The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-7-19

Sunday Post

This was the week where I gave things away. Lots of things. Lots of bookish things. April 4 was the EIGHTH anniversary of the founding of Reading Reality, and April 5 was my (ahem) 62nd birthday. I gave stuff away every day, and the rafflecopters are all still open for at least another week. So you haven’t missed your chance to enter – or to enter again.

Both books I reviewed, the books by the Annes, were both terrific, and I look forward to the next outing in both series, hopefully next year. Maybe in time for my next Blogo-Birthday?

Current Giveaways:

$25 Amazon Gift Card AND $25 Book (2 prizes) in my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Giveaway
$10 Amazon Gift Card OR $10 Book in the Worth Melting For Giveaway Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card OR $10 Book in the Rain Rain Go Away Giveaway Hop
Any book in either the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series or the Daniel Pitt series (both) by Anne Perry
Any book in the Leaphorn, Chee (and Manuelito) series by Anne Hillerman and Tony Hillerman

Winner Announcements:

The winner of The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick is Danielle
The winner of The Cliff House by RaeAnne Thayne is L Lam

Blog Recap:

Worth Melting For Giveaway Hop
Rain Rain Go Away Giveaway Hop
A Review: Triple Jeopardy by Anne Perry + Giveaway
Blogo-Birthday Celebration + Giveaway
A+ Review: The Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (334)

Coming This Week:

Who Slays the Wicked by C.S. Harris (review)
A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian (review)
Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James (review)
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (review)
Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch (review)

Review: The Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman + Giveaway

Review: The Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman + GiveawayThe Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Leaphorn and Chee #23, Leaphorn Chee and Manuelito #5
Pages: 304
Published by Harper on April 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Legendary Navajo policeman Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn takes center stage in this riveting atmospheric mystery from New York Times bestselling author Anne Hillerman that combines crime, superstition, and tradition and brings the desert Southwest vividly alive.

Joe Leaphorn may have retired from the Tribal Police, but he finds himself knee-deep in a perplexing case involving a priceless artifact—a reminder of a dark time in Navajo history. Joe’s been hired to find a missing biil, a traditional dress that had been donated to the Navajo Nation. His investigation takes a sinister turn when the leading suspect dies under mysterious circumstances and Leaphorn himself receives anonymous warnings to beware—witchcraft is afoot.

While the veteran detective is busy working to untangle his strange case, his former colleague Jim Chee and Officer Bernie Manuelito are collecting evidence they hope will lead to a cunning criminal behind a rash of burglaries. Their case takes a complicated turn when Bernie finds a body near a popular running trail. The situation grows more complicated when the death is ruled a homicide, and the Tribal cops are thrust into a turf battle because the murder involves the FBI.

As Leaphorn, Chee, and Bernie draw closer to solving these crimes, their parallel investigations begin to merge . . . and offer an unexpected opportunity that opens a new chapter in Bernie’s life.

My Review:

I found the original Leaphorn and Chee series sometime in the 1990s, when I had a horrifically long commute in the Chicago suburbs and audiobooks saved my sanity if not my life. Audiobook publishing was nowhere near as robust as it is today, and there weren’t a lot of options for someone who spent 3 hours in their car, 5 days a week, for most of 9 years.

I listened to a lot of books, and The Blessing Way (the first book in the series) and all of the following books that were available, during those long drives. The stories, told in the inimitable voice of George Guidall, swept me away, kept me awake, and left me enthralled every time.

When the original author, Tony Hillerman, died in 2008, the series seemingly ended. At least until his daughter Anne picked it back up again in 2013 with the marvelous Spider Woman’s Daughter, adding Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernie Manuelito’s name to the series as well as her perspective to the continuing series.

The Tale Teller is the fifth book in that continuation, and it swept me away from the very first page – as all of the books in this series have done.

One of the things that has made the return of the series so marvelous has been its addition of Bernie to the mix. Bernie is a Navajo Tribal Police Officer, as is her husband Jim Chee, and their mentor, the legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn.

They each bring a different perspective to their work, to their culture, and to life in the Four Corners. Leaphorn is older, semi-retired, and does not believe in many of the traditions while still revering the history. Chee, although younger, has much more belief in the traditions of their people, and once studied to be a healer. Bernie Manuelito is a woman caught between the demands of her career and the need to still fulfill as many of the traditional roles of oldest daughter to her aging mother as she can manage – including the role of attempting to keep her wayward younger sister on the straight and narrow.

While the “torch” directly passed from Leaphorn to Chee and Manuelito at the beginning of Spider Woman’s Daughter, Leaphorn has remained a presence in the series as he recovered from a near fatal gunshot wound but continued to provide information and support in whatever capacity he happened to be capable of at the time.

In The Tale Teller, while Leaphorn is not quite back to fighting form, he has healed to the point where he can manage to pick up his work as a private investigator, part-time consultant to the Tribal Police and frequent mentor and sounding board for Chee and Manuelito.

This is the first story in the continuing series where Leaphorn has been fully capable of performing his own investigations and providing a full third point of view on events.

And what fascinating events they are!

At first there seem to be three separate cases here, but as so often happens in mysteries, in the end that are only two. This is one of the rare mysteries where everything does not tie up neatly in a single bow. Instead, we have two bows, one reasonably neat and one a bloody mess.

Bernie finds a dead body on a hiking trail, guarded by the victim’s faithful dog. An old friend of her mother’s finds a valuable piece of jewelry that he previously reported stolen being sold at a flea market – leading into Chee’s investigation of a sudden string of home robberies. And Leaphorn takes on a case from the Tribal Museum. An important donation may have been stolen, either before it arrived, or after. Or it may not have been in the box at all. That the donor wishes to remain anonymous adds to the mystery. That one of the important pieces of the puzzle dies almost the instant that Leaphorn gets involved shifts the problem from seemingly minor to possibly deadly.

While not all of the cases end happily, following the trail of clues and bodies is a page-turner from beginning to end – and a delight.

Escape Rating A+: I read this in a single day. This was one I picked up pretty much everywhere, like at meals, in the bathroom, in the car (as long as someone else was driving), and pretty much every time I had a couple of spare minutes.

I sunk right back into this place with these people on the very first page, and didn’t come out until the end.

What I love about this series is the way that it combines its police procedural mystery with a perspective into a part of the U.S. that outsiders don’t often get to experience with an, if not insider’s perspective, at least a well-informed and reverential outsider’s point of view.

This would be a very different series if the investigator were one of the FBI agents who often intrude – as they do in this case. Instead, it is the point of view of people who are insiders in a world that most of us are not, while they still are outsiders within their own culture so that they can both see the “why” of things while not being emotionally involved with all of the “who”.

The cases in this particular story are complex, especially Leaphorn’s investigation into the possibly missing artifact. As readers, we learn a lot about both the history of the Navajo people and the treatment of precious artifacts. At the same time, the case has echoes in the past while it is motivated by events in the present. The resolution is heartbreaking but fits.

Chee and Manuelito’s cases turn out to have more tentacles than an octopus, ranging from burglaries to internet scams to witness protection to murder – but at least that case, which gets a bit too close to Bernie’s family, ends with a mostly happy resolution.

That the perpetrators were hiding in plain sight but not obvious until very near the end made both cases fascinating to read.

I’m grateful to those long ago long commutes, now that they are in the past, for the terrific series such as this one that they introduced me to. And I’m looking forward to returning to the Four Corners with Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito at the next opportunity!

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

For the final day of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week I’m giving away a copy of any book in the combined Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series, from it’s very beginning in The Blessing Way to the latest book, The Tale Teller. If you are new to the series, I would recommend starting with Spider Woman’s Daughter, as it brings the reader into the action at the present while providing enough background to immerse you in the story and familiarize you with the characters. But it is up to the winner to decide. Enter the rafflecopter, and it might be YOU!

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Blogo-Birthday Celebration + Giveaway

It’s that time again – time for my annual Hobbit Birthday!

Today is the OMG EIGHTH anniversary of the very first post on Reading Reality, back when it was called “Escape Reality, Read Fiction!” I found that saying on a t-shirt, and the other day I found the t-shirt again. I’m not sure whether the shirt still fits, but the sentiment certainly does.

Tomorrow is my own birthday. I call these Hobbit birthdays because hobbits give presents on their birthdays instead of receiving them. That’s what I’m doing this week, giving presents away.

Monday and Tuesday were both blog hops. As part of yesterday’s review I’m giving away a copy of any book in one of my favorite long-running series. I’m calling it one series, although it mostly isn’t, but sort of is. The Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series of historical mysteries literally (and literarily) gave birth to the Daniel Pitt series, as Daniel is their son. Both series are still ongoing, and both are marvelous if you love historical mysteries.

Tomorrow’s review and giveaway will be for another much-loved and long-running series, the Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito series begun by the late Tony Hillerman and continued marvelously by his daughter Anne Hillerman. Just like yesterday, the giveaway will be for any book in the entire run of the series.

I chose both of those series this year because they both have books coming out right around my birthday – it’s my party week and I’ll read what I want to! These are books I wanted to read because I love both series. AND, something I didn’t realize until after I set the calendar, both authors are named “Anne” with an “e”. My middle name is “Anne” with an “e”, so it seemed a bit like fate.

Or at least good reading karma!

But today is the celebration of the start of Reading Reality, eight years, four cities and eight residences ago. (We moved a LOT, but we think we’ve finally stopped for a while).

I always like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you, my readers and followers, for making this blog so much fun to do. If I wasn’t having a good time, I’d stop – and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I hope that all of you are having a good time, and hopefully an informative one, reading the posts and reviews. Whenever someone comments that they picked up a book because I raved about it – or avoided one like the plague because I ranted – it absolutely makes my day.

As today is the actual anniversary, today’s giveaway is special. I’m giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card AND a book (or books!) up to $25 in value, shipped anywhere that the Book Depository ships. There are separate rafflecopters for each giveaway, so enter one or both!

It’s my way of saying thanks to all of you. I’m looking forward to spending many more years together, talking about even more books!

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Review: Triple Jeopardy by Anne Perry + Giveaway

Review: Triple Jeopardy by Anne Perry + GiveawayTriple Jeopardy (Daniel Pitt #2) by Anne Perry
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Daniel Pitt #2
Pages: 320
Published by Ballantine Books on April 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Young lawyer Daniel Pitt must defend a British diplomat accused of a theft that may cover up a deadly crime in this riveting novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Twenty-one Days.

Daniel Pitt, along with his parents, Charlotte and Thomas, is delighted that his sister, Jemima, and her family have returned to London from the States for a visit. But the Pitts soon learn of a harrowing incident: In Washington, D.C., one of Jemima's good friends has been assaulted and her treasured necklace stolen. The perpetrator appears to be a man named Philip Sidney, a British diplomat stationed in America's capital who, in a cowardly move, has fled to London, claiming diplomatic immunity. But that claim doesn't cover his other crimes. . . .

When Sidney winds up in court on a separate charge of embezzlement, it falls to Daniel to defend him. Daniel plans to provide only a competent enough defense to avoid a mistrial, allowing the prosecution to put his client away. But when word travels across the pond that an employee of the British embassy in Washington has been found dead, Daniel grows suspicious about Sidney's alleged crimes and puts on his detective hat to search for evidence in what has blown up into an international affair.

As the embezzlement scandal heats up, Daniel takes his questions to intrepid scientist Miriam fford Croft, who brilliantly uses the most up-to-date technologies to follow an entirely new path of investigation. Daniel and Miriam travel to the Channel Islands to chase a fresh lead, and what began with a stolen necklace turns out to have implications in three far greater crimes--a triple jeopardy, including possible murder.

Advance praise for Triple Jeopardy

"Readers may find themselves smitten with Daniel and with the dauntless Miriam fforde Croft, whose relationship with Daniel deepens in this episode. . . . Primarily identified for her authentic period sets and well-rendered characters, Perry writes in what she has called the 'Put Your Heart on the Page' method, with the focus placed squarely on what happens to people under the pressure of investigation. This book is an excellent example of her craft."--Booklist

"Veteran Perry dials back the period detail and the updates on the lives of the continuing characters to focus on one of her most teasing mysteries, this time with a courtroom finale that may be her strongest ever."--Kirkus Reviews

My Review:

In my review of the first Daniel Pitt story, Twenty-One Days, I said that Daniel, his cast of irregulars, and the methods they use to discover the truth reminded me more than a bit of the Canadian TV series Murdoch Mysteries.

That’s still very much true in Daniel’s second outing, along with more than a bit of Law and Order UK, perhaps as the early 20th century edition. Perhaps with a bit of the Bess Crawford mystery book series, or the early adventures of Maisie Dobbs.

While Daniel Pitt is a (very junior) practicing lawyer, the year is 1910, and the case he is involved in has ties to the police, both in America and in England. It is also ultimately connected to the war with Germany that can be seen on the darkening horizon by those who are willing to look.

Not that Daniel sees the larger picture at the beginning. The case starts out rather small – and rather close to home.

His older sister Jemima, along with her American husband Patrick and their two little girls, have come to London to visit the family. Along with a story to tell that is not exactly their own.

A friend of Jemima’s was assaulted in the middle of the night in her own bedroom in Washington D.C. A necklace of little financial value but great sentimental attachment was ripped from her neck. Her screams brought her parents down the hall, and they identified her attacker as a young man of their acquaintance. A man who served as a junior functionary at the British Embassy.

The man claimed diplomatic immunity and fled to his home shores, followed in short order by Jemima and her family, the victim and her family, and papers proving that the young man committed embezzlement during his posting at the Embassy.

It may not be possible to try him in America for his assault on the young women, but it is definitely possible for him to be tried for stealing money from the Crown – no matter how small the amounts.

Daniel Pitt finds himself in the case up to the neck – his own if not his client’s. At first he believes the man is guilty – if not of the embezzlement then certainly of the assault. But the more he digs into the case – and the better he gets to know his client – the more he realizes that nothing about the entire thing makes any sense at all.

Not the original assault, not the embezzlement, and not the murder of the poor clerk who discovered the financial irregularities. Unless there’s something hidden underneath it all. And that the “original” assault was not the originating event at all – but instead the first in a series of increasingly desperate cover ups.

Daniel will have to dig deeply in order to find the answer. Very deeply indeed – both into the past and under the ocean – in order to come at the truth.

Escape Rating A: Reminiscent of the first book in this series, Daniel comes to this case through a family connection. And much of his internal tension throughout his investigation revolves around that family.

Initially, everyone is sure that the accused is guilty, if not of the financial misappropriations, then of the much more serious assault – a charge that cannot be brought forward in law. At the same time, once Daniel takes the case, he has to defend his client to the best of his ability, both to prevent a mistrial and in order to be able to live with himself.

But he’s caught on the horns of a dilemma – his introduction to this mess is through his brother-in-law the American cop. He fears that Patrick may have had something to do with the evidence of embezzlement arriving almost out of nowhere, and he fears alienating his sister if he makes that accusation plain.

At the same time Jemima is having her own doubts, both about her husband’s involvement in the case as well as whether her friend should push for the circumstances to be made public. Even though nothing happened beyond the theft of the necklace, the rumors that will follow the young woman for the rest of her life over this will be vicious and will never go completely away.

What makes the story work so well is the character of Daniel himself. We know what he came from, his parents were the protagonists in this author’s long-running and much-beloved historical mystery series named for them, Charlotte and Thomas Pitt.

Their series begins with The Cater Street Hangman and follows the romance and eventual marriage between Thomas, police detective and gamekeeper’s son and Charlotte, a daughter of the aristocracy. During that series, Thomas rises from detective to his position in 1910, head of Special Branch, the police department that deals with terrorism and treason.

But Daniel Pitt is very young, both as a man and as a lawyer. He often finds himself in over his head, and feels constrained about asking his father for advice – at least partially because he is all too aware that he was initially taken on by his firm because his father requested a favor from the senior partner. Daniel does not want to feel any more beholden to his father’s connections than he already does.

So Daniel comes at his cases from a different angle altogether – although in this particular case that angle results in him calling his own father to the witness stand!

In the end, Daniel solves this case with more than a little help from his rather irregular friends. And that’s what makes it such a page-turner from beginning to end.

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

As part of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration, I’m giving away something every day this week. Today’s giveaway is for the winner’s choice of any book in either the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series or the Daniel Pitt series, both by Anne Perry. Both series are absolutely wonderful, and will be a treat for any lover of historical mystery. So the winner can either start Daniel’s adventures with Twenty-One Days, or go all the way back to when his parents first met in The Cater Street Hangman, or anywhere in between, including this most recent (and terrific!) mystery.

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The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-8-18

Sunday Post

It’s been a wonderful Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week. I got to review lots of great books, I hosted a whole bunch of giveaways, and hopefully a good time was had by all. But now it’s time to call it a week – at least until next year. All of the giveaways are still open, so you have plenty of time to get in, or tweet about the giveaways to get more chances to win.

I want to take this opportunity to once again thank all of you who read, follow or just stop in here at Reading Reality. And I also want to give a shout out and a very warm thank you to the two authors who sponsored giveaways for my celebration, Anna Hackett and Dan Koboldt. I love their books, so I’m very happy to have a chance to share them with more readers.

Today is the start of an entirely different celebration week. It’s National Library Week, at least here in the U.S. So if you haven’t visited your local library in a while, please take this opportunity to stop by and see what they have to offer, whether in person or online.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the April Book of Choice Giveaway Hop
From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh (3 winners)
Winners choice of book in the Gateways to Alissia Trilogy by Dan Koboldt (3 winners)
$25 Amazon Gift Card and $25 Book(s) from the Book Depository (2 winners) in my Blogo-Birthday Giveaway
Anna Hackett Prize Pack (books + swag)
Winners choice of any book by John Scalzi

Blog Recap:

B Review: Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh + Giveaway
A- Review: The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt + Giveaway
Blogo-Birthday Giveaway
A- Review: Cyborg by Anna Hackett + Giveaway
A Review: Head On by John Scalzi + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (282)

Coming Next Week:

Claws for Concern by Miranda James (review)
Rain Rain Go Away Giveaway Hop
Farewell My Cuckoo by Marty Wingate (blog tour review)
My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (blog tour review)
Cave of Bones by Anne Hillerman (review)

Review: Head On by John Scalzi + Giveaway

Review: Head On by John Scalzi + GiveawayHead On (Lock In, #2) by John Scalzi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Lock In #2
Pages: 336
Published by Tor Books on April 17th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

John Scalzi returns with Head On, the standalone follow-up to the New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed Lock In. Chilling near-future SF with the thrills of a gritty cop procedural, Head On brings Scalzi's trademark snappy dialogue and technological speculation to the future world of sports.

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI Agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth―and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

My Review:

Head On is the sequel to 2014’s utterly marvelous Lock In, and is part of the near-future post-Hadens world that is first introduced in the the novella Unlocked. And that’s a hint that if you are interested in Head On you really need to start with Unlocked, which introduces the worldbuilding and then read Lock In which introduces the main characters of Head On and the scenario in which they find themselves.

It’s also more than a hint that while this review of Head On will attempt to be spoiler-free for Head On, there will certainly be spoilers for Lock In.

It has been said that science fiction is a kind of universal recipient when it comes to genres, and that mystery is a universal donor. In the sense that SF is a setting that can contain any genre, while mystery as the “donor” can be injected into any setting.

That’s certainly the case here. Head On is not merely a mystery, but bears a significant resemblance to a specific kind of mystery, the police procedural. Our protagonists in this series, veteran Leslie Vann and her junior partner Chris Sloane are FBI agents investigating a series of deaths that at first appear to be mostly coincidental, but in are all fairly quickly discovered to be murders.

What makes Head On (and its predecessor Lock In) science fiction is the setting. These stories take place in a near-future, near enough that it is recognizable from here. But it is a near-future that is 25 years after the world-wide Hadens pandemic. Hadens Syndrome manifested mostly like a cross between the flu and meningitis. Nasty and serious, but generally not lethal. However, 1% of the world’s population developed a long-term side effect known as “lock in”, where their brains were still very much alive and reacting to stimuli, but had absolutely no way to communicate with the bodies that they were now locked into.

While 1% of the world’s population sounds small, using today’s population numbers (7.6 billion) that would mean that 76 million people were locked in. For a comparison, that’s more than the populations of California and Texas combined. In other words, it’s a LOT of people.

And that’s a lot of people to provide services for, which means there’s a lot of money involved. And a lot of government grants and tax breaks, and a lot of businesses that have grown up around providing for those needs and taking advantage of those government grants. There are lots and lots of lots and LOTS.

So while Head On is a murder mystery, it takes place in a world that could only exist in science fiction, the near-future post-Hadens world.

Chris and Leslie find themselves investigating a crime that could also only exist in this world. A player of the new “Hadens-only” sport, Hilketa, dies during an exhibition match that Chris is attending. It’s the very first player death in Hilketa, but initially it seems not dissimilar to player injuries and player deaths in any contact sport – even though in Hilketa the only contact is between the players’ threeps and not the players’ actual bodies. Still, the adrenaline spikes and emotional tolls of playing a big-money spectator sport are experienced by Hadens players, so it’s not completely surprising that one might suffer a stroke or a seizure while playing.

But the league’s actions after the death move the incident from tragic to highly suspicious in the beat of a heart. And that’s where Chris, and eventually Chris’ partner Leslie, step in. Pulling all the data on the dead player while the match is going on is highly questionable. When the league official who ordered that data pulled commits suicide immediately afterwards, it’s pretty obvious that something is up, even if Chris and Leslie don’t yet know what.

The rules of investigation in the near-future are surprisingly similar to those of the present-day. Or even the historic past. When all else fails – FOLLOW THE MONEY.

Escape Rating A: I read this on a plane ride from DC to Atlanta. And I read it early relative to its publication date, because I just couldn’t resist the treat any longer. No pun intended, it made the trip absolutely fly by. I’m just sorry that I can’t read it again for the first time – it was just that good.

Because Chris is a Haden, and his physical presence in the world is represented by a threep (really any threep as Chris borrows and wrecks several) his gender is actually indeterminate. Although he has a physical body, whether that body is male or female doesn’t really matter. What matters is how Chris sees himself and how he presents himself to the world, and not his threep, but his mental presence in the Hadens online universe, the Agora.

And I keep saying “him” and “his” even though Chris never does and it is deliberately kept ambiguous in the story. To the point where there were two audio recordings of Lock In and there will be two of Head On, one read by a female narrator, and one by a male narrator.

I finally figured out that my mental image of Chris is male because he/she/they does not have to think about or deal with any of the baggage that someone physically presenting in the meat-space world as female has to deal with. That Chris does not have all that baggage that women can’t help but pick him made Chris a “him” to me, even if Chris isn’t. (Chris is also mixed race, and as a Haden Chris doesn’t have to deal with any of THAT baggage either.)

The baggage that Chris does have to deal with are the prejudices that people have against threeps. Because they generally see them as robots or droids, and not as presentations for actual human beings. And it does cause problems, but a different set of problems than living/working while either black, female or both.

Part of what makes these books so good is that while this is recognizably a future and not the present, it is also recognizable as human space and human beings and human reactions. Whether meat or threeps, people are still people, for all the good and bad definitions of “people”. Human nature does not change based on the carrier it’s in. As a species we still clearly have a lot of work to do.

The case that Chris and Leslie have to solve could only happen in this SFnal universe. At the same time, it very much follows the pattern of a police procedural mystery, even if some of those procedures have necessarily been altered.

The mystery is relatively easy to solve for the reader. It is considerably more difficult for Chris and Leslie to prove, but the villain is fairly obvious pretty early on. Which does not make the story one scintilla less fascinating to follow.

I had an absolute blast. If you like science fiction, or mysteries, or John Scalzi’s writing, or especially all of the above, you will too.

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

As the final act in my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week, I’m doing the same thing I did last year – taking this opportunity to share one of my favorite authors with one lucky commenter. The winner of this giveaway will receive a copy of any book by John Scalzi, up to $20 in value, anywhere that the Book Depository ships. This will allow the winner to choose the hardcover of Head On if that’s what they want – the book comes out on 4/17, so the giveaway closes just in time to get a pre-order in. But the winner can choose ANY title they want, from his first book, the marvelous Old Man’s War, to the hilarious (and Hugo-Award-winning) Redshirts or anything between then and now. If the winner wants an ebook, and can get ebooks from Amazon (or audiobooks from Audible) that’s OK too.

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Review: Cyborg by Anna Hackett + Giveaway

Review: Cyborg by Anna Hackett + GiveawayCyborg (Galactic Gladiators #10) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #10
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on April 1st 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Scientist Ever Haynes was shocked when she was abducted by alien slavers...but the last thing she expected was to find herself pregnant with a cyborg's baby.

Ever has been fighting for her life since her abduction, and the only good thing to happen to her was one heated night with a mysterious prisoner--a connection, a flash of light in the darkness. But then he was rescued and she was left behind. Now, weeks later, she's been saved by the House of Galen gladiators...and by the man she shared the hottest night of her life with. But cool, emotionless cyborg Magnus Rone has no memory of their night together and finding out that she's expecting his baby is a shock to everyone.

Created in a military program, Magnus is genetically and cybernetically enhanced--emotionless, ruthless, focused. He vows to protect Ever and the baby she carries, and despite his lack of memory, everything about tough, levelheaded Ever draws him in. All his life, his emotional dampeners and training have limited his ability to feel emotions...but one small Earth woman cuts through all that and leaves him feeling.

As they work together to hunt down the deadly desert arena of Zaabha and the final human woman trapped there, Ever and Magnus find a stunning passion neither can resist or ignore. But in the dangerous desert sands of Carthago, with the House of Galen gladiators by their sides, deadly enemies are closing in. Ever and Magnus will be dragged back into the darkness, and Magnus will do anything and sacrifice everything to keep her safe.

My Review:

As has been clear for many months, actually years at this point, I love Anna Hackett’s work, and have ever since she took me on her first journey with the Phoenix Brothers, back At Star’s End.

She’s also marvelously prolific, meaning that I get something new from her about every other month, and a good time is always had by all. Some books are a better time than others, but she always manages to sweep me somewhere fascinating and dangerous.

The Galactic Gladiators are currently my favorite series of hers. As always, she has taken a tried and true premise and turned it into something different and special.

This series feels like a take-off of the “Mars Needs Women” trope mixed with a sun-and-sandals gladiator story. In this science fiction romance series, a band of nasty, disgusting, evil slave traders (yes, I know that’s kind of redundant) took advantage of a temporary wormhole to raid Jupiter Station of its personnel and jump back to the far reaches of the galaxy before the wormhole closed.

All those Earthans that they captured are now stuck on the planet Carthago, far, far from home. Without another wormhole, it’s just plain too far to go back in one human life span – or even several.

But it isn’t too late for all those stranded Earthans to make a new life for themselves where they are right now – providing someone rescues them from slavery – or they rescue themselves.

And that’s what happens in the series. One by one, those humans are rescued by the heroes, the gladiators from the House of Galen as well as some of their allies. And each time one of those Earthans is rescued, they manage to fall in love with one of the gladiators, and very much vice versa.

Part of what makes this series so special is that it feels like the gladiators are the women’s reward and not the usual other way around – not even in the one book where the gladiator is female and the Earthan refugee is male. I love it when the women are the equal of the men, and even better when that equality is represented in different ways between each couple and in each relationship.

The story in Cyborg revolves around the relationship between, obviously, a cyborg and one of those rescued Earthan women. In this case, the cyborg is Magnus Rone, the Imperator of a gladiatorial House allied to the House of Galen. As a cyborg created and trained to be a soldier and only a soldier, even though Magnus left his people long ago he still believes that his training holds, that he’s better off without emotion and that relationships only cloud his focus.

But when he was briefly captured, the human woman Ever Haynes somehow got under his skin. It may have helped that the events of his capture managed to knock out a chunk of his programming, but whatever the cause is – Ever makes him feel. And he’s not sure what to do about it.

Or about the baby that he and Ever managed to make during his brief captivity – in spite of the fact that his programming is supposed to have rendered him sterile. This is clearly yet another lie that he was told.

Magnus feels duty-bound to protect Ever and their baby at all costs – costs which become incredibly high when Ever is captured by the slavers yet again. But amidst all the chaos, Magnus discovers a universal truth – love doesn’t make you weak – it makes you strong.

Escape Rating A-: One of the things I love about this series is the way that it turns all the old tropes on their pointy little heads and spins them around. Not just that it feels like the women are the ones getting rewarded for their trials and suffering instead of (really in addition to) the men, but also that part of what these women fight tooth and nail for is to be part of a relationship of equals. There are no damsels in distress in this series – only strong women who sometimes need a little help from their friends.

I also like that this series doesn’t feel “thin and stretched” to me, the way that the Hell Squad series does. That one is pointing towards an inevitable ending, and I’d like it to get there already.

The Galactic Gladiators series doesn’t have to end. It probably will, and I think it’s heading there, but it doesn’t have to. Jupiter Station had to have had dozens of personnel, if not hundreds. Endless possibilities!

One of the things that this author does well is to point the end of each book in the direction of the next one, without giving the game away of how the next couple can possibly get out of whatever fix they are in to achieve their HEA.

It is clear from the ending of Cyborg that the next book will finally be Galen’s, and I can hardly wait. I always love seeing the leader fall – and this time will be especially fun. My husband’s name is also Galen, and I don’t often read his name as the hero a romance – except of course our own.

This will be grand!

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

Today is my birthday. And as a birthday present to me, Anna is letting me give away some marvelous prizes. The lucky winner(s) will receive a signed paperback from her Galactic Gladiators series, a signed paperback from the Hell Squad, and a pack of Hell Squad Trading Cards, pictured below. This is a real treat!

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Blogo-Birthday Giveaway

Today, April 4, is the seventh anniversary of the first post on Reading Reality. Tomorrow, April 5, is my 61st birthday. And I’m not sure which I find more astonishing.

The banner above was the original header for Reading Reality, back when it was called “Escape Reality, Read Fiction”, a line I got from a t-shirt. I found the original bear the other day, and he’s sitting on my desk right now. He’s still a good luck mascot – and Freddie has not yet found him and played with him to death. Give him time. Freddie, I mean, not the bear. There’s a reason we call him the Fredinator.

In those intervening years, Reading Reality has published 2,902 posts, most of them mine. It’s gone from a 3 or 4 day a week blog to a daily blog – even if I occasionally find myself scrambling to get a post ready on time. Believe it or not, there have been over 22,000 comments made during those seven years. That’s a lot of conversation.

And it has been, and continues to be, an absolute blast to do. It surprised me to realize that this is the second-longest I’ve ever held a single job. My record is 9 years, and that’s coming up fast.

What makes it all worthwhile are the contacts. I may not respond as much as I should, but I love hearing from readers that they have enjoyed the blog and my reviews, whether through comments here or comments on my Goodreads reviews. And I very much appreciate the way that my reach has expanded over the years, so that I get to read even more great books – as well as the occasional clunker.

This week is my opportunity to give back to all of you who have given so much to me over the past seven years, and I hope many more to come. For Reading Reality as well as myself, this is a Hobbit birthday, where I give presents instead of receiving them. I’m giving away something every day this week, whether through a blog tour, due to the generosity of some of my favorite authors, or out of Reading Reality’s pocket.

As the actual anniversary, today’s giveaways are special. I’m giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card AND a book from the Book Depository up to $25 in value, shipped anywhere that the Book Depository ships, which is a tremendous number of places.

It’s my way of saying thanks to all of you. I’m looking forward to spending many more years together, talking about even more books!

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Review: The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt + Giveaway

Review: The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt + GiveawayThe World Awakening by Dan Koboldt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, portal fantasy
Series: Gateways to Alissia #3
Pages: 448
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on April 3rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Quinn Bradley has learned to use the magic of another world.

And that world is in danger.

Having decided to betray CASE Global, he can finally reveal his origins to the Enclave and warn them about the company’s imminent invasion. Even if it means alienating Jillaine . . . and allying with someone he’s always considered his adversary. 

But war makes for strange bedfellows, and uniting Alissians against such a powerful enemy will require ancient enmities—as well as more recent antagonisms—to be set aside. The future of their pristine world depends on it.

As Quinn searches for a way to turn the tide, his former CASE Global squadmates face difficult decisions of their own. For some, it’s a matter of what they’re willing to do to get home. For others, it’s deciding whether they want to go home at all.Continuing the exciting adventures from The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception, The World Awakening is the spellbinding conclusion to the Gateways to Alissia fantasy series from Dan Koboldt.

My Review:

Now that we are at the third book of the trilogy, I still see the Gateways to Alissia as a blend of S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador with L.E. Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio. And as far as I’m concerned, those are marvelous places to start. I probably read Conquistador at least ten years ago, and it still sticks in my memory, while the Imager Portfolio is one of my favorite epic fantasy series and I’m happy to say that it is still ongoing and still fantastic.

Both Gateways to Alissia and Conquistador are a particular type of epic fantasy – the portal fantasy. In both cases, there is a literal portal that connects our world to the fantasy world, in this case, Alissia. And for those who are currently watching the TV series The Magicians, based on Lev Grossman’s book of the same title, let’s just say there’s more than a bit of a resemblance between Fillory and Alissia, even if there is no magical college on our side of the gate.

The two mega-corporations on Earth that are aware of the portal both see Alissia as an unspoiled and undeveloped world just waiting to be plundered by the oh-so-beneficent technocrats on Earth. And it might happen. It’s certainly in danger of happening.

But the story in The World Awakening is the story of Alissia fighting back – with more than a bit of help from a surprising number of people from our Earth who are not willing to stand idly by while Alissia gets raped and plundered. No matter what it takes to stop CASE Global and Raptor Tech from conquering Alissia with what they are certain are superior armaments.

But like all conquerors since time immemorial – the further the supply lines are stretched, the easier it is to break them.

And Alissia isn’t nearly as outmatched as they thought – with a little help from its friends – no matter what they might think of each other.

Escape Rating A-: The World Awakening is a marvelous conclusion to this trilogy, and as the concluding volume it is very much the wrong place to start. If you like portal fantasy, or stories of people from our Earth finding themselves in places where magic works, or even just want a rollicking good story, start with the first book, The Rogue Retrieval, where you can be introduced to our trouble-magnet anti-hero, the stage magician Quinn Bradley, as he comes to Alissia to discover that magic is real after all, and that he can perform it – and not merely perform.

By this point in the story, we have seen the team that Quinn originally trained with flung to the four corners of Alissia, and we have watched their perspectives change and their allegiances shift, particularly in the case of Quinn himself.

He’s come a long way from the reluctantly recruited stage magician. I’m still not totally sure he’s grown up, but his horizons have certainly expanded, as has is view of both Alissia and Earth. His transformation is a big chunk of what drives the story, and his expanding viewpoint pulls the reader along with him.

But Gateways to Alissia is a big story with a lot of players and a lot going on. I envy those of you who will begin the story now, when it is complete. It has been a year since I read the second book in the saga, The Island Deception, and it takes a bit for the reader to get back up to speed. It’s certainly well worth that effort. The World Awakening is a terrific story, and it brings the saga of Alissia to a fantastic, resounding and satisfying conclusion. And I enjoyed every step of the journey – although I’m happy not to have had to trudge through the snow myself!

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

In honor of my Blogo-Birthday celebration, and because I’ve enjoyed this series so very much, the author, Dan Koboldt is sponsoring today’s giveaway. Three winners will receive a paperback copy of their choice of book in the Gateways to Alissia trilogy. Newcomers should choose The Rogue Retrieval, but if you have already begun your journey, please pick up where you left off, with either The Island Deception or this final volume, The World Awakening.

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The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-1-18

Sunday Post

Happy April Fool’s Day. Hoppy Easter, Happy Passover, and welcome to the first day of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week!

Officially the celebration is April 4 and April 5, but over the years it’s gotten bigger and bigger and now it’s a whole week. I will be giving something away every day this week. There will be books, gift cards and even some swag! Stop by every day to see what’s in store.

Here’s what’s coming up this week, as well as all the goodies that are usually a part of the Sunday Post.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the April Book of Choice Giveaway Hop
Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop is Tari
The winner of the $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the March into Madness Giveaway Hop is Judith
The winner of the $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the All About Diversity Blog Hop is Adik

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai + Giveaway
A Review: To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear
B Review: The Morcai Battalion: The Pursuit by Diana Palmer
B+ Review: The Awkward Squad by Sophie Henaff
A- Review: Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood
Stacking the Shelves (281)
April Book of Choice Giveaway Hop

Coming Next Week:

Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh (blog tour review)
The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt (review)
Blogo-Birthday Giveaway
Cyborg by Anna Hackett (review)
Head On by John Scalzi (review)