Review: The Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R Green

Review: The Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R GreenThe Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R. Green
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Gideon Sable #1
Pages: 192
Published by Severn House Publishers on April 6, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Welcome to London, but not as you know it. A place where magics and horror run free, wonders and miracles are everyday things, and the dark streets are full of very shadowy people . . .

Gideon Sable is a thief and a con man. He specializes in stealing the kind of things that can't normally be stolen. Like a ghost's clothes, or a photo from a country that never existed. He even stole his current identity. Who was he originally? Now, that would be telling. One thing's for sure though, he's not the bad guy. The people he steals from always have it coming. Gideon's planning a heist, to steal the only thing that matters from the worst man in the world. To get past his security, he's going to need a crew who can do the impossible . . . but luckily, he has the right people in mind. The Damned, the Ghost, the Wild Card . . . and his ex-girlfriend, Annie Anybody. A woman who can be anyone, with the power to make technology fall in love with her. If things go well, they'll all get what they want. And if they're lucky, they might not even die trying . . .

My Review:

Speaking of having the snark turned up to 11 – or at least something turned up to 11, so far this week we’re one for tension and two for snark with two books left to go – the snark is absolutely turned up to 11 and even past it in The Best Thing You Can Steal.

Even if snark isn’t exactly what this crew is out to nab. Then again, they don’t need any extra as they all have PLENTY of their own.

Considering the title, it’s not going to surprise anyone that this is a heist story. As the first book in a projected series, it’s the story of a man with a plan, in this case con man Gideon Sable, putting together a crew of “experts” to steal from the biggest and baddest collector who ever lived.

If that description sounds kind of familiar, it should. It’s the TV series Leverage, just set in a version of our world that’s hiding more than a few of the things that go bump in the night – even if none of them, so far, are any of the usual suspects.

So it’s Leverage, crossed with Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere – or really, definitely, mostly the author’s own Nightside. And possibly, eventually, every single other series Green has ever written.

Because he does that. Brings bits and pieces from everywhere and everywhen his imagination has ever been and cross-pollinates his other worlds with them. So even though this is the first book in a new series, there’s more than a bit of deja vu for anyone who has ever read any of the author’s previous work.

After all, Gideon Sable used to be someone else. So even though all of the author’s previous series except one all crashed, burned and ended together in a smoking pile at the close of Night Fall, the official last book of his Secret Histories, Nightside and Ghost Finders series, it’s entirely possible that Gideon Sable – and his on again/off again girlfriend Annie Anybody – used to be someone we used to know.

I can’t wait to find out.

Escape Rating A-: I’m inclined to believe that Simon R Green is an acquired taste. It’s just that it’s a taste I acquired a long time ago and never even tried to get over.

So even though this is the first book in this series – to the point where a reader who loves urban fantasy but has never read this author could start here and not feel like they missed anything. At the same time, it also FEELS like it could be dropped into any of his previous series. And quite possibly will be if it goes on long enough.

So this book is both different from his previous work and very much a piece of it all at the same time.

Like the protagonists in many, I think most of Green’s previous series, Gideon Sable isn’t so much telling the story from his first person perspective as he is narrating the story of his own life. Which in this case makes perfect sense, because he’s clearly playing a role rather than actually living a life.

Sable is as much an archetype as he is a character, but then so are all the members of his crew. The woman who is always pretending to be someone else because she can’t face herself, the man who has committed an act so evil that neither heaven nor hell will have him, the one who has taken the red pill but still lives in a blue pill world, and the ghost who can’t let go of his unfinished business.

And all of that is part of the way that this author creates and fills in the colors of his worlds. Where some series, like Murderbot for example, are so much fun because of the voice of a particular character, Green’s worlds all reflect the voice of the author himself. No matter who or what his characters are, all of Green’s protagonists speak in his very singular voice.

Although, while this story is filled to the brim and overflowing with the author’s trademark snark, I found the ending to be a bit more hopeful than his usual – along with the even lovelier promise of more to come.

So if you like the idea of a snark-sparked team coming together in order to pull off the caper of the century, Gideon Sable might just be your jam. It certainly is mine. At least until he steals it.

Review: Split Shift by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Split Shift by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawaySplit Shift (Night Shift #2) by T.A. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Night Shift #2
Pages: 117
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on April 19, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

The hard thing about Night Shift is when you realize werewolves are bad news, but people can be worse.

After Night Shift officer Kit Marlow solved the murder of child star Haley Jenkins, he figured he was due a little down time. Maybe even a dinner date with Cade Deacon, the sarcastic security consultant, very good kisser, and werewolf who'd helped with the investigation.

That was before someone in a Night Shift uniform drove them both off the road. With the full moon up the only dinner date Cade is interested in...has Marlow served up on a plate. And not in a sexy way.

It's the second time that corrupt Night Shift officers have tried to kill Marlow. If he has his way, it will be the last. Problem is he only has twenty-eight days before the next full moon. If he hasn't identified who wants him dead by then, he'll have to take to werewolf filled streets with a team at his back he can't trust.

First things first, though. Get through the next twelve hours alive and uneaten, and hope that if a second date is still on the cards it's less eventful.

My Review:

The awesome tease that was the first book in this series, Shift Work, left me screaming for more because it ended on an honest-to-goodness (more likely badness or badassness in this case) cliffhanger.

As in someone just T-boned Marlow’s car – with Cade in it – and left them precarious hanging onto the end of a literal, actual cliff as dusk descends and the full moon comes up over the horizon.

Meaning that Cade is about to wolf-out and Marlow is going to be on his menu – and not in the way that the two men were both hoping.

The thing is, though, that the car that crashed them onto that cliff’s edge was driven by someone in a Night Shift uniform – one of Marlow’s fellow officers. Someone he’s supposed to be able to trust to have his back on those nights when it really isn’t safe out there.

Marlow’s all too aware that it isn’t safe for him inside his own squad – a safety that he hoped he’d gotten back after a past betrayal by a dirty cop nearly ended both his career and his life. But the case that put Marlow and Cade into each other’s orbits in Night Shift isn’t done yet.

Someone is still out to get him. He just has to figure out who before they succeed. Because he’s still hoping for that date with Cade – and he has to be alive to enjoy it.

Escape Rating A-: Godsdammit but she did it again. I turned the last page of this book and realized that this case still isn’t done yet. At least Marlow isn’t hanging over the edge of an actual cliff this time. But I’m not satisfied – actually neither are Marlow and Cade – because this case still isn’t over.

ARRRGGGHHH!

One of the things that this series so far is doing really well, besides teasing its readers half to death, is showing that no matter who or what the monster of the day is in urban fantasy – this time it’s werewolves – that the real monsters, forever and always, are human beings.

The wolves are just following biological imperatives. They aren’t culpable for what happens when they are shifted. They really aren’t.

When the wolves are assholes, and some of them are, it’s not because they are wolves. They are assholes because they are humans for all except the three nights of the full moon. And human beings frequently, often, suck.

And not in a fun way.

So, the problem that Marlow is having has nothing to do with wolves – even when they are chasing him. It’s humans every single time. The question that he has just begun to solve at the end of his Split Shift revolves around exactly which ones? And just how far will they go to get him out of their way?

Maybe we’ll find out in the next book in the series. Pretty, please, Ms. Author? Soon, please!

Guest Post from TA Moore + Chapter 2 of the Night Shift prequel short (check out Chapter 1 at Love Bytes)

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Split Shift by TA Moore, the second novella in the Night Shift series.

For the blog tour I’ve written a short story set in the Night Shift world. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter 2

Sorry.

It was technically the third apology. So far Brian hadn’t responded to any of them. Marlow stared at the phone screen for a second and then dropped his head back against the cushioned, pleather back of the booth in frustration. He stared up at the ceiling, a single cobwebby string of dust strung from one chrome light fitting to the tiles.

Three months ago Brian had thought dating someone in Night Shift was exciting. Hot. Dangerous in a sexy way. He’d wanted Marlow to turn up at his apartment in uniform, the more battered the better.

Now he had either left Marlow on read the morning after the full moon, or he’d slept through their dinner/breakfast date.

The call-and-response rhythm of food orders pitched up and down in the background. Start the Day Right was open at breakfast, but it mostly catered to the night shift. Both the Night Shift who kept the city safe during the full moon, and the less celebrated ones who kept the city running during it. So there was the occasional pancake order or call for fried beets and eggs–who didn’t like breakfast food all day?–most of the orders were for fried chicken, avocado sandwiches, and beers.

“You ready to order, love?” the waitress asked.

Marlow lifted his head. “Sorry,” he said.

For all the ‘love’ the waitress looked about twenty four. She winked at him and clicked her pen.

“Not the first who’s dozed off in here,” she said. “Not even the first today. You ready to order.”

Piper had left his order before he’d stepped out to make a call. That was easy.

“Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, extra spicy,” he said.

The waitress scratched half the order down, and paused on the spicy. “Are you sure?” she asked. “When we say something is extra spicy, it’s made people go blind.”

“That’s what he wants,” Marlow said, with a nod to Piper’s jacket on the other chair. While the waitress wrote the rest of the order down, Marlow gave the menu a quick once over. The thought of food made his stomach knot, but he supposed he had to have something on the plate. “Crispy ginger latkes?”

She nodded and scrawled it down. A swipe of the pen underlined the order and she turned to go, only to rock back on her heels as she came face to face with Piper.

“Oh!” she said. A wide smile crossed her face. “Ned! If I’d known it was your table I’d not have questioned the extra-spicy sauce.”

“I’d hope not,” Piper said. “Make that two of the same, along with whatever Marlow ordered.”

She amended the order quickly and headed off to the kitchens. A few other diners tried to catch her attention on the way past, but she waved them off. Piper pulled the chair on the other side of the booth out and sat down.

“Budge up,” the tall, blond man told Marlow as he slid into the booth next to him. His elbow nudged Marlow in the ribs and he smelled of fresh soap and leather. “You’re in my spot.”

Piper took a drink of coffee. “Marlow,” he said. “Meet Colin Franklin. He just got cleared to get back to work.”

“I got a new hip,” Franklin said with bluntly weaponised good cheer as he took his jacket off. “I try and think of it as more cybernetic than geriatic.”

“How’s that going?” Marlow asked.

He shifted up the bench to put space between them. Franklin promptly shifted back

into the space, his leg pressed against Marlow’s under the table.

“Better some days than others. On the plus side I learned to play a mean hand of bridge,” Franklin said. He stole Marlow’s coffee and took a drink. The taste made him grimace and give it back. “Bean juice. Gross. You can keep that.”

“It isn’t mine,” Marlow lied blandly. “It was on the table when we got here.”

There was a visible pause as Franklin stopped the schtick. The genial goofball slipped for a second and Franklin’s heavy-boned, handsome face settled into a thoughtful expression. It only lasted a moment then was banished with a lazy grin.

“All right, at least people won’t think you’re funnier than me,” he said.

“He’s better at hand to hand,” Piper said conversationally. He unwrapped his cutlery and laid it out on the table. “Drives like an old lady, though.”

Franklin laughed, despite the flicker of annoyance he’d shown at the first part of the sentence. “Shows what you know,” he said. “Some of the old dears in getting their hips done would have put half the cops on the force to shame. They’d run down a toddler down to get to a toilet paper sale.”

Marlow resisted the urge to move further up the bench. He’d just end up squashed into the corner and still have Franklin’s thigh against his.

“No offense, sir,” he said. Piper made a face at the ‘sir’ and Franklin sucked air through his teeth. “What is this in aid of?”

There was a pause as the waitress came back from the kitchen, plates in hand. She slid them onto the table, introducing each as she went, and grabbed a pot to top up their cups. When she finished she chirped ‘enjoy your meal’ and headed over to a nearby table that had been trying to get her attention.

“…we were here first,” one of the men grumbled. “How come they got served first?”

Marlow missed the justification for that as Piper reclaimed his attention.

“Franklin was my first pick for Night Shift,” he said as he tucked his napkin into his lap. “You both know that. He has the experience, I know he has the nerve, and the skills I want to bring to the team.”

Shit.

For a second Marlow’s chest cramped, tight and wet as if he’d just swallowed water, and then he relaxed. It wasn’t exactly what he’d wanted to hear, but it was done. He took a bite of his latkes and started to play what next.

Robbery hadn’t been that bad, but with six months on Night Shift under his belt he could move to Homicide. Or just…move? The Sheriff’s Department had their own Night Shift division, for the small towns and out in the desert. That was another option. Or another city? State?

The idea felt huge. Marlow had spent his whole life in San Diego, but his family was gone and his friends weren’t lifelong ones. There was Brian, but…

It wasn’t like he’d texted back yet.

“See?” Piper said to Franklin. He sounded obscurely pleased. “That’s what Marlow brings to the team. He’s unflappable, even in the middle of a fight. So yeah, Franklin was my first choice but you were always a close second, Marlow. I’d rather not get rid of either of you. It puts us over-budget on our wages for the year, but Quints is retiring in six months and we can absorb it until then.”

Franklin slapped Marlow on the shoulder. It was a little too hard to be friendly. “You sitting there near shitting yourself,” he chuckled, “And for what?”

“The other shoe,” Marlow said. He watched Piper over the rack of condiments in the middle of the table. “We aren’t getting a free meal for nothing are we?”

Piper smirked. He added more hot sauce to his sandwich and took a bite. The batter crunched between his teeth and juice dripped over the plate as he set back down on the table. He wiped his mouth and then his hands on a napkin as he chewed until he could swallow.

“Are you two going to be able to work together?” he asked. “Or you going to be butting heads about who’s my favorite the whole time?”

Franklin shrugged and picked up his burger. “I just want to get back to work,” he

said. “I’m not in it for back pats and medals.”

He took a huge bite and chewed contentedly–and noisily–on it.

“I don’t care who’s the favorite,” Marlow said. “I just want to do the job.”

Piper dipped a fry in the hot sauce and bit it neatly in half. He gave both of them a slow, greasy-lipped smile.

“Good,” he said. “Tonight you get to prove it. I’m going to yoke you two together, see if you can put aside your egos and do what needs done. If you can’t, well, then I guess I have a decision to make.”

He waved the waitress down again and asked for the rest of sandwich to go. It came back to the table in a neat box with a ‘little bit of something sweet to get through till tonight’.

“See you tonight at the briefing,” Piper said as he stood up. “Get some sleep.”

He walked out, bag swinging from one hand.

“I mean, you know I am the favorite right?” Franklin said as he shoved the last bite of chicken and fries into his mouth. “First choice. See you tonight, rookie.”

He bumped Marlow with his shoulder, slid out of the booth and left. The smear of hot sauce left on his plate was sour and strong enough to wrinkle Marlow’s nose. He’d not left any money.

The latkes were only ok. Marlow finished his coffee and tilted his head to catch the waitress’s eye. She topped up a coffee and sauntered over.

“Refill?”

“Just the bill,” Marlow said.

She laughed and shook her head. “No. It’s always on the house for Piper,” she said. “He saved the owner’s kid one full moon. And you, of course, thank you for your service!”

Catch the next chapter tomorrow at Two Chicks Obsessed and follow the tour for the rest of the story!

About the Author:

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sector before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

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Review: The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

Review: The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline MartinThe Last Bookshop in London: A Novel of World War II by Madeline Martin
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 320
Published by Hanover Square Press on April 6, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Inspired by the true World War II history of the few bookshops to survive the Blitz, The Last Bookshop in London is a timeless story of wartime loss, love and the enduring power of literature.
August 1939: London prepares for war as Hitler’s forces sweep across Europe. Grace Bennett has always dreamed of moving to the city, but the bunkers and blackout curtains that she finds on her arrival were not what she expected. And she certainly never imagined she’d wind up working at Primrose Hill, a dusty old bookshop nestled in the heart of London.
Through blackouts and air raids as the Blitz intensifies, Grace discovers the power of storytelling to unite her community in ways she never dreamed—a force that triumphs over even the darkest nights of the war.

My Review:

This was an utterly charming read, and I was definitely charmed by it. I’m saying that in spite of, just yesterday, claiming that I seemed to be suffering from a bit of WW2 historical fiction fatigue. It appears that that book just wasn’t the right book, where The Last Bookshop in London definitely was.

When we, along with Grace and her bestie Viv, arrive in London in 1939, Primrose Books is far from the last bookshop in London. It’s just that the rest of them seem to be congregated on Paternoster Row, while Primrose Books is a bit off the beaten path – albeit a bit closer to where Grace and Viv take up lodgings with Mrs. Weatherford.

The young women are from Drayton, a country town the dust of which neither of them could shake off their shoes fast enough. Mrs. Weatherford grew up in Drayton, like the girls, but of an earlier generation. In fact, the generation of Grace’s late mother. And they were besties back then, just as Grace and Viv are now.

And there was a war coming then too. History, damn it all, repeats the worst of its patterns.

Grace needs Mrs. Weatherford’s help, in the form of Mrs. W’s ability to boss around pretty much everyone in her orbit – including Mr. Evans, the curmudgeonly owner of Primrose Books. Which is very much within the scope of her bossing.

Grace needs a job but doesn’t have a reference – and isn’t brazen enough to fake it the way that Viv most definitely is. Mr. Evans needs someone to brighten up both the store and his life for reasons that are not apparent when we and Grace first meet him, although his need certainly is.

And Grace, dives in with a will, even though she has no idea how to sell books because she hasn’t been much of a reader – at least not so far. But she understands marketing, as she’s done it before back in Drayton, and she’s good at organization, and she needs to work with/for/at Mr. Evans for 6 months in order to get a good reference. That’s the deal he made with Mrs. Weatherford. Grace just has to earn that reference, which will just take hard work and a bit of managing – of Mr. Evans, that is.

But the dark clouds of war that have been looming on the horizon much longer than anyone wants to admit turn into a full blown storm of German bombs, just as Grace gets her feet under her in London. A London that is now on fire.

Bomb damage from St. Paul’s towards Paternoster Row

Escape Rating A-: Although this story covers very large events, the London Blitz being the obvious exploding elephant in the story’s “room”, it’s not actually a big story. It isn’t about important people directing earth-shaking events – even though the earth does frequently shake under the nightly assault by German bombers.

Rather, this is a story about ordinary people rising to the occasion, managing through adversity, keeping calm, carrying on and doing their bit to keep themselves, their friends and their neighbors together in the face of their world seeming to fall apart.

And in the midst of grief, loss and rationing, bombs falling and spirits all too often falling right along with them, it’s also a story about the power of a good book to take a person – or a whole group of people in a bomb shelter – away from the worst parts of their here and now into someone else’s there and then. Knowing that when they come back from their imaginary adventure the world will seem just a bit less grim for both the tiny escape and the shared camaraderie.

Grace’s Primrose Books may not have actually been the “Last Bookshop in London” even in the story. But Paternoster Row, the center of the British publishing industry, was destroyed during the Blitz as described herein, taking most of London’s bookstores along with it.

In spite of the Blitz, the retreat from Dunkirk, the deaths among Grace’s family of choice in London, The Last Bookshop in London is actually a hopeful story. Not just because as readers we know the result of war, but because of the way that the community that Grace has built around herself and the bookstore rallies ‘round and lifts her up – along with themselves – at even the lowest moments of the story.

So, as I said at the very beginning, The Last Bookshop in London was simply a charming and lovely read. If you like historical fiction centered on World War II, especially about the British Homefront, and/or stories about the power of reading and stories to lift people up and carry them away, this is a story that will bring as big a smile to your face as the stories that Grace reads aloud do to all of her listeners.

Review: Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz + Giveaway

Review: Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz + GiveawayMoonflower Murders (Susan Ryeland #2) by Anthony Horowitz
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Susan Ryeland #2
Pages: 608
Published by Harper on November 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Featuring his famous literary detective Atticus Pund and Susan Ryeland, hero of the worldwide bestseller Magpie Murders, a brilliantly complex literary thriller with echoes of Agatha Christie from New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz.
Retired publisher Susan Ryeland is living the good life. She is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend Andreas. It should be everything she's always wanted. But is it? She's exhausted with the responsibilities of making everything work on an island where nothing ever does, and truth be told she's beginning to miss London.
And then the Trehearnes come to stay. The strange and mysterious story they tell, about an unfortunate murder that took place on the same day and in the same hotel in which their daughter was married—a picturesque inn on the Suffolk coast named Farlingaye Halle—fascinates Susan and piques her editor’s instincts. 
One of her former writers, the late Alan Conway, author of the fictional Magpie Murders, knew the murder victim—an advertising executive named Frank Parris—and once visited Farlingaye Hall. Conway based the third book in his detective series, Atticus Pund Takes the Cake, on that very crime. 
The Trehearne’s, daughter, Cecily, read Conway’s mystery and believed the book proves that the man convicted of Parris’s murder—a Romanian immigrant who was the hotel’s handyman—is innocent. When the Trehearnes reveal that Cecily is now missing, Susan knows that she must return to England and find out what really happened.
Brilliantly clever, relentlessly suspenseful, full of twists that will keep readers guessing with each revelation and clue, Moonflower Murders is a deviously dark take on vintage English crime fiction from one of its greatest masterminds, Anthony Horowitz.  

My Review:

For a dead man Alan Conway certainly does manage to get around. He even manages to cause just as much mischief from the grave as he did while alive. Something that he is probably looking down upon, or more likely up towards from below, with a great deal of pride if not utter glee.

In life, Alan Conway was not what one would call a “good person”, even if he was a very good author of very twisty mysteries. Until he became part of one himself, in the story that is told in the first book of the Susan Ryeland series, Magpie Murders.

As a reader, I wasn’t expecting to see Ryeland, Conway, or the detective character that Conway created, Atticus Pünd, ever again. After all, as Charles Dickens so eloquently opened A Christmas Carol, “Marley was dead to begin with” just as Alan Conway is at the start of Moonflower Murders. Atticus Pünd was a product of Conway’s now dead imagination, and Susan Ryeland is not just out of a job at the end of Magpie Murders, but the publishing company she worked for is as dead as Conway.

I have to say that of the three of them, I missed Atticus Pünd the most. In my review of Magpie Murders I said that I really wished the Pünd series actually existed because I would love to read them. Based on Moonflower Murders, it is entirely possible that I might get my wish.

There is a complete Atticus Pünd mystery enclosed within the pages of Moonflower Murders. However, unlike Magpie Murders, the title of both the book by Anthony Horowitz is different from the Atticus Pünd book by Alan Conway that forms the heart of the case that Susan Ryeland finds herself stuck in the middle of, whether that’s where she wants to be, or not.

In this case it’s more like wants to be. Or at least wants to be if there has to be a case at all. Which there definitely does. And it’s all, just as it was in Magpie Murders, Alan Conway’s fault.

As this story opens, it’s been two years since the events of Magpie Murders brought Susan Ryeland’s career in publishing to an end, and brought Alan Conway to his. His end, that is. (His books seem to be doing just fine.) Susan is now the co-owner of a small hotel in Crete, with her business-and-domestic partner Andreas. At the point where the Trehernes, Conway and this case invade her life, the hotel is losing money, Susan has lost her patience with being a hotel owner and her relationship with Andreas has lost much of its steam.

So she’s ready for a change, or at least a break. The Trehernes in their tragedy offer her both a partial solution to the hotel’s problems and a break from her own. They are willing to pay her 10,000 pounds to come back to England and stay at their hotel for a week. (That’s nearly $14,000 (US) so enough to make a serious dent in the inn’s financial problems. A real temptation on that front alone, without Susan’s other reasons for taking a break from Crete, innkeeping and Andreas.)

The Trehernes’ visit has nothing to do with their common interest in small hotels and everything to do with Alan Conway and Atticus Pünd. Because Alan Conway visited their hotel, Bramlow Hall, and wrote about a real-life murder that took place there. Of course Atticus Pünd solved the fictitious murder, but their daughter, after reading Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, believed that Alan Conway had solved the real murder as well.

A belief that she conveyed to her parents in a rather frantic telephone call, just before she went missing.

The police have not found Cecily Treherne, and her parents are desperate to grasp at any straws that might lead to their missing daughter. Alan Conway is beyond grasping at, but his editor Susan Ryeland is not.

Whether Susan can figure out what it was that Cecily Treherne believed that Alan Conway knew is a long shot. But it’s one that Susan is willing to try in order to get away from Crete and gain some perspective on her life there.

She goes into the whole thing thinking that it’s a clever puzzle that she might just have a chance at solving. And it is. But it’s also digging up the dirt in a whole lot of lives that thought they had put it all behind them. For those people, it’s not just a clever puzzle.

And for someone, it’s murder. Again.

Escape Rating A-: This is a book that I began in audio and switched to the ebook relatively early on. I got to the weekend, didn’t have any place I needed to drive to, and couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

And it was a whole lot easier to peek ahead to see where the Atticus Pünd book started in the ebook!

This book within a book contrasts the process of the extremely amateur detective, Susan Ryeland, against the tried-and-true methods of the professional detective Atticus Pünd. And it’s clear from the outset that Susan is in WAY over her head in a way that Pünd never is. Also that Susan has to reckon with a lot more pesky reality than the fictitious detective ever does – lucky for him.

But then, Pünd reads as if he is both an homage to Dame Agatha Christie’s celebrated detective Hercule Poirot and his antithesis. Both are post-war refugees, neither are English. Making them both outsiders who can investigate a case without bias or prejudice. Both are acknowledged geniuses. At the same time, they are refugees from different wars, Belgium was neutral before it fell while Germany was the enemy. The biggest difference between the two is that Pünd seems to have relatively few affectations while Poirot seems to be the accumulation of his.

And in the background there’s the late and mostly unlamented Alan Conway. Certainly no one at Bramlow Hall misses him. But Susan is following his trail, hoping to see either what he saw, what the missing Cecily Treherne saw, or to figure things out for herself.

But Conway had an advantage – he knew many of the principals before he ever entered the scene. Susan, however, has a different advantage. She, like Pünd, is an outsider. She arrives with no preconceived notions about who might have done it.

She’s a blank slate as an investigator, but she’s often just plain drawing a blank, knowing that there’s something she isn’t seeing or isn’t putting together. She’s just not sure what. As this story is told from Susan’s first-person perspective, whatever blank she’s drawing – we’re drawing it too.

Normally I’d say that with a first-person narrator it’s important to like the person whose head you’re in. I have to say that isn’t true here, or at least it wasn’t true for me. I’m not sure I actually like Susan much. She treats all of the people involved in the case as though she were reading a book and they’re all just characters – and not real people whose lives are being upended for the second time.

That she isn’t sure of anything, not whodunnit, not who Alan thought done it, not even why she’s there or where her life is going felt both real and off-putting at the same time. Probably part of why I like Atticus Pünd better is that he always seems sure of his course – even when he isn’t.

All Susan is sure of is that she’s pissing everyone off nearly as much as Conway did before her. And that the missing Cecily Treherne, whether she solved the mystery or not, was most likely dead long before Susan arrived back in England.

What keeps this story moving, and keeps both the reader and Susan Ryeland guessing every step of the way, are the multiple mysteries that need to be unraveled at Bramlow Hall. Who committed the original murder? What happened to Cicely Treherne? What did Alan Conway know? And the key that unlocks the entire mystery, who committed the murder in Atticus Pünd Takes the Case?

This is a series that just didn’t seem plausible after Magpie Murders. But I’m so glad it’s here! Maybe we’ll even get to read ALL of the Atticus Pünd series before Susan Ryeland’s career as an amateur detective goes the way of her publishing career.

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

Moonflower Murders is the first of three days of book giveaways for this year’s Blogo-Birthday Celebration. This felt like the right book to start with for two reasons. The first reason, and the most important, I always fill this week with books I love and want to share, and this author always fills that bill. Even when his characters infuriate me, I love the stories he tells with them. Moonflower Murders was certainly no exception to that rule. Second, the author and I share our birthday, April 5, although he’s just a smidge older than I am, which makes me feel a tiny bit better about the whole thing.

The winner of today’s giveaway will receive their choice of one book by Anthony Horowitz (up to $25 US to include Moonflower Murders), whether in this series or any of his other series or standalones.

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Review: The Specialist by Anna Hackett

Review: The Specialist by Anna HackettThe Specialist (Norcross Security #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Norcross Security #3
Pages: 322
Published by Anna Hackett on March 26, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
Goodreads

She’s in danger and now her personal protector is her too handsome, totally aggravating billionaire boss.
Executive assistant Harlow Carlson is having a very bad week. Firstly, she’s been temporarily reassigned to work for bossy, workaholic tyrant, Easton Norcross. He might be sex in a suit, but mostly she just wants to stab him with her stylus. Secondly, her father’s in trouble and has gone missing. Lastly, when a strange man attacks her on the street, Harlow knows she’s in over her head.
That’s when Easton steps in. Now her boss is her own personal protector and he isn’t taking no for an answer.
After he left the Army Rangers, Easton Norcross found a purpose in building his company, Norcross Inc. He works hard, likes control, takes care of his family and employees, and thrives on making money. But his new assistant pushes buttons he never knew he had. Harlow’s smart, efficient, and not afraid to speak her mind. And her curvy body makes it very hard to remember that he’s her boss.
But when he sees she’s in danger, Easton is willing to break all the rules to keep her safe.
As danger swirls around Harlow and she’s sucked into her father’s dangerous dealings, Easton knows he’ll need all the specialist skills the Army gave him to protect her, as well as pulling in his brothers at Norcross Security. But the toughest job he’ll have is convincing his beautiful assistant to take the biggest risk of all—falling in love.
Note to readers: This is a sexy, fast-paced romance with lots of action-packed suspense, a heroine in danger, and a hot, billionaire boss who’ll do anything to protect her.
**Each book in this action-packed romance series can be read as a standalone.

My Review:

As much as I love this author’s blend of action adventure and romance, there’s always a special spot in my heart for the romance in each series where the boss of whatever the group is finally takes the fall into love. Ready or not, willing or unwilling.

Considering that being the bosses that they are, they are generally neither ready nor willing, it makes their inevitable fall all that much more delicious.

I also have a sneaking fondness in general for the slightly taboo thrill of workplace romance, particularly when that romance is between the hard nosed man in charge and someone he knows he really shouldn’t touch – like the assistant he can’t live without in the office but finds himself unexpectedly wanting to live with outside it.

The Specialist does a fantastic job of combining both of these romantic pleasures into one terrific story!

Escape Rating A-: I’m coming to the rating early because there was so much of this one that I so hard (there’s a pun intended here) and can’t wait to talk about the parts I loved.

Number one, in Easton Norcross the author has combined two of my all-time favorite romance heroes into one marvelous – and generally marvelously tailored – heartthrob.

As I said, I love this combination of tropes, the boss of bosses of an entire series (Team 52’s Jonah Greyson in Mission: Her Justice or Holmes in Hell Squad) with the falling for your boss, however reluctantly, trope. So this entry in the Norcross series gave me vibes of a story that I loved so much in this exact same vein – Rock Hard from Nalini Singh’s Rock Kiss series.

For anyone who read that series – and if you haven’t please take a look! – Easton Norcross and T-Rex, AKA Gabriel Bishop, would be besties – once they stopped fighting over who was alpha.

But the descriptions of Easton, not just the way he looks but also the way he works, read like Easton is an Italian-American Roarke (of the awesome In Death series), just 40 years earlier and without the Urban Wars in his past. Just a different war.

So this is one where I fell hard for the hero. Maybe not as hard as the heroine, but damn close.

I also loved parts, but not all, of the heroine, Harlow Carlson, for her ability to stand in the face of Easton’s distracting, demanding, over-working and over-achieving hard-headedness in the office. In spite of the mess in her personal life, Harlow remains in control at the office, and never lets Easton steamroller her on the job.

As much as I enjoyed Easton, the one niggling little thing that keeps me from bumping this up to an A has to do with the pattern that is emerging in this series in regards to the heroines. Individually they’ve all been both likeable and worthy of the heroes, but they ALL seem to get in over-the-top, over-their-heads trouble from which they have to be rescued by the heroes. All of them seem to have either family or friends who do really dangerous and stupid shit that they can’t resist getting in up to their necks.

I really want to see at least one story where the heroine is equally – even if differently – badass, because these women, even Gia Norcross, veered a bit too close to damsel in distress territory.

But Easton was such an irresistible combination of Roarke and T-Rex that pretty much ate this story up with a spoon in a couple of very enjoyable hours.

This is a series where each story does stand alone, at least so far, but they are so long on fun and short on length that reading them all is a great binge-read for a rainy weekend. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here waiting for this author to give me her take on another one of my favorite romance tropes.

The next book in the Norcross Security series is The Bodyguard, taking up his duties in late April. I have a feeling that this will be grand!

Review: Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan

Review: Tell No Lies by Allison BrennanTell No Lies (Quinn & Costa Thriller, #2) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense, suspense, thriller
Series: Quinn & Costa #2
Pages: 432
Published by Mira on March 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Something mysterious is killing the wildlife in the mountains just south of Tucson. When a college intern turned activist sets out to collect her own evidence, she, too, ends up dead. Local law enforcement is slow to get involved. That’s when the mobile FBI unit goes undercover to infiltrate the town and its copper refinery in search of possible leads.
Quinn and Costa find themselves scouring the desolate landscape, which keeps revealing clues to something much darker—greed, child trafficking and more death. As the body count adds up, it’s clear they have stumbled onto much more than they bargained for. Now they must figure out who is at the heart of this mayhem and stop them before more innocent lives are lost.

My Review:

There’s a reason why so many jokes about how good a friend one is or has begin with something about moving, burying or just hiding bodies. As in the dead body or body of the enemies that you’ve killed. It’s usually a joke.

It’s also deadly serious in this mystery thriller, as the case begins with dead bodies. Bird bodies, killed by toxic runoff from an illegal waste dump. Probably waste from the local copper refining operation.

But those poor birds’ bodies lead to the human corpse of a young conservationist who was frustrated with her boss’ unwillingness to investigate the cause of those birds’ death. Her freelance, solo investigation results in her own body at one of the sites she hoped might lead her to the culprit.

And it kind of does, just not in any way that she expected – or lived to see.

Tell No Lies is a story that definitely puts the suspense in romantic suspense, as the murder of Emma Perez sets in motion a chain of events that seriously stretches the long rubberbanding arm of coincidence, only for it to snap back and burn all the people got stuck in its path.

This is also a story about blood being thicker than water. Not just in the usual way that people will do anything for family but also in the way that people will end up in the middle of stupid shit for family. So both thick meaning close but also thick meaning dense – as in dealing with family makes people act like they are not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer – whether they normally are or not.

So this story begins with a murder. It middles as the FBI using the murder to do an investigation into illegal toxic waste dumping by a respected local company. It’s only as the bodies start piling up that the FBI puts the pieces together into a puzzle that is on a whole other level of awful from what they initially suspected.

While one of their own is caught in the trap.

Escape Rating A-: As far as genre goes, Tell No Lies is a bit hard to pin down – kind of like the problem they have figuring out the size and shape of the case that brings this FBI mobile response team to tiny Patagonia, Arizona.

Just as the story begins with illegal toxic dumping, quickly jumps to murder, then spreads tentacles into fraud, kidnapping, human trafficking, gun running, drug smuggling and back around to murder again, this book begins as a mystery, loops in suspense and thriller, and tacks on romantic suspense for spice (so to speak) not to mention a few more bodies.

What makes the story so compelling is those tentacles. The FBI, in the person of Agent Matt Costa and his undercover team, come to Patagonia with the intent of using the murder to find the illegal toxic waste dumping. At the beginning, they kind of think they know, if not whodunnit, at least who is involved in doing it.

But, just like every twist and turn in this case, they’re sort of right and also sort of wrong at the same time. Because the things they think are connected are not. But they also are. And that confusion leads to them getting in their own way, over and over again.

Which is what makes the story so damn fascinating. It’s one step forward, two steps back, three steps sideways in an ever-widening pattern. There’s an old saying that goes, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

That’s what happens in this case. The FBI thinks they know a lot of things that just aren’t so. They think it’s all about the toxic dumping. The team has undercover agents in place to watch the people they believe are involved. They think their informant is acting on the side of the angels.

There are plenty of hints that make the reader aware that there is more going on than initially meets the eye. But the way that it explodes and the reasons for it confound everyone – including the reader. Or at least this one. Even though who was involved did eventually get clear enough, the why was not what anyone was expecting. At all.

Which is what made this an edge of the seat read from beginning to end.

One final note. This is the second book in a series that looks like its going to continue. I haven’t read the first book, The Third to Die, and didn’t feel like I’d missed much by not having done so. It’s pretty clear that this team is still in the process of jelling and it was easy to get into it. But it’s also clear that the sometimes resolved sexual tension between FBI Agent Matt Costa and LAPD Detective Kara Quinn began in that first story and at the moment in this one is just kind of a mess. I’m not certain that this one needs the romance angle, but that may be because I didn’t see it begin. Also because whatever relationship they sorta/kinda have is seriously awkward and messy at best at this point.

Hopefully their relationship gets, if not some resolution – because I suspect the on again/off again nature of it is going to be part of the suspense for a few books – at least becomes less of a mess in future books in the series. And I definitely want there to be future books in the Quinn & Costa Thriller series, because the mystery/suspense/thriller parts of this case kept me glued to the book from start to finish!

Review: The Path to Sunshine Cove by RaeAnne Thayne

Review: The Path to Sunshine Cove by RaeAnne ThayneThe Path to Sunshine Cove by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Series: Cape Sanctuary #2
Pages: 336
Published by Harlequin HQN on March 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

With the emotional pull of Debbie Macomber, Barbara Delinsky and Susan Wiggs, RaeAnne Thayne brings readers an uplifting, brand new story told with her trademark charm and heart.

She knows what's best for everyone but herself...

With a past like hers, Jessica Clayton feels safer in a life spent on the road. She's made a career out of helping others downsize--because she's learned the hard way that the less "stuff," the better, a policy she applies equally to her relationships. But a new client is taking Jess back to Cape Sanctuary, a town she once called home...and that her little sister, Rachel, still does. The years apart haven't made a dent in the guilt Jess still carries after a handgun took the lives of both their parents and changed everything between them.
While Jess couldn't wait to put the miles between her and Cape Sanctuary, Rachel put down roots, content for the world--and her sister--to think she has a picture-perfect life. But with the demands of her youngest child's disability, Rachel's marriage has begun to fray at the seams. She needs her sister now more than ever, yet she's learned from painful experience that Jessica doesn't do family, and she shouldn't count on her now.
Against her judgment, Jess finds herself becoming attached--to her sister and her family, even to her client's interfering son, Nate--and it's time to put everything on the line. Does she continue running from her painful past, or stay put and make room for the love and joy that come along with it?

My Review:

For the reader, the actual path to Sunshine Cove is lovely, charming and very, very scenic, although for the characters proceeding along that path there are plenty of metaphorical pebbles stuck in the shoes they are walking it in, and a few outright boulders being smuggled in their baggage.

And yes, I meant baggage and not luggage, because this is a story about the baggage that sisters Jess Clayton and Rachel McBride have been carrying since their childhood.

Jess is about to turn 30, Rachel is not far behind her at 28, and that baggage lays between them like a deep rut on that path. It’s also weighing both of them down and keeping them from finding their true happy ever after – no matter how much each of them is pretending to have already found it.

There’s a famous quote about parents and their children, the one that goes, “There are two things we should give our children: one is roots, and the other is wings.” Jess and Rachel are struggling because their parents gave them neither, and as a consequence Rachel’s life has become rooted in their old baggage, while Jess has taken permanent wing in an ultimately vain attempt to fly away from it all.

But as another old saying goes, “No matter where you go, there you are.”

So, as The Path to Sunshine Cove begins, Jess is literally on the road to Sunshine Cove, on her way to help Eleanor Whitaker declutter the house that her late husband and his family have owned for generations. It’s Jess’ job and her calling, helping people go through decades of accumulated “stuff”, whether just as a grand spring cleaning, in preparation for downsizing, or as a way of moving on with life after a death in the family as Eleanor says she is.

That Eleanor’s house on the California coast is just down the road from Jess’ sister Rachel’s home with her husband and three children is both the reason that Jess took the job and a source of internal stress and conflict. Jess wants to see her sister and her family. She wishes they were close – like they used to be when they were girls and it was them against the world.

But they haven’t been close for years, and it seems like what little connection they have is brittle and ready to shatter at any moment. They talk, but they don’t say anything. They can’t manage to reach across the great divide between them, and aren’t sure whether to keep trying or to finally let go.

The thing is, all that Rachel lets Jess see is the picture-perfect life she presents to her Instagram followers. And all that Jess lets Rachel see is the footloose and fancy-free surface of her satisfying but sometimes emotionally-wrenching job.

But Rachel’s life is falling apart, and Jess’ life is emotionally empty, and it’s all a consequence of that heavy baggage they are both carrying from a childhood that caused more damage than anything else.

On their path to Sunshine Cove, it’s time to see if they can find each other again – or if they’re both too scared to let go of their baggage to reach for happiness – and sisterhood.

Escape Rating A-  was an absolutely lovely read for a lazy Sunday afternoon – which is when I started – and finished the book. The characters were absolutely charming, the setting sounded utterly gorgeous, and the story was heartwarming every step of the way.

This is one of those books that sits quite comfortably on the border between women’s fiction – or relationship fiction as my colleagues call it – and contemporary romance. The story here is really about the relationship – and the initial fumbling lack thereof – between sisters Jess and Rachel. It’s also about Rachel’s faltering relationship with her husband, and the way that those fumbles are rooted in Jess’ and Rachel’s childhood trauma.

And it’s about Jess’ growing relationship with the entire Whitaker family, and not just the romantic relationship she develops, pretty much in spite of herself, with her client’s son Nate. This is one of those stories where I like to say that “a romance occurs” rather than the story being centered on the romance. Because it’s not.

Instead, it’s centered on Jess and her developing relationships with everyone around her during her job at Sanctuary Cove, including the relationship with her sister. Because just as Jess and Rachel have taken the opposite ends of that “roots and wings” paradigm, they’ve also taken positions that are at opposite ends of the spectrum in how they deal with the damage left by their parents.

Rachel has turned into a people-pleasing perfectionist, making sure she’s part of every volunteer opportunity in town, and that her life at least appears perfect all the time. Not just for her Instagram followers, but because she needs that perfection – just as her mother did.

While Jess has arranged her life so that she never stays anywhere very long, never has a chance to develop connections with anyone, just dropping into people’s lives, doing her job, doing it very, very well, but keeping her distance and then moving on. She’s afraid to need anyone because her mother needed way too much.

They both have way more emotional baggage than could possibly fit in Jess’ beloved Vera, the classic Airstream trailer that she lives in while she criss-crosses the country from one cluttered place to another.

Stopping in Sunshine Cove, letting herself become involved in the lives around her, not just her sister but also Eleanor Whitaker, Nate and Nate’s 13-year-old daughter Sophie, allows Jess to finally put down just enough roots to have a great – but not perfect – life. While Rachel, with just a bit of tough love from her sister, gives up on perfection in order to find the happiness she almost lost.

This is the second book that the author has set in and around beautiful Sanctuary Cove, after last year’s charming The Sea Glass Cottage. Although the two stories share the setting, and have similar themes, nothing happens in Sunshine Cove that will make a new reader think they missed something by not having read the other book. (I completely lost sight of this being a second book in series while I was reading it.) So if this story sounds like your cup of tea, feel free to start here, you won’t be disappointed.

But that also means you’ll love the first book, The Sea Glass Cottage, every bit as much as this one!

Review: We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep by Andrew Kelly Stewart

Review: We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep by Andrew Kelly StewartWe Shall Sing a Song into the Deep by Andrew Kelly Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction
Pages: 176
Published by Tordotcom on March 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Remy is a Chorister, one of the chosen few rescued from the surface world and raised to sing the Hours in a choir of young boys. Remy lives with a devoted order of monks who control the Leviathan, an aging nuclear submarine that survives in the ocean’s depths. Their secret mission: to trigger the Second Coming when the time is right, ready to unleash its final, terrible weapon.
But Remy has a secret too— she’s the only girl onboard. It is because of this secret that the sub’s dying caplain gifts her with the missile’s launch key, saying that it is her duty to keep it safe. Safety, however, is not the sub’s priority, especially when the new caplain has his own ideas about the Leviathan’s mission. Remy’s own perspective is about to shift drastically when a surface-dweller is captured during a raid, and she learns the truth about the world.
At once lyrical and page-turning, We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep is a captivating debut from newcomer author Andrew Kelly Stewart.

My Review:

Based on some of the blurb descriptions – which call this a combination of the SF classic A Canticle for Leibowitz and the military suspense classic The Hunt for Red October, I went into this book with certain expectations – in spite of never having read Canticle.

(A Canticle for Leibowitz is so foundational to SF that even if you haven’t read it, you’ve heard of it and have at least a vague idea of what it’s above. And there are plenty of summaries available to fill in any gaps.)

So, expectations. Expectations that weren’t exactly met. Which doesn’t mean that they weren’t exceeded – because they were. We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep takes elements from those books cited, a post-nuclear-apocalyptic world and a story that is steeped in nuclear brinkmanship and set in the claustrophobic confines of a submarine, turns those expectations upside down and sends them on a deep dive into times and places that the reader – or at least this reader – was not expecting.

Because in spite of that tantalizing combination of antecedents from the blurb, this story isn’t really all that similar to either of the other books.

But the crew of that submarine, the former U.S.S. Leviathan, thinks that it is. They believe that they world has ended in a nuclear holocaust, that civilization has fallen and that the survivors outside of their ship are diseased and savage and mutated. And out to get them.

And they’re almost right. Also, totally, completely, utterly and absolutely wrong.

Escape Rating A-: Like A Canticle for Leibowitz, this is a story that combines the worship and rituals of a Catholic monastery with a post-apocalyptic world. Then it turns the rest of the classic story upside down.

Not that the apocalypse doesn’t happen in both stories, but that’s where the similarity ends. Canticle is about the preservation of knowledge, where Song is actually about its destruction. The mission in Canticle is the result of the destruction, where the mission in Song is about the cause. It also feels like Canticle is honest about its faith where Song is about the corruption of it.

Also, a bit of Lord of the Flies wouldn’t be out of line in the description of what went into the mix for this book. Because in the tiny world of the Leviathan there’s definitely more than a hint of power corrupting into repression and violence, bullies rising to the top through the success of their bullying, and thought police – to mix in yet another classic metaphor – suppressing everything that runs counter to approved thought and belief.

And there’s more than a touch of alternate history mixed in, but I’ll leave for you to discover.

While the story has a bit of a slow start – because conditions aboard the Leviathan are grim and gruesome and dark and dank. And the main character seems to be scared, defenseless and alone and it looks like things are only going to get worse but not necessarily more exciting. At least at first. (But then it’s a very short book so the slow start doesn’t take all that long to get beyond.)

And the reader does go into the story with all those assumptions. But as we follow Chorister Remy around on this ship that is so obviously on its last metaphorical and mechanical legs, the assumptions start peeling back like a rotting skin, only to reveal that the rot goes all the way through to the bone.

But those bones conceal a whole lot of truths. And once Remy starts to see those, it’s a race to see whether anything, or anyone, can be saved. Or should be.

Review: Danger in Numbers by Heather Graham

Review: Danger in Numbers by Heather GrahamDanger in Numbers by Heather Graham
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense, thriller
Pages: 336
Published by Mira on March 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

On the edge of the Everglades, an eerie crime scene sets off an investigation that sends two agents deep into a world of corrupted faith, greed and deadly secrets.
A ritualistic murder on the side of a remote road brings in the Florida state police. Special Agent Amy Larson has never seen worse, and there are indications that this killing could be just the beginning. The crime draws the attention of the FBI in the form of Special Agent Hunter Forrest, a man with insider knowledge of how violent cults operate, and a man who might never be able to escape his own past.
The rural community is devastated by the death in their midst, but people know more than they are saying. As Amy and Hunter join forces, every lead takes them further into the twisted beliefs of a dangerous group that will stop at nothing to see their will done.
Doomsday preppers and small-town secrets collide in this sultry, twisty page-turning thriller.

My Review:

I got sucked into Danger in Numbers from the first page, but there were two things that I admit it took me a while to get. The first was that the story reminded me of something but I couldn’t put my mental finger on exactly what for the longest time. (Surprisingly, it’s Faithless in Death by J.D. Robb. Humans are still screwed up and still falling for stupid stuff even in the future.)

The second was that the title is a play on words. That hit me upside the head somewhere in the middle and just didn’t let go.

Neither did the story.

At first I thought this might be my second serial killer story in a row. Then I realized it was way more gruesome than that. One person, or even two people, who have gone bloodily off the deep end is horrible enough. But the idea of dozens or hundreds being brainwashed into evil by a cult and its charismatic leader – and we know that it does happen in the real – is on a completely other level of insanity.

FBI Special Agent Hunter Forrest rushes from Micanopy in north Florida to the edge of the Everglades – most of the way down Florida the long way – because he’s dead certain that the horrifically dead body that the FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) has just discovered is related to the murder he’s investigating at his end of the state.

He’s sure because he’s seen it before. Not just because he’s made a career out of investigating cases like this one, but because, once upon a time, he was inspired to join the FBI because of a case much too much like this.

The land around the Everglades is a patchwork of federal, state, private and tribal land. The towns that are near its edge are too small to have much in the way of police forces of their own, and this case is already too big and too sensational for local cops to handle, leaving the FDLE in a slightly uneasy partnership with the FBI to locate and catch the killers.

Because this isn’t the work of an individual or even a gang. It takes an entire town – or an entire cult – to plan and carry out this kind of murder as well as an entire town – or cult – to provide both the reason for it and the means to pull it off and cover up not the crime – because they want that to be found to send a twisted message – but to hide or obscure the identities of the perpetrators.

FDLE Special Agent Amy Larson is going to have to work WITH the FBI whether she – or Forrest – like it or not. Her senior FDLE partner is in the hospital, the murder site is on disputed land, and as good as the FDLE is, the FBI is better.

Larson doesn’t like the feds moving in on the FDLE’s case. Forrest isn’t sure that Larson, still in her 20s and with only four years at the state bureau, is up to the task. And neither of them can resist the pull between them – no matter how much they try.

While the cult – and the man behind it all – is after both of them.

Escape Rating A-: I slipped into this book easily because we spend the story following Hunter and especially Amy. We don’t get into the minds of the cultists, nor is the cult either glorified or sensationalized. We follow Amy and Hunter and their cause is righteous. There’s a lot of understanding on both of their parts but particularly Hunter’s, on how easy it is for people to get sucked in and how practiced the cult leaders are at finding and sucking in the desperate and the easily swayed.

There is, after all, just a hint of truth at the heart of the very big lie that the con artist cultists are peddling – just as there is at the heart of all “Big Lies”.

It helps that Amy and Hunter are both interesting characters, who are good at their jobs and keep their focus on the victims at all times. They are in this to help people and it’s easy for the reader to be on their side from the beginning, even as they wonder whether they can manage to be on the same side without friction – of one kind or another.

I liked them both as investigators quite a bit, but I have to say that the romance that develops between them just didn’t feel necessary. I expected it but would have liked the book just as much, or maybe a bit more, without it.

A part of the story that I personally found fascinating was the location in Micanopy. I lived in Alachua County for three years so the area felt familiar. The only thing missing from what I remember of the town is that there was still quite a bit of memorabilia around town from the filming of the movie Doc Hollywood in 1991.

Nevertheless, the familiarity made the location easy to visualize.

While the fact that Hunter and his family had been part of a cult very much like the one they’re tracking felt pretty obvious from the flashback start even though the family was not named, something that took me completely by surprise was just how well the title’s play on words worked in the story.

“Safety in numbers” is a catchphrase that comes up all the time – and it even does in the story as Hunter and Amy and the members of their team try very hard to not work by themselves on this case. The times that Amy is in direct danger are the few times that she is alone.

But there is also a danger in numbers. In this story, it’s the danger of numbers of people big enough to become a cult, or a mob, or the perilous combination of the two that is at the center of the series of ritualistic murders and a whole lot of broken lives and families. Alone, most of these people would have been harmless – or more likely whining complainers or even argumentative blowhards. Even if they had succumbed to their own personal dark sides their crimes would have been, at least in comparison, few and most likely much harder to cover up.

Together they make a self-righteous, self-feeding, murderous mob.

There’s another danger in numbers. Even though it’s clear that the “Divine Leader” will face justice the last page turns, he’s left behind entirely too many true believers who will carry out his mission either for the promise of eternal glory or the filthy lucre of leading a gigantic con. The cult members were following a plan to either court or appease the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to bring about the End Times.

As the story ends, the cult is one horse down – and three to go.

Review: Shift Work by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Shift Work by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayShift Work (Night Shift #1) by T.A. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Night Shift #1
Pages: 117
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on March 19, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

You'd think the werewolves would be the worst thing about the Night Shift; you'd be wrong.

All Officer Kit Marlow wanted was a cup of coffee and some downtime before his next night shift. Instead, he got a naked man in the elevator and an unaccounted-for dead girl in the morgue. He's going to need to deal with both before he can head for his bed.

Or anyone else's. Although not much chance of that.

Reluctantly partnered with the acerbic security consultant Cade Deacon—last seen naked in the elevator—Marlow delves into the dead girl's life. Between them, they uncover a new crime scene with the whiff of old corruption. A corruption that, five years ago, nearly took Marlow's life and ended his career.

Finding out who killed the dead girl on the slab might only be the start of this investigation. Oh, and it's the second night of the full moon. So 80% of the city, including Cade, will turn into werewolves in the middle of the case.

So, there's that.

My Review:

I’m going to try for short and sweet with this review – at least in certain senses of sweet – because I’ve got plenty of content to go with it from today’s guest, author TA Moore.

It’s sweet because I loved this book. There’s plenty of bitter to go with that sweet, but that’s all to do with the way this version of our world is set up and especially the personality of the characters. Between Marlow and Cade, there’s plenty of bitter going around. Neither of them is exactly sweetness and light, not even on a good day.

And neither of them has much in the way of good days – especially not the days after a full moon.

Cade’s description of himself pretty much sets up his personality and his take on the world, when he considers that “the wolf version of him was the same asshole he was the rest of the month. Just happier about it.”

This is a world where 80% of the human population turns wolf on the three nights of the full moon. But in a world where 80% are werewolves, that means 20% are not. Marlow is one of those “nots”. He’s Null with a capital N. Whatever makes him incapable of going were makes him perfect for the Night Shift, the cops who work those three nights when most of the population isn’t completely responsible for whatever they do and whoever they do it to.

It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

The story in Shift Work, the first book in the Night Shift series, puts cop Marlow on the same case as high-powered and highly paid private security consultant Cade Deacon.

The case of a young Null woman whose dead body was dumped in the police morgue the morning after a full moon without her hands – and whose last known location was an exclusive – and expensive – preserve for rich, entitled wolves.

Cade wants to protect his business – the firm responsible for security at the preserve. The dead girl’s last known location proves there’s at least one hole in his security net and he needs to close it up – fast.

Marlow knows that the way that the girl’s body was dumped in the morgue connects to an old, thought to be cold, case of one very dirty cop now behind bars. Marlow needs to find out if his old partner is somehow up to his old tricks – because if he is then Marlow is next on his to-do list.

All that Cade and Marlow have to do is focus on the case that’s temporarily tying them together – and not let themselves get wrapped up in the inappropriate and irresponsible attraction they have to each other.

Escape Rating A-: This is an A- because I want more so damn bad I can’t stand it. Honestly.

The reader gets dropped into this story – this world – at what feels a bit like the middle and it is one hell of a tease. Not just because Marlow is describing the naked man he’s sharing the elevator with.

The world felt fully fleshed out – pun definitely intended – but I really wanted to know more about how things got this way, because by this point in their history whatever happened happened far enough back that the world has adjusted around it. Which was great but left me wondering whether there was an “Event” and I missed it or if this is the way it’s always been.

The story is being labelled as MM romance because these two men are pulled together sexually and can’t help fantasizing about it even if they don’t get to act on it much in this first book. But really this story is urban fantasy, and like much of urban fantasy the protagonists are both hot messes and neither is ready for a real relationship – or possibly even friends with benefits because neither of them is able to handle friendship.

This one feels like its more about the case they have to solve – and the cases that this one leads back to – rather than the potential romantic relationship between Marlow and Cade. Because they’re not going to get there for a while. Just like they’re not going to get to the bottom of the crap they’ve uncovered.

And I love me some detective procedural-type urban fantasy, so this was absolutely my jam every step of the way.

But I ended the book wanting to scream! Not just because they haven’t gotten to the bottom of the case, but because when the story ends it’s a cliffie. Not just a figurative cliffie but a literal damn cliff that they’ve just been pushed off of. Where’s that next book already? I’m dying over here. And possibly Cade and Marlow are dying over there. I have to KNOW!

Guest Post from TA Moore + Chapter 2 of the Shift Work prequel short (check out Chapter 1 at Love Bytes)

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Shift Work by TA Moore. It’s a novella. It’s a longish novella, but still a novella. It’s the first book in a three book series that will be coming out over the next….three months. So that’s easy! Well, for you. I’m going to have no nails left.

For the blog tour I’ve written a short story set in the Night Shift world. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter Two

Silver ammo didn’t make the gun feel any different.

Marlow weighed it in his hands for a second. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but apparently he’d expected something. When nothing changed, he slid the gun back into the holster and clipped it to his belt.

“What’s with those?” one of the other officers in the back of the Bearcat asked. She pointed forked fingers at her own eyes to demonstrate what she meant. “Contacts? You think they’ll scare the wolves off?”

He’d heard that before.

Marlow leaned back in the chair. He could feel the vibration of the engine and the uneven road under the tires through the padded leather.

“I wasn’t planning on letting wolves get that close,” he said.

She laughed, a throaty burst of genuine amusement. “Oh, they will,” she said. “Trust me.”

Up in the front of the carrier, next to the driver, Piper twisted around to look back at them.

“Listen to Bennett,” he said. “She’s a veteran now. What, six months?”

Colour swabbed Bennett’s cheekbones, and she glared at Marlow like it was his fault. “Sir,” she said. “It was seven yesterday.”

Piper grinned, a flash of perfect white teeth in a tanned face. “Excuse me,” he sing-singed. “And happy anniversary, Bennett.”

One of the other officers laughed, anonymous in the dim, jolting cab of the truck. Unable to pinpoint who, Bennett glared at all of them.

“Let’s check out the Gaslamp Quarter for that fouled meat,” Piper said as he shifted to face forward in the seat. “Clear it out.”

Bennett groaned. “Aw, come on,” she said. “It’s the rookie’s first shift, and we’re dumpster diving? What? You want him to quit?”

Piper slapped his hand against the roof without looking around. “Job’s not always glamorous, Bennie. You know that. The rookie needs to learn it sooner than later.”

Marlow scratched his neck where the harness rubbed. “I worked narcotics,” he said. “There’s worse places to look for things than dumpsters.”

Piper snorted out a laugh that was interrupted by the crackle of the radio as it cut in.

“20-David,” Dispatch said. “We’ve a 10-91 in progress on 5th Avenue and B. Can you respond.”

Piper slapped the driver’s shoulder, pointed to the next turn, and answered the radio. “20-David, responding now,” he said. “Keep us updated.”

Marlow took a deep breath, exhaled, and checked his gun again. All of a sudden, he could feel the difference between lead and silver in the weight of it.

10-91.

Werewolf attack in progress.

It looked like they weren’t going dumpster diving.

Catch the next chapter tomorrow at Book Gemz and follow the tour for the rest of the story!

About the Author:

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sector before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

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