Guest Review: H2O by Irving Belateche

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest review by Amy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady MartineA Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, #1) by Arkady Martine, Amy Landon
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Teixcalaan #1
Pages: 464
Published by Tor on April 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This incredible opening to the trilogy recalls the best of John le Carré, Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels and Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy.

In a war of lies she seeks the truth...

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare travels to the Teixcalaanli Empire’s interstellar capital, eager to take up her new post. Yet when she arrives, she discovers her predecessor was murdered. But no one will admit his death wasn’t accidental – and she might be next. Now Mahit must navigate the capital’s enticing yet deadly halls of power, to discover dangerous truths. And while she hunts for the killer, Mahit must somehow prevent the rapacious Empire from annexing her home: a small, fiercely independent mining station.

As she sinks deeper into an alien culture that is all too seductive, Mahit engages in intrigues of her own. For she’s hiding an extraordinary technological secret, one which might destroy her station and its way of life. Or it might save them from annihilation.

A Memory Called Empire is book one in the Teixcalaan trilogy.

My Review:

There’s a great quote from Lois McMaster Bujold describing fictional genres as romances. Not in the HEA sense, but in a much broader sense. In her scenario, mysteries are romances of justice. And science fiction is the romance of political agency.

That’s certainly true in the case of A Memory Called Empire. Because this is a political story, first and foremost. But it also has elements of mystery – or at least a search for justice.

It’s also a story about sacrifice. This story begins with a sacrifice – and ends with a sacrifice – but not the same one. Although Ambassador Yskandr Aghavn gets sacrificed over and over and over – as does his successor – and they aren’t even aware of it until well into the story that he actually set in motion.

Yskandr is dead, to begin with. And he isn’t. Then he really is and then he really isn’t.

That made no sense, did it? But it does in the context of this story. Mahit Dzmare is the new Ambassador from the tiny independent mining station of Lsel to the great, magnificent and ever hungry empire of Teixcalaan. Within her brain she carries an imago, a complete memory copy, of her predecessor Yskandr Aghavn, who she has come to Teixcalaan to replace – and to get to the bottom of why Yskandr needs replacing.

His body lies dead on a mortuary slab in Teixcalaan, but his memory, all his experiences and his encapsulated self, rest inside Mahit’s brain, supposedly available for her consultation, to aid her in her job. Except that seeing his own corpse shorts out the Yskandr in her head, leaving Mahit lost and very much alone to unravel the mess that Yskandr left her – if she can.

Before she joins him on another slab.

But in attempting to retrace Yskandr’s doomed steps, she discovers that all is not well at the heart of the Empire, and that Yskandr was in the middle of nearly, but not quite, everything that has gone wrong. And not just in Teixcalaan.

And that for Mahit to have even the ghost of a chance to fix the situation, her fractured self, her Station, and even the Empire, she’ll first have to make that mess bigger and deeper, hoping to live long enough to make it all turn it more-or-less right.

By making it a whole lot wronger first.

Escape Rating A+: This was an absolute wow from beginning to end, with an absolute gut punch at that end. I listened to this one, and got so involved in the listening that I played endless games of solitaire just to have something to occupy my hands while this marvelous story spun into my ears.

There’s so much wrapped up in here, and it keeps spinning and spinning long after the final page.

Teixcalaan is a fascinating place, and Mahit Dzmare has been fascinated by it for most of her life. Teixcalaan is the name of the city, and the world, and the empire they spawned. To be a citizen of Teixcalaan is to be civilized. Everyone else, including the residents of Lsel Station like Mahit, are considered barbarians.

It’s self-centered and self-absorbed and blinkered and othering – but Teixcalaan is the jewel at the heart of the world, and Mahit longs to be a part of it.

But Mahit, an outsider, is able to be enthralled by its art, its literature and its beauty while still being aware of the sickness that lies at its center. A sickness that is embodied by but not confined to its dying Emperor.

An Emperor without a named successor, who believes that he has found a way to live forever. Yskandr promised him an imago. And died for it.

In the bare week that Mahit is on Teixcalaan, she finds herself unwillingly at the heart of the conflict, seduced by this place that she has always yearned to be, and desperate to find a way to preserve her homeworld – whether she ever returns there or not.

Because as much as Teixcalaan reaches out to simultaneously embrace her and imprison both her and her Station, forces back home are equally determined to wipe out both Mahit and anything of Yskandr’s plots and plans that remain.

As an enemy bears down on them all.

Part of what makes this story trip along so marvelously is the way that it conveys just how little time Mahit has, and just how desperate her circumstances are. In barely a week she has to figure out what killed Yskandr, why her imago has malfunctioned, what was promised to the Emperor, who is angling for the throne, who is out to get her at home, who she can rely on in Teixcalaan, who she can trust on Lsel, and keep one step ahead of anyone who is out to get her. Which is nearly everyone.

Meanwhile, in very brief moments, she gets to explore the place that she has yearned for all her life – as it falls apart. She finds love and hope and fear and a friend who will be hers for life – if she survives.

And we feel for her and with her as she runs as fast as she can to save what she can – and we wish we could be half as brave and half as daring.

At the start I said this was a story about sacrifice. There are two sacrifices in this story playing against one another – one willing and one very much not. It made me think about what made the one so uplifting, and the other so mean and base.

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one.” So said Spock with his dying breath in The Wrath of Khan. His sacrifice was moving and noble and heartbreaking because he willingly gave his life to save his shipmates. He walked into that chamber with eyes wide open and heart full, and it moved his shipmates, as well as many, many viewers, to tears.

So it is with the sacrifice that ends A Memory Called Empire. A man willingly walks into the fire to serve a higher purpose. And it inspires a people.

But Yskandr’s and Mahit’s sacrifice is a cheat. It is not noble, or inspiring. Because someone else decided, alone in the dark, to sacrifice them both for what that person perceived as “the Greater Good”, which turned out, of course, to be anything but.

At the last, Mahit willingly makes another sacrifice. She gives up a dream so that she can remain herself. And it hurts and we feel it, just as we have felt every break of her heart along the way.

At the end, Mahit goes home to Lsel. To uncover who and what was behind those dirty deeds in the dark that set much of this story in motion. I suspect that for Mahit the events of the second book in the series, A Desolation Called Peace will be very desolate indeed.

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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Review: Medusa in the Graveyard by Emily Devenport

Review: Medusa in the Graveyard by Emily DevenportMedusa in the Graveyard (The Medusa Cycle, #2) by Emily Devenport
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Medusa Cycle #2
Pages: 301
Published by Tor Books on July 23, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Medusa in the Graveyard is the action-packed, science fiction sequel to Emily Devenport's Medusa Uploaded.

Oichi Angelis, former Worm, along with her fellow insurgents on the generation starship Olympia, head deeper into the Charon System for the planet called Graveyard.

Ancient, sentient, alien starships wait for them--three colossi so powerful they remain aware even in self-imposed sleep. The race that made the Three are dead, but Oichi's people were engineered with this ancient DNA.

A delegation from Olympia must journey to the heart of Graveyard and be judged by the Three. Before they're done, they will discover that weapons are the least of what the ships have to offer.

My Review:

I picked up Medusa in the Graveyard because I absolutely adored the first book in the Medusa Cycle, Medusa Uploaded.

As I said, I loved Medusa Uploaded, but I’m still not sure how I feel about Medusa in the Graveyard.

Which may be because the books are very, very different. Medusa Uploaded is the story of a revolution on a generation ship, and we spend the book seeing the action through the eyes of one of the formerly downtrodden “Worms”, Oichi Angelis, who leads a rebellion that upends the order of her little corner of the universe, the generation ship Olympia.

Medusa in the Graveyard is the story of what happens after. So it can’t be that political story of the rise to rebellion that the first book was and that made that story so damn good. Actually it’s not a political story at all. Or at least not very much.

Instead, this is a story about who the Olympians are going to be when they “grow up” – meaning what happens when they take their place in the wider universe. A universe that holds more wonders, more dangers, and more enemies than their regimented life as “Worms” had ever prepared them for.

And not that their former hidden puppet masters, the Weapons Clan, aren’t eager to get the Olympians back under their control – or perhaps under their bootheel would be a better way of describing exactly what the Weapons Clan intends.

So this is just the beginning of what happens after the rebellion is successful, as old friendships and alliances fracture and new ones spring up to take their place – or try to manipulate events back onto the same old paths.

Oichi and her friends have returned to the point of, if not the ship Olympia’s origins, then at least the place where the “Worms’” DNA was first extracted. More than one history is about to come full circle on the planet Graveyard, with Oichi and her friends battling time fractures and old enemies to determine a future that may be better for the universe – but worse for them.

In Oichi’s past, her Medusa unit once acted as a deus ex machina to save her life. But on a planet that seems to be chock full of dei, with or without machina, Oichi isn’t sure whether her old partner is planning to save her life – or end it.

Or whether the gods and monsters of Graveyard will just stomp on them all.

Escape Rating B: Part of what made Medusa Uploaded so terrific, but that works a bit against Medusa in the Graveyard, is that both books hold tightly to Oichi’s first person perspective. During the revolution, it increased the tension dramatically, as we only knew as much as Oichi knew, and she was often in the dark about events occurring in other parts of the ship or to other people.

But those events happened so quickly that she didn’t have time to be consumed by her own doubts. That’s not the case in Graveyard, as Oichi’s internal dialog in this one is filled with plenty of doubts. Oichi seems to doubt herself at every turn.

At the same time, we’re aware that she is narrating this story from a point in the future, so it’s obvious that she survived, no matter how many regrets she stacks up along the way. To the point where Oichi’s tone throughout this story can be summed up by three words: woulda, coulda, shoulda. She spends much of the story telling herself – and the reader – that things would have worked out better if she’d just made a whole bunch of different choices. She ends this story with a ton of regrets – and an entire shipload of emotional baggage.

That she spends much of the story navigating her way through various sloughs of despond fits right in with the idea that this is the middle book of a trilogy. Middle books aren’t known for being light and fluffy. (This does lead me to point out that Graveyard makes no sense without having read Medusa Uploaded first – and possibly recently. There’s a lot to unpack in this story.)

Graveyard also deals with a lot of “timey-wimey” bits, as this is a place where time fractures are a feature of the landscape. At the end, Oichi’s journey, which took 300 pages or 12 hours of audio (I listened to the audio), and goes both backwards and forwards in time as well as light years in space, takes so little time for the characters who were not part of the trip that it could almost have been a dream. Unlike the Wizard of Oz or season 8 of the original version of the TV show Dallas, it was not – but it still feels that way.

I think we’ll see the results of Oichi’s sojourn on Graveyard in the final book of the Medusa Cycle, whenever it appears. I hope we get back to the political potboiling of Medusa Uploaded. In the end, I liked listening to Medusa in the Graveyard, but it just wasn’t as compelling for me as the first book.

Your mileage, whether at faster than light speeds or the blink of an eye, may vary.

Review: The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White

Review: The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen WhiteThe Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, Karen White
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 408
Published by William Morrow on September 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From the New York Times bestselling authors of The Forgotten Room comes a captivating historical mystery, infused with romance, that links the lives of three women across a century—two deep in the past, one in the present—to the doomed passenger liner, RMS Lusitania.

May 2013Her finances are in dire straits and bestselling author Sarah Blake is struggling to find a big idea for her next book. Desperate, she breaks the one promise she made to her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother and opens an old chest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915. What she discovers there could change history. Sarah embarks on an ambitious journey to England to enlist the help of John Langford, a recently disgraced Member of Parliament whose family archives might contain the only key to the long-ago catastrophe. . . .

April 1915Southern belle Caroline Telfair Hochstetter’s marriage is in crisis. Her formerly attentive industrialist husband, Gilbert, has become remote, pre-occupied with business . . . and something else that she can’t quite put a finger on. She’s hoping a trip to London in Lusitania’s lavish first-class accommodations will help them reconnect—but she can’t ignore the spark she feels for her old friend, Robert Langford, who turns out to be on the same voyage. Feeling restless and longing for a different existence, Caroline is determined to stop being a bystander, and take charge of her own life. . . .

Tessa Fairweather is traveling second-class on the Lusitania, returning home to Devon. Or at least, that’s her story. Tessa has never left the United States and her English accent is a hasty fake. She’s really Tennessee Schaff, the daughter of a roving con man, and she can steal and forge just about anything. But she’s had enough. Her partner has promised that if they can pull off this one last heist aboard the Lusitania, they’ll finally leave the game behind. Tess desperately wants to believe that, but Tess has the uneasy feeling there’s something about this job that isn’t as it seems. . . .

As the Lusitania steams toward its fate, three women work against time to unravel a plot that will change the course of their own lives . . . and history itself.

My Review:

The Glass Ocean is the braided story of three women, separated by time, place, class or all of the above, whose lives are roiled by the wake of the RMS Lusitania, struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland on May 7, 1915.

As with the previous book by the Team W, The Forgotten Room, the story of The Glass Ocean slips from character to character – from woman to woman – as the reader experiences each perspective and follows the treasure hunt as all three of the stories finally come together.

And the truth sets them all free. Freedom from obscurity in the past, and freedom from heartbreak and loss in the present.

In exploring the truth about her great-grandfather, a steward on the RMS Lusitania, Sarah thinks that she’s going to be writing a spy thriller – if not the biography of a man who wrote spy thrillers. But as we follow her on her treasure hunt through the life and archives of Robert Langford, a passenger on the Lusitania and the author of spy thrillers that Sarah thinks were even better than Ian Fleming’s, we also see those pivotal events on board the Lusitania through the eyes of two women who both loved him.

The story that Sarah thinks she’s looking for is not the one she finds. But that’s the one that she writes. And in the writing of it, she brings the lives and accomplishments of two fascinating women back into the light of day.

And rescues herself along the way.

Escape Rating A-: Today, as this review is posted, is the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This book is an oddly appropriate read for today, as the sinking of the Lusitania and 9/11 were both human-created disasters that were intended to start a war. And both did, after their different fashions.

If you are interested in reading more about the Lusitania, I highly recommend – as does Team W in the afterword of The Glass Ocean, Dead Wake by Erik Larson. Dead Wake is the best kind of narrative nonfiction, in other words, a true story that reads as compellingly as if it were a novel.

But The Glass Ocean, like Dead Wake, confines itself to events that take place aboard the ocean liner, or that occurred to its survivors in the aftermath. The reader can and does speculate about the surrounding politics, but the story is the story of the doomed ship and what happened after.

While Caroline’s and Tess’ stories are part of that fateful voyage, Sarah’s is the story of the aftermath – nearly 100 years in the aftermath. I found Sarah’s story to be the most compelling – but then she’s the one doing the historical research. I always love the treasure hunt aspect of this kind of story, where the clues are revealed, sometimes slowly and carefully, and sometimes by “Eureka!” – and there are plenty of moments of both kinds in Sarah’s search.

Sarah’s story feels “present”, while Caroline’s and Tess’ stories feel almost as though they are leading the reader to the story behind those clues. And I was guessing right along with Sarah, sometimes, but not always correctly.

Part of what makes this so much fun is the way that in both time periods both end up as just the kind of spy thriller that Robert Langford used to write. Someone betrayed the Lusitania to the Germans. Someone smuggled a critical munitions formula on board the ship. Someone wanted to sell it to the Germans. Someone wanted to secure it for the British.

And over 1,000 people died for it.

But when Sarah unearths those secrets, she finds much more than she ever bargained for. Whether or not she’ll be able to keep what she’s found is a journey that is well-worth taking with her.

TLC
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Review: The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman

Review: The Heart of the Circle by Keren LandsmanThe Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, urban fantasy
Pages: 400
Published by Angry Robot on August 13, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Sorcerers fight for the right to exist and fall in love, in this extraordinary alternate world fantasy thriller by award-winning Israeli author Keren Landsman.

Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolised and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?

File Under: Fantasy [ Love Squared - Stuck in the Margins - Emotional Injection - Fight the Power ]

My Review:

In a kind of twisted way, The Heart of the Circle reminded me of American Magic in that they both feel like responses to the Statute of Secrecy in Harry Potter. In American Magic, the reveal of the secret of magic is treated like a weaponized virus or other standard spy-thriller macguffin.

But The Heart of the Circle, while also having aspects of a thriller, feels like it comes out of the urban fantasy tradition, and not just because it takes place in a major city, in this case, Tel Aviv.

I say the urban fantasy tradition because this is a minor variation on our current world, but one in which magic not only works, but always has worked, a la Harry Potter. However, in The Heart of the Circle, magic has not only always worked, but it has always been known. There is no Statute of Secrecy here.

Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t witch hunts.

In the past, magic and magic users have been respected and feared. But mostly respected. Or so it seems. We are dropped into this story sometime in their 21st century, and pretty much in the midst of the action. Ancient history isn’t talked about a whole lot, because the present is going off the rails.

A group of religious fundamentalists has done an all too effective job of weaponizing the human hate and fear of “the other” and turned it against the sorcerers. There’s a constant drumbeat in the press to turn sorcerers into “the other” so that their humanity can be legislated away. So that they can be harassed and discriminated against and killed without consequences.

The language and methods that they use will sound all too familiar to anyone who has read about the Holocaust – or read the news or followed twitter regarding the way that immigrants in the U.S. are being demonized this day.

Although, in fine fantasy fashion, the reasons behind this particular weaponization of hate and fear turn out to be nothing like they seem to be. The most interesting agendas are extremely heinous and deeply hidden.

Following our protagonist, Reed Katz, we become involved in the sorcerers’ community as everyone fears for their livelihood and their lives, and we watch them fight back. We become involved in their world and we feel for their plight. They have not, in fact, done anything wrong. They are being hated, and killed, for what they are – while the people who murder them are not even condemned for the crimes they have actually committed.

In Reed’s story, and the story of his community, I saw reflections of our present. The story’s setting in Israel may allow Americans to pretend that this can’t happen here, but it is. The fantasy setting allows readers to see the situation from a distance, but it is all too easy to recognize that it is here and now.

This begins as a story of a beleaguered community dealing with unrelenting hate. It becomes a story about rising up and not just protecting that community, but about proactively discovering the heart of the hate – and exposing it for what it really is.

The Heart of the Circle turns out to be love. Not only romantic love, although that is certainly there, but love of all kinds and all stripes. The love of friends, the love of family, and especially the love of community.

Escape Rating A+: This is a book that sucks the reader into its heart, and doesn’t spit you out until the final page is turned. And I loved every minute of it.

Review: Vendetta in Death by J.D. Robb

Review: Vendetta in Death by J.D. RobbVendetta in Death (In Death, #49) by J.D. Robb
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: futuristic, mystery, romantic suspense
Series: In Death #49
Pages: 368
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 3, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The predator becomes the prey in the newest thriller in the #1 New York Times bestselling series featuring homicide detective Eve Dallas.

She calls herself Lady Justice. And once she has chosen a man as her target, she turns herself into a tall blonde or a curvaceous redhead, makes herself as alluring and seductive as possible to them. Once they are in her grasp, they are powerless.

The first victim is wealthy businessman Nigel McEnroy. His company’s human resources department has already paid out settlements to a couple of his young victims—but they don’t know that his crimes go far beyond workplace harassment. Lady Justice knows. And in one shocking night of brutality, she makes him pay a much steeper price.

Now Eve Dallas and her husband, Roarke, are combing through the evidence of McEnroy’s secret life. His compulsive need to record his misdeeds provides them with a wide range of suspects, but the true identity of Lady Justice remains elusive. It’s a challenging case, made even more difficult by McEnroy’s widow, who reacts to the investigation with fury, denial, and threats. Meanwhile, Lady Justice’s criminal crusade is escalating rapidly, and if Eve can’t stop this vigilante, there’s no telling how much blood may be spilled…

My Review:

It’s strange to say that a series that always begins with a dead body is a comfort read, but the In Death series has always been one for me. The series is now 49 books in, and at this point I’m reading it more to catch up with my “friends”, the characters in this long-running series, than I am to see whodunnit – or how or why for that matter.

This one begins with more than a bit of schadenfreude. While the killer seems somewhat righteous albeit more than a bit off the rails, the victim, well, the victim was no innocent. His death seems like a case of evil getting its just desserts. The more we find out about the scumbag, the less we sympathize with him.

But this series, is not, and never has been, about vigilantism. There’s a motto on the door of Eve Dallas’ Homicide squad room that reads:

NO MATTER YOUR RACE, CREED, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, OR POLITICAL AFFILIATION, WE PROTECT AND SERVE*, BECAUSE YOU COULD GET DEAD.
*EVEN IF YOU WERE AN ASSHOLE.

All of the victims in this entry in the series were definitely assholes. The serial killer taking them out got their names – and the nature of their crimes – from their victims, the members of a support group for women who have been harassed, abused, raped or otherwise victimized by men.

Eve Dallas knows how those women feel firsthand. It’s part of her own history that her father raped and beat her until she killed him when she was 8, completely, totally, utterly and absolutely in self-defense. At the age of eight she had already been on both sides of this case, as the victim of the abuser and as the killer of same.

But as much as she empathizes, she’s a firm believer in the rule of law. For her, vigilantism is never the way.

So she hunts down a killer who expects to find in Eve a kindred spirit. And is instead uncovered by a righteous cop.

Escape Rating B: This was the book I wanted to read this week. The book I’m listening to has its sad and serious aspects, so I was looking for something that would sweep me away to something not-so-heartbreaking for a little while. The irony is that this series, steeped in tragedy and death, does that for me.

The appeal of this series is in the characters. Part of the appeal of police procedurals in general is the ambiance of the cop shop that lies at its center. In the case of the In Death series, I just plain like these people. It’s not that they are all nice – because some of them certainly are not. It’s that they are interesting, they do their jobs well, they care about each other, and they all have a terrific line in snarkitude. Even Galahad, Dallas’ and Roarke’s cat, has snarkitude to spare. Although his is probably more cattitude. But he’s definitely a scene-stealer – and he humanizes people who might otherwise be either too perfect, too broken, or too perfectly broken to otherwise work.

So I read this series just to catch up on the gang. That being said, there isn’t anything particularly special about this entry in the series. Which doesn’t change the fact that I enjoyed spending time with them.

There’s always a case. This time around the case feels more a part of our early-21st century than Dallas’ mid-21st century – or attitudes don’t change much in the intervening 40 years. And probably the latter, damn it.

The spree killing that Dallas has to stop feels like a direct response to the #MeToo movement, and the idea that it has to have failed, again, to change much is a bit depressing. On the other hand, so far we haven’t had the Urban Wars that her world went through, so there’s that.

But we don’t feel for the victims in this one. They are all scum. It’s easy to see what sets the killer over the edge. All victims had first victimized the women in their lives – and they all got away with it. And for all the reasons that women who report being raped or abused don’t get justice in the real world. The men have more power and society is predisposed not to believe us because we’re women.

The killer is easy to spot, and relatively easy for Dallas to catch. The only thing that allows the spree to stretch to four victims is that the killer strikes every single night. This story is fast, taking place over four short but jam-packed days and nights.

Good does triumph and evil does get its just desserts. But this is fiction, so there will be a part of many readers, including this one, wondering if the killer should have been allowed to go on just a bit longer. And that’s a scary thought in a way. It turns out that the lesson is that vengeance is easy, but that justice is very, very hard.

Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona AndrewsSapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy, #4) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #4
Pages: 393
Published by Avon on August 27, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrew comes an enthralling new trilogy set in the Hidden Legacy world, where magic means power, and family bloodlines are the new currency of society…

In a world where magic is the key to power and wealth, Catalina Baylor is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, and the Head of her House. Catalina has always been afraid to use her unique powers, but when her friend’s mother and sister are murdered, Catalina risks her reputation and safety to unravel the mystery.

But behind the scenes powerful forces are at work, and one of them is Alessandro Sagredo, the Italian Prime who was once Catalina’s teenage crush. Dangerous and unpredictable, Alessandro’s true motives are unclear, but he’s drawn to Catalina like a moth to a flame.

To help her friend, Catalina must test the limits of her extraordinary powers, but doing so may cost her both her House–and her heart.

My Review:

Sapphire Flames represents a pivot in direction for this series, after the events in Diamond Fire. The focus has shifted from Nevada Baylor, the heroine of the first three marvelous books (Burn for Me, White Hot and Wildfire) to her sister Catalina Baylor, now the Prime of House Baylor.

The shift was necessary on multiple levels. First, the whole point of Diamond Fire was wrapped around Nevada finally marrying Connor Rogan, Prime of House Rogan. And possibly the only person who could really outstubborn Nevada – and vice versa.

But that means that Nevada has found her happy ever after – for occasionally explosive definitions of all the words in that phrase. She can only be loyal to one House. Not only is it natural for her to switch her primary focus to Rogan, but she and Rogan are still cleaning up the high-stakes political mess that brought them together in the first place.

So sister Catalina is now the Prime for House Baylor, a fledgling House that consists of her youngest sister – the next Prime – and the rest of their family including their mother and grandmother. This is a world where the Head of Household status rests with the person with the most supernatural power – and that’s neither of the women in the previous generations.

That family tug of war between Catalina needing to step up and be Prime and her mother and grandmother still having family power over her as the women who raised her is just one of the many interesting tensions that arises in this story, the first of what looks like a trilogy (at least) of books focusing on Catalina.

Catalina is in a similar position to the one that Nevada occupied in Burn for Me. She’s suddenly in charge of the family, forced to make decisions that affect everyone who depends on her, and isn’t sure that she’s the right person for the job that she doesn’t actually want anyway. And, to cap it off, she’s stuck working with a man who pushes all her buttons – of every possible kind – and who wants to take care of everything for her so that she doesn’t have to worry her pretty little head about it.

Not quite. More in the sense the the very Prime (in multiple senses of THAT work) Alessandro Sagredo, when he can’t manage to warn Catalina away from a case that will involve her House in warfare above their paygrade and way over their capabilities, offers to take care of things for her in order to keep her and hers out of the inevitable crossfire.

But that has never been the way that the Baylors roll. The pay their bills, they honor their contracts and they always get their man. Eventually.

Escape Rating A-: I have loved all of the previous books in this series, so I was thrilled to see that it was being continued with another of the Baylor sisters.

Part of what makes it so much fun is that it sits right on the border between urban fantasy and paranormal romance, but with a science fictional twist. In this near future, there has not always been magic in the world. But there sure has been science. And that’s how magic came into this world, via science.

Somebody invented a superhero/supersoldier/supervillain formula, and just like any other arms race, every country on the planet decided that their needed their own super-army. But, and there’s always a but in cases like this, those super-people had powers that could not be contained by any government – and those powers bred true.

Decades later, the formula is supposed to be under wraps, and those with powers, the Houses, exist not so much above the law as outside it. And that’s where this story comes in.

House Baylor has just begun as a House. The process from forming a House to surviving as a House is long, arduous and deadly. Few survive intact and independent. A narrow path that Catalina is determined to walk.

But when a friend comes to her for help, she can’t refuse. No matter how dangerous or how high the cost. At first it seems, while not cut and dried, fairly standard for House politics. Nasty, dirty, deadly, but for all that business as usual among the Houses.

Until Catalina kicks over the anthills, and discovers not just entire companies filled with assassins for hire, but an actual threat not just to the houses, but to the world itself. Someone has opened the Pandora’s Box of the super-formula, and it’s up to Catalina to stop it. And to stop herself from falling for the one man who seems to be able to resist her quite literal siren’s allure.

As always in this series, political machinations are simply war by other means, and as dirty as they come. Catalina, just like Nevada before her, shines as a character who is willing to play the game, but still manages to compromise herself but so far and no further. She’s a survivor, but there are lines that she just will not cross. Watching her figure out what those lines are adds depth to a character that began the series as a shy, retiring little wallflower, but who now commands the stage, even as she’s not sure she’s ready for the role she’s been thrust into.

At the same time that Catalina stands more clearly in the light, Alessandro steps even deeper into the shadows. Who he really is, what truly motivates him, is obviously just a part of what will be revealed in future entries in the series.

And I can’t wait to read them.