Guest Review: Last Light by Alex Scarrow

Guest Review: Last Light by Alex ScarrowLast Light (Last Light, #1) by Alex Scarrow
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback
Genres: action adventure, dystopian, thriller
Series: Last Light #1
Pages: 402
Published by Orion on July 25th 2007
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
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It begins on a very normal Monday morning. But in the space of only a few days, the world's oil supplies have been severed and at a horrifying pace things begin to unravel everywhere. This is no natural disaster; someone is behind this.

Oil engineer Andy Sutherland is stranded in Iraq with a company of British soldiers, desperate to find a way home, trapped as the very infrastructure of daily life begins to collapse around him. Back in Britain, his wife Jenny is stuck in Manchester, fighting desperately against the rising chaos to get back to their children; London as events begin to spiral out of control -- riots, raging fires, looting, rape, and murder. In the space of a week, London is transformed into an anarchic vision of hell.

Meanwhile, a mysterious man is tracking Andy's family. He'll silence anyone who can reveal the identities of those behind this global disaster. The people with a stranglehold on the future of civilization have flexed their muscles at other significant tipping points in history, and they are prepared to do anything to keep their secret -- and their power -- safe.

Guest Review by Amy:

What would happen to our lives if the flow of oil suddenly got chopped off? Alex Scarrow gives us one possible answer: chaos. One family, Andy and Jennifer Sutherland and their children, college-age Leona and young Jacob, is separated by their circumstances when things go to pieces: Andy is in Iraq with his consulting work as an engineer, Jennifer is in Manchester applying for a job, Leona is at college, and Jake is at his boarding school. As the family struggles to reunite safely at their London home while their world collapses around them, it becomes clear that there’s more going on than meets the eye.

Escape Rating: A-: I’ll be honest here; I don’t read a lot of “thrillers,” really, but this one seemed interesting after its title appeared in a discussion I was reading about theories around the end of our oil-dependent civilization. The premise here is that things would get crazy in a big, big hurry, if oil production were disrupted at a few key places; the “Peak Oil” theory, as opposed to one of many “depletion” theories. The story was written in 2007, and the situation has changed since then – for one thing, the largest oil-producing country in the world is no longer Saudi Arabia, but the United States. So, the story feels a little dated in that respect.

Taken purely as an adventure-thriller, though, it’s got a lot of solid points. There is a deep conspiracy which has been orchestrating a lot of the chaos, and they’re certain that young Leona knows who at least one of the conspirators is, thanks to a random occurrence ten years before, so an assassin is dispatched to “clean up.” Meanwhile, Andy is struggling, with the help of another foreign contractor and some British troops, to escape Iraq and get home, and Jenny finds herself far to the north of her home, aided by a stranger.

All four members of the Sutherland family are quickly exposed to the fact that we humans turn into savages very, very quickly when things get weird. There’s much made of the fact that “We British are better than this,” and even the Prime Minister, in his press conference, tries to appeal to the Churchillian spirit of his people, to buck up and be strong, we’re Brits, we can handle this. (Pro-tip for Prime Ministers: That was then, this is now, and that appeal probably won’t work today. It sure didn’t for this poor man.)

The action is fast, and lots of people don’t make it, so as readers, we must be careful which characters we get interested in, lest they leave us too soon. The book is stark and shocking, and certainly thought-provoking in light of more-recent events. As I say, thrillers aren’t necessarily my everyday read, but this one had a lot of interesting things going on, plenty of suspense, and enough thought-provoking commentary on the situation to get me thinking and reading more about those matters elsewhere. It’s a quick read, so if you like high-speed thrillers, give this one a look.

Review: Junkyard Cats by Faith Hunter

Review: Junkyard Cats by Faith HunterJunkyard Cats by Faith Hunter
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: audiobook
Genres: dystopian, military science fiction, post apocalyptic
Series: Junkyard Cats #1
Published by Audible Studios on January 2nd 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

After the Final War, after the appearance of the Bug aliens and their enforced peace, Shining Smith is still alive, still doing business from the old scrapyard bequeathed to her by her father. But Shining is now something more than human. And the scrapyard is no longer just a scrapyard, but a place full of secrets that she has guarded for years.

This life she has built, while empty, is predictable and safe. Until the only friend left from her previous life shows up, dead, in the back of a scrapped Tesla warplane, a note to her clutched in his fingers - a note warning her of a coming attack.

Someone knows who she is. Someone knows what she is guarding. Will she be able to protect the scrapyard? Will she even survive? Or will she have to destroy everything she loves to keep her secrets out of the wrong hands?

My Review:

I picked up Junkyard Cats because it was one of the monthly freebies for Audible members. It looked like interesting SF, had “Cats” in the title, and I was looking for something shorter after spending a whole lot of hours sucked into an excellent but long story and needed a bit of a break.

And did I ever get one. Although Shining Smith doesn’t seem to get many. Ever. At all.

The setting for Junkyard Cats is a remote bit of post-apocalyptic West Virginia in a future that doesn’t seem that far away in time from our present. But it’s clearly one hell of distance down the road to hell.

This is not remotely one of the fun post-apocalypses. Shining Smith’s world is more like Mad Max – possibly Mad Max on steroids. Or on Devil Milk, which actually seems to be worse. Or both.

The sheer bleakness of this post-climate-seriously-changed world reminds me a bit of the world of American War. Only a whole lot worse on the environmental front. But less…awful…in a different way as this wasn’t kicked off by a civil war. At least not so far as we know – yet. And not that it hasn’t become one along the way.

But the story of Junkyard Cats is the story of how Shining’s remote, lonely and seemingly safe little junkyard gets invaded – disrupting her hard-won peace and exposing all of her many, many secrets.

Including the crashed spaceship buried in her backyard. Especially the spaceship buried in her backyard. And the secret hidden in Shining’s radically altered DNA. Her enemies have found her – and so have her friends. Shining’s biggest problem is figuring out which are which.

And letting the cats, her Cats, have the rest. After all, in a world where everything that supports life is very, very scarce, a protein source is much too good to let go to waste.

Escape Rating A-: I really, really wish there was more of this available already, because this first story is a teaser with a lot of worldbuilding, a crew of absolutely fascinating characters – whether organic, partly organic, or artificially intelligent – and a pride of sentient, semi-telepathic warrior cats with an agenda of their own. But then, don’t cats always have an agenda of their own?

Actually, she had me at the cats, but in the end I was equally beguiled by Shining Smith’s world-weary voice. The narrator does an excellent job conveying Shining’s loneliness, her hopes, her fears and especially her desperate need to keep her very motley crew safe and to keep the rest of the world safe from her.

And her complete, total and utter annoyance that the world has come to get her because she couldn’t let go of her past – no matter how much she seriously needed to.

The biggest part of this story is a gigantic battle, conducted all over the junkyard with the help of her friends – including a few that Shining didn’t even know she had – or that some of them even existed in a state that could truly help. And that’s her fault too.

But this is a battle that’s not over when it’s over. The only question is where the next front will be – and who and what Shining can bring to the fight.

As teasers go, Junkyard Cats is one hell of a tease. I just wish I could find some info on where Shining Smith and the Cats go from here. Because they are awesome.

Review: Malfunction by Nina Croft

Review: Malfunction by Nina CroftMalfunction by Nina Croft
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, paranormal, science fiction romance
Series: Dark Desires Origins #1
Pages: 320
Published by Entangled: Amara on January 20, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Investigator, Sergeant Logan Farrell, has never been convinced the human race deserves saving. But it looks like he’s got the job anyway.

It’s been five hundred years since we fled the remnants of a dying Earth in search of a new home. Twenty-four ships, each carrying ten thousand Chosen Ones. All sleeping peacefully...until people start dying in cryo.

Malfunction or murder? Hopefully, the former—a serial killer in the fleet would be drastic for morale. But Logan is determined to find the truth. Unfortunately, he’s got a new partner—and he works best alone.

Katia Mendoza, hot-shot homicide detective, has been woken from cryo to assist with the investigation. But is she really interested in solving the case, or does she have her own agenda?

Before he can answer that question, though, they become targets themselves.

Nothing like a few near misses with death to bring a couple together, and Logan finds himself falling for the alluring detective. But he doesn’t know that Katia is hiding a secret.

It’s not only humans who fled the dying Earth.

My Review:

Once upon a time there was a book called Break Out. It takes place in a far distant future – 3050 – in a galaxy far, far away. It’s kind of a heist story, and the first paranormal SFR I ever read. It’s SFR because, well, obviously, 3050 and humanity has managed to get itself off this rock. It’s paranormal because one of the lead characters, the captain of the spacefaring band of mercenaries that the series follows, is Ricardo Sanchez.

Rico was born on Earth in 1452. He became a vampire – yes, you read that right, vampire – during the Spanish Inquisition. A vampire, whether from the Spanish Inquisition or otherwise, is not what you expect to discover on a spaceship.

And yet, when humanity fled Earth, Rico managed to beg, borrow, bribe or steal – mostly bribing and stealing – his way onto one of the sleeper ships heading away from the disaster. And he brought 5,000 or so of his fellow paranormals along with him. Vampires, werewolves, werecats, demons, etc.

Through a bit of timey-wimey time travel bits, we got a few glimpses of Rico’s life before he went space traveling in Break Out and the books that followed. However, while he and his friends talked about their journey to get to the far-flung future, we didn’t get to actually see it.

Now we do. Malfunction is the first projected book in a prequel series to Break Out and its series, which is either titled Blood Hunter or Dark Desires. And if you’re wondering why I’m going through all this background information for a prequel, it’s because my love of Break Out (I gave it an SFR Galaxy Award in 2013.

I was interested in this book because I loved that one. Whether a reader new to the series will have that same reaction is anyone’s guess. I’m not sure.

Because this is not actually Rico’s story – not that I didn’t love seeing him again. Instead, this prequel is an SFR murder mystery – not that there aren’t plenty of paranormal elements in the mix.

This story takes place aboard the good ships of the Trakis expedition – and they are all falling apart. But those malfunctions are mostly what you’d expect after 500 years of continuous operation with no resupply and no hope or home in sight.

The Captain of the Trakis One and Rico on the Trakis Two have each woken an investigator from cryosleep because a recent audit of ships’ systems has turned up a malfunction that is not merely not random. It’s not even likely.

Someone has been running from ship to ship sabotaging cryosleep chambers – including each and every failsafe built in to those chambers to prevent the dozens of deaths by asphyxiation that have occurred.

Trakis One wants their investigator, Sergeant Logan Farrell, to declare the whole thing an unfortunate series of accidental but coincidental malfunctions. He’s not buying what they’re selling, but he’s a good enough soldier to pretend he does.

Rico Sanchez, on Trakis Two, wants his own investigator, Detective Katia Mendoza, to make sure the investigation stays away from the Trakis Two and doesn’t poke its nose into the many, many illegal things that Rico did to get his people onto the ship instead of the people who were supposed to be there.

As Katia is also one of Rico’s illicit people – and a werecat – she’s more than willing to keep the fleet out of their business. But her detective instincts are aroused by the crimes, which are definitely real and definitely crimes and not accidents or malfunctions at all.

That her baser instincts, as well as her emotions, are equally aroused by Sergeant Logan is something that she’ll have to either ignore or let Rico deal with – permanently. One way – or another.

Escape Rating B: I loved the early books in the original series, so I was all in for Malfunction. That being said, Malfunction didn’t feel like it hung together nearly as well as the early books in that series. I enjoyed Malfunction for its look back at the origins of a story I really liked, but I’m not sure that I’d have liked it nearly as much without having already seen the future of this universe and at least one of its characters.

Although the reviews seem to be saying that I’m a bit off-base, and readers new to this world are still loving this book. Your warp speed may vary, of course.

For this reader, it felt like the story existed on three levels. One is the “nostalgia” factor, that I already knew where this universe ended up, so it was fun to see where it began.

The second, and the primary plot of this particular story, is the spacefaring murder mystery. In a strange way, it reminded me of Medusa Uploaded, probably the bit about the mysterious deaths being investigated as well as the class system that has been not just preserved but enshrined in the way that people where chosen for this journey. It also has a bit of Veronica Scott’s Star Cruise/Sectors SF series to it, as that spacefaring SFR series often deals with crime aboard a spaceship. But the tone in Malfunction is dark in the way that Medusa Uploaded is dark.

Third, of course, is the romance between Logan and Katia. They have instant chemistry together, and they both resist it for equally good reasons. Sometimes for the same reason – neither of them has ever fit in and they are afraid to trust themselves emotionally. Of course Katia has another reason for resisting the attraction. She’s not sure how Logan will react once he knows her secret and she’s not sure about becoming emotionally involved with someone that she will probably outlive by centuries.

Unless, of course, the course of this investigation sends them both to “kingdom come” in a ball of fire. After all, someone is committing the crimes that they are investigating, and it becomes almost instantly clear that whoever that someone is they are willing to murder not just dozens but literally thousands of people to cover their crimes.

Or to fuel their need for vengeance. After facing near-death at every turn and always – so far at least – managing to survive together, it’s not any wonder that Katia and Logan decide to grab whatever joy they can in the now – because tomorrow really might never come for either of them.

I, however, certainly hope that there will be more books in the Dark Desires Origins series. It was fun to see Rico and company at an earlier stage of their journey – and the trials and tribulations of watching a new human colony being created while hiding in more-or-less plain sight should be fascinating.

Review: Sweep with Me by Ilona Andrews

Review: Sweep with Me by Ilona AndrewsSweep with Me (Innkeeper Chronicles, #4.5) by Ilona Andrews
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #5
Pages: 144
Published by Ilona Andrews on January 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A charming, short novella in the Innkeeper Chronicles, from #1 New York Times bestselling author, Ilona Andrews.

Thank you for joining us at Gertrude Hunt, the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, during the Treaty Stay. As you know, we are honor-bound to accept all guests during this oldest of innkeeper holidays and we are expecting a dangerous guest. Or several. But have no fear. Your safety and comfort is our first priority. The inn and your hosts, Dina Demille and Sean Evans, will defend you at all costs. [But we hope we don’t have to.]

Every winter, Innkeepers look forward to celebrating their own special holiday, which commemorates the ancient treaty that united the very first Inns and established the rules that protect them, their intergalactic guests, and the very unaware/oblivious people of [planet] Earth. By tradition, the Innkeepers welcomed three guests: a warrior, a sage, and a pilgrim, but during the holiday, Innkeepers must open their doors to anyone who seeks lodging. Anyone.

My Review:

I’ve just realized that this is a holiday story. And that the guests at the Gertrude Hunt for this particular holiday match the traditional guests for this season as far as the Innkeepers are concerned.

The traditional guests are a warrior, a sage and a pilgrim, to celebrate the guests that were present with the Treaty was signed that established the rules for inns, innkeepers and their intergalactic guests.

But this is the Gertrude Hunt, on Earth, in Red Deer Texas. The pilgrim is also a warrior, the warrior is also a human from Earth, and the sage – well the sage is an overgrown chicken. All in all, that’s kind of a typical guest list for Gertrude Hunt – especially when you include the epic beat-down that the warrior has to deliver to her evil uncle. Who is just as human as she is – or isn’t.

The story in Sweep with Me goes directly back to the main line of the series that began with Clean Sweep, following Innkeeper Dina Demille, her Inn, Gertrude Hunt, and her “adventures” on Earth trying to juggle the needs of her inn, the rules of the Innkeepers’ Guild, and the needs of her guests without bringing the intergalactic equivalent of World War III to her door – again.

The events of this book, although they come after Sweep of the Blade, aren’t really dependent on what happens in that story. But they are a direct extension of the story in the previous three books, Clean Sweep, Sweep in Peace and One Fell Sweep. To the point where this story feels like one continuous story with one sidebar (Sweep of the Blade) and you really need to read all of it to get into it. The series is awesome, the individual entries are relatively short, so reading the whole thing is no hardship at all.

Sweep with Me feels like a sweep back, to get the reader back into Gertrude Hunt and to deal with the fallout, of which there was plenty, from previous events.

It also sets up a new dynamic, with intergalactic alpha werewolf Sean Taylor finally joining Dina as an Innkeeper. Mostly in charge of taking care of the security of the inn, because past events have proven that her damaged but impressive security might not be enough.

And it’s a holiday story. The specific holiday is not an Earth holiday, but Treaty Stay, the holiday that marks the official start of the Innkeeper system. Dina has “welcomed” for select values of welcome, a variety of potentially contentious guests to the inn to add to the already motley crew that inhabits the place.

One uber-dangerous planetary warlord has come for a terrible hamburger and an even worse meeting. One warrior-turned-pilgrim has come to figure out how to survive the unsurvivable. And a whole flock of philosophic chickens has come to debate the origins of their species – until the feathers fly.

It’s all a typically atypical day for Gertrude Hunt. Dina and her inn will survive. Again. Hopefully with no additional damage – this time.

Escape Rating A-: This was terrific and a fun addition to the series. It’s also a bit short – even in comparison to the previous books in the series. It feels a bit like a reset after the off-world adventures in Sweep of the Blade.

As with all the entries in this series, there’s always plenty of comic relief mixed in with a surprising amount of serious stuff – either serious events for Dina and Gertrude Hunt or serious stuff for the reader to think about. Or both.

The comic relief this time around is provided by the Koo-ko, who are, yes, the chickens. Intelligent chickens. Philosophical chickens. Beings who will debate anything and everything, and get so wrapped up in their “discussions” that no method of making their side’s point is too far – not even mass murder. At the same time, there’s really no deliberate harm in any of them – they just tend to get carried away – very far away. It’s up to Dina to let them have their debate without actually killing each other – or any of the Inn’s other guests – when they take things much, much too far. As they do.

And Dina’s methods for dealing with their increasing extremes is ingenious. Also taxing. And frequently hilarious.

But the series, with just a touch of this series’ trademark tongue-in-cheek asides, is the story of the warlord. Her very evil uncle. And just a touch of nostalgia in the form of an objectively tasteless fast-food burger. The tastelessness of the burger drives Dina’s resident alien chef beyond crazy and straight into depression. But the heart of that story, and what turns out to be the heart of the entire book, is all about greed and selfishness and the willingness to set aside one’s personal wants and desires in order to serve one’s people. And about the quality of mercy.

So this one is fun and marvelous all the way through, but as is so wonderfully typical, the ending zings.

Review: St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England Noblin

Review: St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England NoblinSt. Francis Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England Noblin
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on January 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

If you love Susan Mallery and Jill Shalvis, you won’t want to miss this new novel of second chances, dogs, and knitting, from the author of Pupcakes and Sit! Stay! Speak!

Laid off, cheated on, mugged: what else can go wrong in Maeve Stephens’ life? So when she learns her birth mother has left her a house, a vintage VW Beetle, and a marauding cat, in the small town of Timber Creek, Washington, she packs up to discover the truth about her past.

She arrives to the sight of a cheerful bulldog abandoned on her front porch, a reclusive but tempting author living next door, and a set of ready-made friends at the St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets, where women knit colorful sweaters for the dogs and cats in their care. But there’s also an undercurrent of something that doesn’t sit right with Maeve. What’s the secret (besides her!) that her mother had hidden?

If Maeve is going to make Timber Creek her home, she must figure out where she fits in and unravel the truth about her past. But is she ready to be adopted again—this time, by an entire town…?

My Review:

This isn’t quite the book I was expecting from the blurb. It was much better than that.

On the surface, this looked like a story about second chances. And it is. But not all of those second chances belong to Maeve, the main character of this story. And some of those second chances are in the past and not the present. Or they are an unexpected and unknown present, in the other sense of the word. The present that doesn’t look like a present, the gift that Annabelle gave her daughter when she gave Maeve up for adoption.

A chance for a better life than Annabelle expected for herself – and a much better life than she could have given her daughter if she’d kept her.

But Maeve knows nothing of that past when she comes to tiny Timber Creek to attend her birth mother’s funeral. All she knows is that the woman gave her up as an infant, never answered the letters Maeve sent as a teenager, and has died leaving her everything she owned. Including a small house, a wandering cat and a fully-restored classic VW Beetle.

Along with an empty hole where the truth needs to be.

But Annabelle also left her daughter a circle of good friends, a reputation as a rescuer of last-chance animals, and just enough clues to figure out the secrets of Maeve’s origins – and the seeds that truth sowed all those years ago.

Maeve is 36, and at a crossroads in her life. More than one. Her childhood was relatively idyllic but the present is a whole other matter. Not anything terrible, but she’s just not adulting the way she expected to be in her mid-30s. She’s just lost her job – journalism is not a great career choice these days – and she discovered her boyfriend was cheating on her along with the entire rest of the world – on YouTube. Ugh.

So the trip to her birth mother’s funeral comes as Maeve has reached a big fork in her road – and doesn’t know how, or which way, to take it. There seems to be a place ready-made for her in Timber Creek – the place left achingly vacant by the sudden death of Annabelle – the mother she never knew.

Flailing at the current mess of her own life, Maeve steps hesitatingly, and sometimes more than a bit angrily, into Annabelle’s. Everyone loved the mother who gave her up. It’s awkward and sometimes even painful to feel just how much the entire town loved the woman who didn’t love her enough to keep her. It makes no sense. And it hurts.

But as Maeve gingerly becomes part of Timber Creek, she discovers the truths that lie hidden. The truth about the town, the truth about her birth mother, the truth about herself – and just how much her mother’s love and pain bound those truths together.

Escape Rating A-: I was expecting a small-town feel-good women’s fiction-type story. And it has elements of that, but the St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets isn’t just that – no matter how cute the dog and cat sweaters knitted by the society are.

Instead, this book, like last year’s The Oysterville Sewing Circle, is about a group of women who are doing their best to rescue victims of domestic abuse. It’s the dark and barely hidden underbelly of life in Timber Creek – and everywhere else.

But these women, Annabelle and her friends, are doing something about it. Whenever they can. Whenever a girl or woman is willing to ask for help. Because there was no one to help them when they were abused. Because Annabelle knew that when she became pregnant that if she kept Maeve both she and Maeve would be abused by Maeve’s grandfather – and that they’d have no weapons to fight back and no support.

So Annabelle gave Maeve up for adoption, for a better life than she knew she could give her, and spent the rest of her life rescuing as many girls and women as possible from the situation she had faced – along with rescuing a few “wayward pets” along the way.

The story is told on two levels. The main story is Maeve’s story as she comes to Timber Creek, decides to stick around rather than go back to Seattle to live with her adopted parents – again – and try to figure out where her future lies. The longer she stays in Timber Creek, the more she falls in love with the place – and the more it reaches out and enfolds her in its arms.

And the more she discovers its secrets – and her own.

But we also see bits and pieces of Annabelle’s life. I’ll admit that at first it looked like Annabelle’s story was going to be different – and even more cruel – than it actually turned out to be. Just how Annabelle became pregnant and why she gave Maeve up hung like a Sword of Damocles over much of the story. I actually read those bits ahead because I couldn’t stand the suspense and didn’t want it to turn out to be the worser of two evils. Which it was not – and was a better story for it.

The St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets has a similar storyline to The Oysterville Sewing Circle, at least in the important bits. Meaning that if you liked one you’ll like the other and vice versa. Considering that the issue that underlies both stories is an important one that needs to be dealt with, more such stories, told well, are an excellent thing.

And both of these stories are told very well indeed.

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Review: Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

Review: Skinwalker by Faith HunterSkinwalker (Jane Yellowrock, #1) by Faith Hunter
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Jane Yellowrock #1
Pages: 320
Published by Ace Books on July 7, 2009
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

First in a brand new series from the author of the Rogue Mage novels

Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind—a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires and hunts vampires for a living. But now she’s been hired by Katherine Fontaneau, one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans and the madam of Katies’s Ladies, to hunt a powerful rogue vampire who’s killing other vamps.

Amidst a bordello full of real “ladies of the night,” and a hot Cajun biker with a panther tattoo who stirs her carnal desire, Jane must stay focused and complete her mission—or else the next skin she’ll need to save just may be her own...

My Review:

I picked this because, well, I was bouncing off pretty much everything, both to read and to listen to. When you start cheering for one of the characters in the story you’re on to get eaten by an alligator – and quickly – it’s time to pick up something different. I picked up Junkyard Cats by Faith Hunter to listen to, and got sucked in enough that I also picked up Skinwalker to read. I have a friend who adores this series, and I have a thing about books set in New Orleans. So it seemed like kismet – or something like that.

It’s been a long time since I’ve sunk my teeth, pun intended, into a new-to-me urban fantasy series. I’d forgotten just how much they are. As far as the pun goes, well, there are plenty of vampires in this version of post-Katrina New Orleans – and everywhere else. This is one of those worlds where vamps not only exist but have come out of the coffin. And the witches have come out of their gingerbread houses as well.

The weres and all the other supernatural creatures are still on the down low, but that situation can’t continue in the days of the intrusive, invasive, all-encompassing internet.

But Jane Yellowrock is none of those things. She’s something else altogether, something even she isn’t completely sure about. While she isn’t exactly a were, she’s probably closer kin to them than anything else. Because she can transform into an animal, full moon or no. Technically, she can transform into ANY animal, but her most familiar form is that of a female mountain lion, a creature who exists in her head as Beast.

Except when Beast stalks the night, and Jane exists in the back of Beast’s head.

It’s an uneasy alliance, made even more fraught by Jane’s belief that Beast remembers how they merged – as well as a whole lot of other things about Jane’s past – that Jane herself doesn’t remember. And that Beast is still mad about.

As the story begins, Jane has arrived in New Orleans at the surprising behest of the local Vampire Council. It’s surprising to Jane that she’s received this invitation/job offer because the job that Jane usually performs is hunting rogue vamps. And that’s just what the local council wants her to do – hunt a rogue vamp who has managed to elude them all – and make him, her or it true dead as fast as possible.

No matter what it takes. Or what it costs.

Escape Rating B+: First, I want to say that I had a whole lot of urban fantasy fun with Jane Yellowrock. This book had everything that I read urban fantasy for, a kickass protagonist with a mysterious background and otherworldly powers, a version of our world that is close enough to be familiar while different enough to be fascinating and a supernatural puzzle to solve that is not quite what it appears on the surface. Vampire politics add just the right amount of danger, depth and color to the story. The combination is always a win.

Jane Yellowrock strikes me as a combination of Joanne Walker, C.E. Murphy’s Urban Shaman with the post-Katrina New Orleans – along with the supernaturals and their neverending political shenanigans and grudges – of Suzanne Johnson’s Royal Street and her Sentinels of New Orleans series. From my perspective, that’s damn good company to be in.

But as much as I enjoyed the story, there were a couple of things that seriously niggled at me. One is just how different the world of 2020 feels from the world of the mid-2000s. In our current climate I don’t believe that the reveal of the existence of either vampires or witches would have gone nearly as smoothly as it does – and it hasn’t been completely smooth in Jane’s world either. Or perhaps their version of backlash is yet to come. But it feels like a more hopeful version of how things might go, in spite of the rogue vamp running around killing vampires, humans and animals all over New Orleans.

And the other thing that bothered me even more was a question about the Native American protagonist, her visions and memories of her past, and whether the interpretation of the character respected her heritage or constituted cultural appropriation. I know that I don’t know. It felt respectful, but it’s not my heritage so I’m not the best judge. And it made me wonder equally about the protagonist of the Walker Papers whose powers come from her Native American heritage.

And I’m just as bothered by the idea that when both of these books were originally published those questions might not have even been asked. And I’m not sure what to do with all of those thoughts.

But I liked Jane as a character, especially with the addition of Beast. The story is told from their first-person perspective, so we are inside both of their heads. That first person perspective takes on a different flavor when Beast is in the ascendant, and we experience the world through her not-completely animal nature. Beast sees the world differently from Jane – or from the reader – and there are plenty of times when Beast’s more direct approach feels like the right one. The push-pull between the two personalities has oodles of dramatic possibilities for future stories.

As does the intense level of vampire politicking. Their hierarchical structure feels positively Byzantine – and may well date back at least that far. The sheer level of convolution and posturing is reminiscent of Goddess with a Blade by Lauren Dane – also excellent company for an urban fantasy heroine. At the same time, the level of unfinished business that Jane has with Leo Pellisier, the vamp in control of NOLA, has a similar feel to the early Anita Blake books. The VERY early Anita Blake books.

Like much of urban fantasy, there is no romance in Skinwalker. There are possibilities hinted at for future stories, but at this beginning point, the people who have emerged as those possibilities are at the moment either too unstable, too dangerous, or too much asshole to be worth bothering with. The most likely possibilities have the longest journeys in front of them to make them remotely worthwhile so I’m happy she falls for none of them. Lusts after several, yes and rightly so from the sound of things. But none of them are relationship-worthy – at least not yet.

All things considered, I certainly had a good reading time with Jane Yellowrock. A more than good enough time that I’ll probably pick up the next book in the series, Blood Cross, when I want another urban fantasy fix.

Review: The Name of All Things by Jenn Lyons

Review: The Name of All Things by Jenn LyonsThe Name of All Things (A Chorus of Dragons, #2) by Jenn Lyons
Format: audiobook, eARC, hardcover
Source: publisher, publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Chorus of Dragons #2
Pages: 589
Published by Tor Books on October 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

You can have everything you want if you sacrifice everything you believe.

Kihrin D'Mon is a wanted man.

Since he destroyed the Stone of Shackles and set demons free across Quur, he has been on the run from the wrath of an entire empire. His attempt to escape brings him into the path of Janel Theranon, a mysterious Joratese woman who claims to know Kihrin.

Janel's plea for help pits Kihrin against all manner of dangers: a secret rebellion, a dragon capable of destroying an entire city, and Kihrin's old enemy, the wizard Relos Var.

Janel believes that Relos Var possesses one of the most powerful artifacts in the world―the Cornerstone called the Name of All Things. And if Janel is right, then there may be nothing in the world that can stop Relos Var from getting what he wants.

And what he wants is Kihrin D'Mon.

Jenn Lyons continues the Chorus of Dragons series with The Name of All Things, the epic sequel to The Ruin of Kings.

My Review:

This is going to be one of those times when I talk around the book as much as I talk about the book. Because this is one hell of a story – one that is still rolling around uneasily in my head – and it’s not done yet. Either the story or in my head.

And I’ll probably say this multiple times in the course of this review, but I want the third book in the trilogy, The Memory of Souls, now. RIGHT NOW. It’s due out in August and that’s just not soon enough. Not nearly.

This series began early in 2019 with The Ruin of Kings. Which was awesome and marvelous and terrific and The Name of All Things is actually better – something that is seldom said either about a sequel or about book two in a trilogy. This is a middle book that does not SUFFER from middle-book syndrome. More like it revels in the parts of that syndrome that it bothers to deal with.

The Ruin of Kings was a sword. The Name of All Things is a stone. I suspect that the Memory of All Things will also turn out to be a stone – but I wouldn’t bet my own money on that.

This is a twisty story where nothing is as it seems. And while it seamlessly blends a whole bunch of elements that shouldn’t be within spitting distance of each other, the resulting wild ride holds the reader’s attention marvelously – and possibly also props the reader’s eyeballs wide open long after they should be closed.

(I couldn’t bear to wait to finish this and spent five hours listening, still wasn’t done and carried the hardcover to bed. I never read hardcovers anymore but I couldn’t stop.)

Like the previous book, The Ruin of Kings, this is an experiment in voice. The way it is told is almost as important as what is being told. The first book was Kihrin’s story, but we’ve already heard Kihrin’s story. This one is Janel’s story, and it takes place simultaneously with that first book. (That’s a huge hint that you need to read both and in order.) But it also takes place three days after the end of that first book as the sometimes hilarious but always trenchant chapter titles make clear.

Kihrin and Janel have finally met, as they are fated to in all sorts of demonic prophecies, and Janel is telling Kihrin and her assembled company of heroes, followers, betrayers and hangers on just what happened to her. But Janel is not the only one telling that story, her narrative alternates with that of her friend, the healer priest Brother Qown. Off in the background, the story is framed by a third party and participant in these events, the mage Senera. She is reporting the story to her master Relos Var. Who may be the villain of the entire piece. Or may in fact be the actual hero. He certainly thinks he is. But then, many villains do.

So the story being told within the story being told makes this an excellent choice for audio, especially as the three in-story narrators are voiced by three different voice actors.

But the story itself is an epic about gods and monsters. Except that neither are exactly that.

The gods in this story, or rather the exceedingly powerful beings who are worshiped as gods, aren’t really gods. (That this parallels the Elven Gods in the world of Dragon Age was rather a surprise.)

At the same time, this is also the story of what appears to be a very long con. Those so-called gods are conning their worshipers into treating them as gods, yes. But they are also doing their best to keep the monster who used to be one of them chained. And failing. Over and over and over again. They may be doing the right thing – or at least the best thing they can under the circumstances. Or they may just be preserving the status quo.

Relos Var wants to tear it all down and start over. He’s trying to set up something like Ragnarok, because he seems to think the best answer is to finally have that ultimate battle and deal with the consequences. He may be right. Or it may just be a very long two-person grift like American Gods. We just don’t know – yet.

But at this point in the story, Relos Var’s help keeps coming at just too high a price. Whether the result is triumph or his head on pike for everyone to wave at is still up in the air. (And that’s a reference from Babylon 5 because Relos Var really, really reminds me of Morden, which means he’s working for the Shadows of ultimate Chaos. Which is entirely possible.)

And in the middle of all of this, we have Janel’s story of her country of Jorat, a place whose social mores and politics are absolutely fascinating, more than a bit subversive, and worthy of an epic all of their own. It’s also the story of someone who thinks they are, or at least can be, the one who is running all the games, only to discover at the end that they are probably one of the suckers who bought the con.

In the end, well, it isn’t the end. This chapter of the story concludes, but the story itself is far from over. And this reader at least didn’t want it to be. I just wanted the next book. Immediately if not sooner.

Escape Rating A++: OK this is the first time I’m officially using this rating. The Name of All Things is epically epic in all the best ways. It’s so good that I added it to my Best of 2019 post even though I was only halfway through at the time. I already knew it was just that damn good. It’s everything that epic fantasy is supposed to be; rich, lush, decadent, other-worldly, beautiful, strange, corrupt and compelling, all at the same time.

This was a rare book where, while I mostly listened to it, I also read the ebook and the hardcover as appropriate. Or necessary. Like at the end where I had 1.5 hours left of listening but under half an hour if I just read the damn thing. Patience is not one of my virtues.

That being said, if you have the time and the inclination, the audio of this is marvelous. Partly that’s because of the way that the story is told, and partly that’s because the voice actors are just that damn good. This is also a rare case where I have to admit that if you run out of time or patience, get the book in print and not ebook. Senera’s commentary in her framing report of the story is footnoted. In audio her comments are inserted as asides. In print, they are footnotes at the bottom of the page. In ebook, they are footnotes at the end of each chapter. Flipping back and forth to the chapter end just to get her commentary is worth it but ANNOYING.

However you get to it, one of the things that is absolutely marvelous in this story is the social commentary that is an integral part of the way that things work in Janel’s country, Jorat. While there’s a whole lot of fascinating stuff about the way that pretty much everything was developed around intelligent “horse” herds and their behavior, what makes it all sing is the separation of sexuality and gender roles. So much of what happens to Janel, and has happened to her, is rooted in the fact that she while she may physically be female, she is a stallion – a leader of the herd. That she is a woman and that she is a leader are not contradictory – although some people want it to be. Women can be stallions, and men can be mares. And it’s completely separate from what genitalia they have as well as utterly separate from what genitalia they prefer for their sexual partners. It’s political and it’s baked into the culture, as are the concepts of edora and thudaje, whether someone is the ruler or the ruled, how that is determined – and how that can be changed.

One of the other things that makes this series so mesmerizing is that it is never a simple contest of good vs. evil. Everything in this world is in shades of gray. The gods are not really gods. However, the demons, for the most part, at least so far, seem to really be demonic. But the characters who commit evil acts, like Relos Var and Senera, may have the best of motives. And may still be evil at the same time. Nothing is clear but everything is compelling.

And I’m compelled. The Memory of Souls can’t come out fast enough.

Review: The Prince of Broadway by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: The Prince of Broadway by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayThe Prince of Broadway (Uptown Girls, #2) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Series: Uptown Girls #2
Pages: 376
Published by Avon on December 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the second novel in Joanna Shupe's the Uptown Girl series, a ruthless casino owner bent on revenge finds his plans upended by a beautiful woman who proves to be more determined than he is—and too irresistible to deny.

Powerful casino owner.Ruthless mastermind.Destroyer of men.

He lives in the shadows...

As the owner of the city's most exclusive casino, Clayton Madden holds the fortunes of prominent families in the palms of his hands every night. There is one particular family he burns to ruin, however, one that has escaped his grasp... until now.

She is society's darling...

Florence Greene is no one's fool. She knows Clayton Madden is using her to ruin her prestigious family... and she's using him right back. She plans to learn all she can from the mysterious casino owner—then open a casino of her own just for women.

With revenge on his mind, Clay agrees to mentor Florence. However, she soon proves more adept—and more alluring—than Clay bargained for. When his plans are threatened, Clay must decide if he is willing to gamble his empire on love.

My Review:

I picked this up because I loved the author’s Four Hundred series, of which the Uptown Girls are a spinoff. Admittedly I picked this entry in the series up in spite of not being all that fond of the first book, The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. That was a book where I really loved the hero but had serious problems with the heroine. Still, I liked the setting enough to try again.

And I’m glad I did. It helped that this time I liked spending time with both the hero and the heroine – and in spite of this being a sequel that happens mostly in parallel with the first story, I didn’t see much of that heroine – who happens to be this heroine’s sister.

Also, the series title always gives me an earworm for Billy Joel’s song Uptown Girl – and in spite of the near-century separating the song and the series, there is a surprising amount of resonance between the two.

This is a story about two people who have done their best – or worst – to wall themselves off from ever relying on anyone else ever again. It’s both ironic and the heart of the story that they are fighting this same battle from opposite corners because they are reacting to the same man robbing them both of their choices.

Francine’s father, Duncan Greene. Not that Clayton Madden really explains the situation to Francine – at least not until it is nearly too late.

Once upon a time, Duncan Greene bought up all the houses on Delancey Street, giving the families who owned and lived in those houses only a fraction of what they were worth. Clayton and his family ended up in the tenements, his father left, his brother died, and Clayton and his mother did their best to survive.

Now he owns one of the most successful gambling houses in New York City. And he has the money and influence he needs to get his revenge on Greene.

But Francine Greene, Duncan’s middle and seemingly most reckless daughter, has been invading his casino on a regular basis, not knowing Clayton’s past history with or present plans for her father. Francine has come to this high class gambling parlor because she wants to learn how to run one of her very own. And just as Madden’s Bronze House caters only to men, Francine intends that her establishment will cater only to women.

She’s a woman determined to control her own life – and quite possibly more than a bit ahead of her time. She’s definitely gotten under Clayton Madden’s skin.

But she wants a future and Madden is stuck getting recompense for the past. She wants a partner and he’s looking for a distraction. They are not remotely on the same page. Until they figure out that they are.

Not that either of them can admit until it is nearly too late.

Escape Rating B: This is a mixed feelings kind of review. Howsomever, I definitely liked this one way more than The Rogue of Fifth Avenue, because I liked Francine a whole lot more than I did her sister Mamie. I loved Frank, but something about Mamie drove me bananas.

(BTW you definitely do not need to read that first book to get into this second one. The action in the two stories is going on at the same time so one does not really come before the other.)

Francine and Clayton are absolutely combustible together. Their very much resolved sexual tension is off the charts every time they are in the same room. And all of the other kinds of tension between them crackle in every scene.

Part of the fun of this story is the way that Francine sets every single one of Clayton’s assumptions about women of what he believes are “her kind” on their ear and then stomps them down – hard. The whole point of Francine’s desire to open a casino for women is to take control of her own destiny. That includes not marrying, not being dependent on any man including – perhaps especially including – her own father, owning her sexuality and not pretending to be anything like what society expects her to be. At All. Ever.

Clayton is much more of the typical brooding romantic hero who doesn’t believe he’s worthy of the heroine’s love. We’ve met his type before in plenty of romances and not merely historical ones.

But Francine feels like a breath of fresh air in so many ways, because she is so very much herself. Part of what makes her so real is the way that she knows her own mind but always feels like she’s not quite acceptable and has never been enough. People interpret her actions a certain way because she’s a young, beautiful and rich woman. All she wants is to be accepted for herself as she is – without allowing herself to be molded the way that society forces women to be.

At the same time, as her sister Justine reminds her, so much of Francine’s attitude, and particularly her reaction to Clayton’s machinations, are very much “first world” problems.

Clayton’s plan to hurt her father by buying her grandmother’s house – the house that her father grew up in and that both she and her grandmother love – may be emotionally painful but not devastating. Her grandmother owns three other houses! It will hurt to lose the memories that are practically baked into the place but life will very definitely go on at the same level to which they are all accustomed. The family won’t even be damaged financially.

There are too many people in the New York City of the Knickerbocker Era – and today for that matter – who would be thrilled to be in the position her grandmother is in.

Justine’s accurately flung bucket of cold water douses much of the ire that Clayton’s actions arouse and blunts the emotional impact. That he lied to Francine about his plans is definitely a roadblock to their future happiness and he needs to – and does – an appropriate amount of groveling to win her back.

But the tension in the story loses some of its bite with Justine’s sharp reality check. But it IS a reality check that feels like it needs to be delivered.

I’m glad that the next story in the series features Justine. Because I think she’s going to find both love and a way to help a whole lot of people who need it in The Devil of Downtown. Probably with the only semi-willing assistance of that selfsame Devil.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

To celebrate the release of THE PRINCE OF BROADWAY by Joanna Shupe, we’re giving away a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe to one lucky winner!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 1/31/2020 @ 11:59pm EST. 

Review: The Secret She Keeps by HelenKay Dimon + Giveaway

Review: The Secret She Keeps by HelenKay Dimon + GiveawayThe Secret She Keeps (Whitaker Island, #2) by HelenKay Dimon
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Whitaker Island #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on December 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


No matter where you run to…

Connor Rye seeks solace on remote Whitaker Island. When his first quiet evening ends with a blow to the head, it’s clear that nothing—and no one—is as it seems. Still haunted by his sister’s murder, he’s buried himself in work while trying to hold his family together. Now, when he has a minute to breathe, he knows better than to get involved with a stranger, but it might be too late to keep his distance.

Desire will find you...

For years she’s pretended to be someone else, but Maddie Rhine is done living in the shadows. Old habits are hard to kick however, and when her past follows her to Whitaker she’s forced to hide once more. Except with Connor. Effortlessly sexy Connor makes it difficult to ignore him. He sees right through her…and senses her fear.

Someone is watching her. And waiting for the right moment to strike. This time Connor vows to be ready.

My Review:

Whitaker Island is a very strange place. Not creepy, exactly, but definitely strange. And the population seems to self-select for weird. It’s so odd that it makes me wonder if it’s off the coast near Fogg Lake – but Whitaker isn’t quite THAT strange. Still strange, as are the people it attracts.

The Secret She Keeps continues the story of the isolated and very quirky Whitaker Island that began in Her Other Secret, as well as keeping up with the Rye family whose personal tragedy came to such a spectacular finale in the first book. I don’t think you absolutely HAVE to read the first to enjoy the second, but they are both the same kind of fun. If you like the one, you’ll like the other.

This time the action revolves around Connor Rye, now that his brother Hansen has cleared his name and returned to Seattle to pick up the pieces of his life with his fiance, the heroine of the first book.

The Rye family suffered a tragedy when Hansen and Connor’s sister was murdered by her husband – and the douchecanoe nearly got away with it. But that has finally been resolved, so the family is left to pick up the pieces.

While Hansen lost control, Connor got himself into too much control, suppressing his grief and burying himself in the work needed to keep the family business going. But now that the situation has been resolved, his coping methods have become a huge problem. To the point where he is literally working himself into an early grave.

And to the point where his family stages an intervention and sends him to Whitaker Island to relax, get his head on straight and deal with everything he’s suppressed for the past two years. In other words, he’s supposed to go on vacation and heal.

Instead he gets beaned on the head on his first night on the island, while being warned to leave ASAP. A relaxing start to vacation this is not.

But it is fascinating. And it certainly does take him completely out of himself – even once the concussion has healed.

There’s something about elusive, reclusive Maddie Rhine that intrigues Connor from their second meeting. And that fascination isn’t totally wrapped up in their first meeting – the one where she brained him with a chunk of firewood. It’s the “why” of that first meeting that feels like a mystery that Connor HAS to solve.

Maddie is on the island hiding from something, or someone. So, for that matter, is Connor. But Connor is hiding from himself, from dealing with his own emotions and processing his own grief. Maddie is hiding because someone really is after her. And they’re closing in.

Escape Rating B+: I picked this up because I enjoyed the first book in the series, Her Other Secret, quite a bit. It was excellent and absorbing mind candy. A whole lot of fun while reading if not necessarily memorable afterwards. But a good reading time was certainly had be all – or at least by moi.

I decided at the last minute to get on this tour because HelenKay Dimon has been one of the outspoken and appalled romance writers who provided sage counsel and rallied the forces of good during the ongoing Romance Writers of American implosion/explosion/salting-of-the-scorched-earth. She’s been one of the bigger sane but sad voices in this mess. Which made me want to read and review her latest book.

And, as I said, the first book was a whole lot of reading fun. Speaking of which, I’ll get down off my soapbox so I can get back to that.

As a place, Whitaker Island is an absolute hoot. The folks who have ended up living there seem to have self-selected for just slightly weird. No one is creepy or scary but everyone is at least a half-step off from the world outside of the island. The elderly couple who con people into walking their dog so they can get some “alone time” is both sweet and funny, and the way that the rest of the island’s inhabitants go along with the charade is peculiarly heartwarming.

I particularly love the way that the residents both gossip incessantly and stay out of each other’s real business at the same time. It has to be a gift.

But the story of this book really revolves around three characters, Connor, Maddie, and Maddie’s mysterious stalker. And that’s where things didn’t quite gel for me.

I get Connor and his walled off emotions. I’ve dated guys like that – although never ones so hot that I’d think of them of McHottiePants as Maddie does Connor. Still, that kind of emotional “walling off” is a phenomenon that I’ve run into – and generally away from. But it reads as all too real.

Maddie’s initial situation felt more like it veered into sensationalism. It was obvious pretty early on that she was in Witness Protection, so her reclusiveness and paranoia made logical sense. She was paranoid because she’d been trained to be that way by experts – because there really were people out to get her. With guns.

But her stalker, well, I knew who it was the minute he appeared on the page in person. And his motives didn’t quite make sense, or at least they didn’t to me. It felt like an attempt to add the stress and menace of a sexually obsessed stalker without the motive being actual sexual obsession. Admittedly the sexual obsession stalker as a way of putting a heroine in jeopardy is a trope I’m tired of, but this felt like an attempt to both have the cake and eat it. At the same time, his machinations and manipulations did a lot to ramp up the tension of the story as it raced towards its conclusion.

On my third – or is that fourth – hand, I did love the way that Maddie refused to continue a relationship with Connor unless he dealt with his own personal mess. She refused to be all in on a relationship where the other party was holding their real self completely back. She earned that HEA by standing for herself and holding out her hand for him to grab the lifeline, but being willing to step back if he couldn’t reach out. That ending was made of win.

I hope that there are future books in this series. We got a hint of a possible next romance – one that comes with some potential suspense already built in. And I’d love to see more of the quirky residents of this very off the beaten path – in more ways than one – island.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

To celebrate the release of THE SECRET SHE KEEPS by HelenKay Dimon, we’re giving away a paperback set of the Whitaker Island Series by HelenKay Dimon to one lucky winner!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of Her Other Secret and The Secret She Keeps by HelenKay Dimon. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 1/31/2020 @ 11:59pm EST. 

Review: The Vanishing by Jayne Ann Krentz

Review: The Vanishing by Jayne Ann KrentzThe Vanishing (Fogg Lake #1) by Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: Fogg Lake #1
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on January 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From New York Times bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz comes a new gripping romantic suspense trilogy fraught with danger and enigma.

Forty years ago in the small town of Fogg Lake, "The Incident" occurred: an explosion in the cave system that released unknown gases, causing peculiar effects on its residents, such as strange visions and ominous voices. Not wanting the government to get involved, they chalked it up to the hallucinogenic effects of mushrooms. Little did they know these effects would linger through the generations....

Residents Catalina Lark and Olivia Dayton have been best friends for years and own an investigation firm together, using what they call the "other sight" to help with their business. When Olivia goes missing, Cat frantically begins the search for her alone when the town does nothing about it. When scientist Slate Trevelyan shows up, she has no choice but to accept his help even though there's something about him she just can't trust. The duo discovers someone is hunting the two witnesses of a murder in Fogg Lake fourteen years ago—the very one Cat and Olivia witnessed as teens, one that they couldn't prove happened. Cat and Slate's search for Olivia takes them down a rabbit hole that is far more dangerous and mysterious than they ever expected, and with a killer in their midst, neither of them can foresee who will come out alive.

My Review:

This was the book I felt compelled to read this week – no matter what I put in my Sunday Post. I expected to be swept away by Krentz/Quick/Castle’s unique blend of romantic suspense and parapsychological woo-woo and that’s exactly what happened.

I also expect that Fogg Lake will somehow turn out to be just down the road from Scargill Cove, that the Bluestone Project will somehow turn out to be related to “Mad Scientist” Jones’ research or that The Foundation will be outed as a precursor agency to the Arcane Society. Or all of the above.

But in the meantime, The Vanishing stands on its own as the first book in a new series. And it stands proud.

The story does begin a bit in the middle, but not because there have been previous mentions of Fogg Lake. But because by the time that Catalina and Olivia are teenage girls, whatever happened to make Fogg Lake the place it is occurred decades in the past. There was a Fogg Lake Incident that turned the town more than a bit insular. An incident that gave all the residents – and their descendants – paranormal powers of one kind or another. The kind of powers that the so-called normal world treats as a one-way ticket to drugged institutionalization.

Not that The Foundation doesn’t have its own facilities for that sort of thing. It’s one of the reasons that their reputation in the paranormal community is more than a bit tattered. But people with paranormal powers do go off the rails. It’s just that The Foundation is well aware that they are not off those rails merely because they think have those powers.

Catalina and Olivia left Fogg Lake to go to college. After they learned to keep their powers hidden and appear normal. Long after they witnessed a murder in the Fogg Lake caves that everyone else was convinced was a hallucination – even them.

But that long ago incident in their own personal past reaches out to grab them, or at least to grab Olivia, from the streets of Seattle. Just as The Foundation, in the person of Slater Arganbright, shows up at their private investigations agency to hire them. The Foundation needs their help in investigating a couple of crime scenes that just might connect back to Fogg Lake’s incident.

Catalina and Slater join reluctant forces to find the missing Olivia and determine whether their two cases connect.

Coincidences aren’t in either of their worlds. Slater’s crime scenes are all too related to Olivia’s disappearance. And everything ties back to that incident at Fogg Lake. Both the one in the town’s past and the later one in Cat’s and Olivia’s.

And Cat and Slater definitely connect with each other. More than either of them expected – or even thought might be possible.

Escape Rating A-: I got completely lost in this one, which seems appropriate for a story set in a place called Fogg Lake. I was grabbed by the story at the very beginning, with teenaged Cat and Olivia witnessing a murder in the caves – and not being believed.

But that was just a teaser to set up part of the main story. And it so worked.

Because it gives the reader a glimpse of the way that Fogg Lake is while not revealing how it got that way. In the end, that revelation is part of the main story – and it’s clear that we don’t know nearly enough – yet.

The biggest part of this one is the investigation. We follow along with Slater and Cat as they search for the missing Olivia, investigate Slater’s mysterious crime scenes and attempt to discover what the one has to do with the other. All the while, the true history of Fogg Lake hovers just out of reach – until they begin stumbling over its very messy pieces.

Along the way, several fascinating things happen. One is the dive into the paranormal world that Slater and Cat inhabit every bit as much as they do the normal world – if not sometimes a bit more. The whole thing about the secret world existing alongside of the one we know is done well and is very cool as well as a bit creepy in all the right ways.

At the same time we get to know Cat, her abilities and her powers. Part of the fun of that part of the story is discovering just how many people Cat distrusts and has run afoul of, as well as her snarky attitude towards all of the above. Cat’s a woman I’d love to have drinks with – and she’d know if anyone spiked them.

And then there’s the growing tension between Cat and Slater. They don’t trust each other. To be more accurate, Cat doesn’t trust anyone from The Foundation as Cat’s last job for them left her holding the bag on a big mess courtesy of Slater’s uncle. A mess that seems to follow her around throughout the story and with which she has zero patience – and for good reason.

But the same powers that have made both of these people fear relationships with normals have given them an instant and intense awareness of each other that can only lead to one place – if they are willing to take the risk.

And if they can get this case wrapped up before it kills them.

I don’t know when the second book in the Fogg Lake series will be coming out – but I can’t wait to find out more!