Review: Meant to be Yours by Susan Mallery

Review: Meant to be Yours by Susan MalleryMeant to Be Yours by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Happily Inc #5
Pages: 464
Published by Hqn on October 22, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Happily Inc, love means never having to say “I do”…

Wedding coordinator Renee Grothen isn’t meant for marriage. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, plan. But she never could have planned on gorgeous, talented thriller writer Jasper Dembenski proposing—a fling, that is. Fun without a future. And the attraction between them is too strong for Renee to resist. Now she can have her no-wedding cake…and eat it, too.

After years in the military, Jasper is convinced he’s too damaged for relationships. So a flirtation—and more—with fiery, determined Renee is way too good to pass up…until his flame becomes his muse.

Renee is an expert at averting every crisis. But is she finally ready to leap into the one thing that can never be controlled: love?

My Review:

There’s a theory that dogs come into our lives because we need them, but cats come into our lives because they need us, can’t admit it, and the entire universe is rigged to do their bidding anyway. I digress, just a bit.

But this story begins with a dog. In fact, poor Koda is the first person who comes into Jasper Dembenski’s life because they are meant to be his. And helps Jasper to heal enough – or to acknowledge the progress he’s made in his own healing enough – to allow Jasper to let Renee Grothen into his heart – by way of his bed. Or hers.

Because they’re meant to be each other’s – even if it takes them both a while to figure that out.

After all, Jasper believes that the things he experienced during his military service, and the PTSD the service left him with, have left him too damaged to deal with any relationship more complicated than friends-with-benefits, with as much emphasis on the benefits and as little on the actual friendship as his partners in those “relationships” are willing to tolerate.

Renee is one of the wedding planners at Weddings Out of the Box, the themed wedding service venue owned and operated by Pallas Saunders Mitchell, the heroine of the series opener You Say it First (which, BTW was lovely and fun and charming and got me hooked on this series.)

When it comes to weddings, Renee believes that those who can, do. And those who can’t become wedding planners. Her love life has been fairly disastrous, and she’s not interested in trying again.

But a woman has needs. Needs that Jasper is more than willing to help her with. After all, men have needs too. In Jasper’s case, while he’s all in on the benefits of the friends with benefits relationship they enter into, Jasper also needs something else from Renee.

Jasper is the best selling author of a long-running detective series. And that particular series needs to wrap up. Both Jasper and his editor are sure that what his loner of a detective (art imitates life) needs is to fall in love and find his HEA – or at least some purpose to his life besides catching serial killers.

However, Jasper can’t figure out how to write a female character who is not either a serial killer herself or the victim of one. He needs to learn out how women think. So he turns to his friend Renee for help and advice.

Thus the confirmed bachelor ends up shadowing the wedding planner to discover what makes women tick by observing them as they plan their weddings. And Jasper and Renee end up spending a lot of time together, fully dressed, in scenarios where they have to talk with each other in complete sentences.

Not that they don’t still nearly screw everything up.

But with the help of nearly every person in Happily Inc, Jasper’s dog Koda, Renee’s cats Fred and Lucille – and Renee’s mother Verity who understands what ALL the animals in town are thinking – they finally manage not to mess up their own HEA.

Even if there are more than a few times when it feels like the entire situation is going to the dogs. Complete with pooper scooper.

Escape Rating B+: Koda does come into Jasper’s life because Jasper needs him. Don’t get me wrong, the dog gets PLENTY out of the arrangement, but Koda does an especially good job of helping Jasper. Meanwhile, Fred and Lucille come into Renee’s life because they need her to help them get back together.

And in spite of how many times Renee’s mother Verity’s gift for understanding what animals are thinking has caused Renee all kinds of grief, it’s Verity’s gift that allows Koda, Fred and Lucille to get their messages across.

Obviously I fell into this particular book for the pets, and they are an important part of this story. Also, the giant dog wedding is a hoot!

But as much fun as all of the animal interactions are, it’s the humans in this one who are involved in the romance. Even if that’s not what either of them thinks is happening at first. Especially if that’s not what either of them wants to happen, or thinks is even possible TO happen.

The romance of this one is watching Jasper and Renee take two steps forward and sometimes three steps back on their road to a real relationship. At the beginning they are both certain that they are too broken for love or marriage – but having a regular sex partner is terrific.

They become friends. Slowly and hesitatingly. And their friendship eventually manages to work because Renee calls Jasper on his shit and doesn’t back down until he both understands what he did wrong AND apologizes for it.

His laser focus on his work and his tunnel vision in pursuing his vision of it does get him into trouble. Watching him work his way out of that trouble is fascinating. At the same time, one of the things that really worked for me in their relationship is the way that Renee accepts his need to completely concentrate on the work when it’s flowing. She doesn’t expect him to change who he is. He just needs to learn to not step on anyone else in his drive to get the story “right”.

As much as I love the town of Happily Inc and this series, it was the portrayal of Renee that dropped the story from an A- to a B+. Let’s just say that I empathize with how hard Jasper found it to get inside her head because I had the same difficulty.

I liked so much about her, but her fear of a relationship didn’t feel quite right, at least not based on the examples of where her previous relationships went wrong. The action and reaction didn’t feel quite proportionate – but YMMV.

I did like the way their relationship built slowly, and by fits and starts. And I certainly loved seeing Jasper grovel when he needed to – and there were plenty of times when he needed to.

But for this reader the animals stole the show and happily trotted away with it!

Review: Nothing to Fear by Juno Rushdan + Giveaway

Review: Nothing to Fear by Juno Rushdan + GiveawayNothing to Fear (Final Hour #2) by Juno Rushdan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Final Hour #2
Pages: 448
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on August 27, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The clock is ticking

Fearsome Gray Box operative Gideon Stone is devoted to his work and his team. He's never given reason to doubt his loyalty...until he's tasked with investigating Willow Harper, a beguiling cryptologist suspected of selling deadly bio-agents on the black market.

He knows she's innocent. He knows she's being framed. And he knows that without him, Willow will be dead before sunrise.

Thrust into the crossfire of an insidious international conspiracy, Gideon will do anything to keep Willow safe...even if that means waging war against his own. With time running out, an unlikely bond pushes limits―and forges loyalties. Every move they make counts. And the real traitor is always watching...

My Review:

The title of this nonstop romantic suspense thriller may be Nothing to Fear, but Gray Box hacker-agent-operative Willow Harper has PLENTY to fear – she just doesn’t know it as this story opens.

She’s being setup to take the fall for the murder, while in Gray Box custody, of an enemy intelligence agent code-named “The Ghost”. But he stopped being a ghost once Willow focused her hacker skills on ferreting him out.

Now the mole in the Gray Box has to eliminate the threat to the organization that they really work for, while keeping their hidden status in place. That’s where Willow came in, unfortunately – or so it seems – for her.

Willow may be a genius programmer, and she has mad skills when it comes to data security, but her everyday, run of the mill life skills security is not so hot.

At first she’s just one of many suspects, but the mole has set Willow up to take the fall for everything, complete with a multi-million dollar account in the Caymans. An account that Willow knows nothing about. It’s not that the account is fake – the money is all too real – but that whoever set up the account was definitely not Willow Harper.

When the evidence turns up, with the black operations of Gray Box already in the cross-hairs, the agency’s director has no choice but to take her into custody.

And Gideon Stone, the agent who is certain that Willow is innocent, feels as if he has no choice but to take Willow and go on the run – in the hopes that he can get to the bottom of the set up, find the mole AND protect Willow – before their enemies manage to take her out and complete the frame.

The forces that are after them are bigger and better organized than Gideon imagined, and the hurricane that crosses their path is just the beginning of the danger that they face.

But the biggest danger for both of them is the damage that they can do to each other. If they’re not carefully, they’ll shoot each other in the heart.

Escape Rating B+: Nothing to Fear is absolutely a thrill-a-minute ride from beginning to end. It has all the classic elements of a great romantic suspense story, with its tough hero, offbeat heroine, secret black ops agency and spies, moles and counterspies at every twist and turn.

Not to mention that desperate run through a hurricane – although what happens on the boat stays on the boat. Or at least it’s supposed to.

As a “black” operation of our very own government – and isn’t that a scary thought all the way around – Gray Box makes a fascinating backdrop for a series. Everyone is a spy, or an agent, or an operative, or all of the above. Everyone has secrets – and everyone has committed unspeakable acts on behalf of the country. And all of their actions can and will be disavowed if that country feels it is necessary.

That Gray Box absolutely HAS to find the traitor within its ranks to keep the entire agency from being “whitewashed” just adds to the tension of the whole story. They have to find the mole, they have to clean up the agency, and they have to help Gideon and Willow however they can in the hope that everyone comes out the other side – except the mole, of course.

At the same time, Gideon and Willow are running as fast as they can, trying to stay half a step ahead of their pursuers, while being all too aware that everyone they left behind is in terrible danger – and not just their colleagues at Gray Box. The enemy is going after their families and friends in an attempt to run them to earth or bring them to heel. It’s a deadly chase.

And at the heart of the story are Gideon and Willow. Neither of them feels worthy of being loved nor is either of them quite sure they are capable of feeling or returning the emotion. Gideon is certain that the deeds he has committed are too dark, that his past is too dirty and that he is too much a creature of violence for anyone to be safe around him. And Willow, while a genius with computers, is at a loss with the unpredictability of human behavior and human emotions.

Which doesn’t stop them from falling for each other. But it sure does stop them from trying to stay together once the danger is over. Or does it?

The suspense of Nothing to Fear will keep readers on the edge of their seats from the first page to the last. And the story of this couple who make each other strong in their broken places will warm the least romantic heart.

Nothing to Fear is the second book in the Final Hour series. I haven’t read the first book, Every Last Breath, and had absolutely no problem getting right into the action in this one. But as wrapped up as I was in Nothing to Fear, that first book has certainly climbed higher in my towering TBR pile. After all, I have to read it in time to get the third book in this series, Until the End, late next spring!

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

I’m giving away a copy of Nothing to Fear to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

Review: Escaping Exodus by Nicky DraydenEscaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Harper Voyager on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Escaping Exodus is a story of a young woman named Seske Kaleigh, heir to the command of a biological, city-size starship carved up from the insides of a spacefaring beast. Her clan has just now culled their latest ship and the workers are busy stripping down the bonework for building materials, rerouting the circulatory system for mass transit, and preparing the cavernous creature for the onslaught of the general populous still in stasis. It’s all a part of the cycle her clan had instituted centuries ago—excavate the new beast, expand into its barely-living carcass, extinguish its resources over the course of a decade, then escape in a highly coordinated exodus back into stasis until they cull the next beast from the diminishing herd.

And of course there wouldn’t be much of a story if things didn’t go terribly, terribly wrong.

Escaping Exodus is scheduled to be in readers’ orbit Summer 2019.

My Review:

I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked up Escaping Exodus. Space opera, certainly. And I definitely got that – just not in the usual way.

But this particular space opera has a kind of a biopunk feel, and, speaking of feels, it felt like a story about the differences between parasitism and symbiosis. It also gives a tiny glimpse into all the myriad possibilities of ways that humanity can take a good idea and send it down many, many virtual rabbit holes of disasters and bad decisions. Epically bad decisions.

Oh, and there’s a bit, just a tiny bit, of actually relevant tentacle sex. Now that WAS a surprise.

The story is told from two perspectives that begin close together – diverge widely and wildly – and then come back together at the end. Terribly scarred and terribly scared, but still determined to find their own way forward.

At the beginning, Seske and Adalla are girls on the cusp of womanhood. They have been children, but as the story opens they are forced to take their first steps into adulthood – and away from each other.

Seske is the daughter of the Matris, the leader, ruler and queen of their generation ship. Adalla is the child of one of the worker castes. And there are definitely castes and classes aboard this ship, as well as a permanent underclass and even the equivalent of untouchables. All workers, even the most skilled, are interchangeable and disposable, at least according to the ruling Contour class.

The class system reminds me of the “worms” in Medusa Uploaded. And their treatment does lead to similar results.

Burgeoning adulthood means that Seske has to take her place at her mother’s side, and Adalla must make a place for herself among the workers. They are expected to leave the friendship that has blossomed into love behind and take up their adult responsibilities.

That’s where this story veers into fascinating directions. Because their generation ship isn’t flying through space to a potential “new Earth” even though that WAS the plan when all the ships set out generations ago.

Instead, they have become space parasites, latching their ship onto giant space-faring beasts and cannibalizing all of the beast’s energy, organs and organisms until it is a dry husk, then moving on to the next.

And they’re dying. The beasts are individually dying quickly, but their species is dying out. And they’ll take their human parasites with them.

Unless Seske and Adalla, separately and together, find another way.

Escape Rating B: This is a story that is filled with metaphors for current conditions on Earth and also weaves a fascinating tale of journeys to the stars and all the ways that they can go wrong. Or that humans can do wrong. Or perhaps a bit of both.

At the same time, it feels like this would have been a stronger book if it had had a bit more space in which to develop its world. What we see is amazing and weird and different, but we’re kept at a bit of a remove – at least from the atrocities committed by the privileged classes.

That may be the result of the choice of narrators. Seske, the heir to the “throne” has been an indulged child until the book begins. She’s been protected from all of the terrible secrets and lies, murders and machinations, that her mother has used to maintain her position. That protection gives her a fresh perspective, and allows her to see the rot that supports her mother’s rule.

But she’s been very insulated, and we get a lot more about her rivalry with her sister than we do about how things work, and don’t, and ought to. The way her sister is treated and how that situation came about is brutal and messy and we don’t get nearly enough explanation.

The society is female-dominated, reproduction-restricted, and polygamous. Group marriage is the norm, and families consist of nine adults raising a single child. But I never did quite understand how the relationship between the adults in the group marriage actually worked. Or didn’t.

That the extremely limited resources meant that each marriage could only have one child made sense, but one child per nine adults will result in a diminishing population over time – even without the extremely hazardous conditions that the workers labor under. The female domination of this society is interesting and used to comment on all sorts of things but it’s never explained how they got that way. And we do eventually discover that there are other ships and some are male dominated – and we don’t know how they got that way either. Not that they didn’t make plenty, but different, mistakes along their way.

The history of this diaspora is only hinted at. The hints are fascinating and I wish we learned more.

Adalla’s story feels better developed than Seske’s, because Adalla has the longer and harder journey. It’s through Adalla that we get to see how the workers really live – and die. Adalla herself rises high within the worker castes, and then falls to the lowest of the low.

In the end, both Seske’s exposure of the corruption and Adalla’s rebellion against it lead them to the same place – trying to free themselves and the beasts from an endless cycle of destruction that is killing them all.

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Review: The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas + Giveaway

Review: The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas + GiveawayThe Art of Theft (Lady Sherlock, #4) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #4
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, is back solving new cases in the Victorian-set mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of The Hollow of Fear.

As "Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective," Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork—or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.   But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.   Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia's admirer Stephen Marbleton—everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake...

My Review:

I am an absolute sucker for Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so I’ve been reading the Lady Sherlock series as each book comes out, beginning with A Study in Scarlet Women three years ago.

The twist in the Lady Sherlock series is, on the one hand, the change that is made obvious by the series title. In this series, Sherlock Holmes is the fictitious, invalid brother used by Charlotte Holmes to mask the fact that she is the deductive genius who finds missing objects and solves crimes – as well as, in the case of this story – committing them.

But Holmes isn’t the only gender-swapped character in the series. There is no Dr. Watson. Instead, there is the former actress Mrs. Watson. Her husband was the military doctor who served in the Afghan War, as the Dr. Watson of the original canon did.

Mrs. Watson is not, however, the chronicler of “Sherlock” Holmes’ adventures. That duty has been left to Olivia Holmes. Charlotte’s younger sister.

One of the things that makes this series stand out from many other variations on the Holmes theme is not just that many of the roles have been gender-swapped, but that the series does not ignore the many ways that life as a middle or upper-class woman in Victorian England was restricted.

Charlotte’s ruse about her bedridden brother is part and parcel of those restrictions, as is her choice to become a “scarlet woman” in the first book so as to get herself disowned and out from under her parents’ disapproving thumb. A thumb that has all the force of law to hem her life into a tiny straight-jacket of propriety and misery.

Mrs. Watson, as a former actress, was already a scarlet woman when this series began. The case that Holmes and Watson take up in this entry in the series has its roots in her past. Once upon a time, when she was younger and perhaps a bit more foolish, Mrs. Watson fell in love with another woman. A woman who is now the Dowager Maharani of Ajmer. A woman who comes to London to engage Sherlock Holmes’ services in order to thwart her blackmailer – only to discover that there is no Sherlock, only her former lover and a woman who may be a towering genius of deduction but has no experience in breaking and entering.

Because that’s what the job seems to require. Breaking into an invitation-only house party and art auction, with the sole purpose of stealing a valuable painting and the explosive secrets that are concealed within its frame.

But nothing about this case is as it seems. As Charlotte and her team of friends and confidants investigate the mess that the Maharani has gotten herself into, the more that Charlotte realizes that very little about this case is what it seems.

There is much more going on than meets the eye – whether the eye is quicker than the hand or not. This case contains plenty of misdirection – and more than a few magic tricks – on every side. But at its heart there’s danger that none of them ever expected to face – at least not again.

Escape Rating B+: Like the previous entries in this series, I have mixed feelings about The Art of Theft. I’m almost feeling as if there are two books combined into one slightly uneasy combination.

The first part of this one is wrapped up in all of the restrictions faced by genteel women in Victorian England. Even though Charlotte and her sister Olivia are both in their late 20s, both definitely adults, legally they are the property of their father until they marry and become the property of their husbands.

That Charlotte was bloody-minded enough to find a way out of the trap does not mean that she is not affected by the solution she chose – as is Olivia. Their parents have forbidden the sisters to see each other, and while Charlotte is out from under their thumb, Olivia is not. She has no way of making a living for herself, and no freedom except through subterfuge.

It is ironic that Charlotte, Olivia and Mrs. Watson do read as women of their time, but their very necessity of kowtowing to the restrictions of being a woman in their time makes this reader grit her teeth and want the story to just get on with it.

Once they have the bit of the case between their teeth, in spite of all of the insanity that is wrapped around that particular endeavor, the story moves much more quickly, to the point where the reader can’t turn pages fast enough because there’s so much going on. And so much of it seems like “out of the frying pan and into the fire”.

It’s also that once the case gets going, Charlotte’s constant worry about “Maximum Tolerable Chins” gives way to her cold-blooded analytical ability to take what few facts they have and wrestle those facts into a theory that allows them to proceed – and succeed – in their endeavor.

(It seems in this series that the original Sherlock’s drug addiction has been converted to Charlotte’s addiction to rich pastries. It is notable that Sherlock never worried one-tenth as much about his seven-percent solution as Charlotte does her cream buns.)

Back to the case. There were plenty of examples of cases solved by the original Holmes where it takes Holmes’ uncanny ability to pull together disparate and obscure facts with painstaking observations to learn that the case the detective was hired for is not the game that is actually afoot.

And so it proves here. The way that Charlotte Holmes puts together the bits and pieces of what they are hired to do in order to discover what actually needs to be done is what keeps this reader glued to this series in spite of my frustrations with the maneuvering that Charlotte and company often have to do in order to get to the point.

In the end, this case is nothing like it appeared to be. Their client covered up their truths, and the blackmailer used the entire thing as a way to misdirect every single person at the auction.

That Moriarty emerges from the shadows at the end is more than enough to make me anticipate the next story in this series. There will be a solution to The Final Problem that is Moriarty. But hopefully not yet.

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

Thanks to the publisher, I am giving away a copy of The Art of Theft to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max GladstoneThis Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, time travel
Pages: 201
Published by Saga Press on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal-El Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.

My Review:

If Kage Baker’s Novels of the Company and Good Omens had a book baby, it would be This Is How You Lose the Time War. Including the implied queer romance between Aziraphale and Crowley being realized and not merely implied. Just completely gender-swapped. At least, in as much as Red and Blue have gender as we understand it.

Howsomever, while I loved Kage Baker’s series, especially the first dozen books or so – start with In the Garden of Iden and be prepared to disappear for a few weeks – and Good Omens the book was even better than the TV series, which was awesome in its own way, I’m not sure I actually liked This Is How You Lose the Time War.

It’s fascinating in some ways. And it’s a quick read. But “like” is much too pale and wishy-washy a word. I feel like I’m sitting on a fence with this book, in the sense that all that sitting on a fence usually gets you is splinters up your arse.

Let me attempt an explanation.

What Time War has in common with The Company is the concept of two factions seeding themselves through time, both attempting to control the outcome of history for their own ends. And both having agents in place – or rather in time – in various successful and unsuccessful efforts to change history.

And the concepts of “good” and “evil” in both series end up being far from clear cut. From our limited 21st century perspective it is impossible to know whether history would “better” – for very undefined meanings of “good”, “evil” and “better”, whether Red’s mecha-cyber future is superior to Blue’s “Garden”.

But, even though Time War eschews any concepts of absolute good or absolute evil, even in the watered down and corrupted versions of both that are exposed in Good Omens, what this book does borrow from Gaiman and Pratchett is, in part, the same thing that they borrowed from Cold War era spy fiction – that sometimes, in the midst of a long, long war, the agents from the opposing forces have more in common with each other than either does with their respective home teams.

They have both “been in the long grass and seen the elephant” in ways that no one can understand – unless they been in there with them in a way that only their opposite number has done.

At the same time, the friendly-but-opposing protagonists of This is How You Lose the Time War do come to the same conclusion that Aziraphale and Crowley do – that they are together on their own side, and if need be, alone against the cosmos.

Escape Rating B-: I am still not sure how I feel about this book. I’m baffled and a bit confused.

There’s a part that is fascinated by how the story is told. It doesn’t begin and the beginning, tell a story, and end at the end. Instead, the story is told through a series of letters written between Red and Blue. It’s not just the letter itself, but also the circumstances surrounding the discovery of each letter.

We get bits and pieces of who these two are, what they are, and the neverending war that they were born to fight. We’re also supposed to see them fall in love with each other through their correspondence, but I’m not sure I see how it happens. I mean, I see that it does, but without them ever meeting face to face, I’m not quite sure I buy the romance.

I’m equally fascinated by the way that the story ends, because it doesn’t. It comes full circle and then kind of fades to black. We’re left hoping that they found a way, but we don’t see it.

In the end, I found This is How You Lose the Time War to be more interesting than it was satisfying. A lot of people seem to have absolutely adored it. I think I wanted more plot to sink my teeth into.

Your mileage, as always, may vary.

Review: Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate Quinn

Review: Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate QuinnRibbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution's Women by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, Allison Pataki
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's history
Pages: 560
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Six bestselling and award-winning authors bring to life a breathtaking epic novel illuminating the hopes, desires, and destinies of princesses and peasants, harlots and wives, fanatics and philosophers—six unforgettable women whose paths cross during one of the most tumultuous and transformative events in history: the French Revolution.

Ribbons of Scarlet is a timely story of the power of women to start a revolution—and change the world.

In late eighteenth-century France, women do not have a place in politics. But as the tide of revolution rises, women from gilded salons to the streets of Paris decide otherwise—upending a world order that has long oppressed them.

Blue-blooded Sophie de Grouchy believes in democracy, education, and equal rights for women, and marries the only man in Paris who agrees. Emboldened to fight the injustices of King Louis XVI, Sophie aims to prove that an educated populace can govern itself--but one of her students, fruit-seller Louise Audu, is hungrier for bread and vengeance than learning. When the Bastille falls and Louise leads a women’s march to Versailles, the monarchy is forced to bend, but not without a fight. The king’s pious sister Princess Elisabeth takes a stand to defend her brother, spirit her family to safety, and restore the old order, even at the risk of her head.

But when fanatics use the newspapers to twist the revolution’s ideals into a new tyranny, even the women who toppled the monarchy are threatened by the guillotine. Putting her faith in the pen, brilliant political wife Manon Roland tries to write a way out of France’s blood-soaked Reign of Terror while pike-bearing Pauline Leon and steely Charlotte Corday embrace violence as the only way to save the nation. With justice corrupted by revenge, all the women must make impossible choices to survive--unless unlikely heroine and courtesan’s daughter Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe can sway the man who controls France’s fate: the fearsome Robespierre.

My Review:

Women have always fought. We have always lived in the castle. We have always defended the castle, and stormed the castle as well. We have always been there, on the front lines as well as behind the scenes, no matter how much we are written out of the supposedly official histories of “great men and great deeds” that try to pretend that we weren’t in the room where it happened – or on the ramparts defending that room.

The enduring images of the parts that women played in the French Revolution can (unfortunately) be reduced to three, not that there weren’t plenty of women involved, but history as written goes back to those “great men and great deeds” so that women’s contributions can be swept under the carpet – as sweeping was considered an appropriate activity for women.

When we think of women in relation to the French Revolution, the images that have stuck are poor, waifish Cosette from Les Misérables, the over-pampered and over-privileged Queen, Marie Antoinette crying, “Let them eat cake!” and the villainous Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities, knitting and cackling as the guillotine falls.

I’m just realizing that those three women conveniently fall into the “maiden, mother, crone” triptych and wondering if that’s what has made those particular three so memorable. I digress.

Ribbons of Scarlet, fictional though it is, tries to go deeper into the roles that women played during the Revolution. I almost said “both sides” but that implies that the sides were MUCH more clearly defined than they actually were. The Revolution, as the saying went, ate its young.

Instead of straightforwardly proceeding through the story of the French Revolution, or even telling it as a braided novel like The Glass Ocean by “Team W”, Ribbons of Scarlet proceeds from the very beginnings of the Revolution to its exhausted ending at the ascension of Napoleon Bonaparte through narratives that focus on the part that each woman played in her point in history – then she hands the story off to the next woman until it comes full circle back to the original narrator.

Each woman’s story is written by a different author, telling the story of the French Revolution almost as a relay race rather than a single story. Grouchette passes the baton to Louise who in her turn passes it to Elisabeth to Manon to Charlotte to Emilie and, at last, back to Grouchette.

All of these women, including, surprisingly, the revolutionary Louise Audu, were historical figures. Manon and Sophie were prolific authors, and the words and views ascribed to them in the story are documentably their own.

We have always fought. Sometimes with words – and sometimes with pikes.

Escape(ish) Rating: B+: To say that the French Revolution, for all its noble aims, turned out to be a clusterfuck implies a level of organization that doesn’t seem to have actually been present. After reading Ribbons of Scarlet, it feels more like the French Revolution was a goat rope. (Now there’s a term I never thought I’d have a use for, but my word the whole thing was completely fucked.) Reading this book makes me wonder how France managed to get itself organized back into a country – ever. So many histories focus on “great men” and “progress” that the level of sheer savagery gets reduced to something bearable. It probably has to, or history classes would need trigger warnings for this section – not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

However, just because all of the women were real doesn’t make them all equally interesting, or at least written equally sympathetically. In some ways, Ribbons of Scarlet feels like a short story collection on a single theme, and like all collections some stories work better than others. That being said, Grouchette’s section coming at the beginning was a great way to get into the story. I liked her and I found her perspectives surprisingly easy to identify with.

At the same time, Elizabeth’s extreme piety and unassailable belief in the divine right of kings, as well as Louise’ and Manon’s internal dialog about their own sexuality, while they feel right for their time,  make hard reading in ours.

But they ALL advance the story, it’s just that some heads are more interesting to be inside of than others – whether or not those heads eventually got cut off or not. Most of their fates were tragic in one way or another. That their voices have been lost to history – that’s the real tragedy.

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Review: The Price of Grace by Diana Munoz Stewart + Giveaway

Review: The Price of Grace by Diana Munoz Stewart + GiveawayThe Price of Grace (Black Ops Confidential, #2) by Diana Munoz Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Black Ops Confidential #2
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Who can you trustWhen family, truth, and love are all on the line?

Gracie Parish knows the true cost of trust. Rescued as a child by the infamous Parish family, she became a member of their covert sisterhood of vigilantes. Gracie saw her most precious relationships destroyed by secrecy. She learned long ago to protect her heart as well as her family's secrets.

Special Agent Leif "Dusty" McAllister will do anything to uncover the truth about the Parish family's covert operations. Dusty knows Gracie is his ticket in. He'll use everything he's got—fair, unfair, and just plain wrong—to break through her defenses. But the more he gets to know Gracie and her family's mission, the harder he starts to fall. Neither one is sure they'll get out of this with their lives—or their hearts—intact.

Black Ops Confidential series:I Am Justice (Book 1)The Price of Grace (Book 2)The Cost of Honor (Book 3)

My Review:

Sometimes there’s justice, and sometimes there’s “just us”. This series is about a family that has decided where that line gets drawn, to be that “just us” for women all over the world who desperately need some of that justice. No matter who, or what, gets in the way.

This particular entry in the series is all about the price that gets paid, on both sides of the equation. The Price of Grace is the second book in the Black Ops Confidential series, after last year’s terrific I Am Justice.

The series is very much romantic suspense, but it isn’t exactly like any other romantic suspense series. And that’s because of the Parish family. So often in romantic suspense, there’s a heroine in jeopardy being rescued by some lone wolf hero with a badge and a guarded heart of titanium.

That’s not the case here. The Parish family is a family of adoption rather than birth – and it’s a family of survivors, from its founding mother, Mukta Parish down to every cohort of her children. Survivors of brutality or abuse or trafficking or all of the above, every single one.

The Parish family is bound into a tribe – or a cult if you don’t like what they are doing – of nearly all women who have vowed to be that “just us” in countries all around the world where women’s and girls’ rights are trampled upon with legal impunity by governments and warlords alike.

In the United States, Mukta Parish uses her wealth and social standing to, let’s call it influence, legislation and politicians, all to further her agenda of making the world safer and fairer for women.

Of course, some people see her adopted children as brainwashed soldiers rather than clear-headed volunteers – or revolutionaries. And plenty of people at home and abroad want to keep on doing business as usual without her interference.

And, like any family, some children are less than willing to toe the family line, or just want to live an ordinary life rather than devote themselves to a cause, even a righteous one.

The Price of Grace is a story where those conflicting desires intersect in the person of Grace Parish, a woman who left a husband and child behind in order to keep them safe from her family’s retribution – or so she believes.

Grace’s need to carve out a bit of a life for herself conflicts with one FBI agent’s desire to rescue Grace and her siblings from what he perceives as their indoctrination into a cult of vigilantism. And it runs headlong into one woman’s insane need to preserve her position at the apex of privilege and self-indulgence – at any cost.

Escape Rating B+: In the first book in this series, whatever second thoughts Justice Parish may have had about deceiving Sandesh Ross about her mission – or her purpose on his mission – there are none about the mission itself, or her family’s determination to take on traffickers, slavers and abusers wherever they might be found.

But the location of that first story gives the Parish family’s vigilantism a bit of distance. Intellectually, we know that variations of the same crap that Justice Parish is fighting “over there” also happens right here at home, but the reader isn’t forced to confront the “outside the law” nature of the Parish’ activities in the same way.

(BTW I Am Justice is kickass awesome but it isn’t necessary to read it to get into The Price of Grace.)

All of the action in The Price of Grace – except for its explosive opening intro – takes place right here in the U.S. of A. In the light of Grace’s own desire to distance herself from her family’s field operations, and her semi-successful attempt to carve out a life of her that isn’t completely under her mother’s well-meaning but heavy-handed thumb, there’s a bit of uneasiness about the Parish family, not so much the mission itself but certainly the methodology.

And that’s reflected in the perspective of FBI Agent Dusty McAllister. His childhood was chock to the brim of first-hand experience with indoctrination into cult beliefs, and to his admittedly suspicious eyes, that’s exactly what it looks like Mukta Parrish is up to. Creating an army of child soldiers who are so indoctrinated into her way of thinking that they continue the dangerous and deadly mission into adulthood.

Dusty initially saw Grace’s attempts at independence as the weak link in the Parish family chain – he planned to use her to pry a way into the Parish family compound. But once he meets her he’s caught between his need to expose Mukta Parish and his need to explore every last inch of Grace Parish. A latter need  that is very much mutual.

But this story, partly through Dusty’s investigations and partly through the machinations of some very interested third parties gives the reader – and especially Grace – a view into some of the family’s operations that are not so savory as she, and the reader, have been led to believe. Giving the story some fascinating and slightly equivocal dimensions that add to the suspense as both Grace and the reader are forced to wonder just how much dirt is hiding under that righteous mission.

The reveal of who exactly is behind what, and why, gives this page-turner a surprising – and explosive, ending.

I think we’ll see more dimensions, and even more second thoughts, in the third book in this series, The Cost of Honor, later this year. And I’m all in for that!

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Price of Grace to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Coming Home for Christmas by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Coming Home for Christmas by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawayComing Home for Christmas (Haven Point, #10) by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Haven Point #10
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Hearts are lighter and wishes burn a little brighter at Christmas…

Elizabeth Hamilton has been lost. Trapped in a tangle of postpartum depression and grief after the death of her beloved parents, she couldn’t quite see the way back to her husband and their two beautiful kids…until a car accident stole away her memories and changed her life. And when she finally remembered the sound of little Cassie’s laugh, the baby powder smell of Bridger and the feel of her husband’s hand in hers, Elizabeth worried that they’d moved on without her. That she’d missed too much. That perhaps she wasn’t the right mother for her kids or wife for Luke, no matter how much she loved them.

But now, seven years later, Luke finds her in a nearby town and brings Elizabeth back home to the family she loves, just in time for Christmas. And being reunited with Luke and her children is better than anything Elizabeth could have imagined. As they all trim the tree and bake cookies, making new holiday memories, Elizabeth and Luke are drawn ever closer. Can the hurt of the past seven years be healed over the course of one Christmas season and bring the Hamiltons the gift of a new beginning?

My Review:

The holiday season has begun. Oh, not the official Xmas season, but the holiday romance season, definitely. It seems as if the first of the holiday romances start hitting the shelves right around the first official week of fall, and here we are.

As the year starts winding down, and the weather starts drawing in – or at least cooling off – it just starts to feel like it’s time to curl up under a cozyblanket, with a cup of hot cocoa or tea, a sleepy cat or two, and a heartwarming holiday romance.

Today’s book, Coming Home for Christmas by RaeAnne Thayne, is a great way to open this year’s holiday reading splurge.

Haven Point is one of those little towns that seem like great places to love. It’s a tight-knit community, people generally get along, and the economy has been looking up throughout the course of the series.

But life, and especially people, are not perfect. And not everyone’s life is going along swimmingly.

That’s where our hero, Luke Hamilton, comes in. Because seven years ago, his wife Elizabeth walked out into a snowstorm, leaving Luke and their two small children behind.

Along with a giant cloud over his head. Elizabeth never came back. Neither was her body ever found. No proof has ever been discovered to implicate Luke in either her disappearance or her presumed death.

But the court of public opinion convicted him long ago. And now the new District Attorney wants to make a name for herself by making it official. She plans to charge him with murder.

So Luke drives out in yet another snowstorm, making the 8 hour drive from Haven Point to the Oregon Coast, because he knows one thing that the DA doesn’t want to hear. Or believe.

His missing wife, Elizabeth Sinclair Hamilton, is living in Oregon under the name of Sonia Davis. And has been for years. She left him, she left their kids, and she never came back to them.

But he refuses to leave his children with no parent at all because his wife is too selfish to come back to them. There’s no way that he’s going to jail, or even on trial, for a murder that he not only didn’t commit, but particularly for the killing of a woman who isn’t even dead – even if she’s dead to him after years of betrayal. Or that’s what he believes.

The truth, well, that’s another matter entirely.

Escape Rating B+: Coming Home for Christmas is a quick read, and makes for a lovely second-chance-at-love holiday romance. Surprisingly so, considering the themes of the story and the underlying heartbreak behind Elizabeth’s actions.

It also reads like perfect fodder for one of those Hallmark Xmas movies – with more than a bit of a soap opera plot – complete with amnesia and reconstructive surgery. And the happy ending wraps up a bit quick and seems a touch contrived.

I’m not saying that this couple couldn’t find their way back to each other, in spite of the past, but it should have taken a bit more time and effort. No one needed to grovel in this one, it’s not that kind of story. But they have a LOT to get over, and doing it over the course of a single week after seven years of separation and justifiably hurt feelings seems like more than a bit of a holiday miracle.

At the same time, there’s a lot of “meat” to this one – and not just the traditional Xmas turkey.

The reason that Elizabeth stayed away from Haven may sound like a soap opera plot, but the reason she left was deadly serious. Suffering from clinical depression compounded by postpartum depression, overwhelmed by her grief, lost in a dark pit of despair, she couldn’t climb out on her own. No one could. And Luke, coping with a baby and a toddler, a business start up that required too much attention but had to succeed to support them all, tired and out of options or support of his own, still dealing with his own emotional issues, couldn’t handle it all.

Elizabeth got sicker and Luke became less able to cope and neither had a support network. Elizabeth left because she was lost in a spiral and was sure her family would be better off without her. And that part of her story happens more frequently than anyone wants to think.

So there is a bit of a holiday miracle in this one. It’s a miracle that would have felt more earned if it had taken a bit more time – but it’s more than enough for a lovely holiday read!

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

I am giving away a copy of Coming Home for Christmas to one very lucky US or Canadian commenter on this tour!

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Review: Lies in White Dresses by Sofia Grant

Review: Lies in White Dresses by Sofia GrantLies in White Dresses by Sofia Grant
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 17, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the 1940s and 50s, women who needed a fast divorce went to Nevada to live on a ranch with other women in the same boat. This historical novel was inspired by the true stories of those who “took the Reno cure.”

Francie Meeker and Vi Carothers were sold a bill of goods: find a man, marry him in a white wedding gown, and live happily ever after. These best friends never expected to be on the train to Reno, those “lies in white dresses” shattered, their marriages over.

On board the train they meet June Samples, who is fleeing an abusive husband with her daughter, and take the vulnerable young mother under their wing. The three decide to wait out the required six weeks together, and then they can toss their wedding bands into the Truckee River and start new lives as divorcees.

But as they settle in at the ranch, one shocking moment will change their lives forever. As it brings their deceptions and fears into focus, it will also demand a reckoning with the past, and the choices that a person in love can be driven to make.

My Review:

This is a story about secrets, and lies. The lies we live with, and the lies we discover that we can’t. It’s also a story about female friendship and paying it forward and figuring out who we are when we have to stand on our own.

And it’s a slice of a tiny but important portion of women’s history, when divorce, while still not commonplace, and still stigmatized, was at least possible – if you had enough time and enough money – or enough moxie to carry you through.

The “Reno cure” could be thought of as the hidden shadow behind the post-war late 1940s and the 1950s – that era of supposed normalcy and happy nuclear families – between the war years and the swinging 60s. Not all marriages were happy, and not all women were thrilled to give up the jobs and the freedom that they’d experienced during the war.

But this isn’t exactly that story either, although it is the same era, and probably owes inspiration to those circumstances. Or, the Reno Cure itself is the product of those circumstances.

Frannie and Vi, middle-aged best friends from San Francisco, have come to Reno to get divorced from their cheating husbands. It seems as though they have finally both had enough, and that their well-to-do husbands are more than willing to pay for their six-week stay in Reno so that they can get divorced and live happily-ever-after, with other people.

Or that’s what the husbands’ want, and the wives have finally acquiesced.

Along the way, Frannie and Vi rescue young June Samples and her little daughter Patty, on their own way to Reno to endure those same six weeks at the cheapest and most down-at-heel hotel June could find, in the hopes that June can stay hidden long enough to get her own divorce.

The three women, a generation apart, bond together over their shared and secret truths. None of which turn out to be quite what the others thought as their journey began.

But in the end, they are all the better for it – no matter where that future leads them.

Escape Rating B+: The “lies in white dresses” that the title refers to are all those dreams that little girls have about so-called “perfect” weddings, a dream that is force-fed to those girls long before they are old enough to understand that their “dream” wedding is not the important part.

It’s a lesson that we’re still learning.

In their own ways, Frannie, Vi and June each bought into that “lie”, only to have discovered that they hadn’t looked nearly carefully enough at the hazy figure putting the ring on their fingers before it was far too late. Or is it?

June’s husband is an abuser. Frannie’s husband is gay – not that Frannie didn’t know. Vi’s is a narcissist who is constitutionally incapable of keeping his pants zipped.

June wants to be safe. Frannie wants to be free. And Vi wants it to be over.

In the wake of that “over” she gives her friends, both new and old, the gift of a fresh start. If they can manage to reach out and grasp it.

What makes this story work is the slow reveal, not of the secrets which are mostly obvious fairly early on – although Vi’s is a doozy that remains hidden the longest, and appropriately so. It works because we witness the events in the wake of Vi’s departure, and watch as her friends, her family, and their families move forward together, drawing closer ties between them every step of the way.

The story switches first-person perspective through every one of its major players, from the three women at its center, to the woman who plans to take Vi’s place, both her adult children and Frannie’s, and the hidden witness to the whole drama, the young wannabe detective whose mother runs the divorce ranch.

They all have their own secrets, they all tell their own lies, and they are all trying to make their way as best they can. Readers will identify and empathize with them each differently, depending on where we are and our experiencea in relation to theirs. I’ll admit that I found the pre-teen “Nancy Drew” crossed the line between precocious and “too precious”, and not in a good way. At the same time, the way that she redeemed herself at the end was a terrific moment.

In the end Lies in White Satin is a surprisingly involving story about just how supportive and empowering true women’s friendship can be. I do not envy them the times they lived in or the circumstances in which they found themselves, but the depth of their love for each other was wonderful to read.

P.S. One of last week’s books gave me a terrible earworm, as its title was a popular song in the 1980s. Lies in White Dresses also gave me an earworm, as its title scans exactly like Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues, a song I remember being popular in the 1970s. The lyrics also fit in a peculiar way. But now both songs are endlessly repeating in my poor head!

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Guest Review: H2O by Irving Belateche

Guest Review: H2O by Irving BelatecheH2O by Irving Belateche
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction, thriller
Pages: 198
Published by Laurel Canyon Press on November 8, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBook Depository
Goodreads

Roy Walker is curious. But in a world where knowledge has disappeared, curiosity will get you killed.

Generations ago, the Passim Virus wiped out most of humanity. The survivors banded together to form the Territory and, now, decades later, no one questions why knowledge has disappeared. Why should they? They're lucky to be alive.

But Roy doesn't feel so lucky. He's haunted by the murder of his father and he's ostracized by everyone in town. He asks way too many questions, especially about the water pumped out by the town's desalination plant.

Then Roy finds a tantalizing clue that leads him down the coast of what used to be the state of Oregon. He's stunned at what he discovers. Everything in the Territory is a lie and everything around him is a front. But to uncover the dark secret behind this front, Roy must venture deeper into the wilderness where marauders and the deadly Passim Virus wait to kill.

It's there, outside the Territory, where he discovers the truth about his father's murder and where he meets his unexpected destiny -- To free humanity from the bondage of a powerful enemy.

Guest review by Amy:

Curiosity killed the cat, the old saying goes, though Roy Walker probably never has known that, since quite a lot of the vast body of human knowledge has been lost. Once the Passim Virus wiped out vast swaths of humanity, the survivors didn’t have time to… wait.

They didn’t have time to keep up a lot of the tools and technology that actually would have made surviving easier? Something doesn’t add up here.

Escape Rating: B+: I’m normally excited about post-apocalyptic adventure/thrillers; to me, it’s interesting to see how the author constructs their world. Does it look kind of like ours? What technologies develop in the ad hoc world after whatever-it-was-that-happened? What technology and culture falls by the wayside? Action, adventure, romance, all those things being in there are all a big plus to the central theme of “modern” humans trying to survive.

Author Irving Belateche has given us a slice of our own world, on the US West Coast, and quite a lot of it looks familiar. Houses, people, vehicles, even the desalination plant that our protagonist maintains, all look more-or-less normal. There are just lots of empty houses, and no one knows, really, what’s outside “the Territory,” and everyone’s scared to find out, because of the Virus.

To me, right from that point, this story has a problem for me. Humankind likes to connect, to explore, to get out there in the wild blue yonder and find things out. It’s what we do, and it’s made us the apex life form on this planet over the last several thousand years, and even gotten us into space.

To see a huge area of the United States cut itself off and be content with that strikes me as odd, right out of the gate. And a question in my mind from the get-go was “what happened to the libraries?” There are quite a few great big ‘uns along the Washington-Oregon-California coast; surely someone would have thought to go look for a computer repair manual in one of them? Or a copy of Programming Perl? Instead, we’re led to believe that writing software and maintaining computers are some magical voodoo that few can do–and, indeed, people are punished for doing so. As a software developer on my day job, and having worked with developers for thirty years, I’m just not buying this. Life, and software, always finds a way, to borrow loosely from Jurassic Park, but Belateche somehow wants us to believe that that’s not the case. Humanity’s vast banks of knowledge – libraries – are thoroughly ignored, not even mentioned once in the book.

I’ll let that go, for a moment, and suspend the big disbelief that threw me off-kilter here. The story itself has a lot of interesting points. There’s the worry about catching the Virus, the traveling without the “Fibs” (law enforcement) finding them, even a whiff of what could have eventually turned into some kind of love interest. Roy Walker is curious where all the water goes, naturally, since he maintains the water plant, and he knows it makes more than his local community could be using. That drives him to do something he shouldn’t (“finally! Someone acting like a real human,” Amy says to herself) and he goes to find out where all the water is going. At first, he thinks it’s corruption or some other criminal activity, but of course we’re given a deeper reason, and that is, in fact, why the Virus happened in the first place. There’s a decent adventure story under the hood here, and once Roy figures out what’s really going on, a straightforward redeem-humanity plot emerges from the earlier confusion. Our accidental hero is quite heroic, our villain suitably nasty, and the final confrontation satisfying.

Other people have liked this book a lot more than I did, from the reviews. My problem, as I noted above, is that it required a little more suspension of disbelief a little more than I was willing to give it. If that doesn’t present a problem for you, and you like post-apocalyptic stories, this one might be one you’d enjoy. It wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t a stinker, either.