Review: By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis

Review: By Fire Above by Robyn BennisBy Fire Above (Signal Airship, #2) by Robyn Bennis
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, steampunk
Series: Signal Airship #2
Pages: 368
Published by Tor Books on May 15, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"All's fair in love and war," according to airship captain Josette Dupre, until her hometown becomes occupied by the enemy and her mother a prisoner of war. Then it becomes, "Nothing's fair except bombing those Vins to high hell."

Before she can rescue her town, however, Josette must maneuver her way through the nest of overstuffed vipers that make up the nation's military and royal leaders in order to drum up support. The foppish and mostly tolerated crew member Lord Bernat steps in to advise her, along with his very attractive older brother.

Between noble scheming, under-trained recruits, and supply shortages, Josette and the crew of the Mistral figure out a way to return to Durum―only to discover that when the homefront turns into the frontlines, things are more dangerous than they seem.

My Review:

By Fire Above is the direct sequel to last year’s absolutely awesome The Guns Above. If you enjoy your SF with a hint of steampunk, really snappy dialog and fantastic kick-ass heroines, The Guns Above might just be your jam. It certainly was mine.

That this is a direct sequel to the first book is a zeppelin-sized hint that this book makes no sense whatsoever without having read the first book first. Not only is that where the situation is setup, but it’s also the foundation of all of the important relationships that power this particular series.

By that I mean the all-important frenemy relationship between Captain Josette Dupre and the foppish spy/supernumerary Lord Bernat Hinkal. If you don’t know how they began, you can’t really understand what happens between them here.

In this world where airships are not merely blimps but actual weapons of war not dissimilar to naval ships, Josette Dupre is an anomaly. Women are barely tolerated in the Garnian Signal Corps. She’s not supposed to be a “real” officer, and she’s certainly not supposed to command either ships or men. That she has turned out to be the best captain in the Signal Corps provides no end of embarrassment, consternation, annoyance and downright obstructionism at every turn.

Josette has no idea how the game is played, and she’s no good at playing it. She just wants her ship back in the air and back in the fight. But most of the first half of By Fire Above is tangled up in all the ways that the powers that be try to prevent that from happening.

So Josette spends the first half of the story on the ground playing politics badly and dealing with personal relationships she has no clue about. What makes this part of the situation so incredibly messy is that her hometown of Durum was captured by the enemy Vinz at the end of The Guns Above, with her mother trapped inside. She is desperate to persuade someone, anyone, that Durum can and should be retaken.

To make matters more confusing, Lord Bernat, usually called Bernie, seems to be in love with her mother. While on the ground, Bernie’s older brother Roland begins courting Josette. The relationship between Bernie and Josette was messy enough before their romantic lives became so weirdly intertwined.

The part of this story that focuses on the neverending war between the Garnians and the Vinz is way more compelling, and once the ship lifts, the story moves into high gear. And then it really flies, headlong into danger, trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and keeps pouring on more power until the absolutely wild conclusion.

And we’ll be back, and that’s the best thing of all.

Escape Rating A-: I absolutely adored The Guns Above. It was my first A+ review of 2017, and definitely made my Hugo ballot for the year – even if it wasn’t nominated.

So I had high hopes for By Fire Above. And those hopes turn out to have been a bit higher than the Mistral can actually fly. Which does not mean that I did not enjoy By Fire Above, or that it is not a good book and a great continuation to a marvelous story.

It just didn’t quite live up to its predecessor.

This story flies highest when the ship is off the ground, even when Josette isn’t actually aboard her. The first part of By Fire Above is all on the ground. The Mistral is in tatters, Josette has to battle the quartermaster to scrounge parts, and she has to spend a lot of time biting her tongue.

Her side is losing the war. It is obvious to all of those fighting it, but to none of the aristocrats and fops back in the capital. It is axiomatic that generals fight the last war, not the current one. Garnia has not lost a war in over 3 centuries. None of the ruling class are able to wrap their tiny minds around the idea that just because it hasn’t happened before does not mean it can’t happen now – especially if that reputation is not backed up by well-trained boots on the ground and strong ships and crews in both the air and the sea. Garnia has been resting on its laurels for far too long, while the Vinz have lost too many times and are determined to win this time – and have the trained soldiers and top-notch equipment to make it not just possible, but downright likely.

A lot of what makes this book interesting is the relationship between Bernie and Josette, and so far at least, that relationship is not a romance and is not veering into “will they, won’t they” territory. Bernie is in love with Josette’s mother, and Josette is falling for Bernie’s brother. Whether those relationships are at least partially about dealing with their feelings for people they can’t have is anyone’s guess.

But Josette’s romantic life is certainly a distraction from her true calling as an airship captain, and her continuing battles against the bureaucracy to retain her rank, ship and crew. I found those battles in The Guns Above much more riveting than any digressions into Josette’s love life in By Fire Above.

However, Bernie’s character arc continues to fascinate. He began as a self-absorbed and self-confessed spy for the government, determined to bring Josette down by fair means or foul. But by the end of this book, he has both changed and not changed. He is still a fop, and he is still self-absorbed, although it feels like some of that is an act. He has also discovered that he has found a place where he belongs, whether because or in spite of the violence it requires. Underneath that overdressed exterior lurks the heart of a warrior, and Bernie is just as surprised as anyone to discover it.

One of the things that ties Josette and Bernie together, particularly in By Fire Above, is the way that both of their identities are shaken, and in completely different directions. On the one hand, Josette discovers that everything she knows about herself has been a lie. Whether those revelations will shake her in the present or the future are yet to be determined.

On the other hand, Bernie has spent his life, at least until he first boarded the Mistral, as an example of the dangers of being a second son. He had no purpose, no ambition, and nothing to spend his time on except wasteful frivolity. He was in danger of dying of boredom. Now he isn’t certain of who he is or what he is becoming, not to mention whether he’ll live to see the next morning – but he’s alive for every second of it. It may be the making of him. We’ll see.

The twists and turns of the battle to retake Durum kept me on the edge of my seat. It wasn’t just about war and fighting – so much of that story had a surprising amount of depth and resonance, and definitely set the stage for book 3. This series is clearly not over.

Amazingly, By Fire Above ends on both a bang and a whimper – even if that whimper is coming from the reader. I can’t wait for the next chapter in this saga, hopefully this time next year!

Review: Obscura by Joe Hart

Review: Obscura by Joe HartObscura by Joe Hart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 340
Published by Thomas & Mercer on May 8, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

She’s felt it before…the fear of losing control. And it’s happening again.

In the near future, an aggressive and terrifying new form of dementia is affecting victims of all ages. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms are disturbing. Dr. Gillian Ryan is on the cutting edge of research and desperately determined to find a cure. She’s already lost her husband to the disease, and now her young daughter is slowly succumbing as well. After losing her funding, she is given the unique opportunity to expand her research. She will travel with a NASA team to a space station where the crew has been stricken with symptoms of a similar inexplicable psychosis—memory loss, trances, and violent, uncontrollable impulses.

Crippled by a secret addiction and suffering from creeping paranoia, Gillian finds her journey becoming a nightmare as unexplainable and violent events plague the mission. With her grip weakening on reality, she starts to doubt her own innocence. And she’s beginning to question so much more—like the true nature of the mission, the motivations of the crew, and every deadly new secret space has to offer.

Merging thrilling science-fiction adventure with mind-bending psychological suspense, Wall Street Journal bestselling author Joe Hart explores both the vast mysteries of outer space and the even darker unknown that lies within ourselves.

My Review:

Obscura was, in the end, unexpectedly marvelous.

At first, the book reminded me of Lock In by John Scalzi. There’s a disease that seems to have come out of nowhere, but is rising in incidence throughout the population, and so far, there’s no cure. Losian’s Syndrome in its way is even scarier than Hadens – because Hadens preserves the person while leaving the body behind (sorta/kinda) while Losian’s resembles Alzheimer’s in that it preserves the body while stealing away the person by separating them from the memories that make them who they are.

Unlike the scenario in Lock In, however, Losian’s is not yet widespread enough to force governments to inject massive amounts of research funding. Dr. Gillian Ryan is all alone, with only her lab assistant for company, as she studies the disease that took her husband and is now taking her daughter. As the story begins, she feels as if she is on the threshold of a breakthrough, but her funding has been eliminated.

She feels like she has nowhere to turn, except to the opioids that she is addicted to, when an old frenemy contacts her seemingly out of the blue. NASA needs her help, and they are willing to give her unlimited funding to study Losian’s – in exchange for six months of her life aboard the space station.

This is not, of course, out of the goodness of their hearts. If they have any. NASA has a problem, and Gillian is the only researcher who is working on anything that might possibly offer a solution.

Of course, all is not as it seems. The disease may be, but nothing that surrounds NASA’s offer to Gillian bears a whole lot of resemblance to the truth – or even has a nodding acquaintance with it.

In the end, this is a story about secrets. NASA lies to Gillian, Gillian lies to NASA, and everyone is lying to everyone else. And while Gillian’s research into the cure for Losian’s bears fruit, it is not remotely related to the problem that NASA hired her to solve.

Not because she’s not a good scientist, but because NASA doesn’t know what the problem really is. Once Gillian finally sees the truth for herself, she realizes that she is, after all, NASA’s best hope of solving it – not because of her scientific strengths, but because of her human weaknesses.

Escape Rating A-: The beginning of the story moves a bit slowly. There is a lot of set-up involved before the story gets off the ground, both literally and figuratively.

This is one of the other points where the story reminds me of Lock In, as in Obscura the author needs to take some time and a fair number of pages to introduce the world as it is in this near-future, as well as the issue of Losian’s and Gillian’s reasons for attempting to cure it as well as her setbacks in working on that cure.

Lock In solved this problem by introducing Hadens in the prequel, Unlocked. It meant that Lock In could start rolling immediately, but that readers who had not picked up Unlocked first could be, and often were, lost.

Part of what kept me going at the beginning of Obscura was just how many stories it reminded me of. When we finally hear a truth about what has gone wrong at the space station, it sounded a lot like two interlinked Star Trek episodes, the Original Series episode The Naked Time, and the Next Generation episode The Naked Now. In those stories a virus runs rampant through the crew, causing people to lose all their inhibitions, expose their innermost selves, and, if left unchecked, eventually results in death by extreme stupidity.

That resemblance turns out to be a red herring, but it kept me going for quite a while. And it may be a pink herring. The results are very similar to the virus in Trek, but the cause turns out to be something different all together.

There are also elements of both The Martian and The Retrieval Artist series. Just as in The Martian, Gillian spends an incredible amount of time completely isolated. The circumstances are not dissimilar in a number of ways. She is, in the end, equally as productive as the hero of Andy Weir’s book – but her reaction also feels more human in that she keeps focus in some directions but loses it in others – going more than a bit crazy and hitting absolute bottom – while still continuing to work.

The Retrieval Artist series is a detective series set on in a lunar colony, and in the end, Gillian is accused of a crime she did not commit and is forced to become a detective in order to set herself free.

But in spite of, or in some cases, because of the resemblances, the second half of this book kept me on the edge of my seat. I had to see what happened next, and whether Gillian managed to get herself out of the huge mess she found herself in. The actual ending contained both a surprise and a delight as well as a dose of reality.

One final thought – as a Star Trek fan, I couldn’t help but be struck by one revelation of the story – Bones was right.

Review: A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayA Scandalous Deal (The Four Hundred, #2) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Four Hundred #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on April 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Joanna Shupe returns with another unforgettable novel set in the glittering world of New York City’s Gilded Age…

They call her Lady Unlucky…

With three dead fiancés, Lady Eva Hyde has positively no luck when it comes to love. She sets sail for New York City, determined that nothing will deter her dream of becoming an architect, certainly not an unexpected passionate shipboard encounter with a mysterious stranger. But Eva’s misfortune strikes once more when she discovers the stranger who swept her off her feet is none other than her new employer.

Or is it Lady Irresistible?

Phillip Mansfield reluctantly agrees to let the fiery Lady Eva oversee his luxury hotel project while vowing to keep their relationship strictly professional. Yet Eva is more capable—and more alluring—than Phillip first thought, and he cannot keep from drawing up a plan of his own to seduce her.

When a series of onsite “accidents” makes it clear someone wants Lady Unlucky to earn her nickname, Phillip discovers he’s willing to do anything to protect her—even if it requires A SCANDALOUS DEAL.

My Review:

The business deal between Eva Hyde and Phillip Mansfield may be scandalous, but the story about it is delightful.

And the reason that it is so delightful is that the hero and heroine, especially the heroine, are so different from what is expected, particularly what is expected for their time and place, New York City in 1890.

Phillip Mansfield is a scion of the “Four Hundred”, the extreme upper-crust of New York society. But he’s also a hard man who exorcises the demons in his soul by boxing. He’s serious about the sport, but not a professional. Not that he isn’t good at taking on all comers. He’s very serious about it – also seriously ripped.

And that’s what Lady Eva Hyde notices under his bespoke suit and pristine white shirt – that the body underneath is deliciously well-muscled. Not that she has much experience in that regard. She’s been betrothed three times, but never married. All of her erstwhile fiances have died – and not only not at her hand but far from wherever she happened to be at the moment. But even though she’s completely blameless, three dead fiances does give a girl a nickname, and in her case it’s Lady Unlucky.

Eva doesn’t really care about the name, and she didn’t care a whole lot about the men, either. Not that she wished them dead. But her father arranged her betrothals for business purposes of his own, and she wasn’t sorry to see any of the betrothals end, even if she felt any grief at the reason for the endings.

But her father is now well past arranging anything. Lady Eva’s father, the celebrated architect E.M. Hyde, has gone senile. Today we’d recognize his condition as Alzheimer’s Disease, but in Eva’s day all that is understood is that her father is incapable of working, no longer recognizes her, and is sliding downhill fast.

And that while he may have been an absolute genius of an architect, he was consistently an idiot when it came to his personal finances. He should be wealthy, but instead he is nearly penniless.

To keep them financially afloat, Eva has been pretending to be her father, at least as far as architecture and design is concerned. She has taken commissions in his name, done all the design and drawings herself, and supervised the work, multiple times, pretending that her father is merely ill and will get better.

He won’t, but she will. While the lies gall her, Eva is every bit as great an architect as her father ever was, if not more so. But no one will recognize it, not just because she is forced into this masquerade, but purely because in 1890 no one believed that a woman could be an architect at all, great or otherwise.

One night aboard ship on her way from England to New York to take up the commission that she and her father both need to pay their bills and finance his medial care, Eva lets herself be herself for just one night with a perfect stranger.

Only to discover that her “perfect stranger” is the man she needs to convince that she can oversee his legacy hotel in place of her ailing father. He’s already seen her at her least polished and most vulnerable, and now she has to convince him that she is not merely capable, but twice as capable as any man he might hire in her place.

It’s much easier to sell Phillip Mansfield on her architectural talents than it is to pretend that what happened on board ship can never happen again. And as much as she eventually succeeds at the first, she completely fails at the second.

And it’s the best thing that ever happened to either of them – even if neither of them is willing to recognize it.

Escape Rating A-: The first book in the Four Hundred series, A Daring Arrangement, was certainly a treat, and A Scandalous Deal is even better. It’s also a bit less predictable, which for this reader is always a good thing.

What makes A Scandalous Deal so delicious is the character of Lady Eva Hyde, because she is nothing like the expected heroine for this time or place, nor is she anything like the hero or anyone she deals with thinks she ought to be. But her differences are what make her such a wonderful heroine for 21st century readers.

Lady Eva is an architect. While this seems anachronistic, it turns out that it’s only by a hair. The architect of Hearst Castle in California, begun in 1919, was also a woman. It’s easy to imagine Eva as a role model for Julia Morgan.

But the difficulties that Eva faces feel very real. No one believes she can possibly be an architect, not even once the truth is revealed and it becomes obvious that she IS an architect. She is also very career minded, and is unwilling to marry because marriage in the 1890s (and considerably thereafter) subsumed the woman’s identity under her husband’s. She needed her work to be HER work, and to receive commissions based on her efforts and not who her husband might be – and she didn’t want to put anyone in a position where they could force her to stop.

While the sexual tension between Eva and Phillip is palpable, the dramatic tension in the story revolves around Eva’s insistence on being treated as an equal, and Phillip’s inability to understand that even his protectiveness is ultimately condescending – no matter how right and proper he thinks it is.

So while the romance is the central core of this story, it is Eva, her work and her need to do that work at any price that give it both its heart and its stand up and cheer resolution. Especially when Phillip performs a very good and very, very necessary grovel.

After this terrific story, which I read in a single day because I just couldn’t put it down, I’m really looking forward to the next book in this series, A Notorious Vow.

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

 

Link: https://goo.gl/5V8ncm

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of A DARING ARRANGEMENT by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 11/14/2017 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Cave of Bones by Anne Hillerman

Review: Cave of Bones by Anne HillermanCave of Bones by Anne Hillerman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito #22
Pages: 320
Published by Harper on April 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Anne Hillerman brings together modern mystery, Navajo traditions, and the evocative landscape of the desert Southwest in this intriguing entry in the Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito series.

When Tribal Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito arrives to speak at an outdoor character-building program for at-risk teens, she discovers chaos. Annie, a young participant on a solo experience due back hours before, has just returned and is traumatized. Gently questioning the girl, Bernie learns that Annie stumbled upon a human skeleton on her trek. While everyone is relieved that Annie is back, they’re concerned about a beloved instructor who went out into the wilds of the rugged lava wilderness bordering Ramah Navajo Reservation to find the missing girl. The instructor vanished somewhere in the volcanic landscape known as El Malpais. In Navajo lore, the lava caves and tubes are believed to be the solidified blood of a terrible monster killed by superhuman twin warriors.

Solving the twin mysteries will expose Bernie to the chilling face of human evil. The instructor’s disappearance mirrors a long-ago search that may be connected to a case in which the legendary Joe Leaphorn played a crucial role. But before Bernie can find the truth, an unexpected blizzard, a suspicious accidental drowning, and the arrival of a new FBI agent complicate the investigation.

While Bernie searches for answers in her case, her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee juggles trouble closer to home. A vengeful man he sent to prison for domestic violence is back—and involved with Bernie’s sister Darleen. Their relationship creates a dilemma that puts Chee in uncomfortable emotional territory that challenges him as family man, a police officer, and as a one-time medicine man in training.

Anne Hillerman takes us deep into the heart of the deserts, mountains, and forests of New Mexico and once again explores the lore and rituals of Navajo culture in this gripping entry in her atmospheric crime series.

My Review:

Once upon a time, a long time ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away, I used to have a very long commute to work. I listened to a LOT of audiobooks, and one of the series I discovered was the Leaphorn & Chee series by Tony Hillerman. Mysteries are perfect in audio because you can’t thumb to the end to find out whodunit. And the series was particularly good because it is read by the inestimable George Guidall. If you like audio and have not listened to a book read by him you’ve missed a real treat.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the series ended when the author died. That ending turned out to be more of a pause, as several years later his daughter revived the series by switching the focus. In Spider Woman’s Daughter, the “Legendary Lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn is struck down in the opening scene, and Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito, with the assistance of her husband Sergeant Jim Chee, takes over the investigation while Leaphorn begins the long, slow road to recovery.

The torch passes with the perspective, and the series has continued with Bernie becoming the principal character, while Chee appears nearly as frequently, but ironically still kind of the second-banana that he was to Leaphorn. Leaphorn provides consultation and occasional welcome, if sometimes cryptic, clues.

As has turned out to be the case with this continuation of the series, Bernie and Chee are stuck in different places, handling different situations when Bernie finds herself in the middle of an investigation that keeps her hopping all over the Four Corners Reservation and the surrounding area while Chee is in Santa Fe for a training class while keeping an eye on Bernie’s sister Darleen’s latest attempt to stay on the straight and narrow.

And, as usual, just when it seems that their cases can’t connect, the long arm of coincidence reaches out and links the case that Bernie is in the middle of with a few little errands that the Captain asked Chee to take care of while he was in Santa Fe.

It’s a mess that just keeps getting messier and messier, at least until Bernie and Chee, but mostly Bernie, with a few hints from Leaphorn, finally manage to get the disparate problems all wrapped up in one neat package.

Just in time for the crises in Bernie’s personal life to boil over.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this series back when I was listening to it, and I still do. But if this combination of mystery with exploration of the problems that plague the Navajo Tribal Police (as well as the issues that plague the tribe itself) sound like your cup of tea, and you don’t want to go all the way back to the very beginning, starting with Spider Woman’s Daughter will provide plenty of background to the characters, the situation, and the place.

Something that will fascinate long-time readers of the series is the way that the series is set in what is sometimes referred to as the “Perpetual Now”. If Leaphorn had aged chronologically from his first introduction, he would be over 100. Instead, he seems to be in his 60s, while Chee is still in his 30s. And all the updates to police methods of the 21st century, markedly absent in the early books set in the 1970s, are both a help and hindrance to everything in 2018.

There is a bit of a contrivance in the way that the author keeps Bernie and Chee apart during their cases, forcing them to rely on their own resources and not able to lean on each other. The coincidences that bring their cases back together at the end sometimes have a very long arm.

At the same time, this allows us to see one side, and the bigger part at that, from Bernie’s solo perspective. She is always caught between a rock and a hard place, between her duty as a police officer and her duty to her mother and sister. That conflict is a perspective we never saw when it was just Leaphorn and Chee, and it helps ground the series and keep the characters feeling human and real.

The case in Cave of Bones starts out a bit convoluted and keeps adding more and more parts and conundrums as it goes. While it is not difficult for the reader to keep straight, it does feel like the mountain of both Bernie’s and Chee’s tasks and duties keeps growing and growing.

It all starts with a missing person. And it ends with one, too. But it middles in helicopter parenting, scared teenagers, embezzlement, illegal antiquities, family squabbling and grand theft auto. And it’s a marvelous ride all along the way.

Review: Cyborg by Anna Hackett + Giveaway

Review: Cyborg by Anna Hackett + GiveawayCyborg (Galactic Gladiators #10) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #10
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on April 1st 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Scientist Ever Haynes was shocked when she was abducted by alien slavers...but the last thing she expected was to find herself pregnant with a cyborg's baby.

Ever has been fighting for her life since her abduction, and the only good thing to happen to her was one heated night with a mysterious prisoner--a connection, a flash of light in the darkness. But then he was rescued and she was left behind. Now, weeks later, she's been saved by the House of Galen gladiators...and by the man she shared the hottest night of her life with. But cool, emotionless cyborg Magnus Rone has no memory of their night together and finding out that she's expecting his baby is a shock to everyone.

Created in a military program, Magnus is genetically and cybernetically enhanced--emotionless, ruthless, focused. He vows to protect Ever and the baby she carries, and despite his lack of memory, everything about tough, levelheaded Ever draws him in. All his life, his emotional dampeners and training have limited his ability to feel emotions...but one small Earth woman cuts through all that and leaves him feeling.

As they work together to hunt down the deadly desert arena of Zaabha and the final human woman trapped there, Ever and Magnus find a stunning passion neither can resist or ignore. But in the dangerous desert sands of Carthago, with the House of Galen gladiators by their sides, deadly enemies are closing in. Ever and Magnus will be dragged back into the darkness, and Magnus will do anything and sacrifice everything to keep her safe.

My Review:

As has been clear for many months, actually years at this point, I love Anna Hackett’s work, and have ever since she took me on her first journey with the Phoenix Brothers, back At Star’s End.

She’s also marvelously prolific, meaning that I get something new from her about every other month, and a good time is always had by all. Some books are a better time than others, but she always manages to sweep me somewhere fascinating and dangerous.

The Galactic Gladiators are currently my favorite series of hers. As always, she has taken a tried and true premise and turned it into something different and special.

This series feels like a take-off of the “Mars Needs Women” trope mixed with a sun-and-sandals gladiator story. In this science fiction romance series, a band of nasty, disgusting, evil slave traders (yes, I know that’s kind of redundant) took advantage of a temporary wormhole to raid Jupiter Station of its personnel and jump back to the far reaches of the galaxy before the wormhole closed.

All those Earthans that they captured are now stuck on the planet Carthago, far, far from home. Without another wormhole, it’s just plain too far to go back in one human life span – or even several.

But it isn’t too late for all those stranded Earthans to make a new life for themselves where they are right now – providing someone rescues them from slavery – or they rescue themselves.

And that’s what happens in the series. One by one, those humans are rescued by the heroes, the gladiators from the House of Galen as well as some of their allies. And each time one of those Earthans is rescued, they manage to fall in love with one of the gladiators, and very much vice versa.

Part of what makes this series so special is that it feels like the gladiators are the women’s reward and not the usual other way around – not even in the one book where the gladiator is female and the Earthan refugee is male. I love it when the women are the equal of the men, and even better when that equality is represented in different ways between each couple and in each relationship.

The story in Cyborg revolves around the relationship between, obviously, a cyborg and one of those rescued Earthan women. In this case, the cyborg is Magnus Rone, the Imperator of a gladiatorial House allied to the House of Galen. As a cyborg created and trained to be a soldier and only a soldier, even though Magnus left his people long ago he still believes that his training holds, that he’s better off without emotion and that relationships only cloud his focus.

But when he was briefly captured, the human woman Ever Haynes somehow got under his skin. It may have helped that the events of his capture managed to knock out a chunk of his programming, but whatever the cause is – Ever makes him feel. And he’s not sure what to do about it.

Or about the baby that he and Ever managed to make during his brief captivity – in spite of the fact that his programming is supposed to have rendered him sterile. This is clearly yet another lie that he was told.

Magnus feels duty-bound to protect Ever and their baby at all costs – costs which become incredibly high when Ever is captured by the slavers yet again. But amidst all the chaos, Magnus discovers a universal truth – love doesn’t make you weak – it makes you strong.

Escape Rating A-: One of the things I love about this series is the way that it turns all the old tropes on their pointy little heads and spins them around. Not just that it feels like the women are the ones getting rewarded for their trials and suffering instead of (really in addition to) the men, but also that part of what these women fight tooth and nail for is to be part of a relationship of equals. There are no damsels in distress in this series – only strong women who sometimes need a little help from their friends.

I also like that this series doesn’t feel “thin and stretched” to me, the way that the Hell Squad series does. That one is pointing towards an inevitable ending, and I’d like it to get there already.

The Galactic Gladiators series doesn’t have to end. It probably will, and I think it’s heading there, but it doesn’t have to. Jupiter Station had to have had dozens of personnel, if not hundreds. Endless possibilities!

One of the things that this author does well is to point the end of each book in the direction of the next one, without giving the game away of how the next couple can possibly get out of whatever fix they are in to achieve their HEA.

It is clear from the ending of Cyborg that the next book will finally be Galen’s, and I can hardly wait. I always love seeing the leader fall – and this time will be especially fun. My husband’s name is also Galen, and I don’t often read his name as the hero a romance – except of course our own.

This will be grand!

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

Today is my birthday. And as a birthday present to me, Anna is letting me give away some marvelous prizes. The lucky winner(s) will receive a signed paperback from her Galactic Gladiators series, a signed paperback from the Hell Squad, and a pack of Hell Squad Trading Cards, pictured below. This is a real treat!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt + Giveaway

Review: The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt + GiveawayThe World Awakening by Dan Koboldt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, portal fantasy
Series: Gateways to Alissia #3
Pages: 448
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on April 3rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Quinn Bradley has learned to use the magic of another world.

And that world is in danger.

Having decided to betray CASE Global, he can finally reveal his origins to the Enclave and warn them about the company’s imminent invasion. Even if it means alienating Jillaine . . . and allying with someone he’s always considered his adversary. 

But war makes for strange bedfellows, and uniting Alissians against such a powerful enemy will require ancient enmities—as well as more recent antagonisms—to be set aside. The future of their pristine world depends on it.

As Quinn searches for a way to turn the tide, his former CASE Global squadmates face difficult decisions of their own. For some, it’s a matter of what they’re willing to do to get home. For others, it’s deciding whether they want to go home at all.Continuing the exciting adventures from The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception, The World Awakening is the spellbinding conclusion to the Gateways to Alissia fantasy series from Dan Koboldt.

My Review:

Now that we are at the third book of the trilogy, I still see the Gateways to Alissia as a blend of S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador with L.E. Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio. And as far as I’m concerned, those are marvelous places to start. I probably read Conquistador at least ten years ago, and it still sticks in my memory, while the Imager Portfolio is one of my favorite epic fantasy series and I’m happy to say that it is still ongoing and still fantastic.

Both Gateways to Alissia and Conquistador are a particular type of epic fantasy – the portal fantasy. In both cases, there is a literal portal that connects our world to the fantasy world, in this case, Alissia. And for those who are currently watching the TV series The Magicians, based on Lev Grossman’s book of the same title, let’s just say there’s more than a bit of a resemblance between Fillory and Alissia, even if there is no magical college on our side of the gate.

The two mega-corporations on Earth that are aware of the portal both see Alissia as an unspoiled and undeveloped world just waiting to be plundered by the oh-so-beneficent technocrats on Earth. And it might happen. It’s certainly in danger of happening.

But the story in The World Awakening is the story of Alissia fighting back – with more than a bit of help from a surprising number of people from our Earth who are not willing to stand idly by while Alissia gets raped and plundered. No matter what it takes to stop CASE Global and Raptor Tech from conquering Alissia with what they are certain are superior armaments.

But like all conquerors since time immemorial – the further the supply lines are stretched, the easier it is to break them.

And Alissia isn’t nearly as outmatched as they thought – with a little help from its friends – no matter what they might think of each other.

Escape Rating A-: The World Awakening is a marvelous conclusion to this trilogy, and as the concluding volume it is very much the wrong place to start. If you like portal fantasy, or stories of people from our Earth finding themselves in places where magic works, or even just want a rollicking good story, start with the first book, The Rogue Retrieval, where you can be introduced to our trouble-magnet anti-hero, the stage magician Quinn Bradley, as he comes to Alissia to discover that magic is real after all, and that he can perform it – and not merely perform.

By this point in the story, we have seen the team that Quinn originally trained with flung to the four corners of Alissia, and we have watched their perspectives change and their allegiances shift, particularly in the case of Quinn himself.

He’s come a long way from the reluctantly recruited stage magician. I’m still not totally sure he’s grown up, but his horizons have certainly expanded, as has is view of both Alissia and Earth. His transformation is a big chunk of what drives the story, and his expanding viewpoint pulls the reader along with him.

But Gateways to Alissia is a big story with a lot of players and a lot going on. I envy those of you who will begin the story now, when it is complete. It has been a year since I read the second book in the saga, The Island Deception, and it takes a bit for the reader to get back up to speed. It’s certainly well worth that effort. The World Awakening is a terrific story, and it brings the saga of Alissia to a fantastic, resounding and satisfying conclusion. And I enjoyed every step of the journey – although I’m happy not to have had to trudge through the snow myself!

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

In honor of my Blogo-Birthday celebration, and because I’ve enjoyed this series so very much, the author, Dan Koboldt is sponsoring today’s giveaway. Three winners will receive a paperback copy of their choice of book in the Gateways to Alissia trilogy. Newcomers should choose The Rogue Retrieval, but if you have already begun your journey, please pick up where you left off, with either The Island Deception or this final volume, The World Awakening.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Queen of the Flowers by Kerry GreenwoodQueen of the Flowers (Phryne Fisher Mystery #14) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #14
Pages: 256
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

St. Kildas streets hang with fairy lights. Tea dances, tango competitions, lifesaving demonstrations, lantern shows, and picnics on the beach are all part of the towns first Flower Parade. And who should be Queen of the Flowers but the Honourable Phryne Fisher? It seems that the lovely Phryne has nothing to do but buy dresses, drink cocktails, and dine in lavish restaurants. Unfortunately, disappearances during this joyous festival aren t limited to the magic shows. One of Phryne s flower maidens has simply vanished. And so, Phryne is off to investigate aided by Bert and Cec and her trusty little Beretta. When her darling adopted daughter Ruth goes missing, Phryne is determined that nothing will stand in the way of her investigation. Phryne must confront elephants, brothel-life, and perhaps worst of all an old lover in an effort to save Ruth and her flower maiden before it is too late. Queen of the Flowers is the fourteenth book in the Phryne Fisher series, with no sign of Ms. Fisher hanging up her pearl-handled pistol yet."

My Review:

The more of this series that I read, the more amazed I am that they managed to film it at all, let alone that it is still possible to recognize the original in the changes – and vice versa.

I turn to Phryne when I need a comfort read, because she is guaranteed to whisk me away to Melbourne in the 1920s, whether the particular adventure is one of the better ones or merely a visit with old friends.

Queen of the Flowers is one of the better ones, and it is one of the occasions where the book is much better than the TV show – not that there haven’t been plenty of cases the other way around.

One reason why I marvel that the series was ever filmed at all is just how frank both the author and Phryne were about the seamy underbelly of life in general and life in Melbourne in the 1920s in particular. This story is one that pulls absolute no punches whatsoever.

But the way that it links back to both Phryne’s past and her adopted daughter Ruth’s certainly does tug at the heart.

The mystery, and the story, in Queen of the Flowers revolves around a series of abused young women. Not just the school of hard knocks that Phryne certainly graduated from, but also the house of ill-repute that her adopted daughters Ruth and Jane survived. And most important for this particular story, the house of horrors that young Rose Weston is so desperate to escape from, and the reasons for that desperation.

Once Phryne is on the case, there is no question that all of the young women in desperate trouble in this story, not just Ruth and Rose but also all of the young female servants in the place Rose escaped from, will all find safe harbor after Phryne finishes the case.

The only question, in the end, is just how much justice Phryne will mete out herself before she lets the police clean up the garbage. And the elephant poop.

Escape Rating A-: Queen of the Flowers is definitely one of the better stories in the series, at least so far. I’ll confess that I had a bit of a hard time getting into it at the very beginning, much as Phryne was having a difficult time at her luncheon with the young ladies who will form her “court” when she does her charitable duty as “Queen of the Flowers” in the upcoming parade.

But once she is woken up in the wee hours because Rose Weston is missing and her mother has gone mental, the story is off to the races, and just gets more and more fascinating as it goes.

While Phryne’s life often seems like a circus, the real circus has come to town for the fete and the parade, and has brought with it one of Phryne’s old friends, her friend’s three elephants, and one of Phryne’s old lovers – as well as a plot to ensnare her daughter Ruth and attempt to bilk some money out of Phryne.

The circus just adds to the confusion, as well as to the number of potential suspects and hiding places, once Rose and Ruth have both gone missing. However, the parallel cases provide ample opportunity for all of the regulars in the series to get plenty of chances to shine in a bit of the spotlight.

But as much as Ruth’s disappearance and/or abduction worries Phryne and her whole household, the real drama in this story is provided by Rose Weston’s plight. Because once Phryne begins her investigation, she keeps digging right to the bottom of every terrible thing that has happened to Rose to put her in this fix. And the lengths that Phryne is willing to go to in order to see right finally done take her to some very low places – where she always holds her own.

Which does not make Phryne’s foray into the criminal underworld of Melbourne any less daunting – or any less fascinating.

In the end, as always, evil gets its just desserts and good in the person of Phryne Fisher definitely triumphs – in this case even more spectacularly than is usual even for Phryne. It’s not every heroine that gets to ride to glory on the back of an elephant!

Review: Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai + Giveaway

Review: Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai + GiveawayHurts to Love You (Forbidden Hearts, #3) by Alisha Rai
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Forbidden Hearts #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Being bad never felt so good, in the third novel in Alisha Rai’s sexy Forbidden Hearts series!

Well-behaved women don’t lust after men who love to misbehave.

Heiress Evangeline Chandler knows how to keep a secret . . . like her life-long crush on the tattooed hottie who just happens to be her big brother’s friend. She’s a Chandler, after all, and Chandlers don’t hook up with the help. Then again, they also don’t disobey their fathers and quit their respectable jobs, so good-girl rules may no longer apply.

Gabriel Hunter hides the pain of his past behind a smile, but he can’t hide his sudden attraction to his friend’s sheltered little sister. Eve is far too sweet to accept anything less than forever and there’s no chance of a future between the son of a housekeeper and the town’s resident princess.

When a wedding party forces Eve and Gabe into tight quarters, keeping their hands off each other will be as hard as keeping their clothes on. The need that draws them together is stronger than the forces that should shove them apart . . . but their sparks may not survive the explosion when long-buried secrets are finally unearthed.

My Review:

This series in general, including this final book, is for everyone who loves an angsty romance. Because there has been plenty of angst to go around in this series. And it’s awesome.

Once upon a time, John Chandler and Sam Oka opened a grocery store together. Over the years of their extremely harmonious partnership, the C&O chain of high-quality stores spread across the country. They raised their two families together in side-by-side properties as one big and generally happy family.

Then tragedy struck. On a quite literally dark and stormy night, John’s daughter-in-law and Sam’s son-in-law were killed in a highway accident, together, not merely miles but entire states away from where either of them was supposed to be.

In the resulting chaos of gossip and recriminations, John’s son swindled Sam’s daughter out of her half of the family business, the Okas (now the Kanes) were left with nothing and the Chandlers were left in control of both the company, now renamed Chandler’s, and most of the small town they lived in.

But ten years later, the chickens start coming home to roost, and all the truths start coming out. In the first book in the series, Hate to Want You, Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler finally admit that they’ve never stopped loving each other. In the second book, Wrong to Need You, Jackson Kane and Sadia Ahmed, his brother Paul’s widow, reach out for a second chance at happiness together, in spite the ghost standing between them.

In the process of those relationships coming together, Brendan Chandler, the man who committed that swindle, is revealed once and for all as the complete asshole who caused more than just the mess that was obvious on the surface.

In Hurts to Love You, the full tale of just how badly he treated his daughter Eve, and just why his wife was on that highway with Robert Kane, is revealed in all its ugly glory.

This has been a story of forbidden romances, from the two sides of the family feud (Hate) to the relationship between a woman and her late husband’s brother (Wrong) to this one, where the good girl daughter of the Chandlers breaks out of the shell her father’s behavior put her in so that she can find her own happiness in the arms of the town’s bad boy, who has big secrets of his own.

And at the heart of the whole saga lies that oft-told-truth about the extremely short emotional distance between hate and love..

Escape Rating A-: Brendan Chandler doesn’t suffer nearly enough. From the very beginning of this series I wanted someone to take that man and stomp him flat, repeatedly, over and over, with extreme malice and utter disregard for the number of broken bones. Some characters are just plain unredeemable, and he was one. While he does get hurt where it hits him the most, in pride and reputation, he still doesn’t suffer close to enough. But everyone else gets their resolution and closure, so it will have to do.

This series may be “Forbidden Hearts” but the romance in this entry isn’t as taboo as the series title suggests, or as the first two entries in it certainly are. In this one, what initially keeps Gabe and Eve apart are their own internal conflicts, rather than the external conflict of Hate or the relationship taboo in Wrong.

Gabe has kept a secret all of his life. He’s actually one of the Kanes, and is Livvy and Jackson’s older half brother. Their father didn’t cheat, Gabe is the result of a brief relationship their father had before he met their mother. But circumstances at the time kept Gabe an unacknowledged part of the Kane family circle.

Keeping that secret has kept Gabe from revealing his true self to much of anyone, which has made relationships even more difficult than they generally are.

Eve, on the other hand, has spent her life hiding from her emotions due to her asshole dad’s emotional abuse. She’s locked herself down because that’s the only way she could survive. But with her brother Nicholas’ defiance in Hate, she’s begun to let herself out of her shell, at least a little. And that has allowed her to acknowledge that she has always loved Gabe, even though he saw her as a child. But now that she is an adult, their decade-plus age gap is much less important.

And once she figures out his secret, she becomes one of the few people he can reveal his real self to. The more he does, the more he wants to. And the more he wants Eve, though he believes that he’s no good for her. Of course Eve believes that she’s too damaged for him. It takes all the secrets coming out for them to admit that even though neither of them is much good at emotions or relationships, that they need to try – with each other.

I read Hurts to Love You almost as soon as I received it, even though the publication date was a couple of months away. I just couldn’t wait. And if you love angsty romance, you shouldn’t either. Be prepared to binge the series, starting with the awesome Hate to Want You and Wrong to Need You, and then move right on into the stunning and satisfying conclusion in Hurts to Love You.

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

LINK: https://goo.gl/ifskNr
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 4/9/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Guardian by Anna Hackett

Review: Guardian by Anna HackettGuardian (Galactic Gladiators #9) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #9
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Rescued from alien slavers, former cop Dayna wakes to discover she’s host to a powerful alien symbiont, and the only man who can help her is the mysterious and dangerous casino owner, Rillian.

Dayna Caplan has dedicated her life to protecting others…and now that she’s no longer a captive at the desert arena of Zaabha, she desperately wants to help find the last of the other human women who were abducted by the Thraxians. But now she has to deal with the intense hunger and powerful new abilities the alien living inside grants her…and the person forcing her to confront her new reality is the cool, enigmatic, and far-too-attractive Rillian.

Rillian has wheeled and dealed his way to the top of the food chain on the lawless desert world of Carthago. He lets no one close and keeps iron-clad control on his life…which vital to keeping the lethal power within him in check. But one human woman—tough, stubborn, and fascinating Dayna—works her way under his skin, and he finds himself obsessed with protecting her. But as dead bodies start appearing in his casino as a deadly warning, dangers are closing in on them.

With their allies, the gladiators from the House of Galen, Rillian and Dayna find themselves fighting for survival on every front. On the hunt to find Zaabha and the lost humans, they will face murderers, slavers, and the deadliest of all challenges…the aliens living within them.

My Review:

One of the things that I absolutely love about Anna Hackett’s writing, and particularly in her Galactic Gladiators series, is the way that so many tropes get set on their pointy little heads.

In fantasy, SF, and so many fairy tales, the woman is the reward that the man gets for finishing his quest, whether that’s fighting evil, finding treasure or simply surviving. In the Galactic Gladiators series, it feels like the gladiators are the rewards that the human refugees get for surviving all the crap they’ve had to deal with since the Thraxian slave traders kidnapped them from Jupiter Station and took them back to Kor Magna through that blasted temporary wormhole.

While in most of the stories, the human is female and the gladiator is male, the reversed trope really isn’t reversed in the one story where those boots are on the opposite feet. The gladiator Saff is Blaine Strong’s reward for surviving the hellhole that is the underground fight rings of the planet Carthago. But it can also be seen that he is her reward as well.

But in Guardian, as in most of the stories in this series, the human is female, and the one native to the Kor Magna side of the galaxy is male. But as is becoming increasingly common (and a nice change), the male in this particular entry is not a gladiator. Not that Rillian, the owner of the Dark Nebula Casino (and possibly half of Carthago) can’t fight with the best of them, but his skills lie outside of the Kor Magna Arena.

Which hasn’t stopped him from banding together with the gladiatorial House of Galen to wipe out the illegal slave trade and the underground fight rings that it feeds. Particularly now that one of those rescued humans, former police detective and security officer Dayna Caplan, is in his care.

She came out of her ordeal with a symbiont bonded to her body, and Rillian is the only person who can help her – because he has a symbiont of his own. He also suffered through a bonding process that he wasn’t expected to survive. He’s willing to use his experience to help Dayna, not just because he knows what she’s going through, but because she’s the answer to all the questions that he’s never dared to ask.

But when the Thraxians begin targeting women from Rillian’s past and his present to keep him from helping the House of Galen, he knows that Dayna is next. And that he’ll destroy anyone who threatens what’s his – even if he has to let go of his much vaunted control to make that happen.

If he can’t keep control of his symbiont, he’ll become the kind of killer of which nightmares are made. But if he can’t let go, he won’t be able to save Dayna from everyone coming after her.

And he’ll never be able to save her from the most dangerous predator that she faces – himself.

Escape Rating A-: As I said at the top, in this series it particularly feels like the gladiators (and the other oh-so-hot alien males) are the women’s reward for surviving their one-way trip across the galaxy and everything that Carthago has thrown at them. Especially as most of what’s been thrown at them has been pretty damn awful until the point where they get rescued.

But even though they are definitely in need of rescue, it’s not because they are weak women who have turned into damsels in distress. Anyone in their situation would need to be rescued, as is shown by the rescues of both their male colleague Blaine Strong and the rescue of the big blue alien warrior Vek.

There are times when everyone needs a little help from their friends, even friends they haven’t met yet.

One of the other things I love about this series is that while it may be moving towards its ending, there isn’t anything integral to this world or the situation that requires that it come to an end. (Unlike the Hell Squad series, where as much as I love it I also need the catharsis of kicking the invading Gizzida off our Earth).

Although there seem to have been a limited number of humans brought to Carthago, the real limit to the number of humans is the size of Jupiter Station, which has not been established. There could have been more ships in transit that got scooped up by the Thraxians.

And there are plenty of innocents trafficked into slavery by the Thraxians and their allies the Srinar. The series could branch out into saving other people. Or another wormhole could temporarily open up.

Unfortunately, while it looks like the House of Galen will eventually take the Thraxians down, the underground fight rings exist because there are beings who are willing to pay for the deadly “entertainment” they provide. Which means that taking down the Thraxians is not a permanent solution, because there is no permanent solution.

This particular entry in the series is interesting because neither Dayna nor Rillian follow any of the usual patterns in this series, so far. And because it expands the different types of people who got captured from Jupiter and who help them. Dayna was a cop, and has no desire to become a gladiator. She wants to work security and solve crimes – it’s what she’s good at. And Rillian still wants to buy the other half of Carthago one of these days. A casino owner can always use more good security people, and Dayna is one of the best.

They are good together. Rillian is someone who, of necessity, keeps everyone else at a distance. Dayna needs to be let in. They drive each other crazy, at least until they figure out why they drive each other quite so crazy. They’re a great match. And they’re terrifically fun to watch.

I’m looking for more great stories from this series. The next one, Cyborg, is obviously going to add a cyborg romance to the mix. And I think we’ve finally met the woman who will match Galen himself. I can’t wait!

Review: Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan + Giveaway

Review: Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan + GiveawayRainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction, mystery
Pages: 336
Published by Soho Press on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Clarissa Goenawan’s dark, spellbinding literary debut opens with a murder and shines a spotlight onto life in fictional small-town Japan.

Ren Ishida is nearly finished with graduate school when he receives news of his sister Keiko's sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister's affairs, still failing to understand why she chose to abandon the family and Tokyo for this desolate town years ago.

But Ren soon finds himself picking up where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a local cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s catatonic wife.

As he comes to know the figures in Akakawa, from the enigmatic politician to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, Ren delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed, trying to piece together what happened the night of her death. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren struggles to find solace in the void his sister has left behind.

My Review:

The story in Rainbirds is one where literary fiction meets mystery, set in a small, fictional town not far from Tokyo.

Considered as a mystery, Rainbirds seems to transcend its genre. On the other hand, as literary fiction, there is a bit more plot and action than that particular genre is usually noted for, making it very readable for someone who doesn’t usually read lit fic but wants to dip their reading toes into it.

The story is both simple and complex. Ren Ishida comes to the tiny town of Akakawa to scatter his sister’s ashes in the place where she lived and worked. But there is a mystery about Keiko Ishida’s unsolved homicide. As the story unfolds, Ren discovers that there are multiple mysteries about her death, not limited to who done it.

Ren also realizes that he didn’t know nearly as much about his sister as he thought he did. But he can’t find closure over her loss until he investigates why she died. He begins that investigation by following in her tracks. He takes over her old job, he inserts himself into the circle of her friends and colleagues, and he even rents her old room.

In a between place in his own life, Ren is more than willing to put himself into Keiko’s in order to find out what happened to her.

But a series of dreams leads him to the deaths of two other lost girls as well as the life of a third, and it’s not until Ren follows all the clues that he is able to bring resolution to their deaths, their lives, and his own.

Escape Rating A-: For literary fiction, Rainbirds is surprisingly absorbing. For a mystery, it is surprisingly dreamlike and poetic. I certainly got caught up in the story, even though it is far from being a typical mystery. Not that in the end Ren does not find the answers that he seeks – or at least most of them.

This story is told forwards, backwards and just a bit sideways. Forwards, in the present tense, Ren goes to tiny Akakawa to pick up his sister’s few possessions and scatter her ashes. But he is drifting at the moment, having presented his thesis for his graduate degree but not yet having heard the results. He studied English and American literature because he drifted into that too. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do so he followed in his sister Keiko’s footsteps – as he so often did.

Following in Keiko’s wake seems to be the pattern of Ren’s life. There’s a rather large Keiko shaped hole that Ren can’t figure out how to fill. So he decides to look into her death by literally stepping into the footsteps of her life. He has time, he wants answers, and he really doesn’t know what to do with himself.

But even as Ren moves into her world to see who and what she knew, he also drifts a bit backward, flashing back to their shared childhood. Or rather, to the childhood that he actually managed to experience while Keiko raised him. Their parents were physically present, but mentally and emotionally absent. Also fighting with each other too much to bother taking care of their children.

As Ren remembers just how important Keiko was in his life, and as he lives a significant chunk of hers, he dreams about a little girl in pigtails who wants him to follow her to find the secrets that bound her life.

If you are looking for a straightforward mystery, you won’t find it in Rainbirds. But Ren, in his own purposefully purposeless way, does manage to solve the mystery. He makes himself available and he listens. And he keeps listening until the truth finds him. All the truths.

Then, and only then, he can go back to the life he left behind. But his experience has changed him, and his future will be different from the one he had been drifting into. In searching for the truth of Keiko’s life, he manages to find the truth of his own.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Rainbirds to one very lucky U.S. commenter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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