#BookReview: Knightqueen by Anna Hackett

#BookReview: Knightqueen by Anna HackettKnightqueen by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Oronis Knights #3
Pages: 221
Published by Anna Hackett on May 2, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

A queen and her battle-scarred guard are on the run on an alien planet…with a relentless enemy hunting them.
Knightqueen Carys of Oron lives a life of duty to her people and planet. After the murder of her parents, she worked hard to become a fair and dedicated leader. She never expected to be abducted by the vicious Gek’Dragar and locked in a mountain prison, but having her head knightguard at her side makes it bearable. Older, scarred Sten is duty personified, the one man she’s always been able to trust.
He’s also the only man she’s ever loved, not that she’s ever told him that.
Knightguard Thorsten Carahan has sworn to protect his knightqueen, and lives and breathes her safety. He works hard to keep his mind on his duty, and not on the too young, too beautiful, and too kind queen who is way out of his league. But now they’ve escaped their enemy’s prison and are on the run on a dangerous planet. When they learn that the Gek’Dragar have created a lethal weapon to use against the Oronis, Sten knows he must get Carys home. But with danger at every turn, lines get blurred.
With only each other to depend on, Carys and Sten’s bond of duty and respect tangles with forbidden desire and need. As passion flares, they can no longer deny their connection, and they will discover just how far they are willing to go for their people…and each other.

My Review:

When last we left our heroes – actually, in this particular case, it’s more like “when first we met our heroes” back in the first book in the Oronis Knights series, Knightmaster. In the first story, the Oronis had just welcomed a delegation from Terra, our very own Earth, in the hopes of forging an alliance to fight the rapacious Gek’Dragar.

The Terrans had already formed a similar alliance with the Eons, in spite of a somewhat rocky beginning, as part of the stories told in the marvelous Eon Warriors series. The Eons are long-standing allies of the Oronis, and now all three planets face the same enemy, the Gek’Dragar.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” as that saying goes. Not that this alliance was EVER smooth sailing, as it began back in Knightmaster with the Gek’Dragar kidnapping the Oronis Knightqueen and her Knightguard, and framing the Terrans for the crime.

But once that misdirection got straightened out, the Oronis and the Terrans have been on a joint mission to rescue the Knightqueen – assuming that she and her Knightguard don’t manage to rescue themselves, first.

Which is where we left those heroes at the end of the second book in the series, Knighthunter. That hunter team blew open and blew up the prison where the queen and her bodyguard, were being held, and Carys and Sten escaped in the chaos.

Meaning that they unknowingly ran away from their rescuers, jumped out of the frying pan into the fire – sometimes literally – and have spent the past several days outrunning their Gek’Dragar pursuers, throwing off the effects of the drugs they were injected with that suppressed their normally formidable powers, and generally running themselves into the ground.

Because the monsters on this hellhole planet are just as deadly as the Gek’Dragar – if not maybe a bit worse – and Carys and Sten have no weapons or armor until their powers return.

All they have is each other. Which has always been more than enough – even if neither of them has ever admitted that to themselves – let alone each other.

It’s not right, it’s not proper, for a Knightqueen to fall in love with her Knightguard. But this time, it’s inevitable.

Escape Rating B+: Knightqueen is the culmination of the whole, entire Oronis Knights series – which is only three books long. Meaning that, on the one hand, you really do kind of need to start at the beginning with Knightmaster, while on the other hand, three novellas is just a lovely amount of reading for a rainy spring weekend – of which there are PLENTY this time of year!

Knightqueen is a bodyguard romance. Maybe not exactly like the movie – certainly the SFnal setting if Knightqueen is literally light years away from the movie – but the trope is the trope is the trope – and it’s ALL here in Knightqueen.

Except the music, so you’ll just have to bring your own. I kept hearing Whitney Houston singing “I Will Always Love You” in the back of my mind as I read – and it took the longest time to figure out why.

Unlike the movie, the ending of Knightqueen results in a resounding HEA. That may seem like a bit of a spoiler, but all of this author’s stories end in either an HEA or an HFN depending on just how FUBAR the world they are set on happens to be.

It is part of why I enjoy her work so much.

But this particular entry in the series hit one of my less than favorite tropes pretty hard. The relationship between Carys and Sten does have its questionable aspects, she’s queen, he’s her bodyguard, he’s over a decade older which isn’t itself enough to make things squicky but he watched her grow up which is at least on the border of questionable.

As it’s usually not so much the years as the mileage, it’s not the age difference per se so much as it is that Carys is inexperienced with romantic relationships – which is not a surprise as she’s been queen from a very young age and it would never have been politically safe for her to go on dates or experiment with either love or sex.

Nevertheless, the trope that this fell into that put me off a bit was that Sten had a really bad case of the “I’m not worthy’s” that was a whole lot more personal and ingrained in his psyche than just the difference in their respective stations. This is a “me” thing and may not be a “you” thing.

Putting it another way – I did love the bodyguard romance but wasn’t thrilled with how little the bodyguard thought of himself in it. Your reading mileage obviously may vary.

That being said, I still had a grand time with the entire Oronis Knights series and am a bit sorry to see it come to end even though I’m happy to see the Gek’Dragar put in their place – a grave.

As this series has come to a close – and doesn’t end with teasers for a spinoff, it looks like the author will be turning back to contemporary action adventure romances for most of this year. Leaving this reader looking forward to the next book in her Unbroken Heroes series, The Hero She Craves, coming next month!

#AudioBookReview: Close to Death by Anthony Horowitz

#AudioBookReview: Close to Death by Anthony HorowitzClose to Death (Hawthorne & Horowitz, #5) by Anthony Horowitz
Narrator: Rory Kinnear
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Hawthorne and Horowitz #5
Pages: 419
Length: 9 hours and 12 minutes
Published by Harper, HarperAudio on April 11, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

In New York Times–bestselling author Anthony Horowitz’s ingenious fifth literary whodunit in the Hawthorne and Horowitz series, Detective Hawthorne is once again called upon to solve an unsolvable case—a gruesome murder in an idyllic gated community in which suspects abound
Riverside Close is a picture-perfect community. The six exclusive and attractive houses are tucked far away from the noise and grime of city life, allowing the residents to enjoy beautiful gardens, pleasant birdsong and tranquility from behind the security of a locked gate.
It is the perfect idyll until the Kentworthy family arrives, with their four giant, gas-guzzling cars, a gaggle of shrieking children and plans for a garish swimming pool in the backyard. Obvious outsiders, the Kentworthys do not belong in Riverside Close, and they quickly offend every last one of their neighbours.
When Giles Kentworthy is found dead on his own doorstep, a crossbow bolt sticking out of his chest, Detective Hawthorne is the only investigator that can be called on to solve the case.
Because how do you solve a murder when everyone is a suspect?

My Review:

There’s an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. In the case of Giles Kenworthy and the other residents of Riverview Close it seems as if the contempt came pre-installed – at least on his side and well before he actually got to know any of his neighbors. If indeed he ever bothered to try.

Kenworthy seems to be one of those smug, self-involved, ultra-privileged individuals who go through life completely unable to see other people as, well, people. Meaning that he simply doesn’t notice how much the noise and smoke from his backyard barbecues affects the neighbors he can’t be bothered to invite, he doesn’t care that the loud music he plays on his convertible wakes up the entire neighborhood when he comes home in the middle of the night and parks the damn car in the middle of a shared driveway and blocks the neighbors in.

It seems as if Kenworthy’s inconsideration knows no bounds. He’s certainly brought utter disharmony to what was formerly seemed to be a close-knit and completely harmonious little community.

But is being a boor – even to the point of being a total arsehole (it’s arse, they’re English) – enough of a reason to actually murder someone?

That’s the problem that confronted Detective Superintendent Tariq Khan five years ago when he began his investigation of the murder of Giles Kenworthy, in the foyer of his expensive home, with a crossbow bolt through his throat.

And it’s the exact same question confronting Tony Horowitz – along with the ridiculously short deadline his editor has given him for the fifth book in the series following the investigations of former Metropolitan Police Detective Daniel Hawthorne as Tony follows literally behind the man as his bumbling sidekick.

But not this time, not exactly. Because Hawthorne can’t exactly call up an interesting murder to order. So instead of following the detective as he works a case, Tony is stuck with following Hawthorne on a past case through the extensive notes left by Hawthorne’s previous assistant, the considerably less bumbling John Dudley.

Tony is even more curious about the man who preceded him than he is about whodunnit. By this point in his association with Hawthorne he knows that he’s not going to get even close to the solution until Hawthorne leads him there – most likely by the nose at that.

Which leaves Tony doing a bit of snooping on his own – not into Giles Kenworthy’s murder – but into John Dudley’s exit from Daniel Hawthorne’s life. Something that it looks like no one wants him to look into – but that might just lead him back to an entirely different whodunnit.

Escape Rating B+: Hawthorne drives Tony crazy. This series generally drives me crazy. This particular entry drove me so crazy I switched from the audio – which was, as always in this series, and with this narrator, marvelous – to the ebook at the halfway point because I was going nuts trying to figure out anything at all. My luck is no better than Tony’s usually is because the cases Hawthorne ends up investigating are so bizarre AND the man dribbles out clues like a miser drops pennies.

But by that point I was so caught up in the thing that I didn’t thumb to the end to find out whodunnit – I just read faster to get there in one hour instead of five for the audio.

At first, I have to say that I only hung in because of the audio. Because the first section is all set up and it takes more than long enough that the reader is downright grateful when the body finally drops – particularly as the body that drops seems like it couldn’t have belonged to a more deserving fellow.

At that point, the story switches from third person – which just felt WRONG for this series because it is – back to Tony’s first person perspective where he proceeds to hang a lampshade over just how trite and boring that long set up is.

After all, Giles Kenworthy was a seriously deserving murder victim and all of the issues among the residents of Riverview Close – except for the woman suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and the death of that poor dog – are very much first world problems and rich people’s first world problems at that. Which does lead back to the question of whether the man deserved to be murdered.

(Maybe for the dog, but not the rest. For the rest, maybe some slashed tires, or a thorough egging of both the house AND the open convertible. Or some maybe not-so-petty vandalism. But not murder.)

Normally this series works by following Tony as he follows Hawthorne and bumbles his way through the man’s genius and misanthropy to a solution. This time was a bit different, and I don’t think it entirely worked.

Because Hawthorne is reluctant to have Tony look into this case, parsimonious with clues and information, and doing his damndest to micromanage Tony’s writing process to the point of obstruction, the story is on two tracks.

The first is, obviously, the murder. Which is as twisty as ever and Tony is as lost as always but doggedly pursuing a solution even though he can’t see it because he knows Hawthorne can. At least until that thread of the story goes temporarily – and deliberately – pear-shaped.

But it’s the other track that gave me some pause, because part of the point of the series is that Tony knows little or nothing about Hawthorne and Hawthorne does his best to make sure it stays that way. His mystery is part of, I don’t want to say charm because let’s just say that’s not Hawthorne’s strongest suit, but rather it’s part of the way he works AND what keeps Tony following him. This entry in the series pulled that curtain back a bit in ways that I really hope pay off later because it seemed like some of them belonged more to the author’s James Bond novels than Hawthorne and Horowitz.

In the end, I have to admit that I’m every bit as hooked on this series, as Tony is hooked on following after Hawthorne, sometimes in spite of himself. The books certainly drive me every bit as crazy as Hawthorne does Tony.

Which means that, as differently crazed as this entry was from some of the previous books in the series, I’m still riveted – sometimes in spite of myself. So I’ll be back for the next – whenever either Hawthorne manages to run across a conveniently timed twisted murder – or Tony gets faced with an urgent deadline for book six!

#BookReview: A Cast of Falcons by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett

#BookReview: A Cast of Falcons by Sarah Yarwood-LovettA Cast of Falcons by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Dr Nell Ward #2
Pages: 380
Published by Embla Books on October 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBetter World Books
Goodreads

When the wedding of her oldest friend ends with a shocking murder, Dr Nell Ward is once again caught up in a web of subterfuge, secrets and lies...
When her childhood friend Percy announces she's engaged to handsome businessman Hawke McAnstruther, Dr Nell Ward rashly offers to host the wedding at Finchmere, her family's estate. But she hadn't anticipated Percy's parents' fiery disapproval of the groom.
The ceremony is barely over before Hawke's shady personal and professional life starts to unravel, and tension ripples through the assembled guests. When the wedding night ends with a shocking death, Nell, best-friend, Rav and DI James Clarke all find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery worthy of Agatha Christie.
Surviving a terrifying threat to her own life, Nell has to face up to the truth. Not just about murder at Finchmere, but about where her heart truly lies...

My Review:

It really couldn’t have happened to a more deserving fellow. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for whoever did the world a favor by bashing Hawke McAnstruther over the head before he could do any further damage to Nell Ward’s best friend Percy and her family.

Which is also, come to think of it, Nell Ward’s family – just at a bit of extension.

It IS too bad, however, that whoever eliminated Hawke from the gene pool before he could contaminate it further, the arsehole (they’re all Brits, only arsehole will do) did the deed at Nell’s family estate, Finchmere, just hours after the conclusion – the epically awful conclusion at that – of Percy’s wedding to the bastard.

Luckily for Percy, she wised up to her new husband’s evil ways in those few scant hours between the ceremony and his spectacular fall from grace onto the floor two or three stories below. So it’s good riddance to bad rubbish – and at that point it might really have been a drunken accident.

The wealth, influence and titles of both Percy’s AND Nell’s family are more than enough to ensure that the official verdict reads exactly that.

The only person who will really miss Hawke is his mother Linda. But not for long, as sometime in the wee hours of the morning someone savagely slit her throat and impaled the murder weapon in her chest to make sure that the job’s been done.

HIS death COULD have been an accident. HER death absolutely could not be accidental, nor is there any scenario where it could have been self-inflicted. Even the police are able to draw the obvious conclusion that there is at least one murderer on the premises – and possibly two.

There are plenty of suspects for Hawke’s murder, as the man was a charming, conniving slimeball who left a trail of ruined companies and broken people in his wake – and clearly planned to do the same to Percy, her family, and her family’s properties.

Motives and suspects abound for HIS murder, but for HERS, not so much. Leaving the police flailing, caught between compromised crime scenes, endless possibilities for sneaking around the stately pile without being seen, and more motives than they can shake a truncheon at.

But Nell Ward, as demonstrated in her first, and all-too-personal, investigation in A Murder of Crows, just can’t keep her nose out of the investigation. She might not be in the frame this time around, but her best friend and her extended family certainly are.

Even if that puts her on the opposite side of the investigation from her current boyfriend, Detective Inspector James Clark, and pushes her straight into the arms of her work partner and best friend Rav.

Exactly the place that Rav has always wanted her to be.

Escape Rating B+: The latest book in this series, A Trace of Hares, is coming out today. I’m reading this series from the beginning, so I’m not there yet, but I wanted to mark the day so here we are. I’m enjoying this series because I really like the protagonist, Nell Ward, and her geeky love of bats and owls as well as her personal and professional advocacy for ecology in general. Although, at least so far, she does seem to have a bit of Midsomer-itis.

Admittedly, from where I’m reading, the series is only two books in and so far she’s been intimately involved with both murders. And based on the blurb for the next book, A Mischief of Rats, that streak of unbelievably bad luck is not running out any time soon. Which it really needs to, as no one’s luck is this bad.

But that’s more of an overall issue that will hopefully resolve itself later down the series. This particular entry in the series, however, was a whole lot of murder-y fun, in spite of the personal consequences for Nell. It’s pretty easy to be a bit gleeful in this one, as the first murder victim was an arsehole, the second murder victim, the arsehole’s mother, proved that his apple didn’t fall all that far from the tree, and frankly the eventual third victim wasn’t all that great an excuse for a human being either even if he was a member of Nell’s extended family.

The family of the suspects may not have been nearly as despicable as the Thrombeys in Knives Out, but comparisons could certainly be drawn.

In the first book, Nell displayed the geeky professional persona of Dr. Nell Ward, while keeping her aristocratic background – among other secrets – hidden for as long as she could. It wasn’t until the local police went so far as to actually arrest her for murder with only vague suspicions and circumstantial evidence that her alter ego of Lady Eleanor Ward-Beaumont, niece to the Duke of Aveshire, daughter of the Earl of Finchmere and his wife, Imelda Beaumont MP, and heir to Finchmere came out – along with her family’s expensive and effective legal counsel.

Not that any of the above stopped Nell from investigating her way out of a rather well-placed frame and clearing her own name. Both of them.

This time around it’s Nell’s ‘lady of the manor’ persona that’s on display – although Nell the ecologist peeks out frequently and eventually manages to solve this murder as well – to the consternation of the police. Again.

I found Nell to be a likable amateur investigator, and certainly felt for her inability to keep herself out of the investigation. After her previous experience, I wouldn’t have trusted the police either – which makes her decision to date the man who investigated her the first time around a bit questionable. While the ‘torn between two (potential) lovers’ dilemma that Nell is in the midst of isn’t my favorite, it was certainly an interesting twist on the theme to experience it more from one of those two lovers’ points of view instead of Nell’s. I’m hoping that she sticks to the choice she made in future books in the series, but we’ll see.

I’m certainly planning to see that for myself as I continue my reading of this series. I’ll be picking up A Mischief of Rats the next time I’m in the mood for a cozy-ish, Midsomer Murders-type mystery. I may not have caught up with the series in time to read and review A Trace of Hares on its publication date, but I have a chance of being ready for the following book, A Swarm of Butterflies, by the time it comes out in August!

#BookReview: Fury Brothers: Burn by Anna Hackett

#BookReview: Fury Brothers: Burn by Anna HackettBurn (Fury Brothers #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Fury Brothers #3
Pages: 274
Published by Anna Hackett on March 13, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

I have one goal—arrest billionaire businessman Kavner Fury.
I’m dedicated to my job as a Treasury agent, and taking down crooked financial criminals. Just like the one who destroyed my family.
Kavner Fury is wealthy, powerful, and ambitious, a combination I know too well. He’s New Orleans’ favorite billionaire. Sure, he’s also handsome, charming, with a hard body no man who sits behind a desk should have, but I have no plans to let that distract me.
He’s my enemy, my nemesis…and pure temptation. I won’t let our scorching attraction derail my investigation. But as my money laundering case leads me into dangerous territory, I find myself under attack.
Injured and betrayed, I’m shocked that there is only one man I can turn to. One man who can keep me safe.
Now I’m working with Kavner, side by side, and I uncover a protective man who’s taking a blow-torch to my icy defenses. I get to see the real man beneath the gorgeous exterior, and I’m having trouble keeping my hands off him.
Suddenly, the only man I trust is my enemy, and we’re both caught up in a fiery attraction that could leave us both burned.

My Review:

Treasury Agent London Coleman investigates white collar crimes. She’s back in her hometown of New Orleans on the trail of someone laundering money for the cartels by buying expensive works of art with dirty money, shipping that art out of the U.S. to sell, and returning the ‘cleaned’ money to the cartel to do more of whatever terrible things they do with their money – which is mostly drugs.

London is happy to be back home, not just because she gets to spend time with her sister Lexxie, but because she honestly loves the city that made her who she is. Literally as London looks like the Creole descendant that she is, while the genetic gumbo that made her and Lexxie gave them completely different skin tones as well as looks.

As this third entry in the Fury Brothers series opens, the person of interest, both in her case and personally – even though she’s not ready to admit the second part even to herself – is billionaire businessman Kavner Fury.

His name has come up more than a few times in her investigation. She thinks it’s because he’s dirty and she hasn’t found the evidence yet. In reality, it’s because Kavner’s rich, he likes art, and he especially likes donating art to museums and galleries where kids just like the ones he and his brothers used to be have the opportunity to view beautiful things in just a little bit of peace and safety to help them hold on and survive until they can live their own dreams.

Just as he and his brothers did when they were all in the foster system and all too frequently at the mercy of neglectful, abusive or just plain violent caregivers.

London may not be willing to admit it, at least not yet, but keeping Kavner in her sights does put her in the places where whoever is hiding in the shadows is doing their dirty business. And he’s much too easy on the eyes, and too smooth in his business dealings, not to raise a few red flags.

That those red flags have more to do with her past than anything Kav has actually done is another secret that London is doing her damndest to keep to herself and out of her investigation. Something that proves utterly impossible when the cartel starts gunning for her, directly and literally – and Kav is the only one standing at her side and watching her back.

Escape Rating B+: Burn is a quick, hot read that is a whole lot of fun – for both parts of the category ‘romantic suspense’ into which this book and its series most definitely fit.

Like the first two books, Fury and Keep, this one is told in alternating first-person viewpoints, meaning that first we see inside London’s head and then we get Kavner’s take on what happens next.

Her head is a bit of a hot mess. The case has been long, drawn out, and utterly frustrating. The powers-that-be are hammering her boss hard. London has more than a bit of tunnel vision, seeing Kavner as a stand in for the fraudster who suckered her own father in and ruined the family’s life. She’s fixated on him being in this scheme up to his neck, when really it’s that she’s in the River DeNial up to hers.

Kavner isn’t worried about London’s investigation because he knows there’s nothing to find. He may hide the darker details of his origin story in the foster system before he and his brothers met, he may have taken on a much more polished veneer than he’d prefer because it’s good for business, but his money was legally earned, all his businesses are completely legit as well as profitable, and he really does give back a tremendous amount of money and effort to the city he loves.

And he has all the money he needs to get himself out of any ‘manufactured’ trouble. That’s what money and the lawyers it can buy are for, after all.

Which means that while London is focussing on Kavner as a suspect, Kav is keeping his sights on London as a woman – in ways that make him think, not just sexy thoughts, but also romantic and protective ones. The kind of thoughts he’s been avoiding all of his adult life, too busy being focused on buying and creating financial security for himself and his brothers, and their whole extended family.

What made this story work well for this reader is the way that London and Kav worked against some familiar tropes. He does not have a case of the ‘I’m not worthy’s’ that happen entirely too often. He’s just been too busy to think about settling down. London is definitely in distress, but she’s no damsel. She stands her ground and maintains her own boundaries even in the face of Kav’s protectiveness. She doesn’t get rescued by Kav and his brothers – she gets assistance in her own rescue.

There’s a whole lot of push-pull between these two workaholics and it’s fun – and filled with sexytimes – to see them work towards each other and their happy ever after. Often in spite of themselves. Making Burn the kind of read that will make any reader burn up the pages in one sitting.

There are two Fury Brothers left, Reath and Beau. Currently neither of them are even thinking about looking for an HEA of their own but that’s about to change. Their stories are coming in the fall, in Take (probably Reath’s story) and Claim. In the meantime, I have Knightqueen, the climactic final book in the author’s science fiction romance Oronis Knights series to look forward to. And I most definitely AM!

#BookReview: A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen

#BookReview: A Quantum Love Story by Mike ChenA Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, science fiction, science fiction romance, time travel
Pages: 368
Published by Harlequin MIRA on January 30, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The only thing harder than finding someone in a time loop is losing them.

Grieving her best friend's recent death, neuroscientist Mariana Pineda’s ready to give up everything to start anew. Even her career— after one last week consulting at a top secret particle accelerator.

Except the strangest thing a man stops her…and claims they've met before. Carter Cho knows who she is, why she's mourning, why she's there. And he needs Mariana to remember everything he’s saying.

Because time is about to loop.

In a flash of energy, it’s Monday morning. Again. Together, Mariana and Carter enter an inevitable life, four days at a time, over and over, without permanence except for what they share. With everything resetting—even bank accounts—joy comes in the little a delicious (and expensive) meal, a tennis match, giving a dog his favorite treat.

In some ways, those are all that matter.

But just as they figure out this new life, everything changes. Because Carter's memories of the time loop are slowly disappearing. And their only chance at happiness is breaking out of the loop—forever.

My Review:

Carter Cho recognizes that he’s in a time loop. He has four days to live, over and over and over and OVER again, with no way to stop it and no way out. All he can do is watch, wait and repeat. It’s boring, it’s disheartening, it’s downright depressing. Most of all it’s terribly, terribly lonely.

Until Carter decides to take one loop and do the opposite of everything he did the first and all the subsequent, mind-numbing, heart-breaking times he’s looped before. And in that opposition he manages to convince, coerce, drag another person into the loop with him.

Dr. Mariana Pineda and technician Carter Cho are opposites in every possible way, but all they have is each other. And a seemingly endless amount of time to figure out what keeps making the Hawke Accelerator accelerate itself into a catastrophic explosion, time after time after time – and resetting the world as everyone but the two of them knows it.

Neither of them has the training or the tools to diagnose what’s going wrong – but they are all they have. And that turns out to be more than enough. Just in the nick of, well, time.

Escape Rating B+: If the blurb or the description above are making you think of the movie Groundhog Day, you are not alone. Neither was it alone in my head as I was reading my way through the first part of the story – because time travel loops have been done before.

In other words, this loop has been looped before. As they do.

At one end of that time loop story perspective there’s Groundhog Day, which has kind of a sweet ending no matter how much of an asshole the protagonist (played by Bill Murray) is as the story begins. But Carter Cho is a really nice guy – if a bit of an underachiever according to his parents – so that resemblance isn’t 100%

The ending of A Quantum Love Story, or rather, all the endings of the world before the resets, have all of the explosive punch of the movie Edge of Tomorrow, although there’s no war in Quantum.

A Quantum Love Story felt more akin to the Stargate SG-1 episode “Window of Opportunity” as following the protagonists through the loops of that journey goes through many of the same stages that Carter and Mariana go through while following characters that one really does want to follow. Also there’s no real villain in “Window of Opportunity”, which is also true in Quantum. The story, the journey, the battle if you will, is to solve the mystery and break the cycle – not to break heads.

But the chasing down of just how many different time loop stories this one brought to mind kept me from being as invested in Carter and Mariana’s problem solving through their loops, although the emotional journey they took did hold my interest even as it briefly looked like it was heading for Flowers for Algernon territory which made for some tense moments for this reader. (Don’t worry too much, it doesn’t go there, but there were a few bits that just about gave me the weepies when it looked that way. Howsomever, the author has form for this, as that’s part of the direction that his lovely Light Years from Home went.)

The heart of the story, and it very much does have one, is in the relationship between Carter and Mariana, who begin as opposites in just about every sense of the word and bond through shared trauma. But what they discover through that sharing is that their version of opposites attract brings out the best in both of them, and that there are possibilities in life that neither of them ever imagined.

Including the possibility of a happy ever after with someone that they would otherwise never have had a chance to meet. A chance that will be whisked away if they ever manage to solve the problem and stop the resets.

The solution to both problems, to the endless resets of the time loop and to stopping those resets, turns out to be exactly the same thing. With one surprising and beautiful deus ex machina of an exception.

Ultimately, the repeating time loops with their repeating reminders of other time loop stories is both a bit of a bug AND a feature. After all this is a story about things repeating until they don’t, so it seems right that they kind of do. In the end I was charmed by the story and the characters as they worked through both repeating and not repeating time at the same time.

I’ll certainly be repeating my exploration of this author’s work and his signature combination of science fiction and relationship fiction with his next outing, hopefully this time next year. In the meantime, if you are intrigued by this review, check out the first chapter excerpt I posted last week. If you like SF with just a touch of romance and a heaping helping of relationship building and problem solving, you just might fall in love with A Quantum Love Story!

Review: Uncanny Vows by Laura Anne Gilman

Review: Uncanny Vows by Laura Anne GilmanUncanny Vows (Huntsmen, #2) by Laura Anne Gilman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Huntsmen #2
Pages: 384
Published by Gallery / Saga Press on November 28, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Following the events of the high-stakes and propulsive Uncanny Times, Rosemary and Aaron Harker, along with their supernatural hound Botheration, have been given a new assignment to investigate…but the Harkers believe it’s a set-up, and there’s something far more ancient and deadly instead.

Rosemary and Aaron Harker have been effectively, unofficially sidelined. There is no way to be certain, but they suspect their superiors know that their report on Brunson was less than complete, that they omitted certain truths. Are they being punished or tested? Neither Aaron nor Rosemary know for certain. It may be simply that they are being given a breather or that no significant hunts have been called in their region. But neither of them believes that.

So, when they are sent to a town just outside of Boston with orders to investigate suspicious activity carefully, the Harkers suspect that it is a test. Particularly since the hunt involves a member of the benefactors, wealthy individuals who donate money to the Huntsmen in exchange for certain special privileges and protections.

If they screw this up…at best, they’ll be out of favor, reduced to a life of minor hunts and “clean up” for other Huntsmen. At worst, they will be removed from the ranks, their stipend gone—and Botheration, their Hound, taken from them.

They can’t afford to screw this up.

But what seems like a simple enough hunt—find the uncanny that attacked a man in his office and sent him into a sleep-like state—soon becomes far more complicated as more seemingly unrelated attacks occur. The Harkers must race to find what is shadowing them, before the uncanny strikes again, and sleep turns into murder—and the Huntsmen decide that they have been compromised beyond repair.

But their quarry may not be the only uncanny in town. Botheration and Aaron both sense something else, something shadowing them. Something old, dangerous…and fey.

My Review:

If the idea that the Harker family is somehow involved with the things that go bump in the night feels familiar but you can’t quite remember why, it’s because it IS familiar. Jonathan Harker got himself mixed up with a famous vampire in a little place called Transylvania a mere couple of decades before we first met Aaron and Rosemary Harker in the first book in the Huntsmen series, Uncanny Times.

Because the times they live in are very ‘uncanny’ indeed, the Huntsmen their family has always been a part of have a very long tradition and there are vampires in Europe. Not in America, not so far, at least not yet. But still, the idea that an uncle or a cousin got themselves mixed up in that other uncanny business is not all that far-fetched once the reader gets themselves fully immersed in the Harkers’ not-quite-urban-fantasy, not-exactly-alternate-history version of 1913 New England where the ‘automotive’ has just started sharing the streets with horse-drawn carriages, the Great War seems to have already begun in Europe, and the ‘uncanny’ things that populated Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow have put down long, deep roots in the local landscape.

And occasionally slip into nearby houses and offices to practice their mischief. Or commit murder.

That’s what sends the Harkers, brother and sister, on a covert mission to Boston to investigate what might be an attack by an uncanny. The organization that monitors and dispatches the Huntsmen have asked/ordered/voluntold the Harkers that one of the organization’s financial backers has called in some favors, that the man wants a discreet investigation of his brother-in-law’s mysterious illness/fainting fit/possible attack, in order to placate his wife and get back to his business.

It’s a far from ideal situation, and both the Harkers know it. The Harkers feel like the organization no longer trusts them after the events in Uncanny Times, and that they’re being sent on this mission without information and with their hands tied behind their backs because its a test that someone wants them to fail.

And they could be right on all counts. But that doesn’t change the mission, only make it a whole lot more difficult to resolve – with that desired discretion or without.

Not that discretion is even possible while there’s something uncanny watching and waiting for them to make a mistake – the kind that either gets the all killed, or the kind that exposes all their secrets to a world that is absolutely not ready. Or both. The way that the Harkers’ luck tends to run – bet on both.

Escape Rating B+: So far, at least, the Huntsmen series still feels like it’s part of the ‘Weird West’ tradition. It obviously isn’t, not with the ‘automotives’ [sic] on the streets and the Great War looming on the horizon, but it still feels that way, like it would fit right into The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny collection coming out in a couple of weeks.

(Although, come to think of it, the author DOES have a series that is explicitly set in the Weird West, titled The Devil’s West and beginning with Silver on the Road. I think I just saw it shooting up the virtually towering TBR pile, chased by one of the Harkers’ specially-prepared bullets.)

With the first book in the series, Uncanny Times, I liked the idea of the story and the series more than the story I actually got. Although I loved the Harker’s hellhound Botheration and still do. He stole every scene he was in and does in this book as well. (Don’t worry, Botheration is a Very Good Boy and is just as fine at the end of this adventure as he was at the beginning – which is very.)

His humans, however, are a bit closer to the end of their tether than either of them realizes when this case gets wrapped up. Although it does, in spite of the roadblocks put in their way by both the organization and the favor-calling client and benefactor.

One of the things that makes this series work is that Rosemary and Aaron Harker are both of their time and place AND a bit outside it at the same time, making them excellent investigators of both the human and the uncanny aspects of the case. Even as they push at the boundaries more than a bit. Which is both the cause of their ‘outsiderness’ and its result.

That’s part of why I enjoyed this story more than the first, because we get a much fuller picture of the Harkers, their skills and their capabilities, we know more about what makes them who they are, and we see more of why the organization doesn’t exactly trust them but can’t afford to assign them to the equivalent of working in Siberia without proof of something. Not that some folks aren’t looking for that something, and haven’t been for most of Aaron’s life.

At the same time, the heavy lifting of setting up the world and the series has already been done in that first book, so this one is able to sink its teeth into the case from the very first page – and that they drive off in Aaron’s rented ‘automotive” gets things going that much faster, while Rosemary’s dislike of the speed, the dust, and Aaron’s relative inexperience driving the thing adds a bit of lightness to what is otherwise a rather dark story of obsession and possession.

I came back to this series for Botheration, but I stayed because the setting is getting more and more interesting as it goes, and the case was filled with plenty of twists and turns and still-fresh-from-the-water red herrings. All the while, Rosemary and Aaron’s different but equally jaundiced perceptions of their world grounded the story in characters that I could not merely empathize with but actually share the frustrations of along the way.

So if you like tales of the Weird West – even though this isn’t quite – or historical urban fantasy – which this most definitely is – or just like exploring a world that isn’t quite ours but is just enough like ours to really, seriously get into, take an ‘automotive’ trip to early 20th century Boston with the Harkers and their very good, and very large, boy, Botheration. It’s a wild ride from beginning to end – and not just because of Aaron’s driving!

Review: The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman

Review: The Wishing Bridge by Viola ShipmanThe Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: holiday fiction, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Graydon House on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

With unabashed winter charm, The Wishing Bridge sparkles with the humor and heart fans of Kristy Woodson Harvey, Nancy Thayer and Jenny Colgan love most.
Once the hottest mergers and acquisitions executive in the company, Henrietta Wegner can see the ambitious and impossibly young up-and-comers gunning for her job. When Henri’s boss makes it clear she’ll be starting the New Year unemployed unless she can close a big deal before the holidays, Henri impulsively tells him that she can convince her aging parents to sell Wegner’s—their iconic Frankenmuth, Michigan, Christmas store—to a massive, soulless corporation. It’s the kind of deal cool, corporate Henri has built her career on.
Home for the holidays has typically meant a perfunctory twenty-four-hour visit for Henri, then back to Detroit as fast as her car will drive her. So turning up at the Wegner’s offices in early December raises some eyebrows: from her delighted, if puzzled, parents to her suspicious brother and curious childhood friends. But as Henri fields impatient texts from her boss while reconnecting with the magic of the store and warmth of her hometown, what sounded great in the boardroom begins to lose its luster in real life. She’s running out of time to pull the trigger on what could be the greatest success of her career…or the most awkward family holiday of her life.
Includes the bonus novella Christmas Angels

My Review:

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” at least according to Robert Frost. But just because they have to take you in, or even if they WANT to take you in, that does not give you permission to steal it out from under them.

Which is EXACTLY what Henrietta Wegner plans to do when she returns home to Frankenmuth, MI and to the ‘all Christmas all the time all year round’ store named after her family. A store that anchors not just the Christmas season in Frankenmuth but the whole, entire town.

50something Henri is on the ropes at the cutthroat mergers and acquisitions firm she cut a wide swath through back in the day – when she first left home to make her own mark. Now she’s back home, attempting to defend that mark by ‘acquiring’ the store her parents have put their heart and soul into.

Henri sees herself as the Grinch, descending upon Whoville with a heart that’s three sizes too small – if not a bit more.

But just as no plan survives contact with the enemy – a description that Henri is sure will be left in her wake – Henri’s plan to put the Grinch into her family’s Christmas doesn’t look like it can survive contact with the Spirit of Christmas.

Henri’s story has all the makings of one of those Hallmark holiday movies that she and her mother are not-so-secretly fond of – if she’ll just let it. Happy Holidays, indeed!

Escape Rating B+: The Wishing Bridge, in addition to being a heartwarming story for the holiday season, combines two romance/women’s fiction tropes in a way that the one reinforces the other and back around again, and both lean in to the holiday season in a way that just wraps the whole story up with a bright red holiday bow with an ornament hanging from it.

At first, The Wishing Bridge is that tried-and-true story about the stone-hearted corporate bigwig coming to a tiny town to take it over and make it over – or tear it down – who discovers that he or she has a heart after all that gets captured by the town, the people who live there, and some special someone.

AND The Wishing Bridge is also a story about second chances. Not just a second chance at romance, although that too, but a second chance at pretty much everything. It’s a story about that ‘road not taken’ winding back around and intersecting with the road that Henri took all those years ago, giving her the opportunity – not so much to do things over, because life has happened and this isn’t a time travel story – but rather to make a different choice for the next phase of her life.

Both of those tropes require that the main character take a good, hard look at the life they have and decide whether it’s REALLY the life they want or need, and those are never easy decisions – and they’re certainly not for Henri.

(That her boss is an utter douchecanoe seems like it should make the decision easier, but it’s right that it doesn’t and even right-er that he’s not her ex. Because that would be gross under the circumstances. This is about Henri and what she wants, his asshattery is not REALLY what her decision needs to be about and that’s handled well.)

One thing that turned out to be difficult for this reader, and leads to a bit of a trigger warning. A lot of what makes the idea of selling Wegman’s out from under her parents instead of signing on and continuing their legacy is that the all-Christmas all the time dream was one that she shared with her father. He still has that dream, but she’s let it fall behind her – or buried it under her own ambitions. There’s a lot about fathers and daughters in this one, and it gave me a bit of the weepies even though the ending is a happy one. (In other words, if you have unfinished business with your dad, it may hit you the same way.)

To make a long story at least a bit shorter, even though the eARC did not include the bonus novella Christmas Angels, The Wishing Bridge all by itself is a charming story and a lovely start to the holiday reading season!

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

Review: Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens by Andrea Penrose

Review: Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens by Andrea PenroseMurder at the Royal Botanic Gardens (Wrexford & Sloane, #5) by Andrea Penrose
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Wrexford & Sloane #5
Pages: 353
Published by Kensington on September 28, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads


The upcoming marriage of the Earl of Wrexford and Lady Charlotte Sloane promises to be a highlight of the season, if they can first untangle--and survive--a web of intrigue and murder involving the most brilliant scientific minds in Regency London...

One advantage of being caught up in a whirl of dress fittings and decisions about flower arrangements and breakfast menus is that Charlotte Sloane has little time for any pre-wedding qualms. Her love for Wrexford isn't in question. But will being a wife--and a Countess--make it difficult for her to maintain her independence--not to mention, her secret identity as famed satirical artist A.J. Quill?
Despite those concerns, there are soon even more urgent matters to attend to during Charlotte and Wrexford's first public outing as an engaged couple. At a symposium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, a visiting botanist suffers a fatal collapse. The traces of white powder near his mouth reveal the dark truth--he was murdered. Drawn into the investigation, Charlotte and the Earl learn of the victim's involvement in a momentous medical discovery. With fame and immense fortune at stake, there's no shortage of suspects, including some whose ruthlessness is already known. But neither Charlotte nor her husband-to-be can realize how close the danger is about to get--or to what lengths this villain is prepared to go...

My Review:

This fifth book in the Wrexford & Sloane series represents a kind of an ending. Absolutely not the ending of the series, as there are two books in the series after this one, Murder at the Serpentine Bridge and this year’s Murder at the Merton Library. And I sincerely hope there will be more after that.

Nevertheless, Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens, besides being at least one specific someone’s personal ending – after all, this is a murder mystery – still represents a kind of closure to the first part or cycle of the Wrexford & Sloane series, as so many of the chickens who were barely eggs in the first book, Murder on Black Swan Lane, come home to roost in this one.

It begins, as always, with a murder. A murder that we see – as we often do in this series – enough to be certain that it is foul play and not merely a natural death without being able to identify the perpetrator.

Who does a dastardly clever job of hiding their identity through most of the story. Meaning that this is one of those mysteries where I’m happy to say that I was every bit as confused about who really done what as Wrexford, Sloane and ALL of their friends and colleagues turned out to be.

It’s only the motive that’s clear from the very beginning. As they say, the love of money is the root of all evil, and this is a case where entirely too many someones are willing to do some very dastardly deeds in order to cultivate much deeper roots of the stuff.

This case is one that both Wrexford and Sloane had hoped to pass to their friend and colleague, Head Bow Street Runner Griffin, as they’re doing their damndest not to incite any more scandals in the final weeks before their wedding.

But once one of the many villains stirring this nefarious pot – or plot – directly threatens not just Charlotte Sloane but also her ‘weasels’ – her adopted sons Raven and Hawk – there is absolutely no way that Charlotte will let go of this case until her own personal nemesis is finally brought to justice.

One way or another.

Escape Rating B+: It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that I went looking for a comfort read to round out this week, BUT, perhaps I was just a bit too quick to pick this up as it’s been less than a month since I read the last Murder at Queen’s Landing. There are REASONS I try to keep them spaced apart.

Also, Charlotte has a lot of angsty thoughts in this one. Angst that is very real, completely understandable, and doesn’t come to pass in any of the worst ways that she fears, but still, a lot of angst. As she’s our point-of-view character, it meant that the story bogged down a bit when she got lost inside her head.

Still, there ARE reasons for that angst, and they all have to do with this book circling back to all the demons raised in Murder on Black Swan Lane and resolving them – one way or another. Charlotte’s whole, entire existence is about to change with her upcoming marriage to Wrexford and he’s the only part of that situation she’s certain about. She’s going to lose a lot of freedom when she becomes his Countess, not because he’ll clip her wings, but because society will be watching her every move. A position that she ran away from when she eloped with her first, entirely unsuitable husband and isn’t at all keen to return to.

Still, where a young, unmarried woman can ruin her reputation and her prospects all too easily, a wealthy, married, Countess will merely be considered eccentric – at least as long as no one susses out her secret identity as the satirical cartoonist A.J. Quill.

Charlotte began this series as an impoverished widow with two unofficially adopted guttersnipes, an ability to blend into the shadows as another guttersnipe right alongside them, a house on the edge of dilapidation and a secret identity barely keeping the not-nearly-well-enough-patched roof over their heads. But she was free. No one noticed her, either as a poor widow or in her masquerade as Magpie the dirty orphan boy.

Everything we learned about Charlotte has changed since that first story. She was disowned by her family, but her hoped-for reconciliation with her brother is in the offing. She was exiled from society, but her marriage to Wrexford will put her right back in the thick of it.

And one of the villains in that first adventure threatened her boys, nearly got her murdered, was responsible for the death of her husband – and got away scot-free. Now that villain is back and threatening Charlotte’s life and happiness yet again.

Before Charlotte can be truly happy, all of those swords hanging over her head have to be carefully taken down, while she and Wrexford are in the midst of solving a criminal conspiracy that turns out to have more heads than Hydra. That the sheer tangle of threats coming their way makes both of them realize just how many hostages to fortune they have gathered around themselves over the course of their investigations adds to Charlotte’s worry and angst.

But also to the relief when it all, finally manages to come round right.

While I may not have fallen head over heels into this entry in the series quite as much as I have the others, I still very much enjoyed the mystery, the way it tangled its roots in both the science AND the social issues of its day, and put paid to the ‘will they, won’t they’ question once and for all.

Which means I’ll be back, maybe not the very next time I need a comfort read but certainly the one after that, with the next book in the series, Murder at the Serpentine Bridge.

Review: The Dead Take the A Train by Richard Kadrey and Cassandra Khaw

Review: The Dead Take the A Train by Richard Kadrey and Cassandra KhawThe Dead Take the A Train (Carrion City, #1) by Cassandra Khaw, Richard Kadrey
Narrator: Natalie Naudus
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Dark Fantasy, horror, urban fantasy
Series: Carrion City #1
Pages: 391
Length: 12 hours and 59 minutes
Published by Macmillan Audio, Tor Nightfire on October 3, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Bestselling authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey have teamed up to deliver a dark new story with magic, monsters, and mayhem, perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill.
Julie Crews is a coked-up, burnt-out thirty-something who packs a lot of magic into her small body. She’s been trying to establish herself in the NYC magic scene, and she’ll work the most gruesome gigs to claw her way to the top.
Julie is desperate for a quick career boost to break the dead-end grind, but her pleas draw the attention of an eldritch god who is hungry for revenge. Her power grab sets off a deadly chain of events that puts her closest friends – and the entire world – directly in the path of annihilation.
The first explosive adventure in the Carrion City Duology, The Dead Take the A Train fuses Khaw’s cosmic horror and Kadrey’s gritty fantasy into a full-throttle thrill ride straight into New York’s magical underbelly.

My Review:

If someone told me that the Miskatonic River had sent a tributary (or a tentacle) down from Innsmouth to Manhattan, I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised. At all. The eldritch horrors of this book are VERY eldritch indeed, but it’s the human monsters that really make this story scream.

Besides, as a couple of the book’s characters remark, if the eldritch monster had actually BEEN Cthulhu it would have been much easier to deal with. Instead, Julie Crews and her ‘Scooby gang’ are stuck between the rock of The Mother Who Eats and the hard place of a fake archangel who thinks they have the chops to eat Mother. And certainly plans to scoop up Julie and her friends to pave the way.

But that’s not where we start. Where we start is most definitely at the human dimensions. Julie Crews is a down-at-heels, down-on-her-luck magic worker with plenty of brass, always willing to deliver a kick in the ass, with a knack for surviving stuff that no one should even know about, let alone throw down with.

So we begin with Julie, taking a job she knows she shouldn’t touch with someone else’s bargepole, from her lying, cheating, stealing ex-boyfriend. The one who trashed her and her reputation, stole credit for jobs that she did, and used that credit to slither his way onto and up the corporate ladder at the primo magical legal firm, Thorne & Dirk. (I always wanted it to be ‘Thorne & Dick’ and you probably will too.)

But the job pays real cash money, albeit not enough and under the table, and Julie needs that money to make her rent and pay for her many illicit, illegal and expensive habits – like cheap booze, epic amounts of drugs and high-quality magical equipment.

Her life has already gone more pear-shaped than the average person would expect to survive – and Julie doesn’t. Expect to survive, that is. People who do the kind of work she does and take the kind of damage she regularly takes don’t live to see 40. Or even 35. She’s the last and ONLY survivor of her class from magical training. And Julie’s 30th birthday is coming up fast.

What she doesn’t expect is for her best friend Sarah to show up at her door with one packed bag, a whole bunch of new verbal and physical twitches and dark shadows under her eyes that deserve their own zip code.

What neither Julie nor Sarah ever admit is that they are each other’s ‘one that got away’, or would be if either of them had ever womanned up and actually asked. They’re better together, always have been and always will be, whether they define that together as besties or roommates or the love of each other’s lives.

Something that they’ll have to test ALL the limits of, to hell and back (literally), when Julie’s ex and Sarah’s ex decide to fuck with them in entirely different ways at the exact same time. Putting Julie, Sarah, their friends and ALL of New York City into the crosshairs between the claws of a creature straight out of the Cthulhu Mythos and the many, many mouths of the Mother Who Eats.

Escape Rating B+: First and most importantly, this is your trigger warning that The Dead Take the A Train is a bloody, gory, gruesome reminder that urban fantasy as a genre is the uncanny child of mystery and horror, much like the uncanny babies being born in yesterday’s book, A Season of Monstrous Conceptions.

Meaning that, yes, while there’s a mystery at the heart of this story, there’s a monster or two – or ten – chewing that heart with their fangs as blood drips down their chin. Or chins, however many they just happen to have.

To the point where the horror elements go so far over the top that they come down in a splat of blood and viscera on the other side.

Second, for the first half of the story, both Sarah’s ex-husband Dan and Julie’s ex-boyfriend Tyler were so full of smug, self-congratulatory, evil, white dudebro entitlement that I just couldn’t hack listening to their perspectives. They both exhibited the kind of asshattery that is all over the news and if I wanted to listen to that there are entirely too many real places for it these days.

Which means that I switched from audio to text at that halfway point. I was finding the story compelling – if sometimes gross to the max – but every time the narrator retched out one of their perspectives I wanted to scream. I’ll confess that I gave up too soon, because just as I switched to text the dudebros started getting what they deserved and that was awesome.

While I fully admit that the above may be a ‘me’ thing and not a ‘you’ thing, the relentless drumbeat of just what terrible excuses for human beings Dan and Tyler were nearly threw me out of the story entirely, and that’s absolutely the reason this is a B+ and not any higher. Your reading mileage may vary.

Howsomever, the narrator, Natalie Naudus, is one that I absolutely love, and she does a terrific job of voicing stories that feature last-chance, hard-done-by, bad luck and worse trouble heroines, just like Julie Crews, who would be able to stand, scarred but never broken, right alongside similar characters that Naudus has voiced, like Opal Starling in Starling House, as well as Emiko Soong in Ebony Gate, Zelda in Last Exit, and Vivian Liao in Empress of Forever. (Also Charlie Hall in Holly Black’s Book of Night, but I read that one entirely in text.)

As much as the first half of The Dead Take the A Train drove me around the twist, when the story hits that second half it hits the ground running hard towards a slam bang finish. Along the way we have Julie’s slightly otherworldly ‘Scooby gang’ coming together, with teasing clues to American Gods-type backstories to come, the set up of an almost impossibly compelling magical version of NYC with hints of The City We Became with even more blood and guts and eldritch horrors, and, to cap it off in a blaze of glory, a fulfillment of one of Shakespeare’s most famous sayings (from Henry VI, Part 2 if you’re looking for a hint.)

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in the projected Carrion City series by Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. There’s certainly plenty of carrion to pin a horde of stories on. If this first book is a taste of what’s to come, I can’t wait to see what I’ll be reading next – absolutely with the lights on!

Review: Fury Brothers: Keep by Anna Hackett

Review: Fury Brothers: Keep by Anna HackettKeep: A Grumpy Single Dad Romance (Fury Brothers Book 2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Fury Brothers #2
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on October 19, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

My boss is a tough, grumpy bounty hunter—and a hot single dad—and now he’s sworn to keep me safe, whether I like it or not.
My name’s Macy, and I always look on the bright side of things. Life’s too short not to. Super grump extraordinaire Colton Fury is the total opposite. Luckily for him, along with the muscled bod, tattoos, and rugged face, it works for him.
When I start getting creepy calls at the office and someone breaks into my house, it becomes clear I’m a target, and Coltsort of…loses his mind. He turns even bossier and more protective.
Now I’m living with him and his super cute daughter, and trying very hard to remember that I can’t let myself fall for him.Before long, there’s kissing, touching, and a whole lot more. Colt tells me—okay, more like growls at me—that he doesn’t do relationships. And I promise him no strings or complications.
Every day that passes, the complications are growing and I’m starting to realize I want them. All of them.
But soon, it’s not only me in danger, and it’s not only Colt who’ll risk it all to save the people he loves.
The Fury fierce, loyal, and live by their own codeFive men who grew up in foster care and became brothers by choice. They vow to always have each other’s no questions, no doubts, no hesitation. They protect their own…always.

My Review:

Colton Fury and Macy Underwood are each firmly of the opinion that they have their lives together all by themselves. Separately, that is.

Neither of them does relationships – at least romantic relationships. Macy’s certainly all in on her job as Colt’s office manager, wrangling the arrangements for his frequent trips to capture the latest escaped criminals while coercing him to deal with the resulting paperwork as often as needed.

Macy feels needed, the job pays well, and the problems she left behind in San Francisco are well back in her rearview mirror. Or at least she believes they are. And believes that big, tough successful bounty hunter Colt Fury – along with his equally fierce and protective brothers – take care of their own when anything goes wrong.

As evidenced by the way they all gathered around Dante Fury and HIS bartender turned love-of-his-life Mila when her past troubles came calling for her in the first book in the series, Fury.

Colt, on the other hand, doesn’t do relationships because the way he sees it his life is already full up. Not with romance, because he doesn’t think he deserves that, but with the loyalty of his brothers and the heartwarming and heartstopping love between Colt and his niece-turned-adopted-daughter, seven year old Daisy Fury. Making sure that Daisy has everything she needs is a full time job all by itself, and he thinks he can’t afford to split his heart’s focus to find a more adult kind of love.

When Macy starts receiving prank calls she assumes it’s nothing that needs anyone to handle it besides herself. Just like her free-spirited mother taught her.

At least until the pranks escalate to life-threatening accidents, and Colt Fury can’t stop himself from stepping in and taking over Macy’s security and a bit more of her life than either of them ever planned on. Not that they haven’t both had entirely too many seriously hot daydreams about all the delicious possibilities.

But Macy’s ex didn’t take no for an answer then, and doesn’t plan on taking one now that he’s chased her down to New Orleans. Unless the Fury Brothers take him down before its too late for both Macy AND Daisy.

Escape Rating B+: I liked Keep better than Fury because I was able to get inside Macy’s head in a way that I wasn’t Mila’s or even Dante’s. I also enjoyed Macy more as a character because she was getting on with her life and living her best one in spite of the EvilEx™ lurking behind her in San Francisco. She’s not focusing on him, she’s not constantly looking over her shoulder at him, she’s not even thinking much about him until he turns up like a bad penny and puts himself back in her life.

One of the fun things about this series so far is that the romances haven’t been insta-love. We enter the story at the point where the relationship turns so fast on its dime that it almost seems that way, but Colt and Macy have been working together for months when their story begins. They are already part of each other’s lives – and part of each other’s daydreams even if neither of them is willing to admit that.

Well, Macy is willing to admit to the occasional sexy daydream, but recognizes that it’s not a good idea to go there because they work together. Colt, on the other hand, has a bad case of “I’m not worthy” that he’s only able to start getting over when Macy needs him to protect her.

There’s also a bit of ‘Kidfic’ mixed in, as Colt is an excellent dad to Daisy, and part of the whole Fury Brothers brotherhood is wrapped around taking care of little Daisy Fury. When Macy goes all in on being another one of Daisy’s caregivers it gives the story a gooey center that just worked for me. (I’ve been reading a whole lot of 9-1-1 fanfic recently, in spite of having never watched the TV series, and a whole lot of that fandom is kidfics – which are awesome if the kid is awesome and Daisy so is!)

Of course Colt gets over his stupidity in thinking that he’s a) not good enough for Macy and b) gets to make that decision for her. Meanwhile, Macy, in spite of a bit of stupid decision making over a threat to Daisy, manages to rescue the little girl and sets up her own rescue quite handily in the process, proving to herself and the reader that she’s the perfect addition to the Fury Brothers’ family.

One final comment. This series so far has books with VERY long subtitles. The subtitle for Dante’s book, “a fake dating workplace romance” was only true for a little while. Not that it wasn’t a workplace romance, but the fake part of their fake dating didn’t last very long at all.

Very much on the other hand, Colt is a grumpy dad from the very first page of his story until the last. Grumpy is part of Colt’s core personality. That grumpiness hides a heart of marshmallow when it comes to his family, but he’s a grump through and through. That gets to a place of being considerably happier in his grumpiness over the course of this story adds just that extra bit of sweetness – albeit still covered in a crusty – but delicious – exterior. (Come to think of it, Colt is a bit like a s’more – or at least Macy certainly thinks so!)

Ending this entry in the series on a high note, at least for this reader, it looks like business mogul Kavner Fury will be going head to head with Treasury Agent Coleman in the next book in the Fury Brothers series, sometime next year. I always love it when the heroine is able to kick ass and take names alongside the heroes, so I can’t wait to see Coleman do her level best to take Kav down – one way or another!