Review: The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: The American Agent by Jacqueline WinspearThe American Agent (Maisie Dobbs, #15) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #15
Pages: 384
Published by Harper on March 26, 2019
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Beloved heroine Maisie Dobbs, “one of the great fictional heroines” (Parade), investigates the mysterious murder of an American war correspondent in London during the Blitz in a page-turning tale of love and war, terror and survival.

When Catherine Saxon, an American correspondent reporting on the war in Europe, is found murdered in her London digs, news of her death is concealed by British authorities. Serving as a linchpin between Scotland Yard and the Secret Service, Robert MacFarlane pays a visit to Maisie Dobbs, seeking her help. He is accompanied by an agent from the US Department of Justice—Mark Scott, the American who helped Maisie escape Hitler’s Munich in 1938. MacFarlane asks Maisie to work with Scott to uncover the truth about Saxon’s death.

As the Germans unleash the full terror of their blitzkrieg upon the British Isles, raining death and destruction from the skies, Maisie must balance the demands of solving this dangerous case with her need to protect Anna, the young evacuee she has grown to love and wants to adopt. Entangled in an investigation linked to the power of wartime propaganda and American political intrigue being played out in Britain, Maisie will face losing her dearest friend—and the possibility that she might be falling in love again.

My Review:

It’s March, which means it’s time for this year’s Maisie Dobbs adventure. I’m just sorry her publisher isn’t sponsoring the “Month of Maisie” any longer, as that always made for a terrific excuse to pick up one of the earlier books in the series as well as the new one.

For Maisie, the year in 1940, and London is in the middle of the Blitz. And so is Maisie, as she and her best friend Patricia are doing in London what they did in the Great War so many (and so few) years ago.

They’re driving an ambulance and taking the wounded from the “front” to hospital. It’s just that this time, that “front” is the streets of London. Their roads are better paved this time around, but the shelling is even more deadly.

Just because Maisie is driving an ambulance every night, that doesn’t mean that she isn’t solving cases during the day. Even though she’s “dead on her feet” half the time, victims of murder still need justice.

Her worlds collide. One night, Maisie and Patricia have an observer on their ambulance run – a female American journalist. Cath Saxon is reporting the war from a woman’s perspective – with the hope of becoming one of the “boys” working for and with Edward R. Murrow.

Just as Cath gets in – she’s out. She’s found murdered in her rented rooms, and both Scotland Yard and the American Embassy call on Maisie to find out who killed her. It might just be a love affair gone wrong. It might have something to do with her reporting. There’s also a chance that her powerful family back in America decided that Cath’s sympathetic reports of the plucky and heroic English response to Hitler’s Blitz might be too embarrassing for their Hitler-sympathizing friends back home.

Maisie is supposed to be working with an American agent on this case. Mark Scott is the same American agent who saved her life during her nearly disastrous Journey to Munich. But as the case progresses it’s clear to Maisie that the man who is supposed to be working WITH her is working on an agenda of his own – and mostly far from Maisie’s inquiries.

And that at least part of his hidden agenda has more to do with Maisie herself than any case either of them might be investigating.

Escape Rating A: This is a series that I absolutely love, and eagerly await the next book. So I’m already on tenterhooks for book 16, hopefully next March. But in the meantime there’s plenty to discuss regarding The American Agent.

One thing that struck me as I read about Maisie and Patricia’s exploits as ambulance drivers was the way that it brought home just how close World War II was to World War I. Both women served in the Great War, Maisie as a nurse and Patricia as an ambulance driver. As this book opens, they are still only in their early 40s, still in their prime. And serving again. Although there are many young people who think that war is glorious, as evidenced by the behavior of Patricia’s son in To Die but Once. At the same time there are plenty of people populating Maisie’s world who served in the first war, are serving in the second, and know from grim experience that war is terrible. And are equally aware that they must fight, that surrender is unthinkable.

However, there are plenty of people who have taken that belief that war is terrible, but either believe that Hitler is unstoppable or don’t care who dies as long as their profits continue. And some who agree with his many and terrible hatreds and prejudices. (If that sounds familiar, it bloody well should as things stand today!)

Ironically, we are re-watching Poirot, and the later episodes of that series also deal with the impending war. The Clocks had been rewritten to take place before the war, and part of the plot revolved around government agents who were giving secrets to the Nazis to make Britain fall faster so that the war would end sooner. The Duke of Windsor was part of this movement, much to the embarrassment of the Royal Family.

There were also plenty of people in America who believed that Hitler’s win was inevitable – or were in at least economic cahoots with Germany. And there was a significant amount of Antisemitism involved, people who believed that Hitler’s plan to kill all the Jews was the right way to go. (Yes, that’s appalling. But true.)

Charles Lindbergh, the aviator, was a prominent member of the America First Committee, which wanted America to stay out of the war and tacitly agreed with the Antisemitic tone of the party. One of the other prominent members of the America First movement was Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy. Joe Kennedy was also the U.S. Ambassador to Britain during this story, and Maisie’s American Agent is using the hunt for Cath Saxon’s killer to poke into Joe Kennedy’s dubious dealings. Because there were plenty to poke into.

It works as a ruse because Cath’s father, a prominent U.S. Senator, is also an America Firster. And he, along with his “friends” were dead set against Cath reporting material that was sympathetic to the British cause. The family was dead set against Cath being a reporter at all.

Maisie has to look into just how dead they were set. And wonders if her investigations will lead her into places that the U.S. Embassy will not want her to go. Or, at least to report.

But Maisie never presumes, never presupposed and never lets herself get dead set on any hypothesis. She follows the clues where they lead her. No matter how much she has to dig, and how many secrets she uncovers along the way.

It’s what makes following her so interesting, and her character so fascinating. I’m looking forward to reading more of Maisie’s war in the next book. And while I wait, I think I’m going to treat myself with a dive into What Would Maisie Do?

Review: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Review: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn LyonsThe Ruin of Kings (A Chorus of Dragons, #1) by Jenn Lyons
Format: audiobook, eARC, hardcover
Source: publisher, publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Chorus of Dragons #1
Pages: 560
Published by Tor Books on February 5, 2019
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There are the old stories. And then there’s what actually happens.

Kihrin is a bastard orphan who grew up on storybook tales of long-lost princes and grand quests. When he is claimed against his will as the long-lost son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds that being a long-lost prince isn't what the storybooks promised.

Far from living the dream, Kihrin finds himself practically a prisoner, at the mercy of his new family's power plays and ambitions. He also discovers that the storybooks have lied about a lot of other things things, too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love, and how the hero always wins.

Then again, maybe he’s not the hero, for Kihrin isn’t destined to save the empire.

He’s destined to destroy it . . .

Uniting the worldbuilding of a Brandon Sanderson with the storytelling verve of a Patrick Rothfuss, debut author Jenn Lyons delivers an entirely new and captivating fantasy epic. Prepare to meet the genre’s next star.

My Review:

The “Ruin of Kings” is a sword. It’s also one hell of a story. Come to think of it, it’s also one hell of a sword.

That this is the author’s debut novel is amazing. Because this may very well be the epic fantasy of the year. It’s almost certainly the debut epic fantasy of the year. And I’m already positive that it will be on my Hugo ballot next year.

I’m going to try to stop squeeing now so that I can possibly talk about the actual book – and not just how much I loved it. Although I certainly did.

This story, like The Raven Tower earlier this year, is an experiment in voice. Unlike that previous book, however, this one works. It really, really works.

The three voices that tell the story of The Ruin of Kings are all fascinating, all compelling, and all utterly different. They are also telling the same story from not merely different perspectives but from different points in time. And yet, they all manage to meet in the end to set up the truly epic conclusion.

This is Kihrin’s story. And it’s Talon’s story. And it’s Thurvishar’s story. But mostly it’s Kihrin’s story, told partially from his perspective and partially from theirs. Well, sort of from theirs.

Talon is a mimic. A sadistic mimic. She’s a monster in the human sense of her sadism, but also in the sense that she really is a monster. She kills people for fun, eats their brains and receives the memories from the brains she eats. So when she tells the story, it’s partially her perspective and partially the perspective of the people whose brains she ate.

Thurvishar is the peanut gallery. Not really, in the end his perspective is more important than that. We begin the story thinking he’s the chronicler of events that have recently past – and he certainly is that. But he was also a part of those events, as well as being a scholar and researcher. He has opinions. He has quibbles. He gets disgusted with the naivete and the misinformation provided both by and to the other two people in the story.

It is a true story, but it’s told from a certain perspective. Eyewitness accounts are far from reliable, and people believe all sorts of things that are not provably true – or even that are provably false.

Especially when it comes to gods, and goddesses, and origin stories thereof.

This also, unusually for epic fantasy, is not a story about a hero saving the world. All the prophecies are pointing to Kihrin being the hero who will destroy the world. The question of whether (not to mention exactly how) he’s supposed to do this, as well as whether or not its a good idea for him to do this, are all still up in the super-heated air when this first book in the project trilogy closes.

Not even death is an ending in this one. It may only be the beginning. And what a marvelous beginning it is.

Escape Rating A+: Was that rating a surprise? Really? This is pure awesomesauce from beginning to end.

The story begins with Kihrin in jail, being coerced by Talon to tell her his story from his point of view while they wait for him to be sacrificed. He opens his own story at a slave auction, with himself as the slave being auctioned. And the pace never lets up from there.

But Talon is unsatisfied. As she so often is by so many things. She believes his story began earlier. When he broke into an empty house to steal whatever wasn’t nailed down and let his curiosity get the better of him. He witnessed a murder. And a demon summoning. And he got caught – by the demon. And eventually by both of the summoners.

It all leads back to that jail cell. And what comes after. But in the middle – it’s one hell of a story.

No one in this story is exactly what they seem – or even what they think they are. Particularly Kihrin, who begins the story as a thief and a minstrel’s son, and reaches the end as a swordsman, a sorcerer, and a prince. None of which turn out to be exactly what they’re cracked up to be.

In some ways, this story reminded me of Dune. I know that sounds odd, but it’s in the way the story is being told. Dune also begins with a chronicler claiming to be writing an unbiased historical account. An account that is not exactly unbiased – although I remember Princess Irulan trying a bit harder than Thurvishar does.

In other ways, it reminds me very much of The Name of the Wind. It has that same kind of depth, that epic scope and sweep, that same sense that nothing is as it seems. It’s also told somewhat the same way, with the character, or in this case the characters, telling the story to someone else. I just hope that the author of The Ruin of Kings manages to wrap up the trilogy a bit more expeditiously!

The voices of the three “narrators” of The Ruin of Kings are very distinct. Kihrin begins the story as young and naive, no matter how jaded he thinks he was. His naivete is under constant assault, and this is the story of his loss of many different types of innocence.

Talos’ has absorbed many, many people, and they are all distinct to her in her extremely crowded head. She speaks for them, but also for herself. Her perspective is that of someone who has literally seen everything and done everything – and then killed the people who did it.

Thurvishar begins the story speaking directly only within footnotes. It was Thurvishar’s part of the story that made me switch from the ebook to the audiobook. Footnotes do not work well in ebooks, but in audio his contributions were inserted as wry asides, or occasionally arguments, within the text and provided further information, sarcastic commentary, and light relief in turns.

(I actually have the audiobook and the eARC AND the hardcover. I loved this one real hard. I needed the hardcover for the maps.)

I was enjoying the audio so much than when I couldn’t stand not knowing how the story ended I played Solitaire for four hours so I’d have something to do with my hands while these three marvelous actors told me a terrific story.

The Ruin of Kings has everything a reader could possibly want in an epic fantasy. Unreliable narrators, meddling gods, troublesome demons, crazy dragons, evil necromancers and political shenanigans played to the death – all folded into the story of a lifetime.

Or two or three lifetimes. Death, after all, is not permanent. Except when it is.

The second book in the trilogy, The Name of All Things, is scheduled to be released in October. I want it NOW!

Reviewer’s Note: Goodreads claims that this is YA. It is so, so, so not YA. And it should come with all the trigger warnings, including some that probably don’t exist yet.

Review: Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

Review: Radicalized by Cory DoctorowRadicalized by Cory Doctorow
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: science fiction, short stories
Pages: 304
Published by Tor Books on March 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From New York Times bestselling author Cory Doctorow, Radicalized is four urgent SF novellas of America's present and future within one book

Told through one of the most on-pulse genre voices of our generation, Radicalized is a timely novel comprised of four SF novellas connected by social, technological, and economic visions of today and what America could be in the near, near future. Unauthorized Bread is a tale of immigration, the toxicity of economic and technological stratification, and the young and downtrodden fighting against all odds to survive and prosper.

In Model Minority, a Superman-like figure attempts to rectifiy the corruption of the police forces he long erroneously thought protected the defenseless...only to find his efforts adversely affecting their victims.

Radicalized is a story of a darkweb-enforced violent uprising against insurance companies told from the perspective of a man desperate to secure funding for an experimental drug that could cure his wife's terminal cancer.

The fourth story, Masque of the Red Death, harkens back to Doctorow's Walkaway, taking on issues of survivalism versus community.

My Review:

This is my first Cory Doctorow, and probably won’t be my last. I’ve seen his columns in Locus, where he predicts the future -sorta/kinda – but hadn’t read any of his books. When this popped up on my radar, it seemed like the time.

The advantage of collections is that the individual entries are generally shorter. I could always bail if it didn’t work for me. That didn’t happen – although I occasionally wanted to stop out of sheer terror.

The disadvantage of collections is that they are sometimes uneven. That didn’t happen here either. What did happen is that the stories get darker as they go. The first one isn’t exactly light-hearted, but does end with a glimmer of hope.

And that glimmer is the last light we see. The stories, and the futures that they posit, get progressively darker from there.

What this is is a collection of very-near-future dystopias. This is a future so close that we can see it from here. It seems to be mining a similar vein as If This Goes On, the recent collection edited by Cat Rambo – although these stories feel closer. A bit too close.

Unauthorized Bread is the first story in Radicalized, and it’s the one that ends in that glimmer of hope I mentioned. Not that there isn’t plenty of darkness in the middle. This story is about a lot of things, particularly the way that immigrants and others at the lower end of the socioeconomic lottery are marginalized and demonized. That message seemed fairly overt.

The less overt message, but still very much present, is the message about just how different “choice” looks from the perspective of people who have the societal privilege of being able to always choose between good, better and best, as opposed to those who are squeezed into the position of being forced to choose between terrible, awful and least bad.

But the plot is also a slightly terrifying extension of digital rights management – frequently a horror story all by itself – from the world of music, video and software to the world of appliances. We’ve seen the start of this, when Keurig introduced DRM into its line of coffee makers, allowing them to restrict use of the device that you own to pods that they authorize. Think about that, scale it up, and then shake in fear – and caffeine withdrawal.

The Model Minority is where the chill really sets in in this collection. But in the end, it ultimately felt sad. The future is posits is frightening, and all too plausible – even, perhaps likely. But this is one where I really felt for the character, and he ends up in a very sad place by the end. And so should we all.

The protagonist of this piece is a superhero who is meant to be Superman without ever naming him such. (DC would probably object – with lawyers). But he’s an alien whose current mundane identity is named Clark and whose girlfriend is a reporter named Lois. And he has a rich friend named Bruce who also has a secret identity. You connect the dots.

The story here is what happens when our hero is confronted with blatant racism. He witnesses a bunch of white cops pull a black man out of his own car and beat him nearly to death while putting on a show for their body cameras. Superhero steps into save the man being beaten, and attempts to get him proper medical treatment and a fair trial.

And it all goes pear-shaped, as we all expect it to. The system is designed to protect the cops and demonize the innocent black motorist. The media gins up, the way it does, to make it seem like the arrest and brutal beating are all the fault of the victim – because he’s black. The more our hero tries to help the man, the more trouble he causes, not only for the original victim, but also for himself.

Because when he threatens that fragile white majority with evidence of their own racism, they turn on him rather than look inside themselves. As they do. As we do.

The title story in this collection is a story about the weaponization of what is now the quiet desperation of families who are about to lose or have lost a beloved family member. Not because their condition is untreatable, but because their health insurance company refuses to pay for treatment.

Combine that with a big “what if?” What if those quietly desperate people treated health insurance company executives and employees exactly the same way that abortion providers are “treated” by the so-called right-to-life movement – with doxxing and harassment and terrorist attacks. This is purely my interpretation of the story, but it feels right. And ends up making the story about whether the ends justify the means – a contemplation that is itself frightening.

Last but not least, The Masque of the Red Death. On the surface, it’s the story of a prepper’s dream that turns into a prepper’s nightmare. A whole bunch of smug one-percenters are so certain that they’ve figured out how to survive the coming collapse of civilization – and that they will emerge from their hidden sanctuary fat and happy and ready to be back on top of the new civilization that they are just certain will be exactly like the old one, and that they’ll rule it.

Discovering that they have planned for everything except for their own humanity – and their hubris – takes this tale from chills to downright horror in quick steps. This is one of those cases where the road to hell is paved with bad and thoughtless intentions that the thinkers believe are good – at least for them.

Thinking about it, however, it strikes me that this story also ends in a glimmer of hope – just not for its initial protagonists.

Escape Rating A+: Science fiction in general, and this author in this collection in particular, is at its thought-provoking best when it comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. These stories do much more of the latter than the former, and are all intensely well-done in ways that will make the reader think – and squirm.

Review: The Chaos Function by Jack Skillingstead

Review: The Chaos Function by Jack SkillingsteadThe Chaos Function by Jack Skillingstead
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: science fiction, thriller, time travel
Pages: 304
Published by John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on March 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For readers of the best‑selling novels Sleeping Giants and Dark Matter, an intense, high‑stakes thriller with a science‑fiction twist that asks: If technology enabled you to save the life of someone you love, would you do so even if it might doom millions?   Olivia Nikitas, a hardened journalist whose specialty is war zones, has been reporting from the front lines of the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. When Brian, an aid worker she reluctantly fell in love with, dies while following her into danger, she’ll do anything to bring him back. In a makeshift death chamber beneath an ancient, sacred site, a strange technology is revealed to Olivia: the power to remake the future by changing the past.    Following her heart and not her head, Olivia brings Brian back, accidentally shifting the world to the brink of nuclear and biological disaster. Now she must stay steps ahead of the guardians of this technology, who will kill her to reclaim it, in order to save not just herself and her love, but the whole world.

My Review:

There’s a quote from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that goes,

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

This is a story about what happens when someone has the power to lure that Moving Finger back to cancel more than half a line – but does not – as no human does – have the wisdom to determine whether that cancellation was, or was not, the right thing to do.

This book was simply a wow.

Of course, it’s also just a bit more complicated than that. Also just saying it’s a wow isn’t really an informative review – although it certainly is succinct.

At first, this seems like a near-future dystopian novel, until it isn’t. And then it is again. And then it isn’t.

Still confused? I think it’s intentional – at least on the part of the story.

Olivia is an investigative journalist chasing a story in Aleppo, Syria, just a little more than a decade from now. Her world doesn’t feel much different from ours in time, only in place. The seemingly permanent, perpetual civil war/uprising/revolution/counterinsurgency/whatever that she is covering is worlds away from the comfortable life that still very much exists back in the US.

But Olivia makes her living covering what she calls the “Disaster”. A disaster that could be anywhere, and often is – just not back home. Also a disaster that seems to be a direct consequence of actions taken in our present, as the Syrian conflict that she is covering is the war to overthrow Assad, which has its roots in our now.

She’s attempting to cover violations of the current, tentative peace agreement when she, her guide and her aid worker-lover get caught in the crossfire – and the world changes.

And changes again. And again. And it’s all Olivia’s fault… Really, it is.

Brian is killed in that crossfire, and Olivia finds herself in the basement of the building she was trying to investigate, his blood still on her hands, when she finds an old man who has been tortured taking his last breaths. Something jumps from his corpse to her living body, and burrows itself into her brain.

When she makes a wish that Brian hadn’t died – he isn’t dead. But the world has changed, and not for the better.

That’s the point where things get very, very hairy. And then they get worse.

Since it’s all Olivia’s fault, it’s up to her to fix it if she can. Because the needs of the many really do outweigh the needs of the few or of the one – even if that one is someone she loves.

Escape Rating A+: This is still a wow.

I believe that the reason this is such a wow is that there are multiple ways to look at the story, all of them equally valid – as they should be. This is, after all, a story about the butterfly effect – for a butterfly with extremely large wings.

From the very beginning, I saw multiple connections to this story. Something about the atmosphere in war-torn Aleppo recalled for me the atmosphere of The Children of Men by P.D. James. The stories aren’t actually alike, but the worlds felt similar.

Once Olivia discovers her ability to change the future, the way that it worked was extremely similar to Ia’s ability in the military SF series Theirs Not to Reason Why. Like Ia, Olivia is trying to find the best of all possible outcomes, no matter how slim a chance it is, and make it happen. The difference is that Ia knows how to use her power, and Olivia most definitely does not.

But it’s the different, and all equally awful, portraits of the way that the world goes mad that push the story forward at breakneck speed. Each of Olivia’s attempts to save Brian results in greater and greater disasters. A weaponized smallpox epidemic. Nuclear powers, blaming each other, fingers on too many triggers, wiping out each other’s major cities and food producing regions. And it gets worse from there.

(I haven’t seen the world go so far past hell in a handbasket so fast since the early books in S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse)

The source of Olivia’s new-found power throws in a cult of conspiracy theorists as well as a chase around the world. The ability to control the future is a power that has been closely guarded – and extremely contested – for centuries. And no one’s vision of “better” remotely resembles anyone else’s.

But there’s a reason why I started with Omar Khayyam and ended with Spock. Because the story in The Chaos Function is also, writ large and with even more deadly consequences, the story of the classic Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever. And the ending is just as necessary, and just as heartbreaking.

Review: Jacked Cat Jive by Rhys Ford

Review: Jacked Cat Jive by Rhys FordJacked Cat Jive (Kai Gracen #3) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, urban fantasy
Series: Kai Gracen #3
Pages: 352
Published by Dreamspinner Press on March 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Stalker Kai Gracen knew his human upbringing would eventually clash with his elfin heritage, but not so soon. Between Ryder, a pain-in-his-neck Sidhe Lord coaxing him to join San Diego’s Southern Rise Court, and picking up bounties for SoCalGov, he has more than enough to deal with. With his loyalties divided between the humans who raised him and the Sidhe Lord he’s befriended and sworn to protect, Kai finds himself standing at a crossroads.

When a friend begs Kai to rescue a small group of elfin refugees fleeing the Dusk Court, he’s pulled into a dangerous mission with Ryder through San Diego’s understreets and the wilderness beyond. Things go from bad to downright treacherous when Kerrick, Ryder’s cousin, insists on joining them, staking a claim on Southern Rise and Kai.

Burdened by his painful past, Kai must stand with Ryder against Kerrick while facing down the very Court he fears and loathes. Dying while on a run is expected for a Stalker, but Kai wonders if embracing his elfin blood also means losing his heart, soul, and humanity along the way.

My Review:

All the cats are jacked in one way or another on Kai Gracen’s latest stalker run.

That probably made no sense unless you’ve read the previous books in this terrific series. Start with Black Dog Blues and then dance on over to Mad Lizard Mambo. If you like gritty urban fantasy you’ll be glad you did.

I’ve also just made a bunch of puns based on the titles. They are all music-based in one way or another, from Blues to Mambo to Jive – another name for jazz. Cat is also part of the story, as the elfin, are often referred to as cats – usually in Kai’s case, cat-bastard.

Because he is. Both the sidhe and the unsidhe have some feline characteristics, and Kai is literally a bastard. As a combination of sidhe, unsidhe and who knows what else, mixed in a somewhat magical, semi-scientific blender, he’s a chimera – he fits in nowhere.

That part-magic, semi-scientific bit is also a metaphor for this post-apocalyptic version of our own world. The apocalypse is in the not too distant past, and it’s very specific. Suddenly the “underhill” of fairy stories, of the sidhe and unsidhe of Irish mythology, crashed up into the everyday world of humans – and changed everything for all sides.

The blend is the world that Kai lives in. It’s not a world where magic has always existed, but once the event happened, humans discovered that they had magic. The sidhe and the unsidhe, those perennial antagonistic elven courts, found themselves forced to deal with a world that includes humans.

Everyone thinks they’re the apex predators. That battle is still being fought. There are plenty on all sides who think that if they just kill enough of the others that things can go back to the “good old days”.

Those good old days were never very good for Kai. Not only is he a mix of sidhe and unsidhe, but he was raised human, so he has a foot in all camps but a place of his own in none.

Not that Ryder, the Lord of the Southern Rise Court of the sidhe based in San Diego, doesn’t want to make a place for Kai in his court. And not that he doesn’t keep trying.

But then Ryder is the one sidhe that we’ve met who has figured out that there is no going back, that the only way for his people to thrive is to learn to deal with the world as it is and not as they wish it would be – or that they pretend that it ever was.

This adventure begins when all of those worlds and wishes collide with their usual explosiveness.

Ryder has decreed that his court will accept all elven, sidhe and unsidhe alike. His grandmother has sent one of his more ruthless and less trustworthy cousins to attempt to wrest control of the court from Ryder by any means necessary, so that it can go back to her traditional, repressive ways.

Kai needs Ryder to come with him on a Stalker run out into the great wide desert spaces between the cities and the courts, in order to rescue a mixed group of sidhe and unsidhe who are trying to make the dangerous border crossing.

Everyone, Kai, Ryder, the reader and everyone aboard this crazy train all know that the run is going to go pear-shaped. The only question is how many ways and in which directions.

And it’s a wildly awesome ride every step of the way.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve loved Kai from the very beginning, all the way back to the original publication of Black Dog Blues in 2013. My only serious complaint about his series is that its too long between books. And I’m betting that’s a complaint that most authors would love to hear!

Kai Gracen’s world is post-apocalyptic urban fantasy, which sounds a bit like a contradiction in terms. Post-apocalypse is usually SF, while urban fantasy is obviously fantasy. But this world is our world if magic didn’t so much develop naturally as crash land into it, hence the apocalypse.

While I haven’t read anything else quite like this, the DFZ of Rachel Aaron’s Heartstrikers series as well as the Atlantis-influenced world of K. Edwards’ Tarot Sequence both have a similar feel. So if you liked Nice Dragons Finish Last and/or The Last Sun you’ll probably like Kai Gracen and vice-versa.

Kai makes an interesting hero (sometimes anti-hero) because he has a foot in all of the various camps but a true place in none. Just as his name implies, he is “neither fish nor fowl nor good read meat”, but some of each and comfortable with none. He has an equally jaundiced view of all of the contenders as groups, while still loving, liking or detesting individuals within them all.

And he’s all snark all the time, which makes him a whole lot of fun to follow!

The world of this series is getting built layer by layer. The deeper we get involved with Kai, the more bits of the world around him are unfolded. And so far, it’s been fascinating all the way down.

Many of Kai’s stories are also road stories, and Jacked Cat Jive is no exception. Kai is a Stalker, his job is to go out into the wild places and hunt down the monsters that plague everyone. But this particular run is supposed to be a rescue – and it kind of is.

At the same time, it’s an opportunity for Kai to temporarily flee some of his own demons, while bringing one of Ryder’s along for the ride. Kai knows, and we know, that there’s going to be a betrayal somewhere along the way. That Ryder spends the trip hoping it will be otherwise does not make it so.

While I expected the betrayal, and while Ryder’s cousin Kerrick was a nasty piece of work from the second he stepped on the page, his constant reiteration of what he was going to do to/with Kai once he became Lord of the Court was not merely nasty but grating in its repetition.

Kerrick is looking for a slave, just one of the many reasons why he should never be Lord of the Court and why he needs to be sent packing at the first opportunity. The idea of forcing Kai is clearly part of his kink, particularly as Kai is still so messed up emotionally that he can’t even let himself give in to what he feels for Ryder – at least not yet.

Kai has taken a lot of damage and still needs a lot of healing. Watching that happen is one of the fascinating parts of his journey, and I can’t wait to see where the music takes him next!

If you want to read more about Kai and Ryder’s (mis)adventures there’s a blog tour for this book right now that includes all the pieces of a short story starring these fascinating characters along with a giveaway. I’m not part of the tour but I’m always happy to give this series more buzz!

Review: How Long ‘Til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin

Review: How Long ‘Til Black Future Month by N.K. JemisinHow Long 'til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Orbit on November 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow south must figure out how to save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

My Review:

Have you ever taken a good, hard look at which groups get special “days” or “months” and which ones don’t? There’s no such thing as “WASP month” to celebrate White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants, because they are considered the so-called “norm” even though they are increasingly not the majority even in the U.S. Especially when you take out the FEMALE WASPs, because Women’s History Month is its own thing, along with holidays and/or months that celebrate non-Anglo origins, non-Christian religions, and, particularly relevant to this book (and this month) non-White people.

It’s a damn good question, isn’t it? Just how long will it be until everyone is celebrated all the damn time, and we don’t need to call out non-male (also non-straight and non-cis) people? How long will it be until Black Future Month?

As the author points out, there has been very little science fiction that includes non-white characters or posits a future as seen from the perspective of people of color. Also relatively few from a female perspective, or a non-cis, non-het perspective, or, again, any perspective other than male WASPs.

I’m not going to include treatments of religion in the future because that’s all over the map in its own way. My favorite treatment of Earth religions in the future is the Babylon 5 episode The Parliament of Dreams. And I really am digressing this time.

I recognize that I’m talking around the book, rather than about the book. I’m trying not to just SQUEE and it’s hard.

On my one hand, the collection is absolutely awesome from beginning to end. I loved every story, and that’s extremely rare for me in a short story collection.

On my other hand, all of the stories in this collection have been previously published. So anyone who follows this author has probably read some if not all of them. But for those looking at this author for the first time after her record-setting accomplishment of winning the Hugo Award for best novel three years in a row (for three books in a trilogy at that), this is a great (and accessible) place to start.

Personally speaking, I loved her Hundred Thousand Kingdoms but bounced hard off The Fifth Season – twice. After reading this collection, I’ll try it again – probably in audio this time.

Escape Rating A+: This is a marvelous collection of this author’s short works, providing a set of wonderfully readable stories, introducing new readers to a terrific, award-winning author (these two things are unfortunately not always synonymous), providing a perspective on the development of said author, a bit of dialog with the history of the genre, and, last but definitely not least, making any reader of SF wonder why the historical perspective of the genre (ironic, I know) has been so narrow-visioned.

A great read from beginning to end!

Review: Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long

Review: Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne LongLady Derring Takes a Lover (The Palace of Rogues #1) by Julie Anne Long
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Palace of Rogues #1
Pages: 373
Published by Avon on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A mistress. A mountain of debt. A mysterious wreck of a building.

Delilah Swanpool, Countess of Derring, learns the hard way that her husband, "Dear Dull Derring," is a lot more interesting—and perfidious—dead than alive. It's a devil of an inheritance, but in the grand ruins of the one building Derring left her, are the seeds of her liberation. And she vows never again to place herself at the mercy of a man.

But battle-hardened Captain Tristan Hardy is nothing if not merciless. When the charismatic naval hero tracks a notorious smuggler to a London boarding house known as the Rogue's Palace, seducing the beautiful, blue-blooded proprietress to get his man seems like a small sacrifice.

They both believe love is a myth. But a desire beyond reason threatens to destroy the armor around their hearts. Now a shattering decision looms: Will Tristan betray his own code of honor…or choose a love that might be the truest thing he's ever known?

My Review:

Lady Derring Takes a Lover is absolutely delightful. And it was exactly what I was in the mood for, which made it even better.

In a way, this story reminds me of Someone to Love by Mary Balogh – which is high praise considering just how many “best of the year” lists that book turned up on!

There’s a similarity between the two books because they both effectively begin with Dickens’ Christmas Carol opening, “Marley was dead: to begin with.” Because both stories have their effective beginning with the death of someone else.

To make them resemble each other even more, there’s nothing “dear” about the lately departed in either Someone to Love or Lady Derring Takes a Lover. In both cases, the late and unlamented was a bastard. Not the literal kind, but the kind that leaves disaster in his wake.

In the case of “Dull Derring”, he’s left behind a mountain of unpaid bills, a destitute Countess and an equally destitute mistress. I do not mean destitute in the relative sense of having to scale back their extravagant lifestyles. I mean completely skint. Stony broke. Not having two pence to rub together.

But they do manage to rub along together, surprisingly enough. They shouldn’t have anything to do with one another, the lady and the courtesan. They should hate, or at least resent, each other on sight.

Instead they band together, both broke but not in the least heartbroken, and both completely disillusioned with men and the world that believes their only existence should be in relationship to some man who will expect them to suppress their wants and needs and personalities to flatter his ego while leaving them to clean up his messes.

Delilah Swanpool, the “Lady Derring” of the title, has one and only one asset – along with the jewels that her late husband’s mistress, Angelique Breedlove, advises her to sew into the hems of her dresses on her way out the door. Derring owned one building outright, in his own name, not entailed to his estate and not mortgaged beyond its value. Free and clear.

And located on the Thames docks. Not the most salubrious neighborhood, not even for Mrs. Breedlove, let alone Lady Derring. But it’s what they have. It’s all they have except grit and determination and a strong desire to never be dependent on any man ever again.

Their dream of opening a wholesome boarding house in an area that is much more likely to host a brothel – in fact their building used to BE a brothel – seems naive, and is almost doomed from the outset.

Their determination not to depend on any unreliable man – and in their opinion ALL men are inherently unreliable just by being men – is undermined, at least for Lady Derring, with the advent of Captain Tristan Hardy of the King’s Blockade into their attempt to create a bit of domestic bliss for the assortment of people who find their little out of the way genteel boardinghouse.

Because Derring owned that old building in that odd location for a reason. A reason that put the late unlamented squarely in the sights of the Blockade. Hardy knows that Derring was up to his mortgaged neck in smuggling, and he’ll do anything to roll up the last big smuggling gang in England.

No matter how many heads, or hearts, he has to break in the process. Including his own.

Escape Rating A: This is one of those books that just plain is a great time for the reader. I had a blast. Until 2:30 in the morning, because I was having too much fun to stop before the end.

At the beginning, I said this reminded me of the utterly awesome Someone to Love in the way that it starts. But Delilah also reminded me a bit of one of my favorite heroines, Amelia Peabody Emerson, from Elizabeth Peters’ historical mystery series that begins with Crocodile on the Sandbank. Not in time or place, because the stories are more than half a century apart, but in attitude.

Although it is never stated outright, it’s clear from context that Lady Derring Takes a Lover takes place during the reign of George IV, the former Prince Regent who gave his title to an era. Both Delilah Swanpool and Amelia Peabody know how women are supposed to think and act, the way that they are supposed to behave. And both reject those “supposes” and “oughts” and “shoulds”, albeit under different circumstances. And both find themselves liberated by that rejection. Also both want to be seen for who they are and as they are, and not as society, particularly men, believe they should be.

Also they both discover that they really like sex, even though neither expects to and both have a difficult time discussing the act – but definitely not a difficult time doing it and thoroughly enjoying it. Whether they should or not.

There are three stories going on in Lady Derring Takes a Lover, and they play off each other and intertwine with each other in ways that really worked for me.

There’s the obvious, Lady Derring does indeed take a lover. But the romance between Delilah and Tristan, while filled with sexual tension and coming to a well-deserved happy ending, doesn’t feel like the heart of the book.

The two parts that do feel like that heart are the creation of Delilah and Angelique’s desperate business partnership, along with their surprising creation of their boarding house, and Tristan’s quest to find the smugglers – a quest which reminded me a bit of last week’s The Woman in the Lake, because we again see smugglers not as romantic antiheroes, but as members of organized crime.

I loved the way that Delilah and Angelique end up in business together. They’re desperate and cynical and scared and determined to make a home not just for themselves but for others. They build a strong friendship from a very unlikely beginning and it just works. The way they take in such a disparate bunch of people and weave them into an unlikely family of choice was fun to read, in spite of them also being taken in by two of their boarders.

They have a dream that they make come true – without the help of man to make it all come together.

And while Tristan’s hunt for the smugglers was certainly the stuff of derring-do (pun intended, because the late Lord Derring mostly didn’t) it’s a story that wove itself around everything else – as well as providing the crisis necessary to push for the HEA. And I’m equally glad that the crisis did not involve the heroines in jeopardy, as such crises do entirely too often.

There’s a niggling voice in the back of my head saying that this delightful froth of a book played much too fast and loose with historical accuracy – but I can’t prove that. And I enjoyed it so much that I don’t care nearly as much as I should.

A good time was definitely had by this reader. I can’t wait for the next book in the series, Angel in a Devil’s Arms – which looks to bring about Angelique’s much deserved HEA.

 

Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de BodardThe Tea Master and the Detective (The Universe of Xuya) by Aliette de Bodard
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction
Series: Universe of Zuya
Pages: 96
Published by Subterranean Press on March 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.

A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow's Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow's Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow's Child with her.

As they dig deep into the victim's past, The Shadow's Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau's own murky past--and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars...

My Review:

The Nebula Awards shortlist came out this week. I was reminded to take a look at it by someone on the Library Journal Committee that picked the best SF and Fantasy for 2018 for their annual wrap-up because four of our picks are on the Nebula shortlist, as well as a couple of titles that ALMOST made it.

Looking at the list, I noticed a book that I picked up a while ago, as it was recommended in the context of being an “out of this world” Sherlock Holmes pastiche. It has been said that every generation reinvents Sherlock Holmes for themselves, and The Tea Master and the Detective definitely qualifies as one of the more inventive futuristic reinventions, right up there with Sara Holmes and Janet Watson of A Study in Honor.

In The Tea Master and the Detective, we have a tale set in this author’s loosely connected Universe of Xuya series. It’s an alternate history universe where China discovered America before Christopher Columbus. That discovery altered the history of the world, as such a momentous change would. China turned outward instead of inward, and seems to have become the dominant power on Earth before humanity reached the stars.

An influence that is still felt at the time of this story, probably taking place somewhere in the alternate 22nd century – if not later. (The series is made up of short stories and novellas, and they have been scattered in publication throughout every magazine currently publishing SF and Fantasy. I wish they were all collected somewhere because I’d like to read them ALL!)

As I have not yet read the series, I came into this story with no previous knowledge – and I absolutely loved it. While the entire history of the universe isn’t explained – and it shouldn’t be – this little gem still feels complete. I just want to know more. (I always want to know more.)

The detective, in this case the mysterious Long Chau, claims to be writing a thesis on the decomposition of bodies in the deep places of space. Places that seem to be both theoretical and real, although a bit more of each of those elements than might be presupposed at first glance.

The thing about the deep places is that they are both real and unreal, and the unreality of those places affects the human mind – to its detriment. Humans usually travel those deep places safely within the bounds of a ship controlled by a “shipmind”. A ship that is self-aware.

What makes this story so interesting is that the “Watson” to Long Chau’s “Holmes” is a damaged shipmind named The Shadow’s Child who is psychologically unable to travel the deep places – so she makes her living brewing teas that help humans survive the unreality of the places she no longer feels able to go.

Long Chau goes to the fringes of the deep places to find a dead body. But what she’s really looking for is a lost soul. Her own. That she also finds the soul of the scarred shipmind forges a unlikely partnership.

One I hope to see again.

Escape Rating A: This is lovely. It combines two ideas that really shouldn’t have much to do with each other, but work together anyway – much as the two protagonists really shouldn’t have much to do with each other.

Shipminds are people. And this society has places for them and recognizes them as people. The Shadow’s Child has to deal with many of the things that anyone else does, including meddling family members and paying the rent. She will also remind readers of Anne McCaffrey’s classic stories of the brainship Helga, The Ship Who Sang.

The Shadow’s Child is the Watson to Long Chau’s Holmes. The pastiche part of this story is fairly subtle – if you’re not interested, it’s not there. If you are interested, the way that Long Chau refers to herself as a “consulting detective”, her endless deductions of what people, including shipminds, are thinking, feeling and doing as well as her constant use of drugs to stimulate her mind are there to remind readers of some of Sherlock Holmes’ habits, both the more and the less savory of them.

The case that they ultimately find themselves on is an investigation that no one wants solved – and it nearly gets them both killed. But along the way they learn to respect if not necessarily trust each other, and we get to explore a fascinating universe that has plenty of stories in it that are worth telling.

I look forward to ferreting out more of this series as soon as possible!

Guest Review: Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey

Guest Review: Dark Currents by Jacqueline CareyDark Currents (Agent of Hel, #1) by Jacqueline Carey
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, suspense, urban fantasy
Series: Agent of Hel #1
Pages: 356
Published by Roc on October 2, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Jacqueline Carey, New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Kushiel’s Legacy novels, presents an all-new world featuring a woman caught between the normal and paranormal worlds, while enforcing order in both. Introducing Daisy Johanssen, reluctant hell-spawn…

The Midwestern resort town of Pemkowet boasts a diverse population: eccentric locals, wealthy summer people, and tourists by the busload; not to mention fairies, sprites, vampires, naiads, ogres and a whole host of eldritch folk, presided over by Hel, a reclusive Norse goddess.

To Daisy Johanssen, fathered by an incubus and raised by a single mother, it’s home. And as Hel’s enforcer and the designated liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, it’s up to her to ensure relations between the mundane and eldritch communities run smoothly.

But when a young man from a nearby college drowns—and signs point to eldritch involvement—the town’s booming paranormal tourism trade is at stake. Teamed up with her childhood crush, Officer Cody Fairfax, a sexy werewolf on the down-low, Daisy must solve the crime—and keep a tight rein on the darker side of her nature. For if she’s ever tempted to invoke her demonic birthright, it could accidentally unleash nothing less than Armageddon.  

Guest review by Amy:

What kind of a mom would name her demon-spawn child “Daisy?”  Really?  But here’s Daisy as a plucky young adult with…erm…anger-management issues. Oh, and a tail. She’s the daughter of a human woman, and…well, a demon. Literally making the case for never, ever getting around a Ouija board ever again. Her dad, if Daisy just calls on him, can, in fact, bring on the Apocalypse. It doesn’t make for a close daddy-daughter relationship.

But she’s got her mom, who’s quirky and adorable, and she’s got a job working for the police department as a part-time file clerk, her friends, even a crush (on a fellow cop, who also happens to be a werewolf).  Oh, and a second job as liaison to the local goddess, Hel, who kind of runs things in the local eldritch community. Certainly grounds for an interesting life, but early in our story, a frat boy from a nearby college dies under suspicious circumstances.

Escape Rating: A+. I’m a huge fan of Carey’s Kushiel universe, which are delicious epic fantasy reads. Jacqueline Carey shows us she’s not a one-trick pony with Dark Currents. This story moves along rather a lot faster than her Kushiel works (aside from Kushiel’s Dart, which was over much too soon for my tastes), and we’re shown a solid cast of characters, all of whom seem to have a pretty good grasp on who they are in the grand scheme of things.

One of the things I like about this book (as with my prior review of MaryJanice Davidson’s Derik’s Bane) was that our supernatural beings aren’t…inhuman. Even the ones most-divergent from humans (faeries, naiads, a mermaid, a frost giant) have concerns and cares and lives that – while necessarily different from ours because of their nature – aren’t so far different from us that we can’t understand their motives. They’re just trying to get along with the overwhelming force of humanity around them, that’s all. Even the ghouls and vampires, as creepy as they are, make sense, and become characters you can understand and even like, in a way.

Daisy is a snark-o-matic, and her nature adds to this, along with her occasional frustration with being who she is. I had lots of giggles reading this tale, thanks to a generous sprinkling of puns and silly one-liners.

I tagged this as a suspense novel, and it is The core story here is a whodunit that crosses between the mortal and immortal realms. Daisy must stand astride that line, and dispense the justice she is empowered to hand out by her boss Hel, while making sure that any involved mortals get the treatment they deserve from her other boss, the police chief. But this book is more than that.

There’s a taste of romance here, too. Daisy tells us right up front about her long-time crush (a werewolf, who ends up partnering with her to solve the case), and we meet two other men who express interest in her, one a very intelligent, very dapper ancient ghoul, and one a mortal, with a fake Jamaican accent. All three are fascinating men, and I spent quite a while wondering which one she’d center on–if any, since there was also that flirtation with the very feminine lamia who used to babysit her, back-when. She says she’s straight, but this one does something for her even with the millenia-sized age gap.

I enjoyed this book immensely, and can’t wait to read (and maybe review for you here – Marlene? Can I?) the other two books in this series. My only downer in the book came right at the end, when Daisy ended up dating a different one of her crushes than I would have, in her shoes. I can’t tell you which, now, that’d ruin the whole thing for you, wouldn’t it? Go read for yourself!

Marlene’s Note: The next book, for those following along at home, is Autumn Bones. And YES, you certainly may review it for me here. In fact, that’s pretty please would you review it for me here. With bells on. I also love the Kushiel series. And I cite her Banewreacker/Godslayer duology fairly often as a classic in the “history is written by the victors/good and evil depend on which side of the fence you’re on” fantasy.

Review: Mission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Defense by Anna HackettMission: Her Defense (Team 52 #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, military romance
Series: Team 52 #4
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on February 12th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's Website
Goodreads

One former special forces Marine. One tall, handsome police detective who pushes all her buttons. One dangerous investigation that forces them to work together.

Blair Mason is badass to the bone. She’s no stranger to loss and barely survived the mission that ended her military career. Now, as part of Team 52, she never shies away from a fight to ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, she’s often forced to “liaise” with the team’s contact at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. The tall, hard-bodied detective ignites her temper quicker than any man she’s ever known…and after a terrible massacre, she’s horrified to find that she and MacKade are being ordered to work together.

Detective Luke MacKade was born a protector. He takes care of his family, and as a dedicated homicide detective, he protects his city. He is less thrilled with his job of cleaning up after Team 52 after they tear through Vegas on a mission. Blair is a woman who sets him off just by breathing, but even he can’t deny the powerful attraction he feels to her strength and skill. When several cursed samurai swords are stolen in a bloody attack, it is up to Luke and Blair to get them back…before more blood is shed.

But others are after the swords and their hidden powers. As Luke and Blair’s dangerous investigation intensifies, they face danger at every turn. Luke battles his intense need to protect the woman he’s falling for, a woman who neither wants or needs his protection. But as their desire burns white-hot, Luke will learn that the toughest defenses are the ones around Blair’s heart.

My Review:

It’s Valentine’s Day, which makes it a particularly appropriate day to post this review. Because a) it’s a romance and b) it’s by an author I absolutely love.

It would be perfect if it were my favorite genre by this author, science fiction romance, but c’est la vie. Like the song says, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

The Team 52 series is a cross between action adventure romance and military romance. Because the members of Team 52 are nearly all ex-military, and the ones that aren’t are ex-CIA or something even more secretive. That’s certainly true in the case of our heroine, Blair Mason.

And like all of the other former military members of Team 52, Blair is ex-military not because she wanted to be, but because her last (and very nearly final) mission left her with injuries that made her ineligible to continue to serve.

But the high-tech advances kept under as many wraps as possible at Area 52 (yes, it’s next door to the place you’re thinking of) gave her back her eye, and her sight, even better than before. It’s just that if you learn the details of either her last mission, her current status, or just how it was done, she’d probably have to kill you.

Unless one of her teammates gets there first.

The Team 52 series contains some of the earthbound elements of Stargate SG-1. Occasionally, although it’s starting to feel like not-so-occasionally, someone or something unearths powerful and dangerous technology leftover from surprisingly highly developed pre-Ice Age civilizations.

And that’s where Team 52 comes in. Because when these extremely dangerous devices come to light, there’s usually one or more villainous organizations who want to do very dark deeds with those devices.

So Team 52 swoops in to clean up the resulting mess.

But someone has to clean up their mess in a way that provides plausible explanations for the press and the public. It’s hard to completely cover up an entire ballroom full of dead bodies in the middle of a major city. A city like Las Vegas.

That’s where Detective Luke MacKade of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department comes in. It’s his job to make Team 52’s mess appear less messy to the powers that be and the noses that snoop. It’s not his only job, and it’s certainly not his favorite part of his job. He’s in the LVMPD for the “serve and protect” parts of the job and he’s convinced that all Team 52 does in come in and make his job harder without regard for the civilians who get caught in the crossfire.

His favorite part of the job seems to be riling up Blair Mason – even if he’s not willing to admit it.

But when one of their dangerous artifacts cuts a literal swath through his city, he gets an up close and person look at exactly what Team 52 does and why somebody has to do it.

And he finally manages to get close enough to Blair Mason to get an up close and personal view of the woman hiding under the prickly, badass exterior. And he wants to see a whole lot more.

Escape Rating A-: As far as this reader is concerned, the Team 52 series is back in fine form with this entry – even though I still think the titles are slightly cheesy.

I loved the first book (Mission: Her Protection), liked the second (Mission: Her Rescue) and thought the third (Mission: Her Security) was ok. This one is back to “love” on my list. I think because the focus is on Blair more than it is Luke.

What can I say, I like it when the heroine is every bit as badass, if not a bit more, than the hero. I also felt for her perspective of feeling like she needed to be all badass all the time in order to be respected by her teammates. And that the hero isn’t merely ok with that, but loves her and respects her for the badass she is and doesn’t need or want her to be anything else.

While her teammates respect her as she is, that she was socialized that way because the rest of the world doesn’t makes perfect sense.

One of the things that I love about this author’s work is the way that it so often ties into one or more of my other geekish interests. As I keep saying, this series, and the Treasure Hunter Security series it spun off of, have elements of Stargate.

The macguffin in this particular book are antique Japanese swords crafted by Muramasa, the rival of the legendary swordmaker Gorō Nyūdō Masamune. There are surviving Masamune swords in museums and private collections, but Muramasa appears to be more legendary than historical. I found this element of the story particularly fascinating because it tied in to my longstanding love for all things Final Fantasy X, where there is a sword Masamune named after the legendary but historical swordsmith and carried by the game’s resident badass.

I digress, but that’s what Team 52 does to me. It makes me digress into other geekish loves. Which is part of its charm, at least for me.

It’s awesome action-adventure/military romance, so if either of those are your jam, spread open the pages of this series!