Review: Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona Davis

Review: Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona DavisStories from Suffragette City by M.J. Rose, Fiona Davis, Kristin Hannah
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, short stories
Pages: 272
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on October 27, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A collection of short stories from a chorus of bestselling writers all set on the same day, October 23, 1915, in which over a million women marched for the right to vote in New York City with an introduction by Kristin Hannah.
Stories From Suffragette City is a collection of short stories from the leading voices in historical fiction that all take place on a single day. The day one million women marched for the right to vote in New York City in 1915. A day filled with a million different stories, and a million different voices longing to be heard. Taken together, these stories from writers at the top of their bestselling game become a chorus, stitching together a portrait of a country looking for a fight, and echo into a resounding force strong enough to break even the most stubborn of glass ceilings.With stories from:Lisa Wingate, M. J. Rose, Steve Berry, Paula McLain, Katherine J. Chen, Christina Baker Kline, Jamie Ford, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Megan Chance, Alyson Richman, Chris Bohjalian and Fiona Davis

My Review:

Forget, if you can, the David Bowie classic song, Suffragette City, because the song wasn’t about these suffragettes, in spite of the title. And in spite of the song being the first thing that popped into my head when I read the title. To the point where I have an earworm.

But this book is something entirely different.

On October 23, 1915, 105 years ago today, between 25,000 and 60,000 women marched through the streets of New York, in front of at least 100,000 spectators lining the streets, blocking traffic and generally grinding the entire metropolis to a screeching and sometimes cheering halt.

The Five-Mile Suffrage Parade of 1915 (AP Photo)

New York State was just about to vote on a referendum that would allow women the right to vote. The parade was intended to draw concentrated attention to the referendum, to provide a clear and incontrovertible testament that women were political and should be granted the right to vote.

Not all women agreed. And certainly not all men, who would be the ones doing the actual voting, for or against. As it turned out, mostly against. The referendum failed in 1915. It succeeded in 1917. The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, whose centenary occurred earlier this year, gave all women the right to vote, even if it didn’t – and still doesn’t – mean that all women are actually able to vote.

Nevertheless, the October 23, 1915 parade was a watershed moment. And this collection of short stories that all take place on that day, within and surrounding that parade, tells the story of that moment and the women who were a part of it, through fictional perspectives from all sides, from the rich and famous – and occasionally infamous – Alva Vanderbilt Belmont to NAACP co-founder Ida B. Wells to Irish and Armenian immigrants to a young niece of the storied Tiffany family.

These are not any of their stories in their entirety. Rather, they are the stories of actions on that one, singular day, the thoughts, feelings and struggles that brought them to the parade, and the joy and occasional heartbreak that surrounded both its triumphs and its failures.

Escape Rating A-: It’s time to talk about the stories themselves.

This is one of those times when ALL the stories in the collection are just terrific. And that feels rare in collections. After all, not every style agrees with every reader. But this time, with its emphasis on this one day and all of the thoughts and feelings surrounding it, works. (If the concept of stories around a significant historical event appeals to you, Fall of Poppies, focusing on the cessation of the hostilities of World War I on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is also very lovely and well worth a read on this coming, or any other Veterans Day.)

Back to the stories. Although I will say that the differing perspectives that these stories focus on do lead the reader down plenty of mental and emotional byways. The day may have been singular, but the perspectives on it certainly were not. That’s what makes the collection as a whole so fascinating.

Many of the stories deal with women’s responses to the men in their lives who are either against the idea of women’s suffrage or just think that marching is unseemly and unsafe, and that women are delicate flowers that need protection from the dirty scrum that is politics.

Two of the particularly excellent stories on this topic are A First Step by M.J. Rose and Deeds Not Words by Steve Berry. A First Step also introduces the character of young Grace Tiffany, who flits through almost every story in the book. But in this first story about her, she and her aunt Katrina are planning to march in the parade, even though Grace’s uncle, Charles Tiffany, thinks it’s too dangerous and thinks he’s succeeded in convincing little Grace. He hasn’t. In the end, Grace convinces him.

There are also several stories that focus on the women who were, in one way or another, not welcome in this parade of mostly privileged white women. Ida B. Wells isn’t there. Rather, in Dolen Parkins-Valdez’ story, American Womanhood, Wells is in Chicago, speaking to a group of black women about the issues they face being subject to both racial prejudice and misogyny, expected to always do the most while receiving the least benefits. And as she speaks she remembers her own treatment at the Washington march in 1913, where the genteel southern ladies who had taken over control of the movement refused to let her or any other non-white women march with the main parade. And where Wells did it anyway.

The story that moved me the most was Just Politics by Chris Bohjalian. This story is an immigrant’s story, told from the point of view of Ani, an Armenian woman who has become a teacher in New York. But Ani came to New York during the years of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government just before World War I. Everyone around her tells her that the march is “just politics” but Ani has first hand experience of exactly how terrible and deadly “just politics” can become. Her perspective, that combination of hope with bitter, bitter experience, provides a leavening that makes her story just rise.

So, read this collection for its marvelous stories, and for its kaleidoscope of perspectives on what that day, the cause of women’s suffrage, and the cause of equal rights in general and not just the specific. And think about how many times that tide has risen and fallen and just how much is still left to fight for.

And then, if you have not already done so, go out and vote. It’s a right that was hard won, and it demands that we exercise it.

Review: The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd + Giveaway

Review: The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd + GiveawayThe Light at Wyndcliff (Cornwall, #3) by Sarah E. Ladd
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Cornwall #3
Pages: 320
Published by Thomas Nelson on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the third book of this sweet Regency Cornwall series, one young man must search for truth among the debris of multiple shipwrecks on his newly inherited property.
When Liam Twethewey inherits the ancient Wyndcliff Hall in Pevlyn, Cornwall, he sets a goal of fulfilling his late great-uncle’s dream of opening a china clay pit on the estate’s moorland. When he arrives, however, a mysterious shipwreck on his property—along with even more mysterious survivors—puts his plans on hold.
Evelyn Bray has lived in Pevlyn her entire life. After her grandfather’s fall from fortune, he humbled himself and accepted the position of steward at Wyndcliff Hall. Evelyn’s mother, embarrassed by the reduction of wealth and status, left Pevlyn in search of a better life for them both, but in spite of her promise, never returns. Evelyn is left to navigate an uncertain path with an even more uncertain future.
When the mysteries surrounding the shipwreck survivors intensify, Liam and Evelyn are thrown together as they attempt to untangle a web of deceit and secrets. But as they separate the truths from the lies, they quickly learn that their surroundings—and the people in it—are not as they seem. Liam and Evelyn are each tested, and as a romance buds between them, they must decide if their love is strong enough to overcome their growing differences.

My Review:

The Light at Wyndcliff is lovely and slightly bittersweet, best categorized as historical fiction with romantic elements. A romance does happen, but it’s not the central point of the story.

The plot wraps around the sometimes exciting, sometimes dangerous and always criminal smuggling operations that the rougher bits of the Cornish coast are notorious for But this is not a story that romanticizes smuggling. Rather, it paints an all-too-clear portrait of the rot that burrows into the whole town when smuggling – and the protection of it – become the whole town’s economic mainstay.

But at its heart, it feels like this is a story about figuring out not just who you are, but who you want to be, and taking the steps to achieve that goal – no matter how difficult the road or how many people and institutions stand in your way.

For Liam Twethewey it seems as if that goal should be easy to achieve. He’s 22, he’s male, and he’s just come into his inheritance, Wyndcliff Hall on the Cornish Coast. His dream is to make the property profitable, and to make the area that surrounds it self-sustaining for the benefit of the people who live there.

He wants to provide good jobs at good pay. He wants to be someone who administers his land for the good of everyone, and not just his own profit. He wants to be a good man and a good steward of his property, just as his uncle and mentor has taught him to be.

Ironically, the person standing squarely in Liam’s way is his own steward. Once upon a time Rupert Bray was the owner of his own wealthy property, but either unwise investments or an addiction to gambling or some combination of both cost him his estate. Now he’s the steward of Wyndcliff, and has become the unofficial leader of the nearby town in the long interregnum between the death of the previous owner and Liam’s ascension.

It’s a power Bray doesn’t want to give up. Not over the estate, not over the town, and especially not over his grown-up granddaughter, Evelyn. Partially, that’s because Bray is, quite frankly, a petty tyrant. Much of it is because Bray has secrets that he fears that an active master at Wyndcliff will uncover.

And a whole lot of it is because Evelyn is female, and women didn’t have nearly as much as agency as men, a situation that was even more true in the 1820s setting of this story.

So an important but sometimes frustrating part of this story is Evelyn’s hesitant search for who she wants to be now that she is grown up. A quest that is under siege, caught between her grandfather’s desire to keep her safe, his secret plans for her, her absent mother’s ambitious plans for her future marriage to a man of her mother’s choosing – and the written and unwritten expectations of behavior that society holds over her head.

The more time that Liam and Evelyn spend together, no matter how publicly or how innocently, the more the townspeople judge her for her behavior. In their eyes, she is reaching above herself and consorting with an enemy – even though neither Liam nor Evelyn are aware that the villagers consider him such.

When the crisis finally comes to a head, everyone has fixed their places in the drama – except Evelyn. Everyone makes demands of her. Her grandfather – and the townspeople – expect her to lie for them. Liam, and the agents of the Crown, expect her to tell the truth. And her mother expects her to abandon all of them for the glittering future that she has always promised her daughter.

No matter what she decides, Evelyn is going to make someone she cares about absolutely furious with her. She has to find her own way in a life where she has been discouraged from doing just that at every turn.

Escape Rating A-: A romance between Liam and Evelyn does happen in this story, but it doesn’t feel like the romance is the point of the story. More like it’s the reward for doing the right thing. Figuring out what that right thing is, that feels like it’s the central point of the story. And that’s the story that swept me away.

The suspense and tension in this story come from Liam’s efforts to become the true master of Wyndcliff, in spite of Bray’s opposition. The more Liam digs into what’s really going on, the more obvious it is that Bray and the villagers are hiding a whole lot of skullduggery that no one – except Liam – wants to see brought to light.

This story’s treatment of smuggling, showing it as a criminal enterprise that leads to even more – and darker – criminal behavior reminded me of last year’s The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick. So if the exposure of the smuggling ring and its corruption of the town is something that intrigued you, you might want to check that story out as well.

But Bray’s corruption and the town’s participation in it felt fairly obvious from the very beginning. The reader may not know at the outset exactly what he’s hiding but it’s exceedingly clear that he’s two-faced at best.

Liam’s perspective was interesting but not particularly new. I liked him as a character, and it was clear that he was trying to do his best – and that his best was going to turn out to be fairly good. But the story of a young man taking up his inheritance, feeling some uncertainty while facing some challenges is a story that’s been told many times and will be again.

The fascinating and frustrating part was Evelyn’s story. She was caught betwixt and between in so many ways, and was aware of it and often confused and flummoxed about it all. She knew what she was supposed to feel – and she knew that she didn’t feel it – while also being aware that she was hemmed in by so many conflicting expectations. It felt very much as if The Light at Wyndcliff is more Evelyn’s story than anyone else’s. She’s the character who is stuck in a role that everyone expects to be passive – and yet isn’t.

But speaking of expectations, this series is focused on Liam’s family, the Twetheweys. And his story is central to the book, even if it doesn’t feel as much his journey as it does Evelyn’s. He becomes the person he’s always been expected to be, while Evelyn’s journey has all the twists and turns.

That being said, Liam has moved away from his family, the protagonists of the first two books of this series, The Governess of Penwyth Hall and The Thief of Landwyn Manor, to take up the inheritance that kicks off this book. This distance from his family means that it isn’t necessary to have read the first two books to get immediately drawn into this one. He’s moved away and the story has moved away too.

So if you’re looking for a story that brings a small town to life, contains a bit of true-to-life historical suspense and features characters who manage to do the right thing, catch the bad guys, pay the emotional price AND get rewarded by a happy ever after, The Light at Wyndcliff is guaranteed to sweep you away to the Cornish Coast!

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Light at Wyndcliff to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg

Review: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. LembergThe Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Birdverse
Pages: 192
Published by Tachyon Publications on September 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

“Thoughtful and deeply moving, The Four Profound Weaves is the anti-authoritarian, queer-mystical fairy tale we need right now.”-Annalee Newitz, author of The Future of Another Timeline
[STARRED REVIEW] “A beautiful, heartfelt story of change, family, identity, and courage.”-Library Journal
Wind: To match one's body with one's heartSand: To take the bearer where they wishSong: In praise of the goddess BirdBone: To move unheard in the night
The Surun' do not speak of the master weaver, Benesret, who creates the cloth of bone for assassins in the Great Burri Desert. But Uiziya now seeks her aunt Benesret in order to learn the final weave, although the price for knowledge may be far too dear to pay.
Among the Khana, women travel in caravans to trade, while men remain in the inner quarter as scholars. A nameless man struggles to embody Khana masculinity, after many years of performing the life of a woman, trader, wife, and grandmother.
As the past catches up to the nameless man, he must choose between the life he dreamed of and Uiziya, and Uiziya must discover how to challenge a tyrant, and weave from deaths that matter.
Set in R. B. Lemberg's beloved Birdverse, The Four Profound Weaves hearkens to Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. In this breathtaking debut, Lemberg offers a timeless chronicle of claiming one's identity in a hostile world.

My Review:

The Four Profound Weaves has the feel and the sense of a myth in the making, or perhaps a fairy tale. Reading it has filled my head with a weave of more thoughts – profound or otherwise – than one would think that a book this slim would hold between its pages.

It’s the kind of story that, although I’ve finished reading it, I feel like it hasn’t finished with me yet. Perhaps its that the lesson of the fairy tale is still being absorbed.

On the surface, this is a story about two people who want to be different, or want the world to be different, or both, than they or it is. The initial part of the story is their recognition that they have, in their own completely separate ways, handed control over themselves and the changes they wish to make to others.

The beginning of this story, their initial quest, is to take back that control.

Which leads them, directly and almost inexorably, into the path of a ruler who wants the world and everyone in it to remain unchanged, exactly as they are, precisely as he wills it. And them.

This is a world where, as Emily Dickinson once said, “Hope is the thing with feathers”. But this is Birdverse, where so, also, is death. A place where a master weaver can take them both and weave them together into a cloth, and a song, and change, if not the world, than at least one corner of it.

Escape Rating A-: I’m all over the map about this one. In the end, I loved it, but the beginning was slow. I think that part of that was because this was my first trip to Birdverse, and it took me a while to get my bearings in it.

Also, the story begins slowly because it feels like it is meant to. Both of the protagonists have spent 40 years not living their truths. That’s a long time to wait for anything, let alone wait to fulfill their dreams. But they’ve been holding themselves back, so it seems natural that it would take them a while to get moving toward a future that they’ve been inching towards at a snail’s pace for so many years.

Once they finally begin their journey, it initially seems like a lesson in being very, very careful in what you wish for, because when you get it it isn’t anything like you imagined while you were wishing your life away to get to it.

Which is another lesson.

The thing that I kept coming back to while reading was the contradiction and the interchangeability – and the contradiction of that interchangeability – between change and death.

Both Uiziya and the Nameless Man want to change. And they both want that change to be both accepted and acceptable. The irony is that the people having the most difficulty accepting their changes is themselves.

But the Collector of Izya refuses to accept any change, of anything. And he believes that the only way to protect things from changing is to hide them away where only he can see them. He believes that death is the ultimate preservation. The dead, after all, stop changing.

At the same time, change is itself a death. When something or someone changes, it kills the thing or person that came before, even if, or perhaps especially because, the new thing or person marches on. And continues to change.

As my thoughts about this book kept spinning, the image I was left with was the Tarot card of Death, which represents both death and change. The most familiar rendition of Death in the Tarot is of a skeleton riding a pale horse as it steps over a fallen king. Which feels like a piece of the literal interpretation of this story, that not even royalty can stop change.

But this is a story that feels open to as many meanings as any myth. It’s a story about not just discovering your authentic self, but becoming that self and accepting that self, no matter how much childhood programming, loved one’s attempts to call back your tide, or social opprobrium stand in your way. And no matter how much you stand in your own way.

It’s also a story about the price of change, and the cost of redemption. And that the sins of the past may be halted but not eliminated. And that sometimes that’s all you can do, and that it’s enough.

I think there’s more in this story, and more in Birdverse. I look forward to going back and discovering it.

Review: Return to Virgin River by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: Return to Virgin River by Robyn Carr + GiveawayReturn to Virgin River (Virgin River, #19) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance, women's fiction
Series: Virgin River #21
Pages: 320
Published by Mira on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

#1
New York Times
bestselling author Robyn Carr returns to the beloved town of Virgin River with a brand-new story about fresh starts, new friends and the magic of Christmas.
Kaylee Sloan’s home in Southern California is full of wonderful memories of the woman who raised her. But the memories are prolonging her grief over her mother’s recent death. A successful author, Kaylee hoped she could pour herself into her work. Instead she has terrible writer’s block and a looming deadline.
Determined to escape distractions and avoid the holiday season, Kaylee borrows a cabin in Virgin River. She knows the isolation will help her writing, and as she drives north through the mountains and the majestic redwoods, she immediately feels inspired. Until she arrives at a building that has just gone up in flames. Devastated, she heads to Jack’s Bar to plan her next steps. The local watering hole is the heart of the town, and once she crosses the threshold, she’s surprised to be embraced by people who are more than willing to help a friend—or a stranger—in need.
Kaylee’s world is expanding in ways she never dreamed possible. And when she rescues a kitten followed by a dog with a litter of puppies, she finds her heart opening up to the animals who need her. And then there’s the dog trainer who knows exactly how to help her. As the holidays approach, Kaylee’s dread turns to wonder. Because there’s no better place to spend Christmas than Virgin River.

My Review:

The story in Return to Virgin River is all about Kaylee Sloan’s, well, return to Virgin River. But Kaylee was never a resident of that much-loved little town. Rather, Kaylee was an occasional visitor during her childhood, and her most recent visit was ten years in the past, during a previous crisis in her life. Because Kaylee has never really been a part of this community when she returns to Virgin River less than a year into her mourning for her beloved mother, she makes an excellent point of view character to introduce new readers (like me) to this well-loved place and series.

As Kaylee is introduced to everyone who has come to, or come back to, live in this lovely little place, we get to meet them for the first time along with her. For readers who have been here before, It’s undoubtedly lovely to catch up with old friends from previous books in the series.

But Kaylee’s advent makes this a great place for new readers to jump in without feeling like they missed the plot. I knew these people had history, as one does whenever one is introduced to new people in real life, but I didn’t feel like I had missed something important to this story by not knowing everyone’s past.

This turned out to be a great way of getting involved in Virgin River, right along with Kaylee.

And for any long-term readers who may have lost track of everyone in the 8 year hiatus since the previous book in the series, My Kind of Christmas, Kaylee’s arrival in town should serve as a great way to get caught back up!

Kaylee returns to Virgin River because she needs a long, quiet, productive getaway. She inherited her mother’s house, and has been living there since her mother’s death. She and her mom were very close, best friends, and Kaylee feels surrounded by her grief in that house – no matter how much she loves it.

Kaylee makes her living as a mid-list author of suspense thrillers, and she has a book on contract that is not merely due but overdue. She hasn’t been able to write since her mother’s diagnosis, but she has to get her own life on track in order to support herself. She has a cushion, but it isn’t infinite.

They seldom are.

So Kaylee returns to Virgin River, the place her mother took her to several times during her childhood, and the place her mother brought her to heal after her divorce. Kaylee comes to Virgin River to be close to her memories of her mother but not so close that she continues to drown in them.

She arrives to find her planned six-month rental house on fire. Literally on fire. She can’t go home because she’s rented out her own house until after New Year’s – and it’s currently AUGUST. She feels both overwhelmed and stuck.

And that’s where her life takes its unexpected turn. As one door closes – or catches fire – another door opens. The door to Landry Moore’s guest house.

As Kaylee’s life opens up and fills up, between her rescue of the orphaned kitten Tux, the abandoned dog Lady and her puppies, and everyone in the welcoming town of Virgin River – especially her handsome landlord – Kaylee discovers that her grief for her mom, while it hasn’t exactly gotten less has become a less all-consuming part of her much-expanded life.

And that those we love never leave us, not even when they’re gone.

Escape Rating A-: There’s definitely a life imitates art imitates life thing going on here. Kaylee is supposed to be writing a suspense novel – which she eventually manages to do. But she also begins a kind of fictionalized journal or a contemporary romance/women’s fiction novel, which is also the category that Return to Virgin River fits into.

Kaylee’s novel-of-her-heart is a story about a woman who comes to a small town for a fresh start after a death in HER family. Her fictional character falls for her equally fictional landlord – except that neither of them actually is. Fictional, that is. Kaylee pours her growing feelings for Landry into her character’s growing feelings for “Landon”. The disguise is adorably cute and rather “paper” thin. But fun and a great way for Kaylee to process both her hope and her grief.

But the course of true love never does run completely smooth, and in this story the waves are provided by Landry’s long-absent wife. Yes wife. He and Laura have lived apart for 10 years of their 11-year marriage, but neither of them ever bothered to file for divorce.

So naturally, just as Landry realizes that he wants a divorce so that he can become more involved with Kaylee, Laura decides that her acting career, the reason for their separation, isn’t going anywhere and that she wants Landry – or at least the security he can provide – back.

I have mixed feelings about this plot thread. Something had to derail what would have otherwise been Landry and Kaylee’s straightforward amble towards domestic bliss. But the Laura angle felt particularly tacked-on. It was so obvious that she only wanted the security, to the point where not even Landry took her “act” all that seriously.

On the surprising but definitely plus side of the reading equation, Return to Virgin River turned out to be an unexpectedly poignant counterpart to yesterday’s book, Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish. Both stories are about mothers and daughters, but Kaylee and her late mother had the kind of mother-daughter relationship that Millicent and Jane had stopped dreaming of long ago. These two stories make a great back-to-back read if you are well-prepared with plenty of tissues.

Closing on a much happier note, I enjoyed my first trip to Virgin River and now that I’ve met everyone, I’ll be back. Whether by starting at the very beginning with the first book in the series, Virgin River, continuing on with the next whenever it comes around, or maybe BOTH!

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

I’m giving away a copy of Return to Virgin River to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker + Giveaway

Review: Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker + GiveawayMillicent Glenn's Last Wish by Tori Whitaker
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Lake Union Publishing on October 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Three generations of women—and the love, loss, sacrifice, and secrets that can bind them forever or tear them apart.
Millicent Glenn is self-sufficient and contentedly alone in the Cincinnati suburbs. As she nears her ninety-first birthday, her daughter Jane, with whom she’s weathered a shaky relationship, suddenly moves back home. Then Millie’s granddaughter shares the thrilling surprise that she’s pregnant. But for Millie, the news stirs heartbreaking memories of a past she’s kept hidden for too long. Maybe it’s time she shared something, too. Millie’s last wish? For Jane to forgive her.
Sixty years ago Millie was living a dream. She had a husband she adored, a job of her own, a precious baby girl, and another child on the way. They were the perfect family. All it took was one irreversible moment to shatter everything, reshaping Millie’s life and the lives of generations to come.
As Millie’s old wounds are exposed, so are the secrets she’s kept for so long. Finally revealing them to her daughter might be the greatest risk a mother could take in the name of love.

My Review:

“Mirror, mirror on the wall: I am my mother after all.” There are whole Etsy shops devoted to pillows and wall hangings and samplers with this quote. It’s the title of a 2011 memoir by Susan Kane Ronning that revolves around a daughter’s resistance to repeating her mother’s mistakes.

It’s also the theme of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish, a story of the three – soon to be four – generations of Glenn women; the titular Millicent, the tense relationship she has with her adult daughter Jane and the terrific relationship she has with her granddaughter Kelsey – a relationship in which she sometimes feels that Jane, Kelsey’s mother, is intruding.

And Kelsey’s soon-to-be child, gender still unknown, who will make her, at 91, a great-grandmother. A child that all three women are over the moon about, regardless of the stresses in the relationship between them.

Stresses that lie in the past, in the secrets that are hidden in that past. Secrets that Millicent has held close to her heart and grieved over for decades, but that finally need to come into the light. She is, after all, 91, and feels every single one of those years. She’s afraid that if she doesn’t talk soon, her chance will be gone.

And she’s right, but not in the way that she expected. Because secrets come to light on their own time – no matter how much their keepers wish otherwise.

Escape Rating A-: First, this is a timeslip story, or perhaps it might be better described as a memory story. It operates in two timelines; its 2015 present and Millicent’s past in the late 1940s and 1950s, as she replays in her head the history that she has not shared with her daughter and granddaughter – and that she needs to rather desperately.

Initially, Millicent is desperate because of her own circumstances. At 91, even though she is healthy and active for her age, she can’t help but be aware that her time is running out. When Jane admits that she has discovered a lump in her breast, Millicent is suddenly faced with a more immediate threat. Her daughter, like Millicent’s husband, could have cancer. That fear overlays this story like a sword of Damocles.

In the present, Jane wants no muss and no fuss, she wants to take care of herself, as she always has. She certainly doesn’t want her mother to fuss over her as she feels like she has always had to take care of herself.

Through Millie’s memories, we get glimpses of why that is, although not the full story. The full story we do get is the story of women’s lives in the 1950s, the stresses and strains that led to Betty Friedan’s watershed book, The Feminine Mystique, the book that showed that so many women’s lives, lives that seemed perfect on the surface, were restricted in a straitjacket of competitive domesticity, and filled with frustration, boredom, tragedy and all too often, pills and/or booze.

Millie holds the tragic secrets of her own experience close, perhaps a little too close, just as she did Jane when she was growing up. At least some of the time. The rest of the time, Millie left her daughter to her own devices as she worked her way through her grief, her despair, and the pills she took to cope with both.

When the secrets finally come out, the catharsis is both extended and delayed, as they still have to navigate through Jane’s health scare and Kelsey’s advancing pregnancy. In the end, there is healing – but it’s hard won and painful. The band aid over the past that Millie wanted to ease off gently gets pulled off with a hard jerk – and Jane thinks her mother was one.

And perhaps she was.

I ended up with a whole truckload of mixed feelings about this story for all sorts of personal reasons.

I think that people who don’t live somewhere storied or famous or both, like New York City, don’t expect to see their hometown portrayed in fiction. Millicent’s story takes place in Cincinnati, where I grew up. Millicent would have been part of my mother’s generation, and the Cincinnati she remembers from the 40s and 50s match stories my mother told me, or echo things that I remember being told were in the recent past when I was growing up in the 1960s.

If you are ever in Cincy, Union Terminal is every bit as magnificent as it is portrayed in the story, and well worth a visit for its museums and its gorgeous restoration. It was a building that needed to be preserved, but for most of my growing up years it was a white elephant that the city couldn’t find a purpose for. It was a relief when the museum complex moved in and turned out to be a fantastic use for the space.

Cincinnati Union Terminal Museum Center

But the Cincinnati described in the story is the place I remember. As much as I say that Cincinnati is a nice place to be FROM, I was happy to see the author do it proud. Although I still prefer Skyline Chili to Empress (or Gold Star),  Cincinnati chili really is ordered as described and they are all a taste of home, along with Graeter’s Ice Cream, which is still the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

Part of the poignancy of this story, at least for me, was how much the relationship between Jane and her mother Millie reminded me of the stresses and strains in my own relationship with my mother, although the causes were different. But that emotional distance, that chill that happens between two people who love each other but can’t quite reach each other was extremely real, and even cathartic that they managed to find a peace together that my mother and I never quite did.

This is a beautiful, heartbreaking and ultimately heartwarming story about four generations of women, the secrets that kept them apart and the truths that finally brought them together.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan + Excerpt

Review: Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan + ExcerptDaughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Riverhead Books on October 6, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In a world of pagan traditions and deeply rooted love, a girl in jeopardy must save her family and community, in a transporting historical novel by nationally bestselling author Cathy Marie Buchanan.
It's the season of Fallow, in the era of iron. In a northern misty bog surrounded by woodlands and wheat fields, a settlement lies far beyond the reach of the Romans invading hundreds of miles to the southeast. Here, life is simple--or so it seems to the tightly knit community. Sow. Reap. Honor Mother Earth, who will provide at harvest time. A girl named Devout comes of age, sweetly flirting with the young man she's tilled alongside all her life, and envisions a future of love and abundance. Seventeen years later, though, the settlement is a changed place. Famine has brought struggle, and outsiders, with their foreign ways and military might, have arrived at the doorstep. For Devout's young daughter, life is more troubled than her mother ever anticipated. But this girl has an extraordinary gift. As worlds collide and peril threatens, it will be up to her to save her family and community.
Set in a time long forgotten, Daughter of Black Lake brings the ancient world to life and introduces us to an unforgettable family facing an unimaginable trial.

My Review:

This was marvelous. Not quite what I expected, but marvelous. And as the blurb says, transporting.

Daughter of Black Lake is a time slip story that itself is slipped in time to the first century A.D., to the Roman province of Britannia, in the relatively early years of the Roman occupation. At a time when the Druids still held sway over most of the tribes, and just before the last concerted – and ultimately failed – attempt to throw out the invaders.

But that’s not obvious at first.

The story takes place 17 years apart, among a village of bog people on the shores of Black Lake near modern-day Wroxeter in Shropshire. The village is remote, and life there hasn’t changed all that much since the Romans first attempt to conquer Britain, when they threw Julius Caesar back into the sea. Or so the Druids tell.

And yet, things do change, and events in the wider world impact life in the small village. As is exemplified by the events of the story’s present and what happened 17 years before.

The story revolves around one family, Smith, his mate Devout, and their daughter Hobble. Smith lost most of his family, and his family’s status, 17 years ago when his father and all of his brothers paid heed to the Druids who went to the tribes to drum up support to throw Claudius and his forces off their land.

They failed. They died. The Romans settled in for the long haul of “civilizing” this land of barbarians.

But history repeats. The Romans are expanding, and the influence of the Druids is contracting. They’re losing power and don’t want to give it up. And so they are fomenting a rebellion. Again.

The community at Black Lake is caught in the middle of the opposing forces – and betwixt and between the advances of the Romans and a desire to return to the “old ways”. Ways that included human sacrifice. Ways that would see Hobble sacrificed on an altar of blood to one ambitious Druid’s dreams of glory.

A glory that Hobble, apprentice medicine-woman and full-fledged seeress, knows is totally and utterly out of reach.

Escape Rating A-: The one thing that drove me to frequent, repeated dives into Wikipedia was my inability to fix this story in its historical time period until the very end. Thinking about it further, I realize that was part of the point, but it drove me crazy as I was reading. I needed to know and didn’t.

If the history grabs at you as much as it does me, the Book Club Guide at the author’s website is very informative. Particularly the drink recipes! But seriously, one of the terrific things about this book is that it is meticulously researched AND that the research magically disappears into the story as you read it. It gives the story depth and heft without weighing it down at all. Which is very hard to do.

The story here is about a community on the cusp of change, and that’s what gives the story its drive and dramatic tension. While the details are specific to this particular time and place, the concept is universal. The world of the people of Black Lake is changing, whether they want it to or not.

And, like people everywhere and everywhen, some of them want that change, some of them cling to the past, and there’s plenty of pain to go around as the village wrestles with a future that’s coming whether they want it or not. A tension and a wrestling that is happening right now all around us.

Everything old is new again.

So there’s the details of the story, Hobble’s ability to see the future, and the Druid Fox’s desire to make her see only what he wants to be seen – along with his willingness to kill her if she won’t go along with him.

And in the past, the love triangle between her mother, her father, and Arc, the man her mother loved and lost. When those two things intersect, the tragedy of one lost love and the possible tragedy of losing a child, Devout’s world explodes and ALL the lies are revealed, both of the past and of the present.

Reading Daughter of Black Lake, one is swept along into the rhythms of both Hobble’s and Devout’s stories, although I found Hobble’s the more compelling. At first the movement is slow, as life in its broad outlines changes slowly in this remote place. But the story speeds up as it centers more fully on Hobble’s life, just as the pace of change has sped up with the entrenchment of the Roman invaders.

This is one of those stories where, as it goes on, you’re right THERE, only to be dumped back out into the “real” world with a gasp at its bittersweet end.

Excerpt #4 from Daughter of Black Lake (Excerpt #3 at The Lit Bitch, Excerpt #5 next Tuesday at 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews)

   Devout took in his tentative mouth, his uncertain eyes, thick lashed as a doe’s. She could not claim friendship. She was a hand, and the hands and the tradesmen clans held themselves apart at Black Lake. Young Smith seldom spoke to her more than a few words called from the low‑walled forge where he worked alongside his kin. Usually “fine day” or “the wheat looks promising,” though once she had wondered if he had said “the hearth is ablaze here, if you’re…”before his voice trailed away.She had given little thought to him as other than a blacksmith of burgeoning skill.He ranked far above her, beyond her reach—a circumstance that was perhaps un‑fair given her usefulness as apprentice healer at Black Lake. And there was her piety,too. She bit her lip as she sometimes did at those moments when she recognized herself as prideful. Mother Earth expected humility.
“I made something for you,” he said now. He held out his hand, and she saw a packet of folded leather about the size of a walnut.
A blacksmith, a tradesman such as he, was offering a gift to a hand on this particular day? She took the packet.
She unfolded the leather and into the bowl of her palm slipped a gleaming silver amulet strung through with a loop of gut. She drew a finger over the raised detail of the arms of the Mother Earth’s cross at the amulet’s center. She touched the outer ring. How had he accomplished the detail—swirled tendrils as delicate and intricate as a fern,a spider’s web,a damselfly’s gossamer wings? Not in nature, not in all the clearing, woodland, or bog had she seen the handiwork surpassed. Never had she conceived that other than Mother Earth was capable of such beauty. Though it was small, the amulet weighed mightily on her palm. “Young Smith,”she whispered and raised her lit face to his.“It’s magnificent.”
He held her gaze and heat rose through her.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Bad, Dad and Dangerous by Rhys Ford, Jenn Moffatt, TA Moore and Bru Baker + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Bad, Dad and Dangerous by Rhys Ford, Jenn Moffatt, TA Moore and Bru Baker + Excerpt + GiveawayBad, Dad, and Dangerous by Bru Baker, Jenn Moffatt, T.A. Moore, Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Pages: 424
Published by Dreamspinner Press on October 6, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When the kids are away, the monsters will play.
School's out for summer, and these dads are ready to ship their kids off to camp. Not just because their kids are monsters--whose aren't?--but because they're ready for some alone time to let their hair down and their fangs out. You see, not only are the kids monsters--their dads are too.
Even the most dangerous of creatures has a soft spot. These bad, dangerous dads love their kids to death, but they need romance.
Every year, for a few short weeks, these hot men with a little extra in their blood get to be who they truly are. And this year, life has a surprise for them. Whether they be mage, shifter, vampire, or changeling, these heartbreakingly handsome dads might be looking to tear up the town... but they'll end up falling in love. All it takes is the right man to bring them to their knees.

My Review:

What a great collection to really sink your reading teeth into!

Or possibly your real teeth, if you’re anything like any of the dads, and their equally supernatural kids, featured in this fantastic collection of novellas.

I have to say that these stories did a great job of reminding me just what it is I read urban fantasy FOR, that lick of the supernatural that takes the world just one or two steps to the Other, where there is magic, and danger, and danger because of that magic.

These are also worlds that interact with or are nestled inside the everyday human world that we know and love and loathe, and that people are people, with or without extra powers – and that sometimes humans are awful. Power and/or other-worldliness doesn’t make them better, it just makes them different.

And there are entirely too many people who hate those who are different, whether that difference is natural or supernatural.

What’s fascinating about this collection is that the kiss of the other comes in so many different flavors – all marvelous – and all feel just on the edge of possible that sends a shiver up the spine. At the same time, each of the protagonists is also a single-parent, and no matter how otherworldly their kids might be, they are all still kids and still challenging parental authority in age-old ways.

Even if they also grow fur. Or fangs. Or flowers.

Every single one of these stories had something in it that I fell in love with, whether it was Nation the undead cat in Jenn Moffatt’s Kismet & Cadavers, the vampire dad running a call center for an insurance company and slurping up the excess negative emotions from his staff to keep them a bit less unhappy (Monster Hall Pass by Bru Baker), or the grandson of a witch who falls for a werewolf peacekeeper whose son has just be given a pomeranian cut in Rhys Ford’s Wolf at First Sight.

But my favorite story was Elf Shot by TA Moore. It just gave me the most marvelous case of the creeps with the way that it blended all of the stories about “tricksy” fae and fae courts with the purely human evil of a young man who was infected with hate and the young woman who was smart enough to escape his clutches. This is one where the supernatural elements should be the most frightening, but it’s the human evil that really creeps the reader out.

And every single one of these single parent dads manages to find the one man who can make his life just that little bit completer – by accepting the person he really is under the fur or fangs that generally put mundanes right off.

Escape Rating A-: Every single story in this collection is a win-win-win. I just wish they were ALL a bit longer, because I’d like to have spent more time in these worlds with these people. Even if they are not always two-legged people. Or perhaps especially because.

Guest Post from Rhys + Part 2 of Hunting for Salvation

Thanks so much for having me here! Since I revisited the world of Once Upon a Wolf for this anthology, I thought I’d drop back in on some familiar characters from that story for this blog tour. I hope you enjoy meeting them, again or for the first time!

Hunting For Salvation – Part 2 (Part 1 is part of yesterday’s tour stop at Boy Meets Boy)

Dean’s eyes stared back at him from a pretty face innocent of war and blood and all of the monsters crawling through Ellis’s brain whenever he closed his eyes. The soft green hazel gaze held him tightly in place, more so than the shotgun Cassandra Kelly held steadily aimed at the centre of his chest. 

Other than her wide, bright eyes, Dean’s younger half-sister shared none of his rough-hewn features. Dean’s familiar sharp angles and hard, high cheekbones were instead soft gentle curves and plump, sun-kissed cheeks, her mouth a full pout rather than the straight, disapproving line of reproach Dean’s lips were often pressed into whenever he dealt with Ellis. She was about a foot and a few inches shorter than Dean, barely coming up to the top of Ellis’s shoulders but with a shotgun, size didn’t really matter. If he knew one thing about the Kelly clan, it was they knew how to handle weapons, cars, and trespassers and Ellis racked up two out of three on that list.

He’d found her on a hillside ranch deep in California’s valleys, raising alpaca of all things. The fluffy overgrown sheep on steroids were milling about in a paddock behind Cassie, bleating and screaming their displeasure at Ellis’s arrival. Cassie might not know what Ellis was, what monstrous horror ran in his blood but the animals knew. They could scent a predator nearby and nothing she’d said to them could still their anxiety.

Cassie caught him glancing over her shoulder at the herd and cocked her head, keeping the shotgun firmly on him. “We’ve had coyote sniffing around. Lucky for me, I’ve got this here to make them mind their manners. Never would have thought it would come in handy in keeping Dean’s trash from piling up on my driveway.”

Ellis regarded the shotgun, noting its worn stock and well-burnished barrel. It was an old weapon, probably had a couple of generations of Kellys handling it. Clearing his throat, he nodded at the herd, “Not a coyote.”

“Just as bad,” she countered with a hard sniff. “Now give me one good reason I shouldn’t blow a hole right through you? Seeing as you left my brother deep down in a hole he’s not crawled out of yet.”

“Because I’m looking for him.” Ellis shoved his hands into the pockets of a pair of jeans he’d nicked from his brother’s dresser before he left Big Bear behind. “We’ve got… things to work out.”

“Only thing he needs to work out is whatever shit you left him holding,” Cassie spat back. “My brother came back nothing like he left and from what I gathered, you were the one who scooped out everything good from inside of him and ground it down into dust. What the fucking hell do you think you can say to him that’s going to change that.”

Ellis considered his options. The road to Cassie’s place was a long, dusty maze of dead ends and slammed doors. She was his only hope in finding Dean and if anyone was going to put him on the man’s trail, it would be his sister. He didn’t find any fault in her fierce defense of her brother or the reasons she wanted to keep him hidden but he wasn’t going to give up. Not after fighting so hard to break loose of the wolf he’d wrapped around himself and especially not after digging into every wound he had to find the man who’d brought him home.

“One reason, Keller,” Cassie repeated. “Else you’re going to be breathing through a hole in your guts.”

“Because I’m in love with him,” Ellis murmured, meeting her glare with as much honesty as he could muster. “And I’m not going to find peace until he knows that.”

    Join us tomorrow at Blogger Girls to hear about ‘Unicorn Snot’ from Jenn Moffatt.

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

The authors are giving away a $10 Gift Certificate to the etailer of the winner’s choice at every stop on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: At the Clearest Sensation by M.L. Buchman

Review: At the Clearest Sensation by M.L. BuchmanAt the Clearest Sensation (ShadowForce: Psi #4) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: ShadowForce: Psi #4
Pages: 218
Published by Buchman Bookworks on September 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Hollywood star Isobel Manella leads a charmed life in many ways: interesting roles, surrounded by friends and family, and the ability to sense precisely what those around her are feeling. Her empathic skills help her and her team shine.

Sailor and film handyman Devlin Jones enjoys the job niche he's created along Seattle's waterfront. His skills as a Jack of all trades keeps him fed, companionship can always be found, and his beloved Dragon sailboat lies moored just outside his back door.

However, when Devlin takes Isobel on an evening sail, he brings aboard far more trouble than he's ever faced before. As an assistant on her upcoming film, he thought he could just sail through the gig. Little did he know she'd completely change the uncharted course of his future.

My Review:

This was a terrific wrap up to a marvelous series. It was a great blend of action, adventure, romance and suspense and tied the entire ShadowForce: Psi series up with a neat little – if slightly bloodied – bow.

Not that I don’t expect to see some of these characters again, as side characters or walk-ons in one of this author’s future series, because I certainly do. He does that, after all, and it’s always lovely to see how people are doing.

But At the Clearest Sensation definitely wraps up the story of this very “special” group. A story that began last summer with At the Slightest Sound and continued through At the Quietest Word and At the Merest Glance to make a bootleg turn and threshold brake into its happy ending for everyone involved in the entire series.

As much as At the Clearest Sensation closes out the entire series, it is also, definitely, primarily about the romance between unofficial team leader Isobel Manella and her current movie’s location expert, Devlin Jones.

Because this series simply couldn’t close without Isobel finding her HEA.

That’s not where the story begins. Where it begins is with Isobel feeling, not like a third-wheel in her brother’s marriage with her best friend (At the Quietest Word, or a fifth-wheel to not just that marriage but her teammate Jesse’s marriage to one of brother Roberto’s fellow ex-Deltas (At the Slightest Sound), but a seventh-wheel to both of those relationships plus the newest HEA between her bestie’s stepbrother Anton and his expert-tracker fiance Kate (At the Merest Glance).

Everyone’s happy, and Isobel is happy for all of them. But as the empathic member of their Psi group, all that happy is more than a bit overwhelming to someone who isn’t sure she’ll ever have the time to find hers.

At least not until Devlin whisks her away for a quiet sail around Puget Sound in his Dragon sailboat. For one evening, Isobel is just “Belle”, and not either the movie star or the leader of the elite ShadowForce. An illusion that nearly shatters the next morning when she discovers that the charming stranger who took her sailing is actually part of the movie crew that she has to “boss” as executive producer and co-director.

But Devlin, the one person whose emotions Isobel can’t read, is able to read Isobel and her team like a book. His “school of hard knocks” education allows him to observe all the little “tells” that reveal that Isobel and her team are something just a bit outside the ordinary.

He’s also all too aware that even in the tightest group, everyone needs someone who is first and foremost in their corner. He’s all ready to be that for Isobel, even before a crazed killer sets his sights on the only light that shines in his own personal darkness.

Escape Rating A-: That grade is kind of for this book and kind of for the series as a whole, because the ShadowForce: Psi series reads like a single story broken into four reading-bite-sized parts. This is one where the emotional payoff for Isobel’s story isn’t complete unless you’ve read from the beginning.

But since the individual parts are short and sweet with just the right touch of danger and suspense, the series makes for a great little binge read.

This series is a mixture of action adventure and romantic suspense, and does an excellent job on both sides of that rather tricky equation. It’s also very much a romance of equals, something that is difficult to do well – but it is one of the hallmarks of this author’s writing. It’s a big part of what I read him FOR.

This entry in the series combines movie-making, stunt-driving, found family, adventure, suspense and Seattle into a satisfying romance that puts the heroine in just the right amount of danger AND lets her be part of her own rescue. Isobel is part of a team, and all of the team participates in that rescue, but she is never a damsel in distress.

As someone who lived in Seattle for a few years, the way that the characters toured so much of the city while scouting locations for the film shoot read like the place I knew – although I’m grateful I moved away just before the demolition of the old Alaskan Way Viaduct began. Which created a traffic nightmare while it was going on.

I loved watching Isobel and Devlin fall for each other, in spite of both of their best intentions not to get serious. Their romance, although it doesn’t take a lot of days, still managed to take up enough space in the story to allow both the reader and the characters to feel it happen.

At the same time, the resolution of the suspense part of the story felt a bit abrupt, but on the other hand I can’t see how it could have been any other way. And I’m very glad that Isobel wasn’t kidnapped or worse. She needed to rescue herself, not BE rescued, because that’s not who the character is.

And the heroine in jeopardy plot is seriously old and stale, while this book definitely is not. But now that the ShadowForce is all wrapped up, I can’t wait to see what adventures this author will take me on next!

.

Review: Burning Roses by S.L. Huang

Review: Burning Roses by S.L. HuangBurning Roses by S.L. Huang
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: fairy tales, fantasy, retellings
Pages: 160
Published by Tordotcom on September 29, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"S. L. Huang is amazing."—Patrick Rothfuss
Burning Roses is a gorgeous fairy tale of love and family, of demons and lost gods, for fans of Zen Cho and JY Yang.
Rosa, also known as Red Riding Hood, is done with wolves and woods.
Hou Yi the Archer is tired, and knows she’s past her prime.
They would both rather just be retired, but that’s not what the world has ready for them.
When deadly sunbirds begin to ravage the countryside, threatening everything they’ve both grown to love, the two must join forces. Now blessed and burdened with the hindsight of middle age, they begin a quest that’s a reckoning of sacrifices made and mistakes mourned, of choices and family and the quest for immortality."

My Review:

Just how many fairy tales can one story retell at the same time?

While the graphic novel series Fables may have answered that question by combining ALL of the Western fairy tales in one story, but it’s a story that requires 22 collected editions to encompass.

Burning Roses answers the question a bit differently. It combines the Western fairy tales of Little Red Riding Hood with a bit of Goldilocks and the Three Bears AND Beauty and the Beast and personifies them in Rosa, a Latina woman who has fled her home and family by going east to China. Where she becomes hunting partners with Hou Yi, a woman who is the personification of a Chinese fairy tale.

They are both middle-aged, they are both hunters, and they are both hunted. Or haunted. Or perhaps more than a bit of both.

Then the author packed the entire glorious tale into a novella. That’s a lot of packing, but the result is lovely. And haunting.

At first, it seems like a simple story. And in the present, it kind of is. Rosa with her rifle and Hou Yi with her bow and arrows are the ones who come to the aid of remote villagers when monsters come calling.

They’re both a bit past their prime – maybe more than a bit – and they need each other to take care of a job that they each, once upon a time, used to manage quite well on their own. But they are all the villagers have and they get it done.

But their past, individually rather than collectively, is complicated. And painful. And they’re both hiding from it – and hiding it from each other. Theirs is a relationship filled with silences where the truth is hidden.

Until the firebirds come for Hou Yi.

Not directly, because that would be too easy.

Instead, Hou Yi’s nemesis has sent the firebirds to hunt the local villagers, knowing that Hou Yi will be the one to respond, and then he’ll have her in the sights of his own arrows, whether they are made of magic, or wood, or memories.

But Hou Yi does not chase the firebirds alone. She and Rosa work together to track them. Along the way, they finally tell each other their versions of the truths they ran away from. Only to discover that those truths have been chasing them all along.

Escape Rating A-: The thing about novellas is that they need to pack a big story into a small package. often it works (Driftwood, The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, The Empress of Salt and Fortune) but occasionally it doesn’t.

Burning Roses works because it mines backstories that we know, twists them a bit, adds something new, and weaves it all into a new whole thing. But those bits we know give it the weight it needs to make the story complete.

We don’t need all the details of any of the hinted at fairy tales, the suggestions are enough to give Rosa’s story resonance. It’s not a stretch to see Goldilocks as a right bitch. Those poor bears. Or to see the Beast as an abuser grooming his next victim. The original Grimm’s fairy tales were much grimmer than the sanitized versions that were popularized – or Disneyfied.

Even with Hou Yi’s story – which I did not know before reading Burning Roses – there’s a sense that there’s a deeper story there than she tells either Rosa or herself, and that all we have to do is find it. (It’s easy to find, it’s in Wikipedia)

But those originating tales are in Rosa’s and Hou Yi’s past, while the story we have is in their present. And that’s an entirely different story. It’s a “what happens after the happily ever after” story, even though neither of the tales of their youthful adventures ends happily.

And that’s the point. Those stories didn’t end well, and they are both living in the aftermath. An aftermath that each of them attributes to their own actions. An aftermath where they blame themselves for everything that went wrong.

They’re both running away from that blame. And they’re both running away from the lives and the loved ones they have left. Because they feel undeserving.

What they discover in this story is a kind of redemption. And it’s earned..

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.