Review: Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

Review: Local Woman Missing by Mary KubicaLocal Woman Missing by Mary Kubica
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row on May 18, 2021
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People don’t just disappear without a trace…
Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.
Now, eleven years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find…
In this smart and chilling thriller, master of suspense and New York Times bestselling author Mary Kubica takes domestic secrets to a whole new level, showing that some people will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

My Review:

The story begins with an abused, captive little girl escaping from her captors and the dank basement in which they kept her for 11 long, dark years. And the story begins 11 years in the past with the events that somehow led to the girl being imprisoned in that basement.

11 years ago, in a mostly well-to-do Chicago suburb, a woman went running late one night who never came home. In a place that everyone thought was safe. A few days later, after her body was found half buried in a park, a second woman went missing, this time along with her 5-year-old daughter.

This woman, too, was found dead, this time in a cheap room in a no-tell motel, of self-inflicted wounds. Her daughter was never found, although the woman’s husband never stopped looking. Leaving her younger son picked out and picked upon as a freak because his sister disappeared. All the adults felt sorry for him, and all the kids took that out on him.

There are no happy campers in this story. Not even at the end.

What there is in this book is an increasing ratcheting of tension and dread as the story moves on parallel tracks. In the here and now, there’s the wonder and the relief that surrounds the return of the much-abused and long-missing girl who has little memory of her kindergarten self and next to no information about the identity of the people who kidnapped and imprisoned her.

Back in the there and then, a truth is slowly and inexorably revealed. A truth that no one suspects, but that one person – at least – will do anything to keep from being revealed.

After all, they already have.

Escape Rating B: This is one of those mixed feelings reviews, because Local Woman Missing turned out to be one of those books where I am able to recognize that it is a very good exemplar of its type, in this case a domestic thriller, while being all too aware that it’s not my cuppa.

Although there’s plenty of suspense and the tension and dread ramp up slowly, steadily and inexorably – and that part happens very well indeed – there’s a bit too much domesticity for my personal taste.

Your reading mileage, of course, may vary. As it will, and has for other readers, on the way that the dual timelines work. We need that slow unraveling of the past in order to reach the absolutely chilling conclusion in the present, but the switches back and forth may seem a bit abrupt – or at least they did to this reader.

As a former Chicagoan, I did find myself trying to guess which suburb the location was or was at least modeled on. The Riverwalk fixes it at Naperville, but it could be an amalgam of places. I also used to walk late at night in a similar suburb and felt perfectly safe, so I can see where the first woman thought it was safe until it suddenly wasn’t. And yes, I’m sitting here realizing that I was also very damn lucky. We live and learn.

Back to the story.

Like any story about deadly secrets in sleepy little towns and suburbs, we learn a lot that’s honestly pretty awful. Every marriage that everyone else thinks is perfect is discovered to be, well, at least real if not downright dreadful. Everyone has secrets and everyone tells lies. As people do.

I’m not sure that anyone in this story turns out to be likeable. But the search for the truth keeps you turning pages as fast as possible to discover, not so much whodunnit as how did the little girl end up in that terrible house? She deserves justice – the adults, not so much.

The way the story works, seeing into each person or at least someone in each household, brings all the secrets to light as the story works its way towards those fatal events and their even more terrible aftermath. The truth, when it’s revealed, is cathartic but it doesn’t lead to happiness. Only relief.

And that’s how it should be.

Review: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by KJ Charles

Review: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by KJ CharlesThe Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by K.J. Charles
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, M/M romance, regency romance
Pages: 276
Published by KJC Books on February 24, 2021
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Robin Loxleigh and his sister Marianne are the hit of the Season, so attractive and delightful that nobody looks behind their pretty faces.
Until Robin sets his sights on Sir John Hartlebury’s heiress niece. The notoriously graceless baronet isn’t impressed by good looks, or fooled by false charm. He’s sure Robin is a liar—a fortune hunter, a card sharp, and a heartless, greedy fraud—and he’ll protect his niece, whatever it takes.
Then, just when Hart thinks he has Robin at his mercy, things take a sharp left turn. And as the grumpy baronet and the glib fortune hunter start to understand each other, they also find themselves starting to care—more than either of them thought possible.
But Robin's cheated and lied and let people down for money. Can a professional rogue earn an honest happy ever after?

My Review:

Like their namesakes, Robin Loxleigh and his sister Marianne (from Nottinghamshire, no less!) have entered the ton’s Marriage Mart to steal from the rich and give to the poor. The difference all lies with who the later Robin and his sister have put in the positions of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ and just how they intend to accomplish that ‘steal’.

That’s also where all the tropes, along with everything we ever thought about Regency romance, get turned on their heads.

Because Robin and Marianne, in spite of their carefully constructed appearances and personas, know themselves to be the poor – especially in comparison with the high-flyers and high-sticklers of the ton’s elite. Who are, in this scenario, the rich that the Loxleighs are planning to steal from.

Not directly. They are not pickpockets or jewel thieves – although Robin does cheat more than a bit at cards in order to help keep their precarious gamble afloat. What they plan to steal is not so much a thing but rather a place – each – among the upper crust who would spit on them – quite possibly literally – if they managed to see behind the pair’s carefully constructed facade.

They are well on their way to using their exceptional good looks and exceptional well-crafted images to find themselves rich – and if possible titled – spouses to provide them with the financial security they’ve craved.

It all seems to be going entirely too well. Marianne has a marquess well in hand while Robin has been making steady progress with an awkward but intelligent young woman eager to marry and finally gain access to the money her father left for her.

And that’s where the carriage of their intentions comes to a screeching halt, as a protector comes to town to save the young lady that Robin has been pursuing from any designs on her fortune.

At first, Sir John Hartlebury casts himself as the enemy that no plan survives contact with. But all is not as it seems. Not Robin’s plans to marry, not John’s plans to interfere, and not even the young lady’s plans to marry.

It’s damnably difficult for Robin to continue his pursuit of the young lady’s fortune when what he’d really rather chase are her protector’s muscled thighs!

Escape Rating A: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting is an absolutely delightful Regency romp, if not exactly the kind that Georgette Heyer made so much her own.

There’s so much that gets completely turned on its head – and that’s what makes the whole thing such an absolute pleasure to read.

At first Robin and Marianne seem like grifters, out to take what they can get. But as the layers peel back we see that what they really are is fairly young and desperate for security. Money and position buy a lot of security so that’s what they are hunting for when they hunt those fortunes.

The story also exposes the darkness underneath the glitter of the ton. As long as they pretend to be impoverished but well-born, they can be accepted. Any exposure of who and what they really are will get them kicked out the door. But they are the same people either way.

While it’s Robin’s enemies-to-lovers romance with Sir John that strikes all the romantic sparks in this story – and are they ever explosive together! – the character I really felt for was young Alice, the bride that Robin initially pursues.

Because Alice has her own plans. She wants to be a mathematician. She has the capability, the capacity and the talent. What she doesn’t have is the money to pursue her studies, at least not without marrying so she can get the money set aside for her. She’s looking for a deal, or a steal, every bit as much as Robin is and is just as willing to use him to get what she wants as he initially was willing to use her.

In the end, there are a whole lot of witty and intelligent characters who finally discover ways to reach towards their own happiness by learning to ignore all the voices that tell them they shouldn’t have it.

This is one of those times when I know I’m not quite conveying it well. My words feel about as awkward as the brusque and blunt Sir John. Describing what I liked about this book so much feels like trying to capture the effervescence of champagne.

A dry champagne, a bit tart, but with plenty of sparkle and lots of bubbles – of happiness and joy. So if you’re looking for a romance filled with heat, bubbling with laughter and having just a bit of a bite, this one is a winner.

Review: The Album of Dr. Moreau by Daryl Gregory

Review: The Album of Dr. Moreau by Daryl GregoryThe Album of Dr. Moreau by Daryl Gregory
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction
Pages: 176
Published by Tordotcom on May 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Daryl Gregory's The Album of Dr. Moreau combines the science fiction premise of the famous novel by H. G. Wells with the panache of a classic murder mystery and the spectacle of a beloved boy band.
It’s 2001, and the WyldBoyZ are the world’s hottest boy band, and definitely the world’s only genetically engineered human-animal hybrid vocal group. When their producer, Dr. M, is found murdered in his hotel room, the “boyz” become the prime suspects. Was it Bobby the ocelot (“the cute one”), Matt the megabat (“the funny one”), Tim the Pangolin (“the shy one”), Devin the bonobo (“the romantic one”), or Tusk the elephant (“the smart one”)?
Las Vegas Detective Luce Delgado has only twenty-four hours to solve a case that goes all the way back to the secret science barge where the WyldBoyZ’ journey first began—a place they used to call home.

My Review:

It’s not a surprise to say that this story ties back to The Island of Dr. Moreau, a classic mixture of SF and horror by H.G. Wells. The punch in the gut at the end is the WAY in which it reaches back and grabs the reader by the heart – and the throat.

But that’s all the way at the end. Along the way it’s pretty easy to lose sight of that past while being completely immersed in the book’s very wild and extremely woolly present.

And I’m not just talking about the WildBoyZ themselves – as wild and definitely woolly – or at least furry – as some of them are. I’m not even talking about their “rabid fans” who are, in their own ways, even stranger than the Boyz they follow.

Oh no, I’m talking about the world of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and boy bands. If you’ve ever wondered whether the members of boy bands are cloned instead of merely born and nipped and tucked and botoxed and trained. Or however else it might actually happen that may honestly be weirder than this story.

In the middle of all of the sheer WTF’ery of a boy band on tour, there’s a murder mystery. A real, honest-to-goodness police procedural in a case and a place where all of the police’s normal procedures have been kicked out a penthouse window because 1) the victim is the evil, grasping manager of the above mentioned boy band, and every single one of the WildBoyZ is a suspect; and 2) the murder happens in Las Vegas, which isn’t a place where real world rules apply anyway – even if those rules applied to the hottest band EVAR. Which they don’t.

It’s the police, especially Detectives Luce Delgado and her partner, who hold this story together, even as they attempt to hold the WildBoyZ in Sin City long enough to figure out whodunnit and how.

But it’s the why of the whole thing that kicks the reader in the teeth at the end.

Escape Rating A+: I haven’t read a mashup between SF and Mystery that was this much fun since Bimbos of the Death Sun, and that’s a very long time ago indeed. But where Bimbos uses SF, or rather an SF convention, as the setting for an otherwise traditional murder mystery so it can poke fun at the genre, The Album of Dr. Moreau is SF after all, just with a murder on top rather like a 200 proof cherry on top of a drugged and drunken sundae.

The SF is in the boyz themselves. However they came to exist – which isn’t revealed until the end – the kind of genetic manipulation required to blend animal and human DNA into a person with traits from both sides of that equation is science gone in a direction we haven’t managed yet. (And this is what this story takes from its progenitor. You don’t have to read The Island of Dr. Moreau to get into the Album. If you’re not familiar with the barebones of the older story, the summary in Wikipedia is more than enough to get a reader up to speed.)

So Dolly the cloned sheep carried out to the nth degree – who does get referred to – absolutely does science fiction make.

It also raises, begs, explores and twists the question of exactly what is required to consider someone human. Or self-aware and sentient and eligible for all the rights and responsibilities generally conferred thereunto. It’s a question we still seem to suck at answering – or rather that some people don’t like the answers that science makes clear.

On the one hand, this story is both amazingly fun and incredibly funny. It lampoons boy bands, fandom and fan culture and the cult of celebrity and what it takes to enter that rarefied atmosphere and maintain a place there. The humor is black and deadpan and spot on at every turn.

On the other, there’s the dark underbelly about youth and innocence and exploitation. And hidden below that cesspit, there are alphabet agencies and conspiracy theories. It’s mucky and murky all the way down, and all the laughs turn out to be gallows humor – sometimes complete with actual gallows.

But the question of whether anyone deserves to hang for the murder – well, that answer was both perfectly surprising and absolutely perfect in its fine application of justice.

I think that The Album of Dr. Moreau deserves to go platinum. I hope you’ll think so too.

Review: A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark

Review: A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli ClarkA Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, steampunk, urban fantasy
Series: Dead Djinn Universe #1
Pages: 400
Published by Tordotcom on May 11, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns to his popular alternate Cairo universe for his fantasy novel debut, A Master of Djinn
Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.
So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.
Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city - or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems....

My Review:

From a certain perspective, A Master of Djinn is urban fantasy of the old alternate history school of urban fantasy. Urban fantasy so often revolves around one of two premises, either that magic has always been here, and most of us just haven’t noticed – or the other side of that coin, that once upon a time there was magic that either slowly or quickly left, but that something or someone has made the magic return. Usually with world shaking or world shattering results.

A Master of Djinn is definitely one of those stories where the magic has returned. But it isn’t a story about what happens when that magic returned. Instead, and more interestingly, this is a story that takes place about 50 years later, when the magic has more or less become part of the new fabric of the world and history has adapted around it – whether people have or not.

This story takes place in Cairo – Egypt and definitely not Illinois (a tip of the hat to American Gods which is surprisingly apropos in the end) – in an alternate 1912. The re-introduction of magic has changed the world in a whole lot of ways while at the same time the great forces of history that brought about World War I in our history are still very much in train. A train that might still be forced off the metaphorical rails – but might not. And will certainly cause worldwide destruction either way.

At the same time, also very much a part of urban fantasy, there’s a mystery to solve. And someone to solve it, in this case Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. Fatma is one of the few women in an agency that is still mostly male dominated, and a native Egyptian in a world where Egypt has thrown off the yoke of British colonial power – no matter how reluctant the British are to accept that the Raj is dying and that the new world order looks like it will push the countries with old magic – the countries they once colonized – into the forefront.

The case that Fatma has to solve very much intertwines the new world and the old. From the very outset, it seems like it’s a crime of magic. And so it is. But like all the best of urban fantasy, which A Master of Djinn very much is, magic may be the modus operandi but it is not the reason behind any or all of the crimes involved.

Someone in Cairo wants to become the master of all the djinn that have become part of the city’s rise to power, and part of the brave new world that they brought with them. And they don’t care how much of the city – or the world – they have to destroy in order to get their way.

After all, the aphorism about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely, is entirely, completely and utterly about humans. Especially the human at the heart of this case.

Escape Rating A++: Honestly, I want to just sit here and squee. A lot. This was amazingly awesome from beginning to end and I don’t say that lightly. This is one of those stories that made me think pretty much all the thoughts and I’m still reeling a bit from the absolutely epic book hangover.

I also think the 400 page count is a bit of an underestimate. This is a lot of book, in scope, in depth and in size. If It sounds interesting but you’re wondering whether you will like it or not, there are three very short reads set in the same universe but not direct prequels to this story. So if this universe sounds like fun, The Angel of Khan el-Khalili is only 32 pages and is available free at Tor.com,  A Dead Djinn in Cairo is only 45 pages and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is 116 pages. Long enough to give you a taste without devoting the weekend that A Master of Djinn really, really consumes.

And I’m telling you that because I loved this book and just want to shove it at people to read. I’m not above using ANY of the short works in this universe as a gateway drug in order to accomplish that.

Speaking of gateway drugs, two books that A Master of Djinn reminded me of A LOT are Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone and Snake Agent by Liz Williams. In combination, they represent two of the elements of the Dead Djinn Universe, that mix of the cities powered by magic and worlds where the divine and the supernatural walk among humans as ordinary citizens. Three Parts Dead has a similar steampunk “feel” as A Master of Djinn while Snake Agent is also urban fantasy in that the continuing character is a government agent who solves crimes involving the supernatural and the other-than or more-than human.

One more digression, probably not the last. The way that the world has been pushed onto a new axis has endless possibilities and not just in Agent Fatma’s Cairo. This is a world where the colonizers have all been pushed hard off their thrones and dominions because they either don’t have old magic in their history and/or have deliberately pushed aside and suppressed old magic in the places they thought they “conquered”. It’s not all djinn. We already know it’s not djinn in Germany because we meet Kaiser Wilhelm and his goblin advisor. It’s not going to be djinn in the Americas, either. But whoever and whatever comes back wherever, the colonizers are already the ones finding themselves ground under someone else’s bootheel – and they don’t like it and are going to fight back. All of which has the potential to be totally epic.

But those are stories for another day. Today we have Agent Fatma, her Cairo, and the would-be master of the djinn. Who don’t want a master at all – thankyouverymuch.

The story is mostly told from Fatma’s perspective, although not in the first-person. It’s more that she’s the character we follow rather than seeing the story from inside her head. Still, I think the reader needs to like her and feel for her as she does her best to work the case that has the powers-that-be so upset. As I most definitely did.

She’s caught between frustrations and multiple nexus (nexi?) of power. She’s a woman in what is still a man’s world, constantly needing to prove herself by being better than the best. At which she mostly succeeds.

At the same time, she’s part of a world that is, in its entirety, in the midst of change. Not just the change that women are slowly but steadily invading what were formerly all-male preserves, but also a world where the political status quo has turned upside down. While the political and economic power in Egypt and elsewhere around the world has been taken out of the hands of the British and other colonizers and returned to the citizens and residents – and their own elected or hereditary leadership – who are part of the once-colonies – there is still plenty of residual feeling, both reverence and resentment – for individuals who used to be part of the colonial power structure.

And money always talks. The rich are still different from you and me, as that saying goes. The wealthy, in any time and place and of any origin, are able to buy their own version of justice.

We follow Fatma as she navigates those waters, balancing her need to investigate the case, her necessity of not pissing off her bosses and getting herself demoted or fired, her desire to protect her city and those she loves, and the absolute necessity of exposing a criminal who is trying not just to reach the sky and touch the sun, but to bring it down to earth and make it work at her command.

Fatma will need all of her wits and all of her friends in both high and low places in order to bring justice and save not just her city but her world from utter destruction. As we follow her on her quest, we learn exactly why she’s the right woman – and the right agent – for the job.

I sincerely hope we get to read more of her adventures, because she’s awesome and so is her story.

Review: Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire

Review: Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuireAcross the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6) by Seanan McGuire
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: portal fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Wayward Children #6
Pages: 174
Published by Tordotcom on January 12, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A young girl discovers a portal to a land filled with centaurs and unicorns in Seanan McGuire's Across the Green Grass Fields, a standalone tale in the Hugo and Nebula Award-wining Wayward Children series.
“Welcome to the Hooflands. We’re happy to have you, even if you being here means something’s coming.”
Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late.
When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to "Be Sure" before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines―a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes.
But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem…

My Review:

Across the Green Grass Fields is the sixth book in the multi-award-winning Wayward Children series. It also seems to be the first book in the series that does not somehow center around Miss West’s Home for Wayward Children.

Not that the ending of this one doesn’t lead the reader to wonder if Regan, the central figure of this particular story, isn’t going to wind up at Miss West’s sometime after the book ends. Not after the story ends, because like the best of stories, this doesn’t feel like it ended so much as it feels like the author has moved her gaze away from Regan onto the next child and more importantly, the next doorway.

If the first book in the series, Every Heart a Doorway, read as post-Narnia, a look at the lives of children much like the Pevensie children AFTER they came back from Narnia and had to adjust to being children and commoners and depressingly normal again. Or whatever normal they each managed to approximate.

Because you have to wonder just how hard that “normal” was to fake. Based on what happens to the children who have come to Miss West’s, that faking is NOT EASY very much in all caps.

But Across the Green Grass Fields is Regan’s story, but not Regan’s story of re-adjustment. Instead, it’s the story of Regan as she finds her own special doorway, the one that leads her to the place her heart calls home.

Regan’s doorway leads to the Hooflands, a place filled with centaurs and unicorns and kelpies and every other kind of mythical creature that has hooves – with or without unicorn horns. The Hooflands are Regan’s special place because Regan, like many young girls, loves horses.

But the reason that the doorway between our world and the Hooflands has opened at all is because the Hooflands need a human at this moment in their history as much as Regan wants a place to escape to.

The Hooflands need a human to rescue them from something terrible, even if the centaur herd that adopts Regan doesn’t yet know what that terrible something is. And Regan needs time to come to terms with being, not so much perfect in itself as no human is perfect, but with being perfectly Regan – no matter what anyone else, not even her ultra-conformist and uber-bitchy former best friend has to say about it.

Escape Rating A: One of the things that the beginning of this story conveys extremely well is just how vicious and cutthroat playground “politics” can be among grade school children – especially girls. And just how parents seem to forget that fact when they reach adulthood.

I know that’s a strange place to start but then this was a bit of a strange book at the start for me. I loved it but also found the opening a bit hard of a read. When Regan first learns just how truly vicious her best friend Laurel can be, after Laurel rejects and ostracizes their former friend Heather for violating Laurel’s rigid rules about what constitutes girlhood, I was right there for all of it. I was a Heather, someone who colored outside those lines when I was 5 or 6 and spent the following years in virtual isolation because there was a Queen Bee just like Laurel who determined that I was less than nothing and enforced that over the whole playground and classroom. And I know I’m not the only person who went through that experience. It happens, it happens a lot and it still happens as this book clearly shows.

So that part was so hard and so real.

We can all see Regan’s coming falling out – or rather her being pushed away – from Laurel long before it does. There’s already a part of her that wants to do more things and different things from her controlling “best friend”, an impulse that’s only going to get stronger as the girls get older and develop separate interests.

But puberty arrives first, and brings Regan’s world crashing down. Because in the competitive race to maturity among those little girls, Regan is not merely losing, but is being left behind. And every one of those little girls makes her feel it.

When Regan learns that she is intersex, it answers her questions but leaves her feeling deceived by her parents – they’ve always known that she had XY chromosomes instead of the expected XX – and needing to vent to her best friend about the injustice of it all.

Only to face utter, humiliating rejection. Followed by that desperate run towards the door that will take her to the Hooflands, a place where she’ll be the only human anyone has ever seen. Where she’ll have time to deal with her feelings about being different from other humans without having to deal with other humans.

At least not until she has to meet her destiny and save the Hooflands.

There’s so much that ends up packed into this story. And all of it ends up being pretty much awesome.

On the one hand – or hoof – there’s Regan who, in spite of her constant trying is not going to be able to shoehorn herself into Laurel’s tiny box of girlhood. A fact that actually has little to do with chromosomes and everything to do with Laurel’s box in specific and society’s box in general being too tight and too constraining and too restrictive to fit lots of humans who are born female or appear female – and for that matter lots of humans who are born male or appear male. Strict gender roles are a straitjacket for everyone.

On top of that – or on another hoof – in addition to the whole concept about gender being destiny being complete BS – while Regan is in the Hooflands she also has to deal with the local concept of species being destiny. Or at least the local myths, legends and history that all say that a human comes through a door because the Hooflands needs someone to fight some great evil. And that the fight with evil somehow requires not just opposable but downright flexible thumbs.

Regan, being the human who has just walked through their door, is therefore destined to save the Hooflands and then leave everyone she has come to love behind. Whether she wants to or not.

It’s not just that species is destiny with a capital D. Regan is still a child. Even if the local people – and they are all people who just happen to have hooves instead of or in addition to hands – believe she must save them from whatever, Regan knows she’s not ready to save anyone, at least not yet.

Very much like the young protagonist of the utterly awesome A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, Regan can’t help but question why the hell the adults in the Hooflands are not taking matters into their own hooves and hands and saving themselves. It should not be up to her just because she’s human. It should be up to them, not just because it’s their world but because dammit they are GROWNUPS!

On top of, and underneath and woven all through, there’s an adventure story about a girl who loves horses getting to live in a place that’s all horses all the time. She gets to find a family and become part of a community and discover the best of friendship and the worst of people all at the same time. And it’s lovely.

It also makes Regan’s ultimate sacrifice all that much more heartbreaking.

Excuse me, there seems to be a bit of dust in this post.

Review: The Lady Has a Past by Amanda Quick

Review: The Lady Has a Past by Amanda QuickThe Lady Has a Past (Burning Cove #5) by Amanda Quick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #5
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley on May 4, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Beauty and glamour meet deception and revenge in this electrifying novel by New York Times bestselling author Amanda Quick.
Investigative apprentice Lyra Brazier, the newest resident of Burning Cove, is unsettled when her boss suddenly goes on a health retreat at an exclusive spa and disappears without another word. Lyra knows something has happened to Raina Kirk, and she is the only one who can track her down. The health spa is known for its luxurious offerings and prestigious clientele, and the wealthy, socialite background Lyra desperately wanted to leave behind is perfect for this undercover job. The agency brings in a partner and bodyguard for her, but she doesn't get the suave, pistol-packing private eye she expected.
Simon Cage is a mild-mannered antiquarian book dealer with a quiet, academic air, and Lyra can't figure out why he was chosen as her partner. But it soon becomes clear when they arrive at the spa and pose as a couple: Simon has a unique gift that allows him to detect secrets, a skill that is crucial in finding Raina.
The unlikely duo falls down a rabbit hole of twisted rumors and missing socialites, discovering that the health spa is a façade for something far darker than they imagined. With a murderer in their midst, Raina isn't the only one in grave danger—Lyra is next.

My Review:

All the ladies in this story have a past. Honestly, all the ladies in every Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle story have a past. It makes them all that much more interesting to read about – and just that much more fascinating for the heroes who oh-so-frequently come to rescue them – but generally end up fighting right alongside them.

Raina Kirk, who becomes the focus of the investigation rather than the heroine of this particular story, very definitely has a dark and dangerous past. A past that her lover Luther Pell –  hotel and casino owner and occasional government secret agent – thought he knew about.

But when that past reaches out and snatches Raina, Luther discovers that he didn’t know as much as he thought he did. He is, however, smart enough to know that as much as he wants to rush in guns blazing, that he’s a bit too close to the case – and more than a bit too high profile – to investigate Raina’s disappearance without tipping all the cards.

That’s where Simon Cage and Lyra Brazier come in.

Raina’s last known location was a luxurious and exclusive – read that as expensive – deluxe hotel, health spa and over-the-top beauty emporium. All done up in shades – and scents – of the exclusive violet perfume that the beauty products maven Madam Guppy has created as her signature perfume.

But that nearly overpowering smell of violets is covering up something rotten. It’s up to Simon and Lyra to get to the bottom of the stink and rescue Raina – before the poison miasma that surrounds the entire enterprise drags them under.

Escape Rating B+: This is the fifth book in the author’s Burning Cove paranormal historical romantic suspense series. (I dare you to try and say THAT three times fast!)

While it does tie in a bit with the previous books in the series, (which begins with The Girl Who Knew Too Much), and offers plenty of hints that it is somewhere in the recesses of the Arcane Society that the author invented as Quick, continued into the 20th and 21st centuries as Krentz and shipped out to the stars as Castle.

However, those are hints only, providing a smile for the reader if you’re in the know but not spoiling the enjoyment if you don’t. Although the entire collective series is wonderful and would make a great reading binge if you have not already indulged.

This would also be a plausible place to begin in Burning Cove, as Simon and Lyra are new to the place and the series in this volume, while we haven’t ever exactly seen Raina and Luther’s romance and probably won’t see it in full. They are VERY private people with extremely murky pasts.

But this story is about the pasts of all of the “ladies” that it touches upon. The case begins with the unrevealed parts of Raina’s already shady past but the real focus is on Lyra’s past and her present.

It’s between the wars, the Roaring 20s, and a time when young women had a bit more freedom than previous generations – especially wealthy young women such as Lyra. She’s not exactly running away, more like walking away swiftly and deliberately from a purely decorative life that did not suit her – while heading towards a life filled with both purpose and adventure – if she can just figure out exactly what that would be.

And one of the things that I love about anything tied to the Arcane Society, however tangentially as Burning Cove seems to be, is the way that the heroines are either forced to or decide to ignore the restrictions placed on women in every time period – at least so far – and live the lives they choose – damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead – even with the not-so-occasionally forced step back.

Something that this particular story displays in abundance is the way that Lyra insists on taking charge of her own life and her own talents. Simon wants to protect her – increasingly so and in spite of himself – but ends up acknowledging that while she is differently talented she is equally talented. They make good partners – in investigation, in adventure and in romance.

It will take both of them, and both of their talents, to get to the bottom of this messy, misdirected and multi-layered case. It begins with a missing person, but the trail of bodies, living and dead, leads to some very dark places hidden in the shadows of the once – and future – war. Which is perfect, at least story-wise, because it means that there will be more to come in this terrific series!

Review: Peaches and Schemes by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

Review: Peaches and Schemes by Anna Gerard + GiveawayPeaches and Schemes: A Georgia B&B Mystery by Anna Gerard
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Georgia B&B #3
Pages: 304
Published by Crooked Lane Books on May 11, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Anna Gerard's third delightful Georgia B&B mystery, Nina Fleet learns that despite the satin, lace, and buttercream trappings, weddings often prove to be anything but sweet...
Undeterred by the handful of hiccups she's had with her bed and breakfast in the small tourist town of Cymbeline, Georgia, Nina Fleet has her pedal to the medal to make her inn the best it can be with her trusty Australian Shepherd, Matilda. Looking for potential new guests, Nina takes a booth at the annual Veils and Vanities Bridal Expo, put on by the town's two wedding pros: Virgie Hamilton, retirement-aged dress shop owner, and Roxanna Query, a Gen X event planner and Nina's new friend. But everything goes wrong when Roxanna comes tumbling out of an oversized prop wedding cake, strangled to death by a scarf.
Virgie is immediately arrested for the crime, having been overheard accusing her partner of embezzlement. Nina is incensed to believe Roxanna's denials from the argument since Virgie has a relationship for burning bridges. Meanwhile, Nina's sometimes nemesis and current tenant Harry Westcott informs Nina that her lousy ex-husband is engaged to be married again. Unable to wrap her mind around the news, and incensed by her friend's murder, she goes to do the very least she can: rescue Roxanna's now ownerless dog. But when she does to Roxanna's house, the place is ransacked.
Virgie's been in custody this whole time, without enough time to have made the scene since Roxanna left her house. The police have the wrong man, but when he's released from custody, he immediately disappears, and Nina is convinced it's more than a case of skipping bail. That's when she finds on her front gate a scarf identical to the one on Roxanna's neck when she died. A warning? Now Nina fears that if she can't find Virgie, tying the knot will take on a whole new meaning just for her.

My Review:

I have to say that Cymbeline Georgia is growing on me with every book in this series – but I still miss the nuns from Peach Clobbered. They were definitely something special and I’m still hoping for a return visit.

Even if the homicide rate is approaching that of Cabot Cove, Maine.

The murder that kicks of this particular installment of “as the bodies drop” takes place in a scene that is often fraught with high drama – even if in this case the drama inducement is a bit of by proxy.

I’m referring to weddings. Tensions often run high at weddings, whether on the part of the couple getting married, their respective families, the audience, or all of the above. The stakes feel so high and so many people want to get everything perfect on this special day. But there are plenty of ways that things can go wrong, and so many people are so stressed that its easy for even the littlest things to get blown out of proportion.

The wedding business, therefore, is a business of high stakes and high drama. So it’s not all that surprising that Nina Fleet, owner of the Fleet House Bed and Breakfast, hears not one but two threatening “conversations” between one of the organizers of the local wedding convention and various participants in the event said organizer organized.

But the stakes get higher when the corpse of one of the participants in those conversations spills out of a fake cake at the end of the bridal fashion show in front of an audience expecting to see the latest in bridal creations and not the town’s most recent corpse.

Nina can’t help getting involved this time – not that ever can. The victim was a close friend, while the suspected murderer – as argumentative as the woman ALWAYS is – just plain didn’t have the physical strength to strangle someone with their own scarf. Especially considering that the scarf tripped her Trypophobia.

The cops aren’t quite ready to believe they’ve got it wrong – but someone sure thinks that Nina is on the right track – and keeps trying to run her over with their car to prove it. The question is who – along with why. And how many “shots” at Nina will they get to take before Nina finally puts the pieces together.

Escape Rating B+: Part of the charm of this series – and it certainly is charming – is in the cast of characters and the setting the author has created to contain them and their murderous ways.

Well, not their murderous ways exactly. So far, at least, when Nina puts on her “Secret Squirrel” hat and starts looking into something she has no business investigating, both the victim and the murderer inevitably turn out to be people who are new in town – or new back in town. Nina and her cast of friends and regulars may occasionally be suspects but they’re never the guilty party.

And that’s the way it should be in a cozy mystery series.

But there’s one continuing character in this series who, while not generally a murder suspect, is usually suspected of being up to something, and this entry in the series is no exception.

Nina Fleet and Harry Westcott have been the best of frenemies since Peach Clobbered, when Harry rode into town on a tour bus dressed as Harvey, the 6’ tall white rabbit, claiming that he was the true owner of the home that Nina had just converted into a B&B. Harry is now living at Fleet House, in the high turret he used to occupy when his great-aunt owned the place. Nina and Harry aren’t exactly friends, aren’t exactly enemies, and certainly aren’t lovers, but they have come to rely on and depend upon each other in a way that makes both of them more than a bit uneasy.

They care about each other but they don’t exactly trust each other. They can’t resist sniping at each other about their true motivations for continuing to look out for each other. Neither of them is ready for any kind of a relationship and neither of them is quite willing to let go.

So they end up as partners in crime and the solving of it more often than not. I hope the resolution of whatever they are going to be to each other takes a long time because it’s fun to watch them spark and snipe.

Reading Nina’s latest adventure, I also can’t help but think that Nina Fleet and Charlie Harris, the increasingly less amateur detective of the Cat in the Stacks series, would get along like a house on fire, comparing notes on how they each got into being amateur detectives in their small Southern towns, and just how often they’ve each promised local law enforcement to keep their inquisitive noses out of police business – only to break that promise as soon as the case starts to hit too close to home. As small as both Cymbeline GA and Athena MS are, it’s all too easy for that to happen in blink of an eye.

As it does in Peaches and Schemes, much to my reading enjoyment. I had a great time visiting Cymbeline again and I’m looking forward to Nina’s next case. But I still miss those nuns!

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Review: Confessions from the Quilting Circle by Maisey Yates

Review: Confessions from the Quilting Circle by Maisey YatesConfessions from the Quilting Circle: A Novel by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin HQN on May 4, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"Yates weaves surprises and vivid descriptions into this moving tale about strong and nurturing female family bonds."—Booklist on Confessions from the Quilting Circle  
The Ashwood women don’t have much in common...except their ability to keep secrets.
When Lark Ashwood’s beloved grandmother dies, she and her sisters discover an unfinished quilt. Finishing it could be the reason Lark’s been looking for to stop running from the past, but is she ever going to be brave enough to share her biggest secret with the people she ought to be closest to?
Hannah can’t believe she’s back in Bear Creek, the tiny town she sacrificed everything to escape from. The plan? Help her sisters renovate her grandmother’s house and leave as fast as humanly possible. Until she comes face-to-face with a man from her past. But getting close to him again might mean confessing what really drove her away...
Stay-at-home mom Avery has built a perfect life, but at a cost. She’ll need all her family around her, and all her strength, to decide if the price of perfection is one she can afford to keep paying.
This summer, the Ashwood women must lean on each other like never before, if they are to stitch their family back together, one truth at a time...

My Review:

I usually say there are two variations on stories about home. One is the Thomas Wolfe version in the title of the book, You Can’t Go Home Again. One is the Robert Frost version, “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Now I have a third version, Addie Dowell’s combination of hope, prayer and hard-lived experience, that “you can never go so far that you can’t come back home.”

This is a story about coming home. Not just about Mary Ashwood and her three daughters, Avery, Hannah and Lark, but also the journey of Mary’s mother, Addie, and all of the Dowell women that came before her, starting with Anabeth Snow Dowell, the widow who boarded a Conestoga wagon to make the long and arduous journey from Boston to Bear Creek Oregon after the loss of the husband who planned it – and who found love and hope along the way.

It’s also a story about starting over in the place where you began, whether you ever left it or not. Because as much as we all sometimes want to leave our pasts behind, we carry them with us wherever we go, with the weight of the things left unsaid and undone dragging us back at every turn.

Escape Rating A: I don’t often have a playlist for books, but I do this time. It’s Stevie Nicks’ Landslide on endless loop, because it feels like her story reflects all the journeys in this book. And now the damn thing is an earworm and I can’t get it out of my head.

The story here is on two tracks, although it isn’t time slip. It’s not about seeing the whole of the lives of the characters in the past, rather about the Ashwood women seeing the way that, in spite of how much the trappings of life have changed over the centuries, the experiences of the women who came before them have profound resonances in their lives in the present.

Which is a long way of saying that history repeats, specifically that history has repeated through the generations of the Dowell/Ashwood family. And that a big part of the history that keeps repeating is the way that each generation of the family – at least on the distaff side – does their best to keep what each believes are damning secrets to themselves. Even at times and places where the reveal would be the best thing for everyone involved.

It’s a lot of women hiding away their hurts and disappointments and sins in order to keep what is often a very dubious – and sometimes destructive – peace.

So Mary pretends to be stoic and Avery pretends to be perfect and Hannah pretends to be obsessed with her career while Lark pretends to be an irresponsible drifter. But even though there are aspects of truth in those pretenses, at the heart of them is a very big secret that each of them is forced to reveal to the others believing that the cost of stepping out of each other’s comfort zones will be too high to pay.

But none of them have gone so far that they can’t come back home to each other. Which is what makes this story such a lovely read.

Review: The Bodyguard by Anna Hackett

Review: The Bodyguard by Anna HackettThe Bodyguard (Norcross Security #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Norcross Security #4
Pages: 306
Published by Anna Hackett on April 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
Goodreads

For a princess with a deadly stalker, the only place she feels safe is in the arms of her big, tough, and very off-limits bodyguard.
Princess Sofia of Caldova is in San Francisco to spearhead a fabulous royal jewelry exhibition and raise money for her charity...but danger has followed her. With an unhinged stalker hunting her, a dangerous international ring of jewel thieves targeting her exhibition, and her own secret task no one can know about, she's in need of security.
Enter big, grumpy, ex-military bodyguard Rome Nash. A man who's guarded her once before, and who she embarrassed herself by kissing...a kiss he didn't return.
After years on a covert special forces team, Rome Nash thrives on working for Norcross Security as its chief bodyguard. Driven by the losses of his past, he needs to help keep people safe. But guarding a beautiful, elegant princess who surprises him at every turn, and who he knows is hiding secrets, is testing his legendary self-control.
For months, all he's thought about is Sofia, and now that she's in danger, Rome's willing to cross all the lines to keep her safe.
As the exhibition draws closer, jewel thieves attack, Sofia's stalker strikes, and infamous thief Robin Hood enters the picture. Rome and the men of Norcross Security step in, and Rome will risk everything to protect his princess, no matter the risk, no matter the cost.

My Review:

The title for this one is a dead giveaway – meaning that there is, just occasionally, truth in advertising. The Bodyguard, the fourth book in the terrific action adventure romance Norcross Security series, is, indeed, definitely, absolutely, a bodyguard romance.

So if bodyguard romances trip your trope meter, then this is definitely the book for you – not that the entire Norcross Security series isn’t a whole lot of fun, and not that there isn’t an element of somebody guarding somebody’s body in every single story.

After all, that’s what Norcross Security does – secure, protect and guard precious things and even more precious people. Especially when they discover that those people are especially precious to them.

There’s a certain pattern to bodyguard romances, and that pattern is very much in evidence in this story – with just a few of this author’s signature twists and turns.

We met Rome and Sofie – and more to the point they met each other – in the previous book in the series (my personal fave so far), The Specialist. And they struck plenty of sparks off each other then, even though they weren’t the main event – more like the preview of coming attractions – pun fully intended.

Now that those attractions are very definitely here – the UST is such a big thing in the room that it just can’t remain unresolved for long. But the heart of this story is not about the conflict between Rome’s duty to remain objective so that he can put all of his focus on protecting Sofie.

For one thing, his focus is shot the minute she steps back into his life – and neither of them can step away in spite of the gulf of differences between them.

Not just because Sofie is Princess Sofia of Caldova is a real-life royal, but also because she’s also a real-life thief bearing the nom-de-plume Robin Hood – a secret that she can’t afford to let go of.

But whether she’s the princess or the thief, she is also caught in the cross-hairs of a stalker who plans to kidnap her, rape her and murder her while his gang steals the jewelry collection she plans to auction for charity. A charity that benefits abused women – women like the best friend that her stalker also kidnapped and raped.

Sofie’s out to make someone pay. And pay, and pay some more. The same someone who is very, very definitely out to get her. Rome can’t stop this collision course – no matter how much he tries – but he can be there to make sure that evil gets punished and Sofie walks away more-or-less unscathed.

If she’ll let him.

Escape Rating B: I have some pretty mixed feelings about this book. I’m kind of all over the map about it.

For one thing, if you like the bodyguard trope this is an outstanding example of it. Howsomever, if it’s not your fave – and I have to admit that it isn’t mine, at least in a contemporary setting – the patterns necessary to fit the trope are inherently too obvious for my taste.

But, as I said, if this is your jam it’s a very jammy jam indeed. It’s hard to do a contemporary bodyguard story well – and this is definitely done well.

On my other hand, I personally love the “it takes a thief to catch a thief” concept and pretty much have since the TV show all the way back in the 1970s – I watched it in syndication, so not the original run, but still a damn long time ago.

It’s just that, in this particular story, it jerked at my willing suspension of disbelief because Sofie was so damn good at it with not nearly as much training as it seemed like she would need. But mostly because the idea of breaking out of the house where you’re being protected from your extremely creepy and dangerous stalker in order to break into secure buildings where you might get into even more or worse trouble, when you know that your stalker is watching your current location seems somewhere past foolish.

I like my heroines with agency, but not the kind of agency that makes them look like idiots in desperate need of rescuing.

On my third, or perhaps fourth, hand – how many hands am I up to this time? – I do enjoy the setup of Norcross Security and I’m on tenterhooks waiting for the boss of this crew of ex-military badasses, Vander Norcross, to finally take the fall into romance that he’s watched his brothers (and sister) and his crew plunge into. I loved getting a glimpse of what the folks at Treasure Hunter Security are up to these days, and I liked watching the heat rise – and pretty much combust – between Rome and Sofie – so I’m still happy I read this one.

But, upon reflection, I think that this just wasn’t the right book at the right time for me. If you’re in the mood for an action adventure romance in general, or a bodyguard romance in particular, it might be the right book at the right time for you!

Review: The Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R Green

Review: The Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R GreenThe Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R. Green
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Gideon Sable #1
Pages: 192
Published by Severn House Publishers on April 6, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Welcome to London, but not as you know it. A place where magics and horror run free, wonders and miracles are everyday things, and the dark streets are full of very shadowy people . . .

Gideon Sable is a thief and a con man. He specializes in stealing the kind of things that can't normally be stolen. Like a ghost's clothes, or a photo from a country that never existed. He even stole his current identity. Who was he originally? Now, that would be telling. One thing's for sure though, he's not the bad guy. The people he steals from always have it coming. Gideon's planning a heist, to steal the only thing that matters from the worst man in the world. To get past his security, he's going to need a crew who can do the impossible . . . but luckily, he has the right people in mind. The Damned, the Ghost, the Wild Card . . . and his ex-girlfriend, Annie Anybody. A woman who can be anyone, with the power to make technology fall in love with her. If things go well, they'll all get what they want. And if they're lucky, they might not even die trying . . .

My Review:

Speaking of having the snark turned up to 11 – or at least something turned up to 11, so far this week we’re one for tension and two for snark with two books left to go – the snark is absolutely turned up to 11 and even past it in The Best Thing You Can Steal.

Even if snark isn’t exactly what this crew is out to nab. Then again, they don’t need any extra as they all have PLENTY of their own.

Considering the title, it’s not going to surprise anyone that this is a heist story. As the first book in a projected series, it’s the story of a man with a plan, in this case con man Gideon Sable, putting together a crew of “experts” to steal from the biggest and baddest collector who ever lived.

If that description sounds kind of familiar, it should. It’s the TV series Leverage, just set in a version of our world that’s hiding more than a few of the things that go bump in the night – even if none of them, so far, are any of the usual suspects.

So it’s Leverage, crossed with Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere – or really, definitely, mostly the author’s own Nightside. And possibly, eventually, every single other series Green has ever written.

Because he does that. Brings bits and pieces from everywhere and everywhen his imagination has ever been and cross-pollinates his other worlds with them. So even though this is the first book in a new series, there’s more than a bit of deja vu for anyone who has ever read any of the author’s previous work.

After all, Gideon Sable used to be someone else. So even though all of the author’s previous series except one all crashed, burned and ended together in a smoking pile at the close of Night Fall, the official last book of his Secret Histories, Nightside and Ghost Finders series, it’s entirely possible that Gideon Sable – and his on again/off again girlfriend Annie Anybody – used to be someone we used to know.

I can’t wait to find out.

Escape Rating A-: I’m inclined to believe that Simon R Green is an acquired taste. It’s just that it’s a taste I acquired a long time ago and never even tried to get over.

So even though this is the first book in this series – to the point where a reader who loves urban fantasy but has never read this author could start here and not feel like they missed anything. At the same time, it also FEELS like it could be dropped into any of his previous series. And quite possibly will be if it goes on long enough.

So this book is both different from his previous work and very much a piece of it all at the same time.

Like the protagonists in many, I think most of Green’s previous series, Gideon Sable isn’t so much telling the story from his first person perspective as he is narrating the story of his own life. Which in this case makes perfect sense, because he’s clearly playing a role rather than actually living a life.

Sable is as much an archetype as he is a character, but then so are all the members of his crew. The woman who is always pretending to be someone else because she can’t face herself, the man who has committed an act so evil that neither heaven nor hell will have him, the one who has taken the red pill but still lives in a blue pill world, and the ghost who can’t let go of his unfinished business.

And all of that is part of the way that this author creates and fills in the colors of his worlds. Where some series, like Murderbot for example, are so much fun because of the voice of a particular character, Green’s worlds all reflect the voice of the author himself. No matter who or what his characters are, all of Green’s protagonists speak in his very singular voice.

Although, while this story is filled to the brim and overflowing with the author’s trademark snark, I found the ending to be a bit more hopeful than his usual – along with the even lovelier promise of more to come.

So if you like the idea of a snark-sparked team coming together in order to pull off the caper of the century, Gideon Sable might just be your jam. It certainly is mine. At least until he steals it.