Review: Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery

Review: Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan MallerySecrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Harlequin Books on July 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The relationship of sisters Kelly and Olivia Van Gilder has been, well… complicated ever since their mother left them as teens, though it's the secrets they have been keeping from each other as adults that have unwittingly widened the chasm. But one thing they do share is the not-so-secret torch they carry for the Martin brothers.
In the small enclave of New Holland, Washington, Griffith and Ryan Martin were demigods. While Griffith was the object of Kelly's high school crush and witness to her mortal teenage humiliation, Ryan was for Olivia the boy who got away-something she's never forgiven Kelly for-and the only person since her mother who appreciated her wild streak.
Now, ten years later, both brothers are newly returned to town. Believing they're destined to be together, Olivia's determined to get Ryan back, until she discovers that she's not the only one keeping secrets…and that perhaps he's not the handsome prince she remembered. And even though Griffith has grown up to be more irresistible than ever, Kelly's impulse is to avoid him and the painful memory he represents, despite his resolve to right the wrong he caused her long ago-and her desire to let him.

My Review:

I want to say that the Murphy family puts the fun back in dysfunctional – but too many of the relationships within this family are all dysfunction and damn little fun. Of course, those dysfunctions add to the drama of the story – and there is plenty of fun outside these very messy family dynamics.

This is a story about three women, Kelly Murphy, her sister Olivia, and her best friend Helen, in their little small town of Tulpen Crossing, Washington. Tulpen Crossing is a lot closer to Spokane than Seattle, on the eastern side of the Cascades – a location that matters a lot in Washington state. Tulpen Crossing, and nearly everything in town, is named for it’s annual tulip crop, the economic engine of the entire town.

The Murphy family have been growing tulips in Tulpen for generations. Kelly Murphy and her dad Jeff are continuing the family tradition. They also still share the Murphy family house, in spite of Kelly being well-past the age where most young adults fly out of the family nest – Kelly is 28. And seems to not think that love and marriage are for her. She watched her parents’ marriage implode, explode and every other ‘plode when she was in her early teens, and wants to stay as far away from that kind of mess as possible.

Until it comes looking for her.

Griffin Burnett is the prodigal son – he returned to Tulpen Crossing to set up his very successful Tiny House business. He’s had his eye on Kelly for a long time. He likes her no-nonsense no-games attitude, and he thinks her no-fuss, no muss style is beautiful, as is she. But he’s not interested in love and marriage either, just a long-term relationship of friendship, respect and, of course, benefits.

Kelly, whose self-esteem issues know very few bounds, thinks he’s nuts. But she’s willing to try.

And that’s where all the dysfunction in the Murphy family comes home to roost – and to stir up trouble. First Olivia comes back, after over a decade of absence. She got sent to boarding school when she was 15, not long after their mother abandoned the family – after seducing every single post-pubescent male for about 100 miles around Tulpen Crossing – and being far from discreet about it.

Just as Olivia and Kelly begin to rebuild their very strained sibling relationship, Marilee returns to Tulpen Crossing in Olivia’s wake, not because she’s missed either of her daughters, but because she wants to stir up as much trouble as possible.

She nearly succeeds beyond even her wildest expectations.

Escape Rating B+: As much as I hate the label, Secrets of the Tulip Sisters falls squarely into that category so awfully named “women’s fiction”. While there are not just one but three romances in this story, it’s really about the relationships between Kelly, Olivia and Helen, how they support each other and sometimes how they sabotage each other, and their relationships with the town and the way that all of them step forward, sometimes hesitantly and sometimes boldly, into their own futures.

One of the themes of the story is about the keeping of secrets. Olivia arrives in Tulpen Crossing with a huge secret. Every time she and Kelly begin to get their relationship back on track, a piece of that secret gets let out of its bag and derails their relationship. That the derailment is intended makes it all that much more heartbreaking.

Kelly also has plenty of secrets. A whole lot of it is self-blame – she has persisted in the belief that it is all her fault that her mother left, and even more damning, all her fault that Olivia was sent to boarding school. She was 15 when she and her mother had the supposedly fateful argument, and 18 when she convinced her father to send Olivia to boarding school. As much as she needs to tell Olivia about her part in some of the worst parts of Olivia’s life – Kelly was not the adult in either situation. Her mother was always going to leave – and it was her father’s choice to send Olivia to boarding school. It helps a lot that, in retrospect, Olivia realizes that Kelly was probably right, no matter how selfish her motivations seemed at the time.

And then there’s Helen. She too, has a secret that impacts the Murphy family. Helen, who is a few years older than her best friend Kelly, owns the local diner. And she’s been in love with Kelly’s dad for years. Jeff Murphy is clueless about Helen’s feelings, but well aware of his own – and can’t imagine that Helen, 16 years his junior, could possibly be interested in him.

Of course he’s wrong. He’s wrong about a whole lot of things, as we discover when Marilee breezes back into Tulpen Crossing to screw with everyone’s heads and screw up everyone’s life. She’s irredeemable. But everyone else, learning to cope with the crises she leaves in her wake, finally rise to the challenge to find their happy and boot her out of their lives, and especially out of the headspace she’s taken from all of them over the years.

At the end, everybody stands taller and stronger. And it’s wonderful.

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Review: Raisins and Almonds by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Raisins and Almonds by Kerry GreenwoodRaisins and Almonds (Phryne Fisher Mystery #9) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #9
Pages: 217
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on June 6th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Phryne Fisher loves dancing, especially with gorgeous young Simon Abrahams. But Phryne s contentment at the Jewish Young People s Society Dance is cut short when Simon s father asks her to investigate the strange death of a devout young student in Miss Sylvia Lee s East Market bookshop. Miss Lee has been arrested for the murder, and Phryne believes that she is a very unlikely killer. Investigation leads her into the exotic world of Yiddish, refugees, rabbis, kosher dinners, Kadimah, strange alchemical symbols, and chicken soup. With help from the old faithfuls Bert and Cec, her taxi driver friends; her devoted companion Dot; and Detective Inspector Call me Jack Robinson, Phryne picks her way through the mystery. She soon finds herself at the heart of a situation far graver and more political than she at first appreciates. And all for the price of a song ."

My Review:

The best fictional detectives are nearly always outsiders. As outsiders they have no vested interest in any or all of the potential victims, nor are they predisposed to protect or defend any of the potential suspects merely because of some connection, perceived or otherwise. Finally, they tend to make fewer or no assumptions based on prior knowledge, because as outsiders they have little or none.

Phryne Fisher is always somewhat of an outsider. Her early years were spent in Melbourne’s slums, her family destitute and with never enough to eat. But she’s not poor any longer. A lot of young men died, and suddenly her father inherited a dukedom in England and the money to go with it. She and her family were whisked away to England, to a life of luxury. But she never forgot.

Even though she learned to pretend to be “to the manor born”, she is all too aware that she was not. While she can walk in both worlds easily, she is not quite a member of either.

In Raisins and Almonds, she is even further an outsider, as the investigation of this particular crime requires that Phryne insert herself into Melbourne’s Jewish community, at least as much as a shiksa (a rather pejorative Yiddish word for a female non-Jew) can insert herself. She begins by knowing only one person, her current lover, Simon Abrahams. And she is aware from the very beginning that she is only borrowing him, and must return him, possibly heartbroken but otherwise unharmed, to his people and his heritage. And she’s fine with that, even though Simon is not.

But Simon’s father is more than willing to make use of the female detective temporarily in their midst, when one of his tenants in the Eastern Market is accused of a murder she so obviously did not commit. Especially because the man who was most definitely murdered was also a member of the Jewish community. Miss Lee the bookshop proprietor may not have committed the deed, but somebody surely did.

And the elder Mr. Abrahams wants that murderer found, quickly, quietly and correctly, before whispers about the Jews rise to the level of violence that all the members of the community left behind in whatever European country they once called home.

While those fears feel unfounded both to Phryne and to the Australian-born generation of the Jewish community, it is also impossible to deny that anti-Semitism is definitely on the rise in Europe as well as in post Revolutionary Russia. The recent publication of Mein Kampf has caused many to turn worried eyes towards Germany, while the younger and more passionate among them seek adventure and purpose in Zionism with its promise of a homeland in Palestine.

Any or all of these tensions could be the cause of murder. But the motives of this particular murder turn out to be much, much more primitive. Greed is universal. So are envy and jealousy. And no one ever wants to see the snake in their own private garden.

Escape Rating B+: Phryne is always the consummate outsider. At the same time, one of the characteristics that seems singular to Phryne is that she seems to be immune to the prejudices of her day. She takes everyone as she finds them, and does not seem to enter into any conversation or association with any preconceived notions, at least not any notions based on race, class, gender identity, sexual preference or religion. So far in the book series, Phryne has demonstrated that she carries none of the anti-gay, anti-Asian and now anti-Semitic views that were common in the 1920s. And as a reader, I can’t help but wonder if this is a reflection of the author’s times rather than Phryne’s.

Which doesn’t keep me from being appreciative. One of the difficulties of reading what are now historical mysteries but were contemporaneous in their day is the amount of casual racism and sexism that often imbues the pages.

There was plenty of overt anti-Semitism in the 1920s. And indeed well into my own lifetime. While there seems to be a relatively recent resurgence of open and vitriolic anti-Semitism, it never completely goes away – it just goes underground. There have been times in my life where it has been more subtle, and also times when it has been less so. But the dark underbelly of human nature seems ineradicable, and the impulse to hate others, and oftentimes it has been the Jews, never disappears completely.

Which meant I understood completely the desire of the older generation of the Abrahams family to find a just solution to the crime as quickly as possible. Too much attention from the police or especially from the press would be seen as inviting just the kind of trouble that they had all left behind in Europe. Not that there weren’t occasionally violent impulses and certainly casual anti-Semitism in Australia, but so far, those impulses had not broken out in pogroms and outright persecutions.

Unlike many detective stories, Phryne’s cases often involve multiple perpetrators. This always serves to increase the number of red herrings and confuse the proceedings mightily. These stories are also not traditional stories in the sense that we don’t always see all the clues that Phryne sees, or at least it seems that way, even at the end.

This was a case where the differing motives for the various sets of crimes practically tripped each other up. There was murder, there were multiple attempts at robbery, but underlying that whole mess was a quite deceptive morass of espionage. All of which kept me, and everyone else involved in the case, guessing until the very end.

Raisins and Almonds was not my first trip to Phryne Fisher’s 1920s Melbourne (I began with Cocaine Blues and so should you, not because you need to read this series all the way through from the beginning but because they are all good fun), and I know it will not be my last.

Review: Thieves Quarry by D.B. Jackson

Review: Thieves Quarry by D.B. JacksonThieves' Quarry (Thieftaker Chronicles, #2) by D.B. Jackson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical mystery, urban fantasy
Series: Thieftaker #2
Pages: 317
Published by Tor Books on July 2nd 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Boston, Province of Massachusetts Bay, September 28, 1768
Autumn has come to New England, and with it a new threat to the city of Boston. British naval ships have sailed into Boston Harbor bearing over a thousand of His Majesty King George III’s soldiers. After a summer of rioting and political unrest, the city is to be occupied.
Ethan Kaille, thieftaker and conjurer, is awakened early in the morning by a staggeringly powerful spell, a dark conjuring of unknown origin. Before long, he is approached by representatives of the Crown. It seems that every man aboard the HMS Graystone has died, though no one knows how or why. They know only that there is no sign of violence or illness. Ethan soon discovers that one soldier -- a man who is known to have worked with Ethan’s beautiful and dangerous rival, Sephira Pryce -- has escaped the fate of his comrades and is not among the Graystone’s dead. Is he the killer, or is there another conjurer loose in the city, possessed of power sufficient to kill so many with a single dark casting?
Ethan, the missing soldier, and Sephira Pryce and her henchmen all scour the city in search of a stolen treasure which seems to lie at the root of all that is happening. At the same time, though, Boston’s conjurers are under assault from the royal government as well as from the mysterious conjurer. Men are dying. Ethan is beaten, imprisoned, and attacked with dark spells.
And if he fails to unravel the mystery of what befell the Graystone, every conjurer in Boston will be hanged as a witch. Including him.

My Review:

I plucked the first book in this series, Thieftaker, from the midst of the towering TBR pile back in February. At the time, a book about pre-Revolutionary America seemed like a good read for Presidents Day. After the Fourth of July, earlier this week, it seemed like an appropriate time to dig out the second book in the series.

And I’m glad I did. This was definitely the right book for the right time. Again.

Thieves’ Quarry takes place three years after the events in Thieftaker. Which makes the year 1768, the year that the British, in their infinite wisdom, decided to teach those fractious colonists in Boston a lesson by occupying the city with British regulars. Those muttering “revolution” mutter a whole lot louder as armed Redcoats stand on every street corner to watch the citizens. Even Ethan, who began the series as a British loyalist, feels uneasy at the occupation – and he’s not alone.

But in the case that forms the central mystery of Thieves’ Quarry, Ethan is working for the British Crown. Not precisely as a thieftaker, although as he puts it, all the men were certainly robbed of their lives, but as a conjurer. Someone killed every man aboard one of the British transport ships bringing troops to the colonies, and did it with an extremely powerful spell.

It’s up to Ethan to figure out who that powerful speller is, before the frustrated colonial Lieutenant Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, has Ethan and every conjurer in Boston hanged as a witch. Which won’t resolve ANY of the outstanding problems, nor will it trap the killer, but will give the restless populace something to focus on other than the occupation, and will have the added benefit of getting the Crown off of Hutchinson’s back, as he will have done SOMETHING to resolve the issue. Even if it doesn’t solve anything at all.

So Ethan finds himself in a race against time, trying desperately to figure out who committed this terrible crime, while the Sheriff, the Lieutenant Governor and his arch-rival Sephira Pryce dog his every step – when they are not out in front of him throwing roadblocks in his path.

And in the end, he discovers that the answer is one that he should have known all along.

Escape Rating B+: The author does an absolutely fantastic job of bringing pre-Revolutionary Boston to life. As we follow Ethan, it almost feels like the reader can not just see what he sees, but sometimes even smell what he smells. Even when it smells really, really rank.

So much of this story, in spite of the fantastical elements, rings true. As do most of the characters. While real historical figures play small parts in this story, notably Samuel Adams and the aforementioned Lieutenant Governor, all the characters feel like real people living in a real time and real place. Except for one.

For this reader, every time Sephira Pryce appears I have to grit my teeth and wait for her to step off the page again. She does not feel like a real person, instead, she reads like a caricature of a female criminal mastermind – ruthless, capricious, petulant, self-indulgent and gorgeous. Ethan’s lingering descriptions of her looks each time she enters the scene get old. I’m only grateful that there’s no “will they, won’t they” chemistry between them, because frankly that would make me drop the series. But there’s just something about her that doesn’t ring true, and it always bothers me.

But the mystery in Thieves’ Quarry kept me turning pages until the very end. And no, I didn’t figure it out. When Ethan finally unravels the whole mess, it’s easy to see how he (and we) should have figured things out much, much sooner. But didn’t. And that’s marvelous.

I enjoyed Thieves’ Quarry and its mystery as well as its gritty portrait of pre-Revolutionary Boston. Enough so that I may not manage to wait until the next appropriate holiday to pick up A Plunder of Souls. Next Presidents Day is awfully far away.

Review: Liar’s Key by Carla Neggers

Review: Liar’s Key by Carla NeggersLiar's Key (Sharpe & Donovan, #6) by Carla Neggers
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense
Series: Sharpe & Donovan #6
Pages: 384
Published by Mira on August 30th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An FBI legend, a mysterious antiquities specialist and a brazen art thief draw top FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan into a complex web of blackmail, greed and murder in the eagerly awaited new novel in the highly acclaimed Sharpe & Donovan series
Emma Sharpe is suspicious when retired Special Agent Gordon Wheelock, a legend in FBI art crimes, drops by her Boston office for a visit. Gordy says he's heard rumors about stolen ancient mosaics. Emma, an art crimes specialist herself, won't discuss the rumors. Especially since they involve Oliver York, an unrepentant English art thief. Gordy and Emma's grandfather, a renowned private art detective, chased Oliver for a decade. Gordy knows Wendell Sharpe didn't give him everything he had on the thief. Even now, Oliver will never be prosecuted.
When a shocking death occurs, Emma is drawn into the investigation. The evidence points to a deadly conspiracy between Wendell and Oliver, and Emma's fiancé, deep cover agent Colin Donovan, knows he can't stay out of this one. He also knows there will be questions about Emma's role and where her loyalties lie.
From Boston to Maine to Ireland, Emma and Colin track a dangerous killer as the lives of their family and friends are at stake. With the help of their friend, Irish priest Finian Bracken, and Emma's brother, Lucas, the Sharpes and Donovans must band together to stop a killer.

My Review:

I’ve read this series from the very beginning, all the way back to the prequel novella, Rock Point. (But don’t read Rock Point first. It makes more sense if you start with Saint’s Gate and meet ALL the characters. Not that you need to read ALL of the previous books to enjoy this one, but this entry in particular deals with so many previous threads (and people) that it helps a lot if you’ve read at least some of the earlier books.)

In this mystery series, the detectives are FBI Agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan, even though they find themselves working apart as often as they work together. Emma is an art specialist, and Colin, at least up until now, has usually worked alone on deep-cover assignments.

They are also originally from neighboring small towns on the Maine coast. But while they grew up a few short miles apart, they didn’t meet until an assignment threw them together. In the even smaller world of coastal Maine small towns, they knew of each other’s families, but just never met.

So as they count down the final days to their wedding in Emma’s home town of Heron’s Cove, there are plenty of intrusions from friends, family and old cases to keep everyone on their toes to the end.

Colin’s family are law enforcement in their little town, but Emma’s family are world-famous art detectives. And this time around it’s Emma’s family and their connections that cause all the trouble, as well as solve the mystery.

It all begins when a retired FBI Agent shows up in Emma’s Boston office. Gordy Wheelock is on a fishing expedition, looking for something to make him feel relevant a year after his sudden retirement. While Emma isn’t hooked enough to give Gordy any information, she is concerned enough to connect the dots and figure out that there is something going on that there shouldn’t be.

Whatever Gordy thinks he’s involved in, it ties into his last, unsolved case. And it also ties into the seemingly accidental death of an art expert and to Emma’s family’s business. There are too many loose threads. They all tie into something, but Emma isn’t quite sure what.

But as she investigates, and waits for Colin to make it back from his undercover assignment, she learns that at least some of her family are plotting more than just her wedding. And that someone is working, either for her or against her, to figure out not just whodunit but exactly what they done, before she does.

And Gordy Wheelock gets tripped up by his lies.

Escape Rating B+: I read this one on a plane, and completely lost track of where I was or just how much turbulence we hit. I got a copy of this last year when it came out, but for some reason lost track of it at the time. Now that the next book in the series, Thief’s Mark, is due out, it felt like time to pick this back up. And I’m glad I did.

Like so many mystery series, a big part of what makes Sharpe and Donovan isn’t due to Sharpe and Donovan, but rather to the group of people who surround them, and occasionally (or not so occasionally) help and/or hinder them in their investigations. They are smart and interesting people to follow, and they surround themselves with equally smart and interesting people. And as usual, while the wedding and the investigation are proceeding, some of those people have separate crises of their very own to add to the mix.

As families do. Because that’s what these people have become to each other, family.

The case is really all about Gordy Wheelock’s last hurrah. He made a hell of a mistake before he retired, and it’s cost him. Perhaps not enough.

But part of what Emma is investigating is cooked up by her grandfather and her frenemy Oliver York. Wendell Sharpe and Oliver are on the trail of someone who is stealing ancient mosaics and getting them onto the market with fake provenance. Basically, someone is money laundering, with mosaics substituting for money. The comparison is to “conflict diamonds” because these ancient artifacts are being expropriated from places where they shouldn’t and putting the money into the hands of people who underwrite terrorism.

But Wendell and Oliver are playing a dangerous game, particularly since they, as well as Gordy, leave Emma and the FBI out of their loop. It’s a misstep that will result in more bodies, more disruption, and less trust. Not a good combination. But it is a fascinating one.

In the end, the criminals do get unmasked, and Emma and Colin manage to get married. I am very happy to say, however, that this is not the end of their adventures. Thief’s Mark is coming in August. After all, Emma and Colin could not possibly have expected to have an uninterrupted honeymoon, could they?

Review: Barbarian by Anna Hackett

Review: Barbarian by Anna HackettBarbarian (Galactic Gladiators #6) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #6
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Abducted by alien slavers, experimented on, and left blind, the last thing doctor Winter Ashworth needs is a big barbarian gladiator in her life, especially an annoying one who thinks she's small and weak.

Rescued by gladiators on the desert world of Carthago, Winter is doggedly working to embrace her new life. But two of her friends are still missing and she'll do anything to help get them back...even if she has to work alongside Nero Krahn: hunter, barbarian, gladiator. The scowly, brooding man is too big, has too many muscles, and pushes all her buttons.

Nero is the House of Galen's best hunter and tracker. Raised on a barbarian world, where strength and might are prized, he was bred to hunt and fight. Now the arena is his home and his loyalty is to his imperator. He knows he can use his skills to find the two lost women, even if that means protecting a small blind woman who takes every chance to misjudge his words and lash him with her sharp tongue.

But as they follow a dangerous trail to save their friends, a new enemy emerges--one who wants Winter. The pair find themselves reluctantly attracted to each other, uncovering a scorching desire that shocks them both. As Nero fights to protect Winter, the barbarian gladiator will discover the true meaning of strength from the small Earth woman he wants to claim as his.

My Review:

I always have a good time with Anna Hackett’s series, and Barbarian was no exception. This was a perfect airplane book. The plane may have been flying over the American Heartland, but I was exploring the deserts of Kor Magna and loving every minute of it.

The Galactic Gladiators series is a kind of sun and sandals meet spaceships series. Kor Magna is basically Vegas on steroids, and the gladiatorial fights are just a part of the entertainment on offer. All of the galaxy’s sins, temptations and degradations seem to be available on Kor Magna – for a price.

But it isn’t all fun and games. Kor Magna may be where the rich come to play, but it has a seamy side. Someone has to be providing all the fun, all that tempting sin, and not all of the providers are willing.

There’s an unfortunately thriving slave trade that feeds the fleshpots of Kor Magna, and an ever expanding number of humans have found themselves under its thumb. Slavers exploited a temporary wormhole from Kor Magna to Jupiter, and kidnapped or killed an entire space station.

But that wormhole was a temporary fluke. Our solar system is too far away to get to, over 600 years away at the fastest sublight speeds currently available. So the humans that were captured are exotic and rare, therefore valuable in the wrong hands. And none of them can get home.

Over the course of the series, the captive humans have been rescued, one by one, by gladiators from the successful and honorable House of Galen. Galen and his gladiators have made it their mission to rescue slaves, especially those who just aren’t suited for the life of a gladiator.

And one by one, as each human is rescued, another gladiator falls into the arms of love. At this point, the remaining unmated gladiators are getting a bit sick of all the mushy stuff, and worried about when it will be their turn to fall. (This reader is really looking forward to Galen’s fall, but that’s probably a couple of books away at least. Damn)

The story in Barbarian is the romance between blind Winter and warrior Nero. Winter is a doctor who was blinded in an experiment after she was captured by the slavers. She has a lot of fears and insecurities about how she will make a life and a place for herself now that she is blind. A surgeon can’t operate if they can’t see what they are operating on.

The warrior Nero pushes all of Winter’s buttons, both the good ones and the insecure ones. A warrior from a savage planet, Nero was taught to believe that the weak were a drain on resources, and that protecting them only drains the tribe. He’s learned better in the House of Galen, but Winter’s presence makes him even more tongue-tied, and more blunt, than usual. And she takes all of his comments and runs with them, generally in the wrong direction.

There is more than one kind of strength, and more than one version of bravery. As the gladiators trek out into the harsh desert to rescue more humans from extremely inhumane conditions, Winter and Nero finally figure out that all of their arguments mask a whole lot of deeper emotions that neither of them is ready to deal with.

But life on Kor Magna, even under the best of circumstances (something the gladiators never seem to find) is too harsh to put off loving the person who makes your heart sing.

Escape Rating B+: I really liked Nero and Winter. In the end, they made a great team. And it was good to see Winter take her new life by the horns, in spite of her handicap. She’s scared, she’s uncertain, but she never retreats and she never gives up.

Not even when an evil robot is dragging her to its leader.

That leader is what keeps this book, for me at least, from rising into the A grades.

The slave traders, as awful as they are, make a bad kind of sense. They’re in it for the money. It’s a disgusting motive, and their tactics are brutal, but we understand why they do what they do, even as we abhor it.

The villain of this piece, the Catalyst, is just plain nuckin’ futz. Crazy as a loon. A few parsecs short of a quadrant. You get the picture. He’s doing what he’s doing just because he can, and because he believes he’s so intelligent that he’s entitled, and that no one will be able to stop him. He was terrible and awful and dangerous, but he just didn’t make enough sense. At least not for me.

The gladiators, on the other hand, are terrific. And they are all very much individuals, just as are the humans they fall for. So far, it’s been one male human and five females, but there is nothing in the structure of the series that says that couldn’t change. One of the things that I like about the series is that each of the humans, upon recognizing that they literally can’t go home again, buckles down and finds work and hope and purpose as well as love. And the work varies – only two so far have become gladiators. In addition to Winter finding a way to continue as a healer, one has become an engineer, another an inventor, and one has taken on the sometimes thankless task of business manager for the House of Galen.

One thing that makes this series so much fun is that the pattern can be stretched indefinitely without feeling too stretched. The Hell Squad series has hit that point for me, even though I still enjoy the individual entries in it. And you don’t have to read the entire series to get in on the action (but probably the first one (Gladiator) just to introduce the scene, setting and players) But the Galactic Gladiators only has to stop when the plausible number of captives from the Jupiter station has been reached, and that’s a LONG way off.

Thank goodness!

Review: Take Out by Margaret Maron + Giveaway

Review: Take Out by Margaret Maron + GiveawayTake Out by Margaret Maron
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Sigrid Harald #9
Pages: 304
Published by Grand Central Publishing on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Sigrid is still reeling from the untimely death of her lover, acclaimed painter Oscar Nauman, when she is called to investigate the deaths of two homeless men in the West Village. The police at first assume an overdose, until they realize that one of the men shows no signs of drug use. Then when containers of poisoned takeout food are found nearby, Sigrid's case is suddenly much more complicated. As Sigrid investigates, she uncovers an intriguing neighborhood history: a haughty mafia widow and her disgraced godson, a retired opera star with dark secrets, an unsolved hit-and-run, and the possible discovery of a long-missing painting that will rock the art world. Soon the case is fraught with myriad suspects and motives. Who killed the two homeless men, and why? And which one was the intended victim? Or was the poisoned food meant for someone else entirely?
Throwing herself into the murder investigation to distract herself from her personal grief, Sigrid still can't stop wondering what led Nauman across the country to the winding mountain road that took his life. Until she meets a man who may hold the answers she seeks.
In her newest gripping mystery, Margaret Maron's beautifully drawn characters and unpredictable plot twists prove once again why she's one of today's most beloved writers.

My Review:

I think that NYPD Lieutenant Sigrid Harald would recognize Eve Dallas’ 21st century New York as still being her city, and vice versa. And that if the two women ever met, they would see each other as kin. There’s a similarity to the two no-nonsense New York homicide detectives that transcends time.

Also a distinct difference. I read all of the Sigrid Harald series, starting with One Coffee With, sometime in the late 80s or early 90s. But I never read the last one. Although there is a murder mystery in Fugitive Colors, that story also deals with the unexpected death of Sigrid’s lover, the artist Oscar Nauman. It was just too sad to contemplate, so I never picked it up. I have a copy, I just couldn’t bear to read it.

Take Out takes place in the aftermath of Nauman’s death. It’s been over a year since the tragedy, and Sigrid has learned to deal with her grief, even though it still sometimes strikes her down without warning. She has also resigned herself to being Oscar’s heir, and dealing with all the myriad details involved with protecting the legacy (and the fortune) of a famous artist.

But the mystery in Take Out turns out to be wrapped in the other loose ends of Sigrid’s life, as well as tying up the leftover bits of the mystery from Fugitive Colors. It all starts with a New York tradition – take out.

Two men are dead on a bench in an upscale NYC neighborhood. The remains of their last meal all around them – take out food from a neighborhood restaurant. Neither man is a resident. One is clearly a homeless drug addict, while the other is exceedingly down-at-the-heel. One death might have been accidental, but two is one too many for the long arm of coincidence, even in New York. When rat poison is found in both of the take out boxes they were noshing on, it’s clear that at least one of them was murdered, even if the other is merely collateral damage.

But which? And most importantly, why?

This is a case where the past threatens to overwhelm the present, from the recent death of an old mobster’s daughter to the long-ago murder of Sigrid’s own father – by a minion of that same mobster. And if the long-simmering rivalry between the two old women at opposite ends of the block has finally erupted into open warfare, why now?

Which of the many secrets has suddenly become too toxic to remain buried? And can Sigrid figure it out before the past dies with it?

Escape Rating B+: Take Out is closure. Not just for all the old secrets buried on that street, but for Sigrid as well. I loved this book, and I was very, very glad to see this old favorite get wrapped up.

At the same time, it’s been a LONG time since Fugitive Colors was published in 1995, the same year that Naked in Death (the first Eve Dallas book) was published. And as fascinating as the mystery in Take Out is, it also felt as if there was a definite strain in the story as the author needed to catch up new readers (and remind old ones) of just who all these characters were and why they mattered to Sigrid. Those explanations were both utterly necessary and took away from the rising tension of the mystery.

It’s that mystery that keeps the reader guessing until the end. There are two old women at the heart of this mystery. One is a mobster’s widow, and the other a famous opera singer. Both are in their 80s. It doesn’t seem possible that either is the murderer, and yet, they both had ties to the dead men. And potentially they both had reasons to want one of the men dead, but not both. And not the means to do the deed. And yet it was done.

This is a story that is all about the past. Not just the past of those two old women, but also Sigrid’s past, and Oscar Nauman’s past. And even the past wrapped up in an old museum, which desperately needs a new lease on life. It all ties neatly together at the end, and the case, and the series, close with satisfaction.

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

After my review of Lockdown by Laurie R. King, I received an offer from the publisher to host a giveaway for 2 copies of Lockdown to lucky U.S. winners. As Laurie King is the author of one of my favorite mystery series, and Margaret Maron the author of two others, this seemed like a fitting post to which to attach the giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Admiral’s Bride by Suzanne Brockmann

Review: The Admiral’s Bride by Suzanne BrockmannThe Admiral's Bride (Tall, Dark & Dangerous, #7) by Suzanne Brockmann
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military romance, romantic suspense
Series: Tall, Dark & Dangerous #7
Pages: 256
Published by Mira Books on April 1st 2006
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His mission was to pretend that Zoe Lange, beautiful young scientist—nearly half his age!—was his new bride. Former Navy SEAL Jake Robinson was sure that his romantic years were behind him, but for God and for country, he would look into Zoe’s beautiful dark eyes, kiss her senseless, hold her as if he would never let her go... and then, when the job was done, do just that.

The only problem was, with each hour in Zoe’s company, the stakes were becoming higher. The game more real. And the dangers within their "honeymoon" chamber more and more apparent...

My Review:

I borrowed this one from the library because I was jonesing for a good older man/younger woman romance. I read a lot of fanfic, and one of the pairings that I’m following from a video game I’m playing deals with this trope, so I had a taste for it. And I’ll admit that I was looking for one where the story was finished. As much as I love fanfic, one of the problems with reading a lot of it is that even the best stories don’t always get finished, and I’m as guilty of this as anyone.

But it gave me a yen for a story with this trope, and browsing the Goodreads list brought this one to the top. That it also reminds me a another fanfic pairing was an added bonus.

The Admiral’s Bride was originally written in 1999. Technology has changed, and has certainly become more ubiquitous. On that other hand, the terrorist militia group that the Admiral and his Bride have to infiltrate could be ripped from today’s headlines. Technology may change, but human nature doesn’t seem to.

The Admiral in this story is Jake Robinson. And he really is an Admiral, or at least he is now. But he’s a former Navy SEAL, and Admiral is the nickname that his unit gave him back in Vietnam, where he seems to have made it his own personal mission to rescue units that Command said couldn’t be saved from the enemy.

The hospital started keeping track, calling the men he saved “Jake’s Boys”. There were nearly 500 of them by the end, and one of the last ones was intelligence agent Zoe Lange’s father. As Zoe wasn’t conceived until after her dad came home from Vietnam, Zoe quite literally owes Jake Robinson her life.

She’s hero-worshipped him from afar for almost her entire life. Which does add a certain amount of complication when they finally meet face-to-face. Because the man hasn’t lost a scintilla of his looks or his charisma in the 30 years since ‘Nam. He’s already the fuel for entirely too many of Zoe’s fantasies, but meeting him in real life turns out to be much more electrifying than she ever imagined.

And it’s completely mutual, as much as Jake keeps telling himself it shouldn’t be. He’s only been a widower for three years, and he still thinks of himself as married. Zoe is a member of his team, and should be off-limits. And if that wasn’t enough of a reason to back off, she’s 24 years younger than he is, she couldn’t possibly be interested in him.

But of course she is. And in the circumstances in which they find themselves, pretending a relationship is the only way to get the mission done. And when the pretense turns real, it gives them both a reason to survive.

If the entire mission doesn’t go totally FUBAR first.

Escape Rating B+: This was exactly what I was looking for. So I dove right in and came up for air about four hours later, ready to read the book I was supposed to read (actually yesterday’s review of Cover Fire).

In spite of Cover Fire being science fiction romance and The Admiral’s Bride being an almost 20-year-old contemporary, they have a surprising amount in common. In both cases, the black hats are a repressive, conservative cult conducting terrorist attacks. And in both stories, the man is career military while the woman is an intelligence operative. Both romances feature people who believe that the person they have fallen for could not possibly be interested in them, and that they have no possible future together. The reasons may be different, but the emotions they engender are surprisingly similar.

And both cults contain entirely too many people who are absolutely nucking futz. The crazy, hate-fueled BS gets a bit hard to read. In neither case are the heads of these arseholes places we want to stay for any length of time.

But one does get caught up in both the action and the romance of The Admiral’s Bride. Jake and Zoe are in tremendous danger, and they have to work together (and get their heads out of their emotional asses) in order to survive and succeed.

At the same time, one of the things that this book does well is to air the doubts that are all going through Jake’s head. 24 years is a big age gap. He and Zoe are not at the same places in their lives. It is hard to think about forever with someone, when your version of forever is 20 or 30 years shorter than theirs. The other person is potentially signing up for a lot of pain at the end. There are ways to deal with all of those issues, and this story doesn’t gloss them over. That Zoe’s job is so dangerous actually helps the situation. The mess they are in together brings home the possibility that she could be cut down in the line of duty at any moment.

That this story reminded me of a lot of early NCIS fanfic (which I love) was just a bonus. It was all too easy to see Gibbs as Jake Robinson, even though he’s not nearly tall enough. But it still added to my enjoyment of a story that just plain hit the spot.

Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi CharishOwl and the Japanese Circus (The Adventures of Owl, #1) by Kristi Charish
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Adventures of Owl #1
Pages: 432
Published by Pocket Star on January 13th 2015
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Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.
Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.

My Review:

In this story, the Japanese Circus is a glitzy Las Vegas casino – owned by a Japanese Red Dragon. And Owl is almost as good as she thinks she is – and as all the hype said her story is.

This is urban fantasy, so a contemporary 21st century setting in a world not that much different from our own – except that the things that go bump in the night not only exist, but also go bump in the daytime, too.

Owl, a disgraced archaeology student formerly known as Alix, seems to have the worst radar in the world for telling the supes from the mundanes. And that’s what got her in so much trouble. Because in a world where supernatural creatures have been apex predators for centuries, it’s only logical that all too many archaeological digs would find powerful artifacts and dangerous creatures.

Alix’s disgrace was that once she stumbled into it, she wasn’t willing to cover it up.

As Owl, her luck continues to plummet. When we meet her, she and her trusty companion, her Egyptian Mau cat Captain, are on the run from a vampire gang after she accidentally exposed one of their ancient leaders to a fatal dose of sunshine. Owl’s method of running is to stay off the grid in a patched up Winnebago, stopping at out of the way places for supplies, cat treats and internet connections to her favorite MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game) where she plays, of course, a thief. And to check her contacts for more illicit archaeology gigs.

That’s how Owl makes her living now, when she can manage it. She steals treasures from archaeological digs. And she’s good at it. A little too good.

So when Mr. Kurosawa makes Owl and offer she quite literally can’t refuse, she finds herself up to her neck in bloodthirsty supernaturals. Only to discover that she’s been there all along.

Escape Rating B+: If fools rush in where angels fear to tread, then Owl jumps in where even fools would back away slowly. Part of Owl’s appeal, and the engine that drives the story out of the frying pan into the fire (and then straight into oven and on down) is the manic way that Owl barrels into every situation without ever pausing for either breath or thought. No matter how much trouble she is in at the beginning, she seems to have an absolute genius for making it worse.

And while at first the breakneck pace of Owl’s disasterrific nature was a whole lot of fun, by the end it feels like it’s walked its tightrope just a bit too long or a bit too high. She should be dead six times over. But more importantly, she doesn’t seem to learn. A tendency that I hope changes for the better over the next books in the series. She’s going to have to grow to remain interesting – not to mention, to plausibly survive the messes she keeps throwing herself into.

However, the characters that she surrounds herself with have hidden depths that just keep getting deeper and more fascinating as the story progresses. Owl seems to have the worst supe-radar in her universe, because all of her friends, acquaintances and enemies are all supernatural, except for her best friend and business partner Nadya. Even Captain has hidden talents. That cat is much, much too smart to be merely a cat and a vampire detector. That his scratches and bites are also highly poisonous to vamps is a big plus, but still doesn’t explain why his IQ occasionally seems higher than Owl’s. I bet there’s a story there, and I can’t wait to read it.

When Owl and the Japanese Circus came out a couple of years ago, there was an absolute outpouring of great reviews. Urban fantasy is not as popular as it used to be, and it’s not often these days that a new world gets created with the depth of worldbuilding that anchors Owl and her story. There’s a fantastic amount to explore here, and I have high hopes for that exploration.

And now I understand completely why this is the one book in my Netgalley queue that has never expired. The publishers know it’s a gateway drug. And they were right.

Review: Urn Burial by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Urn Burial by Kerry GreenwoodUrn Burial (Phryne Fisher, #8) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #8
Pages: 187
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on April 1st 2007
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The redoubtable Phryne Fisher is holidaying at Cave House, a Gothic mansion in the heart of Australias Victorian mountain country. But the peaceful surroundings mask danger. Her host is receiving death threats, lethal traps are set without explanation, and the parlour maid is found strangled to death. What with the reappearance of mysterious funerary urns, a pair of young lovers, an extremely eccentric swagman, an angry outcast heir, and the luscious Lin Chung, Phrynes attention has definitely been caught. Her search for answers takes her deep into the dungeons of the house and into the limestone Buchan caves. What will she find this time?

My Review:

I bounced hard off the book I intended to read for today. It was so dark and twisted it was literally giving me nightmares. So I switched to a murder mystery, where evil always gets its just desserts – and I don’t have to wade through the disgusting course of its mind in the process.

Urn Burial is the 8th book in the Phryne Fisher historical mystery series by Kerry Greenwood, following immediately after Ruddy Gore. While some events that occurred specifically in both Ruddy Gore and Blood and Circuses do have a slight impact on events, most notably that the nature of the circumstances in both those cases have led Phryne to be willing to attend a country house party far from home, it is not necessary to have read the previous entries in the series to enjoy Urn Burial.

On that other hand, those whose only familiarity with Miss Fisher comes from the TV series may find themselves put off just a bit. Most of the characters in the TV show mirror their counterparts in the books, but there are two notable exceptions. Jack in the books, while a good and intelligent cop, is nothing like Jack in the TV series, being a happily married middle-aged man in the books who likes working with Phryne but has no other relationship with her, nor should he. And Lin Chung, who Phryne meets In Ruddy Gore, is only a one-time dalliance in the TV series, but in the books is her frequent paramour.

Unlike much of the book series, Urn Burial has not been re-released with new covers in the wake of the popularity of the TV series, and those two differences are probably the key.

But I turn to Phryne when I get disgusted with whatever I intended to read. I always enjoy the books, and love the dip back into Phryne’s world alongside her intelligent and intense personality. And Urn Burial was no exception.

This is a country house party mystery. There’s a bit of irony there, as by the time that Urn Burial takes place, the country house party scene has become passe even in its English home, while in Australia there never was such a scene. And there was certainly never such a setting as Cave House. It is described as the kind of amalgamation of weird architectural features that hurts both the eye and the aesthetic sense, with secret passages going in every direction. And it is remote enough that it is regularly cut off from the main road, whenever the river rises too high – or in the case of this story, just high enough.

Like all country house mysteries, this one has attracted more than it’s share of quirky characters, not limited to the host, hostess, Phryne and Lin. And as so often happens in Phryne’s cases, if not in mysteries in general, in spite of the relatively small number of guests and servants, and the isolation, there are not one but three perpetrators operating within the confines of Cave House. It is up to Phryne to sort out exactly who has done what before anyone else winds up dead.

Escape Rating B+: While Phryne is often not very comfortable for those around her, for me she has become a comfort read, and so it proved here. I had a great time with Urn Burial, in spite of the death threats as well as the actual deaths. In the end, Phryne always serves justice. And I needed that rather badly.

The story is both typical for Phryne and atypical for the country house mystery it pokes at. And poke it certainly does. Phryne finds a clue in a copy of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first Hercule Poirot mystery and the exemplar of the country house mystery.

Another, more tongue-in-cheek poke at the mystery forms created by Dame Agatha Christie was embodied in one of the members of the house party. An elderly lady, knitting quietly in a corner, occasionally inserting a cogent comment adroitly and exactly when and where needed, named Miss Mary Mead. St. Mary Mead was the village where Miss Jane Marple resided, when she was not visiting some friend or relation and solving a crime – usually by sitting in the corner, knitting, and listening with both ears wide open. Miss Mary Mead is Jane Marple in every detail, with one exception. At the end, when all the secrets are revealed, Mary Mead has no problem admitting that she really is a private detective, which Marple never does.

The case here is as convoluted as anything Phryne has ever encountered. It seems to be about inheritances, about fathers and sons and providing, or not, for the next generation. And definitely about taking what one feels one is owed. But in the middle of that, there’s a case of bullying and abuse that threatens everyone in its path, and muddies the waters and motives of all the guests.

Watching Phryne tease out who did what to whom, and why, is always a treat.

Review: A Peace Divided by Tanya Huff + Giveaway

Review: A Peace Divided by Tanya Huff + GiveawayA Peace Divided (Peacekeeper, #2) by Tanya Huff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction
Series: Peacekeeper #2, Confederation #7
Pages: 384
Published by DAW Books on June 6th 2017
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The second book in the action-packed Peacekeeper series, a continuation of Tanya Huff's military sci-fi Confederation series following Torin Kerr
Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr had been the very model of a Confederation Marine. No one who'd ever served with her could imagine any circumstance that would see her walking away from the Corps.
But that was before Torin learned the truth about the war the Confederation was fighting...before she'd been declared dead and had spent time in a prison that shouldn't exist...before she'd learned about the "plastic" beings who were really behind the war between the Confederation and the Others. That was when Torin left the military for good.
Yet she couldn't walk away from preserving and protecting everything the Confederation represented. Instead, ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr drew together an elite corps of friends and allies--some ex-Marines, some civilians with unique skills--and together they prepared to take on covert missions that the Justice Department and the Corps could not--or would not--officially touch. But after their first major mission, it became obvious that covert operations were not going to be enough.
Although the war is over, the fight goes on and the Justice Department finds its regular Wardens unable to deal with violence and the people trained to use it. Ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr has a solution: Strike Teams made up of ex-military personnel, small enough to maneuver quickly, able to work together if necessary. Justice has no choice but to implement her idea and Torin puts her team of independent contractors back into uniform. It isn't war, it is policing, but it often looks much the same.
When the scientists doing a preliminary archaeological dig on a Class Two planet are taken hostage, Torin's team is sent to free them. The problem of innocents in the line of fire is further complicated by the fact that the mercenaries holding them are a mix of Confederation and Primacy forces, and are looking for a weapon able to destroy the plastic aliens who'd started and maintained the war.
If Torin weren't already torn by wanting that weapon in play, she also has to contend with the politics of peace that have added members of the Primacy--former enemies--to her team. Before they confront the mercenaries, Torin will have to sift through shifting loyalties as she discovers that the line between"us" and "them" is anything but straight.

My Review:

There’s an absolutely kick-ass military SF story in A Peace Divided. And that story is a marvelous continuance of pretty much everything that has happened to Gunnery Sergeant, now Warden, Torin Kerr from her first introduction in Valor’s Choice to her re-emergence after the end of her war in An Ancient Peace.

So if you enjoy military SF featuring smart, kick-ass, hard-fighting female soldiers (in this case Kerr is an NCO in the Marines), start at the very beginning with Valor’s Choice. And take good notes, because it seems as if everyone she has ever crossed paths with, or even just run into, makes an appearance in A Peace Divided.

Along with her permanent enemies, and the original instigators of the Confederation’s war with the Primacy.

The future, as was once opined to a very young Dustin Hoffman as Ben Braddock in The Graduate, is in plastics. And that future is nowhere near as benign or profitable as his would-be mentor believed.

Unless, as it turns out, you’re running guns.

Like all of the books in this series so far, A Peace Divided is a part of the branch of SF that makes some interesting and peculiar uses of the concept that what you think is happening is not what is really happening. While that seems to have played a major part of the war between the Confederation and the Primacy, and everything that resulted from that war (as well as the uneasy peace that Kerr now finds herself in) it also applies to the action in this particular story, not just on the part of the plastic aliens, but here primarily on the part of the humans and other sentients who drive this story.

It seems that sentient behavior has a limited number of patterns to follow, whether the beings that follow those patterns are humans, Krai, or di’Tayken, or even whether those sentients are two-legged or four-legged, skinned or furred or carapaced, and every other variant that the writer managed to think of.

As one of the sub-themes of this story is about human (and admittedly other sentient) bigotry, it is ironic that part of the story rides on the concept that people are people, no matter what species those people are from.

There’s a lot going on in A Peace Divided. The story that we follow is that of a band of basically space pirates who have taken an entire archaeological team hostage in the possibly mistaken but certainly partly insane belief that the archaeologists have discovered a weapon that can kill the plastic aliens.

And the other part of the story we follow is, of course, that of Warden Torin Kerr and her, if not merry then certainly snarky band of mostly ex-military peace-keeping wardens, as they set out to rescue the archaeologists and take down the space pirates, hopefully with a minimum of bloodshed.

One of the ongoing issues of this series is that “minimum of bloodshed” is defined much, much differently in the police-like Wardens than it ever was in the Confederation Marines. Being a Marine was a whole lot easier. There were rules and there were orders, there was a strict hierarchy, and there was a lot of security in that, both for the Marines and for the ones giving the orders.

Kerr is now out on her own, in a hierarchy whose rules are occasionally very arcane, and where security is minimal. It’s all on her, not because she wants it to be, but because she can’t seem to find any other way to be.

But it is really, really hard to keep the peace when the other side is doing its level best, and its absolute worst, to start a war.

Escape Rating B+: I loved traveling with Torin Kerr and Company again, and I liked the story, but it really needs the dramatis personae listing in the front and with a lot more detail. Or a summary of the action up till now. I’ve read the whole series, absolutely loved the whole thing, but occasionally I got lost among all the names, races and faces.

Once things get down to the brass-tacks, it klicks along like a ship in warp drive, but it takes a while to get there. I expect that people who are binge-reading the whole series and have everything fresh in their minds are going to eat this one up with a spoon, because it feels like everybody who has ever touched Torin’s life gets at least a mention.

Underneath the story, there are at least three sub-themes going on, one more overt than the other two. And they all add depth to the action, as well as making the reader think about the book well after the last page.

The first, biggest and most obvious is the issue of the returning veterans. Like our own society, the Confederation has done an all too excellent job of training young people, for any and all definitions of people, to set aside their fears and their instincts and become effective and efficient killing machines. The problem they have, just like the one we have, is what to do with those killing machines after their war is over. And just like our own society, the Confederations equivalent of the VA is overworked and understaffed and some people slip through the cracks. Admittedly some also make a hole and dive out, but there are a lot of folks who need help and don’t get the help they need. And a lot of the people that Kerr finds herself dealing with are her former comrades who fell through those cracks and can’t find a way to adjust to being civilians. Kerr and her troupe have plenty of problems with re-adjustment themselves, and they all have each other.

The Marines have a code that they leave no soldier behind. As an NCO, Kerr carried the remains of too many of her soldiers out on her vest, and she’s still carrying them. That there are soldiers that the entire military seems to have left behind feels like failure. Only because it is.

And of course, those folks who are desperate and haven’t adjusted get used by others for their own nefarious ends.

The other two sub-theme layers are about gun control and bigotry. They are more subtle, and it is easy to let them go in the heat of the story, but they are definitely there. And they add color and texture to a story that could have just been gung-ho military SF, but ends up being so much more.

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

Thanks to DAW Books, I am giving away one copy each of An Ancient Peace and A Peace Divided.

a Rafflecopter giveaway