were illegal – is more than just a small scale attempt to make a few bucks off the local craving for forbidden fruit. It’s the public front for a Ponzi scheme that is going to bankrupt the local economy. At least until Marty gives the intended suckers some hints about leverage.

And puts a price on the heads of both Marty and the friend who brought him to Catalina in the first place.

From there, the story is off to the races. And it continues racing at a breakneck pace, even through places that might bring other stories and other writers to a screeching halt – but instead detail the long and painful process of bringing a villain to his knees while still exposing and eviscerating the system that made his villainy possible.

What makes the whole thing fly – and it absolutely does fly by – is the charm of its storyteller, Martin Hench himself. Because Marty is really, really good at three things; figuring out which way the books have been cooked, making friends, and storytelling. If you are drawn in by Marty’s world-weary, wry, sarcastic but ultimately caring voice, he’ll carry you through this trip down his memory lane. And if you enjoy caper stories, Marty is a terrific companion for this madcap thrill-ride of a tale.

If Marty manages to dig another story of good friends, filthy lucre, and tech wizards behaving badly out of his capacious memory, this reader will definitely be there for it!

A+ #BookReview: The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles by Malka Older

A+ #BookReview: The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles  by Malka OlderThe Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles (Mossa & Pleiti, #2) by Malka Ann Older
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: climate fiction, mystery, science fiction, science fiction mystery, space opera, steampunk
Series: Investigations of Mossa & Pleiti #2
Pages: 208
Published by Tordotcom on February 13, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Investigator Mossa and Scholar Pleiti reunite to solve a brand-new mystery in the follow-up to the fan-favorite cozy space opera detective mystery The Mimicking of Known Successes that Hugo Award-winning author Charlie Jane Anders called “an utter triumph.”
Mossa has returned to Valdegeld on a missing person’s case, for which she’ll once again need Pleiti’s insight.
Seventeen students and staff members have disappeared from Valdegeld University—yet no one has noticed. The answers to this case could be found in the outer reaches of the Jovian system—Mossa’s home—and the history of Jupiter’s original settlements. But Pleiti’s faith in her life’s work as scholar of the past has grown precarious, and this new case threatens to further destabilize her dreams for humanity’s future, as well as her own.

My Review:

Like the opening of the first book, The Mimicking of Known Successes, in this delightful steampunk-y, space opera-ish, not-exactly-dark academic mystery series, this second entry begins not with the discovery of a dead body as most mysteries do, but rather with the disappearance and presumed deaths of a whole bunch of bodies.

But presumption, like assumption, involves drawing conclusions that may or may not be born out by evidence. Evidence that the still mysterious Investigator Mossa is determined to collect. Possibly, she’s driven to go that extra bit as an excuse to visit with her now on-again lover Scholar Pleiti at the University at Valdegeld.

Entirely too many of those missing bodies are/were students at the University, and Mossa isn’t above using that connection as an excuse to visit Pleiti AND involve her in her work. Again. Just as she did in their first adventure.

A lot of people DO go missing on Giant – otherwise known as Jupiter. The architecture of the colony, which is made up by rings of platforms stationed around the gas giant, leaves a lot of room for both accidental and on-purpose plummets to death and destruction, whether self-induced or pushed. Searching for missing persons is consequently the raison d’être of the Investigators, of whom Mossa is a part.

But the number of missing has jumped to a degree that is statistically implausible, leading Mossa to an in-person search for those missing. Some of them will be found perfectly safe, because that happens all-too-frequently.

The question in Mossa’s inquisitive mind is whether those findings will bring the number down to something reasonable. She doesn’t believe so. And she’s right.

While Mossa is looking into missing bodies, Pleiti is dealing with a body that has been found. The mad scholar/scientist that Mossa and Pleiti pursued in that first book, the man who pointed out that all of the busy research of the university was merely the ‘mimicking of known successes’ and had little chance of ever coming to fruition, the once respected rector of the university who may have derailed the university’s entire reason for being for centuries, has been found. Or at least his corpse has been.

But the effects of that death, and the events that led up to it, still chase our intrepid investigators. And may have more to do with all those missing bodies than anyone imagined.

Escape Rating A+: There’s something supremely comforting about this series – and I’m oh-so-happy it IS a series because The Mimicking of Known Successes could easily have been a one-off.

I think it’s the combination of the outlandish and exotic with the comforting and familiar. At first it seems pretty far out there, literally as well as figuratively. Jupiter is far away and seemingly totally inhospitable. And it kind of is. But still, humanity has adapted – at least physically. We’ve made it work.

At the same time, the way it works is so very human. They are still close enough in both time and space, relatively speaking, to see their lost home as something they might return to while also romanticizing the past and the possible future.

And the university is so very much academe in a nutshell, to the point where both books’ titles absolutely ring with the sense of academic politics being so vicious because the stakes are so small, caught up so tightly in the petty grievances of scholars that are more invested in scoring off against each other and/or proving their superiority than they are about real problems and practical solutions.

Which comes right back around to the whole story of the first book AND the motivations that lead to all those missing persons that Mossa is hunting for in this second one. Hunting, in fact, all the way around the train tracks that ring the planet to a hidden platform as far away from the University as it can get – and back around again to the place where both stories began.

To the University, and ultimately to the Earth it claims it wants to return them to – even as it settles into its comforts and grievances in a way that makes the reader wonder if anyone really, truly does.

What carries the story along, what holds it up around those rings and over that gas giant, is the relationship between Mossa and Pleiti. They live in different worlds, and approach those worlds from opposing perspectives. Mossa, the Investigator, the ultimate pragmatist, always on the hunt for a new mystery, and Pleiti, the scholar and dreamer ensconced within the comforts and comfortable stability of the university. Their relationship didn’t work the first time, because they couldn’t meet in the middle and let each other in.

This time around they’re a bit older, sometimes sadder, occasionally wiser. Or at least wise enough to know that they are better together than they are apart, even if that togetherness has and even requires more space that one or the other might desire.

Watching them try, following them as they attempt to join two worlds and two perspectives that aren’t intended to meet in any middle, adds something very special to this delightfully charming science fiction mystery that will keep readers coming back for more.

Particularly this reader, left desperately hoping for a third book in the series.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 2-11-24

I’m at the stage of this cold where I think I’m going to feel better in the morning. And I kinda do, but not nearly enough. So it’s another drippy day here at Chez Reading Reality – and I’m NOT referring to the weather.

It doesn’t help at all that when either of the humans in the house sneeze, ALL the cats jump and run away. If one happens to be the trampoline upon which said jump takes place, the whole operation is less than fun for everyone.

Although, speaking of fun, that’s a picture of a lazy Luna lounging on the gaming chair. It’s a VERY comfy chair. Someone should be getting the benefit of it!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Heart 2 Heart Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Love is in the Air Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter 2024 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

B- #BookReview: The Holy Terrors by Simon R. Green
B #BookReview: A Murder of Crows by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett
A+ #BookReview: The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett
B+ #BookReview: A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen
Love is in the Air Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (587)

Coming This Week:

The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles by Malka Older #BookReview
The Bezzle by Cory Doctorow #BookReview
At First Spite by Olivia Dade #BookReview
What Feasts at Night by T. Kingfisher #AudioBookReview
Wish Big Giveaway Hop

Stacking the Shelves (587)

How is it that something that is so ubiquitous it is literally called ‘the common cold’ manages to make a person feel so uncommonly miserable with so little warning? You’d think I’d get plenty of reading done while I’m sniffling and coughing, but looking down to read just makes everything worse. I think it’s finally on its way out, but it feels like it’s taking twice as long to leave as it did to arrive.

Yuck. And I repeat. YUCK.

Something definitely not yucky that I participate in every year is serving on one of the American Library Association’s adult book awards committees. This year it’s the Sophie Brody Medal Committee, which administers “an award to the U.S. author of the most distinguished contribution to Jewish literature (fiction and/or non-fiction) for adults published in the United States” published during the year. In this particular case, published during the year 2024.

Being on one of the ALA book award committees, whichever committee it happens to be in a given year, does influence which books I pick up from NetGalley and Edelweiss, and boxes of books show up at my front door on a regular basis. So the titles that may be under consideration will appear in my stacks, but won’t be noted as such, and this is the last time I’ll mention the committee until the winner(s) are officially announced in January 2025. Which seems like a lifetime from now and already too damn close, both at the same time.

For Review:
The Dallergut Dream Department Store by Miye Lee
Dear Edna Sloane by Amy Shearn
Fervor by Toby Lloyd
The Goldie Standard by Simi Monheit
In the Shadow of the Greenbrier by Emily Matchar
An Intrigue of Witches (Secret Society #1) by Esme Addison
Judaism is About Love by Shai Held
The Kill List (Inspector Anjelica Henley #3) by Nadine Matheson
Mastering the Art of French Murder (American in Paris #1) by Colleen Cambridge
A Murder Most French (American in Paris #2) by Colleen Cambridge
Opening Doors by Hasia R. Diner
Summer’s End (Shady Hollow #5) by Juneau Black
To Be A Jew Today by Noah Feldman
Toward a Holy Ecology by Ellen Bernstein


If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

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Love is in the Air Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Love is in the Air Giveaway Hop, hosted by Review Wire Media!

There are holidays, and then there are ‘Hallmark Holidays’. You know the ones I mean, the ones that seem like they exist solely for the purpose of selling greeting cards. Groundhog Day is actually on the list of Hallmark Holidays, and I’m suddenly wondering what those cards look like and who one sends them to? The people who take care of Punxsutawney Phil?

It seems as if Valentine’s Day may be falling into the ‘Hallmark Holiday’ zone – along with Sweetest Day, which I remember my parents making a big deal of back in the day, but not a holiday you hear much about anymore. Except in the greeting card aisle of the grocery store, of course.

What do you think? Is Valentine’s Day in danger of falling into the ‘Hallmark Holiday’ zone – or is is still a big deal for you and yours? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at a bit of love and/or cheer from Amazon, courtesy of Reading Reality.

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#BookReview: A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen

#BookReview: A Quantum Love Story by Mike ChenA Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, science fiction, science fiction romance, time travel
Pages: 368
Published by Harlequin MIRA on January 30, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The only thing harder than finding someone in a time loop is losing them.

Grieving her best friend's recent death, neuroscientist Mariana Pineda’s ready to give up everything to start anew. Even her career— after one last week consulting at a top secret particle accelerator.

Except the strangest thing a man stops her…and claims they've met before. Carter Cho knows who she is, why she's mourning, why she's there. And he needs Mariana to remember everything he’s saying.

Because time is about to loop.

In a flash of energy, it’s Monday morning. Again. Together, Mariana and Carter enter an inevitable life, four days at a time, over and over, without permanence except for what they share. With everything resetting—even bank accounts—joy comes in the little a delicious (and expensive) meal, a tennis match, giving a dog his favorite treat.

In some ways, those are all that matter.

But just as they figure out this new life, everything changes. Because Carter's memories of the time loop are slowly disappearing. And their only chance at happiness is breaking out of the loop—forever.

My Review:

Carter Cho recognizes that he’s in a time loop. He has four days to live, over and over and over and OVER again, with no way to stop it and no way out. All he can do is watch, wait and repeat. It’s boring, it’s disheartening, it’s downright depressing. Most of all it’s terribly, terribly lonely.

Until Carter decides to take one loop and do the opposite of everything he did the first and all the subsequent, mind-numbing, heart-breaking times he’s looped before. And in that opposition he manages to convince, coerce, drag another person into the loop with him.

Dr. Mariana Pineda and technician Carter Cho are opposites in every possible way, but all they have is each other. And a seemingly endless amount of time to figure out what keeps making the Hawke Accelerator accelerate itself into a catastrophic explosion, time after time after time – and resetting the world as everyone but the two of them knows it.

Neither of them has the training or the tools to diagnose what’s going wrong – but they are all they have. And that turns out to be more than enough. Just in the nick of, well, time.

Escape Rating B+: If the blurb or the description above are making you think of the movie Groundhog Day, you are not alone. Neither was it alone in my head as I was reading my way through the first part of the story – because time travel loops have been done before.

In other words, this loop has been looped before. As they do.

At one end of that time loop story perspective there’s Groundhog Day, which has kind of a sweet ending no matter how much of an asshole the protagonist (played by Bill Murray) is as the story begins. But Carter Cho is a really nice guy – if a bit of an underachiever according to his parents – so that resemblance isn’t 100%

The ending of A Quantum Love Story, or rather, all the endings of the world before the resets, have all of the explosive punch of the movie Edge of Tomorrow, although there’s no war in Quantum.

A Quantum Love Story felt more akin to the Stargate SG-1 episode “Window of Opportunity” as following the protagonists through the loops of that journey goes through many of the same stages that Carter and Mariana go through while following characters that one really does want to follow. Also there’s no real villain in “Window of Opportunity”, which is also true in Quantum. The story, the journey, the battle if you will, is to solve the mystery and break the cycle – not to break heads.

But the chasing down of just how many different time loop stories this one brought to mind kept me from being as invested in Carter and Mariana’s problem solving through their loops, although the emotional journey they took did hold my interest even as it briefly looked like it was heading for Flowers for Algernon territory which made for some tense moments for this reader. (Don’t worry too much, it doesn’t go there, but there were a few bits that just about gave me the weepies when it looked that way. Howsomever, the author has form for this, as that’s part of the direction that his lovely Light Years from Home went.)

The heart of the story, and it very much does have one, is in the relationship between Carter and Mariana, who begin as opposites in just about every sense of the word and bond through shared trauma. But what they discover through that sharing is that their version of opposites attract brings out the best in both of them, and that there are possibilities in life that neither of them ever imagined.

Including the possibility of a happy ever after with someone that they would otherwise never have had a chance to meet. A chance that will be whisked away if they ever manage to solve the problem and stop the resets.

The solution to both problems, to the endless resets of the time loop and to stopping those resets, turns out to be exactly the same thing. With one surprising and beautiful deus ex machina of an exception.

Ultimately, the repeating time loops with their repeating reminders of other time loop stories is both a bit of a bug AND a feature. After all this is a story about things repeating until they don’t, so it seems right that they kind of do. In the end I was charmed by the story and the characters as they worked through both repeating and not repeating time at the same time.

I’ll certainly be repeating my exploration of this author’s work and his signature combination of science fiction and relationship fiction with his next outing, hopefully this time next year. In the meantime, if you are intrigued by this review, check out the first chapter excerpt I posted last week. If you like SF with just a touch of romance and a heaping helping of relationship building and problem solving, you just might fall in love with A Quantum Love Story!

A+ #BookReview: The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett

A+ #BookReview: The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson BennettThe Tainted Cup (Shadow of the Leviathan, #1) by Robert Jackson Bennett
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, fantasy mystery, urban fantasy
Series: Shadow of the Leviathan #2
Pages: 432
Published by Del Rey on February 6, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

In Daretana’s most opulent mansion, a high Imperial officer lies dead—killed, to all appearances, when a tree spontaneously erupted from his body. Even in this canton at the borders of the Empire, where contagions abound and the blood of the Leviathans works strange magical changes, it’s a death at once terrifying and impossible.
Called in to investigate this mystery is Ana Dolabra, an investigator whose reputation for brilliance is matched only by her eccentricities.
At her side is her new assistant, Dinios Kol. Din is an engraver, magically altered to possess a perfect memory. His job is to observe and report, and act as his superior’s eyes and ears--quite literally, in this case, as among Ana’s quirks are her insistence on wearing a blindfold at all times, and her refusal to step outside the walls of her home.
Din is most perplexed by Ana’s ravenous appetite for information and her mind’s frenzied leaps—not to mention her cheerful disregard for propriety and the apparent joy she takes in scandalizing her young counterpart. Yet as the case unfolds and Ana makes one startling deduction after the next, he finds it hard to deny that she is, indeed, the Empire’s greatest detective.
As the two close in on a mastermind and uncover a scheme that threatens the safety of the Empire itself, Din realizes he’s barely begun to assemble the puzzle that is Ana Dolabra—and wonders how long he’ll be able to keep his own secrets safe from her piercing intellect.
Featuring an unforgettable Holmes-and-Watson style pairing, a gloriously labyrinthine plot, and a haunting and wholly original fantasy world, The Tainted Cup brilliantly reinvents the classic mystery tale.

My Review:

Just like winter in Westeros, the wet season is coming to the Empire of Khanum. There are monsters massing outside the fortifications that guard the border, and there are humans behaving monstrously within the walls, jockeying for political advantage without a care in the world for the amount of collateral damage they might cause in their quest for power.

Young, newly fledged, still probationary, assistant investigator Dinios Kol has been tasked with visiting his very first death scene on behalf of senior investigator Ana Dolabra. Din has been genetically engineered to remember everything, whether at a crime scene or not, and it’s his literal job to serve as Ana’s eyes and ears.

It’s her preference to never leave her house. If Din’s observations lead her to desiring an interview with a witness or a suspect, she’ll subpoena them to come to her. She has that right and that privilege.

Which doesn’t stop the privileged servants who maintain this particular murder scene for their highly ranked gentry masters from treating Din like dirt when he shows up at their door. In spite of pretty much everyone’s strong desire to get the corpse out of the house as soon as the evidence has been collected and the scene is released.

Even if they will need to cut the dead man out of both the floor and the ceiling of the room his body is occupying. It’s not every day that someone dies because a tree took root in their lungs and rapidly grew through their body to implant its roots in the room’s floor and interweave its branches in the ceiling.

As sensational as the murder appears on the surface (or rather, all the surfaces in the room), it’s only the beginning of the story, the case, and Din’s career as an investigator. Because the plot is thicker than Din imagines, the world is much darker and dirtier than his limited experience has led him to believe – and his mentor, the eccentric and seemingly disgraced Ana Dolabra, is considerably more than she appears.

The vast intellectual light that Dolabra is hiding in Din’s tiny, backwater village is enough to burn out a whole lot of the rot. It’s up to Din to learn enough on the job to keep himself from being caught in the flames.

Escape Rating A+: There’s been a rise in science fiction mysteries in the last couple of years, with books like Mur Lafferty’s Station Eternity, Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Spare Man, and Eddie Robson’s Drunk On All Your Strange New Words leading the way. There’s also been a resurgence of urban fantasy, a genre which was always the bastard child of the paranormal (with or without romance) and mystery (If you’re interested, take a look at T.L. Huchu’s Edinburgh Nights (starting with The Library of the Dead) and James J. Butcher’s Unorthodox Chronicles that begin with Dead Man’s Hand). But there’s never been a LOT of purely fantasy mystery – at least not since Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy, which was also, come to think of it, every bit as much of a play on Sherlock Holmes as The Tainted Cup turned out to be.

The Tainted Cup, however, is very much an epic fantasy world, but a story whose plot is wrapped around the conventions of a mystery – albeit a mystery that is not in the least cozy. The only way you’d get something cozy out of this one would be if you chopped up the tree that grew through the first body and used it to build a cozy – if somewhat gruesome – fire.

The pairing of Ana Dolabra with Dinios Kol owes a lot to Holmes and Watson – but it will also remind readers of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin – or possibly their more recent reincarnations as Pentecost and Parker in Stephen Spotswood’s series that begins with Fortune Favors the Dead. Din is young, naive and untried pretty much all the way around. He’s a small town boy who is about to be thrust into a wider and more dangerous world than he ever imagined. The Tainted Cup is just the beginning of his coming-of-age story, making him considerably more like Goodwin and Parker than Watson, although Goodwin and Parker were both more worldly wise than Din at the beginnings of their respective stories.

Dolabra, on the other hand, is very much Holmesian in her eccentricities, her extreme intolerance for boredom and consequent bad behavior in regards to alleviating it, but above all in her sheer genius for resolving the mysteries put before her. On all the other hands, her unwillingness to leave her residence to seek out the clues for herself is all Wolfe and to a limited extent, Pentecost.

But the setting of The Tainted Cup, and the epically FUBAR political situation therein, is very much fantasy of both the grimdark and steampunk varieties. The world, with its mixture of science and magic and scientifically based magic is similar to the setting of L.E. Modesitt’s Grand Illusion series that kicks off with Isolate. Din shows promise of becoming Steffan Dekkard someday, but he absolutely is not there yet. Part of the fascination of The Tainted Cup is watching Din grow into his job – especially the gray areas within it – without betraying his core principles.

It’s the story of Din learning how to bend without breaking OR breaking the truly important rules. Especially when presented with incontrovertible evidence that entirely too many people already have.

That all being said, the way that this fantasy empire works – and doesn’t – especially the alchemy of corruption and power that holds the empire back and pushes the story forward, brought both Age of Ash and In the Shadow of Lightning to my mind and might to yours as well. (A hint that if you liked either of those or The Grand Illusion you might like this as well.)

I’m writing a LOT about this book and what it reminds me of because I really, really loved it and hope others do as well, leading to what may seem like an epic number of readalikes because I’m hoping to drag people in by hook or by crook.

So, The Tainted Cup reads like a murder mystery, because it absolutely is. The story progresses because Din, sometimes at Dolabra’s request but sometimes on his own, unravels the puzzle of whodunnit, how it was done and most importantly why it was done in bits and pieces, one clue and one pull of the thread at a time.

But, while Din is pulling those threads, the tapestry of this crime and the tapestry of the empire are getting bigger and broader all around him, while at the same time fraying at the edges. Din can’t see the whole picture – he doesn’t know enough to see the whole picture. And neither do we.

Watching him work his way through lets us see the vast scope of everything, both the crime he’s uncovered and the empire that’s falling apart around it, and makes for a compelling page-turner of a story.

A story that is clearly not done when the reader turns the last page. Not that this particular case isn’t solved – because it is and satisfactorily at that – but because this case is just the tip of a very dirty iceberg.

There are at least two more books planned for the Shadow of the Leviathan series. Which is a terrific thing because Din’s journey is far from complete and the depths of this empire have not yet been plumbed – and they surely need plumbing. Surely we’ll find out whether Dolabra and Din are up for THAT dirty job in those books yet to come.