Review: The Scent of Murder by Kylie Logan

Review: The Scent of Murder by Kylie LoganThe Scent of Murder (Jazz Ramsey, #1) by Kylie Logan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Jazz Ramsey #1
Pages: 320
Published by Minotaur Books on May 7, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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First in a new series from national bestselling author Kylie Logan, The Scent of Murder is a riveting mystery following Jazz Ramsey as she trains cadaver dogs.

The way Jazz Ramsey figures it, life is pretty good. She’s thirty-five years old and owns her own home in one of Cleveland’s most diverse, artsy, and interesting neighborhoods. She has a job she likes as an administrative assistant at an all-girls school, and a volunteer interest she’s passionate about—Jazz is a cadaver dog handler.

Jazz is working with Luther, a cadaver dog in training. Luther is still learning cadaver work, so Jazz is putting him through his paces at an abandoned building that will soon be turned into pricey condos. When Luther signals a find, Jazz is stunned to see the body of a young woman who is dressed in black and wearing the kind of make-up and jewelry that Jazz used to see on the Goth kids back in high school.

She’s even more shocked when she realizes that beneath the tattoos and the piercings and all that pale make up is a familiar face.

The lead detective on the case is an old lover, and the murdered woman is an old student. Jazz finds herself sucked into the case, obsessed with learning the truth.

My Review:

The first person to smell that distinctive scent of murder is a young cadaver dog-in-training named Luther. Luther was supposed to find a tooth on the third floor of the building. Jazz, his trainer, never expected him to find an entire body on any floor.

That the body is of someone she knew is only the beginning of the murder investigation that Jazz has absolutely no business being involved with.

She’s even more certain that she has no business getting involved with her ex again either, even if he is the investigating officer for the homicide. Especially because her ex is the lead officer on the investigation.

Jazz is still reeling from her own losses, so inserting herself into the police investigation is yet one more way she can keep herself from dealing with everything she has had to bear in the past two years – her breakup with Nick, the loss of her father and the loss of the dog-of-her-heart, Manny.

Helping train Luther is one of her first tentative steps in getting back into what used to be the groove of her life, only to have it completely derailed by her discovery of the body of one of the girls that she used to coach at the highly respected exclusive college preparatory high school where she serves as the principal’s administrative assistant as well as a part-time track coach.

Jazz’ obsession with finding out the truth begins to pull her out of her depression, while pushing her back in at the same time.

While searching for who Florrie Allen really was under her Goth makeup and behind her award-winning photos keeps her from dwelling too much on her wounds, it also isolates her from the people she is closest to – her mother, her brothers, her friends and her fellow cadaver dog trainers, while at the same time repeatedly bringing her face-to-face – and sometimes in opposition to – the man who broke her heart.

Her quest to find both Florrie’s truth and Florrie’s killer may set her free. It may set her up as the murderer’s next victim.

Or both.

Escape Rating A-: This book sucked me in from Luther’s first sniff and kept me right there with Jazz until the very last page. And I’m saying that even though I guessed whodunnit somewhere in the middle.

The trail that Jazz follows as the slightly obsessed, completely out-of-her-depth amateur detective has a lot of twists and turns, because Jazz’ quest morphs from finding the killer to finding Florrie’s truth – both good and bad. And there’s plenty of both.

On that one hand, Florrie isn’t quite the girl everyone thought she was. On the other, she still deserved better than to never see her 21st birthday, her body abandoned in a building that has been abandoned in its turn.

That the building is about to receive a rehabilitation that Florrie will never see is just part of the irony.

What makes Jazz so interesting to follow is that her hurts feel so very real. Her relationship foundered because love doesn’t paper over neglect – on both sides. She and Nick were both so caught up in the necessities of their own careers and their own pursuits that they forgot to make time for each other.

It happens.

And it is good that the story ends with the possibility of friendship, if not more, but doesn’t rely on any kind of Happy Ever After to paper over their issues yet again. I’m looking forward to seeing them work out those issues in later books in the series.

I’m also happy that their romance is not central to the story. The central part of the story is Jazz’ unauthorized search for Florrie’s killer. She trips, stumbles and falls along the way. Fairly often. She’s curious and intelligent but working at something at which she has no experience – and she gets in her own way. As any complete amateur would.

I loved that she doesn’t gloss over, excuse or ignore what she discovers about Florrie. The victim was not the person they all thought she was, in both good and bad ways. But she deserves to be mourned, and her killer still needs to be caught.

This is one of those stories where the journey was every bit as interesting as the destination. I’ll be back to see where Jazz – and her new dog – lead me next!

Review; Tightrope by Amanda Quick + Excerpt

Review; Tightrope by Amanda Quick + ExcerptTightrope (Burning Cove, #3) by Amanda Quick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #3
Pages: 320
Published by Berkley on May 7, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From the Author's website: An unconventional woman and a man shrouded in mystery walk a tightrope of desire as they race against a killer to find a machine that could change the world.

Former trapeze artist Amalie Vaughn moved to Burning Cove to reinvent herself, but things are not going well. After spending her entire inheritance on a mansion with the intention of turning it into a bed-and-breakfast, she learns too late that the villa is said to be cursed. When the first guest, Dr. Norman Pickwell, is murdered by his robot invention during a sold-out demonstration, rumors circulate that the curse is real.

In the chaotic aftermath of the spectacle, Amalie watches as a stranger from the audience disappears behind the curtain. When Matthias Jones reappears, he is slipping a gun into a concealed holster. It looks like the gossip that is swirling around him is true—Matthias evidently does have connections to the criminal underworld.

Matthias is on the trail of a groundbreaking prototype cipher machine. He suspects that Pickwell stole the device and planned to sell it. But now Pickwell is dead and the machine has vanished. When Matthias’s investigation leads him to Amalie’s front door, the attraction between them is intense, but she knows it is also dangerous. Amalie and Matthias must decide if they can trust each other and the passion that binds them, because time is running out.

My Review:

And we finally get the link – or at least a tangential link –  if not to Scargill Cove (which I still think must be just up the coast) then to the Arcane Society. It’s there if you squint – and I was certainly squinting for it – but if you haven’t read any of the author’s Arcane Society books in any of its eras under any of her names, Tightrope still works well as a standalone, as the latest entry in the Burning Cove series, and as a terrific story of a heroine in jeopardy and the man who comes – not to rescue her – but to stand beside her as she rescues herself.

Just like the other books in this series, The Girl Who Knew Too Much and The Other Lady Vanishes, this story begins with a particularly gruesome murder, and with our heroine on the run. Even if in this particular case our heroine doesn’t actually know it.

Amalie’s running is just a bit less fraught than either Irene’s (Girl) or Adelaide’s (Lady), as Amalie Vaughan may be suspected of having murdered the rigger in her last circus, but she was never officially charged with anything. Nor should she have been.

After all, she didn’t murder him – he tried to murder her.

But when another murder happens almost literally on her doorstep, she can’t help but wonder if bad luck is following her. After all, she bought the Hidden Cove Inn at a bargain basement price after the events of The Other Lady Vanishes, when a noted Hollywood psychic threw herself from the roof.

Now one of her guests has been killed just down the road in the middle of his own show – by his very own robot! Amalie can’t help but wonder if she’s doomed to fail. All the Hollywood reporters who stake out Burning Cove are certain to give her inn endless pages of bad publicity – especially after someone breaks into the place in the middle of the night.

The only question is whether the purpose of the break-in is to search the late robot inventor’s room – or to finish up the job that the rigger intended at that last circus performance.

When rumored mobster (and real life covert agent) Matthias Jones convinces Amalie that he needs to stay at Hidden Cove both to protect her AND to keep an eye on things, it’s just the beginning of the adventure.

Because there’s much more going on in Burning Cove than just a crazy inventor and a runaway machine. And the chemistry between Matthias and Amalie is more incendiary than anything ever cooked up in his great-great-great-grandfather’s alchemical laboratory.

Escape Rating A-: Tightrope was a whole lot of fun, just like the other two books in Burning Cove. And also like all of the author’s books in the Arcane Society/Harmony series. But Burning Cove is only tangentially (very tangentially) related to the Arcane Society, and you certainly don’t have to have read any of that to enjoy this. It also stands alone relative to the other books in the Burning Cove series. But if you have read the whole thing, it is interesting to see the characters from the previous books again.

Burning Cove is a fascinating place. It’s close enough to LA for the Hollywood stars to use it both as a getaway and as a place to see and be seen.

One of the many fascinating side characters in Tightrope is fading actor Vincent Hyde, someone who was best known for his many horror films but who has come to Burning Cove to stay at Amalie’s “psychic murder mansion” in the hopes of generating some much-needed publicity for his failing career.

Vincent Hyde’s name sounds like an homage to the great horror actor Vincent Price, but the progress, or rather the downward trajectory of his career sounds a lot like the career of Bela Lugosi, a career which ended in the deliciously execrable cult classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Hyde’s presence in the story, and in Burning Cove, is just the tip of one of the many layers of the story. Hyde is in town to meet with one of the legendary Hollywood gossip columnists – a woman who can make or break his remaining career. She’s in town to follow up on the inventor’s “death by robot” and so are a surprising number of others.

Because this is Hollywood, or close enough, and no one is exactly who they seem to be. Not Amalie, not Matthias, and certainly not Luther Pell, the man who seems to be running Burning Cove.

The story begins because a crazy circus performer has made a career of staging the last and final performance of too many beautiful trapeze artists – without a net. It ends with spies and secrets.

In the middle there’s a marvelous adventure, a combustible romance, and the exploration of a relationship that dives deeply into the value of trust and the danger of lies. Lies to oneself, lies to loved ones – and lies told at the highest levels of government.

It’s the 1930s, war is coming. Gentlemen may not read each other’s mail, but governments certainly do.

Excerpt from Tightrope

“There is no need to fear robots,” Dr. Pickwell declared. It was clear that the suggestion that robots would displace workers annoyed him. He raised his voice to be heard above the murmurs of the crowd. “I urge you to consider that these machines could take the place of soldiers. Wars of the future will be fought with robots, not human beings. Think of the lives that will be saved.”

“You’re mad,” someone else shouted. “You want to create robots that can kill? What if these machines of yours decide to turn on their creators and try to destroy us?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Pickwell snapped. “Robots are nothing more than mechanical devices. Fundamentally, they are no different than the cars we drive or the radios that we use to get our news.”

“Futuro looks mighty dangerous to me,” the man in the front row called.

“Nonsense,” Pickwell said. “Allow me to demonstrate how useful Futuro can be. Futuro, what is the forecast for tomorrow?”

The robot answered in a scratchy, hollow voice. “There will be fog in the morning but by noon the day will turn warm and sunny. No rain is expected.”

Pickwell faced his audience. “Think about how useful it would be to have Futuro in your home at your beck and call. It won’t be long before there will be robots that can cook and clean and do the laundry.”

But the crowd was no longer paying any attention to Pickwell, because Futuro had once again lurched into motion.

“What’s that thing doing?” Hazel whispered.

“I have no idea,” Amalie said.

They watched along with everyone else as the robot opened the suitcase that it had just placed on the bench. Pickwell finally realized that he had lost the attention of the crowd. He turned away from the podium to see what was going on at the bench.

Futuro reached into the suitcase and took out a gun.

There was a collective gasp from the audience.

“No,” Pickwell shouted. “Futuro, I command you to put down the gun.”

The robot pulled the trigger. Twice. The shots boomed throughout the theater.

Pickwell jerked under the impact of the bullets. He opened his mouth to cry out but he could not speak. He collapsed onto his back.

Futuro calmly clanked offstage, disappearing behind the curtain.

Stunned, Amalie stared at the unmoving figure on the stage. It was a trick, she thought. It had to be some sort of bizarre charade designed to shock the audience.

Most of the crowd evidently believed the same thing. The majority of the people in the seats did not move. They appeared stunned.

But not everyone was frozen in shock. Amalie glimpsed motion out of the corner of her eye. When she turned to look, she saw that Luther Pell and the stranger who had accompanied him to the theater had left their seats and were making their way to the stage steps. They were moving fast, almost as if they had been anticipating trouble.

When they reached the stage they were joined by Oliver Ward, who had managed to move with surprising speed, considering that he had a noticeable limp and was obliged to use a cane. His wife, Irene, was not far behind. She had a notebook in one hand.

Luther Pell and the stranger vanished behind the curtain. Ward crouched beside Pickwell and unfastened the inventor’s tuxedo jacket to expose a blood-soaked white shirt.

The theater manager evidently had been watching the demonstration from the last row. He rushed down the center aisle toward the stage.

“Is there a doctor in the house?” he shouted.

Amalie saw a middle-aged man in the center section make his way quickly down the aisle.

“I’m a doctor,” he said in a loud voice. “Call an ambulance.”

The manager disappeared through a side door, presumably in search of a telephone.

Onstage, Ward was using both hands to try to staunch the bleeding. The doctor arrived and quickly took charge.

Luther Pell reappeared from behind the curtains. He looked at Oliver Ward and shook his head. Ward looked grim.

The stranger finally emerged from behind the curtain. He was in the act of reaching inside his white evening jacket. Amalie caught a glimpse of something metallic just before the elegantly tailored coat fell neatly back into place.

It took her a couple of seconds to comprehend what she had just seen. Then understanding struck. Like any self-respecting mobster, Luther Pell’s friend from out of town had come to the theater armed with a gun.

Guest Review: Autumn Bones by Jacqueline Carey

Guest Review: Autumn Bones by Jacqueline CareyAutumn Bones (Agent of Hel, #2) by Jacqueline Carey
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, suspense, urban fantasy
Series: Agent of Hel #2
Pages: 436
Published by Roc on October 1, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Carey returns to the curious Midwest tourist community where normal and paranormal worlds co-exist—however tenuously—under the watchful eye of a female hellspawn…...

Fathered by an incubus, raised by a mortal mother, and liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy Johanssen pulled the community together after a summer tragedy befell the resort town she calls home. Things are back to normal—as normal as it gets for a town famous for its supernatural tourism, and presided over by the reclusive Norse goddess Hel.

Not only has Daisy now gained respect as Hel’s enforcer, she’s dating Sinclair Palmer, a nice, seemingly normal human guy. Not too shabby for the daughter of a demon. Unfortunately, Sinclair has a secret. And it’s a big one.

He’s descended from Obeah sorcerers and they want him back. If he doesn’t return to Jamaica to take up his rightful role in the family, they’ll unleash spirit magic that could have dire consequences for the town. It’s Daisy’s job to stop it, and she’s going to need a lot of help. But time is running out, the dead are growing restless, and one mistake could cost Daisy everything…...

Ask in the editor’s note, and ye shall receive, oh mighty Editor-in-Chief Marlene Ma’am.

Guest Review by Amy: So, it looks like things are slowing down some for Daisy Johanssen, half-demon Agent of Hel, the Norse goddess of death who runs the eldritch community in Pemkowet, MI. Daisy has a new boyfriend, whom we met very briefly in the last installment (Dark Currents), and it’s Labor Day weekend, so most of the summer tourists are leaving.

But, of course, that would make a really short novel, so no slow-and-easy life for Daisy! When boyfriend Sinclair’s sister shows up with a threat, it’s back to the job for the Agent of Hel. Sinclair really is Jamaican, you see, and his powerful family wants him to come home. They’re not at all against threatening the whole town to get what they want, either.

Escape Rating A-: Remember how, in my review of Dark Currents, I expressed some dissatisfaction at Daisy’s choice of suitor? Yeah, from the get-go in this story, starting with the second paragraph, Sinclair is there, and I’m just…underwhelmed. She had two other much-more-interesting men chasing her in Dark Currents, but she ends up with this…person. She was, she says, somewhat fascinated with the idea of having a “normal” boyfriend.

Except, well, he isn’t, of course. I can’t say I was at all dissatisfied with how Daisy got a grip on herself over this lukewarm relationship, and managed to end it and still remain friends with him. She can do better than him. And despite the fact that it’s Sinclair’s mother and twin sister who are primary antagonists that drive the plot of this book, Sinclair’s role in the drama fades to a much lower level than I was expecting from reading the publisher’s blurb. Yes, yes, it’s good seeing him finally growing as a character, finding the allies he needs to stand up to his family, all that jazz – but as a character, Sinclair still feels rather flat and unimpressive to me, all the way through this tale, and it’s really the biggest downer in the book. He was somewhat one-dimensional to me in Dark Currents, and I’d hoped that Carey would, given the plot opportunity of lots of time with Daisy, make him jump off the page for me…but he never really did.

Of course I probably should give poor Sinclair a break; when your castmates are a whole bunch of supernaturals, well, it’s hard for any more-or-less normal human to look at all extraordinary. The gang of ghouls, led by the enthralling and handsome Stefan, a werewolf, assorted faerie folk, vampires, a thousand-year-old lamia, and even Hel herself continue to shine in this story. As I’ve said in my other reviews of paranormal stories, it’s because they’re “real people”, and here Carey’s genius shows; all of these supernaturals are just trying to get through their lives in peace, the same as you and I.

During the course of the story, as the deadline for Sinclair leaving town nears, our heroine and her friends must deal with an increasing number of restless dead folks haunting the town. This is good for late-season tourism, of course, but it keeps Daisy and her werewolf partner from the police (Cody.  Mmmmmm…) rather busy. When events reach their climax on Halloween night, we have a battle royal involving eldritch folk, some witches, and even a bunch of normal kids helping out with water balloons, all trying to put a zombie and the ghost that animates him (Sinclair’s grandfather) to rest. Things don’t go perfectly, of course, and dealing with the aftermath is how Carey brings this busy tale to a close. Most of the dangly loose ends in the book get wrapped up, sure, but I’m left feeling slightly…unfulfilled.

In the end, Daisy is left still wondering what to make of things with the two men remaining in her life as potential partners. With that juicy bit of bait out there, and with unanswered questions about a seemingly-unimportant side plot, Jacqueline Carey leaves me wanting to go find a copy of Poison Fruit, the third book in this series. So I will, and you’ll see a review here, when I do, I promise!

Review: Heart of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: Heart of Eon by Anna HackettHeart of Eon (Eon Warriors #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Eon Warriors #3
Pages: 213
Published by Anna Hackett on April 21st 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Okay, maybe hijacking an alien commander’s warship wasn’t her best idea…

Genius computer geek Wren Traynor prefers her high-tech comp lab to socializing with people, and she definitely prefers it over crawling through the bowels of the huge Eon warship she’s hijacked. When Earth’s Space Corps blackmails her into this deadly mission, Wren will do anything to help her beloved sisters and save the Earth from invasion by the insectoid Kantos aliens. That includes entering into a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the tall, hunky, and seriously enraged Eon war commander who captains the Rengard.

War Commander Malax Dann-Jad is a born protector and has forged a successful career in service to the Eon Empire. Haunted by an early mission where he lost good warriors, he’s dedicated to protecting his ship and its crew. Especially since his warship is carrying a special, top-secret cargo. But one tiny, infuriating Terran puts all that at risk when she commandeers his ship and refuses to listen to reason.

When the ravenous Kantos set their sights on the Rengard--using sneaky, underhanded tactics--Malax finds himself with an armful of curvy woman. He and Wren must join forces to fight back, and are shocked at their improbable, intense attraction. But with lives at risk, both will learn that strength comes in more ways than one and love can hit when you least expect it, and that in order to survive, you have to put everything on the line.

My Review:

Heart of Eon is the third book in Anna Hackett’s marvelous space opera romance Eon Warriors series. It also feels like it wraps up what I sincerely hope is just the first arc of the series, as these first stories have featured the Traynor sisters, Eve in Edge of Eon, Lara in Touch or Eon, and now Wren in Heart of Eon.

The Traynor sisters were manipulated and coerced by the Terran Space Corps to conduct extremely covert and highly illegal missions in Eon space. The sisters have all been caught between huge rocks and multiple hard places.

When the Terrans made first contact with the Eons, the Terrans acted like superior assholes. This had multiple problems and consequences, besides being just plain rude and stupid. First, the Terrans were far from the superior force. The Eons were light years ahead – and not inclined to put up with a bunch of idiots. Eon space closed itself to Terra, and were just fine with making their entire sector a no-fly zone. The Eons didn’t need the Terrans one little bit.

But not the other way around. The Terrans, still getting their space legs, are now under attack by the insectoid Kantos. The Kantos have a history of literally chewing planets up and spitting out the dead husks, and Earth is next. The Terrans are desperate to get the assistance of the Eons they spurned decades ago.

Their methodology is highly questionable, but the results they’ve achieved by the end of Heart of Eon are hard to argue with. Space Corps “persuaded”, for extremely manipulative definitions of the word persuade, the Traynor sisters to secretly enter Eon space and 1) kidnap a leading Eon starship Commander, 2) steal Eon sacred relics and 3) hijack an Eon warship.

Heart of Eon is the hijacking story, and as the story opens ace computer hacker Wren Traynor is in the bowels of an Eon warship, locked in a virtual battle for control of his ship with Eon War Commander Malax Dann-Jad.

It’s extremely debatable who is winning at this point. Malax has managed to shut down the ship’s faster-than-light (FTL) engines, but Wren is in control of navigation so they are still heading towards her assigned rendezvous point – albeit very, very slowly.

But there are a couple of things that Malax knows but Wren doesn’t. Or rather one bit of information that he’s revealed plenty of times but that Wren doesn’t believe, and one Eon military secret that he is desperate to protect from both Wren and their mutual enemy, the Kantos.

Wren refuses to believe that either, let alone both of her career-oriented military minded sisters have mated. She is particularly disbelieving that they have each become mated to Eon warriors, but they have. Those romances are the stories in the first two books in the series.

Which means that Malax is under orders not to harm Wren. That he’s secretly enjoying the cat and mouse game that they are playing with his ship is something he hasn’t admitted to himself.

He is also laboring under the misapprehension that the experimental nature of his ship is a secret from both the Kantos and from Wren, in spite of her rather effective exploitation of every single hole in his security network.

He’s wrong on both counts. Wren discovers the Helian symbionts secured in his ship when she hides in “their” hidden room from Malax – and one of the symbionts decides to merge with her tablet computer. The resulting entity, who appropriately adopts the name “Sassy” for herself (not itself, definitely herself), bonds with both the computing power of the Terran tablet and with Wren herself.

When the Kantos find the erratically piloted Eon Warship meandering in space, it’s clear from their first salvo that they are aware of the nature of the experiment – and that they plan on capturing the Helians at all costs.

Malax and Wren (and Sassy) will need to join forces to keep all of them out of the Kantos’ grasp. It won’t be easy. But it will allow them to finally give in to the simmering attraction between them.
It’s just going to take a little bit of help from their friends – including the Terran Space Corps.

Escape Rating A-: This entire series has been an absolute shipload of fun, and Heart of Eon is no exception. I love space opera type SFR, and if you do too, this series is a real treat!

Part of what I liked about this particular entry is that Wren is different from her sisters. They are all kickass heroines, but they are thankfully not all heroines in the same mold. Both Eve and Lara were military-types, so they quite literally kicked ass – and it was pretty awesome.

But all women are not alike, not even all sisters are alike. Wren is the different one among the Traynor sisters, but she’s different in a way that’s nearer and dearer to my own heart, as Wren is the geeky nerd in the family. Not that she’s not extremely capable and effective, but her effectiveness is completely different.

That she’s also not the tall, muscular, athletic type of heroine just makes her that much easier to identify with. She’s small and soft and curvy – which gives her a bit of a familiar-type of self-doubt. At the same time, she’s an absolute genius at her computer skills, and rightfully both proud of and confident in those skills. She’s still a heroine, but she’s relatable in her heroine-ness.

Her differences fascinate Malax, who falls for her exactly as she is. And accepts her exactly as she is, including her need to put her skills and talents to work in their fight against the Kantos. She has a job to do, and he doesn’t protest at her doing it – a difficult thing for his protective nature.

But Heart of Eon definitely feels like Wren’s show. And Sassy’s. Definitely Sassy’s. Sassy saves the day with a little bit of help from her Terran and Eon friends. Sassy is just a terrific character, in every sense of the word character. I hope we see her again.

Speaking of again, this series could have ended here. The Traynor sisters have all found their happy ever afters and they’ve accomplished their mission of getting the Eons on board for fighting against the Kantos WITH the Terrans.

But the ending of Heart of Eon foreshadows a new romance brewing between the captain of the Terran ship that helped save the day and the Eon Commander who can’t seem to stop himself from sparring with her, verbally if not otherwise. Yet.

I hope we see that romance, and the future of the Eon alliance with Terra in future installments of this series!

Review: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Review: Midnight Riot by Ben AaronovitchMidnight Riot (Peter Grant, #1) by Ben Aaronovitch
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Rivers of London #1
Pages: 298
Published by Del Rey on February 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

My Review:

I’ve had this in my kindle app forever, to the point where I had to check to see exactly how I got it. Finding out that it was 6 years ago was kind of a shocker. I do get around to things eventually, but eventually can clearly be a very long time.

I picked it up now because I have to read the latest book in the Rivers of London series for one of my reviewing commitments and wanted to at least see where it all began.

I was not disappointed. Midnight Riot is a terrific introduction to the Rivers of London and definitely lives up to all the marvelous things that have been said about it.

This book reminds me of so very many things. First, it is absolutely urban fantasy. In some ways, kind of old school urban fantasy, hearkening back to urban fantasy’s roots in the mystery genre.

Because we sure do have a mystery. What we also have is a cop. An honest-to-goodness sworn police officer, Peter Grant, just out of his probationary period in the Metropolitan Police and really hoping to do something more interesting than push paper for his entire career.

Ghost-hunting, however, was not on his career radar. Not even remotely. When the ghost of Nicholas Wallpenny tells PC Grant that he witnessed the previous evening’s sensational murder, Grant isn’t quite sure he believes the evidence being presented right before his eyes. And ears. And slightly stunned brain.

But going back the next night to interview the witness again brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the one man in the Met who will believe him.

The next morning Constable Peter Grant’s career has possibilities that he never even dreamed of. And dangers that may be way, way more than the Academy ever trained him to handle.

Escape Rating A-: First and foremost, I had a whole lot of fun with this one. It’s a terrific book and a great intro to the series.

One of the things that struck me as I read was just how “British” the book felt. It seemed like there were no concessions made for any potential American readers. Either you’ve read enough/seen enough on PBS to get the points where the two nations are divided by the common language, or you don’t.

If you have, it adds to the immersion, as it did for me. If you haven’t, I suspect you spend either a lot of time Googling Britspeak or get bogged down and give up. I was fully immersed from the opening page. Your mileage may vary.

Howsomever, one thing I did wonder about was whether it is/was common practice for single constables to have their living quarters in their stations. Or to at least have that possibility. Because that didn’t feel contemporary to me, I found myself thinking of this as a bit near-future, or at least more alternate history than urban fantasy sometimes is.

After flailing around for what Rivers of London reminded me of most, I think in the end it’s a cross between a police-procedural and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Possibly with a bit of his American Gods added to put some actual deus into the occasional ex machina.

Whatever it is, it’s fascinating. As the first book in the series, Peter Grant finds himself introduced to the world of magic, including the standard opening lessons in his brave new world. As well as a drop into the deep end of the pool (river) when his Chief Inspector is temporarily knocked out of the action by a bullet.

Peter makes for an interesting insider/outsider investigator. He begins as a mixed race man in London, already somewhat of an outsider in spite of having been born there. The story is told from his first-person perspective, which exposes his interior thoughts on being a black man in a white city to the reader in all their world-weary cynicism – particularly when he’s riding the tube.

He’s also the newbie in the world of magic, and everyone seems to want to take advantage of his lack of knowledge – as people frequently tend to do – even if, or especially because they are either deities, genii locorum, or both.

In a fight between gods, ghosts and monsters, Peter feels like the one sane voice attempting to hold it all together. Even during a midnight riot.

Review: Jacked Cat Jive by Rhys Ford

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Mission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Unless one of her teammates gets there first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen + Giveaway

Review: The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen + GiveawayThe Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 305
Published by Lake Union Publishing on February 12, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of The Tuscan Child comes a beautiful and heart-rending novel of a woman’s love and sacrifice during the First World War.

As the Great War continues to take its toll, headstrong twenty-one-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She is convinced by a cheeky and handsome Australian pilot that she can do more, and it is not long before she falls in love with him and accepts his proposal of marriage.

When he is sent back to the front, Emily volunteers as a “land girl,” tending to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It’s here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden. The journals inspire Emily, and in the wake of devastating news, they are her saving grace. Emily’s lover has not only died a hero but has left her terrified—and with child. Since no one knows that Emily was never married, she adopts the charade of a war widow.

As Emily learns more about the volatile power of healing with herbs, the found journals will bring her to the brink of disaster, but may open a path to her destiny.

My Review:

Unlike this author’s previous standalone books, The Victory Garden is set in 1918 as World War I is drawing to its close.

However, just as In Farleigh Field, this is a book about the homefront of the war and not about the ugliness of the war itself. Not that there isn’t plenty of ugly at home.

As the story begins our heroine is immured at home in Devon. Her upper-middle-class parents are determined that the ugliness of the war will completely pass her by – whether that’s what she wants or not. And not that it has not already touched her life. Her brother Freddie was killed in action in the opening battles of the war, and her parents are determined to keep her under their eye and locked away so that nothing can possibly happen to her. Of course life is never like that – even Rapunzel found a way out of her tower, after all.

Emily is the bird in the gilded cage, but with her 21st birthday on the horizon, she will be able to unlock the door of her cage herself – if she is willing to deal with the consequences of her actions.

She falls in love with a young man that her ultra-conservative, ultra-conventional mother considers to be completely unsuitable. Ironically, there’s nothing wrong with Flight Lieutenant Robbie Kerr except for his Australian cheek. His family is probably as well off as hers. The problem with Robbie is that his Aussie upbringing has led him to think that all of the mannered conventions of the English upper crust are patently ridiculous – which of course they are.

Meeting Robbie gives Emily a taste of life on the outside of her mother’s over-protective restrictions, and her 21st birthday gives her the opportunity to fly away. She wants to become a volunteer nurse, but in 1918 the need was for somebody, anybody, to harvest the crops of England with all the men gone.  So Emily joins the Women’s Land Army. She finds herself in the midst of a surprising sisterhood – a sisterhood that becomes her salvation when Robbie is killed in action and she finds herself unwed and pregnant.

The story in The Victory Garden is the story of that sisterhood. Emily can’t go home to her disapproving parents, and many of her fellow “Land Girls” have no homes left to go to. Instead they band together, returning to a small village they worked during their Land Army tenure. A place where the men have all gone to war, and the women are left keeping life together by any means they can.

And together, they find a way to move forward – even as the worst history of the village repeats itself with nearly disastrous consequences for Emily – and for them all.

Escape Rating A-: You may not be able to go home again, but that doesn’t stop you from making a new home someplace else, with people of your own choosing. You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other until you find that place and those people.

In the end (also in the beginning and the middle!) this is a story about sisterhood. In what amounts to a lovely bit of role reversal, the few men in this story exist to push the women’s story forward. It makes for a terrific story – and it also makes sense.

England lost an entire generation of young men in World War I. (It has been posited that this is the reason that so many of the Commonwealth countries did so much of the fighting for Britain in WW2 – either because Britain didn’t have that generation of men to lose, and/or because the powers that be were determined not to sacrifice a second generation so soon after the last one.)

Whatever the truth about WW2,by this point in WW1 there just weren’t any able-bodied young or even young-ish men left on the homefront. And it was clear by 1918 that society was going to have to change after the war was over because there was a resulting generation of young women that had no men to marry. So when some of the characters talk about the world being different after the war, and women filling many of the jobs that men used to do, it feels right.

Things were not going back to the pre-war “normal” because the conditions that allowed that situation to be “normal” no longer existed.

So what we see in this story is a whole generation of women stepping up to take care of each other, because no one is going to do it for them. Even the women whose husbands do come home face a life where they will be the primary breadwinners because their husbands are suffering from permanent, life-altering wounds, PTSD (known as ‘shell shock’) or both.

Emily is the focal point of the story because she is the one who makes the biggest changes. This story is her journey to self-sufficiency – with more than a little help from her friends. We like her because we understand her determination to stand on her own two feet – in spite of everything that life and war has thrown in her way.

And while she begins the story as a pampered little miss, it’s a role that she rejects the moment she is able – while still attempting to not cause her parents more worry than she possibly can. And we feel for that tightrope she is walking. She wants to live her own life. She needs to do her bit. And its the making of her. And the story.

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

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Guest Review: Derik’s Bane by MaryJanice Davidson

Guest Review: Derik’s Bane by MaryJanice DavidsonDerik's Bane by MaryJanice Davidson
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, Erotica, fantasy
Series: Wyndham Werewolf #3
Pages: 298
Published by Penguin on January 1, 2005
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Derik's a werewolf with alpha issues--and a body to die for.

Sara is the personification of unspeakable evil--and smells like roses.

Now if they could just stop drooling over each other long enough to save the world.

Okay, okay. I said in my review of Davidson’s Sleeping With the Fishes a while back that I didn’t care much for paranormal romances with werewolves in them. I may have to rethink my position, at least in the case of this series.

Guest review by Amy:

Derik has a problem, you see – he’s an alpha, born to it, and now that he’s coming into his own, it makes it really hard to get along with his pack’s alpha, Michael. There can only be one, of course, so things are tense right from the get-go. The seer in the group, though, has seen a solution. Out on the west coast, there is a woman who is a reincarnation of an ancient evil. Taking care of her will prevent the destruction of the world. Aha! A quest!

The ancient evil, however, is reincarnated into a really ditzy, unbelievably lucky, stunningly gorgeous woman. And…she’s really not that evil. Derik tries to kill her, and fails, of course. Derik and Sara embark on a cross-country trip to find and prevent the end of the world, and along the way, they get a little bit crazy for each other.

Escape Rating: A-. I had such a good time reading Sleeping With the Fishes last year that when I saw this book at my used bookstore, I had to pick it up. Davidson gives us another really fun romp of a read, complete with Milk Bone jokes from the snarky Sara that had me laughing until I wheezed.

I’ve spotted a pattern with Davidson’s supernatural characters: they’re real people. In Derik’s case, he’s a real guy, who just-happens-to-be a werewolf, and has to deal with that. No big drama, no woo-woo mystical magic-ness in them; they’re just…people, of a different species, who must necessarily deal with who they are, living in a world full of homo sapiens. I’ve gotta say, I like that feature in both of these books. One of the things that’s been so off-putting to me about paranormal romance in the past is the near-fetish status of the supernatural character. People make a Big Deal about that lycanthrope in their life, or worse, the lycanthrope in their life fetishizes themself. Davidson’s “we’re all just people here” aesthetic really lets me fall into the story, suspend disbelief, and enjoy it, without the distraction of the otherworldliness of one or more characters.

Derik’s Bane gives us a comedy-of-errors, North by Northwest kind of frenzied trip from coast to coast, and, like many road-trip stories, the characters end up way closer to each other than they originally planned on. The quality of the story in that part of the book was so good that the ending, where our hero and heroine discover the awfulness that will end the world if they don’t stop it, comes as a tiny bit of a disappointment. I won’t spoil it for you, but imagine the Monty Python and the Holy Grail scene where the knights come to a cave, and the horrid guardian of the cave turns out to be a rabbit. The semi-heroic battle that followed picked things back up a bit, and what the clairvoyant tells our happy couple after the fact makes it clear that, of course, things were never quite as they seemed to Derik all along.

It’s official: MaryJanice Davidson is going on my list of read-for-fun authors. There’s no way to call this “serious” fiction, for any construction of that term, but Derik’s Bane gives us another rollicking read, with rich, entertaining characters. No deep thinking required, just enjoy!

Review: Forged in Blood II by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Forged in Blood II by Lindsay BurokerForged in Blood II (The Emperor's Edge, #7) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, steampunk
Series: Emperor's Edge #7
Pages: 422
Published by Lindsay Buroker on July 17, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Amaranthe Lokdon survives her reckless plan to destroy the enemy’s weapon-filled super aircraft only to learn that thousands of people perished when it crash landed. Half of her team is missing...or dead. Meanwhile, the fighting in the capital has escalated, the Imperial Barracks have been taken by a pretender, and a deadly new danger threatens the populace. Amaranthe’s hopes of returning Emperor Sespian to the throne and bringing peace to the empire are dwindling by the hour.

To make matters worse, her strongest ally—and closest friend—has been captured and is under a powerful wizard’s control. If she can’t figure out a way to free Sicarius, he may kill them all when next they meet...

My Review:

Forged in Blood I ended at maximum cliffhanger, so I dove into Forged in Blood II the moment I finished it. It’s kind of impossible to stop at that point.

(Fair warning, this review will contain spoilers for Forged in Blood I. It would be equally impossible to talk at all about this book without talking about that book. They are pretty much one story, and everything that happens here is dependent on what happened there. Also, Captain Obvious being very obvious, don’t start the series here!)

Forged in Blood I ended at two parallel points with opposite results. Amaranthe has just crashed the Behemoth and wrecked untold destruction pretty much everywhere. She feels guilty beyond measure at the deaths she feels she is responsible for. And she might share in that responsibility but she certainly isn’t solely responsible – particularly considering that she never had any personal ability to control the airship/spacecraft in the first place.

But she walks away from the wreckage, believing all of her team are dead, only to shortly discover that so far, everyone she truly cares for managed to be someplace else.

On that other hand, Sicarius enters the ruins of the ship and finds what he believes are the remains of Amaranthe’s charred corpse. He believes that everyone he cares about, including Amaranthe and his son Sespian, are all dead in or under the crash. He tries to commit suicide-by-enemy in a grand fashion, only to be captured and mind-slaved by one of the many, many forces that is attempting to take control of the capital.

He doesn’t care – at least not too much. If his would-have-been-lover and his son are both dead, he is not unwilling to kill as many of those responsible for the situation as possible (he is an assassin, after all) before he finds a way to at least get himself killed if not take out the wizard controlling him in the process.

As Forged in Blood II opens, Amaranthe is working on multiple plans – as she always is – to eliminate the alien spaceship before even more nefarious things can be done with it, find a way to get some of their enemies to eliminate each other, and find out what happened to Sicarius and rescue him if necessary.

Sicarius has been given a list of people to kill, and he’s working his way down the list.

I would say that things go pear-shaped at this point, but they have been pear-shaped so long that the pear is starting to rot. This is a series where saying that our heroes jump out of the frying pan and into the fire doesn’t go nearly far enough. The entire series is pretty much fires and frying pans all the way down.

But this book is the end of the main story arc of the ENTIRE Emperor’s Edge series. They have to find the bottom in order for things to come to an appropriate close, and for all of the many, many threads to get tied up in a relatively neat bow.

Not nearly as neat a bow as Amaranthe the cleanliness obsessed would have liked. And the butcher’s bill needs to get paid. But in the midst of absolutely epic chaos, our heroes have to find a resolution that gets all of the many, many opposing forces out of the capitol.

And lets them midwife the birth of the republic that they having been aiming towards for much longer than any of them imagined.

Escape Rating A-: This is so obviously labeled book 2 of 2 that anyone who starts here needs to have their head examined. Just don’t. A part of me is wondering why Forged in Blood wasn’t simply published as one extremely long book – but there’s nothing stopping anyone from reading it that way now that both parts are available.

By this point in this long-running series a reader either loves the characters and the world enough to want to see how it all ends, or they don’t. Obviously, I did.

What made this series work for me was its play on the “five-man band” trope, even as Amaranthe’s little band of outlaws/rebels/revolutionaries grew past the original five. To the point where some of the roles are occupied by two or more members of her band of misfits.

Part of the fun in Forged in Blood II is that Amaranthe runs into someone who is even better at being the “leader” of such a group than she is. It’s both relaxing and unnerving for her to find herself again following someone else’s orders.

That the person whose orders she ends up following is someone who someone in his 60s and clearly still extremely badass is icing on the cake for any readers of a certain age, like moi. It’s always good to see evidence that heroes don’t need to be young to be extremely effective. Age and skill beats youth and stupidity all the damn time, and it’s fun to watch.

I also loved the way that the romance was handled in this series finale. It’s taken a year for Amaranthe to “humanize” the assassin Sicarius to the point where he might be able to have a relationship with anyone, Amaranthe included. At the same time, it was necessary for the events of that year for Amaranthe to have her bright, shiny, law-abiding edges tarnished a bit for her to be able to accept not just the person that Sicarius has become, but also the elements of the weapon that he was made to be that remain. Their romance has been excruciatingly slow-building throughout the series, but it needed to be. And the series couldn’t end without that thread being tied up – even if that tying literally included tying one or both of them to a bed. (Actually I’d pay money for that scene!)

Realistically, it would not be possible for a series that had this much adventure – including misadventure, in it without a butcher’s bill to be paid by the company. That price that they paid felt right, proper and necessary – and provided a much needed bit of poignancy to the ending.

This was a book where as I got nearer to the end I found myself slowing down. I wanted to find out how it ended, but I didn’t want to leave this world or these people. Lucky for me, the author didn’t either. There are two (so far) books set in this world after the end of Forged in Blood II. I’ll be picking up Republic the next time I have a long flight to read through. It’s 572 pages long – and I’m betting they’re all fantastic!