Review: If This Goes On edited by Cat Rambo

Review: If This Goes On edited by Cat RamboIf This Goes On by Cat Rambo, E. Lily Yu, Aimee Ogden, Rachel Chimits, Cyd Athens, Scott Edelman, Jack Lothian, Gregory Jeffers, Conor Powers-Smith, Priya Sridhar, Andy Duncan, Lynette Mejía, Hal Y. Zhang, Nick Mamatas, Steven Barnes, Kitty-Lydia Dye, Tiffany E. Wilson, Nisi Shawl, Kathy Schilbach, Zandra Renwick, Chris Kluwe, Sarah Pinsker, Calie Voorhis, Marie Vibbert, James Wood, Jamie Lackey, Paul Crenshaw, Langley Hyde, Judy Helfrich, Beth Dawkins, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction, short stories
Pages: 304
Published by Parvus Press LLC on March 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A bold new anthology born of rage and sorrow and hope. 30 writers look at what today's politics and policies will do to shape our world a generation from now. Some of today's most visionary writers of science fiction project us forward to the world of the future; a world shaped by nationalism, isolationism, and a growing divide between the haves and have nots. This anthology sits at the intersection of politics, speculative fiction, and American identity. The choices we make today, the policies of our governments and the values that we, as people, embrace are going to shape our world for decades to come. Or break it. Edited by Cat Rambo, the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the stories of If This Goes On invite you to worlds very like this one-- but just a little different.

Table of contents:Green Glass: A Love Story by E. Lily YuTwelve Histories Scrawled in the Sky by Aimee OgdenDead Wings by Rachel ChimitsWelcome to Gray by Cyd AthensThe Stranded Time Traveler Embraces the Inevitable by Scott EdelmanGood Pupils by Jack LothianAll the Good Dogs Have Been Eaten by Gregory JeffersThe Sinking Tide by Conor Powers-SmithMustard Seeds and the Elephant’s Foot by Priya SridharMr. Percy’s Shortcut by Andy DuncanA Gardener’s Guide to the Apocalypse by Lynette MejíaBut for Grace by Hal Y. ZhangHurrah! Another Year, Surely This One Will Be Better Than The Last; The Inexorable March of Progress Will Lead Us All to Happiness by Nick MamatasThe Last Adventure of Jack Laff: The Dayveil Gambit by Steven BarnesThree Data Units by Kitty-Lydia DyeOne Shot by Tiffany E. WilsonKing Harvest (Will Surely Come) by Nisi ShawlCounting the Days by Kathy SchilbachMaking Happy by Zandra RenwickThe Machine by Chris KluweThat Our Flag Was Still There by Sarah PinskerThe Editor’s Eyes by Calie VoorhisFree WiFi by Marie VibbertDiscobolos by James WoodFine by Jamie LackeyBulletproof Tattoos by Paul CrenshawCall and Answer by Langley HydeA Pocketful of Dolphins by Judy HelfrichTasting Bleach and Decay in the City of Dust by Beth DawkinsThe Choices You Make by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

My Review:

I picked this up around the same time I received Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized to review for Library Journal. Just from the descriptions, it seemed that these two books either springboarded off the same event, were in dialog with each other, or both. (This is also a giant hint that if this book interests you that one will too!)

They’re not exactly in dialog with each other, but they certainly arose out of the same event – the 2016 election. Both are wrapped around the question about what the state of the US – and by extension the world – will be in the future if the hateful politics and policies that were given voice and force by the election of 45 continue into the future relatively unchecked.

That premise is explicit in If This Goes On, and implicit in Radicalized, but it is definitely there in both books.

They are very different collections, however. Radicalized consists of four novellas by a single author, where If This Goes On is a collection in the broader sense, of relatively short stories by 30+ authors around the single theme.

A theme that the collection is screaming about – loudly and with metaphorical expletives. As far as the authors and editor are concerned (and this reader) the policies of those elected in that mess are undoing much of the good that the US has done and are making both the country and the world into a worse place than it was.

None of the writers want the situation to continue – and have done science fiction’s usual excellent job of extending the present out into the possible, even plausible, end point of the contemporary mess in order to show just how awful things can be.

In the hopes that we will band together and do something about it before it is too late.

Escape Rating B+: My feels are all over the place on this one.

First, because it bothered the hell out of me and presumably will other people, the title of the collection sounds familiar because it is. If This Goes On— is the title of a novella by Robert A. Heinlein, a novella which would itself feel at home in this collection.

Whether the title of the collection is in homage or not, there is still plenty of resonance between the two.

This is not a collection to be read late at night, particularly with only the light of one’s screen to push back the darkness. Because there’s plenty of darkness in these stories. While some of them border on horror in the traditional sense, most of the stories give the reader the sense that they are looking at something horrible. And I was appropriately – and shudderingly – horrified.

There is some humor in some of the stories, but it is primarily humor of the “gallows” persuasion. These futures are all bleak in one way or another. While the stories themselves are excellent, the overall tone is fairly dark.

Each story is followed by an editor’s note that tends to hit that dark tone over the head with a baseball bat. The stories generally speak for themselves so that repeated emphasis felt a bit like being bludgeoned with the point of the collection – over and over again. I was already metaphorically bleeding so this was a case where the beatings didn’t need to continue until morale improved because it wasn’t going to happen. But there’s something about the reference to that t-shirt saying that seems appropriate just the same – possibly because hearing the news these days does feel a bit like that proverbial beating.

As much as I agreed with the authors’ and the editor’s perspectives, I’ll admit to getting tired of having it beaten into my head over and over again. YMMV.

These stories stand on their own. Sometimes swaying in the wind from the apocalypse, but they do stand. And the collection is well worth reading. If you read nothing else from this collection, look for Mustard Seeds and the Elephant’s Foot by Priya Sridhar – it’s lovely.

As the saying goes, in reference to the collection as a whole, “Read ‘em and weep.”

Review: The Infamous Duchess by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Infamous Duchess by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Infamous Duchess (Diamonds in the Rough, #4) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #4
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on March 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A woman with a shocking past…

Branded a money-hungry con artist for marrying the elderly Duke of Tremaine days before his death, Viola Cartwright has found refuge in her work at St. Agatha’s Hospital. No one must know the painful reason behind her marriage. She steers clear of attachments—until Henry Lowell, heir to the Viscount Armswell, lands on her operating table after a duel. Charming and wickedly handsome, Lowell is one of London’s most inveterate scoundrels. Yet he may not be all that he appears.


And the man who can promise a future filled with love…

Posing as an unrepentant rake has helped Lowell avoid women pursuing him only for his title. But now that duty has finally called on him to marry, he finds himself entranced by the mysterious, independent-minded Viola. Then her late husband’s son returns from overseas, contesting Viola’s inheritance. Lowell longs to help her and sets out to convince Viola that a strategic union may be the best way to save all she holds dear. But can he also persuade her to take a chance on love…?

My Review:

The longer this series goes on, the more it reminds me of the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt. Considering how excellent and popular that series was, that’s a terrific thing!

What has made this series so interesting has been the way that either the hero, the heroine, or both, are definitely unconventional for their time while still seeming to be at least plausible. That unconventionality has made the characters more readily identifiable with for 21st readers while not feeling so far out of the realm of the possible as to whiplash the reader out of the story.

In the case of both Viola, Dowager Duchess of Tremaine and Henry Lowell, a viscount’s heir, there is plenty that draws them out of the ordinary while not shifting them into the impossible.

Viola has been a part of the series from relatively early on. Her business partner is Dr. Florian Lowell, an excellent physician AND the heir to a dukedom. Florian’s story was told in the previous book in the series, The Illegitimate Duke.

Viola was trained as a surgeon by her late father, and often works with Florian in the operating theater as well as running the hospital where they work. Viola’s late husband left her a small fortune, and she used that inheritance to start the hospital.

But her late husband was an elderly man when she married him, and society sees her as a conniving gold-digger. So she shuns society in return. Running the hospital is her work, her duty and her fulfillment. She doesn’t care about society – except in so far as she can use her notoriety to raise funds to further develop the hospital.

Henry Lowell is Florian’s brother. He’s also a rake of the first order and seems to find himself in more than his fair share of duels.

That’s how Viola and Henry meet – in the wake of yet another duel. Florian has to patch up his brother. One wonders if at least some of Florian’s original interest in medicine might have been born out of necessity – as Henry gets into more than his fair share of trouble.

But the near-brush with death has Henry re-examining his life. It’s time for him to settle down and start a family, to provide an heir for the title he hopes not to inherit for a long time. He obviously loves his grandparents very much and has no desire to inherit anytime soon.

Henry and Viola have a lot in common. They are both on the outs with society and they both have acquired undeserved and undesirable reputations. They are also both practical-minded people and both are in business for themselves and are successful at and responsible to those businesses.

And they have an intense chemistry that neither wants to deny, although perhaps they both should.

When Viola’s past returns to not merely haunt her, but to strive to take all she has earned away from her, it is her relationship with Henry that provides her with strength – along with even greater vulnerability.

But it is her unconventionality that finally saves the day.

Escape Rating B: Like all of the books in this series, The Infamous Duchess is a lot of frothy fun with just a bit of an unconventional bite to keep things interesting.

(It is not necessary to read the entire series to get into the action in this fourth entry, but they are delicious. Start with A Most Unlikely Duke to see exactly what I mean.

A couple of things about this story that I’m still thinking about.

One is that the portrayal of the cruelty and vindictiveness of Regency society does make one wonder what made it such a fruitful period for romance in general, and why anyone would aspire to be part of that society in particular. While there are some likeable individuals and even families, overall the ton seems petty and venal and just plain nasty. But then again, isn’t that just people?

While both the heroine and the hero of this story are, as is usual, extremely pretty and or handsome, they are both surprisingly deep characters in a lot of very unusual ways. Even more surprising is the way that their unconventionality dovetails together so neatly.

Part of what I enjoyed about Viola was the depth of her character, but also the unusual breadth of her experience. Like many of the protagonists in this series, Viola did not come from the upper classes. Her father was a physician, making her solidly a member of the small middle class. That her marriage raised her to the peerage is not surprising – and neither is the amount of gossip and downright disgust it engendered. That she’s made so very much good out of her circumstances shows a great deal of strength of character. And it is wonderful that it is that strength that draws the hero to her – as much as if not more so than her looks.

It’s also marvelous that he believes from the very beginning that she is the most beautiful woman in any room – even though she does not see herself that way and that objectively she probably would not have been considered a “diamond of the first water”.

Another part of her experience that is out of the ordinary is that while Viola’s marriage was never consummated because of her elderly husband’s illness, she is not a virgin. And the cause of that particular “lack” was the result of her being taken advantage of by her husband’s son – before she married. That the consequences of that act, while in their way shameful and heartbreaking did not lead to either pregnancy, poverty, prostitution or all of the above is refreshing.

And it leads to the dramatic tension of the story – but not in any of the ways that one might expect. It certainly made for a very interesting twist as well as a lingering sense of creeping menace.

There is (obviously as shown above) a villain in this piece, and he’s extremely villainous – almost to the point of caricature. A part of me wants to think of him as a “Snidely Whiplash”, complete with evil cackle, twirling mustache, and tying the heroine to the metaphorical tracks, but the disgusting pustule in this book is so horrible that even Snidely would be rightfully insulted to be considered as part of his company.

Evil does mostly get its just desserts, after a truly frightening climactic scene, but one of his henchmen manages to miss being properly punished, so that part of the story feels a bit unfinished. Perhaps in a later book in the series we’ll see him get his.

Speaking of later books, the series clearly continues. We watched the hero and heroine of the next story meet as The Infamous Duchess concluded, and their entry in the series looks like a real treat!

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

To celebrate the release of THE INFAMOUS DUCHESS by Sophie Barnes, we’re giving away a paperback set of the first three books in the series━A Most Unlikely Duke, The Duke of Her Desire, and The Illegitimate Duke!

Link:   http://bit.ly/2SXHs2Y

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the first three books in the series━A Most Unlikely Duke, The Duke of Her Desire, and The Illegitimate Duke.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books. Giveaway ends 4/5/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

Guest Review: Stardance by Spider and Jeanne Robinson

Guest Review: Stardance by Spider and Jeanne RobinsonStardance by Spider Robinson, Jeanne Robinson
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Stardance #1
Pages: 288
Published by Baen Books on February 1st 1977
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A woman of perfect beauty is too big for perfect grace as a ballerina; she will never be more than an understudy. Stardance is the story of one such, one with the body of Venus di Milo and a talent greater than Pavlova's. But if there is an answer, genius will find it; Shara Drummond goes to Space, where her life is devoted to creating a weightless art form that is to Dance as three dimensions are to two.

Then the aliens arrive, beings of pure light who dance forever between the stars. And so it falls to Shara Drummond to prove that the human race is ... human. By her Stardance.

Guest Review by Amy:

Our story is told in the voice of Charlie Armstead, a cynical former dancer and videographer. He’s the best at what he does, (probably because he’s a former dancer), and when he gets the opportunity to shoot video of the finest dancer he’s ever known in zero gravity, he jumps at the chance. But when aliens show up, Shara Drummond must dance for them, and Charlie gets the tape of a lifetime.  But, you see, that’s just the beginning of the story.

Escape Rating: A+. If you read the cover synopsis from the publisher, you might be misled into thinking that this book is about Shara Drummond, and her Stardance. I was, and when the dance with aliens came to a climactic conclusion a third of the way through the book, I was left wondering, “now what?” Frankly, I was a little bit mad that we’d hit the “end” so soon!

But, stubborn woman that I am, I kept reading, and when I finished the book, I had to spend rather a long time sussing out how I was going to describe this book. Because the end of Shara’s Stardance isn’t the end of the story; there’s a lot more to it, and Charlie must find his own way through to the end. It’s…complicated.

Spider and Jeanne Robinson have written a sonata, if you will. In the first movement, allegro, Shara does her dance for the aliens, Charlie taping every moment of it. This tape transforms the lives of a number of people in the second movement, a rondo, wherein Charlie and Shara’s sister Norrey marry and start a zero-gee dance school. In the third movement, the scherzo, the aliens return! An almost-pastoral coda ties up a few loose ends to the story’s structure, and we’re left with a tale to make you spend the night thinking about the real question that the Robinsons pose in this work: “What does it mean to be human?” Each part of the Stardance “sonata” is a story of its own, with its own tale to tell, and it isn’t until you get near the end that you figure out that all of these stories are actually a necessary part of a larger whole.

The first “movement” of this story doesn’t move terribly fast. Charlie is a depressive alcoholic, and it shows. That sort of life isn’t all that appealing to me, and so it made him a bit hard to like. After Shara’s dance, though, the transformative power of the Stardance wakes something up in him – he even later comments that it cured him of his alcoholism – and the vast profits from the tape let him move his life onto a more positive trajectory. Norrey is, as she has always been for him, a good influence, and when other members of their dance-school team join on, they forge an extended family of six: Three couples, one of them a gay couple, who love and trust each other completely. When the challenge arises, as the aliens return and park near Saturn, all six jump at the chance to go try to communicate with them, through their own Stardance.

There were some ironic moments for me in this book; one of the diplomats who accompanies the Stardancers out to Saturn is an American, Sheldon Silverman. He is nationalistic, vain, greedy, and always seeking a strategic advantage over the other five diplomats and the dancers. When he started causing problems, I had a thought: “well, of course. Stereotypical American politician.” Indeed, all of the diplomats in the group were somewhat trope-ish to me, from the cagey Chinese man to the Russian woman who tried (briefly) to bully the dancers, to the affable and brilliant Spaniard. This was a minor distraction, and it served the point that the us-vs-them that we embrace so much of here on Earth is part of the problem–but there is a solution, and in the end, when we find out that the aliens have the solution, two of the diplomats find that it just can’t work in their worldview.

If this was the only work in this universe that Spider and Jeanne Robinson created, it would be enough; it tells us an epic story, with adventure, romance, thrills, and a bit of mystery. Even more, it challenges the reader to think about the nature of family and humanity. It’s definitely worth a look. Originally published in 1977, it has startling insight into the “progress” we’ve made in the years since its publication. But there are two other works in this trilogy (Starseed and Starmind), which I hope to track down soon. If they’re as wonderful as Stardance, I’ll be in for a couple of thoughtful, thoroughly wonderful reads.

Review: The Cliff House by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: The Cliff House by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawayThe Cliff House by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Hqn on March 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Three women—two sisters and their aunt—and the cliff house on the northern California coast that served as a beacon to them all…

After the death of their mother, sisters Daisy and Beatriz Davenport found a home with their aunt Stella in the beautiful and welcoming town of Cape Sanctuary. They never knew all the dreams that Stella sacrificed to ensure they had everything they’d ever need. Now, with Daisy and Bea grown, it’s time for Stella to reveal the secret she’s been keeping from them—a secret that will change their family forever.

Bea thought she’d sown all her wild oats when she got pregnant far too young. The marriage that followed was rocky and not destined to last, but it gave Bea her wonderful, mature, now eleven-year-old daughter, Marisol. But just as she’s beginning to pursue a new love with an old friend, Bea’s ex-husband resurfaces and turns their lives completely upside down.

Then there’s Daisy—sensible, rational, financially prudent Daisy. She’s never taken a risk in her life—until she meets a man who makes her question everything she thought she knew about life, love and the power of taking chances.

In this heartwarming story, Stella, Bea and Daisy will discover that the path to true happiness is filled with twists and turns, but love always leads them back home.

My Review:

I had kind of an interesting reaction to The Cliff House. First of all, RaeAnne Thayne is an author I usually enjoy, so I was expecting to be charmed by this story. And it is, like yesterday’s book, very charming.

In some ways, the story reminded me more than a bit of several of Susan Mallery’s standalone books. Just as in her recent California Girls, and particularly in her Daughters of the Bride, The Cliff House is the story of three closely related women. In today’s story, those women are sisters Daisy and Bea, and their aunt, Stella, who raised them after the death of their mother, Stella’s older sister Jewel.

In The Cliff House, each of the Davenport women finds love, fulfillment, and a closer relationship with the other two. But the road to getting there is rocky in many, many ways.

On the romantic front, those romances are very different. The man who Stella left behind in order to get custody of her nieces returns to her life with a pre-teen daughter in tow. His advent in Cape Sanctuary occurs just as Stella discovers that the “turkey baster” did the trick. She’s 40 and has just that moment learned that she is pregnant by artificial insemination with a baby she plans to raise on her own.

Bea finally figures out that she is in love with the man who has been her best friend since 5th grade. Her timing, however, is equally off, as her great revelation occurs just when her rock star ex-husband comes back to town. And while Bea is certain she is no longer in love with the man, he’s putting on a full-court press to get her back – and she can’t help but wonder if getting back together with the father of her pre-teen daughter might not be the best thing for Marisol – if not for herself.

Last but not least, practical, sensible Daisy makes the mistake of falling for both a man and a dog whose presence in Cape Sanctuary is only ever going to be temporary. Daisy learned the lesson a long time ago not to ever depend on anyone because they might be taken away. It’s what’s happened to her before, with disastrous consequences. Why risk her heart when she is certain that it will all happen again?

And the heartbreak certain does come, but not in the way that any of them had imagined. And not in any way that can’t be gotten past if not over, but only if they each learn to rely on the people around them – and on each other.

Escape Rating B: As I said, I had an interesting reaction to this story. The town of Cape Sanctuary is a lovely place, and we get more than a glimpse of what draws people to the little town on the California coast.

The events of the story are wrapped around Cape Sanctuary’s annual Hearts and Arts Festival. The Festival benefits the non-profit association that Stella founded to raise awareness of the difficulties of finding Foster Parents and to provide financial support for some of the people willing to take on that necessary work.

Stella started the Foundation after raising not just her nieces, but after opening her home and her heart to other children in need of fostering. It’s a worthy cause and seems to be a terrific event.

All of the romantic and relationship entanglements are intertwined with the planning for the event and the execution of it, giving readers a chance to see the town work and see this family of women work so well together.

I really liked Daisy’s story and her romance with an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Who also happens to be the man who saved her ex-brother-in-law’s life after a knife attack by the jealous husband of one of his many, many groupies. But Daisy’s life is firmly tied to Cape Sanctuary and Gabe’s life and work are always on the road.

Daisy’s story was interesting to me in part because Daisy had so many interesting secrets that she kept so close. And keeping those secrets kept her from opening herself up, not just to romantic love but also to the love of her sister and her aunt. Daisy is the person who does the most growing as part of her arc of the story.

Daisy’s story was also the only one of the three that did not somehow revolve around motherhood. As someone who is childless by very definite choice, both Stella’s desire to become a mother at any cost and Bea’s unwillingness to tell her cheating ex to go fly a kite because it might be better for their daughter if they got back together didn’t work for me – although I fully recognize that most readers will have more understanding of Stella’s situation than I did.

Bea’s story drove me a bit batty, because her daughter would not be better off watching her father disrespect her mother by cheating on her over and over (and over) again. When they split she might have been too young for it to really register, but at 11 she’s more than old enough to understand, if not infidelity, at least that her father made her mother miserable and would be doing it again.

So, of the three romances, Daisy’s worked really well for me (and the secret she was keeping from everyone was absolutely delicious!). I recognize that Stella’s plight was well-written but just wasn’t my cuppa, and that I wanted Bea to get hit by a clue-by-four.

It is a lovely, well-written story, and one or more of the romances, as well as the deep, abiding love between the three women, is bound to appeal to lots of readers. Hopefully you!

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

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

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Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick + Giveaway

Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick + GiveawayThe Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row on March 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A librarian’s discovery of a mysterious book sparks the journey of a lifetime in the delightful new novel from the international bestselling author of
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people—though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible.

All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend—her grandmother Zelda—who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever.

Filled with Phaedra Patrick’s signature charm and vivid characters, The Library of Lost and Found is a heartwarming and poignant tale of how one woman must take control of her destiny to write her own happy ending.

My Review:

What is lost and finally found at this library is the heart and spirit of volunteer library worker Martha Storm. The story of how she was “lost”, is told in flashbacks, but the story of what she found and how she found it is part of the present.

And it’s completely charming.

I found myself caught up in Martha’s initially self-restricted life and eventual flowering almost in spite of myself. To the point where I started and finished the book in a single day.

Not a lot happens in this story. There aren’t any great adventures or major events. Well, not exactly. Except that there are – mostly in the sense of a journey of the spirit, with signposts provided by the events of her life along the way.

Martha Storm volunteers at her local public library in tiny little Sandshift – a small town on the coast of England. She’s the person who does everything for everybody, always going above and beyond on every side, with no hope of compensation and nary a word of thanks.

She’s a woman who seems constitutionally incapable of saying “No” to anyone. And no one seems to appreciate her for it – not her boss, not her co-workers, not the villagers she helps and certainly not her sister. Not until she finally, suddenly, almost inexplicably manages to say that one word – and both her world and that world’s view of her, begins to shift.

So does she. And as Martha starts to find herself, she also finds what she lost long ago – her grandmother.

Escape Rating B+: This is a story about family secrets, their power to harm, and their power to destroy. And it’s about the freedom that comes with setting those secrets free.

In my own family, there was a secret. At my grandfather’s funeral my aunt revealed that my grandmother was not her mother – that my grandfather had been married before. It wasn’t a big secret – nor was it destructive in the way that the secrets in this story were. But it told me a vital piece of information that explained a great deal about my childhood – I was my grandmother’s only grandchild. She was already deceased, so it had no effect on my relationship with her – but it colored my memories of her differently.

The secrets that have been kept from Martha Storm all of her life, while they don’t change the past, definitely put it into a much different light. A light that illuminates so many events and relationships that defined her – and not always for her benefit.

When she was in her early teens, her parents told her that her charismatic, beloved grandmother Zelda was dead. They refused to let her go to the funeral, and she never found the grave.

When a local bookseller gives her a worn-out copy of a book, written by her grandmother, made up of stories that Martha wrote and told to her grandmother and stories that her grandmother wrote and told to her, she’s flabbergasted. When she reads the dedication at the front of the book, a dedication to her, written three years after her grandmother’s “death”, Martha’s world starts to unravel.

But what unravels are all the accretions and protections, all the shoulds and don’ts, all the negging that her uber-controlling father wrapped around Martha, her mother, and her sister. All the things that kept Martha from venturing out into the world, and letting the world venture into her.

All the things that would have challenged her father’s control of her. Like her grandmother.

In her search for her grandmother, Martha rediscovers herself and her childhood joy of the world around her.

She gets a second chance at life. At love. And with her beloved Zelda. The truth sets her free to be her best self.

And it makes an absolutely charming story.

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Review: The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: The American Agent by Jacqueline WinspearThe American Agent (Maisie Dobbs, #15) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #15
Pages: 384
Published by Harper on March 26, 2019
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Beloved heroine Maisie Dobbs, “one of the great fictional heroines” (Parade), investigates the mysterious murder of an American war correspondent in London during the Blitz in a page-turning tale of love and war, terror and survival.

When Catherine Saxon, an American correspondent reporting on the war in Europe, is found murdered in her London digs, news of her death is concealed by British authorities. Serving as a linchpin between Scotland Yard and the Secret Service, Robert MacFarlane pays a visit to Maisie Dobbs, seeking her help. He is accompanied by an agent from the US Department of Justice—Mark Scott, the American who helped Maisie escape Hitler’s Munich in 1938. MacFarlane asks Maisie to work with Scott to uncover the truth about Saxon’s death.

As the Germans unleash the full terror of their blitzkrieg upon the British Isles, raining death and destruction from the skies, Maisie must balance the demands of solving this dangerous case with her need to protect Anna, the young evacuee she has grown to love and wants to adopt. Entangled in an investigation linked to the power of wartime propaganda and American political intrigue being played out in Britain, Maisie will face losing her dearest friend—and the possibility that she might be falling in love again.

My Review:

It’s March, which means it’s time for this year’s Maisie Dobbs adventure. I’m just sorry her publisher isn’t sponsoring the “Month of Maisie” any longer, as that always made for a terrific excuse to pick up one of the earlier books in the series as well as the new one.

For Maisie, the year in 1940, and London is in the middle of the Blitz. And so is Maisie, as she and her best friend Patricia are doing in London what they did in the Great War so many (and so few) years ago.

They’re driving an ambulance and taking the wounded from the “front” to hospital. It’s just that this time, that “front” is the streets of London. Their roads are better paved this time around, but the shelling is even more deadly.

Just because Maisie is driving an ambulance every night, that doesn’t mean that she isn’t solving cases during the day. Even though she’s “dead on her feet” half the time, victims of murder still need justice.

Her worlds collide. One night, Maisie and Patricia have an observer on their ambulance run – a female American journalist. Cath Saxon is reporting the war from a woman’s perspective – with the hope of becoming one of the “boys” working for and with Edward R. Murrow.

Just as Cath gets in – she’s out. She’s found murdered in her rented rooms, and both Scotland Yard and the American Embassy call on Maisie to find out who killed her. It might just be a love affair gone wrong. It might have something to do with her reporting. There’s also a chance that her powerful family back in America decided that Cath’s sympathetic reports of the plucky and heroic English response to Hitler’s Blitz might be too embarrassing for their Hitler-sympathizing friends back home.

Maisie is supposed to be working with an American agent on this case. Mark Scott is the same American agent who saved her life during her nearly disastrous Journey to Munich. But as the case progresses it’s clear to Maisie that the man who is supposed to be working WITH her is working on an agenda of his own – and mostly far from Maisie’s inquiries.

And that at least part of his hidden agenda has more to do with Maisie herself than any case either of them might be investigating.

Escape Rating A: This is a series that I absolutely love, and eagerly await the next book. So I’m already on tenterhooks for book 16, hopefully next March. But in the meantime there’s plenty to discuss regarding The American Agent.

One thing that struck me as I read about Maisie and Patricia’s exploits as ambulance drivers was the way that it brought home just how close World War II was to World War I. Both women served in the Great War, Maisie as a nurse and Patricia as an ambulance driver. As this book opens, they are still only in their early 40s, still in their prime. And serving again. Although there are many young people who think that war is glorious, as evidenced by the behavior of Patricia’s son in To Die but Once. At the same time there are plenty of people populating Maisie’s world who served in the first war, are serving in the second, and know from grim experience that war is terrible. And are equally aware that they must fight, that surrender is unthinkable.

However, there are plenty of people who have taken that belief that war is terrible, but either believe that Hitler is unstoppable or don’t care who dies as long as their profits continue. And some who agree with his many and terrible hatreds and prejudices. (If that sounds familiar, it bloody well should as things stand today!)

Ironically, we are re-watching Poirot, and the later episodes of that series also deal with the impending war. The Clocks had been rewritten to take place before the war, and part of the plot revolved around government agents who were giving secrets to the Nazis to make Britain fall faster so that the war would end sooner. The Duke of Windsor was part of this movement, much to the embarrassment of the Royal Family.

There were also plenty of people in America who believed that Hitler’s win was inevitable – or were in at least economic cahoots with Germany. And there was a significant amount of Antisemitism involved, people who believed that Hitler’s plan to kill all the Jews was the right way to go. (Yes, that’s appalling. But true.)

Charles Lindbergh, the aviator, was a prominent member of the America First Committee, which wanted America to stay out of the war and tacitly agreed with the Antisemitic tone of the party. One of the other prominent members of the America First movement was Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy. Joe Kennedy was also the U.S. Ambassador to Britain during this story, and Maisie’s American Agent is using the hunt for Cath Saxon’s killer to poke into Joe Kennedy’s dubious dealings. Because there were plenty to poke into.

It works as a ruse because Cath’s father, a prominent U.S. Senator, is also an America Firster. And he, along with his “friends” were dead set against Cath reporting material that was sympathetic to the British cause. The family was dead set against Cath being a reporter at all.

Maisie has to look into just how dead they were set. And wonders if her investigations will lead her into places that the U.S. Embassy will not want her to go. Or, at least to report.

But Maisie never presumes, never presupposed and never lets herself get dead set on any hypothesis. She follows the clues where they lead her. No matter how much she has to dig, and how many secrets she uncovers along the way.

It’s what makes following her so interesting, and her character so fascinating. I’m looking forward to reading more of Maisie’s war in the next book. And while I wait, I think I’m going to treat myself with a dive into What Would Maisie Do?

Review: Lonen’s Reign by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Lonen’s Reign by Jeffe KennedyLonen's Reign (Sorcerous Moons #6) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #6
Pages: 160
Published by Brightlynx on March 20th 2019
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A Looming Threat
The sorceress Oria has finally come into her own—able to wield the power of her birthright and secure in the marriage she once believed would bring her only misery. But the past she escaped still chases her, and the certainty of war promises to destroy everything she’s fought to have.

An Impossible War
Once before Lonen led an army in a desperate attempt to stop the powerfully murderous sorcerers of Bára—and he nearly lost everything. Now he must return to the battlefield that took the lives of so many of his people. Only this time he has more to risk than ever.

The Final Conflict
With guile, determination—and unexpected allies—Oria and Lonen return to the place where it all began… and only hope that it won’t also be the end of them.

My Review:

This was a lovely wrap up to the series. Or, to put it another way that feels much more accurate, Lonen’s Reign provides the concluding chapters to this lovely fantasy romance.

That’s a hint, by the way. The Sorcerous Moons series reads way more like a single book split into chunks than it does a series of individual books. It only works if you read from the beginning. Every time I get a new “chapter” I find myself reading the synopses and my reviews of the previous books to catch myself up – even if it hasn’t been all that long since the previous book.

All the action in this book rests on what came before. Which is fitting for the concluding “chapter” of an epic (in scope if not in length) saga.

This is also the point where the story comes full circle. We began, in Lonen’s War, with then-Prince Lonen and his Destrye attacking the stronghold of their enemies, the Bara. Where Lonen discovers a disregarded Princess Oria imprisoned in her tower by her own weaknesses.

Oria finds herself the only functioning member of the Baran royal house, and brokers a peace treaty between her people and the Destrye – only to have that well-thought out and surprisingly well-working peace broken the moment her brother wakes up and forcibly takes the crown.

From that point forward, the story moves back and forth between Destrye and Bara, as Oria discovers the depths to which her own people have sunk – and the desperation that has forced Lonen’s people to rise and strike back.

Along the way, Oria discovers that all of the prohibitions, weaknesses and fears that have held her back are a tissue of lies and misdirections. And Oria and Lonen make a marriage of state and convenience that turns into so much more.

This is the point where the finally undisputed King of the Destrye, and his newly anointed Queen Oria risk everything they have on one final gamble against the heavily fortified and magically defended Bara – in the hopes of saving both their peoples.

All of their people. On both sides.

Escape Rating B+: I’m kind of reviewing the whole series at this concluding point. Because this book really doesn’t make much sense on its own, it feels necessary to look at the series as a whole.

At the same time, I have to say that Lonen’s Reign feels like a fitting conclusion to the saga begun in Lonen’s War – and it feels equally fitting that both the first and the last book are titled after him. He began the action at the outset, followed by Oria’s reaction in Oria’s Gambit, followed by two middle books, then Oria’s finally coming into her own power in Oria’s Enchantment and now we sit at the conclusion.

The two sides began at war, not that the Barans would have considered their actions warlike. Bara used to be a lush paradise, but the climate changed and their city turned into a desert. Instead of adapting, they used magic as well as engineering to steal water from the lands that surrounded them, making even more desert. Eventually they reached the lands of the distant Destrye, absolutely certain that their magical might gave them the right to strip those lands of their water and kill anyone who fought back.

Lonen brought the war home to them. And left with the prize and pride of Bara, Princess Oria. As they fell in love, it gave her strength of will, and the desperate determination to reach beyond everything that she had been taught. She had to in order to survive – and to be able to do the right thing.

Oria grounded Lonen, giving him the wisdom to become the king his people needed, in spite of the betrayals he suffered at home.

Their union, which does indeed become the love story for the ages as I said in my review of Lonen’s War, provides a path forward for both of their peoples, who have now become one.

In some ways, the story in Lonen’s Reign feels as if it is missing a few bits – almost all of the backstory is in their earlier books.

Because I really enjoy worldbuilding, it also felt as if Oria’s final revelations – the climate change, the resulting subjugation and despoiling of a wider and wider swath of territory, and, most of all, the way that magic as practiced in Bara became ossified in a way that almost literally set their people, and particularly the women, into stone that preserved the predatory status quo – got a bit of a short shrift. I’d love to know more about how it happened.

Maybe that’s another book sometime in the future.

Lonen’s Reign turned out to be a quick and mostly satisfying wrap-up to a fascinating fantasy romance series. I’m looking forward to both the author’s eventual return to the awesome Twelve Kingdoms series – because that is edging towards its final confrontation – and to her new fantasy romance series, beginning with The Orchid Throne later this year.

Review: Hell Squad: Griff by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Griff by Anna HackettGriff (Hell Squad #17) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: post apocalyptic, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #17
Pages: 186
Published by Anna Hackett on March 19th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
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As the battle against the invading aliens intensifies, a group of bad boy bikers and mercenaries will stand and fight for humanity’s survival…

Squad Three berserker Griff lived through hell long before the alien invasion. Once, he’d been a dedicated cop, but then in a gut-wrenching betrayal, he ended up behind bars in a supermax prison. After the aliens invaded, he managed to escape and join the soldiers fighting back…and came face to face with his best friend’s little sister—the bold, vibrant, off-limits woman he’s always wanted. Now the beautiful, tattooed Indy is his squad’s comms officer…and she hates his guts.

Indy Bennett lost her parents and brother in the alien attack, and every day, she vows to suck the marrow out of life. She’s also doing her bit in the fight, as Squad Three’s comms officer, even if it means seeing the man who broke her young heart. Griff was once her brother’s best friend, a boy she adored, but now she knows she needs to steer clear of the hard-edged man who still draws her like a moth to a flame.

Griff vows to claim Indy as his. The only problem is, Indy is having none of it. As their fiery attraction explodes, they find themselves embroiled in the hunt for the aliens’ unexplained octagon weapon, and a mysterious survivor town where all is not what it seems. Both Griff and Indy will have to learn to let go of the hurts of the past if they have any chance of not just surviving, but having a future.

My Review:

This is going to be a mixed feelings review, because my feelings about Griff are very mixed. Or rather, my feelings about the Hell Squad series in general and Griff’s relationship with Indy in particular are more than a bit mixed.

And I’m feeling conflicted because my feelings about this author’s work usually fall much higher on the “like to love” range, and this one just didn’t work for me. So there’s a bit of sad there as well.

Griff is the OMG 17th book in the Hell Squad series. The setup is post-apocalyptic, with the apocalypse being very specific and extremely recent. A race of alien-dinosaur-raptor hybrids have invaded a very near future Earth and wrecked the joint.

The Gizzida initially came to strip the planet and take all its resources, including the humans. There’s more than a bit of Borg in the Gizzida as they don’t merely wipe out the populations of the planets they invade, they use genetic engineering to convert both the human and animal populations into more of themselves.

The series follows one group of human survivors. This particular bunch were in Australia when the Gizzida took over (most but not all are Aussies), holed up in a remote military installation and have been sticking it to the Gizzida as much and as often as they can in some rather effective guerrilla warfare.

As the series has progressed, key members of the population of “The Enclave” have managed to grab their bit of happiness in spite of the destruction all around them. Life really does go on.

This particular story features Griff Callan, a member of one of the squads that brings that guerrilla warfare to the Gizzida, and Indy Bennett, the communications officer for his squad. Griff and Indy knew each other before the disaster. Her brother was his best friend until their relationship went seriously pear-shaped long before the aliens invaded.

They’ve always loved each other, but have never been in a place where they could admit it. They grew up together, but Indy was just younger enough to have made any possibility of romance seriously skeevy. And once she was old enough, well, there was that whole “bro code” that makes your best friend’s little sister untouchable – no matter how much she wants to be touched.

Which doesn’t mean that Griff didn’t break her heart with his refusal. And he’s scared he’ll break it again before they have any chance at all.

But it’s a chance he’s finally willing to take. If the aliens don’t take them both out first.

Escape Rating C+: Whenever I see a character named Indiana I hear Sean Connery’s voice from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade complaining to his son Indy, “We named the dog Indiana.” Clearly at least one of Indy Bennett’s parents was a fan.

Speaking of fans, while I am definitely a fan of this author’s work, I was not a fan of this particular story. I love the premise of this series, so if you like post-apocalyptic where the heroes get to stick it to the ones who brought that apocalypse, the series is generally a blast. The first book is wrapped around the romance between the leader of the Hell Squad (Marcus) and HIS communications officer.

And thereby sits a chunk of why I have such mixed feelings about this particular entry. It’s not that there ARE patterns in the stories, because all stories of all types follow patterns. It’s that the specific patterns used in this series repeat themselves, and over 17 books those repeats are becoming a bit too obvious for this reader.

I fully recognize that those very same patterns are what make many people love this series – no matter how long it goes.

The story here, and frequently throughout the series, is that the couple in question finally acknowledge both that life in the Enclave with the Gizzida sniping at them is WAY too short, and that they have feelings for the other person that they have refused to acknowledge because one party, usually the male, thinks he’s not good enough for the female. Although that’s been reversed a couple of times and I’ve liked those better.

In this particular case, the reason that Griff is certain Indy won’t want to be with him is pretty damning, but it was also obvious from the get-go. And it felt like she got over it way too fast considering how important it was. (I’m trying not to give it away.)

After the couple finally acknowledges their feelings, they face a situation where the female has to go into battle with the squad, and she is either captured or nearly so. The male has to ride to the rescue, incurring life threatening injuries. They forgive whatever caused any tension between them during his recovery and then live happily for now.

This series really can’t include a happily ever after, not because of the internal dynamics of the couples in each story, but because the Gizzida make any “ever after” extremely tenuous at the moment.

In the case of this particular story, the scenes where Griff finally declares his intentions involve him carrying her out of meetings in a fireman’s carry, with her protesting all the way. It felt like his need to mark his territory was more important than her need to be professional and part of the team that is, after all, trying to save the world.

I felt it took away from her agency. YMMV.

My other issue with the series as a whole is that it’s just taking too long for the Enclave and their allies around the world to kick the Gizzida off our Earth. Ironically, it hasn’t been all THAT long within the scope of this world, but 17 is a lot of books. There’s been some progress towards their overall goal, but I’ve become impatient waiting for it to finally happen. And that’s affecting my enjoyment of the individual series entries at this point.

That being said, I still love Anna Hackett’s writing, and I’m eagerly anticipating her next book, Heart of Eon. I found her first in her space opera SFR, and it’s still where I love her best. Not that the Galactic Gladiators haven’t also carved out a piece of my heart – but I’ll have to wait longer to get back to Kor Magna.

Review: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Review: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn LyonsThe Ruin of Kings (A Chorus of Dragons, #1) 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 #1
Pages: 560
Published by Tor Books on February 5, 2019
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There are the old stories. And then there’s what actually happens.

Kihrin is a bastard orphan who grew up on storybook tales of long-lost princes and grand quests. When he is claimed against his will as the long-lost son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds that being a long-lost prince isn't what the storybooks promised.

Far from living the dream, Kihrin finds himself practically a prisoner, at the mercy of his new family's power plays and ambitions. He also discovers that the storybooks have lied about a lot of other things things, too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love, and how the hero always wins.

Then again, maybe he’s not the hero, for Kihrin isn’t destined to save the empire.

He’s destined to destroy it . . .

Uniting the worldbuilding of a Brandon Sanderson with the storytelling verve of a Patrick Rothfuss, debut author Jenn Lyons delivers an entirely new and captivating fantasy epic. Prepare to meet the genre’s next star.

My Review:

The “Ruin of Kings” is a sword. It’s also one hell of a story. Come to think of it, it’s also one hell of a sword.

That this is the author’s debut novel is amazing. Because this may very well be the epic fantasy of the year. It’s almost certainly the debut epic fantasy of the year. And I’m already positive that it will be on my Hugo ballot next year.

I’m going to try to stop squeeing now so that I can possibly talk about the actual book – and not just how much I loved it. Although I certainly did.

This story, like The Raven Tower earlier this year, is an experiment in voice. Unlike that previous book, however, this one works. It really, really works.

The three voices that tell the story of The Ruin of Kings are all fascinating, all compelling, and all utterly different. They are also telling the same story from not merely different perspectives but from different points in time. And yet, they all manage to meet in the end to set up the truly epic conclusion.

This is Kihrin’s story. And it’s Talon’s story. And it’s Thurvishar’s story. But mostly it’s Kihrin’s story, told partially from his perspective and partially from theirs. Well, sort of from theirs.

Talon is a mimic. A sadistic mimic. She’s a monster in the human sense of her sadism, but also in the sense that she really is a monster. She kills people for fun, eats their brains and receives the memories from the brains she eats. So when she tells the story, it’s partially her perspective and partially the perspective of the people whose brains she ate.

Thurvishar is the peanut gallery. Not really, in the end his perspective is more important than that. We begin the story thinking he’s the chronicler of events that have recently past – and he certainly is that. But he was also a part of those events, as well as being a scholar and researcher. He has opinions. He has quibbles. He gets disgusted with the naivete and the misinformation provided both by and to the other two people in the story.

It is a true story, but it’s told from a certain perspective. Eyewitness accounts are far from reliable, and people believe all sorts of things that are not provably true – or even that are provably false.

Especially when it comes to gods, and goddesses, and origin stories thereof.

This also, unusually for epic fantasy, is not a story about a hero saving the world. All the prophecies are pointing to Kihrin being the hero who will destroy the world. The question of whether (not to mention exactly how) he’s supposed to do this, as well as whether or not its a good idea for him to do this, are all still up in the super-heated air when this first book in the project trilogy closes.

Not even death is an ending in this one. It may only be the beginning. And what a marvelous beginning it is.

Escape Rating A+: Was that rating a surprise? Really? This is pure awesomesauce from beginning to end.

The story begins with Kihrin in jail, being coerced by Talon to tell her his story from his point of view while they wait for him to be sacrificed. He opens his own story at a slave auction, with himself as the slave being auctioned. And the pace never lets up from there.

But Talon is unsatisfied. As she so often is by so many things. She believes his story began earlier. When he broke into an empty house to steal whatever wasn’t nailed down and let his curiosity get the better of him. He witnessed a murder. And a demon summoning. And he got caught – by the demon. And eventually by both of the summoners.

It all leads back to that jail cell. And what comes after. But in the middle – it’s one hell of a story.

No one in this story is exactly what they seem – or even what they think they are. Particularly Kihrin, who begins the story as a thief and a minstrel’s son, and reaches the end as a swordsman, a sorcerer, and a prince. None of which turn out to be exactly what they’re cracked up to be.

In some ways, this story reminded me of Dune. I know that sounds odd, but it’s in the way the story is being told. Dune also begins with a chronicler claiming to be writing an unbiased historical account. An account that is not exactly unbiased – although I remember Princess Irulan trying a bit harder than Thurvishar does.

In other ways, it reminds me very much of The Name of the Wind. It has that same kind of depth, that epic scope and sweep, that same sense that nothing is as it seems. It’s also told somewhat the same way, with the character, or in this case the characters, telling the story to someone else. I just hope that the author of The Ruin of Kings manages to wrap up the trilogy a bit more expeditiously!

The voices of the three “narrators” of The Ruin of Kings are very distinct. Kihrin begins the story as young and naive, no matter how jaded he thinks he was. His naivete is under constant assault, and this is the story of his loss of many different types of innocence.

Talon has absorbed many, many people, and they are all distinct to her in her extremely crowded head. She speaks for them, but also for herself. Her perspective is that of someone who has literally seen everything and done everything – and then killed the people who did it.

Thurvishar begins the story speaking directly only within footnotes. It was Thurvishar’s part of the story that made me switch from the ebook to the audiobook. Footnotes do not work well in ebooks, but in audio his contributions were inserted as wry asides, or occasionally arguments, within the text and provided further information, sarcastic commentary, and light relief in turns.

(I actually have the audiobook and the eARC AND the hardcover. I loved this one real hard. I needed the hardcover for the maps.)

I was enjoying the audio so much than when I couldn’t stand not knowing how the story ended I played Solitaire for four hours so I’d have something to do with my hands while these three marvelous actors told me a terrific story.

The Ruin of Kings has everything a reader could possibly want in an epic fantasy. Unreliable narrators, meddling gods, troublesome demons, crazy dragons, evil necromancers and political shenanigans played to the death – all folded into the story of a lifetime.

Or two or three lifetimes. Death, after all, is not permanent. Except when it is.

The second book in the trilogy, The Name of All Things, is scheduled to be released in October. I want it NOW!

Reviewer’s Note: Goodreads claims that this is YA. It is so, so, so not YA. And it should come with all the trigger warnings, including some that probably don’t exist yet.

Review: Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

Review: Radicalized by Cory DoctorowRadicalized by Cory Doctorow
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: science fiction, short stories
Pages: 304
Published by Tor Books on March 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From New York Times bestselling author Cory Doctorow, Radicalized is four urgent SF novellas of America's present and future within one book

Told through one of the most on-pulse genre voices of our generation, Radicalized is a timely novel comprised of four SF novellas connected by social, technological, and economic visions of today and what America could be in the near, near future. Unauthorized Bread is a tale of immigration, the toxicity of economic and technological stratification, and the young and downtrodden fighting against all odds to survive and prosper.

In Model Minority, a Superman-like figure attempts to rectifiy the corruption of the police forces he long erroneously thought protected the defenseless...only to find his efforts adversely affecting their victims.

Radicalized is a story of a darkweb-enforced violent uprising against insurance companies told from the perspective of a man desperate to secure funding for an experimental drug that could cure his wife's terminal cancer.

The fourth story, Masque of the Red Death, harkens back to Doctorow's Walkaway, taking on issues of survivalism versus community.

My Review:

This is my first Cory Doctorow, and probably won’t be my last. I’ve seen his columns in Locus, where he predicts the future -sorta/kinda – but hadn’t read any of his books. When this popped up on my radar, it seemed like the time.

The advantage of collections is that the individual entries are generally shorter. I could always bail if it didn’t work for me. That didn’t happen – although I occasionally wanted to stop out of sheer terror.

The disadvantage of collections is that they are sometimes uneven. That didn’t happen here either. What did happen is that the stories get darker as they go. The first one isn’t exactly light-hearted, but does end with a glimmer of hope.

And that glimmer is the last light we see. The stories, and the futures that they posit, get progressively darker from there.

What this is is a collection of very-near-future dystopias. This is a future so close that we can see it from here. It seems to be mining a similar vein as If This Goes On, the recent collection edited by Cat Rambo – although these stories feel closer. A bit too close.

Unauthorized Bread is the first story in Radicalized, and it’s the one that ends in that glimmer of hope I mentioned. Not that there isn’t plenty of darkness in the middle. This story is about a lot of things, particularly the way that immigrants and others at the lower end of the socioeconomic lottery are marginalized and demonized. That message seemed fairly overt.

The less overt message, but still very much present, is the message about just how different “choice” looks from the perspective of people who have the societal privilege of being able to always choose between good, better and best, as opposed to those who are squeezed into the position of being forced to choose between terrible, awful and least bad.

But the plot is also a slightly terrifying extension of digital rights management – frequently a horror story all by itself – from the world of music, video and software to the world of appliances. We’ve seen the start of this, when Keurig introduced DRM into its line of coffee makers, allowing them to restrict use of the device that you own to pods that they authorize. Think about that, scale it up, and then shake in fear – and caffeine withdrawal.

The Model Minority is where the chill really sets in in this collection. But in the end, it ultimately felt sad. The future is posits is frightening, and all too plausible – even, perhaps likely. But this is one where I really felt for the character, and he ends up in a very sad place by the end. And so should we all.

The protagonist of this piece is a superhero who is meant to be Superman without ever naming him such. (DC would probably object – with lawyers). But he’s an alien whose current mundane identity is named Clark and whose girlfriend is a reporter named Lois. And he has a rich friend named Bruce who also has a secret identity. You connect the dots.

The story here is what happens when our hero is confronted with blatant racism. He witnesses a bunch of white cops pull a black man out of his own car and beat him nearly to death while putting on a show for their body cameras. Superhero steps into save the man being beaten, and attempts to get him proper medical treatment and a fair trial.

And it all goes pear-shaped, as we all expect it to. The system is designed to protect the cops and demonize the innocent black motorist. The media gins up, the way it does, to make it seem like the arrest and brutal beating are all the fault of the victim – because he’s black. The more our hero tries to help the man, the more trouble he causes, not only for the original victim, but also for himself.

Because when he threatens that fragile white majority with evidence of their own racism, they turn on him rather than look inside themselves. As they do. As we do.

The title story in this collection is a story about the weaponization of what is now the quiet desperation of families who are about to lose or have lost a beloved family member. Not because their condition is untreatable, but because their health insurance company refuses to pay for treatment.

Combine that with a big “what if?” What if those quietly desperate people treated health insurance company executives and employees exactly the same way that abortion providers are “treated” by the so-called right-to-life movement – with doxxing and harassment and terrorist attacks. This is purely my interpretation of the story, but it feels right. And ends up making the story about whether the ends justify the means – a contemplation that is itself frightening.

Last but not least, The Masque of the Red Death. On the surface, it’s the story of a prepper’s dream that turns into a prepper’s nightmare. A whole bunch of smug one-percenters are so certain that they’ve figured out how to survive the coming collapse of civilization – and that they will emerge from their hidden sanctuary fat and happy and ready to be back on top of the new civilization that they are just certain will be exactly like the old one, and that they’ll rule it.

Discovering that they have planned for everything except for their own humanity – and their hubris – takes this tale from chills to downright horror in quick steps. This is one of those cases where the road to hell is paved with bad and thoughtless intentions that the thinkers believe are good – at least for them.

Thinking about it, however, it strikes me that this story also ends in a glimmer of hope – just not for its initial protagonists.

Escape Rating A+: Science fiction in general, and this author in this collection in particular, is at its thought-provoking best when it comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. These stories do much more of the latter than the former, and are all intensely well-done in ways that will make the reader think – and squirm.