Review: The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron + Giveaway

Review: The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron + GiveawayThe Lost Castle (The Lost Castle #1) by Kristy Cambron
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Series: Lost Castle #1
Pages: 384
Published by Thomas Nelson on February 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Launching a brand-new series, Kristy Cambron explores the collision of past and present as she discovers the ruins of a French castle, long lost to history.

A thirteenth century castle, Chateau de Doux Reves, has been forgotten for generations, left to ruin in a storybook forest nestled deep in France's picturesque Loire Valley. It survived a sacking in the French Revolution, was brought back to life and fashioned into a storybook chateau in the Gilded Age, and was eventually felled and deserted after a disastrous fire in the 1930s.

As Ellie Carver sits by her grandmother's bedside, she hears stories of a castle . . . of lost love and a hidden chapel that played host to a secret fight in the World War II French resistance. But her grandmother is quickly slipping into the locked-down world of Alzheimer's, and Ellie must act fast if she wants to uncover the truth of her family's history.

Sparked by the discovery of a long forgotten family heirloom, Ellie embarks on a journey to French wine country to uncover the mystery surrounding The Sleeping Beauty--the castle so named for Charles Perrault's beloved fairy tale--and unearth its secrets before they're finally silenced by time.

Set in three different time periods--the French Revolution, World War II, and present day--The Lost Castle is a story of loves won and lost, of battles waged, and an enchanted castle that inspired the epic fairy tales time left behind.

My Review:

Instead of a mystery wrapped in an enigma (not that the reference to Enigma doesn’t turn out to be appropriate) this is a fairy tale wrapped in a war story tied up in a romance. Also not that there isn’t romance throughout – just different romances.

Because this lovely story is a “timeslip” tale that is spread over three very different time periods; the French Revolution, World War II, and the present day. And if the reference to the French Revolution wasn’t enough of a clue, most of the story takes place in France during those periods, specifically in the Loire Valley wine region.

And there’s plenty of wine involved and not just by drinking it. The fates of three very different women are tied together by the wines, the vines, and the castle that hides in the middle of it all.

Timeslip stories, as the sub-genre is now termed, are stories that “slip” between multiple time periods. Sometimes by having one of the characters themselves slip between those periods, but sometimes by having the narrative simply move between the periods for reasons that become clear at some point in the story.

The Lost Castle is one of the latter types. We follow three women in the same place but at three different time periods. We begin by meeting Ellie Carver, whose beloved grandmother has slipped into the fog of Alzheimer’s, and is now also slipping away physically. Lady Vi raised Ellie after her parents died, and Ellie feels like her grandmother is all that she has in the world. She is heartbroken and scrambling. Also emotionally scrambled.

Lady Vi’s fog lifts just enough to send Ellie scrabbling through her grandmother’s books to discover a WWII vintage photo of her grandmother, showing her that in the midst of the life that Ellie knew of her grandmother, there is at least one chapter that she was never told. Lady Vi seems to be looking for closure for this part of her life, and in a mad quest to do something, anything, Ellie hares off to the site of the picture, the “Sleeping Beauty” castle tucked away in the Loire Valley in France.

As the story continues we follow Ellie in the Loire, as she discovers the site of the photo, and unearths the history of when it was taken. We also follow Lady Vi’s history as a semi-trained British Intelligence operative who finds herself on the run from the Nazis in the Loire Valley in 1944. When Lady Vi is rescued by the local Resistance, she finds relative safety, purpose, and love.

We also see glimpses of an earlier history of the area, during the French Revolution, through the eyes of Aveline, a French aristocrat for whom the most famous wine of the region comes to be named.

All three women become integral to the past, and the future, of this storied place. And as Ellie uncovers the truth, we learn why. And it is bittersweet, but as delicious as the wine.

Escape Rating A-: Before I say anything else, let me say again that this is a truly lovely book. If you enjoy timeslip stories, I think you’ll really love this one.

As I read The Lost Castle, I did wonder how Aveline was connected to Vi and Ellie. It’s obvious from the beginning that it isn’t a matter of ancestors and descendants – there’s definitely no relation. And it’s not that Aveline’s story isn’t either interesting or important, it’s just that we don’t discover why and how until the very end.

I haven’t read a lot of timeslip stories, at least not under that label, so I’m not sure whether this is a bug or a feature, but neither Aveline’s nor Vi’s stories are told in chronological order. The chapter headings do say where and when each bit takes place, but the slipping forward and backwards within each of their times always took a paragraph or two to adjust to. This was particularly true with Aveline’s story, as we start in the middle and then work both backwards and forwards from that point, sometimes almost at random. The same thing happens with Vi’s story, but she doesn’t flash backwards nearly as much, and proceeds in a straight line from that middle, except for the flashbacks.

All three women are in the midst of great change, and that’s what makes each of their stories so fascinating. Aveline is an aristocrat during the Revolution, but she is a woman who is already uncomfortable with the life that she is supposed to lead. The Revolution provides her with an opportunity to forge a new path for herself, and she takes it.

Vi’s story takes place during World War II. We only get glimpses of her wartime exploits before she reaches the Loire, but they are enough to chill the bones. We do get a fairly complete portrait of her life in the French Resistance, and that comes at a critical time – it is 1944 and the Allied invasion is rumored and imminent, while the Nazis are desperate to hold onto France at all costs, with Vi, her new found friends and the Loire Valley itself caught in the terrible crossfire.

These are also all romances, and the romances are tied together not through the women, but through the place and the family that occupies it, through the men. The Vivay family owns and operates the winery that makes the region famous. Their signature wine, developed by Robert Vivay in Aveline’s time, is named for her. During Vi’s time, it is Julien Vivay who protects the land and is master of the vineyard, using that same signature product to keep the Nazis at bay. And it is Titus Vivay who lived to remember it all, and his grandson who leads Ellie to the answers that she is seeking.

Although the blurbs for this book talk about a “legacy of faith” and as this book is published by Thomas Nelson, a publisher who specializes in Christian faith-based works, one might think that the “faith” being mentioned in those blurbs is religious faith and of a specific type. But it isn’t, or at least it doesn’t seem to be to a reader who is not looking for such. Instead, the faith at the heart of this story seems more like faith in the land and faith in its people. In all three time periods, its the way that the people pull together to defend their lives, but more importantly the lives of those they love, and to defend the land and the work that sustains them, than it is about any belief in a diety.

Your mileage on this subject may definitely vary, but as someone who does not read books that are marketed as “inspirational” fiction this book does not read like part of that tradition.

It reads like excellent historical fiction, because that’s what it is.

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

There is a giveaway for a copy of The Lost Castle and a signed tote bag over at @tnzfiction  on Instagram.

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Review: A Plunder of Souls by D.B. Jackson

Review: A Plunder of Souls by D.B. JacksonA Plunder of Souls (Thieftaker Chronicles, #3) by D.B. Jackson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Thieftaker #3
Pages: 336
Published by Tor Books on July 8th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Boston, 1769: Ethan Kaille, a Boston thieftaker who uses his conjuring to catch criminals, has snared villans and defeated magic that would have daunted a lesser man. What starts out as a mysterious phenomenon that has local ministers confused becomes something far more serious.

A ruthless, extremely powerful conjurer seeks to wake the souls of the dead to wreak a terrible revenge on all who oppose him. Kaille's minister friends have been helpless to stop crimes against their church. Graves have been desecrated in a bizarre, ritualistic way. Equally disturbing are reports of recently deceased citizens of Boston reappearing as grotesquely disfigured shades, seemingly having been disturbed from their eternal rest, and now frightening those who had been nearest to them in life. But most personally troubling to Kaille is a terrible waning of his ability to conjure. He knows all these are related…but how?

When Ethan discovers the source of this trouble, he realizes that his conjure powers and those of his friends will not be enough to stop a madman from becoming all-powerful. But somehow, using his wits, his powers, and every other resource he can muster, Ethan must thwart the monster's terrible plan and restore the restless souls of the dead to the peace of the grave. Let the battle for souls begin in A Plunder of Souls, the third, stand-alone novel in Jackson's acclaimed Thieftaker series.

My Review:

Today is Presidents Day, so I went searching through the towering TBR pile to find something set in the Revolutionary period. (Yes, I know that Presidents Day celebrates both Washington and Lincoln, but I’m still listening to the utterly marvelous Grant by Ron Chernow, and therefore have all the Civil War I can handle at the moment.)

Which brought me back to the Thieftaker Chronicles and A Plunder of Souls. I read Thieftaker last year for this holiday, and loved it so much I dove into the next book in the series, Thieves’ Quarry, perhaps a bit too soon.

So after most of a year, I’m back to this series. And A Plunder of Souls did not disappoint. Far from it.

The setting for the series is so well done that the reader feels as though they are walking the streets of pre-Revolutionary Boston with Ethan Kaille, complete with seeing the sights and even smelling the smells. If you like your historical fiction and mysteries to give you that “you are there” feeling, this series certainly does that well.

But the Thieftaker Chronicles are not merely historical fiction, and they aren’t quite historical mysteries, although there is usually a mysterious element to the story. The author bills this series as “historical fantasy” because he has taken pre-Revolutionary America and added two elements, one slightly ahistorical, and one definitely fantastic.

Although there were thieftakers in Boston in the colonial period, there were none recorded in Boston during the time the series takes place. What Ethan does for a living is fairly obvious from the name – people hire him to find something that has been stolen, and/or to find the person who stole it.

But the fantasy element comes very much into play in this entry in the series. Ethan is a “speller”, or conjurer. In Salem a century before, he’d have been labeled a “witch” and probably hung, burned, drowned or pressed for it. Ethan can cast spells, and he’s not the only one in Boston who can.

The case that Ethan is hired to investigate is a particularly grisly one. Someone is vandalizing graves of the recently deceased and violating the corpses. The head and right hand of each corpse has been removed, an article of clothing has been stolen, a strange symbol has been carved over the heart of each corpse, and, in a particularly nasty message to Ethan himself, three toes have been cut off of each corpse’s left foot – just as Ethan had those same toes removed years ago.

It’s not just the mutilated bodies that have the local churches and cemeteries in an uproar. The ghosts of the violated dead are returning to their homes, looking just as they currently do in their graves.

And whatever or whoever is bringing back the dead, they are also doing something that draws power away from all the spellers in town. Ethan’s powers are no longer reliable, nor are those of his friends and colleagues.

As the spirits multiply, Ethan finds himself banding together with old friends and even old enemies in order to bring down a mad spellcaster with a taste for power – and revenge.

Escape Rating A-: I read this in a single day. I started it thinking I’d finish it on the plane home from DC, but in the end I just couldn’t wait that long. I got sucked in and didn’t get spit out until the end.

The author brings this historical period alive in a way that makes the reader feel as if they are walking the streets with Ethan. Amazingly, it’s not done by introducing a host of real historical characters, although there are a few historical figures whose work intersects with Ethan’s. It’s more that the story is so steeped in historical details that the reader can’t help but be drawn in, while at the same time that wealth of detail never drags down the story.

As a character Ethan is certainly interesting to follow. He is very thoughtful about his life and his situation. Part of what makes him different is that he does not see himself particularly as a hero, more as someone who is often swept along by events who does the best he can. Ethan is also middle-aged for his time, in his early 40s. The years are catching up with him, and he’s not sure how much longer he can continue as a thieftaker – especially since the increasing presence of British troops (the Redcoats really are coming) has depressed business considerably. With so many soldiers on the streets, the small time crooks who are Ethan’s bread and butter are laying very, very low.

This particular entry in the series is steeped in magic. The crime, while not magical in itself, is done with magical purpose. Ethan finds himself at a crossroads, seeing that his spells are failing,realizing just how dependent he is on his ability to conjure, and uncertain of what to do if his talents fail him.

His enemy this time is thankfully not Sephira Pryce. Her character does not feel as real to me as others in the series, and every time she appears I feel myself gritting my teeth. On the other hand, the villain of A Plunder of Souls is just a bit over the top – and he’s barking mad into the bargain. Very powerful, but also completely nuckin’ futz. He’s very scary and also a bit unfocused.

And apparently the villain in the next and final book in the series, Dead Man’s Reach, as well. I’ll be glad to see the back of this particular character, but very, very sorry to see this series end.

Review: Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Review: Dragon Bound by Thea HarrisonDragon Bound (Elder Races, #1) by Thea Harrison
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Elder Races #1
Pages: 312
Published by Berkley Sensation on May 3rd 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Half-human and half-Wyr, Pia Giovanni spent her life keeping a low profile among the Wyrkind and avoiding the continuing conflict between them and their Dark Fae enemies. But after being blackmailed into stealing a coin from the hoard of a dragon, Pia finds herself targeted by one of the most powerful—and passionate—of the Elder Races.

As the most feared and respected of the Wyrkind, Dragos Cuelebre cannot believe someone had the audacity to steal from him, much less succeed. And when he catches the thief, Dragos spares her life, claiming her as his own to further explore the desire they've ignited in each other.

Pia knows she must repay Dragos for her trespass, but refuses to become his slave—although she cannot deny wanting him, body and soul.

My Review:

Now I know what all the fuss is about. And everyone who said that the Elder Races series was absolutely awesomesauce were absolutely right. Dragon Bound is terrific.

I often have a love/hate relationship with things that “everyone” says I really ought to read – or perhaps that should be labeled approach avoidance. If everyone says I should, I’m often reluctant to jump on the bandwagon. So I’ve had Dragon Bound on my “wishlist” for an awfully long time.

It was worth the wait.

In addition to being a marvelous paranormal romance, the Elder Races series is also pretty damn good fantasy/urban fantasy. The worldbuilding is really solid.

The idea that the Wyr have lived among us for quite literally ever is not new. But the way that the author blends the magical with the mundane works well. This is a version of our world in which mythical creatures and the things that go bump in the night live among us – and it’s a world that has reached the point where the mundanes are aware of it as well.

In one of the early scenes there are a group of the equivalent of “flat earthers” – people who refuse to believe that the Wyr and magical kind exist in spite of scientific evidence – and they are picketing the business of a purely human witch using the same kind of tactics – and under the same restrictions – as those who protest at abortion clinics. It’s a surreal moment that firmly establishes that this world is different but humans are still all too human.

At the heart of this book is a romance. Of course there is. (This is my Valentine’s Day review, I went looking for a romance!)

Dragos Cuelebre is a dragon. He is also the “oldest old one” of the Wyr. He’s been alive just about forever and has seen the rise of the Elder Races and the proliferation of humans. He’s the most powerful being on Earth. And he’s bored out of his immortal skull, even if he doesn’t quite recognize it.

Pia Giovanni is a thief. She’s also part-Wyr and has no idea exactly what part. What she does have is a special talent and a party trick. She can break any lock – and she can glow in the dark. Doing both at once tends to give the game away, so she tries very hard not to.

But she’s stuck in the middle of a big bad caper she doesn’t want to be in. She’s been blackmailed to use her special talent to break into a dragon’s hoard and steal an item. Any item. The point of the exercise is to see if the breaking and entering can be done, not to actually loot the place.

The magical item that she is given to make this caper possible is so powerful that she knows she can’t run and hide. At the same time, stealing something from Dragos is probably a death sentence all by itself.

Instead, Pia finds herself caught between the proverbial rock and the big, flying hard place. Dragos can’t let anyone get away with stealing from him, and he can’t let Pia go. At the same time, the magic behind the theft is much bigger (and definitely badder) than Pia.

And since Pia stole that penny from his hoard, and left him a penny in return, Dragos Cuelebre has been angry, aroused, infuriated, and an entire alphabet full of emotions.

The one thing he has not been, not for a single second – is bored.

Escape Rating A: As a paranormal romance, Dragon Bound has pretty much everything a reader could possibly want. There’s the ultimate uber-Alpha hero, the extremely plucky heroine, the big, bad enemy, and a fantastic world for them to play in.

In the initial stages of what becomes their romance, Dragos and Pia are equally clueless, but they are not initially equally powerful. As with many paranormal romances, at the outset it seems like Dragos holds all the cards, and Pia rightfully wonders what will happen if he gets bored. As their bond deepens, she worries about what will happen when her mortal lifespan starts to rear its ugly head.

But the power imbalance doesn’t stay so imbalanced. One of the things that makes their romance so much fun is that while Pia defies Dragos at every turn even when she doesn’t have the power to back it up, there are plausible reasons that give their relationship enough balance for it to work in the long term – after they struggle a bit both with external enemies and with figuring out that what they are in IS a relationship – even if neither of them realizes it at first.

The characters that surround Dragos and Pia are also marvelous. Especially “Tricks”, Dragos PR manager and the heir to the Dark Fae throne – which she doesn’t want but is going to have to take. The scene where Tricks and Pia bond over drinks and gossip is fantastic!

Dragos and Pia’s world is one that I’ll want to go back and visit over and over and over. As soon as possible. If you love paranormal romance and haven’t met Dragos and Pia yet, it’s time.

Review: A Study in Sable by Mercedes Lackey

Review: A Study in Sable by Mercedes LackeyA Study in Sable (Elemental Masters #11) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Elemental Masters #11
Pages: 313
Published by DAW on June 7th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Psychic Nan Killian and Medium Sarah Lyon-White—along with their clever birds, the raven Neville and the parrot Grey—have been agents of Lord Alderscroft, the Elemental Fire Master known as the Wizard of London, since leaving school. Now, Lord Alderscroft assigns them another commission: to work with the famous man living at 221 Baker Street—but not the one in flat B. They are to assist the man living in flat C. Dr. John Watson and his wife Mary, themselves Elemental Masters of Water and Air, take the occult cases John’s more famous friend disdains, and they will need every skill the girls and their birds can muster!

Nan and Sarah’s first task: to confront and eliminate the mysterious and deadly entity that nearly killed them as children: the infamous Haunt of Number 10 Berkeley Square. But the next task divides the girls for the first time since they were children. A German opera star begs Sarah for help, seeking a Medium’s aid against not just a single spirit, but a multitude. As Sarah becomes more deeply entwined with the Prima Donna, Nan continues to assist John and Mary Watson alone, only to discover that Sarah’s case is far more sinister than it seems. It threatens to destroy not only a lifelong friendship, but much, much more.

My Review:

I read A Study in Sable AFTER I finished A Scandal in Battersea. That’s definitely the wrong order. But A Scandal in Battersea served as a marvelous reintroduction for this reader to the Elemental Masters series. So marvelous, in fact, that when I closed that book I grabbed as much of the series as I could from various libraries and immediately started on A Study in Sable, order be damned.

I’m very glad I did.

With the exception of the villains, the cast of characters is the same between the two books. Our heroines are the psychic Nan Killian, Sarah Lyon-White the medium, their extremely intelligent and protective birds, and the famous Dr. John Watson and his wife Mary, elemental masters of water and air, respectively.

And as deeply involved as ever in the life and casework of that most rational of men, Sherlock Holmes.

Just as in A Scandal in Battersea, the focus here is on the magic that functions in this slightly alternative version of our own world. But as in Scandal, a case that at first seems to rest entirely in the magical realm that Holmes refuses to believe exists, turns out to have so many potential effects on his rational universe that he finds himself involved in spite of himself.

Such is the case of A Study in Sable. A celebrated German opera singer – definitely not Irene Adler – is under siege by hordes of ghosts while she performs in London. She hires Sarah for her mediumistic talents, but unlike most of the people who hire either Sarah or Nan, makes it clear that ONLY Sarah’s presence is welcome, and that Nan is something less than the mud she scrapes off her expensive boots.

At first, Sarah is happy for the money, and feels duty bound to help the spirits “cross over”, but looks forward to the end of her task. But as the horde of ghosts seems to be nowhere near diminishing, Nan and Sarah’s bird Grey discern that Sarah seems to be falling under the sway of the opera singer, in a way that is not natural.

As Sarah’s natural enjoyment of the luxurious setting morphs into a kind of desperate, personality-altering hero-worship, Nan moved from being mildly jealous to seriously alarmed – and that is the point where the Watsons, and eventually Holmes, are drawn in.

The question is whether even their combined powers will be enough to draw Sarah out from under the spell before it is too late.

Escape Rating A-: I had every bit as much fun with this one as with A Scandal in Battersea. However, if you are coming to these fresh, start with Sable. The two stories flow together extremely well when read in the correct order.

Although there are no steampunk elements in these books, the way that this alternate Victorian and early 20th century England seems to function, along with its blend of magic and “normal” life, reminds me even more strongly of Cindy Spencer Pape’s excellent – but seemingly complete – Gaslight Chronicles.

But the story in A Study in Sable rests very much on the strength of its characters – particularly in this case the character of Nan Killian. She and Sarah are independent young women, who are partners in their independence but not romantic partners. At the same time, romance seems to be far from either of their current horizons. And I like that – that these young women are making identities for themselves and neither expecting nor even thinking that romance will solve things for them.

This book is particularly Nan’s show, as Sarah is increasingly not herself as the story progresses. We feel for Nan as she watches in horror as the friendship that has sustained both her and Sarah unravels under the influence of the supernaturally charismatic opera singer.

It is also fun to see a version of Dr. John Watson where he is definitely Holmes’ equal. Their spheres of talent and influence are different, but Watson in this series is a master in his own right, and never kowtows to the sometimes imperious and always self-absorbed Holmes.

The case in Sable is one where Holmes’ seemingly mundane missing persons’ case draws inevitably towards Watson’s case of malign psychic influence and Sarah’s never-ending ghostly horde. When the separate strands merge, the whole story makes wonderfully blinding sense.

I’m very glad I decided to delve into the world of the Elemental Masters. I’ll be back!

Review: Into the Fire by Elizabeth Moon

Review: Into the Fire by Elizabeth MoonInto the Fire (Vatta's Peace, #2) by Elizabeth Moon
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Series: Vatta's Peace #2
Pages: 384
Published by Del Rey on February 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this new military sci-fi thriller from the author of Cold Welcome, space fleet commander Kylara Vatta uncovers deadly secrets on her latest mission--shedding light on her own family's past.

As Admiral Kylara Vatta learned after she and a shipfull of strangers were marooned on an inhospitable arctic island, the secrets she and her makeshift crew uncovered were ones someone was ready to kill to keep hidden. Now, the existence of the mysterious arctic base has been uncovered, but much of the organization behind it still lurks in the shadows. And it is up to the intrepid Ky to force the perpetrators into the light, and finally uncover decades worth of secrets--some of which lie at the very heart of her biggest family tragedy.

My Review:

There’s a saying about war being the continuation of diplomacy by other means. So, also, is politics, particularly the politics of Slotters Key in this second book in the Vatta’s Peace series. And in the case of this series, it’s that politics are the continuation of diplomacy by other means, diplomacy is the continuation of politics by other means, and even, finally, that war is the continuation of politics by other means, which was not what von Clausewitz originally meant.

But it all makes for compelling reading.

Into the Fire is the second volume in the series, after last year’s marvelous Cold Welcome. And it is a direct sequel to the first. All of the action in Into the Fire is a result of the mess that was uncovered in Cold Welcome, as well as the culmination of strikes against the Vatta family that have been going on since all the way back in the first book in the Vatta’s War series, Trading in Danger. And it turns out that some of that mess relates to events far, far back in the past of the Vatta family, particularly back into the past of Ky’s Great-Aunt Grace, currently the Rector for Defense (think Secretary of Defense in the US Cabinet). The skeletons in Graciela Vatta’s closet have burst out of hiding, and with a vengeance. Or certainly with vengeance in mind.

The first half of Into the Fire is almost completely political. There are forces moving against Grace, Ky, Ky’s fiance Rafe Dunbarger, and all of the soldiers that she found herself in command of in the snafu that occurred in Cold Welcome. In that first book, Ky and her shipmates crashed on what was supposed to be the barren continent of Miksland on Slotter Key, only to discover that Miksland was far from barren, rich in mineral wealth, and that someone had been conducting military exercises on its supposedly empty landscape. And that whatever may be happening on Miksland now, someone, or rather a whole succession of someones, has been successfully hiding the truth about Miksland not just for years, but for centuries.

There’s a lot rotten somewhere in the military, and its up to Ky to ferret it out. Particularly after whoever is rotten systematically whisks all of the soldiers who were part of Ky’s discovery into quarantine, where they can be abused, drugged and eventually murdered without ever being able to reveal what they saw.

At first, Ky is both kept hopping and stuck in her own version of purgatory. At the same time that she discovers that her crew is imprisoned, she finds herself under house arrest and Grace is poisoned. Someone very high up in the government is questioning Ky’s Slotter Key citizenship, with an eye to having her arrested by Customs and Immigration, and then whisked away to the same drugged confinement as her crewmates.

But Ky is wilier than that, and she has the vast resources of Vatta Enterprises behind her, even if she is no longer a shareholder in the company. She’s still a Vatta. And someone is clearly out to get the Vattas. Still. Again.

And someone has upped their timetable on whatever it was they were planning and plotting out in desolate Miksland. Whether those are the same someones, and what Ky can manage to do about them, take the story from politics straight into war.

But if there’s one thing that Admiral Kylara Vatta is good at, it’s war. She and her allies just have to hope that she is better at it than her well-entrenched enemies. And that the butcher’s bill won’t be too high.

Escape Rating A: This was a “just sit there and read” kind of book. It sucked me in from the very first page, and didn’t let go until the end. Actually, I’m not sure it’s let go even yet.

That being said, this is a book that will make no sense to someone who has not read Cold Welcome. I think that the background from the further past is explained enough that you don’t have to read all of Vatta’s War to get into Vatta’s Peace or at least you certainly don’t have to have read it recently. But if you like mercantile/military SF I highly recommend it.

I initially read Vatta’s War in roughly the same time period that I read the Honor Harrington series and Tanya Huff’s Valor (Confederation) series. All three series feature kick-ass military heroines who we meet roughly at the beginning of their careers and who face bigger enemies and greater dangers as they advance. They also pick up great friends, a cohort of companions, and soldiers that will do sacrifice anything for them, and sometimes pay the ultimate price. In the end I gave up on Honor as she seemed to become her very own deus ex machina, but I’ve stuck with both Ky Vatta and Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr of the Valor series, and still enjoy their adventures. All of this to say if you like one, you’ll probably like the other. And I’d love to be a fly on the wall if Ky and Torin ever go out for drinks together.

Into the Fire is a densely political book. The entire first half is primarily the set up, as Ky and company find themselves stuck in various places, trying to find ways around the corrupt and/or clueless branches of officialdom that are trying to keep the truth about Miksland under wraps for as long as possible.

This part of the story reads very much like a spy thriller, with the villains trying to flush out the heroes and the heroes trying to get information without tipping off the villains. Meanwhile the disinformation campaign fomented by the villains just confuses the civilians and makes the job of the heroes that much harder. A lot goes wrong in the first half of the book, leaving Ky, Grace and the reader all frustrated at just how difficult it is to fix this mess.

The second half of the book is all action. Once Ky and company find enough trustworthy people to work with on both the military and the civilian sides, the official logjam gets broken and Ky and her friends are on the move – rooting out the corruption, investigating the conspiracy and most importantly, rescuing Ky’s people before they can be wiped out. It’s a wild and compelling rollercoaster ride from that point on. The reader just can’t turn the pages fast enough. Or at least this reader certainly couldn’t.

This isn’t a story that delves a lot into personalities. It’s all about the action. And that’s non-stop from the moment Ky gets out of house arrest until the book’s breath-stealing conclusion.

The comment at the end of the book is absolutely marvelous, and so completely true. “Vatta’s peace may not be perfect, but it could have been worse.” The book, on the other hand, could not have been better.

Into the Fire does end in a proper closure, as Cold Welcome did not. However, there are enough small loose ends that the series could continue if the author wished. This reader certain wishes very, very hard.

Review: Off the Leash by M.L. Buchman

Review: Off the Leash by M.L. BuchmanOff the Leash (White House Protection Force #1) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: White House Protection Force #1
Pages: 210
Published by Buchman Bookworks on January 26th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

-White House Protection Force Romance #1-

The White House Protection Force Saves the Day! Come meet the behind-the-scenes specialists who keep our White House safe—even while they lose their hearts.

White House Chocolatier Clive Andrews takes pride in the subliminal messages hidden in his State Dinner showstoppers. But there’s more than sensual sweets at risk when his heart begins to melt.

Sergeant Linda Hamlin left the Army after a decade of service. As the newest member of the U.S. Secret Service K-9 Team she expected flak. She didn’t expect to be paired with a misfit mutt named Thor. Together they face down bombers, master spies, and a teenage genius.

All of which might be manageable, if not for the handsome chocolatier who teaches her that a little indulgence can be a very good thing.

My Review:

This was so much fun!

I don’t know what I was expecting when I opened this book, but whatever it was, I was absolutely charmed by the book itself. The opening scenes sucked me right in, where Sergeant Linda Hamlin meets her new dog, Thor, as part of her final exam for the Secret Service K-9 corps.

Linda was just honorably discharged from the Army Rangers K-9 unit after over a decade of very meritorious service. Now she’s a bit burned out and totally at loose ends.

Thor is not what she thought she needed, and neither is White House chocolate chef Clive Andrews.

First there’s poor little Thor. I know it’s difficult to attach the name “Thor” to something little, but this mutt seems to have gotten the name as a very bad joke. He’s a mish-mash of small terrier breeds, and not exactly the prettiest mix of them either. He looks like a purse dog, and he’s not much bigger – maybe 30 pounds. That’s not just small for a police dog, it’s downright tiny.

But he comes with one hell of a training pedigree, if not much of an actual one. Thor and Linda bond instantly, and pass the final exam course with flying colors – much to the chagrin of the exam proctor.

There’s nothing about Clive’s job as a White House chef that should have him watching Linda’s final exam. But when the mysterious Miss Watson, who occupies a hidden office in the White House sub-basement and seems to be on no known org chart whatsoever, says go here and do thus-and-such, people go there and do whatever she said. She “asked” Clive to watch Linda’s final test, so he does.

And he’s instantly captivated.

As Linda gets settled into her new duties as part of the White House Secret Service, she and Thor find themselves in the middle of a case that begins with diplomatic repercussions, but just gets weirder and weirder as it goes along.

It’s possible that two career Japanese diplomats are attempting to smuggle explosives into or near the White House – but that makes no sense whatsoever. And the more that Linda looks into the things that don’t fit about that puzzle, the stranger things seem.

When the likeliest, but oddest, conclusion is that someone is planning to disrupt a state dinner that brings Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian and Philippine diplomats to the table to discuss the real-life situation in the South China Sea, there’s still no clue as to why, who, or what the purpose of the disruption is.

It’s only when Linda, with a bit of help from Thor (and Clive) figures out the who that the why and the what become clear. And in the process, Linda, who has never really felt she belonged anywhere or with anyone, finally realizes that she’s come home.

Escape Rating A-: This was fun. In fact, it was way more fun that I was expecting, and I was certainly expecting good things. This is the second book I’ve received as a member of the M.L. Buchman Special Mission Review Team, and based on the two examples (the other was Big Sky, Loyal Heart) I’m really, really glad I’m in it.

(I received this book in exchange for an honest review. And honestly, I loved it!)

Big Sky, Loyal Heart turns out to be the precursor for Off the Leash and the entire White House Protection Force series, of which this is the first book. But many of Buchman’s series are loosely interconnected, from his first series, Night Stalkers, through Firehawks, Delta Force and Henderson’s Ranch, among others. You don’t have to read them all to enjoy any one of them, but they are all terrific.

There are two plot threads going on in Off the Leash. One is the case that Linda finds herself in the middle of, and the other is her unexpected romance with Clive. Well, it’s certainly unexpected to her, if not to the reader after their first meeting.

While I want to say the romance is a bit of “opposites attract” the more I think about it, the less that feels right. Their careers are certainly nothing alike. Linda has gone from the military to the Secret Service, so effectively into yet another protective role that involves a lot of potential danger. Clive’s career is a totally peacetime operation – he’s a chef! But both of them are driven to be the best at what they do, and both of their jobs, in very different ways, are high pressure, high stress and frequently all consuming. They have similar perspectives on their work, even if the work is very different.

They also have entirely different feelings about love and family and well, feelings. While Clive has not exactly been looking for Ms. Right when he meets Linda, he is very aware that love exists and that families are built upon that foundation. Linda, on the other hand, was a poor little rich girl with a nightmare of a family, and is certain that love is merely a hormonal imbalance that will right itself with time. Their differing beliefs on love and even its existence become the shoals on which their relationship nearly crashes and burns.

The case feels just a bit made-for-television. It was a lot of fun to watch Linda figure it all out, but the resolution was just a bit over the top. We don’t really see enough of the villain or his motivations for the crime to make sense in context. Which didn’t make it any less interesting seeing the whole thing come together.

One final note. That secondary character, Miss Watson, absolutely fascinates me. A long time ago, when I read the author’s first book, The Night is Mine, I said then that the story reminded me of some of the best Jack/Sam fanfiction from Stargate SG-1. Miss Watson, on the other hand, reminds me very much of the inimitable character of Henrietta “Hetty” Lange, the mysterious operations manager in NCIS: Los Angeles. Making the character of Miss Watson tall with her hair in a bun feels like the cosmetic equivalent of filing off the serial number. This is a character I am really looking forward to seeing a whole lot more of. She’ll never be the focus of one of the romances, except possibly in flashback, but she certainly is the proverbial mystery wrapped in an enigma, and I’d love to know more.

I’m also definitely looking forward to seeing more of this series. Off the Leash was both a heartfelt romance and a page-turning bit of romantic suspense. And Thor is a scene-stealer at every turn. I can’t wait for more!

Review: The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

Review: The Wedding Date by Jasmine GuilloryThe Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on January 30th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A groomsman and his last-minute guest are about to discover if a fake date can go the distance in a fun and flirty debut novel.

Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn't normally do. But there's something about Drew Nichols that's too hard to resist.

On the eve of his ex's wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend...

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she's the mayor's chief of staff. Too bad they can't stop thinking about the other...

They're just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century--or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want...

My Review:

This is a rom-com for readers who love rom-coms. It’s also a rom-com for readers who don’t necessarily gravitate to rom-coms. Like moi.

It begins with a meet-cute to end all meet-cutes. Drew and Alexa get stuck in an elevator together, at the fabulous Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. She’s there to catch up with a friend, and he’s there to be a groomsman at his ex’s wedding to one of his friends. Trapped in the elevator with Alexa’s purse-full of snacks and time to kill, they have a much better time together than either of them ever expected. So when Drew asks Alexa to be his “fake date” for the weekend at the wedding he’s attending as penance, she agrees.

And tries desperately not to overthink it.

Their fake date turns into an entire weekend. And it turns out to be anything but fake, even if neither of them is willing to admit it. But as they live in nearly opposite ends of the state (she’s in Berkeley, he’s in LA) they both figure that it’s a one-time fling.

Until it turns into the next weekend, and the next, and the next. And Alexa starts needing to figure out what it really is – while Drew tries to avoid thinking about what it really is.

They both went into this thing believing that it was short-term at best. But as that string of weekends turns into a couple of months, Alexa realizes that she’s in a relationship she hadn’t planned on, while Drew believes that whatever they have has to end sooner or later, because he always ends his relationships before they reach the commitment stage.

This time, it’s too late. It always has been.

Escape Rating A: I loved this one. I say that and I don’t normally like rom-coms. But The Wedding Date just worked for me, and I couldn’t put it down.

One reason that rom-coms don’t normally work for me is that there is so often a misunderstandammit somewhere in the pages. That the crisis is usually wrapped around a big secret that could have been revealed in a simple conversation that never happens.

This time, it felt like all the things that Drew and Alexa weren’t saying, and the reasons that they weren’t saying them, were organic to their relationship and their personalities, and not forced by the need for a crisis. I think we’ve all been there, where we feel that we’re deeper into a relationship than the other person, and are scared to mess up a good thing by pushing for too much too soon. And that usually that instinct means that if we push, the good thing will be over before its time.

As this was a relationship that began with a short shelf life, Alexa’s hesitation is not surprising at all. And Drew is completely blindsided. He never lets himself stick around for anything to develop into a relationship, so he’s unwilling to see that this time it’s happened before he has a chance to back out.

Part of what makes this story so much fun is how likeable both of the characters are. Drew is a pediatric surgeon, so he’s a doctor who works with children. And he’s both cute and caring about it. But Alexa is the character who really shines. She’s the Chief of Staff for the Mayor of Berkeley, and her job is fascinating, adrenaline-inducing, all-encompassing, extremely professional and headache-producing all in one. She loves it and it consumes her life until Drew steps into it. At the same time, she does not stop working or stop being professional or stop loving her job because she’s in a relationship. She does what we all do, she juggles, and she does it well. With a little help from a marvelous coterie of friends.

Another thing that makes this story a bit different is that Alexa is black and Drew is white. She does a really deft job of opening Drew’s, and the reader’s, eyes to some of the issues she faces everyday while never breaking the flow of the story or lecturing either him or the reader. The way that she gets Drew to see his privilege while explaining a program that she is working on at her job works on multiple levels. That he gets it without getting offensive or defensive is part of his character’s charm. That we get it too is part of the author’s charm.

If you’re looking for a book that will make you smile and just plain brighten your day (or even week!) The Wedding Date is a real treat! It’s every bit as delicious as the doughnuts that Alexa is addicted to – without the calories.

Reviewer’s Notes: First, I almost find it impossible to believe that this is the author’s first novel. It is completely polished and utterly marvelous from beginning to end. Second, while I don’t normally have a visual in my head for characters in books I’m reading, every once in a while, I do. For some reason, I kept seeing Drew as Justin Trudeau. It worked for me.

Review: Promise Not to Tell by Jayne Ann Krentz

Review: Promise Not to Tell by Jayne Ann KrentzPromise Not to Tell by Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Cutler Sutter & Salinas #2
Pages: 325
Published by Berkley Books on January 2nd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A painter of fiery, nightmarish visions throws herself into the sea—but she leaves her secrets behind . . .

Seattle gallery owner Virginia Troy has spent years battling the demons that stem from her childhood time in a cult and the night a fire burned through the compound, killing her mother. And now one of her artists has taken her own life, but not before sending Virginia a last picture: a painting that makes Virginia doubt everything about the so-called suicide—and her own past.

Like Virginia, private investigator Cabot Sutter was one of the children in the cult who survived that fire... and only he can help her now. As they struggle to unravel the clues in the painting, it becomes clear that someone thinks Virginia knows more than she does and that she must be stopped. Thrown into an inferno of desire and deception, Virginia and Cabot draw ever closer to the mystery of their shared memories—and the shocking fate of the one man who still wields the power to destroy everything they hold dear.

My Review:

When I reviewed When All the Girls Have Gone, the first Cutler, Sutter & Salinas book last year, it read like a stand alone, so I assumed it was. In fact, I was downright thrilled that it was a standalone, because that meant I wasn’t waiting with bated breath for the next book in the series.

I should have remembered that Jayne Ann Krentz, under all of her various pennames (Amanda Quick, Jayne Castle) writes very, very few standalones these days. Because now we have the second book in the series, and I believe there will be at least a third. After all, Max Cutler got his HEA in Girls, and now it’s Cabot Sutter’s turn in Promise. Not only is Anson Salinas entitled to his chance, but Max and Cabot have a brother who deserves his own HEA at some point as well.

So I’m hoping for four books.

The story in Promise is only loosely tied to Girls. The series is following the guys, and it relates to a long-ago trauma that they shared with the heroine of Promise, Virginia Troy. Because that shared-trauma is far back in the past, it is possible to read both books as standalones, and you could read Promise without having read Girls. But it’s certainly creepier if you read both.

Once upon a time, there was a cult lead by sociopath/psychopath Quinton Zane. Both Virginia Troy and Cabot Sutter were children of the cult, and local cop Anson Salinas was the one who saved them when Zane set his compound on fire as part of his disappearing act.

While Cutler, Sutter & Salinas do not believe the reports of Zane’s death, it’s only when Virginia Troy shows up in their office that they have hard evidence that Zane is still alive. And as evidence goes, it really isn’t very hard, unless one is a member of the Zane conspiracy theory club, which they all definitely are.

One of the two grown-up women who survived Zane’s fire either just committed suicide, or just left Virginia evidence that Zane is still alive and was stalking her. As scarred and traumatized as Hannah Brewer was, Virginia doesn’t believe the suicide theory, no matter how much the local cops do.

And neither do Cutler, Sutter & Salinas. Which throws Cabot Sutter and Virginia Troy together as they investigate not just what happened to Hannah Brewer in the recent past, but what happened to Quinton Zane and his cult long ago, in order to figure out why that past has suddenly become a dangerous piece of the present.

Before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A: This is a very hot, slightly creepy, stay up late to finish story of romantic suspense. I pretty much loved every page of it, and can’t wait to see what happens next. While Cabot and Virginia seem to have found their HEA, the hunt for Quinton Zane is far, far from over.

The story, as so many of Krentz/Quick/Castle’s stories do, rests (or rather stays up late) on the portrayals of the two principals, Cabot and Virginia. They are both scarred, and by the same trauma. It gives them an instant bond, because there are things that they understand that can only be understood by people who shared that same experience. They are both driven to make themselves secure however they can, and they have both given up on most relationships. It’s impossible to get close to someone when you either have to keep part of yourself back, or when the other person constantly minimizes an experience that is foundational to your experience, even if its something as terrible as what happened to them. Or even worse, is someone you are attempting to form a relationship with believes that you’re crazy.

So their trust in each other is instant, but convincingly so. Everything else takes a bit longer, but they begin very much on the same page. They are, as it is said in the story, intimate strangers from the outset.

They also work together as partners. Cabot may be the one with the investigative expertise, but Virginia knew Hannah Brewer and the art she produced as her way of dealing with her own demons. When it becomes obvious that whoever was after Hannah is after Virginia, even though they don’t initially know why they do know that Virginia’s insights are crucial to solving the case. As they indeed turn out to be.

The case they end up solving is not actually the one that they thought they were pursuing. And it keeps the pages turning as they uncover more and different secrets under more and more rocks. By the end, they are closer to resolving the mystery of what happened back when they were children, and they have removed the current threat.

But as the story ends, it is obvious that there are more threats coming for them. And I can’t wait.

Review: Celta Cats by Robin D. Owens

Review: Celta Cats by Robin D. OwensCelta Cats by Robin D. Owens
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, short stories
Series: Celta's Heartmates
Pages: 144
Published by Amazon Digital Services on December 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Smart Cats know what they want. And on the world of Celta, they are very smart. They can be Familiar Animal companions, bonded with a person.
These stories are seen from the cat’s very own eyes, and are six never before published Cat Stories, including the first Top Cat of Celta, Peaches; as well as a trio of stories about that favorite Fam, Zanth.
Peaches Arrives on Celta, Plenty of problems for Peaches to fix: challenges to his status; people lying about Peaches’ human companion and Peaches himself; Grandma’s acting mean...and there’s that very real concern that the Ship just might not land safely, fear he must overcome…
Zanth Gets His Boy, Zanth’s meeting with a noble boy running from evil people changes both their lives in ways he couldn’t imagine
Pinky Becomes A Fam, Pinky is a smart enough cat to know that there is a difference from being a regular cat and a Familiar Companion Cat, and bonding better with his boy. He’s determined to make the leap from cat to Fam, but didn’t realize exactly what that meant…
Zanth Claims Treasure, Yes, the southern estate smells great, even better smelling is the glass orb full of magic that he finds, and will fight to keep…
Baccat Chooses His Person, Life on the streets in the winter isn’t what Baccat deserves, and he’s determined to find a good person to take care of him. After all, he has so much to offer…but does he really deserve what he gets?
Zanth Saves The Day, A FamCat on a beach just can’t sleep with all that odd hatching and squeaking going on. Zanth finds new friends and defends them against bullies…

My Review:

I’m still looking for comfort reading. When I heard the FamCats of Celta meowing my name, I decided to answer.

This is likely to be what a blogging friend refers to as a “short and sweet” review. This is not a big book, the stories do not have big messages, but they are a whole lot of fun, particularly if you like the Celta’s Heartmates series. The stories in Celta Cats illustrate bits of backstory or side story of events that are referred to in the main series, but are told from the point of view of the FamCats, the Familiar Companion animals of Celta who happen to be cats.

It seems that any animal can become a Fam, if they have enough Flair (psi power) and enough intelligence. Fams are intelligent at what we would think of as a human level, but do not think human thoughts. They understand human speech and thought, but as the stories illustrate, they do not change their essential nature. The FamCats, in particular, are always very cat. Particularly in the “dogs have owners, cats have staff” sense. FamCats expect rewards for their service, and are not remotely shy about demanding those rewards. It’s part of what makes them so much fun.

Although this collection features FamCats, in the main series we meet many other animals who have become Fams, including foxes, dogs, birds, and even housefluffs, which seem like a less predatory version of the dustbunnies in Jayne Castle’s Harmony series.

Heart Mate by Robin D. Owens new cover

Several of the stories in this collection feature Xanth, the FamCat who owns and protects Rand T’Ash, the hero of the first book in the series, Heart Mate. From Xanth’s perspective, he is the dominant partner. Rand’s perspective may be otherwise. But one of the most interesting stories in the collection is the first meeting between Xanth and Rand, told from Xanth’s perspective. At that point, Rand was a scared and very young man, who had just watched evil men burn out his family home, killing his parents and siblings., while Xanth was a full-grown and battle-toughened street cat. Those same men are hunting Rand, and it is Xanth’s knowledge of Druida City’s back alleys that keeps them both alive until Rand matures enough to come into his full power and exact his revenge.

Escape Rating A-: For adult readers, Celta Cats is a book for fans. The joy in the stories is filling in missing pieces of Celtan history, and especially viewing that history through the eyes of the Fams, who are so often the best part, or at least the funniest part, of many of the stories.

As a short story collection, Celta Cats is being marketed as a children’s book. I have my doubts about that. It’s true that there is no “adult” content per se. These stories are not romances, while the regular books of the Celta’s Heartmates series most definitely are. But what makes these stories special is their connection to Celta. The Xanth stories are particularly fun because they connect to Xanth (and Rand) as we already know them. Whether young readers will find them interesting without knowing anything about the background of Celta is something I’m just not sure about.

But for those of us who love the series, and can’t wait until next year for our next visit to Celta, these stories are utterly charming.

Reviewer’s Note: I read Celta Cats in the wake of Ursula K. LeGuin’s death. If you like the Celta Cats, you will love her Catwings series, which begins with, of course, Catwings. The Catwings stories, are, not surprisingly considering the title, about a family of winged cats. The wings seem to be a mutation, as the stories are set in the contemporary world and everyone, both cats and humans, are aware that the Catwings family needs to be protected from people who will want to study them. The stories are marvelous, the illustrations are lovely, and just like Celta Cats, the stories will be enjoyed by adults who love any intersection between cats and either science fiction or fantasy.

Review: Cast in Deception by Michelle Sagara

Review: Cast in Deception by Michelle SagaraCast in Deception (Chronicles of Elantra, #13) by Michelle Sagara
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Chronicles of Elantra #13
Pages: 512
Published by Mira Books on January 23rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES?

Private Kaylin Neya thought her home couldn’t possibly get more crowded. But when one of her housemates, Annarion, decides to undertake the Barrani Test of Name, his friends refuse to let him face his task alone—and Kaylin’s sentient home, Helen, is the only structure capable of shielding the rest of Elantra from the magnitude of their power.

Annarion and Mandoran almost caused the destruction of the High Halls once already. Add nine of their closest friends, and the danger is astronomically higher—especially since these guests are at the heart of a political firestorm. Imprisoned almost a millennium ago, their recent freedom threatens the rulership of several prominent Barrani families, and the machinations of those Lords make it almost impossible to tell friend from foe.

As political tensions ramp up, the shadows beneath the High Halls are seeking a freedom that has never been possible before. Kaylin must find a way to keep those shadows from escaping, or that freedom will destroy her city, the empire and everything she holds dear.

My Review:

I originally said that the Chronicles of Elantra series was urban fantasy in a high or epic fantasy setting. Our point of view character is Private Kaylin Neya, a member of the Hawks, meaning law enforcement, in the city of Elantra.

Elantra is populated not just by humans, but also by Leontines, Aerians, Thallani and Barrani (read elves, sort of) and ruled by Dragons. While only the Barrani and the Dragons are immortal, even the non-immortals make the reader think more of epic fantasy than urban.

At the same time, Kaylin’s very lowly position among the local equivalent of the police did put her in the way of solving crimes and mysteries in her city. But even though that’s where she started, that’s not where she is now.

Instead, Kaylin has become a wild card among the political movers and shakers of Elantra. Not because she wants power, but because they began by seeing her as too ephemeral to cause any problems, only to discover that it’s her mortality that makes her so interesting.

One of the problems with being immortal is that everything gets boring after a while. Being around Kaylin is never, ever boring. Often dangerous, frequently chaotic, occasionally life threatening, but never dull, not even for a second. Kaylin is such a chaos magnet that she actually makes boring look desirable in comparison.

The story in Cast in Deception, like all of the stories in the Chronicles of Elantra, is about Kaylin dealing with the unexpected consequences of her previous actions – hopefully before someone gets killed, war breaks out, or both.

cast in shadow by michelle sagaraBut as the events of this story are the results of so many that came before it, this is a series where it is probably impossible to get in at this point. Events, and people, in this series layer upon each other, well past the point where the only way into Elantra is from the very beginning, with Cast in Shadow. Kaylin’s life and her world, or at least her perspective of it, were much simpler back then.

It is also possible to start with the prequel novella, Cast in Moonlight, which tells the story of how Kaylin became a Hawk – which was not what she intended. Kaylin’s actions often result in things which she did not intend, frequently to the dismay of anyone else even tangentially involved.

The scope of events of the series have become epic, but it is epic in a way where the author does not seem to be leading toward some ultimate battle between good and evil. Not that there are not evil forces, but rather that those evil forces don’t seem to be personified, or at least not yet. In some ways, it seems as if the evil force they are resisting is entropy, the winding down of the universe, rather than true evil. This may be resolved later in the series.

The story in Cast in Deception relates directly to events in Cast in Peril where Kaylin rescued a group of young Barrani from centuries of an imprisonment designed to increase the power of their families. It was a ceremony that backfired spectacularly, and Kaylin rescued the much changed young people who emerge.

But that cohort of people have become threats to the High Halls of the Barrani, and there are forces both within and without that are attempting to keep them from claiming their birthrights. Some of those forces are embodied in people that Kaylin thinks of as friends, and others may be part of the dreaded Shadow.

But all of it is politics as usual among the extremely political, immortal Barrani. And if there’s one thing Kaylin hates more than anything else, it’s politics. Which doesn’t stop her (as nothing ever does) from rushing in where angels fear to tread to pull her friends out of grave danger, even if that merely puts her in danger with them.

As usual.

Escape Rating A-: I absolutely adore this series, and wait eagerly for each installment. At the same time, this is a world creation that has become very, very dense, with lots of characters and epic amounts of backstory, and it always takes me a little ways (and a bit longer each time) to get into the book to feel myself catching up. Then, of course, it takes me an equally long time to emerge from the book hangover. Elantra is difficult to get into, and equally difficult to leave.

As much as I love this series, and this particular entry in it, this particular story feels like it doesn’t take up a lot of “world time” and it feels like not much gets resolved by the end. At the beginning, the cohort of formerly lost Barrani were lost again on their way to take up their birthrights. By the end of the story, they have managed to make their very dangerous and nearly deadly way to Elantra, but the political challenges are all still yet to come. But as always, I was happy to travel along on Kaylin’s journey.

Hopefully in the next book, hopefully next year. And now the countdown begins!