Review: Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

Review: Escaping Exodus by Nicky DraydenEscaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Harper Voyager on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Escaping Exodus is a story of a young woman named Seske Kaleigh, heir to the command of a biological, city-size starship carved up from the insides of a spacefaring beast. Her clan has just now culled their latest ship and the workers are busy stripping down the bonework for building materials, rerouting the circulatory system for mass transit, and preparing the cavernous creature for the onslaught of the general populous still in stasis. It’s all a part of the cycle her clan had instituted centuries ago—excavate the new beast, expand into its barely-living carcass, extinguish its resources over the course of a decade, then escape in a highly coordinated exodus back into stasis until they cull the next beast from the diminishing herd.

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Lying Room by Nicci French

Review: The Lying Room by Nicci FrenchThe Lying Room by Nicci French
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

One little secret between a married woman, her lover, and a killer.

It should have been just a mid-life fling. A guilty indiscretion that Neve Connolly could have weathered. An escape from twenty years of routine marriage to her overworked husband, and from her increasingly distant children. But when Neve pays a morning-after visit to her lover, Saul, and finds him brutally murdered, their pied-à-terre still heady with her perfume, all the lies she has so painstakingly stitched together threaten to unravel.

After scrubbing clean every trace of her existence from Saul’s life—and death—Neve believes she can return to normal, shaken but intact. But she can’t get out of her head the one tormenting question: what was she forgetting?

An investigation into the slaying could provide the answer. It’s brought Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Hitching, and Neve’s worst fears, to her door. But with every new lie, every new misdirection to save herself, Neve descends further into the darkness of her betrayal—and into more danger than she ever imagined. Because Hitching isn’t the only one watching Neve. So is a determined killer who’s about to make the next terrifying move in a deadly affair….

My Review:

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” Sir Walter Scott said that back in 1806 in his poem Marmion, but the phrase has become a cliche because it is just so demonstrably true so very often. Mark Twain put it another way, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” And he was equally right.

Neve Connolly should have taken both of those phrases to heart long before she decided to clean up her lover’s apartment. She tried her level best to erase herself from the man’s life – before someone else finds his murdered body. Along with the truth about their affair.

Neve begins the story as discontentedly married and disappointingly approaching middle age. Her lover, who was also married and also, in an entirely different cliche, her boss, is dead. She goes to his flat (the story takes place in contemporary London which does turn out to be important later), thinking they’re about to have a tryst, only to discover him dead on the floor with his head bashed in.

She didn’t do it, but someone certainly did.

And this is the point where Neve’s life goes completely pear-shaped – but not in the way that it should have.

She thinks she can erase herself from her lover’s apartment by cleaning the place within an inch of it’s – or actually her – life. While the corpse is lying on the floor of the living room. That she is probably erasing evidence of the murderer doesn’t seem to enter either her conscience or her consciousness. Her only motivation is protecting herself from the way that her life would implode if the affair was discovered.

But no one in a panic is thinking as clearly as someone would need to be to get themselves out from under a scenario with this much potential for self-destruction. The situation should backfire on Neve.

And it sort of does – but not in any way that she ever could have expected.

Escape Rating C+: I picked up The Lying Room because I really enjoyed the author’s Frieda Klein series and hoped that this standalone would have the same kind of taut excellence. (If you are interested, start with Blue Monday and proceed through the rest of the days of the week!)

But one of the things that I liked about Frieda Klein’s series was the character of Frieda Klein herself. Because Frieda Klein is an intelligent protagonist – and also because while she may sometimes be misled and she’s certainly someone to whom terrible things happen through no fault of her own – she’s never stupid and she never gets herself into stupid situations.

When she does defy the police – and she sometimes does – it’s both for a good reason and we expect her to succeed long enough to accomplish her goals.

As the protagonist, Neve drove me crazy. I just didn’t like her and didn’t want to be in her head. On the other hand, I passionately dislike her, so the author definitely got me involved.

But seriously, she’s unhappy at home – for reasons that are easy to empathize with – and takes the easy way out of having an affair to spice up her life rather than rock the boat at home. And as a reader I could see why she made those choices.

I fell off the “understand” wagon when she didn’t put on her big girl panties and deal with the results of her actions, as horrible as those results were. There are lots of cliches about people who have affairs secretly wanting to get caught in order to bring whatever the crisis in their home life is out into the open. How true that cliche is, well, who knows?

But I found the results of her actions contradictory. She just didn’t act smart enough to fool the police – but she managed to do so anyway. And that in spite of something that the UK readers of this book have pointed out repeatedly. Contemporary London is one of the cities most saturated with CCTV in the world. This story takes place in Central London but none of the police ever attempt to consult CCTV to discover the killer. They suspect Neve but never look at the CCTV to see if she was at the victim’s apartment or not. It’s not that there was a catastrophic and coincidental failure of the CCTV in one way or another – it’s that they never try.

Instead, it seems like the police inspector in charge of the case turns into Neve’s stalker. Or should I say Neve’s second stalker? Because it seemed obvious to this reader from the earliest parts of the book, even before Neve discovers that corpse, that someone is stalking her.

Who the stalker is – and their motivations for following her, assaulting her and trying to put her in the frame for the murder – did turn out to be surprises. But that someone was there was not. It was just a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

In the end, I found this one disappointing, especially in comparison to the Frieda Klein series. But it’s staying in my head a fairly long time in that disappointment, so perhaps infuriating is closer to the mark. As always, your reading mileage may vary. Considerably.

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Review: Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate Quinn

Review: Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate QuinnRibbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution's Women by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, Allison Pataki
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's history
Pages: 560
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Six bestselling and award-winning authors bring to life a breathtaking epic novel illuminating the hopes, desires, and destinies of princesses and peasants, harlots and wives, fanatics and philosophers—six unforgettable women whose paths cross during one of the most tumultuous and transformative events in history: the French Revolution.

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Coming Home for Christmas by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Lies in White Dresses by Sofia Grant

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

Review: Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlaneDon't You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Internationally bestselling author Mhairi McFarlane delivers a funny, romantic, heartfelt novel perfect for fans of Josie Silver or Sally Thorne, and anyone who loves Bridget Jones!

You always remember your first love... don’t you?

If there’s anything worse than being fired from the lousiest restaurant in town, it’s coming home early to find your boyfriend in bed with someone else. Reeling from the humiliation of a double dumping in one day, Georgina takes the next job that comes her way—bartender in a newly opened pub. There’s only one problem: it’s run by the guy she fell in love with years ago. And—make that two problems—he doesn’t remember her. At all. But she has fabulous friends and her signature hot pink fur coat... what more could a girl really need?

Lucas McCarthy has not only grown into a broodingly handsome man, but he’s also turned into an actual grown-up, with a thriving business and a dog along the way. Crossing paths with him again throws Georgina’s rocky present into sharp relief—and brings a secret from her past bubbling to the surface. Only she knows what happened twelve years ago, and why she’s allowed the memories to chase her ever since. But maybe it’s not too late for the truth... or a second chance with the one that got away?

My Review:

You probably have a song running through your head right now. At least, I know I did every time I even thought about this title. I think I read this book in the hopes of getting the earworm out,  that song by Simple Minds, in the back of mine. That it was part of the soundtrack of The Breakfast Club is what makes it oh so appropriate for this story.

Because Georgina and Lucas never forgot each other, or their sweet, secret end-of-high-school romance – even though it all turned to ashes.

We meet up with Georgina and Lucas more than a decade later, and life has, not surprisingly, taken a few twists and turns since the last time they saw each other – the night when everything went pear-shaped.

Georgina doesn’t seem to be doing all that well at, well, adulting. She’s 30, unmarried, semi-attached and doesn’t have a career or even a steady job. She also just seems to be one of those people to whom things just happen. She’s great at making funny stories about all of the unfortunate things that happen to her and the terrible situations in which she finds herself, but she’s also the recipient of all of her family’s well-meaning pity and the butt of all their jokes.

Just when it seems that things couldn’t go much further downhill, she’s fired from the worst job in the world and surprises her boyfriend in flagrante delicto – in the middle of boinking someone else.

Then Lucas comes back into her life – or rather she walks into his pub – and he doesn’t even remember her – though she has never forgotten him.

Or does he just not want to be gutted yet again?

Escape Rating B: In the end, I liked this but didn’t love it.

The beginning put me off a bit. On the one hand, it’s the setup for the whole story, their sweet high school romance that ends in heartbreak. On that other hand, the way that part of the story fades to black, we’re all pretty sure what happened next. We know more than enough to see it coming from miles away, even though Georgina seems to be a willing participant in her own destruction.

As it turns out, we only sort of knew what happened, and we are only able to kind of guess what the result was. And it’s both better and worse than what we thought it was. But that initial assumption hangs over the whole story like the Sword of Damocles while the reader waits for it to fall and explain what happened way back when – and since.

That sword casts a long and dark shadow in more ways than one.

It killed the relationship between Lucas and Georgina – and it left Georgina with the metric butt-load of self-esteem issues that one expects. She sabotages herself at every turn because she feels like she’s responsible for what went wrong – even though she wasn’t. And still isn’t.

The story also feels like it exists in that limbo between chick lit and romance, and that it’s much, much more chick lit than it is a romance. There is an eventual happy ending, but the true heart of the story is Georgina’s relationship with her friends, her somewhat dysfunctional relationship with her family, and her eventual liberation and yes, catharsis when she finally lets out all the demons that have been eating her all along.

In the end, Georgina Horspool learns to not just love herself, but also stand up for herself. And when she does, she discovers that Lucas never did forget about her. They both just needed to grow up and get there the long way around to reach their happy ending.

P.S. That damn song is STILL stuck in my head!

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Review: Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

Review: Chilling Effect by Valerie ValdesChilling Effect by Valerie Valdes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Untitled Space Opera #1
Pages: 448
Published by Harper Voyager on September 17, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A hilarious, offbeat debut space opera that skewers everything from pop culture to video games and features an irresistible foul-mouthed captain and her motley crew, strange life forms, exciting twists, and a galaxy full of fun and adventure.

Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra cruise the galaxy delivering small cargo for even smaller profits. When her sister Mari is kidnapped by The Fridge, a shadowy syndicate that holds people hostage in cryostasis, Eva must undergo a series of unpleasant, dangerous missions to pay the ransom.

But Eva may lose her mind before she can raise the money. The ship’s hold is full of psychic cats, an amorous fish-faced emperor wants her dead after she rejects his advances, and her sweet engineer is giving her a pesky case of feelings. The worse things get, the more she lies, raising suspicions and testing her loyalty to her found family.

To free her sister, Eva will risk everything: her crew, her ship, and the life she’s built on the ashes of her past misdeeds. But when the dominoes start to fall and she finds the real threat is greater than she imagined, she must decide whether to play it cool or burn it all down.

My Review:

First of all, any story that begins with genius, psychic cats on a spaceship has me from jump. And that’s exactly the way that Chilling Effect starts, with Captain Eva Innocente running around La Sirena Negra trying to chase down her cargo; 20 genetically engineered, hyper-intelligent and hypnotic felines.

And just when she thinks she’s finally corralled the last one – everything goes pear-shaped. Which turns out to be a metaphor for this entire space-romp of a story, as Eva and her crew find themselves running a game both with and against the biggest criminal organization in the galaxy, trying to save Eva’s sister, their own hides, and one of the big secrets of their universe.

It’s an edge of your seat ride through every jumpgate in the known universe to see if Eva can get her ship, her crew, her family and her soul through this adventure relatively unscathed.

And that’s adventure in the sense of something terrible and/or frightening happening to someone else, either long ago, far away, or preferably both. Eva only wishes it were happening to someone else – frequently and often, while cursing in Spanish, English and possibly a few other languages along the way.

But it’s happening to her, whether she wants it or not. And while she certainly doesn’t want that adventure, she does want to save her sister and the rest of her family. No matter who, or what, gets in her way.

Escape Rating A+: There have been plenty of comparisons already between Firefly and Chilling Effect. I think the best one that I read said something about if Firefly and Mass Effect had a baby midwifed by Guillermo del Toro, that Chilling Effect would be the resulting book baby.

I think there were more parents and grandparents involved, but I’ll still grant the idea of del Toro as the midwife because it’s just plain cool.

The resemblance between La Sirena Negra and Serenity, the Firefly-class ship in the series, along with its motley, barely-on-the-edge-of-legality crew, is out and proud and adds to the long list of stories inspired by that series. Firefly casts a long shadow for such a short-lived show.

There are also plenty of points where Eva reads a lot like the female Commander Shepherd in Mass Effect – just with an even looser relationship with the law and the truth.

But it feels to me as if Chilling Effect also has at least two SFnal “fairy godmothers”, Kylara Vatta from the Vatta’s War series and Tess Bailey from Nightchaser. In both of those female-centric space operas, you get the same kind of leader who is on the run from deep, dark secrets that are buried, not at all deeply in the family tree, that the heroine must confront in order to be free.

In addition to the terrific characterizations of Eva and her crew, part of what makes this story so good are its exploration – and eventual complete skewering, of a trope that normally makes readers cringe.

I’m talking about the overused and now hated convention of putting female characters in literal or figurative refrigerators, in other words, freezing them out of the narrative, so that they become an object to motivate a hero into action to either rescue or avenge them.

In Chilling Effect, Eva’s sister is put into cryo-sleep by a criminal organization known as “The Fridge”, moving Eva and her crew to great lengths in order to free her and ultimately discovering the secrets behind The Fridge and the ancient race who seeded the galaxy with jumpgates (and linking back to Mass Effect yet again.)

But instead of motivating a man and leaving the female character offstage for the rest of the story, we have a woman moving the galaxy to rescue another woman, with a mixed-species and gender crew. The whole thing works as both impetus and send-up in one glorious smash!

It’s pretty clear that I loved Chilling Effect from that opening scene, and that I can’t wait for the next book in the author’s Untitled Space Opera series. (That’s literally what the series is called, but the next book does have a title, and that’s Prime Deception.)

But there’s one more thing I want to get into before I let you go off to read Chilling Effect.

It’s an important part of Eva Innocente’s story that she and her family, and even the colony they came from, are, like the author, of Cuban descent. This isn’t just window-dressing, that origin story both underpins Eva’s actions and peppers her language with phrases from that heritage.

I had to look up a lot of the idioms, and I highly recommend that you do. They are often hilarious, always informative, and add to the flavor and texture of the book and the characters in ways that just feel right.

As someone who grew up in a household where another language was frequently sprinkled into the conversation, there are concepts that just don’t translate from one language to the next, in spite of the English language’s often-quoted propensity to not merely “borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

The way that Eva mixes the Cuban phrases that she learned as a child add to the depth and verisimilitude of her character – and I feel that adds to the story whether I initially understand what she’s saying or not. (After all, that’s what Google Translate is for.) And I want that representation for her because I also want to see it in other stories – and am – for myself.

So I may have gotten into this story for those psychic cats, but I stayed for Captain Eva.

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Review: Dead Man Stalking by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Dead Man Stalking by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayDead Man Stalking (Blood and Bone #1) by T.A. Moore
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal, urban fantasy, vampires
Series: Blood and Bone #1
Pages: 266
Published by Dreamspinner Press LLC on September 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


A Blood and Bone Novel
Agent Luke Bennett proved that humans could rise just as high in the ranks as their vampire colleagues—until a kidnapper held him captive for a year and turned him without his consent.

Now he’s Took: a reluctant monster afraid to bite anyone, broke, and about to be discharged from his elite BITERs unit.

When an old colleague suggests he consult on a BITERs case, Took has little to lose. The case is open and shut… but nothing is ever that easy. As he digs deeper, he discovers a lot more than one cold case is at stake, and if he wants to solve this one, he’ll need the help of the BITERs team. Even if that brings his old commander, Madoc, back into his life.

My Review:

Dead Man Stalking was a terrific reminder of what makes urban fantasy one of my go-to genres, especially when I’m in a reading slump and need to be knocked out of it! Because this one really knocked me out of my slump – and knocked one out of the park into the bargain.

As with the best of the genre, this is a story that turns some of the usually accepted paradigms around, as it makes heroes out of groups that are normally villains – and vice versa. It’s also, as so much of urban fantasy is, a detective story, where our “cops” have to investigate a series of crimes and figure out who, or what “dunnit.”

Of course, things are not as they seem, and not just because the cops in this case are vampires – not that they call themselves that.

Instead, we have a case that the investigators are positive is all sewn up, and a profiler who no longer trusts his own judgment poking his nose into that case and discovering that either the investigators missed something or that he’s further off the rails than he thought.

Took, formerly Luke, Bennett used to be the best profiler in the agency, until he was betrayed by someone he trusted, held captive for over a year, and changed from one of the few successful humans in the agency into shaky vampire who believes he’s lost his nerve.

Which doesn’t stop him from investigating that supposedly open-and-shut case, and doesn’t stop his former boss – and would-be lover – from racing across the country to get his ass out of the fire yet again.

And again.

Leading both of them deep into a case that gets darker and nastier the deeper they get into it. And exposes more of the fault lines in the trust between them as they dig under the surface of what they feel for each other.

Escape Rating A-: This was an absolute blast – a terrific way to spend a lazy afternoon, lost in a fascinating world, following a deadly investigation and a romance that shifts from cold to hot in the blink of an eye. And the whole world catches fire.

I didn’t even mind the cat on my chest holding me in place. He was doing me a favor, after all, providing an excuse for my reading binge.

One of the things I loved about this one was the way that history had worked in this alternative to our own. The way that the vampires (and werewolves) had always existed, and how that changed history, felt reminiscent of some of my favorites in the genre, like Sookie, and Pentonville, the Black Dagger Brotherhood and surprisingly, The Others.

Several of those series wrap around the idea that vamps have always not just walked among us, but run things either covertly or overtly. Also that vampire politics and vampire grudges are both epic and eternal.

And from The Others, that concept that “original recipe” humans are really hard-headed about their own superiority, in spite of repeated evidence to the contrary.

There’s a sense in Dead Man Stalking that we’ve been dropped into the middle of a case – only because we have – and into the midst of a fully realized world. I kept wanting a bit more background on who the players in the shadows are, and how things got to be the way they are. Although the introduction of the historical figure Elizabeth Bathory certainly added weight and depth and horror to that shadowy history. It’s something I’d love to see more of in future entries in the series.

I keep referring to Dead Man Stalking as urban fantasy, even though sometimes it gets referred to as paranormal romance. Yes, there is a romance, but it doesn’t feel like the center of the story. The case felt like the backbone of this one, at least to me. Your mileage may vary.

Whatever you think is the heart of this one, whether it’s an actual romantic heart or the kind that gets cut out by one’s enemies, Dead Man Stalking is compelling and absorbing and I can’t wait for the next book in the Blood and Bone series. This is a world I want to explore more deeply, and in the company of these characters.

A Few Words from our author, T.A. Moore!

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new urban fantasy Dead Man Stalking. This is the first book in the Blood and Bone series and I am thrilled to put it out there into the world. I was meant to be writing an entirely different book, but then Took and Madoc took up residence in my head and I had to give in and let them have their say.

I had a blast creating this world and these characters, and I hope you enjoy them too. I’ve included a chapter of a prequel short story that you can follow through the blog tour. 

Chapter Eight

“Henry stayed out of the field,” Kit said harshly to Madoc. “And he, at least, had magic to fall back on.”

The door to Nina’s house opened and the coroner’s assistants carried her out, wrapped in black plastic and padlocked down with silver to the stretcher. Just in case. Silver would kill a vampire, but something would occasionally move into what was left. It might mimic who they’d been before–whatever it could piece together from the brain tissue left–but it was generally agreed the revenants were other.

Luke rinsed his mouth and spat green and pink froth into a bowl. The wintergreen didn’t mask the taste of blood so much as mix with it, sharp and potent like salt on minted lamb. He rubbed his jaw and pressed on the tender points around his jaw. It was jarred, but not dislocated.

“If he had a year to prepare, he could bring a dragon to tinkle on them,” Luke said. “Maybe.”

 It was unfair. Slightly. By repute Henry had been a dangerous man, but sorcery was high investment for small returns. It was why the scholomance existed despite sorcerers being as community minded as a spoiled house cat. Five sorcerers could bundle their spells and flood a city to execute a man they’d arranged to be stranded there with a woman he couldn’t resist. It would still take a year.

“You could have been killed,” Kit said. He grabbed the back of Luke’s head and shoved him around to look at his reflection in the mirror. The shadows of fresh bruises bloomed grey and red over Luke’s jaw and cheek. “Are you really so arrogant you can’t see that.”

Enough,” Madoc said icily. “Go and make sure Nina’s consort doesn’t do anything foolish.”

“I need to speak to him,” Luke said as he scrambled up off the tailgate of the ambulance. “Before he goes to the hospital.”

Madoc put a hand on his shoulder and pinned him in place. “He doesn’t want to see you right now.”

Probably not, Luke supposed, but… “It’s important.”

“Give him time to grieve,” Madoc said. “Kit? Go.”

He waited until Kit grumbled and stalked off. Then he put his thumb under Madoc’s jaw and turned his head around to study the bruise. “You’ll ache tomorrow.”

“I ache now,” Luke said. He swallowed and moved away from the too-careful touch. “I know how the killer is.”

“Dead, surely,” Madoc said as he glanced after Nina. “She choose her own punishment.”

“It wasn’t her,” Luke said. Habit made him check his holster and he hissed in annoyance as his fingers found empty leather and nylon. The local cops had taken his gun when they got there. It wasn’t how they did it, but it generally wasn’t a good idea to argue with anxious, trigger happy police officers alarmed that you’d blown off someone’s entire head. Madoc reached around and pulled a gun out of the back of his jeans. He offered it up on the palm of his hand. “She was just…”

Scared. Angry. Threatened.

Luke took the gun. He checked it over briskly, made sure it was loaded and the safety was on, before it holstered it. 

“I made a mistake,” he said stiffly. The words felt like gravel in his throat. “I pushed when I should have pulled, and she caught me off guard. It shouldn’t have been necessary to kill her.”

“But you did,” Madoc said.

Luke gave him a puzzled look. “At that point it was necessary.”

“Why not here?” Madoc asked. “Jamie got over-possessive, thought a midnight snack meant a commitment and pressured her. She’d lived here for a long time. Anakim that entrenched can react extremely to any threat to their nest.”

“I got that,” Luke said. He rubbed his jaw. “But what about the others?”

“Senescence,” Madoc said. Vampire senility. “Maybe she didn’t have a reason.”

Luke shook his head. “No one kills without a reason,” he said. “We might not think it is a good reason, but it’s still a reason to them.”

Madoc looked exasperated. “So you came out, executed the daughter of the Tsar’s favourite, and it was all for nothing?”

“No,” Luke said. “Nina was involved, she just didn’t know how. When can I talk to Darren?”

“Tomorrow.”

Luke made a sound of protest in his throat.

“Fine, when he’s ready,” Madoc conceded. “Let him grieve first.”

Luke shrugged an apology. “That might be too late,” he said. “I need to talk to him now.”

Not that he’d be able to if Madoc decided to stop him. He waited and, after a second, Madoc shook his head and stepped aside. Luke jogged over to where Darren, coffee all over his trousers, sat under Kit’s awkward sympathy. When Darren saw Luke he snarled and tried to lurch to his feet. Kit pushed him back down and gave Luke an exasperated look.

“Jamie,” Luke said. “Tomas, Bray, Loretta”

“What about them?” Darren asked bitterly. “Are you going to shoot them too?”

Luke bit the ‘someone beat us to it’ off the tip of his tongue. “They were all mules, right?”

Colour pinched Darren’s cheeks. “UnKissable,” he said bitterly. “Resistant. Mules are animals.”

“You all met at a support group right?” Luke said. He barely waited for Darren’s resentful noise before he pressed on. “And someone there introduced you to Nina right,, you and Jamie both?”

It took a moment for Darren to answer. When he did, he sounded wary. “We don’t talk about who we meet there.”

Of course not. Being a mule was somewhere between being a saint and being a leper. The Pentecostals saw them as souls too pure to be condemned in life, the rogues saw them as nothing but cattle, and the Anakim pitied them. Any of the above was an awkward place to live. So first names only, and if you had the means you’d attend a support group away from where you lived.

“So yes.”

Darren glared at him but, after a quick wary glance at Kit, reluctantly nodded.

“Who introduced you?” 

“Why do you care?”

Luke changed direction. “You were her favourite, the consort. She gave you somewhere to live, she let you drink her blood, she let you love her.” 

Most mules found out what they were when they tried to court the Kiss, and it didn’t take. It usually ended badly. The Anakim didn’t care to love anything that would die centuries before they did. Darren took a shaky breath as the grief pinched him again.

“But she liked variety, so then Jamie came along. Nina gave him money to keep himself nice, to come and see her. More money. More visits. Until you and Jamie fought over her. He wanted to take your place?”

“I didn’t kill him,” Darren protested. He stiffened under Kit’s hand as his voice pitched up an octave from nerves. “Jamie was…After he left Nina told me she loved me, that she’d not replace me!”

Except she would have. Eventually. She’d been willing to kill for Darren today, but one day he’d have been too old to be beautiful, then too old to be fun. She might keep him, a fond friend and ex-loved, but someone new would be in her bed. Even if she’d stayed with him when he was old, he’d die and she’d need to find a new mule to love.

“What if she had?” Luke pressed. “What if Nina had gotten tired of you, replaced you with someone younger and prettier. Would you still have loved her?”

“Of course!”

“Would you be willing to do anything to get her back?”

They both knew the answer. Darren stared at Luke for a second as the idea dawned on him. Then he shut down as he clenched his jaw and looked away.

“Fuck you.”

“Who introduced you?” Luke pushed.

“You killed her!” Darren spat furiously. He lurched up out and tried to grab Luke’s shirt, but Kit dragged him back. “I hope you’re next to get strung up.”

“More likely to be you,” Luke said. “The old wether. Like Jamie was the rutting stag and Loretta was the fish.”

Grief crumpled Darren’s face like a tissue. “I don’t care,” he said. “I can’t do this again.”

Shit. Luke grimaced as he tried to think how to drag the truth out of Darren. Before he could change tactics, Madoc put a hand on his shoulder.

“Wait,” he said. He moved Luke out of the way and crouched down in front of Darren. He smiled at him, a disarmingly pleasant expression. “Darren, right. Darren Voight-Kares.”

Darren fired a bleak look of triumph at Luke, as if that changed anything.

“Yes.”

Madoc put a hand on Darren’s voice and dropped his voice slightly, a hint of his old accent furred over the words. 

“You’ll be the executor of her estate, there’ll be a lot of things to sort out. We’ll help you with that, if you want,” Madoc said. He nodded and Darren nodded with him. Then Madoc grimaced. “If we can. Until we find this killer, there’s not a lot of time we can give up.”

Luke shifted his weight uncomfortably. He wasn’t sure he didn’t agree with Madoc’s plan, or was just uncomfortable at seeing that charm turned elsewhere. Kit gestured him to silence.

“I..need help,” Darren admitted. “Her family. The Russians.”

His hands knotted anxiously in his lap, twisted painfully together.

“What was his name?” Madoc asked, his voice suddenly hard and thick with something that caught in the back of Luke’s throat. “The man that introduced you. Tell us.”

“Mark,” Darren said obediently. Then he stalled. “I don’t know anymore than that. Just Mark.”

Luke shifted again and glanced askance at Madoc. After a glance at Darren’s face, Madoc gave Luke a nod of approval to rejoin the conversation.

“He’d been a soldier, right?” Luke said. That fit his profile. Someone who was willing to kill, but who balked at the hot gore of butchery. “That’s where he found out what he was?”

There was a pause and then Darren nodded. “He was wounded, lost half his stomach. One of the medic Anakim tried to turn him, save his life, but it didn’t work. They thought he’d die, but he survived. Discharged. Came home. Nina helped him put his life back together, set him up in a job.”

“What job?”

Darren shrugged. “I don’t know. A security company or something? It doesn’t matter because he messed it up anyhow, lost everything. Nina had to step in again, get him a job as a security guard somewhere.”

The pieces slotted together. “Mark,” Luke said. He remembered the ginger security guard, wiry muscle under a fresh layer of indulgent flab. But still there. “Mark Clade?”

Darren made a helpless gesture. “I don’t know. I guess,” he said. “Nina called him last night about Jamie, told him that she didn’t need the support group anymore. She had me.”

And that meant Mark only had one thing left. So he wasn’t going to give that up.

__________

Last chapter of the story on my blog tomorrow! Www.tamoorewrites.com. All the blog tour posts will also be linked here: http://tamoorewrites.com/deadmanstalking/

Author Bio:TA Moore – 

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sectors before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

 

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