Review: At the Slightest Sound by M.L. Buchman

Review: At the Slightest Sound by M.L. BuchmanAt the Slightest Sound (ShadowForce: Psi #1) by M L Buchman
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, military romance, paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: ShadowForce: Psi #1
Pages: 204
Published by Buchman Bookworks on September 14, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Delta Force recon specialist Hannah Tucker needs out of the Colombian jungle and she needs out now.

Night Stalker pilot Jesse Johnson aims to oblige...until his helicopter is shot down. He finds that more than a little inconvenient.

Stalked by guerrillas, crocodiles, and other jungle unfriendlies, they must learn to control skills they never knew they had — or even existed!

Together they discover an unpredictable psychic ability to project sound and distract their enemies. Though the crocodiles remain unimpressed.

Their introduction to a secret military force, whose unique psi talents lay hidden in the shadows, launches them into a whole new world they never imagined.

My Review:

I read the first three books in the ShadowForce: Psi series in one glorious weekend binge. I had such a good time that I want to push them at everyone, and the best place to start is with the first book, the setup for THIS series, At the Slightest Sound.

So here we are.

The story begins with Night Stalkers helicopter pilot Jesse Johnson crash landing in Colombia on his attempt to rescue Delta operator Hannah Tucker. They’re both more than a bit bruised and banged up, and now they’re both in the jungle in the midst of the guerrilla forces that she was sent to find and he was sent to rescue her from. They’re going to have to rescue each other if either of them is to have a chance of surviving.

But Jesse and Hannah have an ace up their sleeves that they don’t even know they have. Hannah isn’t just very, very lucky at escaping capture, she has an uncanny ability that makes her pursuers look the other way at the most inconvenient moment – at least for those pursuers.

Hannah can throw, not her voice, but sound. Sound that distracts her enemies just when she most needs them distracted. She’s unwilling to admit that she might be a freak – but she and Jesse need that freakish ability of hers to survive. And, they need Jesse’s equally freakish ability to magnify those sounds to get the rescue of Jesse’s rescue to notice two camouflaged people hiding in the middle of a dense jungle from flyover height.

They come out of that jungle, together, caught between an intensive pull to find a way to stay together – in spite of both being lone operators in parts of the service that will pull them apart – and a desperate push to find their way back to some kind of normal, either by denying their strange abilities – or embracing them.

And that’s where things get really interesting, as they receive rather cryptic instructions from Hannah’s equally cryptic boss – to meet up with a group of ex-military and civilian operatives who have powers just as far outside the so-called normal as theirs.

It’s going to be the start of a beautiful friendship. It’s already the start of a terrific romantic suspense series!

Escape Rating A-: This was definitely a case of the right book at the right time. The book I was in the middle of was good but not great, and the one I’d just finished, which was in a similar vein to the ShadowForce series, was at that same not-quite-sweet spot, good but not as great as I’d hoped. And I have a review of the 4th – and it looks like final – book in this series scheduled for the end of the month, so I needed to get caught up.

I was only planning to read this first book, but the series turned out to be a bit like those potato chips – as in you can’t read just one. So I kept right on going, although I’m still saving that final book until next week. I think. Maybe I can resist.

I wouldn’t be able to resist too long, because this series reads more like a single story spread out over four relatively short books than it does four separate stories loosely connected into a series.

Although it is loosely connected to several of the author’s previous series. Which you don’t HAVE to have read to get totally immersed in this one. But they’re fun, adrenaline-inducing reads and if you like ShadowForce you’ll love them too. (If you’re looking for a fantastic way to while away about a month of this pandemic, start with The Night is Mine and get lost in this author’s world for a terrific – and long – time.)

Meanwhile, there’s At the Slightest Sound, and the three threads that it does an excellent job of packing into its rather tight length.

There’s the obvious thread, the high-adrenaline, high-stakes mutual rescue of Hannah and Jesse. Hannah is a Delta operator, she can get herself out of anything, anywhere, anytime. And she usually does. But she’s also a solo operator, not used to either counting on or dealing with anyone else.

Jesse is a helicopter pilot. The best of the best at what he does, just as Hannah is among the elite at what she does. But the one thing Jesse doesn’t do is get himself lost on the ground in unfamiliar territory. Hannah is the one leading their mutual escape, and Jesse has zero problems letting her lead.

The equality of the romantic partners is also one of the hallmarks of this author’s writing – it’s one of the things I read him FOR because it’s still rare and always GREAT to see.

But there are two other pieces to this story. One is wrapped around Hannah’s special talent and her understandable unwillingness to accept that she might be even more “different” than she thought she was. She already knew she was different, just by being a female Delta operator, but this is a step beyond – in more ways than one.

There’s less on this front for Jesse to accept or deal with. His talent only exists in conjunction with hers. He can amplify her signal, but can’t make a single spooky sound on his own. And he’s just plain more laid-back than Hannah.

However, the thing that they both have to come to terms with is that they are falling for each other, that they trust each other implicitly, and that they have an intimate relationship that hasn’t even managed to find a bed to consummate itself in yet, in less than 48 hours. They’ve both held their hearts closed before now, and they’re both having a difficult time accepting that they’re all in on a relationship that’s barely begun.

And that it’s the right thing to do. And feel.

The story of Shadowforce: Psi continues in At the Quietest Word and At the Merest Glance, and the continuing books in the series are every bit as good as this first one. I’m chomping at the bit to read the 4th book in the series, At the Clearest Sensation. Once you get started, I’m certain that you will be too!

That 4th and it looks like final book in the series will be out at the end of the month, and I wanted to be caught up before I started it. I’m definitely glad I did, because this series is complete in the four books, and it kind of IS one story spread out over the four. So start with At the Slightest Sound and get ready for one hell of a wild ride.

Review: A Question of Betrayal by Anne Perry

Review: A Question of Betrayal by Anne PerryA Question of Betrayal (Elena Standish) by Anne Perry
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: espionage, historical fiction, historical mystery, suspense, thriller, World War II
Series: Elena Standish #2
Pages: 304
Published by Ballantine Books on September 8, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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On her first mission for MI6, the daring young photographer at the heart of this thrilling new mystery series by bestselling author Anne Perry travels to Mussolini's Italy to rescue the lover who betrayed her.
Britain's secret intelligence service, MI6, has lost contact with its informant in northern Italy, just as important information about the future plans of Austria and Nazi Germany is coming to light. And young Elena Standish, to her surprise, is the only person who can recognize MI6's man--because he is her former lover. Aiden Strother betrayed her six years before, throwing shame on her entire family. Now, with so much to prove, Elena heads to Trieste to track down Aiden and find out what happened to his handler, who has mysteriously cut off contact with Britain.
As Elena gets word of a secret group working to put Austria in the hands of Germany, her older sister, Margot, is in Berlin to watch a childhood friend get married--to a member of the Gestapo. Margot and Elena's grandfather, the former head of MI6, is none too happy about the sisters' travels at this tumultuous time, especially when a violent event at home reminds him that even Britain is growing dangerous. As his own investigation collides with his granddaughter's, what's at stake on the continent becomes increasingly frightening--and personal.
Against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Europe, New York Times bestselling author Anne Perry crafts a novel full of suspense, political intrigue, and the struggle between love and loyalty to country.

My Review:

The terrific first book in the Elena Standish series, Death in Focus, was an espionage thriller wrapped around a traditional mystery, set in a changing Europe in the years between the Great War and World War II.

The years while Hitler was on his rise to power, the years when those with eyes to see were aware that a second war was on the horizon – no matter how badly they wanted that not to be true. And no matter how many people were willing to compromise anything and everything to keep the fragile peace at ANY cost.

But this second book in the series, set just a few months after the events of Death in Focus, is unquestionably all about the spy games. Not that there aren’t plenty of mysterious things happening, but those mysteries are wrapped around Elena’s mission – to rescue a spy that her government planted six years ago in Austria so that they could have someone on the “inside” if things went the direction that was feared.

Aiden Strother was in deep cover, but his “handler” is dead and his mission is compromised. Someone needs to go to Trieste, warn him, get him out if possible and his information out no matter what. And Elena is the best operative MI6 has for the job – no matter how new she is to the job.

She knows Strother on sight. And he’ll trust her, for the contacts he knows she has in the Foreign Service and MI6, if not for the relationship they once had. Once upon a time, they were lovers. Until Strother stole secrets from the Service and went over to the Austrians, burning Elena’s career in the process.

Now Elena learns he was tasked with becoming a double agent, setup by MI6 to pretend to betray the British. Elena’s career was merely collateral damage to MI6. Even if her grandfather was once the head of the organization. Or perhaps especially because, as Lucas Standish’ successor will do anything to erase the man’s shadow.

But this is a spy game from beginning to end, and nothing is quite as it seems. Not Aiden Strother, not Jerome Bradley, current head of MI6, not the situation in Trieste, and especially not Elena Standish. Whatever she may once have been, whatever she may once have felt, Elena’s experiences in Berlin at the hands of the Gestapo in Death in Focus have changed her focus.

Elena will do what she must, even if she must commit murder, all alone in the dark. After all, all is fair in love and war. And this is war, even if it is conducted in the shadows.

Escape Rating A-: My feelings about this book are somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, I found it even more compelling than the first book. On the other, I feel like I have even less of a grasp of Elena’s character than I did in that first book. So I felt driven to keep turning the pages, but it wasn’t Elena’s story that I was turning those pages for. Definitely a paradox as this is supposed to be Elena’s journey and Elena’s series – or it should be as it is named for her.

(I’ve read at least some of three of the author’s previous historical mystery series, and all of those, Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, Daniel Pitt, and William Monk, are all unquestionably about the people they’re named for.)

So even though Elena was the one in danger, it was her grandfather Lucas and her sister Margot who seemed to have more compelling narratives. Or perhaps it’s that their stories felt like they had a broader focus on conditions in general. Elena’s story, although it did have implications for the war that no one wants to see on the horizon, was, of necessity, more tightly focused on her need to find Strother and convince him to leave or at least get his information out, while the Fatherland Front for the Nazis in Austria did its best and worst to kill them.

And while Elena’s feelings about Strother complicate her perspective on what’s really going on, both in general and between them in particular. Even though Elena has grown up a bit from the first book, she still reads as a bit naive and much too wrapped inside her own head to be actually good at the job. Although she’s learning, she’s still too emotionally conflicted to draw me in the way that Maisie Dobbs or Bess Crawford do in their respective series. (And they are all readalikes for each other, so if you like one give the others a try!)

Meanwhile, her sister Margot returns to Berlin to attend a friend’s wedding to a young German officer. Because it’s not Margot herself who is directly involved, she has a much clearer picture of the true state of affairs as she watches her friend marry someone who is such a fanatic that Hitler is practically a guest at the wedding, while both the bride and her parents desperately hope that this marriage will protect her and them in the storm to come. So many people on all sides of the wedding seem much more clear-eyed on what the future will bring than Elena playing spy games in Trieste.

But the part of the story that really grabbed my attention was Lucas Standish’ part of the story. He’s supposed to be retired from MI6, but he still has his hand, possibly both hands, into the service that he led for so long. He sees the war coming, and also sees that there are too many in Britain who are so weary of the cost of war that they will rationalize any atrocity in Germany in order to keep their heads in the sand.

And that there are an entirely too well placed few who believe that Germany has the right idea, and that Hitler’s Germany would be a natural ally for Britain. That the atrocities committed by Hitler’s Germany are not merely necessary but are actually a good start to the eradication of people that too many Britons, as well as Germans, believe are less than human.

While Elena is rescuing a spy, and Margot is supporting a friend at the outset of a terrible journey, Lucas is on the hunt for one of those Britons who wants to ally directly with Hitler’s Germany and not only supports his tyranny but possibly wants to import it. And is using MI6, a service that Lucas still loves, in order to subvert the expressed policy of the government.

Lucas is hunting for a traitor who has his eyes on Lucas’ country and his family. His part of the story, figuring out who the traitor is and convincing enough people in high places to root him out is the part of the story that took me for the biggest thrill ride.

So, I’m compelled to continue following the “Standish Saga” as the spy games continue leading straight into the war we all know is coming – even if the character the series is named for is not the character I’m following the series for.

Review: The Deadly Hours by Susanna Kearsley, C.S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber, Christine Trent

Review: The Deadly Hours by Susanna Kearsley, C.S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber, Christine TrentThe Deadly Hours by Susanna Kearsley, C.S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber, Christine Trent
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, romantic suspense
Pages: 352
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on September 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A stellar line-up of historical mystery novelists weaves the tale of a priceless and cursed gold watch as it passes through time wreaking havoc from one owner to another. The characters are irrevocably linked by fate, each playing a key role in breaking the curse and destroying the watch once and for all.
From 1733 Italy to Edinburgh in 1831 to a series of chilling murders in 1870 London, and a lethal game of revenge decades later, the watch touches lives with misfortune, until it comes into the reach of one young woman who might be able to stop it for good.
This outstanding collaboration of authors includes:Susanna Kearsley – New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of compelling time slip fiction.C.S. Harris – bestselling author of the Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mystery series.Anna Lee Huber – award-winning author of the national bestselling Lady Darby Mysteries. Christine Trent – author of the Lady of Ashes Victorian mystery series.

My Review:

It’s not so much the hours that are deadly, as the watch that counts them as it passes from one dead hand to another, carrying disaster and destruction on its way.

That watch, La Sirène, links the four novellas that make up The Deadly Hours, as the watch’s story is taken up by four different authors as it surfaces in four completely different eras.

We begin following La Sirène in Italy in 1733, although the watch has already acquired a storied – and checkered – history by that point, as has the man who carries her into Portofino. The watch, and the curse on it, originated with freebooter Vautour’s infamous father, also a freebooter. There was a war – there was always a war – and the freebooters didn’t get paid for the “work” they did in Cartagena. So they took their own payment in blood. And in the case of Vautour père, in the gold that the churches had attempted to hide.

That’s where the curse came in. Not just because the elder Vautour stole from the church, and was cursed for it by the priest he tortured, but because the church, in its turn, as it did, stole the gold from the religions that held sway in the Americas before they arrived to “convert the heathens”.

The cursed gold was made into a beautiful pocket watch, La Sirène, with a mermaid on its case and words etched on its opposite side that translate as “I am the only master of my time.” The reader may question who the “I” refers to in this, whether that’s the watch’s owner, the watch’s original creator, or the watch itself. A person could be forgiven for thinking the watch is actually in charge of pretty much everything.

In 1733, the curse catches up with Vautour the younger – or perhaps it’s merely his life as a freebooter. Or, in this particular case, the company he keeps. Carrying an assassin aboard one’s ship can result in collateral damage, in this case to both Vautour and the assassin, both of whom were obsessed, in entirely different ways, with La Sirène.

No one else involved wants to touch the damned thing, except the innkeeper, who pockets the watch after everyone else deliberately leaves it in a dead man’s pocket, intending it to be buried with him.

Each time the watch resurfaces, in 1831, 1870 and finally 1944, it brings death and destruction to everyone it touches – especially the descendants of those stranded travelers who hosted a pirate and an assassin at that inn in Portofino all the way back at the very beginning.

Until La Sirène finds herself in the hands of someone who deserves ALL the bad luck she has stored within her – and finally fulfills the conditions of her curse. Unless…she’s out there still.

Escape Rating A-: As I pretty much poured through this story it struck me that there was more than one story being told in this braided set of novellas.

There’s the obvious one, of course, the story of La Sirène through the centuries and just how many terrible events seem to follow in her wake. You don’t have to believe in the curse, and many of the people who cross her path are at least skeptical of it, but the mind is a powerful thing. Even if the “curse” is really people searching for meaning in a hellacious coincidence of bad luck, or if people blame the watch when it’s really just people giving into their baser instincts and blaming it on the watch, the events still occur. Whether they would have occurred without her, well, no one will ever know, will they?

But these novellas, while each complete in and of themselves, are also portraits of a series of romantic relationships. And no matter what century they are set in, each portrays a relationship where the partners are negotiating just how to not merely be together, but how to be equals together in societies that don’t expect men and women to be equal. The men seem to be, to a man, learning how to let their partners into a world that holds danger and excitement in equal measure, and that they were taught that women are to be protected from. But all of their partners are women who embody a saying that is strangely apropos, the one about a ship in harbor being safe, but that not being what ships are built for. None of these negotiations are easy, but all of them will result in much happier relationships – if they can figure out how to go about it.

And that leads to another thread that lurks under the individual novellas. With the exception of the final story, Siren’s Call by C.S. Harris (and the one I picked up this book FOR), we are reading about couples who are already in a relationship, but are still in the process of figuring out how it’s going to work. As a reader, I had the sense that there was more story about these people that I hadn’t read. I didn’t need to in order to get into the action in their portion of THIS story, but I could tell there was more and I WANTED it.

It drove me crazy, so I had to hunt for them.

In Weapon of Choice, Susanna Kearsley combined the historical characters from three of her time slip books, A Desperate Fortune, The Firebird and The Rose Garden, into one chance meeting at that inn in Portofino. Anna Lee Huber’s In a Fevered Hour takes place sometime during her Lady Darby series, and features the lead couple of from that series, Lady Darby and her second husband, the private inquiry agent Sebastian Gage. This series sounds fascinating and I’m planning to look into them more deeply. Likewise, the primary investigator in A Pocketful of Death by Christine Trent is Violet Harper, a Victorian era undertaker! I really liked the character of Violet and will probably look up her series (Lady of Ashes) sometime too, but I found her story to fit into the braiding of this collection a bit less tightly than the others.

All in all, this was a fun “collection” of historical mysteries, did a great job of telling its entire story while sharing its parts, and had a wow of a surprise ending. And, AND it’s a terrific introduction to the writing of a fantastic group of historical romantic suspense/mystery writers, making The Deadly Hours a win-win all the way around!

Review: Shadows in Death by J.D. Robb

Review: Shadows in Death by J.D. RobbShadows in Death (In Death, #51) by J.D. Robb
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: futuristic, mystery, romantic suspense, thriller
Series: In Death #51
Pages: 368
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 8, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lt. Eve Dallas is about to walk into the shadows of her husband's dangerous past.
As it often did since he'd married a cop, murder interrupted more pleasant activities. Then again, Roarke supposed, the woman lying in a pool of her own blood a few steps inside the arch in Washington Square Park had a heftier complaint.
When a night out at the theatre is interrupted by the murder of a young woman in Washington Square Park, it seems like an ordinary case for Detective Eve Dallas and her team. But when Roarke spots a shadow from his past in the crowd, Eve realises that this case is far from business as usual.
Eve has two complex cases on her hands - the shocking murder of this wealthy young mother and tracking down the shadow before he can strike again, this time much closer to home. Eve is well used to being the hunter, but how will she cope when the tables are turned? As Eve and the team follow leads to Roarke's hometown in Ireland, the race is on to stop the shadow making his next move . . .

My Review:

This 51st entry in the In Death series may be a comfort read for long-time readers of the series – like moi – because this one is all about the fam. But that’s also what makes it a trip to the angst factory for the entire cast, as shadows from the past reach out to threaten one of their own.

That a bunch of NYPSD cops consider the former street thief turned mega-business tycoon Roarke one of their own is a surprising balm to a man who grew up on the mean streets of Dublin after the Urban Wars learning to pick pockets, run con games and run as fast as he could from the brutal fists of his late and entirely unlamented sperm donor, Patrick Roarke.

Well, neither Roarke nor his wife, NYPSD Lieutenant Eve Dallas have anything good to say about Patrick Roarke. But, and this big butt is at the heart of this entire story, there is someone who does. Someone who has lurked in the shadows of Roarke’s past since his long ago and entirely too brief childhood.

Lorcan Cobbe served as an enforcer for the gang that Patrick Roarke ruled with an iron fist. A gang that included his son, pickpocket and budding expert thief Roarke. But Roarke, in spite of his father’s tendency to let his fists fly at any – or no – provocation, was the elder’s acknowledged son, where that acknowledgement was something that Cobbe not only envied but believed that he was owed.

The elder Roarke is gone, and good riddance, but Lorcan Cobbe believes that he is still owed, and that he’s going to get his long-delayed payback by killing Roarke. After first stripping from him everything he has earned and everything he holds dear, including his position, his fortune, his friends and definitely his wife.

But the years that Lorcan has spent in the shadows as one of the world’s best – and most expensive – contract killers are the same years that Roarke spent building a legitimate fortune, a circle of friends, a found family, and finding not only the birth family that his so-called father denied him but also making a life with the surprising love of his life, Eve Dallas.

They met over a dead body, as is fitting when one falls for a homicide cop. In the years since they’ve gathered a family, partly of blood and mostly of choice, of people who will walk through fire for either of them.

Cobbe has targeted both, and that family will take him down. Wherever that chase may lead them.

Escape Rating A-: I swallowed this book whole in a couple of lovely hours. I read this series not for the mystery aspect, but for the family-of-choice story. Twice a year I get to visit with these very good friends and see how they’re doing, and it’s marvelous every single time whether the mystery is compelling or merely a day’s work for Eve and company. This one was so compelling that I had to thumb to the end to make sure that the dark places it went too weren’t too utterly black. No one likes to see their friends, even their book-bound friends, suffer.

This one began with all the hallmarks of one of the series’ semi-regular trips to the angst factory. Both Eve and Roarke had abusive fathers – who dammitall knew each other – and both raised themselves with a bit of help from someone or something who gave them purpose. In Roarke’s case that someone was Summerset, now his majordomo, and in Eve’s case it was the NYPSD.

They should have remained on entirely different paths, but their meeting over a dead body in Naked in Death cemented both their fates and glued their futures together – and onto a single, surprisingly straight-and-kinda-narrow path for ex-thief Roarke.

This story in the series read as a big “payoff” for fans of the series. It’s an A- rating because as much as I absolutely adored it, this would be an impossible place to get into the series. This story works because it’s an all hands on deck story, where everyone who has ever gotten close to Eve and Roarke bands together to help them take out the threat. Readers who know where they came from, who have seen this disparate group bind themselves together over the course of the series, will love every minute of this story, while anyone who is not already steeped in the brew will not be nearly as moved.

This feels like a kind of closing off of the past. Roarke sees Cobbe and finds himself remembering parts of his own childhood that he buried long ago because they were too painful. Cobbe’s re-advent into his life gives him the opportunity to bring those parts into the light – and to see just how far he’s come and just how well he’s done for himself. Not in the financial sense because that was always his goal and he never lost sight of it, but in his heart and soul. His past was dark, and he needs to see it for what it was to appreciate just how much light he’s surrounded himself with and how truly wonderful it is.

The story contrasts Cobbe, whose professional persona falls apart when he goes after Roarke, with Roarke who realizes just how together he is, and just how many people are together with him. The ending is wonderfully cathartic, and I needed that even more than the characters in the story did.

This could have been the end of the series. The way the entire group comes together would have made a perfect stand up and cheer end for the whole thing and would have provided a terrific amount of closure all around. But I’m oh-so-glad that it isn’t. Eve and Roarke will be back this winter in Faithless in Death. And I already can’t wait to see the gang again!

Review: The Brothers of Auschwitz by Malka Adler

Review: The Brothers of Auschwitz by Malka AdlerThe Brothers of Auschwitz by Malka Adler, Noel Canin
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: biography, historical fiction, Holocaust, World War II
Pages: 464
Published by One More Chapter on September 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An extraordinary novel of hope and heartbreak, this is a story about a family separated by the Holocaust and their harrowing journey back to each other.
My brother’s tears left a delicate, clean line on his face. I stroked his cheek, whispered, it’s really you…
Dov and Yitzhak live in a small village in the mountains of Hungary, isolated both from the world and from the horrors of the war. But one day in 1944, everything changes. The Nazis storm the homes of the Jewish villagers and inform them they have one hour. One hour before the train will take them to Auschwitz.
Six decades later, from the safety of their living rooms at home in Israel, the brothers finally break their silence to a friend who will never let their stories be forgotten.
Told in a poetic style reminiscent of Atwood and Salinger, Malka Adler has penned a visceral yet essential read for those who have found strength, solace and above all, hope, in books like The Choice, The Librarian of Auschwitz and The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
This paperback includes an exclusive 14-page P.S. section with an author Q, an Author’s Note and a reading group guide.
Praise for The Brothers of Auschwitz
I sat down and read this within a few hours, my wife is now reading it and it is bringing tears to her eyes’ Amazon reviewer
‘The story is so incredible and the author writes so beautifully that it is impossible to stay indifferent. I gave the book to my mom and she called me after she finished crying and telling me how much she loved it’ Amazon reviewer
‘It is a book we all must read, read in order to know … It is harsh, enthralling, earth-shattering, rattling – but we must. And nothing less’ Aliza Ziegler, Editor-in-Chief at Proza Books, Yedioth Ahronoth Publishing House
Great courage is needed to write as Adler does – without softening, without beautifying, without leaving any room to imagination’ Yehudith Rotem, Haaretz newspaper
‘This is a book we are not allowed not to read’ Leah Roditi, At Magazine

My Review:

Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, as it does in this biographical novel about two brothers’ harrowing experiences as prisoners in Auschwitz in 1944-45 and their long journey to find each other again. And what happened after.

The story is searing in its intensity, all the more so because so much of it is based on interviews that the author conducted with its protagonists. Even though this is labeled as a “biographical novel”, it feels true in all of its horror.

Although there is a framing story of the author going to visit Dov and Yitzhak to interview them, the power in this narrative comes from the two men telling what feels like the unvarnished and unwhitewashed truth about not just what happened to them during the war, but also what they did to keep themselves alive. And how both shaped the men they became and lingered for the rest of their lives.

It’s a compelling story in its harsh treatment of its subjects, or perhaps it’s better to describe it as harsh in the way that its subjects treat themselves. Death would have been easy to find. Survival was hard and brutal, a desperate struggle every single day for one mouthful of food and precious few hours of sleep. The conditions they existed under were designed to eliminate as many Jews as possible, and succeeded all too well. Even after the Germans knew that the war was lost, they were still doing their utmost to march as many as possible until they died.

But this set of multiple first-person accounts of what barely constituted life under the thumb of the Nazi SS – seemingly even more deadly when not in an actual concentration camp – spares no one in its telling, not the Nazis, not the Christians who were so willing to see the Jews carted away so they could claim their homes and possessions, and not the survivors who saw and felt themselves as barely human when the Nazis were finally gone.

I’m not saying liberated, because that doesn’t seem to be the right word. Long after the war, but particularly in its immediate aftermath, the brothers make it clear that they carried their oppressors and their experiences with them into rehabilitation camps and forever after.

This is a book that compels the reader to stay with it, even as you want to turn your eyes away. Or perhaps especially because of that. It’s worse than war in all its horror, it’s bigger than man’s inhumanity to man, and it needs to be read because this is a story that needs to be remembered.

Escape Rating A: This book felt personal to me in ways even beyond my expectations. The area that Dov and Yitzhak are taken from is the area my own grandmother came from. The man they meet briefly in their first camp, the one who is a landowner, could have been my great-grandfather, who was the same, although as far as is known, he didn’t even make it to one of the concentration camps.

So this story feels true for me because it matches what little history I have from my own family. Most of my relatives were already in the U.S. when the Nazis came, and only one who was not survived the camps. He didn’t talk about it and neither did his wife, my great aunt, who was also a survivor. So that Yitzhak and Dov don’t want to talk about it also rang true.

This is obviously a book that got me in the feels. It reads as raw, and brutal, and honest about not just the hardship they faced – and that’s not nearly a strong enough word – but also the desperate acts they committed themselves in order to just live one more day. Nothing is left to the imagination and it’s a story of horror after horror.

And yet, they survived. They left Europe, went to Israel and became part of the foundation of a country whose odds were desperately stacked against it, but survived anyway. And there’s hope in that. The hope that we can make the cry of “Never Again” stick. If we commit ourselves to remember. Read this book, remember, and weep.

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Review: Driftwood by Marie Brennan

Review: Driftwood by Marie BrennanDriftwood by Marie Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 224
Published by Tachyon Publications on August 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Who is Last?
Fame is rare in Driftwood- it’s hard to get famous if you don’t stick around long enough for people to know you. But many know the guide, Last, a one-blooded survivor who has seen his world end many lifetimes ago. For Driftwood is a strange place of slow apocalypses, where continents eventually crumble into mere neighborhoods, pulled inexorably towards the center in the Crush. Cultures clash, countries fall, and everything eventually disintegrates.
Within the Shreds, a rumor goes around that Last has died. Drifters come together to commemorate him. But who really was Last?
About Driftwood
Driftwood is the invention of bestselling author Marie Brennan. Mirroring the world that many people are currently living in, the Driftwood stories chronicle the struggles of survivors and outcasts to keep their worlds alive until everything changes, diminishes, and is destroyed. Driftwood is the first full-length novel in this world.

My Review:

This is what happens after the world comes to an end. And it was nothing like I expected. But it was absolutely marvelous all the same.

This is also a story about the indomitability of the spirit. And it’s also a story about stories, as much of the narrative takes place on a single night when many of the inhabitants of the Shreds get together in a kind of no-person’s land to tell the story of one singular being who touched all their lives.

A seemingly immortal being who may, or may not, be gone. Some gather to mourn, while others are there to prove that the being they call Last can’t possibly be dead – because they believe he’s a god, and gods don’t die.

A lot of the denizens of the Shreds don’t think he’s a god, and I don’t think either. I do think that Last is a genius loci, the spirit of the place called Driftwood. The place where worlds go after they come to an end.

And Driftwood is a marvel. And a grave.

A remnant of worlds that have ended emerge in the Mist that surrounds Driftwood and attach themselves to its outer Edge. These remnants contain a large enough portion of their original world to have mountains, and cities, and spaces between those places. Big enough parts of their old world for the inhabitants, for a couple generations at least, to ignore the outside worlds that are not theirs.

But time is inexorable, and so is the pull of the Crush at the center of Driftwood. Worlds from the Edge are drawn inward, shrinking as they get closer to the Crush, while other worlds emerge from the Mist and become new Edge worlds. By the time worlds reach the middle of Driftwood, called the Shreds, their worlds are literally shreds of their former selves, and the people remaining are not just forced to acknowledge the existence of other worlds, but their people have become part of the blended population of the Driftwood, no longer one-bloods restricted to their own kind, whatever that kind might have been.

Last is the last of his own people. A one-blood from a world that went into the Crush long ago. He has lived long past the usual lifespan of his own people and makes his living as a guide to Driftwood, a translator of many of its varied languages, and a repository of a history that no one else remembers.

But he has disappeared, and it has been left to the many, many people that he has helped on their way through Driftwood to tell the small fragments of his story that they know.

And it’s utterly captivating.

Escape Rating A+: Some books are just WOW! And Driftwood is definitely one of those books.

The bare description makes you think that the book will be a downer. After all, it’s about worlds ENDING and it’s people telling stories about someone they believe is dead. But it’s so totally not. A downer, that is.

Because the worlds that have joined Driftwood may be ending, but their inhabitants clearly are not. Some of them do rage against the dying of the light. Sometimes it’s literally raging and sometimes it’s literally about the light dying. But some of them do. Both, or either.

Howsomever, the stories that this group has gathered together to tell are about, well, togetherness, in one way or another. They are all stories about working with Last, or about Last helping them or their Shred, or simply about Last standing with them when they do something incredibly brave, like the story “Into the Wind”, or something incredibly stupid and ill-advised, like “The Ascent of Unreason”, which manages to be stupid, brave, ill-advised and a whole lot of fun all at the same time.

Many of the stories in Driftwood have been previously and separately published, but together they make a surprisingly wonderful and cohesive whole. A whole that is entirely too short but begins, middles and ends exactly where it should. A beautiful puzzlement and a fantastic read.

Review: All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

Review: All the Devils Are Here by Louise PennyAll the Devils Are Here (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #16) by Louise Penny
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #16
Pages: 448
Published by Minotaur Books on September 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The 16th novel by #1 bestselling author Louise Penny finds Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec investigating a sinister plot in the City of Light
On their first night in Paris, the Gamaches gather as a family for a bistro dinner with Armand’s godfather, the billionaire Stephen Horowitz. Walking home together after the meal, they watch in horror as Stephen is knocked down and critically injured in what Gamache knows is no accident, but a deliberate attempt on the elderly man’s life.
When a strange key is found in Stephen’s possession it sends Armand, his wife Reine-Marie, and his former second-in-command at the Sûreté, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, from the top of the Tour d’Eiffel, to the bowels of the Paris Archives, from luxury hotels to odd, coded, works of art.
It sends them deep into the secrets Armand’s godfather has kept for decades.
A gruesome discovery in Stephen’s Paris apartment makes it clear the secrets are more rancid, the danger far greater and more imminent, than they realized.
Soon the whole family is caught up in a web of lies and deceit. In order to find the truth, Gamache will have to decide whether he can trust his friends, his colleagues, his instincts, his own past. His own family.
For even the City of Light casts long shadows. And in that darkness devils hide.

My Review:

How the Light Gets In by Louise PennyI finished this Saturday – actually I started on Saturday and finished on Saturday, hours later – and I’m still all book hungover on Sunday. I think that’s partially because I’ve been following these people since that wonderful, long ago first book, Still Life. This is a group that I’ve come to care about, to know, and in some cases even to love, to the point where I almost have to turn my eyes away when things get dark. As they often do. As Gamache discovers the crack in everything that has come before, and that’s how the light gets in.

But it’s also, positively, definitely because the story has me on the edge of my seat, every single time, desperate to figure out the truth that seems to be concealed from even the protagonists every step of the way. A truth that always delves deeply into the dark hearts of entirely too many of the characters, and makes every single one both a suspect and a victim.

As Gamache frequently says over the course of the series, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

It’s part of the genius of Gamache, and this series, that the reader is made to think all kinds of things about who is guilty, who is innocent, who is redeemable and who is not, things that only turn out to be half true, while Gamache and his colleagues, friends, companions, all of the above, follow the chain of evidence from its very murky beginning to what turns out to be its inevitable end, doing their level best – and Gamache’s best is damn good – to keep themselves from being caught up in their own thoughts – and especially in their own assumptions.

This story begins, as so many of the stories in this series begin, rather quietly. This is not a mystery series where the body turns up on the first page.

Instead, this one begins at a family dinner in Paris, celebrating that the family is all together again in anticipation of the imminent birth of Armand and Reine-Marie’s granddaughter, their daughter Annie’s soon-to-be-born daughter with Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Gamache’s former second-in-command at the Sûreté du Québec – and unofficially adopted son.

The Gamaches’ own son, Daniel, and his wife Roslyn live in Paris, as Jean-Guy and Annie do now. Jean-Guy’s burnout from the last several cases he undertook with Gamache have led him to finally accept one of the many private sector jobs that have been offered to him over the years, bringing the family to Paris and Jean-Guy to a job he feels neither comfortable in nor exactly qualified for.

But he is. Just not for the job as it appears, rather for the “real” job that he’s been maneuvered into by Gamache’s godfather – and unofficial adoptive father – the billionaire Stephen Horowitz.

Because something is rotten at the core of GHS, the privately held multinational engineering firm GHS, even if Jean-Guy can’t quite put his finger on it. He thinks it’s his own second-in-command.

But Horowitz counted on Gamache getting involved. Because when it comes to Jean-Guy, or any of his children, Gamache can’t help but get himself involved. When Stephen is struck down in the middle of the street by what was expected to be taken as a hit and run driver, there’s a giant clue that no one can miss that something is rotten in Paris and that whatever Stephen was involved in is a part of it.

And if there’s one thing that Gamache is better at than anyone else in the world, it’s finding the rot that hides beneath a pristine facade. Even if that facade is covering a friend, or a loved one, or a trusted colleague. Or all of the above.

It’s only a question of whether he can figure out where that rot really leads in time to save them all.

Escape Rating A++: This is one of those reviews where I just want to squee all over the page. Which might adequately express that I LOVED THIS BOOK VERY MUCH, but isn’t exactly informative as to why you should love this series and this book too.

In the end – also at the beginning and in the middle – this is a mystery/suspense/thriller series that is all about the characters. Both in the sense that the continuing characters of the series are so very human, so fully-fleshed that they jump out of the page and into your heart, and in the way that human motivations drive the story and the tension.

There’s no “bwahaha” evil in this series. Not that plenty of evil things don’t happen, but the evil is always at the human scale – and is always pressed back if not defeated at the human scale.

The corruption that Gamache, Reine-Marie and Jean-Guy eventually unearth at the heart of this case is also human. It’s people believing what they want to believe. It’s people cutting corners out of expediency and then covering up out of guilt or greed. It’s a rotten system that has good people trapped in it but is designed to let bad people flourish.

And it thankfully doesn’t go quite as far as Gamache fears that it does, but we fear with him right up ‘til the end.

The characters are all flawed in ways that are, to belabor a word, human. Gamache does his best to figure out what is really going on, but he is, just as often, doing the best he can without any certainty of the truth or of his options. Sometimes he wings it and gets lucky. Sometimes he wings it and doesn’t. He’s good at piecing the puzzle together, but he’s never perfect and it’s never easy.

His godfather tries to outsmart the villains, but drastically underestimates their enemies and pays a high price for it. A price that nearly falls upon them all. Because he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. He needs Gamache to carry his plan the rest of the way – and he very nearly drops it.

In the end, this story, like so many in the series, is a story about people working together, playing to their individual strengths, towards their common goal of saving all their lives, sacrificing their fortunes if necessary, without losing their honor.

At each turn, we think we know. They think they know. But at the last we all discover that we really knew very little of what we thought we did. And that’s what kept me furiously turning pages until the very end.

If you like mysteries that will suck you into their story and their characters, keep you tied in knots for the entire length of a series, and spit you out at the end both emotionally wrung out and utterly captivated, pick up Still Life and be prepared to lose yourself for days.

Come to think of it, the idea of getting lost for days with Gamache and Company seems like an excellent way to escape this year for a good, long time.

Review: Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Review: Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli WeidenWinter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 336
Published by Ecco on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Winter Counts is a marvel. It’s a thriller with a beating heart and jagged teeth. This book is a brilliant meditation on power and violence, and a testament to just how much a crime novel can achieve. Weiden is a powerful new voice. I couldn’t put it down.”  —Tommy Orange, author of There There
A Recommended Read from:
Buzzfeed * Electric Literature * Lit Hub * Shondaland * Publishers Weekly

A groundbreaking thriller about a vigilante on a Native American reservation who embarks on a dangerous mission to track down the source of a heroin influx. 
Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that’s hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way into the reservation and finds Virgil’s nephew, his vigilantism suddenly becomes personal. He enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend and sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop.
They follow a lead to Denver and find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity. He realizes that being a Native American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost.
Winter Counts is a tour-de-force of crime fiction, a bracingly honest look at a long-ignored part of American life, and a twisting, turning story that’s as deeply rendered as it is thrilling.

My Review:

Winter Counts sits on that uncomfortably sharp knife-edge between thriller and mystery. And when that knife edge cuts, the majority of the story feels like it falls on the thriller side of the equation. And what a thriller it is.

The reader, following in the footsteps of Virgil Wounded Horse, isn’t looking for merely whodunnit. For one thing, Virgil thinks that he already knows. But what he’s really in the middle of is more of a “something rotten in the state of Denmark” situation, with the Rosebud Indian Reservation standing in for Hamlet’s Denmark.

And the something that’s rotten? That lives up to another cliche, the one about the fish rotting from the head down. A head that is more than savvy enough to keep Virgil just distracted enough not to turn his eyes in its direction.

Virgil is the reservation’s enforcer, an unofficial position that exists in a yawning chasm, the howling abyss between the misdemeanor level of crimes that the Tribal Police are legally permitted to investigate and the felonies that the U.S. Federal Agencies are willing to take on. Serious crimes like rape, child abuse and assault all drown in that huge gap. Virgil’s position – and it really does exist on many reservations – arose so that people on the reservation could get some kind of justice. That the guilty would pay something for their crimes, even if the law never went after them.

Because it doesn’t. (That the rape of women on reservation land inevitably falls into this gap is one of the many, many, too many hills that the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act has died on. A fact that is disgusting on so many different axes that I can’t even. Period.)

Back to the story.

Considering what Virgil does, it is not illogical for Tribal Councilman Ben Short Bear to contact Virgil about someone running heroin on tribal lands. But’s it’s not completely logical, either. Not just because Ben already knows who the drug dealer is, but because he paints this as a more than big enough crime to actually get the Feds off their asses to investigate. Major drug busts make both cops’ and prosecutors’ careers, and this one seems to be plenty big enough. Something about this one smells fishy, fishy enough that Virgil wants to think about it for a few days.

Then his nephew, Nathan, the teenage boy that Virgil is raising, barely survives a heroin overdose. Virgil is suddenly all in on a case he wasn’t sure about getting involved in – and isn’t that a huge coincidence? Nathan has had some issues, but up until this point drugs have not been one of them. A circumstance that should have seemed very fishy to Virgil, but he’s too emotionally compromised in this case to be thinking clearly.

As the criminal intended.

Virgil has to juggle this case he didn’t want, an on-again, off-again romance that he isn’t sure needs to be on again, and his care for a boy who is suddenly up to his neck in more trouble than either of them can handle.

Even the Feds are involved, with Virgil and Nathan playing “piggy-in-the-middle” in a tug of war between feuding drug gangs, rival jurisdictions and that rotten fish at the top of the food chain, playing all the ends against Virgil and Nathan in the middle.

Escape Rating A: It felt like Winter Counts was a thriller because of the way that the story works. The reader, and Virgil, both believe that they know what the crime is at the very beginning. It’s only as Virgil investigates that the picture begins to shift and the reader realizes just how badly he – and everyone around him – have been deceived.

I knew who the real villain was from the very beginning. I just didn’t know exactly what his villainy consisted of – or how or if Virgil was going to expose that villainy. And it was the two-steps forward, one-step back nature of that search and that exposure that kept me going through the story.

I felt compelled to know – even as the picture kept getting darker and murkier. As much as I had figured out the who, I was nowhere near sure about all the tendrils of the how and the why was still stunning in the depths to which it reached, as well as the amount of collateral damage it piled up.

Virgil begins this story as a man who may be doing a job, but is mostly looking for a bit of his own brand of justice against the men who, once upon a time, were the biggest bullies in a high school that looked down upon him as not being fully Lakota. He only gets fully invested when Nathan gets swept into the case, as intended by the crook he doesn’t even realize he’s pursuing.

In order to both solve the case and save his nephew – and himself – he has to move forward. He has to look for healing for his old resentments and reconcile himself to the wounds that can neither be healed nor avenged.

Considering that Virgil is the adult and Nathan the teenager, there’s a big part of this story that is about both of them growing up and facing the future. In order to be prepared for the next time that evil turns its gaze upon them. As Winter Counts is purported to be the opening book in a new series, I expect that will be sooner than Virgil would like, but not nearly fast enough for readers, like this one, who want more.

Review: Ink and Sigil by Kevin Hearne

Review: Ink and Sigil by Kevin HearneInk & Sigil (Ink & Sigil, #1) by Kevin Hearne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Ink & Sigil #1
Pages: 336
Published by Del Rey Books on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.
But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.
But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.

My Review:

I’ve read – actually mostly listened to – enough of the Iron Druid Chronicles to know that I love the series. Since I’m 2/3rds of the way through I figured I knew enough about the world created in the series to be able to get into Ink & Sigil. Al Mac Bharrais’ adventures take place in the same version of our world as Atticus O’Sullivan, but from a much different perspective.

Ink & Sigil is a sequel that isn’t a sequel, it’s more like a consequence. Which is an interesting way of launching a series. Also an effective way for new readers to get aboard this marvelous train. So you don’t have to have read the Iron Druid Chronicles to get into Ink & Sigil, but a taste for one will probably result in a yen for the other.

Al is a fascinating protagonist for an urban fantasy series. Most urban fantasy series are headed by either the young and the energetic, or the extremely old, seriously immortal, and fascinatingly unaging.

Al is none of the above. He’s 63, he’s getting creaky, and he’s all too mortal. (I would love to see Al meet Marley Jacob from A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark. They’d have a lot to talk about when it comes to kicking paranormal ass when you’re 60-something.)

Al isn’t exactly a wizard, and he’s certainly not a druid like Atticus. He is actually a kind of paper-pusher for the paranormal. His power is literally in paper – and especially in ink. He draws symbols of power with special ink on special paper, and that power affects whoever sees the symbols he has drawn.

Among many other useful things, he’s created his own version of the “psychic paper” that Doctor Who uses. The one that seems to be a universal high-ranking ID for wherever the Doctor wants to get into that he shouldn’t. In Al’s case, the paper just opens the mind of the person who sees it so that Al can plant the suggestion that he belongs wherever it is that he has just entered that he isn’t supposed to.

Like the apartment of his just-deceased apprentice. Gordie seems to have died of natural causes – depending on how one feels about raisins in one’s scones. Al has arrived in the middle of the police investigation into Gordie’s death to clean house of all of the fascinating, esoteric and sometimes illegal substances that sigil agents like Al and Gordie use to do their work.

Al expects to leave with a bag of inks and ingredients. What he finds in Gordie’s secret workroom changes his focus – as well as his opinion of the late and now entirely unlamented Gordie. Because Gordie was practicing things he hadn’t learned yet, and seems to have been breaking all the rules while doing so. And he had imprisoned a hobgoblin in a cage – a hobgoblin from one of the fae planes that he intended to sell to someone nefarious in this plane.

Which is illegal, immoral, and constitutes trafficking of the nasty kind that either leads to slavery or lab experimentation of the mad scientist variety.

Putting Al on the hunt for a mad scientist and at least one corrupt fae deity selling out her own kind for either fun or profit. That she’s selling them to the CIA adds a whole ‘nother level of crazy complexity to a case that is almost but not quite too much for Al and his friends to handle.

Making it a fantastic start to this series!

Escape Rating A+: I fell straight into this book and just didn’t want to leave. Possibly ever. This is one of those books that I just want to shove at everyone I know and hold them down until they read it.

In that vein, I really, truly don’t think you have to have read ANY of the Iron Druid Chronicles to get into Ink & Sigil. Not that you shouldn’t read them, they’re awesome. Howsomever, while these are set in the same world, Atticus is not a character in this series – so far – except for the scene where those of us who have read the Iron Druid Chronicles discover how Al ran into Atticus that one time and they had a nice dinner together. It doesn’t affect the plot of Ink & Sigil, it’s just a lovely scene IF you’ve met Atticus before and it’s still a lovely scene if you haven’t.

What one does need to buy into in order to get into Ink & Sigil is the concept that lies behind, or underneath, both the Iron Druid Chronicles and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The idea that the old cliche about humanity creating gods in their own image is the actual, literal truth. That belief creates the god rather than the god’s deeds creating the belief.

One of the things that I found marvelous was the character of Al MacBharrais, and just how much he and his companions play with just how many classic tropes from urban fantasy and even from the mystery detective genre from which it partially sprang.

Al is so different from the standard run of urban fantasy protagonists. I have a hard time saying Al is old because he’s the same age that I am, but he’s certainly no spring chicken. He’s led an already long and fairly hard-knock life. He can no longer serve as his own muscle – except in what is inevitably a very painful pinch – but he still needs an enforcer. Like Nero Wolfe needed Archie Goodwin. Or any other case where the “real” detective is no longer quite spry for one reason or another and needs someone to occasionally punch the bad beings where it hurts.

That Al’s version of Archie is a female battle-seer who does double duty as his printing firm’s manager and accountant sets all sorts of tropes on their tiny little heads. She’s great at both cooking the books and conking out their enemies. Also, Nadia’s wizard van is absolutely to die for. She’s also more than able and willing to help a few people – or things, or beings – die when they really, really need to.

The other really fun character in this one is Buck Foi the hobgoblin. The one that Al found in a cage in his dead apprentice’s apartment. When Al opens that cage he also opens up the whole case, and it’s Buck who tags along to help him close it. Because Buck needs the fae trafficking ring shut down in order to remove the price on his head. Buck is the comic relief, but it’s comic relief with one hell of an edge. (Buck reminds me a bit of P.B. from Laura Anne Gilman’s Retrievers series, which was also an awesome urban fantasy. I digress.)

But underneath the paranormal scene-setting, and Buck’s constant scene-stealing, the story is ripped from the headlines. Al’s case is to uncover a fae-trafficking ring, and it’s every bit as nasty as human-trafficking. It also seems to work in a surprisingly similar fashion. And it has to be stopped – and not just because the CIA (really, the actual CIA) is chasing after Al and his friends to silence them.

That Al manages to use some of his not-so-otherworldly connections to help the police shut down a couple of human-trafficking rings adds some real-world drama to this otherworldly story without being heavy-handed about the message. This stuff is evil and needs to be stopped. Period.

Shutting down this one, particular operation still leaves Al with plenty to do in subsequent books in the series. He still has to find out who dropped two seriously awful curses into his life, before those curses wipe out this cohort of his friends and colleagues. So he can keep Nadia and Buck around. So that he can finally manage to train an apprentice to mastery. So that he can talk to the librarian he’s been in love with for years and not have the curse make her hate him and the sound of his voice. As it did with his son.

So there is plenty for Al to be going on with in future books in this series. Hopefully soon!

Review: Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews

Review: Emerald Blaze by Ilona AndrewsEmerald Blaze (Hidden Legacy, #5) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, science fiction romance, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #5
Pages: 391
Published by Avon on August 25, 2020
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As Prime magic users, Catalina Baylor and her sisters have extraordinary powers—powers their ruthless grandmother would love to control. Catalina can earn her family some protection working as deputy to the Warden of Texas, overseeing breaches of magic law in the state, but that has risks as well. When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart. 
The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won't rest until she stops the use of the illicit, power-granting serum that's tearing their world apart. 

My Review:

If the Big, Bad Wolf went hunting for Catalina Baylor’s grandmother, he’d be the one eaten – because she is definitely the bigger, badder predator. Catalina wouldn’t have to marvel at what big teeth her grandmother had, because she already knows and is appropriately wary every single time she even thinks in Victoria Tremaine’s general direction. Someday she will need to test herself against her completely amoral and totally formidable grandmother, but that day is not yet. But it’s definitely coming by the end of this entry in the series.

Emerald Blaze is the second book in the second trilogy in the Hidden Legacy series. So don’t start here. Start with Burn for Me in order to get fully up to speed with this world and totally invested in these characters.

Because the world that has been created in this series is utterly fascinating.

The world of Hidden Legacy is a not too distant future of this world, but a future in which science run amuck has led to magic running even amucker – which really needs to be a word. In the search for a super-soldier, science created the Osiris serum. The serum granted superpowers, its distribution was not regulated, and absolute power always corrupts absolutely. The super-beings that survived the serum’s 50% mortality rate fought for control of what was left of the world after their superpower-fueled rampages.

The story in Hidden Legacy wraps around their descendants. The effects of that serum altered their DNA, and the alterations bred true. A century later, the Houses led by Prime talents quite literally rule the world.

The “hidden legacy” that the series title refers to also loops back to Victoria Tremaine, the baddest grandmother to ever rule a house – not that Frida, Catalina’s other grandmother isn’t fairly badass on her own. Frida’s just badass on a somewhat more human scale.

In the first trilogy, the Baylor sisters, Nevada, Catalina and Arabella, discover that the grandmother they never knew about is the most hated and feared mind talent to ever walk the face of the earth and make it tremble in fear. And that Victoria Tremaine’s legacy requires them to form a fledgling House to prevent her machinations from either dragging them under or chain them to her side forever.

The first trilogy focused on Nevada, the oldest sister, and her romance with head of one of the other powerful houses, her formation of House Baylor and, in the end, her handing the reins of her own house over to her sister Catalina to marry Connor Rogan.

The second trilogy is Catalina’s story. In Sapphire Flames we saw Catalina forced to take the reins of a House about to come out from under the protection that follows formation. Catalina was 21 and just not ready for the series of crises that barrels towards her at breakneck speed.

She’s also not ready to fall in love with the playboy assassin Alessandro Sagredo. But she saves her House, falls in love, and gets her heart thoroughly broken by a man who can’t make himself give up revenge in order to have a real life.

In Emerald Blaze, trouble comes for Catalina and House Baylor yet again. And so does her assassin. But this time she might get to keep him.

The odds on that are about as good as their odds on surviving. In other words, terrible but worth striving towards – no matter what it takes. Or what it takes out of them.

Escape Rating A: This was a “read in a day” book. I started at lunch and while I’d like to say I finished at dinner, the fact is that I was so engrossed in the story that I skipped dinner and just kept reading. It was THAT good.

The world in this series is a tasty stew of urban fantasy, science fiction and paranormal romance. Because magic, and super-soldiers. But science created the magic AND the super-soldiers. While the traditional monsters of urban fantasy and paranormal romance don’t seem to have been accidentally created in this world – no vampires or werewolves – there are certainly PLENTY of monsters.

Some of them even walk on two legs and make a pretense of being human. And some of those make real monster-y monsters. Like the weird hybrid plant/animal/human/super-soldier Abyss that has taken over the Pit that has taken over Jersey Village Texas. (Jersey Village really exists. I have friends who live in Houston who might even recognize it under the slime the monster has coated the place with!)

As is usual with this series, there are three threads to the plot that braid into something utterly absorbing from beginning to end.

The first thread is the mess. Actually so are the second and third threads – just different types of messes.

Catalina first has to solve the problem in the Jersey Village Pit. Five Houses got together to reclaim the swamp, and now one of the representatives is dead and his father wants revenge. It’s Catalina’s job – literally – to figure out which of the four survivors is responsible for the murder. It’s Alessandro Sagredo’s job to end whichever of those survivors is the guilty party. Which means that Catalina has to find a way to work with Alessandro without killing him and without letting her heart take anymore of a beating than it already has. If she can.

And then there’s Alessandro’s own side of this mess. He’s involved because his hunt for the man who murdered his father has led him back to Houston, to Catalina, and to this case.

Underneath all of that, like the Abyss monster hiding below the swamp, is a case of stolen Osiris serum, Alessandro’s really screwed up family, and Victoria Tremaine. Not necessarily together – at least not as far as we yet know – but not exactly separate, either.

Because power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and there is something rotten and corrupt at the heart of the world that the Houses have created. Something that Catalina, Alessandro, House Baylor and House Rogan are stuck in the center of.

This series is not over – thank goodness! There will be one more book from Catalina’s point of view, and I’m terribly curious to see where it goes. As Catalina has more or less figured out where her heart has already bestowed itself by the end of this one, the next book will probably feature a threat to that relationship and further exposure of the rot at the heart of the world. Most likely with grandmother Tremaine spinning her spider webs at the center of it all.

Whatever it will be, I can’t wait to read it!