Review: Forged in Blood I by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Forged in Blood I by Lindsay BurokerForged in Blood I (The Emperor's Edge, #6) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, steampunk
Series: Emperor's Edge #6
Pages: 378
Published by Lindsay Buroker on May 27, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The emperor has been ousted from the throne, his bloodline in question, and war is descending on the capital. Forge, the nefarious business coalition that has been manipulating the political situation from the beginning, has the ultimate weapon at its disposal.

If it was difficult for a small team of outlaws--or, as Amaranthe has decided they should now be called, rebels--to make a difference before, it's a monumental task now. If she's to return idealistic young Sespian to the throne, earn the exoneration she's sought for so long, and help her closest ally win the respect of the son who detests him, she'll have to employ an unprecedented new scheme...preferably without destroying the city--or herself--in the process.

My Review:

And now I remember why I stopped reading this series back in 2013. Not for any bad reasons, I assure you!

But back then, I raced through the first four books in the series (The Emperor’s Edge, Dark Currents, Deadly Games and Conspiracy), loving every one. I think I was about to pick up book 5, Blood and Betrayal, when I noticed that this book, book 6, was titled Forged in Blood I with the obvious implication that there would be a Forged in Blood II – as there turned out to be. But the titles strongly implied that this book wasn’t exactly complete in and of itself, and I decided that I didn’t want to read this until its second part came out.

Then I ran headlong into the “so many books, so little time” conundrum, and didn’t get the round ‘tuit for several years. I picked up Blood and Betrayal a few weeks ago, got right back into everything, loved it, and decided to read Forged in Blood on the long flight back home from Seattle.

It turns out that I assumed correctly. While Forged in Blood I does come to a logical conclusion, that conclusion is a screaming cliffhanger. I was still in mid-flight (Seattle to Atlanta is a LONG flight) and started in on Forged in Blood II with barely a pause for breath.

What we have here is what looks like the beginning of the end of this terrific saga. The story at this point is careening towards the conclusion of its original quest. Way, way back in The Emperor’s Edge, Corporal Amaranthe Lokdon of the Imperial law enforcers was given the assignment to hunt down the Empire’s most dangerous assassin, Sicarius.

It was intended to be a suicide mission. It certainly turned out to be a suicide mission for her career on the “right” side of the law.

But when she failed to capture Sicarius, she found herself a wanted criminal, at the core of a band of criminals, all of whom have bounties on their heads for crimes they either didn’t commit or acts of self-defense. Not that there isn’t a bit of criminality mixed in there, but for the most part, they aren’t guilty – or at least not guilty of much until they all end up on the run.

With both the assassin and the Emperor in their midst. But then, the Emperor hired them to kidnap him to save his from the so-called advisers who planned to have him assassinate. As a result, the people who wanted him dead are now after the entire gang – as well as the Empire itself.

So Forged in Blood I is the beginning of the end. Start with The Emperor’s Edge and get to know this amazingly awesome – just ask some of them – band of big damn heroes. And end this part of the story on pins and needles, not merely wondering but actively worrying whether all of them will get out of this caper alive.

Escape Rating A-: This is not the end. The, well, let’s call it an interim ending, is a hella cliffie. What makes it so gut-wrenching is that by this point in the series we know and love all of these people, and the way this book ends we fear for all of them in one way or another. It’s terrible, and wonderful, and you won’t be able to keep from diving into part 2 immediately.

At the beginning of the series, we had a band of petty criminals and wrongly accused political victims desperately trying to find a way to survive the many and various attempts on their lives and, most importantly, figure out a way to get pardoned by the Emperor.

Well, most of them want to get pardoned. Sicarius is guilty of every single thing he’s been accused of, and a few hundred more. He was, after all, the previous Emperor’s pet assassin – and he was damn good at his job.

He’s also, unbeknownst to everyone at the beginning, but an open secret by this point, the biological father of the current Emperor. The young and idealistic Emperor is having a difficult time processing it all – but his enemies plan to use the information to keep him from ever taking back his throne.

Because they want to install a puppet emperor and wring the kingdom dry.

There’s a lot of story to unpack by this point. Amaranthe, in particular, still wants a pardon but also wonders if there’s any way back from where this journey has taken her. As a law enforcer, she never believed the excuses of the ends justifying the means, but has discovered that when the ends are her own survival, discussions of means get left by the wayside until afterwards – when the guilt descends.

The young Emperor, Sespian, has been forced to grow up in a hurry while dodging bullets, bombs and even exploding airships. With him, and his idealism, among their party, the purpose of their journey has changed from pardons to revolution. Getting a close up view of just how screwed up the empire is for anyone not in power has inspired them all to invent a new form of government – a Republic. All they have to do is get enough power to push their reforms through – and then be willing to let that power go when they’re done.

Not an easy job. It’s what made the American experiment such a chancy thing at the time. That we have, at least so far, had regularly scheduled and orderly changes of power built into the system. (We’ll see how that goes in the future.)

What makes this series so much fun is the way that the band of misfits manages to work together, both because and in spite of their differences. This is a series where the snark, of which there is a lovely lot, is based on our knowledge of the characters and their knowledge of each other – not on jokes per se. A lot of that humor is gallows humor, because even at the best of time they are only one step out of the frying pan and one jump away from the fire.

This is a series where the worldbuilding has gotten deeper as it goes, as have the chasms that our heroes must leap across in order to stay alive and one step ahead of their many, many pursuers. The pace never lets up – leaving the reader breathless with anxiety and anticipation at the end.

I couldn’t wait to start Forged in Blood II, and so far it’s every bit as good as the rest of the series. We’ll see for certain in next week’s review!

Review: Cast in Oblivion by Michelle Sagara

Review: Cast in Oblivion by Michelle SagaraCast in Oblivion (The Chronicles of Elantra, #14) by Michelle Sagara
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Chronicles of Elantra #14
Pages: 544
Published by Mira on January 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

POLITICS ARE HELL

Kaylin wasn't sent to the West March to start a war. Her mission to bring back nine Barrani might do just that, though. She traveled with a Dragon, and her presence is perceived as an act of aggression in the extremely hostile world of Barrani-Dragon politics. Internal Barrani politics are no less deadly, and Kaylin has managed--barely--to help the rescued Barrani evade both death and captivity at the hands of the Consort.Before the unplanned "visit" to the West March, Kaylin invited the Consort to dinner. For obvious reasons, Kaylin wants to cancel dinner--forever. But the Consort is going to show up at the front door at the agreed upon time. The fact that she tried to imprison Kaylin's guests doesn't matter at all...to her.A private Barrani Hell, built of Shadow and malice, exists beneath the High Halls. It is the High Court's duty to jail the creature at its heart--even if it means that Barrani victims are locked in the cage with it. The Consort is willing to do almost anything to free the trapped and end their eternal torment. And she needs the help of Kaylin's houseguests--and Kaylin herself. Failure won't be death--it's Hell. And that's where Kaylin is going.

My Review:

Things are like other things. The stories we’ve read in the past affect how we view the stories we read in the present. There was a point in Cast in Oblivion where one of the characters describes Ravellon as the spike that is holding all of the parallel worlds together and I had an OMG moment and realized that Ravellon might be Amber. In Roger Zelazny’s incredible epic/urban fantasy series, beginning with Nine Princes in Amber, Amber is the one true world and all the other worlds, including ours, are mere shadows of it.

Ironically, in Elantra, Shadow seems to come out of Ravellon. But the analogy might still hold. Or hold enough to serve as metaphor. Which is an often raised topic in Cast in Oblivion, as so much of what Kaylin experiences is described as being a metaphor. She doesn’t see the world the way the others in her life – and even in her house  – even the house itself – see it. And while her metaphors are frequently frustrating to her companions, and often not strictly true, they usually turn out to be right.

For select values of right. Generally right enough to fix whatever has recently gone wrong – even if, or occasionally especially because, Kaylin is at the heart of what went wrong in the first place. At least she often feels like it is. And that idea, like Kaylin’s metaphorical view of her circumstances, may not be strictly true, they are also usually right – or at least point her in the right direction.

Sometimes like a knife.

The Chronicles of Elantra by this point, 14 books in, is a densely packed epic fantasy. Packed to the point where no reader could possibly start here and have any of it make sense. Because this book in particular feels very insular – in the sense that the events and issues that are at the forefront in Cast in Oblivion have been bubbling along since book 8, Cast in Peril – if not before. In fact, much of the action in every book since Cast in Peril has its roots in the journey that begins in that book.

In other words, don’t start here. If any of the above or below sound interesting, start with either the prequel novella, Cast in Moonlight, or the first book in the series, Cast in Shadow.

At the beginning of the series, it felt like urban fantasy, albeit urban fantasy set in a high fantasy world. As the series, and Kaylin, have evolved, it has become an epic fantasy, with Kaylin Nera, human, mortal, flawed, young and “Chosen” as the point of view into a world that is run by “people” much more powerful than she. Kaylin is always operating way above her weight class and suffering through impostor syndrome at every turn.

She’s awesome, not because she’s powerful, but because she never stops trying – no matter how scared she is or how many of those powerful people either underestimate or overprotect her at every turn.

In the end, this is a story about friendship, and the heights and depths that people can and will reach in its name. It’s also a story about family-of-choice and the ties that one chooses to bind oneself with.

And it’s about the power of truth and honesty. And especially about the dangerous nature, and painful truth, of the power of choice.

Escape Rating A-: I love this series, but you can’t get into it here. And I’ll confess that it takes a while each year to get back into it. The story is like a spider’s web, sticky and interlocked at every turn.

It’s also difficult to review. I can say that I love this series, and I do, but that’s not informative. Trying to say why I love this series is awkward. But I’ll try.

I do love a highly convoluted political fantasy, and this series has certainly become that. The Barrani, who are this series equivalent of elves (sorta/kinda) are immortal. They hold grudges for millennia. As do their ancestral enemies, the dragons. Who are also immortal. And currently ruling the empire the Barrani are part of.

The part of the story that we are in revolves around family politics and a sibling rivalry that has literally gone on for centuries. But even though the Barrani are immortal, it has not made them wise – not in any way.

Kaylin is in the position that she is in because one Barrani hoped against all hope that she might be able to save his brother. The brother that he became outcaste for – and that word means exactly what you think it means. And this in a society where people are much more likely to kill their siblings than either love or trust them.

This series also has its roots in urban fantasy, complete with the requisite snark – although that snarkitude has become oddly similar to that in both J.D. Robb’s In Death series and Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series. It’s the kind of smirky and sometimes gallows humor that draws its rueful chuckles from how much we have come to know, and care for, these characters. They aren’t telling jokes, they are telling on each other – with honest love, honest regard and occasionally an honest desire to put one over on their friends and frenemies.

But in the end what draws me back to this series is the character at its heart, Kaylin Nera. She began the series in Cast in Moonlight attempting to commit a really grand suicide by cop, only to find herself adopted instead of imprisoned.

She is a character who has broken far, far out of her original setting in the crime and shadow riddled fiefs – where she learned to keep her head down and became one of the criminals. At first, she seemed as if she was just plain grateful to have become a very young and very immature Hawk, one of the law enforcers of this world. But her circumstances keep forcing her to become more, and her internal voice is the scared, uncertain yet determined voice of anyone who has ever come so far and so fast from where they began that they are just certain that it all not merely can be taken away, but should.

And she tries anyway.

One final note, one of the interesting themes in this particular entry is about the power, and the responsibility of choice, and just how different that perspective of choice is depending on where the chooser stands on any scale of wealthy, poverty, power and responsibility. Kaylin knows that in her early life, even her terrible decisions were her choice. Her alternative choice to committing the crimes of her early years was death, but it was still her choice. The Adversary of this story is not, strictly speaking, evil. Instead, it offers choices to people who choose to take a path that seems evil in pursuit of power. But the choice, and the offering of that choice, is not evil in and of itself – only the result.

I’m still thinking about that, and probably will be when the untitled 15th book in this series comes out, hopefully this time next year. And not nearly soon enough.

Review: Target of One’s Own by M.L. Buchman

Review: Target of One’s Own by M.L. BuchmanTarget of One's Own (The Night Stalkers 5E) Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: military romance, romantic comedy
Series: Night Stalkers 5E #4
Pages: 366
Published by Buchman Bookworks on January 29th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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-a Night Stalkers 5E romance-
MISSION: Special Operations Forces barely miss capturing Pakistan’s #1 arms dealer. They know only one thing: he’s a champion driver in the most challenging car race in the world, The Dakar Rally. The Night Stalkers and SEAL Team 6 must join up again to face the race of their lives.

TEAM:
Drone pilot Zoe DeMille
— Her career never prepared her for going into the field rather than sending her drone. Driving dune buggies at Pismo Beach throughout her teen years, oddly did.
SEAL Team 6 Lieutenant Commander Luke Altman
— Trusts no one but his team. Ever!

Zoe convinces Luke that they must go undercover to target their prey in the wildest 5E mission yet. They enter the two-week, 10,000 kilometer race across the dunes, deserts, and mountains of South America to track him down.

But when Zoe’s viral fashion blog—The Soldier of Style—sparks a media frenzy, it threatens the very nature of this Black Op. She can’t outrace the madness. And she hasn’t a clue how to navigate Luke.

My Review:

I’m tempted to review this book merely by paraphrasing the scrawls that one sees on bathroom walls by saying, “for a good time, read M.L. Buchman” and call it a wrap. But that’s a bit short on details. Still correct, though.

Also appropriate to the story, as once upon a time in Pismo Beach, it would have been Zoe DeMille’s name and number on that bathroom wall. But she’s reinvented herself since those dark days.

Twice.

Her public persona is that of “The Soldier of Style: Living in the Cutey-Edgy Budget Battlespace.” It’s Zoe’s public vlog (and associated twitter feed) as a budget-minded fashionista blogger with a definite cute airhead vibe.

And it’s a cover for her real job as a drone pilot – they prefer the term RPA for remote piloted aircraft – for the Night Stalkers 5E. A job that is anything but cute, and at which she is anything but airheaded. The Night Stalkers only take, and only employ, the best of the best of the best. And she is.

But Lieutenant Commander Luke Altman of SEAL Team 6 only sees the cute little airhead persona and doesn’t really register the warrior behind the mask. Only the way she needles him at every turn through the headset that links his team in the field to Zoe’s “coffin” back on base where she controls the eyes in the sky that provide him with mission-critical intel.

At least, not until he’s on the ground in Pakistan, staring at the empty former headquarters of an arms dealing kingpin who clearly got word that ST6 was coming to get him.

Luke looks at the empty garage and sees a dry hole and blown operation. Zoe, looking through his headset, sees a golden opportunity to take down a major player among arms dealers working the shady side.

So she runs with that golden opportunity, and with Luke, straight to Senegal and one of her biggest fans. A man who races in international road rally races. Including the annual Dakar Rally. Luke thinks she’s gone off the deep end – especially as it feels like she’s the one running the op and he’s just her “personal assistant”.

But Zoe has connected the dots and spun one glance at a top flight auto mechanics shop in a remote base with the date of the Dakar Rally circled on a calendar to a strong working hypothesis that their mystery arms dealer is a regular participant in that grueling rally – and that her fan in Senegal is their ticket to the inside track of a lifetime.

It takes Luke a little while to catch up to Zoe’s flash of brilliance – and to figure out that the dots he really wants to connect are the ones that lead to her heart.

Escape Rating A-: I had a great time with this book. I had such a great time that it made me reflect on why this author’s romances always work for me – even while I’ve become aware that I’m reading less romance in general.

The answer seems to be in the characters. Not just the way that the author draws them, because lots of romance authors do a good job of creating interesting characters. But it’s the way that his characters find each other and make a relationship.

One of the things that all too often occurs in romance – in real life too – is that two people come together and meet kind of in their middle. There are always compromises on both sides. But in romance fiction, all too often the compromise results in the woman giving up more of who she is and what she wants to make the relationship work for the man.

It feels like, all too often, she becomes less and he becomes more. In historical romances it can be worse. There are too many time periods where, even if she does maintain her separate identity and career after marriage, it only happens because he allows it to happen. Because society, public opinion, and even the law say that his voice is the only one that counts.

None of that ever happens in one of M.L. Buchman’s romances. The characters begin and end as equals – even as they find a way to both work together and make a romantic partnership. Sometimes they are both equal in the same sphere, as was true in his first Night Stalkers romance, The Night is Mine. Both the hero and the heroine are military officers. Both are warriors. And both remain so even when they marry. Eventually Emily Beale gets pregnant and the situation necessarily changes somewhat, but she remains every bit the kickass heroine she was at the beginning, just in a different venue.

Zoe and Luke are also both warriors, just not in the same way. But they are both at the top of their respective fields – and they remain so at the end. One of the things that makes Luke such a great hero is that he not only eventually accepts Zoe exactly as she is, but that he is able to recognize when it is better that she lead and that he cheers her on as she does. That doesn’t happen nearly often enough, either in romance fiction or in real life.

The story here is also a whole lot of fun. It’s one of those experiences that most people won’t have, but is tremendously fascinating to experience vicariously. The Dakar Rally is a real event, and the story and characters here follow the real course – or at least as much of a course as there ever is. After all, the Dakar is an off-road endurance event. A big part of this story is the way that Zoe and Luke bond, endure and find their target in the midst of this once in a lifetime event.

(If you want to read a romance set while the protagonists are running a completely different but equally dangerous and fascinating race, take a look at Sue Henry’s Murder on the Iditarod Trail.)

Part of the tension in this particular romance is that both Zoe and Luke are damaged and neither of them thinks they are worthy – not of love in general, not of the other in particular. It’s a possible interpretation that Zoe heals Luke’s inability to love, but Luke is not the healer of Zoe, because Zoe has already, for the most part, healed herself. He’s there to hold her as the last of the hard pain finally fades, but she’s already done most of the work.

He’s her reward for doing that work. And for once, we have a hero that’s worth it.

“I received a free copy of this title from the publisher for an honest review.”

Review: Warrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy + Giveaway

Review: Warrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy + GiveawayWarrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Chronicles of Dasnaria #3
Pages: 166
Published by Rebel Base Books on January 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Just beyond the reach of the Twelve Kingdoms, avarice, violence, strategy, and revenge clash around a survivor who could upset the balance of power all across the map . . .  Once Ivariel thought elephants were fairy tales to amuse children. But her ice-encased childhood in Dasnaria’s imperial seraglio was lacking in freedom and justice.. With a new name and an assumed identity as a warrior priestess of Danu, the woman once called Princess Jenna is now a fraud and a fugitive. But as she learns the ways of the beasts and hones new uses for her dancer’s strength, she moves one day further from the memory of her brutal husband. Safe in hot, healing Nyambura, Ivariel holds a good man at arm’s length and trains for the day she’ll be hunted again.   She knows it’s coming. She’s not truly safe, not when her mind clouds with killing rage at unpredictable moments. Not when patient Ochieng’s dreams of a family frighten her to her bones. But it still comes as a shock to Ivariel when long-peaceful Nyambura comes under attack. Until her new people look to their warrior priestess and her elephants to lead them . . .  

My Review:

Early in the Chronicles of Dasnaria series, and recalled at the beginning of Warrior of the World, Ivariel/Jenna has a vision of three lionesses. Those lionesses are clearly the princesses of the Twelve, now Thirteen, Kingdoms, Ursula, Andi and Ami, Their stories are told at the very beginning of this awesome, interlinked epic fantasy series. If you love strong heroines and enjoy epic fantasy with a touch (or more) of romance, begin with The Mark of the Tala and just enjoy the marvelous ride.

Based on events in the most recent book on that side of the continent – and the series – Jenna’s story will eventually link up to the Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series. After all, her younger brother Harlan is now the consort of High Queen Ursula. I’ll confess that I was hoping to see that link here, but it hasn’t happened by the end of Warrior of the World. But the story finally reaches the beginning of that end.

While I’m a bit disappointed not to see the ENTIRE gang finally get together, on the other hand I’m very happy to know that there are further adventures yet to follow in this world and this series. Not merely happy, make that downright ecstatic.

But while I’m waiting for the happy conclusion to the interconnected series, I still have Warrior of the World.

This book, and the Chronicles of Dasnaria subseries of which it is a part, needs to come with trigger warnings. Lots of trigger warnings. ALL the trigger warnings. And you do need to read at least the Chronicles of Dasnaria series from its beginning in Prisoner of the Crown in order to get the full significance of the conclusion of Ivariel/Jenna’s journey here in Warrior of the World.

Because the story of the series is about a young woman who is groomed to be a subservient sexual slave, who is forced to submit to repeated rapes, degradation, physical and sexual abuse by her husband/master, and who eventually breaks free with the help of her younger brother, who loses his rank and status for helping her to get away from the man and the society that brutalized her at every turn.

By this point in Ivariel/Jenna’s story, she is still healing from her trauma. That she murdered her “husband” in a fit of berserker rage is both part of her healing and part of her current trauma. She’s afraid that there’s a monster inside her that will eventually break free and kill those she has come to love while she is in the depths of her unthinking rage.

The story in Warrior of the World is the story of Ivariel learning to embrace ALL that she, both the light and the dark, and finding her path to coming into her own at last.

And learning to share that path with others who will be needed for the final push to victory – and redemption.

Escape Rating A-: As I said, ALL the trigger warnings. Ivariel/Jenna’s life at the Dasnarian Imperial court is simply horrendously awful. Reading about her deliberate grooming for the role her society forces her to play makes for very hard reading – but worth it in order to truly appreciate just how far she has come by the time we get to Warrior of the World.

This story is interesting both as the culmination of the Chronicles of Dasnaria subseries and because of its premise. This is a story about beginning as you mean to go on, about doing the things that signify who you are and not who your enemies – or even your friends – intend for you to be or think you ought to be. At the same time, it isn’t as action-packed as other entries in the combined series. It goes just a tinge slow at some points because healing is a slow process, so Ivariel needs time and process to, well, process.

Ivariel’s life before she found herself among the elephant herders of D’tiembo was a life of reaction. She didn’t act, she wasn’t in control. Even her liberation was a product of someone else’s actions and not her own. She begins the story not knowing how to hope her own hopes or dream her own dreams, and she has to learn those skills. She also has to learn to ask for what she wants and then live with the consequences of that “ask”.

Her healing in this story is about her learning to act and not react. Part of that “acting” is the way that she takes up the mantle of her Priestess of Danu persona in order to wage, not war, but peace. The enemies of the D’tiembo try to bring war to the peaceful tribe, and many want to react with war and vengeance. It’s Ivariel, learning to live with her rage, who points the way towards “waging peace” through bribery, subversion, and absorbing and utilizing the lessons taught to her by the necessary cruelty of her mother. It’s a hard lesson, but it buys time to set up the eventual peace and prosperity of the D’tiembo, so that when the magic finally returns, both Ivariel/Jenna and the D’tiembo are ready to go out and meet the wider world and the fates that await them.

If you don’t finish this story wanting your own elephant-friend, you haven’t been paying attention. The elephants, especially Violet, Capo and Efe, provide some of the most uplifting and heartwarming parts of the entire story.

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

Jeffe and Silver Dagger Tours are giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!

 

 

Review: Touch of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: Touch of Eon by Anna HackettTouch of Eon (Eon Warriors #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Eon Warriors #2
Pages: 216
Published by Anna Hackett on January 6th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

She’ll do anything to free her sister and save the Earth from invasion, even if she’s blackmailed into stealing sacred alien artifacts…and becomes the prey of the dark, deadly warrior sent to hunt her down.

Special Forces Space Marine Lara Traynor wants to save her sister and her planet from annihilation by the deadly insectoid Kantos. Earth’s Space Corps give her one option: steal three gems sacred to the Eon Warriors. Lara has never failed a mission and she doesn’t plan to start now. What she doesn’t expect is the big, hard-bodied warrior the Eon sent to stop her.

Security Commander Caze Vann-Jad was born and raised to be the best Eon warrior in the empire. Honed by the military academy, his years as a stealth agent, and by his hard warrior father, he has never failed. He knows one weak, inferior Terran is no match for him. But when he finds himself face to face with the tough, skilled Lara, he realizes he’s underestimated the female warrior.

When they are attacked by a Kantos kill squad, it soon becomes clear that the Kantos are planning something far darker and dangerous. Caze and Lara are forced to change their dangerous battle of wits and skill into a fierce battle for survival. Neither of these fighters believe in love, but on the trail of a stolen gem, they will ignite an unstoppable desire, and discover that not only are their lives at stake, but their hearts as well.

My Review:

I love this series so far. That’s not surprising, as I love nearly everything Anna Hackett writes. Even the things I don’t love I usually like quite a lot.

That being said, there’s been something about the blurbs for the books in this series so far that has really bothered me. It’s the use of the word “blackmail” to describe how the Traynor sisters have gotten into the fix they are in. (It tasks me. It just tasks me!)

In the first book, Edge of Eon, Eve Traynor begins the story in the brig for a crime that everyone knows she did not commit. Her incarceration is part of a Space Force coverup. The true “villain” using the word loosely in this case, was her incompetent captain who just so happens to be the son of a high-ranking admiral. Eve was framed to protect both her idiot captain and his overindulgent mother.

Space Force convinces her to take the suicide mission they’ve lined by by offering her her freedom if she manages to complete her mission, and by threatening the lives of her sisters Lara (heroine of Touch of Eon) and Wren (heroine of the forthcoming not-nearly-soon-enough Heart of Eon).

Lara and Wren are conned into their respective no-win scenarios by threats both to Eve’s life and threats to each other’s lives.

While the entire mess definitely makes the Space Force brass into a whole bunch of slime, none of it is the “blackmail” that is stated in the blurbs and in the stories. Blackmail involves a threat to release incriminating secrets, and there are no incriminating secrets here. Eve’s incarceration, while not deserved, is also not secret. Neither Lara nor Wren seem to be guilty of anything except making a stink about their sister’s undeserved incarceration.

So none of this is blackmail. It is, however, definitely coercion. (All blackmail is coercion but not all coercion is blackmail.) They are all manipulated, and they are all lied to. They are individually coerced into separate no-win scenarios by threats to not their own lives but to the lives of the sisters that they love.

One also has the distinct impression that Space Force is playing its own win-win game. If the mission or missions fail, they have gotten rid of one or more thorns in their side. Any missions that succeed, well they’ll have managed to get the attention of the Eons and help for Earth against the deadly and despicable Kantos.

And Space Force is probably lying about any rewards that the sisters have been promised, particularly the reward that Eve will be pardoned and released. I doubt they ever believed that she would survive in the first place.

One thing that Space Force has not lied about or even exaggerated is the threat that the Kantos pose to Earth. The Kantos are bugs. Big bugs. Evil bugs. Highly evolved and specialized bugs. Nasty bugs all the way around.

They also feel like a cross between the Gizzida (from this author’s Hell Squad series) and the Borg, with a bit of Wraith from Stargate Atlantis thrown in for their use of humans as food. And for their hive ships.

In other words, the Kantos are seriously mean and nasty and have no redeeming characteristics from the perspective of either the humans or the Eons. The Kantos want to conquer Earth (and Eon) so they can strip their worlds bare and eat the inhabitants.

That the Kantos are in the form of giant bugs just makes them extra creepy. And icky. And did I mention creepy?

The story in Touch of Eon is not dissimilar to that of the first book in the series, Edge of Eon. Lara knows that her sister Eve was sent on a suicide mission, and has been told that if she completes her own mission her sister will be saved and freed. And that if she is successful in getting the Eons’ attention, they will help Earth against the Kantos.

All of the Traynor sisters so far have wondered at the wisdom of stealing from the Eons as a way of obtaining their help. It shouldn’t work. That it actually seems to be working is due more to a fluke of Eon biology than any planning on the part of Space Force – an organization which honestly couldn’t plan its way out of a paper bag.

In Touch of Eon, Lara’s mission was to steal the relics of the Eons’ greatest warriors. The relics, jewels containing primitive versions of the symbionts that provide the Eon warriors with their armor and weapons, are highly symbolic. They are also sought by the Kantos, for reasons that are not known at the beginning of this entry in the series.

But Lara is chasing – and successfully stealing, the gems. Eon warrior Caze Vann-Jad is enjoying himself just a little too much chasing – but not catching, Lara. Until they are forced by the pursuing Kantos to join forces against this latest threat.

And in the process discover that the reason they were having so much fun sparring with each other has to do with that thin line between hate and love. They are perfect for each other – if they can manage to live long enough to figure out what’s at the heart of their constant bickering.

And what’s hidden in each other’s heart.

Escape Rating A-: As you can tell, I loved this story. And it’s given me even more to think about than the first book in the series. At the same time, a lot of the story beats and even the way that the romance progresses is also very similar to Edge of Eon – which makes Touch of Eon an A- instead of an A.

I can’t wait for the next book in the series, Heart of Eon. Not just because I want to see the romance between the geeky Wren and her own warrior, but also because I’m really curious about where the worldbuilding goes from here. And I want to see some people at Space Force get what’s coming to them!

Review: Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet

Review: Nightchaser by Amanda BouchetNightchaser (Endeavor, #1) by Amanda Bouchet
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Endeavor #1
Pages: 404
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on January 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A delicious new heart-pounding romantic adventure from USA Today bestseller Amanda Bouchet!

Captain Tess Bailey and her crew of Robin Hood-like thieves are desperate and on the run. Pursued by a vicious military general who wants them dead or alive, Tess has to decide if she can trust Shade Ganavan, a tall, dark and arrogant stranger with ambiguous motivations.

Shade Ganavan had oodles of arrogance, oodles of charm, and oodles of something that made me want to kick him in the nuts.

What Tess and Shade don’t know about each other might get them killed…unless they can set aside their differences and learn to trust each other—while ignoring their off-the-charts chemistry.

My Review:

Nightchaser reminds me of so many skiffy (science fictional) things that it’s hard to pick one. Or even two or three.

Particularly in the beginning, there’s a whole lot of Firefly. Not so much that you need to be familiar with the show to get the book, not at all. The characters and the setting of Nightchaser are most definitely capable of standing on their own.

However, if you do have fond memories of Firefly, the beginning of the story has a lot of similar elements. Or to put it another way, if Captain Mal Reynolds and River Tam were one slightly crazed and depressed person you’d end up with someone a lot like Tess Bailey. The big difference is that Tess’ highly sought-after anomalies are physical rather than mental. And not that Tess isn’t a bit mental, but in her case that’s the effect and not the cause of her troubles.

We meet Tess and the crew of her cargo ship Endeavor as they are on the run from the forces of the tyrannical and repressive Galactic Overlord, in the person of her uncle Bridgebane. He’s hunting Tess because her father, the aforementioned Galactic Overlord, wants her back so he can turn her back into a lab rat. There’s something “different” about Tess and he wants it studied, used and abused.

Tess has just stolen a secret lab filled with samples of her own blood, mutated into serum intended to create supersoldiers, along with one of the supersoldiers. Daddy Dearest wants the lab – and Tess – back.

Tess and her crew pilot their ship into a black hole, intending to escape or die trying.

The first happens immediately – to everyone’s surprise. The second, unfortunately, nearly happens later.

But first, the Endeavor has to hole up on a planet – any planet – to repair the damage the Overseer’s battlecruisers have done to her. And that’s where fate, or at least romance, in the person of Shade Ganavan steps in.

Shade is a parts dealer with a whole lot of secrets and an unexpected yen for Tess Bailey. A situation that gets a whole lot more complicated when his secret life as a government bounty hunter lets him know that Tess is a prize worth enough to solve all the problems he’s been working on for ten years.

He just has to give up the best thing that’s ever happened to him to cash in. And he can’t manage to decide which he wants more – to buy back his family’s lost legacy – or Tess.

His indecision lasts one little bit too long – forcing him into an unplanned reveal, an unintended betrayal, and the loss of everything he ever wanted.

Because if Tess recovers, she’s not going to want him back. Not even if he brings back her cat.

Escape Rating A-: Nightchaser does remind me of Firefly – and a whole lot of other marvelous SF and SFR adventures. If you’ve read Ann Aguirre’s Grimspace series, or Nina Croft’s Blood Hunter/Dark Desires series, or Linnea Sinclair’s Dock Five Universe, you’ll find pieces of all of them in Nightchaser. Along with a bit of the rebels vs. the evil empire that is such an integral part of Star Wars.

But those are all terrific antecedents, so anything that’s made of parts of them starts at a pretty awesome place.

A big part of this story is the setting up of the SFnal universe in which this series takes place. We kind of jump right into the action, with the crew of the Endeavor on the run, and then Tess making her dramatic speech and big reveal just before they leap to what seems like certain death – only to discover that it isn’t.

After that we get a slightly more leisurely introduction to this universe, as they dock at planet Albion 5 for repairs. Not only do we meet our hero Shade, but through Tess’ eyes we see how not just this planet but this universe actually works. We get onboard with the tyranny of the Overseer, and through Tess’ interactions with people other than Shade we learn just how awful things are, and not just why Tess is part of the rebellion but why there needs to be a rebellion in the first place.

Tess’ interactions with the bookstore owner make the problems both intimate and universal at the same time. Imagination is illegal, books are censored, and bookstores are fined and hassled at every turn. And yet, the woman can’t stop trying.

And she gives Tess a cat! Bonk provides many of the necessary bits of both sweet and comic relief – even as he takes off on an unexpected adventure of his own.

But this is also a romance between two very broken people. Tess and Shade are strong and brittle, broken in so many ways that run deeper than the way that the Overseer and his “Brownshirts” make sure that everyone is to too broken down to resist. Neither of them trusts easily, and when Shane betrays Tess’ trust our hearts break with her.

That they live to fight another day – even after all the secrets seem to be revealed and all the depths appear to be plumbed – is bittersweet. The cost to win this undeclared war is going to be very high – and Tess will be at the center of paying it.

 

Review: Tutus and Tinsel by Rhys Ford

Review: Tutus and Tinsel by Rhys FordTutus and Tinsel (Half Moon Bay, #2.5) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: holiday fiction, holiday romance, M/M romance
Series: Half Moon Bay #2.5
Pages: 95
Published by Dreamspinner Press on December 21, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Zig Reid-Harris has everything an eleven-year-old girl could ever want: a great home, two fantastic fathers named Deacon Reid and Lang Harris, and all the books she could possible read.

When a school assignment about holiday traditions unexpectedly broadsides her, she discovers burying the past isn’t as easy as it looks, and the stark reality of her life before her adoption sinks in. Ashamed of the bleakness and poverty she came from, Zig struggles with the assignment until an epiphany strikes the whole family—it’s time to start their own traditions.

Zig and her fathers plunge into the insanity of holiday joy, exploring everything the season has to offer and learning how precious family truly is along the way.

My Review:

Tutus and Tinsel is a sweet little “slice of life” story featuring characters that readers of the Half Moon Bay series have come to know and love.

Which means that if you haven’t read at least the first book in the series, Fish Stick Fridays, you won’t really know enough about these people to care about how far they’ve come and how heartwarming this short story is. As the series is marvelous, I highly recommend reading both Fish Stick Fridays and Hanging the Stars before diving into the sparkly pile of tinsel that is Tutus and Tinsel.

But if you are familiar with the characters and the setting, this story has a lot to say under its fluffy exterior about the spirit of the holidays.

And even though the holiday they are celebrating is Christmas, the story doesn’t go into the religious aspect of the holiday – or any of the December holidays. Instead, this is a story about family and family traditions.

It’s also about honoring what you came from while stepping forward to meet your future.

Deacon, Lane and Zig Reid-Harris are a combination of family-of-choice, family-of-blood, and family-of-love, all rolled into one great big sparkly and spiky ball. Deacon and Zig were originally uncle and niece. Deacon got custody of Zig after her mother died of her addictions. Deacon vowed to give Zig a better and more secure life, knowing just where and what she was coming from. His sister, after all, took after their mother entirely too much, so Deacon’s childhood wasn’t much different from Zig’s, without the timely rescue.

When Deacon and Lane got married (that’s part of the story of the series, they adopted Zig. So they are all family now.

But it’s a family that doesn’t have much in the way of family traditions, at least not for the holidays. Fish sticks and macaroni and cheese on Fridays IS a family tradition – but an all-year-round tradition.

So Zig gets thrown for a loop when her teacher assigns the class to do a presentation on the holiday traditions of their families. The families in Half Moon Bay are not wealthy, but are, well, solid compared to Deacon and Zig’s birth family. And there are lot more kids with two parents or two parents plus stepparents or other combinations of love and care than either Deacon or Zig ever experienced.

Lane’s parents may have been shitty, but his grandmother provided love and stability for Lane and his brother West for as long as she lived, giving him more family traditions than Deacon or Zig ever had a chance at.

After Zig’s freak-out about the assignment, she and her two dads come up with an excellent plan. They decide to try out all sorts of holiday traditions to see what works for them – and what occasionally blows up in their faces.

Zig makes her presentation about the journey, from where she started to where they are now, warts and all.

And it’s awesome.

Escape Rating A-: This is short, and that’s right for this little gem. There isn’t really much of a plot, more of a checking in to see how they are now and a whole lot about the meanings of the holidays, and families, and traditions. And what binds people into families, and places, and love.

In addition to telling the story of the Reid-Harris family’s attempts to create, remember and discover family traditions, it will make most readers recall whatever traditions their families have or had over whatever holidays they celebrate at this time of year.

Some of those memories will be bitter, some will be sweet, and some will be distant. But thinking about and celebrating those we love, even those we’ve loved and lost, is also part of this holiday season.

In closing, I’d like to wish you and yours a Happy Holiday Season, whichever holiday or holidays you celebrate this time of year.

Review: A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell

Review: A Study in Honor by Claire O’DellA Study in Honor (The Janet Watson Chronicles #1) by Claire O'Dell, Beth Bernobich
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, mystery, science fiction
Series: Janet Watson Chronicles #1
Pages: 304
Published by Harper Voyager on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Dr. Janet Watson knows firsthand the horrifying cost of a divided nation. While treating broken soldiers on the battlefields of the New Civil War, a sniper’s bullet shattered her arm and ended her career. Honorably discharged and struggling with the semi-functional mechanical arm that replaced the limb she lost, she returns to the nation’s capital, a bleak, edgy city in the throes of a fraught presidential election. Homeless and jobless, Watson is uncertain of the future when she meets another black and queer woman, Sara Holmes, a mysterious yet playfully challenging covert agent who offers the doctor a place to stay.

Watson’s readjustment to civilian life is complicated by the infuriating antics of her strange new roommate. But the tensions between them dissolve when Watson discovers that soldiers from the New Civil War have begun dying one by one—and that the deaths may be the tip of something far more dangerous, involving the pharmaceutical industry and even the looming election. Joining forces, Watson and Holmes embark on a thrilling investigation to solve the mystery—and secure justice for these fallen soldiers.

My Review:

This was a wow. Even better, it was a wow in ways that I wasn’t expecting, so excellent all the way around.

Admittedly, I bounced off A Study in Honor the first time I started it. I was expecting a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, which it sorta/kinda is, but that’s not really apparent at the beginning. At the beginning, we’re following Dr. Janet Watson as she gets the shaft from the VA after losing her arm in combat.

Dr. Watson is a surgeon, and to go back to that job in civilian life, she needs two good hands. And the combat-damaged prosthetic that was supposed to be a temporary fix, well, it isn’t even good enough for much in civilian life – it certainly isn’t good enough for surgery.

But the war isn’t going well, is extremely unpopular, and the VA is sucking hind tit in the federal budget. Some things never change.

Other things do.

This war, unlike the perpetual war in Afghanistan that injured both the original Dr. John Watson and his 21st century incarnation in Sherlock, is a civil war. In what has become the not-so-United States.

The very frightening thing about this war is that it is so close we can see it from here. And entirely possible for all that. It’s a variation on the civil war in the darkly awesome book American War by Omar El Akkad, where the “reactionary” forces of the Old South have picked up the guns they are always afraid are going to be taken away from them and started a shooting war with what they see as the liberal-leftist North and Left-Coast West.

Unlike in American War, in this version, the so-called “Conservative” forces seem to be winning, if not all of the battles, at least the battle for hearts and minds in the North. It’s as though they made Robert E. Lee’s strategy work – just keep going long enough for the North to get too tired to fight.

This is also a scary close near future in that in 2016 Trump did get elected. Then after his administration overthrew as many of the civil rights of minorities as they could possibly manage, got replaced by the backlash of a progressive female Democratic president. After spending part of her first term turning back as much of the damage as possible, the folks who want their idealized 1950s back began the war in Oklahoma.

But this isn’t quite a dystopia, although it’s certainly getting there. Back home in Washington DC, away from the fronts in the states surrounding Oklahoma, the world seems to be going on as normal.

Unless you’re a wounded veteran trying to get the benefits you’re entitled to out of a VA that only cares about its bottom line.

Just as in the original stories, and in most of the remixes and pastiches, Watson is living off her military pension and needs a job. Holmes, in this case Sara Holmes, wants a roommate for the apartment she needs but claims to not be able to quite afford without said roommate.

But this Holmes is not what she seems. She’s every bit as brilliant (and enigmatic) as her original, but unlike the original Sherlock Holmes, Sara Holmes is not an independent agent.

As Janet Watson eventually discovers.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve written a lot about the setup of this story, because a lot of this book is setup. While this world unfortunately feels like a logical extension of current events, it is not current events and needs to get us fixed firmly into its vision of the future.

Which does not mean it isn’t a vision of the future that doesn’t include a whole lot of the present. Unfortunately for our protagonists, the parts of the present that carry over are quite frequently the worst bits. I said this isn’t a dystopia, but a better description would be that it isn’t a dystopia yet.

Those roots in the contemporary present form a good part of the terrible case that Janet unearths and that Sara helps her resolve. Part of what makes this book an A- rather than a A is that the case was fairly obvious. All too plausible, but also all too easy to figure out from the very first clue.

What makes this story, this version of Holmes and Watson, so fascinating are the characters of the two women. Instead of two white men in Victorian England (or 21st century England, for that matter), the Holmes and Watson in A Study in Honor are two black women at a time and place where the hope for true equality that shone during the Obama era has receded into the past and is dying under the lash of “conservative” dog-whistles that are pitched so any human can hear.

Which also means that in addition to the many indignities visited upon Janet Watson because she’s a wounded veteran, even more are heaped upon her because she’s black and because she dared to aspire to a profession that some people still believe should have been reserved for whites. And where the lesbianism of both of the protagonists just adds yet another layer of potential for prejudice.

A Study in Honor is a dark and gritty portrait of a world going to hell in a handcart, as seen from the perspective of someone who has visited that hell, and sometimes seems to have only left it in body but not in spirit. And investigates a mystery that plows right into the hell of that war and the dark heart of the people and governments that are waging it.

Watson and Holmes’ adventures continue in The Hound of Justice. I can’t wait.

Reviewer’s Note: Claire O’Dell is a pseudonym for author Beth Bernobich.

Review: Script of the Heart by Robin D. Owens

Review: Script of the Heart by Robin D. OwensScript of the Heart: A Celta Heartmates Novel by Robin D Owens
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance, science fiction romance
Series: Celta's Heartmates #9A
Pages: 364
Published by Follow Your Heart on October 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Celta, a place of magic, telepathic animal companions, and romance...Script of the Heart, a story set decades ago, of a couple struggling with love and loss...

Giniana Filix, a dedicated Healer, is desperate to raise funds for an experimental treatment to save her dying FamCat. She has no time or interest in a relationship.

Growing up on an impoverished estate as the last of his line, actor Klay St. Johnswort hears of a script of a lifetime, a script he believes will catapult his career to greatness and enable him to restore his home. Appalled to learn the script has mysteriously disappeared, he is determined to reclaim it at all costs.His desire to be close fuels her fear of abandonment.

Her distrust of actors clashes with his pride in his craft. But they discover a connection they can’t deny. Will their attraction be enough to force them to write their own Script of the Heart?

My Review:

Sometimes, even though, as the saying goes, it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it isn’t actually a duck. The Celta’s Heartmates series is one of those “not a duck” situations, along with Pern, Darkover, Harmony and Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra.

These are all series that read like fantasy and/or fantasy romance, but if you look under the hood – or back in the history of how these places came to be – there’s a space ship lurking in the shadows. Or in the case of Markswoman an apocalypse. And if you’re looking for a book to cross over from one of these genres to the other, something from one of these series might just be your jam.

What I mean is that all of these series feel like fantasy. Their worlds are either lower tech than ours is currently, and/or what tech they have is based on something other than electricity – usually psi power of some kind. The mileage, parsecs and/or warp speed varies.

But these are worlds that have a scientific origin and reverted to a lower level of technology either out of necessity or conscious planning. Usually within the course of the series those origins, if not widely known, are re-discovered.

Celta, in specific, is a lost colony of our very own Earth, in a far-flung future. It was settled by the survivors of three ships from Earth, filled with refugees who left because they were persecuted for their psi-power, called Flair in this series. By the time that Script of the Heart takes place, Celta has been established for centuries. Life on Celta is not perfect (no place is perfect) but it is good for most people most of the time.

Celta also seems like a reasonable place to live. This society seems to actually work and not merely lurch from crisis to crisis. The world creation in this series is top-notch every step of the way.

This story, in spite of its designation as #9a in the series, is a full-length novel. But it takes place chronologically during the events of Heart Journey. You don’t need to have read that to enjoy this, but you do probably need to have some other exposure to Celta before diving into Script of the Heart. Starting with either Heart Mate (the first published book in the series) or the story Heart and Sword (included in the Hearts and Swords collection) the first story in the internal world chronology, should be enough to get you hooked.

The course of true love never does run smooth, and that is certainly true in Script of the Heart – along with a rather large helping of “pride goeth before a fall”. Klay St. Johnsworth is a respected actor at the height of his career. He is also the last of his respected but not in the least wealthy line.

Giniana Filix is a respected healer who was abandoned by her family of actors. This has not left her with a very high opinion of the profession, and in some ways rightly so. She’s done her best to make her own way, but at the moment it isn’t quite enough.

Her FamCat, Thrisca, is the “oldest of the old” of the telepathic, highly intelligent FamAnimals that live on Celta. Thrisca is dying. Giniana will do anything to earn enough money to allow Thrisca to participate in an expensive and experimental procedure that might just save her life – if Giniana doesn’t work herself into illness along the way.

Giniana doesn’t have time for romance, or even friendly relationships. She’s working every hour of the day and night to earn the money for Thrisca’s treatment. But that’s when she meets Klay, and can’t make herself resist the actor – no matter how much she distrusts his profession.

It’s mostly Giniana’s pride that gets in the way, as well as her lingering resentments of her family situation. It’s not just that her parents were actors, but that they were profligate with their money, sparing with their affection, and never seemed to put anything before their own careers and especially their own selves. Not even each other and certainly not their daughter.

That her mother spent her life looking for a man to sponge off of has left Giniana with a fear of taking help, at least help in the form of money, from anyone. Even someone she is coming to love.

But Klay has his own pride. He wants to help Giniana. But he needs for her to accept him as he is, because his career is every bit as much a part of him as hers is of her. It’s up to Klay with a little bit of help from her FamCat (and her FamCat’s FamCat) to get Giniana to finally see that sometimes we all need a little help from our friends.

Escape Rating A-: Script of the Heart is simply a lovely romance between two interesting people in a fascinating place.

It’s not just that Klay and Giniana are great people to follow into a romance, but also that their story shows a side of Celta that we don’t see all that often. While many of the stories involve couples who operate at the highest echelons of this society, Klay and Giniana are both in the lower-middle class. They both have to work for a living, and they have to live off what they make. They also have to worry about scrimping and saving and not always having quite enough to meet their everyday needs, even with careful planning.

We’ve seen a few people at the very low end of this society get vaulted into the upper class, but it’s been a while since we’ve followed people in this situation, if ever. It’s impossible not to feel for Giniana and her desperate need to keep her oldest and best friend, her FamCat Thrisca, alive and well if at all possible. Those of us who have companion animals know that feeling of watching a beloved friend slip away and being unable to stop it.

The FamKitten Melis offers the comic relief in this story, as Klay brings her to Giniana in the hopes that Melis may be able to ease her grief if the worst happens to Thrisca. That the old FamCat herself adopts the kitten gives Thrisca a bit of a new lease on life. But the FamCats in general are simply a joy to read. (We have a little kitten of our own right now, and Melis is VERY kitten!)

So a lovely romance, with happy endings all around. Especially for the FamCats!

Review: Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble + Giveaway

Review: Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble + GiveawayAsk Me No Questions (A Lady Dunbridge Mystery #1) by Shelley Noble
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Lady Dunbridge #1
Pages: 352
Published by Forge on October 16, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble, Ask Me No Questions is the first in the Lady Dunbridge Mystery series featuring a widow turned sleuth in turn-of-the-twentieth century New York City.

A modern woman in 1907, Lady Dunbridge is not about to let a little thing like the death of her husband ruin her social life. She’s ready to take the dazzling world of Gilded Age Manhattan by storm.

From the decadence of high society balls to the underbelly of Belmont horse racing, romance, murder, and scandals abound. Someone simply must do something. And Lady Dunbridge is happy to oblige.

My Review:

Although this is the first book in a new series, it has a bit of the feeling of starting in the middle (in a good way), as Lady Philomena Dunbridge seems to have already solved at least one mystery ahead of the police when we first meet her. In London. Being lectured to and ordered about by her father.

Who seems to have forgotten that Phil is a widow of independent means, and no longer under his control. He also doesn’t seem to understand just how determined she is to stay that way.

In her determination, Phil takes herself off to America to stay with her best friend, Beverly Reynolds. Phil is hoping that Bev’s membership in the smart set of Gilded Age New York City will provide her with the entree that she needs into New York high society.

And far, far away from the stultifying traditions of “jolly olde England” where she will be forced, one way or another, to occupy the place reserved for dowager countesses. At 30ish, Phil is much, much too young to be a dowager, or to put herself on any kind of shelf.

She comes to New York to live.

Only to be greeted at the dock by the corpse of Bev’s husband, leaving her with a mystery to solve.

That Reggie Reynolds was shot by Bev’s gun would automatically make her a suspect, even if he hadn’t been found in the arms of his mistress.

At first, the police seem determined to pin Reggie’s murder on either Bev or the mistress. And while Phil has no compunctions about letting the poor floradora girl face the music if she’s guilty, it doesn’t seem possible. Especially when a second dead body turns up in Bev’s library, also shot with her gun.

And that’s where the story goes off to the races. Literally. Because Reggie had a horse running at Belmont, and Devil’s Thunder was favored to win. Favored to win enough that all of Reggie’s many, many creditors should have been paid off.

Unless, of course, that was the point of his murder after all.

Escape Rating A-: Phil reminds me a great deal of Phryne Fisher, and for this reader, that’s an excellent thing. Although the Lady Dunbridge series is set in Gilded Age New York, as is Joanna Shupe’s marvelous Four Hundred series, it’s Phil’s likeness to Phryne that sticks in my mind. And also more than a bit of Lydia Kang’s excellent A Beautiful Poison)

Both women are more than a bit cynical and jaded. While the both acknowledge benefits of kowtowing to society expectations, they also are very much aware of just how hollow and hypocritical those expectations are. Phil has to live by her wits a bit more than Phryne does, so she gives a bit more than lip service to those expectations, but their attitudes are similar.

And while Phil does not bed hop to the degree that Phryne does, it is clear that she also takes her pleasures where she finds them, if a bit more discreetly than her Australian counterpart.

Phil has also become an amateur detective, although in her first official outing she is still at the point where she becomes involved because a friend – and also herself – are under threat of being embroiled in the police investigation. She’s not yet taking paying clients – although there’s a hint that she may have an unofficial, semi-official paying client in future books.

What makes Phil so much fun is that she definitely has all of her wits about her, and never, ever looks down her nose at anyone who might be able to help her in her investigations. Like her butler and her lady’s maid, both of whom seem to be quite a bit more than they seem.

She also never looks a gift horse in the mouth, especially when it’s an actual horse – or at least an actual clue about a horse. The recommendation she receives from a mysterious stranger to read Sherlock Holmes’ Adventure of the Silver Blaze is a bit of a clue-by-four, but her pursuit of said clue is every bit as much fun as her pursuit of the mysterious stranger.

I simply had a lot of good fun with Phil, much as I do with Phryne. If you enjoy historical mysteries featuring intelligent and cynical female detectives, this is a real gem and I sincerely hope the series continues. Soon.

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